A chorus of horror ripped through the arena, but it was drowned out by the sharp ringing that intensified in her ears with each passing second. The air around her was cold, but the blood that slid around her fingertips like red rings was colder still. She had witnessed the death of a freshly hatched Archen once. Unable to go on without its mother, it had died in the evening of that day despite all that Yae did to feed and nurse it with all the tender care she knew how. Its feathers had been soft and its body had been warm, as were the tears that had slid down her face. Head cupped in her hand and resting on her lap, Kouki’s hair was soft, but his body was not warm. There were no tears on her face.
Her eyes were impossibly wide, body and breath entirely frozen except for the irises of her eyes which seemed to tremble. Her body felt like it was not her own as it visibly began to change without her realizing it. It was as if she had become a statue, her emotions frozen at the top of a mountain--until dark wispy hands appeared and grasped her shoulders. Tiny flecks of red flared within her irises despite the muting softness of her normal forget-me-not blue gaze. Suddenly, the ringing in her ears ceased entirely. The shadowy hands clamped more tightly onto her while the black rings around her eyes appeared to move and twist. Another darkness seethed out around her, shaped oddly enough like Yveltal’s wings, the creature that had stolen her brother’s life. However these were not the bird’s wings of darkness--they were hands, ones that were ready to give that tiny push needed to send her emotions plummeting off that mountain top and down into murderous hate-ravaged darkness that would carefully and calculatingly and painfully dissect this creature and just before her last breath we will feast, FEAST upon--
Ah, but before they could do so, the attention of her red gaze was caught by a strange fog that had somehow snuck up and already enveloped the entire arena. Unlike the screeching shadows of Yveltal, this fog was quiet but just as mysterious. Still, her grip on the Clefable instinctively tightened as if to protect him from this new threat. That was...until she felt him shake as he choked out a gasp. A squeak left her throat as she too inhaled a breath, one that she did not know she was holding until now. They both seemed to come to life at the same time. Yae was so confused, what was happening? Her brother who was colder than the arena steps he was trampled upon was now breathing again. There was even a rush of color to his face as he tried to gather air.
His breath seemed to soften until it was barely audible, his body no longer convulsing. However there was something unsettling about his stillness. It hit her like a Tauros that knocked the shock out of her. His head was still bleeding and profusely at that. Quickly she tore off the ribbon around her waist and secured it around his head with trembling hands. The blood seeped all too fast through the pink fabric as her eyes scanned across the arena.
Everyone seemed mesmerized by some mysterious blond man on the arena floor, and even though he piqued her curiosity too she was far too worried for her brother. At last she spotted several pink heads of hair in the crowd who seemed to be searching around as well. On impulse to grab their attention, she used Psychic on the nearest person who seemed uninjured and vaulted him into the air. His screams immediately grabbed their attention, as well as some observers nearby, and they were able to spot the Espeon and Clefable. She set the man down who seemed to begrudgingly forgive her once he saw the young man at her lap and she explained herself.
The arrival of Kouki’s mother and sisters was swift and teary. There were a great number of others who had also been injured during the mad flight from the arena upon Yveltal’s arrival. They were able to heal his wounds enough to stabilize his condition while Yae gathered materials for splints to support his broken bones, but only time and constant attention would be able to heal the worst of his injuries. Most fearful though was the head injury--not even Kouki’s mother could say how well he would be able to recover from it. She had seen too many patients breathing but unable to wake up from even less severe wounds than those her son possessed.
“How do we help him?” Yae asked, seeing the hesitance and deep concern embedded in her adopted mother’s stare. “There’s a way, isn’t there? To heal him more than this. I don’t…” She swallowed thickly. She could not bear to witness it a second time.
Her strong hands gripped Yae’s, and a steady brown gaze surrounded by lines of age and worry bore into her blue eyes, which still glowed dimly of that ruby smear. “Listen carefully, my love. To the west there is a wood--the Dark Forest. Many a traveler are lost or driven out by what lurks within, but the forest guards something precious. There is a sacred spring hidden deep inside. Once you enter, you must listen for the Voice of the Forest. It will guide you to the spring.” She drew her fingertips down Yae’s cheek, a mother’s caress, her eyes seeming more focused on Yae’s condition now. Her tone became stern but retained its gentleness. “You must release your anger. You cannot bring harm to the forest.”
The Espeon gasped and the red glow in her eyes dimmed slightly. “I would never! Hurting the forest means I’ll never get to play with another forest Pokemon again!”
That little outburst was enough to make the fatigued woman smile. She patted Yae’s bangs and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry to push this on you. I doubt this will be the last time we will see that woman, and if she goes to the other villages as well…”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Yae softly interrupted with resolve in her eyes. “It’s not safe here and the Dark Forest is the closest place to hide him that also has a good chance of letting him recover. I’ll convince the Voice of the Forest to guide me to the spring to heal Kouki-oniisama.” She gazed down at the unconscious Clefable. It...It hurt so much to see him like that. She was so used to seeing him off everyday, watching the back of his broad shoulders as he moved forward, always working and looking ahead. For someone like that to be so injured and defenseless… “He would be mad, but...he would respect your decision to stay here and help the injured despite the dangers.” She smiled at the older woman. Then she fixed her smile into a stern frown with her eyebrows furrowed into the most Kouki-esque possible expression. “He would say, ‘You have to do your job and so do I.’ I’ll get him there no matter what.”
The older woman’s eyes welled up with unbidden pride for her adopted daughter and only son. She had fervently disagreed with his decision to leave when he was younger, using any means to hunt him down and bring him home, but seeing how he has grown and inspired others with his resolve--she supposed this was how it was meant to be for him to grow into a proper adult. As tumultuous as their relationship had been, she knew his father would be proud of him too. With tight hugs and kisses, the fairy family sent Yae off after procuring a Rapidash and wagon for her to use.
It was quite the fuss leaving the village since there were many others crowding the exits trying to evacuate as well. Once she was able to get onto the road that split off from the one going to Noir Vale, it was much easier. The ride was peaceful with Yae cheerfully taking in her surroundings despite the heavy task she was burdened with. Despite her optimism, her eyes were constantly scanning the skies for any sign of the dark fowl. Half a day passed by before she arrived at the forest, just as the setting sun flushed the sky with color. While it would normally be a serene sight, it merely provided an ominous backdrop to the black-stained forest.
Trees that resembled coal-ridden talons and fangs stretched toward the sky as if to devour it. With it still being winter, there was not a single bit of live foliage to be found on their sharp branches. Fortunately, this would make it easier for the wagon and Rapidash to move through the barren forest. The woods were...eerily quiet save for the occasional Hoothoot passing by above. It seemed that most of the forest Pokemon were in hibernation for the season, making it seem very lonely for the Espeon whose ears strained for sounds of life.
When evening fell, there was naught but the fire of the Rapidash to light the way. Yae trusted its instincts to guide them forward on the path since she was sufficiently lost. Every now and then she would stop briefly to check on Kouki’s condition or rest her legs from riding, but they continued to steadily progress through the forest. Still, there was no sign of the Voice of the Forest.
Eventually she was forced to allow the overworked horse to rest, unstrapping it from the wagon so that it could lay comfortably. Fortunately they had some amenities for camping out, but Yae was fearful of what else might be lurking in the forest that came alive at this time of night. As carefully as possible, she lowered Kouki from the wagon using her telekinetic abilities so that they would both be able to rest warmly next to the Rapidash’s ever burning flames. The horse did not seem to mind, appearing to innately understand the weak condition of one of the humans and the harmless intentions of the other.
Worrying thoughts buzzed around in Yae’s head that were difficult to silence. She could not help but gaze at the unconscious Clefable every other moment, just to check that his chest was still rising and falling. Normally around this time, Maten would appear and tell her how stupid she was. Even though all he said to her were insults, really...it was his clear and deep voice that had always been able to slice through the noise in her head. In a way it had a calming effect, just like Kouki’s singing. However now he was silent. They both were. She could not remember the last time she was this uncomfortable and...alone.
Her ears twitched with a sound rustling in the trees above. On alert, her spine stiffened as she peered around, eyes wide. Her ears twitched again toward a different direction. Perhaps she was not as alone as she thought. Slowly she stood up, senses heightened as she was on guard. Even the horse seemed to perk up, watchful of the noises. All Yae had to defend herself with was Kouki’s sword, which she did not know how to wield properly, and a small dagger, which would be more useful in her hands at chopping vegetables than stabbing someone.
A low moan of wind echoed through the trees around her. Occasionally she heard scratching sounds against the bark, but the sounds would appear from various directions that were impossible to pinpoint in the thick darkness. Yae’s only comfort was the fact that the Rapidash had not taken off yet as it was certainly more in tune with nature than she was.
Suddenly, Yae’s ankle was pulled out from beneath her, causing her to shriek as she thudded to the ground and the dagger bounced out of her hand. She used Psychic to pull it back, but before she could direct the telekinetic force at her attacker, she saw that she was being pulled into a cloud of silvery scales that towered over her. Currents of wind pulled the scales together to form a large beast that screeched with the high speeds of the wind that formed it. As it began to bellow and descend upon the tiny Espeon, her eyes went wide and she shrieked.
The beast paused, seeming frozen in its movements for a moment while the wind continued to whistle around and through it. The Espeon on the other hand seemed completely undeterred as her eyes sparkled with marvel. There was a stretch of silence between them until finally a sound echoed out.
“Fool!” The angry word roiled out from all around her at once. “Have you any idea of the danger you face? Leave now for my hand will not still for long.”
She gasped. “Are you the Voice of the Forest?” She completely disregarded the words. “Please, I need your help! My brother, he’s--”
“LEAVE!!” A blast of wind roared into her, knocking her off her feet and onto her back while the scales rose up in a tidal wave over her.
“You’re not going to make me!” she shouted, raising her voice as loudly as she could over the whipping wind. Once more the scales paused over her as if frozen in place. Yae took the moment to catch her breath and try to calm the shaking in her voice from the sudden toss. “I...I haven’t hurt the forest. And if you try to drive me out, I’m only going to come back.”
Since the scales did not move, she continued. “My brother, as well as many others, were struck down by something that came to us even though we did nothing to offend it. I would only ask that you help us--”
The wind seethed around her as it picked up again. “Why should I help you and all of those people? I hold no obligation to any of you, do not think you can turn to me in your hour of need and expect my aid.” The scales bristled with the Voice’s severe annoyance at her.
There was silence on Yae’s part, or rather, the mumbling to herself could not be heard over the wind until she finally bellowed with a bright red glare at the scales. “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THOSE OTHER PEOPLE!”
All at once the scales silenced while Yae’s voice alone echoed to the far corners of the shadowy woods. “The ONLY person I care about is my brother who works every day of his life to protect others, and what do they do in return? When he was struck down they stomped and trampled and kicked his body aside while they fled for their own lives. I will never forgive them, but rather than getting revenge, all I want is to keep my brother safe from them and that monster.”
Her voice was shaking, her mouth felt dry, and her entire body was trembling from rage. She thought she felt tears fall down her face at some point during that rant, but she had been too consumed in her emotions to remember. It was the first time she had ever yelled so angrily like that and now her body did not quite know what to do with itself. It did not help that the Voice had gone completely silent without even the faintest sound of a breeze.
Suddenly the scales dropped out of the air along with that certain sense of pressure that had weighed down so heavily from the forest. Even the trees appeared to look less frightening and overbearing, as they initially looked ready to reach down and stab her with their branches. From out of the curtain of darkness emerged a person with a somewhat strange but mystical visage. Surprisingly they looked younger than Yae by several years, but a vague feeling told her not to trust appearances. The clothes were fairly ordinary and comprised of deep forest greens and bright oranges, but their hair was very strangely colored and their eyes held a certain mysterious pull to them. Most apparent though were the person’s wings which glowed faintly like the light of Illumise and with little orbs of light bouncing gently within each wing.
The sternness of the person’s gaze reminded her of Kouki, but there was a certain worldliness that this person possessed. “Take your brother and follow me.” The voice was the same as that which had echoed so menacingly through the trees, except now it sounded normal and calm with an undertone of annoyance. Those blue eyes glanced at where the Clefable was resting. “Your horse already ditched you.”
With that they turned away, not bothering to wait as Yae scrambled to her feet, kicking up dead leaves as she went to her brother’s side. Indeed the horse had fled sometime during that exchange, luckily without harming Kouki, so Yae was forced to carry him with Psychic. It put a heavy strain on her mind, but she tried to stay focused as she followed the glow of the person’s wings through the dark trees.
“...My name is Akahoshi Yae,” she introduced, thinking it would be rude not to at least provide her name. “Thank you for doing this.”
“It’s not like I had much choice according to what you were saying about coming back,” the Voice stated with more irritation. “Let this be the last time we see each other, understand? If you come here again I will not help you no matter what nonsense you spout.”
Her ears drooped downward, but reluctantly she made a noise of agreement. This person seemed interesting and mysterious, but she would have to respect their privacy. By the time the trees broke into a small clearing, Yae’s mind was sufficiently fatigued to the point of her panting from the mental strain. The clearing was, surprisingly, a beautiful bright green. It was a small patch of grass with a little pool of flowing water in the center. Beside it was a large tree with mushrooms and vines growing at its base. Somehow this place seemed to thrive wondrously despite the dark barrenness of the forest surrounding it.
“You may place him in the water,” the Voice said, nose crinkling slightly in disdain of allowing this. The expression mellowed a bit from observing the strain in Yae’s condition though as she shuffled over and gently submerged the Clefable’s body in the water. She let his head rest on the grassy shore and heard a sigh escape his lips, though he still slumbered.
“Is this okay?” Yae asked, casting a worried glance at the green figure.
There was a hum of agreement as the person knelt down beside Yae to gaze more closely at the injured Clefable. “His injuries are grave. The water and air here will clear out any impurities in his body that would impede the natural recovery process, but I cannot say how long it will take for him to recover. How long do you plan on staying here?” A glare of displeasure was cast at her.
“Only until the incident out in the villages blows over,” Yae replied, not wanting to overstay their welcome. “I’m sure they’ll find the bird and defeat her soon. We just need a safe place to stay until then.”
There was an eye roll before the person stood up with a heavy sigh and a grumble. “Who knows how long that’ll take… Just don’t interfere with my business and do not harm anything here, are we clear?”
A relieved and sunny smile shone on Yae’s face despite her fatigue. “Thank you… Thank you so much, Voice of the Forest-sama!” She turned in her sitting position and bowed deeply to them.
The person seemed extremely irked by this, however, and gave a curt response. “My name is Naruen.” With that they hopped up into the tree and to retire.
Finally able to rest, Yae flopped down onto the grass and laid facing Kouki. She wondered if sleeping in the water would be okay, but she had faith that it would work out. The spring was surprisingly warm, so at least he would not be cold overnight. Kouki’s mother trusted this place so she would too. The Clefable’s skin would just be incredibly pruny by the time they left. She was hungry and was certain that Kouki was too, but she would have to go retrieve the supplies from the wagon later. For now, she needed sleep and she hoped her nightmares would allow her to do so.
When Yae awoke, it was to the sound of a strange whistling. Groggily she rose from her dreamless sleep, a rarity that she would have cherished if not for her curiosity in where the sound was coming from. Seeing Kouki still resting peacefully, she followed the source of the noise. As she got closer, she was able to distinguish that it was the sounds of a flute, or at least someone attempting to play one. The notes were soft and uneven with an occasional shakiness and interruption from the person taking a breath. Amused thinking that it was Naruen, she was surprised to find instead a little girl with a white head of hair, golden eyes, and was dressed in a short blue kimono and an oddly familiar long white and blue jacket that was several sizes too long and was tied back at the sleeves and bottom hem. The little girl was a Piplup who was so absorbed in her task of playing the old bamboo flute that she did not even notice Yae approach until the Espeon offered a greeting.
“Hello~!” Yae chirped cheerily.
The girl yelped in surprise and the flute flew out of her hands, making her stammer as she tried to catch it with trembling hands. Finally she managed a good grip on it with both hands, freezing for a moment as if to make sure it would not move again, and then at last she relaxed. She gave Yae an easy smile. “Hi! Um, Bibi aweady weft.”
“Bibi?” Yae’s tail swished in curiosity.
“Mm! Gween Bibi! I dunno whea he went though.”
“Oh…” If Yae had to guess, it was probably Naruen whom she was talking about. She wondered why she was not told about this girl. Perhaps Naruen had a soft spot for her. “My name’s Yae. May I ask what your name is, Piplup-chan?”
“Kiyoko,” the girl replied, enunciating every syllable. “Bibi said I have a good name.”
“You do! It’s a very pretty name.”
The little girl brightened. “Um, Bibi says Kiyo sometimes, so you can say that too!”
Yae giggled. “Okay, Kiyo-chan then! You can call me Yae.”
“Yaiiiii,” the girl pronounced to herself, her eyebrows furrowing as she committed it to memory.
“What are you doing out here by yourself, Kiyo-chan?” Yae began walking back to the green clearing, gesturing the little girl to follow.
“I’m not by mysewf!” the Piplup argued defensively as she trotted beside the Espeon. “I have the fowest! And Bibi said he’s coming back soon and I’m gonna pway him a song when he comes back.”
“You know how to play the flute?” Yae smiled while pointing at the instrument in her hands.
“Yep! I pwactice evewyday. Bibi says I’m getting good at it.” She glowed with pride.
“You really like Bibi, don’t you?”
“Yep! He’s knows wots of fun games and um, he teaches me things and um, he bwings me food!”
“He sounds very nice!” Yae’s eyes were drawn to the familiar coat. She could recognize it anywhere even with the leaves and debris that coated it from being dragged across the forest floor. “Did he get you those clothes too?”
The girl looked down at her outfit and shook her head. “Okaa-san and Otou-san got me these--” She pointed to her kimono and shoes. “And Bibi says his fwiend gave me this. And the fwute too!” She flapped her arms to make the jacket sleeves jostle and then held up the flute proudly.
“His friend?” Naruen was acquainted with Ou-sama?
“Yep! Bibi said his fwiend bwought me to him when Okaa-san and Otou-san died. He said I was bwessed because the fowest usually doesn’t make ex...exc… I dunno, but I’m bwessed and I got bettuh.”
Yae was not sure what to make of that. Perhaps Noboru had brought the little girl here to heal her, like she did with Kouki. They arrived back at the clearing where Kiyoko immediately trotted up to Kouki’s side and crouched down to look at him. She nodded in approval and smiled. “I bet he’s bwessed too!”
Yae laughed, somehow comforted by the girl’s reassurance. Throughout the rest of the day, she and the little Piplup played games and exchanged stories. They ate from the supplies retrieved from the wagon as well as from the stash of fruit set aside in the grove at the tree’s roots. Naruen’s return was greeted with exuberance from both of the girls, but the news given in response was grave.
“One of your leaders is dead, killed by that bird you mentioned,” Naruen bluntly informed. “The villages are in a panic. Doesn’t sound like this will be resolved soon.”
Yae froze. One of the leaders was murdered…? That… She had never even heard of such a thing occurring in Pokimono during her lifetime, and now… “Do you know who it was? Which leader was killed?”
Naruen shrugged while taking a seat on one of the long, straggly roots of the tree. “One from Gale Spring.
The Espeon let out a shallow breath. So it was either Koori or Tserin… She had not met either of them, but she had seen them every now and then around the village. They were well loved and it seemed just their mere presences brought calmness to the villagers of Gale Spring. To see an end to that calm, even Yae could feel that loss. It was in these times of dire need that her older brother would be needed, but here he lay. In a way, it was probably good that he still slept. Otherwise he would be going out of his mind with frustration and anger, ready to walk the battlefield even if both legs were broken.
“Can you lead me out of the forest?” Yae asked.
She was met with a surprised gaze. “Not that I would complain you leaving, but why?”
“I need to send a message to Scorched Mountain...and to Gale Spring. There are people who will be wondering where my brother is and--”
“No.” Naruen stood up, enmity evident in the sharp blue glare cast at Yae. “No one is to know this location or where he is. If you tell them they will come to find you and I will not have more people treading this soil.” The voice was a seething hiss that was accompanied by the distant rumble of wind and wood.
Yae gazed down at her lap, feeling somewhat distressed. Kouki’s family deserved to know how he was doing, as did the people of Scorched Mountain. “Then...just an update on his condition. So that they won’t worry or think that he’s dead or--or has abandoned his duty. I’ll tell them that he’s injured but recovering and that they don’t need to worry. I won’t breathe a word about his location.”
Naruen glared at her for a long while as if assessing the truthfulness to her words. Yae stared right back. She felt no intimidation, only concern that she would be refused again. In the end, Naruen turned away. “I will pass on your message and you will stay here. Who needs to know this message?”
This surprised her immensely and immediately she began to cheer up. “Ah...Samurai Headquarters in Scorched Mountain and the Yosei family of Gale Spring.”
“Then they will be the only ones to know.” The Voice of the Forest departed on light wings without hearing Yae’s pleas to wait.
The Espeon now looked more distressed because she had forgotten to add that she needed to tell everyone at Kouki’s house as well. Kita, Tsukisho, and Youko… Tsukisho would be able to find out what happened through Kouki’s family at least. Perhaps he would pass on the message to the other two because it seemed unlikely that Naruen would tolerate being a messenger another time. Inwardly she apologized profusely to them and honestly, she wished they could be here too.
As the days passed, Yae would learn that the leaders were falling one by one. In a week’s time they had been slaughtered mercilessly by Yveltal and only a handful remained. Despite what Yae had claimed about the people at the arena, she really did want to help her fellow villagers in this horrid time. However she was devoted to helping Kouki recover, to watch over him here, even if felt like she was being selfish. She would accept that she was a terribly selfish person.
It was when the news was at its bleakest and the skies, even during the day, were clouded by a steadily growing dark aura, that Naruen made an announcement.
“I am leaving today to join the fight. I will win, so when I return I do not want to see you here. Kiyo will lead you out to Noir Vale when you’ve finished your preparations.”
As per the usual way, as soon as business was stated, Naruen departed. Yae was shocked. She thought Naruen wanted absolutely nothing to do with the conflict, although concern for the forest and the increasing darkness was a source of worry. Despite her questions though, there was almost never more communication between them as was necessary even with Yae’s friendliness. There were a few times when Naruen hung around and, when bored, would play a trick on Yae or she would manage to pry a conversation longer than five minutes out of them, but in the end the Voice of the Forest was more avoidant than even Kouki toward socializing. Even when she asked about Noboru, the answers were vague beyond the fact that they were acquainted with one another, though her knowing the Jumpluff did appear to come as a surprise. Naruen would keep all personal matters close to the vest though and Yae imagined too that being in Naruen’s home was a large source of discomfort. Either way, it seemed they would be departing soon, much to Kiyo’s displeasure.
Kiyo pleaded with Yae to stay during the entire time she packed up what little supplies they had left. She was able to convince Yae to stay long enough to share one last meal and flute song together. Kiyo only knew how to play the scale, but Yae applauded as if she performed an entire concert every time. As Yae pulled Kouki out of the water, a task that she normally did every couple of hours to prevent his skin from swelling, she checked his wounds. The gash in his head had sufficiently healed around the sutures his mother had given him and had closed cleanly. The terrible discoloration of his ribs and fractured leg had also gone down, although the actual bones themselves would likely to need a lot more time to recover. She dried him off as best she could and then proceeded to wrap him up snugly in blankets. However, when she touched his wings he shocked her by letting out a strangled cry. His body convulsed and curled up with shaky breaths, a cold sweat breaking on his forehead.
“Onii-sama--?! Wh-What is it, what’s in pain?” Yae’s pulse was pounding in her head. His wounds were looking better, at least from the outside. Was there an internal complication then, his ribs maybe?
Kiyo rushed over as well looking just as worried. “Is he sick?”
“I...I don’t know…” The Espeon was at a loss, but only more questions would arise when Kouki’s wings would begin to glow. It was the conspicuous pure white that everyone in Pokimono would be able to recognize. His wings were...evolving? Was that possible? It would throw out everything Yae knew about the Clefairy evolution line and possibly every evolution. None of them evolved four times, right?
When the light faded, his wings looked...different. The dark purplish-pink color was the same, however their shape was different. The structure seemed similar to Naruen’s wings in their flat and light form, and yet they were entirely different at the same time. They did not glow like Naruen’s and the shape still remained somewhat star-like as characteristic of a Clefable’s wings.
Staring in wonder, Yae cautiously prodded the end of one of his wings. It felt soft and although it looked nearly paper thin, the wing was certainly solid. What in Arceus’ name was going on? At the very least Kouki’s condition seemed to calm down. He was breathing easier now and eventually calmed to a normal pace.
Yae was too wary to risk moving Kouki again after the unexpected event, therefore when Naruen returned she was still checking and monitoring the Clefable’s condition. In an instant a burst of wind sliced through the clearing and slapped against the tree trunks around them.
“Why are you still here?” Naruen demanded while storming over, eyes and wings darkening.
The Espeon was prepared for Naruen’s anger, however it would be Kiyo who would rush over and answer, clinging to Naruen’s legs.
“Kouki-niisan is sick!” Kiyo cried, golden eyes bubbling up tears. “His wings got white and shiny and he wasn’t saying anything and it was bwight and--”
“Calm down,” Naruen snapped, tone none too gentle. Blue eyes looked over at Kouki and widened with surprise.
“Did he evolve?!” Yae asked excitedly. The prospect of a fourth evolution was thrilling! Her mind was already racing with the possibilities and wondering which Pokemon would be likely to have fourth evolutions and--
Naruen knelt by the Clefable, examining the wings closer as recognition dawned. “...No. His type changed.”
“...What…?” the Espeon uttered. Did...Clefables do that? She knew of other Pokemon that could change their type, like Kecleon for example, but a Clefable?
“You’ll receive an explanation when you return to the village,” Naruen stated. “It’s nothing to worry about. All you need to know is that new strengths may awaken within him in the future. However, that also comes with new weaknesses. Now pack up your things, we’re leaving.”
The Espeon would pout, but a week with Naruen meant she knew this was the end of the discussion. Since her items were already packed, she finished rebundling Kouki in their blankets and began carrying him with Psychic once more. Kiyo skipped alongside Yae while Naruen led the way. The fact that Naruen bothered to come along was probably Naruen’s own way of expressing fondness...or likely just a way to make sure Yae left and did not come back.
The forest seemed...lighter now during this departure. The terrible dark aura that had snaked through the sky and blanketed a shadowy curtain over all of Pokimono was now gone. Naruen had kept his word, though the Espeon suspected that he did not do it alone. In addition to what was happening in the world outside of the forest, Yae was filled with curiosity over Kouki’s new type and what that meant. Would he have new attacks? What were the weaknesses? Kouki’s new type likely meant that Yae would be watching him even more closely now just to fulfill her curiosity. These questions were a welcome distraction from her worry over his condition.
When Yae began to tire from the mental strain of carrying Kouki, Naruen paused as a lighter glow than Yae’s Psychic surrounded the Clefable’s body. Without waiting for her to rest Naruen continued on while carrying Kouki with their own Psychic power. She smiled and voiced her gratitude, to which Naruen merely gave a grunt in response. When they reached the edge of the forest, there was a surprise waiting for her. A tall man with silvery blue hair gave her an easygoing smile that made her squeal in delight.
“Well well, what do we have here?” he said, feigning first introductions. “A little princess?” He gave a foreign, sweeping bow. “Why, it would be my honor to escort you to the village.”
“OU-SAMA!!” Yae bowled the Jumpluff over in a tackle that would have knocked the wind out of him had he not braced for impact. They both fell over anyway while Yae clung to his waist and kicked her legs in excitement.
“I found him wandering about the village looking for...what was it you were looking for?” Naruen queried with a raised eyebrow. “A Zoroark?”
“Zorua,” Noboru politely corrected while struggling to sit up up despite Yae’s loving clinging.
“Right, that. Anyway, I told him to help me get you to the village and make sure you stay there if you hadn’t left by the time I got back.” Naruen waved his arm forward, bringing Kouki ahead and allowing Noboru to carry him once the Jumpluff was on his feet again. “Remember what we agreed. You are not to return here again.”
“Noooooooooo!” Kiyo cried and ran into Yae’s legs. She clung to her skirt and gazed up with watery eyes. “I don’t want you to go!”
Yae knelt down and cupped the side of Kiyoko’s face much in the same way that Kouki’s mother had done to her. “It’ll be okay, Kiyo-chan. We’ll see each other again! When you get really good at playing that flute, you should come perform in the village. Everyone from far and wide will come to listen to you play.”
“And then evewyone is gonna be happy, wike Bibi!” Kiyo chirped enthusiastically.
Yae giggled. “You bet they will, just like Bibi-sama.” She cast a glance at the Voice of the Forest who looked away with what Yae recognized as the same look Kouki would get whenever the Espeon told him she loved him.
“Yaii-neesan is gonna come watch me too?” the Piplup asked with a glimmer to her golden eyes.
“Of course I will!” the Espeon vowed.
Kiyo then turned to look up at Noboru and Kouki. She gave them as stern a look as she could muster with her round baby face. “I don’t know you, but you bettuh come too. And you bettuh bwing Kouki-niisan with you.”
The Jumpluff let out a small chuckle with a fond smile on his face. “As you wish. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Kiyo nodded with strict approval before finally returning to Naruen’s side.
“Bye bye, Yaii-neesan! Kouki-niisan! Ojii-san!”
“O-Ojii-san…? I’m so old…”
“Come visit us sometime, Naruen-sama!”
“Not in this lifetime.”
“I’ll teach you a trick that even scared my brother!”
What was this? She tried to inhale a breath, but there was no air. In a panic a jolt was sent through her arms and legs to struggle, but they did not move at all. Was she imprisoned? It was so dark, so painful, and so terribly, terribly cold. She was scared. Screams and darkness echoed through her muddled mind. Vaguely she recalled a glimmer of...energy and a draining cold that clawed through her body… It was...no. Was she...dead? She could not be...she refused to be. There was someone very important to her whom she could not leave, whom she could never, ever leave and she would never forgive herself if she did.
She was angry. As her anger grew, there was a warmth within her that swelled as well. Although she was unable to move, she tried so desperately to curl in on herself and keep it from being snuffed out. The warmth, the warmth, shield the fire from the cold, the winter cold, the cold of her father’s blue gaze, the cold of Hoko’s body, the cold of her mother’s hands… Her mother’s embrace, she could feel it now. The frigid cold melded, took the form of her mother’s silken dark hair, periwinkle lips, and crystalline eyes. Her dark blue kimono sleeves, large and encompassing, wrapped her, flowed around her, like she was a child in the womb once more.
But there came an uneasiness. Where did it come from? It sparked movement in her leg, a twitch. This was not right. The warmth within her, it was growing and the more it grew, the more she could move. Her toes, her ankle, her fingers, now her whole leg--her elbows bent and she grabbed at her chest, trying to save that warmth as it stabbed her from within, trying to fight off the cold that infested her body. Her mother’s sleeves slipped away from her, but her hands guided her upward, forward--further she moved, further she struggled because, because--!
She broke the surface of the water, gasping and shaking. Her skin was abnormally pale with tinges of blue and she sat helplessly while groping around in her melted cocoon of ice like a newborn.
Hands instantly met her, large ones, that were so, so warm. She grabbed onto them for dear life and trembled so badly that she even quaked the hands that held onto her. She could hear voices, the closest being a deep resounding one, but she was in such a fervor to cling to that warmth that she did not register the words. One of the hands pried itself out of her grasp, causing her to whimper and grab for it, but it was already out of her reach. Instead what she felt was fabric, almost as warm as the hands, fold around her. A large white sleeve wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. It was foreign, so unlike her mother’s caressing hold, but it was strong and gentle and so very warm.
She continued holding onto the hand as her head sank against a broad robed chest of fine white silk. Her pale blue fingers slowly crept along the rough ridges, worn by age and battle. Finally she gazed up at the face she knew was there, but observed how different it seemed. Sunken, more lines, more age. A brow and cheekbones that were once stern and proud now had a prominent overtone of fatigue. Eyes, blue, but no longer cold. Why did they look so warm now?
A shivering hand reached up to touch the face. It was once smooth and angular and noble. She half-expected it to feel like cold marble, but no--it was soft skin and flesh and still very warm. The eyes, which she could now see were red rimmed with dark circles in the skin beneath, seemed to soften and melt like the ice that had surrounded her. This person, this side of him was so foreign to her that he was almost a stranger and it confused her, but it was assuredly him. But she could not tear her eyes away from this gaze of his that she had never seen before. Not breaking that precious thread of eye contact, she lifted his hand in hers, and kissed the rugged knuckle. For once, in a very, very long time since before her mother’s death, the father and daughter, shared an act of affection. A father’s guidance 儀, a mother’s love 愛--now a mother’s guidance 儀 and a father’s love 愛. Noria 儀愛.