Chapter 18: Interlude – Son of Stone

When the gods came upon the earth, it was a single, massive lump of solid stone, floating through the Great Dark. So Brock’s great-grandmother taught him as a child, practicing his basic sums as she knitted a sweater with mesmerizing fluidity. Iron and tin, gold and silver, granite and obsidian, all the metals and minerals blended and fused into one cosmic body. The gods had argued over how they might shape this world, and were still not decided when they reached it. Kagu-tsuchi wished to scoop out the earth’s insides like an egg, and fill it with magma until it became a sun. Watatsumi wished to pound rain upon it until the stone eroded and pitted, and craters formed for lakes and oceans that would cover its surface. Every god and goddess had their own preference for what the world should be, and what manner of creatures they would fill it with.

Soon the argument became more than words, and each god began to form it as they wished. Fire filled its core until the whole planet glowed, until water fell on the surface and cooled it before it burst. Lightning blasted the stone into soil, and plants grew and sucked up the water before it washed it all away. It was a time of endless destruction and strife, and the gods were so busy trying to dominate each other that a hundred thousand years passed without a single creature they created surviving past a generation.

It was the god and goddess Haniyasu-Hiko and Haniyasu-Hime that decided to fashion creatures that could live even in such endless turmoil. Though the fire filled its belly, still the stone was there. Though the lightning blasted pits in it, still the stone was there. Though the waves and rain pounded it to sand, still the stone was there. Though the greedy roots cracked it, still the stone was there. And so, they made their beings from stone, which weathered all things, cracked and scorched and pitted and split, but still there.

The rest of the gods’ creatures, crafted from other elements, lived where they could, but the stone people were capable of surviving in the most environments, and spread the farthest. Eventually the gods exhausted themselves into a stalemate, and left to regain their strength on the way to another world. The various creatures and demigods that they had crafted and left behind reached a relative peace of their own, and lived in their domains. As generation after generation passed, the people of stone softened and became flesh and blood. But just as the bones of the earth remained stone, so did the bones of the people, hard and strong enough to stand against the storms of the gods with a straight back.

“That is our legacy, Takeshi,” his great-grandmother told him in her native tongue, thin hands ceasing their waltz to grip his arm with surprising strength. “Stone endures.” Her thumb dug into his skin, not enough to hurt, but so she could feel the bones beneath his flesh. “Inside you lies the strength of the very earth itself. Others have forgotten their ancestors, but our people will always be the children of stone.”


Gym Leader Brock, who no one alive still calls Takeshi, sees the forest around him in the green glow of infrared. More than that, he can feel it through the pokemon he rides. Aeosis’s body winds between the trees, but his sides are so wide that they constantly strip the bark clean off the trunks he brushes against. Sharp cracks come from all sides as smaller trees and bushes snap and get trampled under the onix’s many segments.

“Brock!”

Again and again throughout the forest, trainers stop what they’re doing and look on as the massive rock snake passes by, almost sixty meters long from head to tail. The boulders of its body are the height of a tall man, and from his saddle a few segments behind the onix’s head, Brock’s messy brown hair bobs just below the tree branches.

“Leader Brock is here!”

“Brock! Brock and Aeosis!”

“At your side, Gym Leader!”

Brock uses the metal claws at the end of his gloved fingers to tap a quick pattern on one of Aeosis’s neck boulders, and the onix raises its head up and roars, a response to the the trainers they passed and a rallying cry to those ahead.

It took under twenty minutes to rouse and mobilize the Gym and any volunteers from Pewter once Brock got the emergency alert from Viridian. Brock was filled with pride when he stepped outside his gym and saw the size of the crowd waiting. Nearly twice as many as the last Tier 1 threat, and plenty of familiar faces.

He wasted no time sending out support teams to different parts of the forest based on the Ranger requests, only retaining five groups of five to ride with him toward the biggest fire, where the most help will be needed. A few have peeled off to assist Rangers they passed, and one from each group formed an escort unit for a group of injured trainers.

By the time Brock can see the glow of the fire above the trees, he’s down to five groups of three, each trailing his onix to either side on their own mounts. The others ride a variety of types to be prepared for any situation. Those from his gym tend to favor rock types, but few rock pokemon are fast enough to keep up with an onix anyway.

“Sir, some trainers eight degrees to your left, around what might be a downed tree.” Jarod’s voice murmurs from his earpiece. Brock’s Third is flying above the canopy and looking down with thermal imaging goggles. With the reception out in this part of the forest, the radios are their only way to relay information and help navigate. “I think they’re trying to shift it.”

“Got it.” Brock switches frequencies to the others. “Turning left. Watch the tail.” He taps a subtle rhythm to the left of Aeosis’s neck, and the onix forges a new path through the trees, barely caring about foliage density. Brock’s body is high up enough to avoid most of the brambles and bushes that survive his pokemon’s passage, the rest scratching harmlessly at his armored leggings.

Soon he spots light ahead, blazing in the green tint of his goggles, and he quickly tugs them off until they hang around his neck. Within moments they’re at the downed tree where the the lanterns are hung. The trainers around it are standing at the ready, their pokemon prepared for a fight. Once they spot Brock on Aeosis’s back, their shock and terror gives way to relief, and one of the younger men leans against a tree with a hand over his eyes. “Oh, thank Arceus…”

Before Brock can ask what their situation is, one steps forward. “Leader, our friends are trapped under-”

Brock’s heart sinks. The trunk is nearly as thick as Aeosis, and anyone caught under it would be crushed like a caterpie. But his fingers are already moving in a rapid pattern on Aeosis’s neck. “Stand far back, all of you.” There are some branches extending from the trunk, and it’s possible the broken ones under it are holding some weight off…

They withdraw their pokemon and scramble to the sides as Aeosis rears up, then lowers his gaping maw over the trunk and bites down. Brock grips the handle on his saddle tight with one hand, then taps again to tell Aeosis to lift.

The tree rises slowly as Aeosis brings his head back up. Brock is lifted too as the segment he’s seated on rises, bringing him partway into the canopy. As soon as there’s room, a couple of the trainers begin to crawl under the tree, one holding a lantern. There’s a cry of relief, then dismay, and the others quickly join them to assist in bringing the bodies out.

By then his Gymmates and volunteers have arrived, and a few get off their mounts to help. There’s the flash from under the tree of a pokemon being withdrawn into their ball, though in what condition Brock doesn’t know. Once everyone’s out from under the tree, Brock taps another command, and Aeosis drops the trunk with a crash, its middle imprinted with the onix’s triangular bitemark.

Some of the trainers are weeping over one of the bodies, while others surround a second, an unconscious girl whose arm was crushed. The grass is dark with blood in some places, and the smell of it fills the air around them.

Brock turns to the only trainer still standing. “What happened here? Did a raichu bring down the tree?” The woman doesn’t respond, staring in disbelief at her dead friend.

Brock feels a stab of empathy, then pushes it aside. He unstraps himself from his saddle and falls to the grass with a thump that gets her attention. She suddenly seems to realize how close she is to the massive onix, grief and shock joined by sudden fear.

He steps up to her and puts his hand on her shoulder. “What’s your name, trainer?” he asks, putting his will into his tone and grip, the same will that allowed him to catch and train the largest onix in Kanto.

The woman snaps to attention, eyes alert in a face full of loss. “Aiko, sir.”

“What happened here, Aiko?”

“It was… some breloom, we got caught up in their fight with the ‘chu… one of them shot seed bombs out. The trunk was already damaged by other attacks, and the seeds ripped right through it. Brought the whole thing down… we tried to get out of the way, but… Suki…” Tears gather in the trainer’s eyes, and she rubs them away with one hand, stifling a sob.

He squeezes her shoulder, gently but firm enough to bring her focus back to him. “What happened to the breloom? Are they still in the area?”

“Two captured, the rest fled when the tr-tree came down.” She takes a deep breath, then another. “Same with the ‘chu. We didn’t… we haven’t seen them since, but they ran that way.” She points, and her hand is steady.

Brock nods and looks at his people. “Gestov, Mark, stay with them and get the injured to a hospital. Paula, Avanni, see if you can find the breloom and ‘chu.”

They confirm, and he turns back to Aiko. Her face is full of loss and pain, but her eyes are clear, her breaths steady. Satisfied, Brock lowers his voice, speaking with quiet confidence. “Thank you, Aiko. I know your heart is heavy, but the others may yet need your strength to survive the night. Can I count on you to get them through this?”

“I… Yeah. Yeah, I won’t let them down.”

“I know you won’t.” He squeezes her shoulder again, thumb feeling her collarbone. “You have the strength of stone.”

She bows her head. “Thank you, Leader.”

Brock returns to Aeosis and climbs up its boulder segments until he’s back in the saddle. From so high up, he projects his voice for all to hear. “Tonight has taken much from you all, but it’s not yet time to mourn. We don’t know how extensive the rampage is, but the nearest Ranger Outpost has been destroyed, and you can’t stay in the forest. My people will lead you to Pewter, where you will be safe. Courage, for a little longer! Dawn is coming!”

Most of the trainers are looking at him by the end, brushing tears away or standing again, heads held high. Brock turns Aeosis toward a clear path through the trees, and they swiftly leave the gathering behind, his followers waiting until the onix’s long body and tail is gone before following.

Once he’s away from the lights, Brock puts his goggles back on, bringing the forest into green tinged sight again. One hand goes to his ear, and he switches to his Third’s frequency. “Jarod, some breloom may be in the area. Keep an eye out and relay to Paula and Avanni.”

“Yes sir. Be aware, you’re approaching the smoke surrounding the fire. I can’t see through it.”

“Got it. Stay clear for now.” He switches to general chat. “We’re approaching the fire. Groups four and five, spread out and circle around to lend support to the Rangers at different points. Groups two and three, disperse and check for distress signals to assist trainers wherever you find them. Without a steady signal to update them some might be obsolete, but keep looking.” Brock barely ducks in time to avoid a branch that sweeps just over Aeosis’s horn. “Group one, with me.”

A few moments later he sees the smoke, lit by scattered lanterns and the fire at its heart, and then they’re plunging into it. He guides Aeosis with taps of his fingers, a few on the side to turn him toward the denser smoke, and another quick pattern on his back to slow him down. The smoke makes his infrared goggles worse than useless, and he takes them off so he can see by the distant, diffused glow of the fire. As they get closer to the center of it, the light grows, as does the heat in the air.

Within a minute though, Aeosis begins showing signs of distraction, swinging his head around and growling. Brock looks around in the smoke for what might be upsetting his pokemon. Onix are used to navigating in the pitch blackness of mountains and deep within the earth, but maybe the ethereal lights and the thick smoke are making him twitchy.

Aeosis suddenly slows to a stop, and there’s a sharp crack as his pokemon’s head swings around, the horn on his forehead messily splintering a branch into pieces. Brock feels bits of wood rain down on him, and the stoney skin beneath his saddle vibrates with the onix’s growl as it peers into the smoke to their side. He taps a pattern along its skin, frowning. “Aeosis, calm. Forward.”

The onix’s agitation fades slightly and they travel deeper into the smoke, but before long Aeosis becomes unruly again. Brock begins to worry at his behavior. Combined with the low visibility around them, he’s not sure they can avoid crushing someone in their path, and soon he taps the command to stop.

“Something’s got Aeosis riled,” he tells the others through the radio as he unbuckles and leaps to the grass. “I’m dismounting.” Aeosis rears up once he’s clear, head snapping more branches and making them fall in a series of crashes that are almost lost in the onix’s roar.

“Aeosis, down!” Brock yells once the sound fades, ears ringing. He looks around, but can’t spot any threat that his pokemon might be responding to. He reaches forward and taps the command against its body, but the onix doesn’t heed either.

The Gym Leader quickly grabs the nearest boulder segment of its body and begins climbing, fingers gripping the edges to pull himself up and up, past his saddle.

Aeosis sways and turns a bit, an automatic reaction rather than an attempt to shake Brock off. He holds on tight until Aeosis is steady again, then reaches up to the last few boulders so he can grip the horn on its head. He braces his feet against the onix’s right jaw so he can look it in the eye closest to him.

The onix’s head is a bit bigger than he is, its eyes each the size of his fist. The smoke makes it too hard to see the shape and size of his pokemon’s pupil, and Brock has to go by other cues to judge his pokemon’s mood.

“Aeosis! Down!” He taps out the command on the rocky skin of his pokemon’s head as he says it, staring into the onix’s right eye as best he can through the thick smoke.

Its jaw opens, and Brock kicks off, gloved fingers carefully gripping the blunt side of Aeosis’s horn. The jaws snap on empty air, and then Brock is swinging back, heels slamming into his onix just beneath its jaw.

Brock hangs on tight as his pokemon rears back, more in surprise than any pain. Before it can try anything again, he pulls himself up past its mouth until he can crouch on its snout, staring into its eyes from an inch away. “Aeosis! Down!

Brock is distantly aware that his remaining gym members have arrived, fanning out in a loose circle as they watch. They know better than to interfere, but if Aeosis begins to rampage…

His pokemon shakes its head to the side. Not hard, barely a fraction of its full strength… but a fraction of its full strength is still enough to topple a building. Brock is whipped around its horn, the rough edges scraping his heavy gloves as he holds tight to avoid being flung off. He distantly hears yells of alarm from the others as the wind whistles in his ears.

He lands with another doubled kick on its jaw, pain jolting up his legs and pelvis, shoulders and wrists aching. “Stay back, everyone!”

Aeosis growls, eyes rolling to Brock’s new position on his left side. Brock’s hand goes to the heavyball at his belt. He could return Aeosis, get him under control where it’s safer… but that would have to be after tonight, since it would be impossible to find a space big enough to release him within the forest.

Worse than that, it would prove that he’s incapable of controlling his own pokemon.

His hand goes past the ball and unzips his pocket, then pulls out some small quartz shards. He presses them against the pokemon’s lips, letting its taste buds there feel the crystals. Aeosis makes a sound of hunger, and Brock whips his hand away just as his pokemon opens his mouth and snaps at the air.

A drop of sweat rolls down Brock’s neck, easily attributed to the diffuse heat of the nearby fire. “No, Aeosis. Our people need us, and you will listen to me, now! Down, Aeosis, down!”

The only sound is the rapid beat of Brock’s heart as his pokemon shifts its head from side to side… then lowers itself to the grass, laying out flat with a crash that nearly dislodges him.

He holds on for another few seconds, and then slowly steps down, ignoring the pain in his legs, merely glad that they’re still steady. He brushes the quartz against its lips again. “Good, Aeosis. Very good.” His pokemon opens its mouth, and he throws the crystals into its maw for it to crunch and swallow. Aeosis makes a contented sound from deep inside the long caverns of its body.

Brock strokes the ridges above its eyes until it closes its lids in satisfaction. Only then does his Second approach, dismounted from her dodrio. “What happened?” Sharzad asks.

“I’m not sure.” Brock looks around in the thick smoke again, where the other gym trainers have formed a loose semicircle. “Everyone, scout out in pairs, and stay alert!” They begin to move in expanding loops, disappearing between the trees as they explore outward.

Sharzad approaches and strokes Aeosis’s other eyeridge, long black hair tied back in a heavy braid. “What is it boy? What got you so spooked?”

Brock smiles as his onix responds positively to her touch, some of his tension fading. That had been far too close for comfort. Luckily Aeosis seems fine now.

Despite how responsive Aeosis often is, it would be a mistake to treat him like any other pokemon. No matter how much they trained, the onix’s temperament remains wildly unpredictable at times, and with so much power even the slightest mistake can be disastrous. The thought of what Aeosis would do if he ever went on a true rampage has kept Brock up many nights, and compelled him to spend more hours training the onix than the rest of his pokemon combined.

A year before, Brock fought a fully grown tyranitar that came down from Mount Silver. Four stories tall, each of its feet the size of a car, able to topple a building with a sweep of its tail. He commanded Aeosis to wrap around it, hoping to bind it into submission for long enough for help to arrive. But after a few seconds of grinding, there was a massive crack, and the tyranitar’s struggles ceased. Brock stared in shock as his onix began feasting on the broken granite skin of its opponent, the enormity of the power he had harnessed truly registering for the first time.

Ever since Brock captured the legend of Mount Moon two years ago, he became something of a mythical figure in Pewter. It helped him expand the gym’s power and influence, but many of the residents began treating him with a deference that bordered on worship, and was distinctly uncomfortable. A number of the city’s citizens, especially the older ones, viewed Aeosis as a god, the progenitor of his race. Brock tried to convince others to work with the onix, but most were too afraid or reverent to attempt it.

As he told anyone who would listen, such talk was foolishness. A god would not be captured and tamed like any other monster, however perilous it had been to accomplish. Like the storm birds, they would be forces of nature beyond human control.

In private though, he can occasionally admit how that might describe Aeosis after all. Sharzad was the only one besides Brock willing and able to train the onix. She explained that in her home country, the onix grew nearly as big more regularly than in Kanto, though she admitted to never seeing one quite his size. It gives Brock a measure of peace to know that if something happens to him, Aeosis would be in good hands.

“He’s probably just unused to the smoke,” she says after a moment, reaching into the pouch at her waist and feeding Aeosis a small amethyst. “Maybe if he went underground he would feel more comfortable?”

Brock rubs his chin. “Maybe. He could submerge just enough that I could still ride him, if we’re careful. But it would heavily damage the tree roots, and-”

“Leader!”

Brock’s hand goes to his ear piece. “Go ahead Wallace.”

“We found two trainers, dead. They were absorbed almost to the bone, which show deep cuts.”

Brock relays the info out loud, and Sharzad swears under her breath, hand at her belt. “If we assume what absorbed them is also what cut them down, the only things in the forest that come to mind are shiftry.”

“And they would be virtually invisible in the smoke.” Brock switches to general chat. “High alert to all points! There may be camouflaged shiftry around us.” He switches to group one’s frequency. “Regroup everyone. With any luck Aeosis scared away any that were near, but don’t take any chances.”

“Return!” Sharzad’s dodrio disappears in a flash of light, her hands moving in a blur. “Go, Skydart!” Her huge fearow bursts into existence mid air, and she catches its ball with one hand as her other points outward, spinning in a slow circle. “Gust!”

The fearow caws and tips into an angled spin, flapping wings barely able to fit in the limited clearing Aeosis created above them. The gusts of air send the smoke billowing outward in every direction, and the shiftry are suddenly there like a magician’s trick.

Brock counts five of them standing well away from Aeosis, and when he turns to look look back the way they’d come he sees another dozen approaching the many segments of the onix’s body, possibly more hidden in the smoke farther back. They must have been following them for awhile, more and more drawn to gather for a feast.

The ground practically quakes with Aeosis’s growl, but he doesn’t lose control again, glaring at the plant monsters with dilated pupils. Brock and Sharzad exchange a look, and then she holds both arms up and yells “Fly!”

Her fearow swoops down and grabs her arms in his talons, lifting her off with a few beats of his powerful wings. Brock leaps up onto Aeosis’s saddle and straps himself in with one hand as the other goes to his earpiece. “Everyone, use wind to push away the smoke,” he says in general chat. Smart enough for an ambush. Probably even smart enough to recognize a type advantage. “Aeosis, Bide.”

His onix immediately surges around into a coil, Brock holding tight as they whip around and around over Aeosis’s lower body with the grinding sound of stone on stone. Within moments, the pokemon’s entire length is wrapped in an ascending circle, with Brock riding the boulder near his neck at the top, well above the bulk of the onix’s body. Aeosis continues to churn slowly in place, letting them watch all sides.

If the shiftry were distracted by the sudden movement, they get over it quickly. Some bound forward, sharp leaves extended, while others stay back and begin to spit seeds out. They crack against Aeosis’s sides without leaving a mark, but moss and roots swiftly grow where they struck, spreading their way between the boulders as the forward shiftry slash and hack at him, their sharp leaves tearing against his rocky skin and leaving behind lines of acid that etch into the stone of his hide.

Aeosis’s body vibrates as he growls, but Brock taps out his custom command again. Bide, just a little longer… Shiftry are some of the most subtle and cunning pokemon around. If Aeosis just rushed at them, they would use their speed and agility to keep their distance, harry his sides and rear with quick strikes. It might take hours, but eventually they would whittle the titanic onix down.

More and more of the shiftry close in, covering Aeosis’s outer coils with acid scars and roots. Brock keeps his body low and slides his arms into straps along the saddle to avoid any seed that might shoot higher, and to be prepared for what comes next. He watches one of the shiftry in the distance finish spitting seeds out and leap forward to use its leaf blades.

A mirthless grin peels Brock’s lips back. Smart as the shiftry are, humans are smarter. And combined with his training and guidance, the prey they trapped is far too large for them.

Aeosis trembles beneath him and coils himself tighter, almost as if he’s trying to shrink into himself, and the shiftry’s attacks grow more frenzied, most of the remainder swooping in for the kill.

Now. Brock’s claws tap six times against Aeosis’s skin.

GROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAARRR!

Brock keeps his eyes tightly closed as he’s whipped left and right, body tied so securely to the saddle that he’s in more danger of throwing up from nausea than he is of getting flung off. He’s long since grown used to the disorientation however, and simply holds tight and endures it while his onix unleashes the rage it had built up.

First the tail, swinging out in an unwinding arc that sends shattered shiftry sailing through the air, most already dead before they smash into trees. Then the head, darting left and right, rising and falling again and again to chomp down on the plant pokemon that had avoided the tail. In less than ten seconds, over twenty shiftry lie dead and dying, some chomped in half, the rest broken and battered into pulp.

Brock suddenly tastes eggs, hears a creaky door, feels the chill of the winter wind. A kaleidoscope of colors explode behind his eyelids, and his nose feels stuffed with cut onions, the acidic fumes melting his brain into jelly as the sensations all shift, then shift again, then overlap in a maddening mix. His skin feels both hot and cold in overlapping waves, and his sense of gravity completely unhinges so that it feels like he’s clinging to the saddle to avoid falling into the sky, then feels the pull to his left side, then all directions at once.

Aeosis makes a sound of confusion, slowing to a stop and writhing spastically. Brock struggles against the whirlwind of sensations and opens his eyes a crack as he bounces up and down. The three shiftry that remain are standing far back, and through his goggles, their eyes glow a brilliant green.

His pokemon suddenly flips himself over, rolling into a tree and collapsing its trunk over his back. The spike on his head keeps his foremost boulder segments from touching the ground, and ensure that Brock isn’t crushed in his carefully located saddle. Brock doesn’t know what sensations his onix is being overwhelmed by, but he can feel his own mind scrambling under the assault, and he grits his teeth as he struggles to stay conscious-

At first his brain interprets the high pitched screech as just another hallucination, but then the mental attack abruptly ends. Brock’s whole body sags, and he opens his eyes again to see Sharzad and Skydart diving at a shiftry. They stop mid-air, and there’s a flash before they fly back up. The shiftry they dived at is gone.

The others look up and around, but Skydart dives at them from the other side this time, and silently. He flaps his wings to stop just above them and hover for a couple seconds, displacing the newly gathered smoke. Sharzad hangs one handed, the other holding a greatball out so that it locks on to one of the shiftry, then tossing it for the capture.

The last one tries to spit seeds out at the fearow, but Sharzad shouts “Drill Peck!” and lets go, rolling along the grass as Skydart dodges the seeds and strikes, beak piercing straight through the shiftry’s eye and into its brain.

Brock looks away as the shiftry topples to the ground and the bird pokemon’s long, cruel beak darts in and out to feed, stomach queasy enough. Sharzad collects her great balls and stuffs them in her bag, then goes around to all the shiftry spread out in a circle around them. A couple more get captured as they lie bleeding and broken, but the rest are apparently dead.

By the time she approaches, Aeosis and he are mostly recovered, and Brock has unstrapped himself to feed the onix some more gems. “You two alright?”

“Yeah.” He rubs Aeosis’s eyeridge, then checks his wounds. None are serious enough to warrant medical attention: the onix’s hide is so tough that the acids had burned themselves out before penetrating far. “Nice timing.”

She smiles. “They’re vulnerable when they link up to do mental attacks. Do you think there are more around?”

The Gym Leader frowns. “I doubt it.” Shiftry are fairly rare, and while groups of them ambushing trainers aren’t unheard of, it’s strange to see quite so many. “In fact I’m surprised there were even this many in one area. They must have come from all around…”

The others have begun to arrive, staring around at all the dead shiftry and murmuring in surprise and alarm. Wallace approaches Brock, holding a pair of IDs. “The trainers we found. I marked their coordinates for later.”

“Well done.” He reads their names, Pamela Harris and Derek Watson, committing them to memory and studying their pictures as best he can in the dim light. Their deaths had warned him and his gymmates of the danger they faced. The least he could do is know who they were.

“Everyone else okay?” Sharzad asks, and the others confirm that they hadn’t encountered any trouble. “They must have all been drawn to Aeosis.”

Brock nods and puts the trainer IDs away. “Let’s get going then, before any more show up.”


The fire is a fearsome thing, burning hungrily for kilometers and constantly threatening to spread further. The Rangers and trainers have done a good job with the firebreak, but even with dozens of them working together, they could only expand it outward a bit at a time.

Aeosis almost doubles its size in one lap, then doubled it again in another two.

Brock stands on the onix and holds onto his horn as he tunnels just a bit beneath the surface, guiding him along the edge of the firebreak by tapping on it. Grass, roots and bushes are no obstacle, and the occasional tree take only a few minutes to uproot and push aside.

After about an hour, the firebreak stretches far enough to safely contain the it in every direction. Brock returns to Ranger Haru, who thanks him profusely for his aid. Most of the other rangers and trainers have begun to disperse, some to rest farther from the heat and smoke, others toward preregistered distress signals. Brock already sent the remainder of his group along to help them, and now that the fire is contained, he begins to search for a trainer or Ranger that might recognize the trainer IDs they found.

Someone eventually tells him he saw them with Ranger Malcolm, and when Brock tracks the coordinating Ranger down, his face falls as he takes the IDs.

“Yes, I sent them out,” he says taking his cap off and wiping at the sweat on his forehead. “Those damn shiftry… we had some others encounter them too.” He gestures toward three trainers, two boys and a girl, who are helping with some final cleanup efforts.

“Really?” Brock eyes the trainers, impressed. There probably hadn’t been as many as had attacked him, but they all seem fairly young, one of them especially so. In fact…

“Blue Oak?”

The youth looks up from the branch he’s dragging, then snaps to attention. He hesitates and looks at the other two, who nod at him to go ahead before he jogs over. “Yes, Gym Leader?”

“I thought that was you.”

“You recognized me?”

“Of course. You were with your grandfather last year when he visited Pewter.”

The young Oak nods. “Of course. I forgot.”

Brock smiles. He can’t tell if the boy is implying that he regularly forgets meeting Gym Leaders, or if he’s just being modest of recognition he gets for being with his grandfather. “I hear you survived an ambush by some shiftry.”

Blue blinks. “Yeah, about an hour ago.”

“How many were there?”

“Six.”

Six more. “This was within the smoke, yes? How did you spot them?” Brock listens in quiet fascination, then shakes his head. “You got incredibly lucky.”

Blue stiffens a bit, chin rising as his brow draws down. “Yes, Gym Leader.”

“So did I.” Brock grins as Blue’s stormy expression turns to surprise, and explains what happened with his own encounter. “Did you check the area, see if there was anything that caused them to attack you?”

“No, we came back to warn others.”

“Could you find the spot again?”

Blue hesitates. “Maybe. The smoke…”

Brock nods. “Maybe when the sun rises, then. I’ll contact you again.”

Blue bows his head, “Yes, Leader.”

Brock is about to turn away when the boy looks back up, seeming poised to say something further. “Yes?”

“You brought help, right? From Pewter?”

“I did. They’re spread out now assisting others.” Brock frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“I left some friends to come help with the fire. One was injured. If you wouldn’t mind, could you…”

Brock already has a hand on his earpiece, picking up on the boy’s concern. “Names?”

“Red Verres and Leaf Juniper.”

Brock asks over every frequency if anyone has encountered either, and gets the affirmative from Julie. “One of my people has your friend, Red, and is taking him to Pewter. She says the girl stayed behind at your camp.”

For a moment Brock thinks Blue is going to faint in relief, the young boy rocking back as his shoulders sag. He puts a hand out and grips his shoulder. “You alright, son?”

Blue takes a deep breath and nods, standing straighter again. “I’m fine. I just… thank you, Leader.”

The new sincerity in his voice makes Brock smile. He squeezes Blue’s shoulder, feeling the strength of his bones before letting go, remembering Aiko. His position often carries with it many burdens, but it’s moments like this that he feels most deserving of his title. “Thank you, trainer, for your assistance. Feel free to stop by the Gym, if you’re going to Pewter.”

Blue nods. “After I stop by my camp, my friend and I will head there.”

“Until then, then.”

The boy says goodbye to the other two, then Ranger Malcolm, then heads off into the forest at an odd hopping jog.

“What will you do now, Leader?” the Ranger asks.

“Head farther south. The Viridian Gym might need help with emergencies closer to their side of the forest.” Especially since Giovanni isn’t usually in his city, Brock refrains from saying. It would be uncouth to speak critically of how another Gym Leader manages their city. “Yourself?”

Malcolm sighs. “Once this fire dies down, we’ll have to assess how big an impact tonight will have on the ecology, and decide where and when to rebuild our outpost. The initial pikachu and raichu rampage that started this mess is just the beginning of our worries here. Combined with poachers that will come to take advantage of the confusion and chaos, a Ranger’s work is never done.”

“So it’s said.” Brock holds out his hand. “On behalf of Pewter, thank you for your service. If you need anything from my city, please let us know.”

The Ranger takes it. “Thank you, Leader. Your people made a great difference here, as did your onix. Good hunting.”

Brock nods and heads to Aeosis. He notices that it’s a bit easier to see than it was, and checks the time. Half past five in the morning. The sun’s rising.

Weariness numbs the edges of Brock’s thoughts, but he ignores it and remounts. “Group One, we’re headed south. Form up.”

There’s a lot of forest to cover, and a Gym Leader’s work is never done either.

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