Between the Solstice and the Feast (Fiera Kitsun)

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Between the Solstice and the Feast (Fiera Kitsun)
Date of Cutscene: 24 December 2014
Location: Pokemon Islands
Synopsis: After months of physical recovery and spiritual training, Fiera is reunited at last with Foxfire, as well as learning how much further she has to go.
Cast of Characters: 262

The only thing that kept Fiera from losing track of the time is the strict calendar by which the shrine maidens live and work.

Every day begins the same way: the novices rise early, cleaning the kitchen and the dining hall before they start to cook. Fiera has spent enough time in the wilderness to be an adequate cook for herself and for her Pokemon, but even she had to start with washing the rice for each meal, and she's still subordinate to more experienced chefs during meal preparation. And breakfast itself is as formal and regimented a meal as any other: they always eat together, not quite "in unison," but without much difference between the first and the last to finish eating. Then the dishes have to be washed and dried, and more food prepared for the Pokemon of the shrine complex: ground- and grass-types who tend the gardens, flying-types who act as scouts and heralds, fire-types who help to tend the fires and the torches, and so on.

It's only after breakfast that the rhythm of each day changes. Every day brings different prayers as well as different visitors; calendars and star charts mark the flow and turn of the seasons, echoing Nature's own cycles and progression. When Fiera first arrived at the shrine, her arm newly mended from the fight in the Marshlands, the leaves were already browning; since then, the deciduous trees have fallen bare, the rains have grown cold and turned to snow, and the lighter, rake-like brooms for gathering leaves have been replaced by thicker brooms and a few shovels for removing snow from the paths.

But after breakfast on this day, a familiar Growlithe drops off a thin scroll in Fiera's path, and she knows who it's from even before she unrolls it and reads it. Shortly thereafter, she's kneeling in her room, waiting for the head of the shrine.

She doesn't have to wait long; her grand-aunt Matsuko arrives quickly with her Growlithe, although the dog-like fire Pokemon remains in the hall as Matsuko situates herself in front of Fiera. "Hands," says the gray-haired priestess without further prelude; Fiera holds her hands out, palm up, and Matsuko takes them in her own. Then she starts bending Fiera's fingers, one at a time in random order; Fiera's necessary response is to bend the corresponding finger on the other hand. It's a simple enough exercise, one they've been doing on at least a weekly basis since Fiera's arrival; the point is to make sure that Fiera's nervous system has rewired itself properly after her right arm was repaired - or possibly replaced; Fiera still doesn't remember much of her initial recovery.

But she remembers every day, every lesson, that she's been through at the shrine. In a way, she's had it easy: Matsuko wouldn't let her do anything but focus on her neurophysical therapy on days when she got even one finger wrong.

But at the same time, Fiera has been deprived of her closest and dearest friends. She still remembers her grand-aunt's words when they first talked after Fiera's arrival ...

"You were nearly killed, you idiot girl, and for what? - No, don't even answer!! You think you know but I'll tell you the truth: your will was too weak and you let your Pokemon decide your actions. Can you really tell me I'm wrong?"

Fiera winces a bit, partly at the pressure her grand-aunt is exerting on her right ring finger, but mostly at the memory as she curls her left ring finger to match. And Matsuko releases her hands. "Good enough," she says gruffly. "How do you feel?"

Fiera rubs her hands together briefly, closing and opening her hands a couple of times. "I'm okay. It's almost Christmas, isn't it?"

"Tomorrow," Matsuko scoffs. "Well, I shouldn't be unfair; you did your part well during the winter solstice the other day, and your uncle sent something for you. Someone, I should say ..." She takes a miniaturized Pokeball out of her robes, setting it down in front of Fiera. "Don't touch it," she warns the red-haired Trainer, cutting Fiera off before she can even reach for it. "Who is it?"

Fiera doesn't hesitate to answer: "It's Foxfire, my Ninetales, who's been with me since she was a Vulpix and since before I was old enough to get my first Pokemon trainer's license."

Matsuko huffs quietly. "I made that too easy, didn't I? Well, you're right ... do you even mark your Pokeballs? Stupid mass-produced things are impossible to tell apart; Apricorns have more character."

"If everyone used Apricorn-based balls," Fiera points out, "we wouldn't have any Apricorns left - over-harvesting would kill the trees they grow on."

The corner of Matsuko's mouth quirks upwards. "So you do pay attention. Go on, let Foxfire out; she's been waiting to see you for a long time."

Fiera doesn't need any further prompting, although she restrains herself a bit as she picks up the Pokeball, expands it, and thumbs the latch to release her Ninetales. As soon as Foxfire finishes materializing, the two of them are hugging - Fiera's arms enfolding the nine-tailed fox's shoulders, and Foxfire leaning into her, tails fanned around to embrace Fiera as well as the Ninetales can. Matsuko just watches the two of them for a few seconds. "Foxfire ... you know why I had to be cruel to you and your kin, don't you?"

Fiera and Foxfire both stiffen at that, and let go of each other as the Ninetales turns to glower at Matsuko. "[Please enlighten me, Head Priestess,]" Foxfire growls - and Fiera has to fight not to giggle inappropriately; she didn't know a Pokemon could vocalize that much sarcasm.

Matsuko, however, is clearly not amused. "Are you as dense as your trainer?" she snaps - although she reins her temper in immediately thereafter, inclining her head slightly to the Ninetales. "Pardon my rudeness ... but you should have known something of the sort would happen. Fiera's empathic linking is powerful, she's the most wide-open Trainer in our family in generations. But that makes her vulnerable to all kinds of influences; you know how she reacts when a Shadow Pokemon comes close enough for her to sense it, linked or not. And her Gyarados, Taki, used to be Shadowed; that's a bad combination. Gyarados are rarely level-headed, and Taki's had all the abuse of the Shadow state heaped on it -"

"She," Fiera and Foxfire correct simultaneously, and forcefully.

"- on top of the species's predilection to be foul-tempered," Matsuko continues without pausing. "Fiera, natural talent be scorched; you're still a novice Pokemon trainer, not even a full amateur yet. What was anyone thinking, letting you run around with an ex-Shadow Gyarados, a Skarmory who's so bloodthirsty it should still be wild, a Haunter who would love to make you wake up screaming -"

"Grandmother, enough!!"

Even though Fiera and Matsuko both know their actual relationship, Fiera still calls the old priestess "grandmother" for a few different reasons. Fiera continues, trying to will the tears back from her eyes. "Anrei isn't like that! Yes, Taki and Tenkuuzan are aggressive, but -"

"Aggressive?!" exclaims Matsuko. "Fiera, before you can set foot outside these grounds with any Pokemon other than Foxfire, you absolutely must learn to read their moods better!" She rises to her feet. "And here I thought a reunion with Foxfire would be good for you ... well, I won't separate you two again, not for Christmas and not after it. But you're staying a novice until you can balance your spirit against those of the Pokemon you keep - and I'm not trusting you with any beyond Foxfire until you can pay better attention to their natures. Those are predators you've been running around with, and practically psychotic ones to boot. - Oh, not all of them," she continues, waving a hand as she cuts off another outburst before Fiera can get the words out. "Chika's all right, and Koori seems pretty well-adjusted. But too many of your Pokemon are genuinely bloodthirsty; if they were human they'd be rightly labeled psychopathic. And you should know it without my telling you! The Trainer always has the most insight into the hearts of the Pokemon she's linked with; never let your love of your Pokemon blind you to what they really are!"

Fiera can only gape, even as her grand-aunt runs out of words. Foxfire doesn't speak either, although her inner turmoil is different from Fiera's tumult of emotions.

Matsuko lets out a quiet sigh, shaking her head. "Fiera. Do I have to tell your uncle to release your Pokemon back to the wild?"

"Why would you -"

"Because you are simply not prepared to handle them," Matsuko replies emphatically before Fiera can finish her question. "And at this rate, it may be decades before you can keep them reined in. Fiera, make no mistake: your empathy, your ability to fully synchronize with any of your Pokemon, is a gift and a blessing. It's something we've all dreamed of, since even before my years as a novice: the ability to fully open oneself to the heart of one's Pokemon, a bond that transcends the normal links of even the best trainers. You should be here as a full-time miko in training, not practicing for the Pokemon League. But you have to master your talent - and that means knowing where to hold your Pokemon back instead of letting them do their own thing."

Fiera slowly rearranges her legs back into the proper kneeling position, the seiza position that her family brought from Japan: one of the traditions that's rigidly maintained at shrines like her grand-aunt's. "Except there's no hard-and-fast rule for that, is there? Just like every Pokemon is different ..."

"So you know that much," Matsuko replies with a nod. "Quite so. The more ferocious the Pokemon, the further back you need to hold it. Foxfire's been around you for years, she knows the lines to hold to in most circumstances, and you know her so well that she can pick up on your cues without thinking about it." She pauses. "That's lousy training."

Fiera suppresses a wince, looking up at her grand-aunt. "What do you want me to do, start with a Pidgey again? Or a Caterpie?"

Matsuko gives her grand-niece a silent withering look.

"... seriously, Grandmother," Fiera says more calmly. "How do I train into that kind of judgment? If Foxfire and I already have that relationship, what am I supposed to build on?"

"You start with the Pokemon you already have," Matsuko answers. "Fiera, this is something every trainer is supposed to learn along the way - Pokemon miko especially. There's no guidebook or training manual for it; you learn by experience. And honestly, for what I said about letting them go earlier - it would be irresponsible to throw a Skarmory or a Gyarados back into the wild just because they won't behave themselves under your guidance. Irreponsible, cruel, and more dangerous than getting one of the Great Beasts mad at you."

Fiera opens her mouth, starting to ask a question, then catches herself. "Because if they've grown to believe that kind of vicious behavior is normal or okay, they'll keep acting like that in the wild?"

"At best," Matsuko nods. "They could attack you instead - or in this case, your uncle, and then fight their way across to try and get back to you. And if you tried to shoo them off they might well turn against you the same way."

Fiera blanches, picturing Tenkuuzan or Taki attacking her in full fury. "Could they go Shadow ... ?"

"Thankfully, no," says Matsuko. "That takes a special kind of malice - you have to really push to close off a Pokemon's heart like that, and twisting the key in the lock requires an unnatural cruelty. And if you're worried about Taki in particular, you don't need to; you purified her, purged the Shadow taint completely. There's nothing there for her to relapse into."

Fiera lets out a sigh of relief. "So ... what do I do?"

"You're pardoned from most shrine duties for today," Matsuko tells Fiera. "Spend the time with Foxfire, rebuild your relationship. Not that it should take much rebuilding - but you both need exercise, so go out and get it. Run around, play in the snow, don't get in anyone else's way. You might go into town and make sure you've done your Christmas shopping - which reminds me." She pulls an envelope out of her robes. "Here. You haven't been receiving your stipend, and even novices get a little spending money, for necessities and other things."

"Christmas ..." Fiera takes the envelope, glancing at her grand-aunt for permission before she checks the contents. "I do get some pay from the Union, you know."

"Pay that's been getting deposited into an account you can't access from here," Matsuko says. "There's an ATM at the bank if you need it; stop by my office and I'll dig your wallet out of whichever drawer it's in. Go and play until lunch, afternoon's time enough."

Fiera nods, slipping the envelope into her robes before getting to her feet. "Thank you, Grandmother."

Matsuko snorts quietly, "Thanking me for being the hard-ass of a senior priestess? That's a new one. Get going, you two. And remember to keep learning!"