All Things Begin Anew (Fiera Kitsun)

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All Things Begin Anew (Fiera Kitsun)
Date of Cutscene: 15 March 2015
Location: Pokemon Islands
Synopsis: Fiera completes her training at her grand-aunt's shrine ... at least for now.
Cast of Characters: Fiera Kitsun

It isn't officially spring yet, but the snows and ice around the shrine have finally melted to allow a festival day. Merchants have set up their stalls along the public lanes of the shrine, and the miko who are far enough in their training are presiding over prayers and blessings - although Matsuko still oversees them in turn, and steps in to lead most of the prayers herself. The other miko, those whose training is too limited to take part in those ceremonies, are selling charms and prayer slips ... all of them except for one.

All of them except for Fiera. Today, she is neither a student nor a priestess; she is a mere Pokemon trainer, and not even that in some ways. Matsuko has given her "permission" to enjoy the festival as any visitor would, because it is her last day and night at the shrine. As such, clad in a simple white yukata, she makes her way along the aisles, sometimes spending money on a game or a treat, other times just watching other visitors try their skill or luck. She doesn't even venture up to the main shrine, although she wants to - and the same piece of her that yearns most to go and receive the shrine's blessing is the piece that knows why she cannot set foot there.

She is no longer her grandmother's student ... but she has not yet passed the test. In this state of in-between-ness, she is a foreigner to the shrine grounds. At least until night begins to fall.

As the sun's edge dips behind the surrounding trees, bells are rung at each corner of the outer grounds, and Fiera feels her heart quicken as she turns, at last, to climb the stairs to the main shrine grounds. A few miko whisper good luck to her as she passes; she smiles, bowing her head, but does not stop nor speak. When she reaches the top of the stairs, the main yard has been cleared of visitors and miko alike, creating a clearing large enough to permit Pokemon to do battle. Fiera runs her hand briefly against the cluster of Pokeballs tucked inside her yukata: partly to make sure none have rolled away, and partly to refresh her link with the Pokemon she's chosen.

Choose six, Matsuko had told her. And choose well - for if you fail, there will be nothing left I can do.

The chiming of bells gives way to the deep reverberation of a ritual gong, and the onlookers fall quiet as Matsuko speaks. "Since the oldest of our legends, since before words were etched upon stone or metal or paper, there have been Three. The Pokemon of Grass, representing the earth's bounty; the Pokemon of Water, embodying the oceans and the rivers; and the Pokemon of Fire, reminding us of the light and heat of the sun. So it has been that new trainers choose their first companion from among these three, and set forth to begin their path of learning."

Matsuko's gaze settles upon Fiera, unyielding and pitiless. "Fiera Kitsun, although you are my sister's grandchild, you stand here only as my student. You have been allowed to choose six Pokemon to face my three. Will you need all six?"

It's as close to a trick question as Matsuko ever stoops to asking; Fiera swallows before stating, "I will not know until the test is over. The kami willing, I will not."

Matsuko nods. "Then we begin. FUBUKI!" The Apricorn leaves her hand - Fiera hadn't seen her holding one - and an Empoleon rises up between them as torches are kindled to light the ring.

Empoleon, thinks Fiera, reaching into her yukata. Ice - no, water with steel aspects, penguin or not. She's already pulling out a Pokeball, thumbing the switch to expand it. Grandmother isn't holding back - not that I thought she would. "Suiryuu!" she calls out, releasing her Dratini, and a murmur of surprise rolls through the crowd.

Matsuko shakes her head. "You've forgotten what little you knew, child. Are you sure you wish to pit a Dragon-type against Fubuki?"

"If I didn't," Fiera calls back, "I would have picked a different one. Suiryuu -" She sucks in a breath, turning her focus inwards, and the sinuous blue-skinned Pokemon arches her body before beginning, it seems, to dance where it sits. Gather yourself, Suiryuu ...

"Enough of this," snaps Matsuko. "Fubuki, douse their heads!" And the Empoleon rushes forward to attack, an Aqua Jet technique rushing towards the Dratini and buffeting her hard enough to knock Suiryuu out of her dance. But it isn't enough to prevent the Dragon Dance from having its effect, not outward but inward; Fiera smiles ever so faintly as she feels power coursing through Suiryuu.

Water and steel, Fiera reminds herself. "Thunder Wave!" A net of electricity arcs out from Suiryuu's mouth, and the voltage finds its way to earth through Fubuki, the imperial penguin twitching roughly.

"Poorly played, child," Matsuko chides her. "DRILL PECK!" The Empoleon hurls itself at the Dratini, twisting around before trying to drive the tip of its beak into Suiryuu's flank; Fiera lets out a gasp, wincing at the shared pain, but she knows this is the opportunity Suiryuu needs.

"Dragon Rush!"

Fiera barely needs to call the words; Suiryuu is already wrapping around the Empoleon and lunging across the field, using the Empoleon to absorb the repeated impacts. This time it's Matsuko who winces, hissing as she feels her Pokemon's injuries. "Too little and too late, Fiera! Fubuki, Hydro Pump!"

The Empoleon breaks loose, rearing up - only to shudder, shrieking as it thrashes against its own body's refusal to obey its will, the paralysis induced by the earlier Thunder Wave throwing off its stride. "Dragon Tail!" Fiera calls out, and Suiryuu twists around before lashing out with its tail, smashing it across the Empoleon's face before the Dratini bounds back to Fiera, vanishing into her Pokeball. Fiera is already reaching for the next Pokeball as Fubuki wobbles on its feet ...

And then the Empoleon vanishes, recalled by Matsuko. "Hmph. Quicker wits than I thought from you, girl. You shall not be so lucky twice - Kusanagi, lay her to rest!" Another Apricorn-based Pokeball flies from the priestess's hands, and a Serperior takes shape.

Fiera just shakes her head, releasing her Ninetales. "Did you forget who my starter is, Grandmother?"

Matsuko smirks. "Certainly not, but you've never met mine. Go!" The Serperior springs at Foxfire, belching a spray of mist - and suddenly Fiera realizes the trap she fell into, as the Gastro Acid hits and the low-key agony of a poison effect clutches at the Ninetales's awareness.

Fiera shudders a bit, her stomach twisting, and her mind races ... in tandem with Foxfire's, as they finally synchronize fully, having trusted their bond and allowed their confidence to overcome their focus. Matsuko has the advantage for now, but being poisoned doesn't hinder a Pokemon's offensive ability; Foxfire's head comes back up, and she blasts the Serperior with Fire Spin, the flaming cyclone trapping and scorching the grass snake Pokemon. Then it's Matsuko's turn to reel, sharing her Pokemon's pain through their link.

"Two can play at that game, girl!" shouts Matsuko as she regains her equilibrium. "Kusanagi, Leaf Storm!"

"Seeeeeeeeeerp!!" shrieks the Serperior, and leaves fly out of the ongoing Fire Spin, a little crispy but not truly burnt; their edges slice into Foxfire's flanks and tails, eliciting a keen of pain, but it's not enough to stop the Ninetales from following up with a Fire Blast that knocks Kusanagi right out of the Fire Spin's vortex. Kusanagi lands badly, hard enough that Fiera winces in sympathy, and Matsuko recalls the Serperior immediately.

Fiera recalls Foxfire as well, wishing she had been allowed to carry some of the berries she usually keeps, and both she and Matsuko have to take a moment to recover from the intensity of that final exchange. "Well," Matsuko finally speaks again, "Novice Fiera ... I said you had not yet met my starter."

Fiera blinks. "You mean your Serperior - Kusanagi - I thought he or she was your starter ..."

Matsuko chuckles, and some of the onlookers shuffle back another step. "Kusanagi's been my ally for years, it's true, but she wasn't my first Pokemon partner." This time, Matsuko draws an actual, technology-based Pokeball from her sleeve, expanding it with the tap of a finger. "Now meet her. Meet my rising star of morning ... AKATSUKI!!"

It's the first time Fiera has ever laid eyes on a Delphox. She knows of their initial form as Fennekin, but she's never seen any stage of Fennekin's later development; the vulpine-featured Fire-type rises up, its - her - humanoid shape a fitting companion for a shrine maiden; her fur almost suggests a miko's gi and hakama as it is.

"How many of your Pokemon will you need to overcome Akatsuki, novice?" Matsuko asks, grinning triumphantly. "We're waiting. Your new Snorlax, perhaps?"

Fiera breathes in deeply, then lets the breath out slowly, focusing once more. "Futon could handle this, but not without a great deal of work." Her fingers trail over her Pokeballs before closing on one and drawing it out of her yukata. "I have an easier option. I'm sorry about frightening you, Grandmother, but - Taki, lend me your strength!"

The Gyarados materializes, giving voice to a roar that all but deafens the onlookers; Matsuko actually flinches, the expectation of triumph replaced by a dawning horror. "Are you mad, Fiera?! After all I said -"

Fiera shakes her head slowly as Taki twirls slowly in the air above her. "I heard all that you told me, Senior Priestess, and your words were taken deeply to heart even as you stabbed my pride with them." She bows, formally and politely, to Matsuko. "You spoke truly, even though your pride drove you then as now."

"Wha --" Matsuko's breath catches, her hands disappearing into her sleeves before they can clench into fists in full view. "A mere novice ... lecturing me?!"

Fiera hasn't straightened up from her bow yet. "Observing, not lecturing; the latter is not my place. The former ... I may yet be presuming." She lifts her head, her waist remaining bent. "If you're prepared, I'm ready to proceed."

Matsuko inhales deeply through her nose. "A mere novice," she repeats quietly. "All right." Her Delphox raises its burning branch, pointing the flaming tip at Taki, and a powerful wave of psychic force ripples out, wracking Fiera's Gyarados with real pain.

It hurts Taki enough for Fiera to question whether this was really a good choice; she could tell the Delphox was a fire-type, but she didn't anticipate psychic attacks in Akatsuki's arsenal. And if the pain overwhelms Taki's willingness to listen to her -

Fiera closes her eyes, immersing herself in Taki's being, letting the bond fill her mind; the notorious rage of a Gyarados follows it, a temper that ravages and destroys everything when unleashed. Whoever had turned Taki into a Shadow Pokemon, back when she was a Magikarp, must have anticipated turning her into a weapon of utter terror - but a Shadow Pokemon stops growing, and can't evolve. She knows full well why Matsuko was terrified; Fiera has felt it herself, even without synchronizing with Taki - it's the same aggression, the same simmering fury, that drove her in her last battle before she was injured and sent home from the Union to recover.

Her left hand goes to her right arm, Taki's roars of pain buffeting her ears and her mind together as she remembers the agony of the shotgun blast to her forearm. Her fingers flex and straighten, then close together into a loose fist as Fiera takes a deep breath.

And it starts to rain, as Taki's aerial undulations change in tempo, becoming purposeful, directed. Fiera knows it's going to soak right through her yukata in moments, but she stands up straight, her sense of time returning to normal. Maybe half a second has passed from the Delphox's psychic onslaught.

Taki, are you with me? Fiera wonders. Never left, the Gyarados responds without words.

The rage is still there, but in this state of two minds merging, two hearts beating as one, Fiera can keep it from overwhelming her. It would be so satisfying to hit Akatsuki with the strongest attack at Taki's disposal, to hammer it flat with Hydro Pump or Dragon Rage - but that would be just what Matsuko expects, what she's trying to prevent by overwhelming the Gyarados with psychic attacks, bypassing water's resistance to fire.

The telepathic assault relents, although Akatsuki's brand barely wavers; the flame at its tip burns even brighter, and Fiera's instincts scream a warning; Taki's temper strains against her restraint, but Fiera digs her heels into the ground beneath her feet, squaring her shoulders, refusing to let her control slip. She's close - far too close for comfort, with the odds wavering as they are - but this is her final test, and Matsuko is watching them more closely than ever.

The rainfall surges as the Gyarados's body whips through the air, water gathering around its tail fins as Fiera directs Taki in an Aqua Tail technique; the storm wave slaps into Akatsuki, its branch dimming almost to an ember as it's hurled backwards, sliding to a halt at Matsuko's feet.

Taki is just beginning to let out another roar when Fiera recalls her. "As I said before, Head Priestess, I'm sorry for frightening you," Fiera says, the rain starting to let up. "Is Akatsuki all right?"

The Delphox disappears back into Matsuko's Pokeball, and the senior priestess straightens up. "She'll recover. I'm ... I expected more. Worse."

"I know," Fiera replies, bowing her head briefly. "I ... we wanted to hit harder. I didn't want to."

"Hmph." Matsuko shakes her head slightly. "Come inside, dry off and change. Your yukata's ruined."

Fiera glances down at herself, blushing a bit as she follows.

A few minutes later, Fiera emerges once more from the shrine building. Several of her Pokeballs are with her possessions; the other two have been entrusted to the local Nurse Joy, as have all three of Matsuko's. Foxfire has been dosed with an antidote, curing the poison from Matsuko's Serperior, but the Ninetales refused to leave Fiera's side.

As for Fiera, her yukata has been hung up to dry behind the shrine building. In its place, she wears the white gi and vermilion hakama of a full miko, and she stands perfectly still as Matsuko secures a thin silver necklace about her throat. Hanging from that necklace is a circular pendant, with a clear crystal of quartz set into one side; the back is etched with the Japanese character's of the shrine's name ...

Kyoutou Jinja: Shrine of the Lamp of the Morning Star.

As Matsuko finishes securing the necklace, she whispers into Fiera's ear, "You're counted as a miko now. Don't think that means you've finished your training."

Fiera smiles, and turns her head to whisper back, "I know, Grandmother. But I thank you for all you've taught me."

Matsuko returns the smile, squeezing her grand-niece's shoulders. "Can't leave a novice running around like she knows everything. Go - enjoy the rest of the festival. You leave in the morning."