Okay, this is my first ever pokemon fanfiction, so I'm a little bit terrified to post it. This is going to be a journey fic of a currently undecided length (don't worry, I know how it ends). Hopefully you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. :D
As for content warnings, be on the lookout for swearing, mild violence, maybe mild sexual situations, etc.
Chapter 1: No Smoke Without Fire
The orange light of sunrise reflected off of the fresh puddles that dotted the dirt paths, turning them into pools of liquid amber. The peaceful illusion cracked when two bicycle tires ripped down the center of one of them. The sun-tinted water became mud that splattered all over the bike’s dirt-crusted spokes and its rider’s worn leather boots. The rider didn’t seem to mind, if she noticed at all.
Nani Hynson sped along the paths, swerving side to side like a Swellow playing in the air currents. With the way she unpredictably accelerated and decelerated and the winding, unorthodox course she followed, one could easily mistake her trip for a free-spirited, spontaneous morning romp through the fields and cheri tree orchards of Hynson Ranch. At least, if not for the dead look in her eyes. In truth the dancing pattern of her ride was mere routine, a series of turns and swerves and subtle braking that she had repeated every morning for as long as she could ride a bike. The path was so ingrained into her muscle memory that she could probably follow it while asleep. This early in the morning, she practically was asleep. It was a miracle that she hadn’t crashed already.
The eggs certainly weren’t helping her drowsiness. Two colorful pokemon eggs were strapped to her body by a harness--one in the front and one in the back--and another dozen hung off her bike’s luggage rack. She could feel the fluids inside the one against her stomach subtly shifting with every change of speed and direction, creating a hypnotic, soothing rhythm that only made her want to close her eyes more.
Nani wished that she could stop and take a quick nap in the dewy grass, but that was not an option. The riding pattern she adhered to was designed to create the optimal amount of fluid circulation within the eggs in the minimum amount of time. Going off-book could throw this batch’s hatch time off schedule, or worse, fail to properly maximize the baby pokemon’s bone strength. It wouldn’t kill the pokemon or anything, but every beginning trainer should have a chance at an equally healthy and battle-ready starter. At least, that’s how her parents always put it. They also liked to add that no one on the ranch got their breakfast until they finished their morning chores. Nani muttered something bitter about corporate bullshit and kept to her course.
As she approached the small lake at the far end of the ranch property, the coolness of the September air was broken by strong heat radiating off of the Torchic egg attached to her front. It would probably be hatching soon. She made a mental note to move that egg to Incubation Section C when she got back. That was, if it didn’t hatch before she could make it back. It was heating up fast.
Nani’s surprise transformed into deep concern as sticky sweat adhered her tee shirt to her stomach. She’d held thousands of Torchic eggs at various stages of development, from freshly laid to hatching, and never had any of them felt quite this hot. Was it sick? She decided to head back to the ranch early in case there really was something wrong, and began banking around the edge of the lake to turn herself around.
A fourth of the way around the lake, the egg on her back began to heat up as well. The temperature was rising to dizzying levels. What a pain, she thought, clutching the handlebars to keep herself from toppling over. Now she would have to put even more eggs in the incubation chamber, or deal with two newborn Torchic at the same time--
The egg attached to her back was a Mudkip egg. Those don’t get hot when they hatch. Not to mention that the temperature seemed to be rising all around her. The eggs couldn’t have been the source of all that heat, so what was?
Nani looked out over the lake. A mysterious object hovered a few yards above the water, although calling it an object felt like a stretch. It was a blip, a little wrinkle where not everything lined up the way it was supposed to. She was tempted to call it a trick of the heat, but there was no wave to it, only a perfect sphere of distortion. If she had stared at it for a few more seconds, she may have decided it was a figment of tired imagination. She never got the chance.
The light-warping bubble popped, and suddenly the air was filled with flames. A blast of scorching air and a deafening roar slammed against Nani, pushing her to the side of the path and throwing her off balance. The lake boiled and hissed. The force of the explosion launched scalding water into the air that rained onto Nani and sizzled against her flesh like hot coals. She howled in pain and put her hands up to shield her face, sacrificing her control over the bike. By the time she realized that she was falling, it was too late to recover.
Despite the absolute chaos around her, only one panicked thought ran through her mind—the eggs. If her bike landed on its side, the eggs on the luggage rack would be crushed, and all those defenseless unborn pokemon would be goners. Without thinking Nani threw herself off the side of the bike and onto the ground. The shock of impact rattled her bones and knocked the air out of her lungs, but she still managed to catch the bike with her legs before any of the eggs hit the dirt. She would have sighed with relief, but she was far from safe.
With bulging eyes, she peered through the bike frame out at the lake. The air was thick with billowing steam, but through it she could see something hovering in the air. The shape was completely obscured, and she could only make out muted colors--black, white, and a few patches of blue, all cast in a fiery orange glow. Tendrils of flame burst forth from the floating beast like solar flares, scattering petal-shaped embers that fluttered along the heated air currents. It would have been a beautiful sight if not for the encroaching smoke and the harsh scent of burning cheri wood. The orchard was on fire.
Nani scrambled to her feet. With trembling hands she propped up and mounted her bike, eyes darting from side to side in search of a safe way out. There was only one path that hadn’t been clogged with smoke and fire, but it was a third of the way around the lake. It was her only chance.
She sped off towards the opening. Her lungs were heavy with smoke and the burns all over her exposed limbs made every movement agony, but panic kept her legs pumping. A blast of fire rushed at her and barely missed her back wheel, sending her lurching forward and knocking a high-pitched scream out of her.
“Oh arc, oh arc, fuck, fuck, fuck!” she squeaked, pushing at the pedals with more force than she ever thought she could manage. She was so close, and the trees along that path still hadn’t caught fire. Just a few more yards.
Nani veered away from the lake and shot past the tree line. She made it. Hope rose inside of her, but it didn’t take long for it to be shot down.
A blinding light glared in her right peripheral vision, followed by a crackling rumble. A stream of fire rocketed past her, missing her by inches and sending her swerving to the left. The bark of the nearby trees turned black and then ashy white in the heat, and the flames began to creep up the trunks and grab at the canopy’s leaves.
Nani howled as a horrible burning sensation spread across the back of her right arm. The fire must have caught her tricep, scorching her even worse than the scalding water had; the hot embers being blown against the wound only made it worse. She gritted her teeth and struggled to keep her watering eyes open through the pain.
The fire blast had gone far, and all of the trees for a good ten yards in front of her were ablaze. A higher branch of an older tree was beginning to buckle as the flames chewed away at the base of it. With a twisted gut Nani leaned forward and accelerated as much as she could.
Just as she was about to pass the hazard, the branch broke off with a loud snap. She ducked her head and gave one last push forward. She managed to bolt out from under the branch before it could hit her, but the harsh clanking sound from behind informed her that it struck her bike on the way down. Her body shook in fear of how that could have ended.
Even after she had past the last of the flaming trees, Nani didn’t slow down. She sprinted ahead, never looking back, until the crackling of flames faded and all she could hear was her own racing breath and the blood rushing through her ears. Then she went further. The main buildings were in sight when her legs gave way and slipped off the pedals. She flopped off of the bike and stumbled to a halt, gently laid the bike down on its side, and collapsed into the grass. Every part of her was quivering, and she felt like her legs were going to fall off. She doubled over and coughed violently in a vain attempt to clear the smoke from her lungs.
Now that she was out of the immediate danger, the reality of the situation was beginning to dawn on her. The orchard was on fire. If it kept spreading, they could lose their whole cheri crop. She had to get somebody. Her mom would be awake, and maybe together they could grab the Swampert brood mothers and have them put the fire out before things got even worse.
Nani finally looked back to assess the damage, but there was no smoke. Confused, she flipped herself over and scanned the horizon. There wasn’t a single burning tree or plume of smoke or even an orange glow anywhere in sight, only blue skies and puffy white clouds. The air had cooled as well.
This didn’t make any sense. From what she witnessed before, the fire should have been visible for miles. Nani gaped for a good minute at the clear skies. She was beginning to question her sanity, but the stinging burns all over her skin insisted that there was in fact a fire, and she had been in the middle of it. Maybe the other staff had already noticed and put it out while she was biking away...?
She was snapped out of her thoughts but a soft impact against her hip. Startled, she lurched and stiffened, then glanced down. It was just a little Treecko, bumping his head against her.
Usually Nani wouldn’t have been alarmed--this was a starter farm for Arc’s sake, there were Treeckos everywhere--but this was a really tiny Treecko, probably two thirds the size of a healthy newborn. Not only that, but he was slathered in amniotic fluid and shaking like a leaf. There was a large red blotch covering his shoulder and upper arm, likely a burn. With bated breath Nani looked over at her bike. One of the last eggs on the luggage rack had been smashed open at the top, probably by the falling branch from earlier.
“Oh arc, oh arc,” Nani stuttered, her panic rising again. She scooped the poor little thing into her hands. He curled up in a desperate attempt to soak up her warmth, then started butting his nose up against her thumb repeatedly. She doubted that she could get him back to the ranch in time to save him; even if she did, it was unlikely that he would survive given how prematurely he was hatched. Still, she had to try.
She carefully slid him back into what remained of his egg, hoping that that residual fluid would insulate him well enough for the ride back home, but she knew it wouldn’t be enough without her body heat. She decided to swap his egg with the Torchic egg on the front of her harness to give him more of a fighting chance. Her plan was to switch the eggs and quickly as possible, but she froze solid the second she looked down at the one in her harness. Slowly, utterly bewildered, she unstrapped the egg and held it up to the light.
Nani had seen enough Torchic eggs in her life to know that this was not one. It was at least 10% larger and nearly twice as heavy. Rather than orange and yellow, the shell was half white and half navy blue with the two colors split between the hemispheres, although the boundaries were warped by a thick swirling pattern. In the center of the white side sat a dark teardrop shape; flipping it over, Nani found an identical white mark on the other side.
Where had this come from? She couldn’t place the species, and she could have sworn that the one she had loaded up at the beginning of her ride was a Torchic. In fact, she distinctly remembered glancing down at the egg when it started feeling hot and seeing a standard orange and yellow shell. But that meant the egg was replace after the ride had already started, most likely sometime after the explosion...
No. She refused to go there. The explosion itself and fire vanishing was weird enough, but at least she could sort of explain those away with pokemon weirdness. Adding any more strange phenomena would push it into the supernatural, and she didn’t want to deal with that. She had just loaded up the wrong egg, and failed to notice because she was hungry and groggy. Nothing out of the ordinary, just human error.
She was pulled back to reality when she heard a small, pained squeak coming from the Treecko. She pushed her confusion to the back of her mind and switched the placement of the eggs. Once the Treecko was secure against her stomach, she got on her bike and started making her way back to the ranch.
Her legs still felt like they were made of lead and the back of her arm was still screaming from the burn, so she tried to distract herself by paying attention to the Treecko. He wasn’t shaking quite as bad anymore, but it was still weakly hitting his head up against the nearest surface, in this case the shell of the egg. He must have been stressed out of his mind. Nani knew that the best way to calm down a frightened baby pokemon was to name it and repeat that name over and over, but that practice was frowned upon on the ranch since the starters had to be given away and named later. Of course, the chances of a scarred, prematurely born Treecko being given away as a starter were minuscule, so Nani decided to fuck it all.
“Everything’s going to be alright, Bumper,” she said, going with the first name that popped into her head. She tried to sound calm and soothing, but her rasping breath was undermining her efforts. “Okay Bumper? Bumper, Bumper, Bumper...”
She repeated the name as she glided along the fields, passing Mudkip ponds and fireproofed Torchic pens. Even with the name chanting Bumper should have been getting steadily worse, but instead his condition seemed to be improving. By the time Nani pulled up in front of the main building he had stopped quivering altogether, and was looking up at his new human friend with wonder-filled eyes.
“You’re a tough little guy, aren’t you Bumper?” Nani said.
Bumper gave her the most adorable little smile, along with what might have been the only positive emotion that she had felt all day.
The front door of the house opened with a low creaking noise. Her mother stepped out, her puff of greying, tightly curled hair pulled back with a bandana and the smell of bluk berry pancakes following her around like an Aromatisse’s scent cloud. Nani would have started drooling if all the adrenaline hadn’t killed her appetite.
“Sweetie, why aren’t you putting the eggs away?” Mrs. Hynson’s friendly curiosity slowly transformed into horror as she took in all the details--her daughter’s frazzled hair and heavy breathing, the burns all over her skin, the smashed egg sitting in her harness. “Oh lord, what happened? Are you okay?”
Mrs. Hynson rushed to her daughter’s side, but Nani gestured for her to shoo. “I’m fine. And I thought you guys were already on it.” How else would the fire have gone out so fast?
Nani raised an eyebrow. “You know, the fire?”
Mrs Hynson’s eyes went wide with terror. “There’s a fire?” Her arms were beginning to tremble; this couldn’t be good for her heart health.
“No! No, there’s not a fire,” Nani assured her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “At least, not anymore. I thought you guys already put it out, since there’s no smoke or anything... You know, maybe there wasn’t a fire at all.”
Of course there had been a fire. She bit the inside of her cheek and clenched her fists as the fear of losing grip on reality crept back into her mind.
“First you say there’s a fire and now you say there’s not one.” Mrs. Hynson was beginning to grow agitated. “What happened? Where did you get those burns?”
Nani put her hands up defensively and stammered. “I--well--I was just doing my course around the lake and then... um, this Camerupt came out of nowhere.” That was a total lie, but also more believable than what she had actually encountered. “It jumped right in the lake and used eruption or something. Splashed boiling water all over me.” She shook her head, trying to clear the uncomfortable fog that always filled her head when she lied. “I just kind of assumed there was going to be a fire because it was a fire pokemon attack, but I guess all that rain last night made it too wet for that.”
Mrs. Hynson put a hand up to her mouth as agonizing empathy washed over her. “Oh, sweetheart!” She almost went in for a hug, but decided against it to avoid aggravating the burns. “I’m going to go get your father and see if he has any good burn salves. You stay right here--”
“No, I can’t,” Nani protested. She pointed to Bumper, who was started to shiver again. “I need to get him to incubation.”
“Just hold on one minute.” Mrs. Hynson turned and jogged back to the front door, sticking her head inside. “Corey! Lance!” she screamed.
Faster than Nani would have thought was humanly possible, her twelve year old twin brothers filed out of the house. Both had clearly just woken up, although Corey was better at hiding it thanks to his buzz cut and his generally more attentive demeanor.
Mrs. Hynson unstrapped the broken egg from Nani’s harness and handed it to Corey. “Take this down to the incubation house and give it to Sadie. She’ll know what to do.”
Corey nodded and ran off to the west side of the farm.
“His name’s Bumper!” Nani shouted after him. She really had wanted to see the Treeko there herself, and now she would spend the rest of the day worrying, but Corey could probably get there faster than she could. It was for the best.
“Lance, forget cleaning the Mudkip pond filters,” Mrs. Hynson said. “You take over making breakfast.”
That woke Lance up. He grinned from ear to ear as if all his dreams were coming true. “Okay!” He bolted back inside before his mom had the chance to change her mind. It was a good thing he went when he did, too; based on the smell coming out of the house, Nani wasn’t the only thing that got burned that morning.
“Now you stay right here,” Mrs. Hynson ordered, guiding Nani into a seated position on the ground. “Take it easy. I’ll be back in a few minutes with the burn salve.”
Nani couldn’t think of another reason to fight back, so she went silent and gave in. Her mom ran off in the direction of the mill. She undid the harness and placed it gently on the ground next to her, reveling in the relief of having that weight off of her shoulders and back. Her arms and legs still felt burning hot, so she laid down on the ground, hoping that the cool, wet grass would sooth her wounds. With the way her head was spinning, she expected to pass out before her parents returned.
Just as she was about to drift off, a small snapping sound caught her attention. She jolted--it sounded like fire--but calmed down a quick scan of the area showed no visible flames. Confused, she sat up and listened for the source of the noise. It was coming from the bike. The strange, navy and white egg was shaking in its holder, and the shell was beginning to crack. A tiny, jet black claw broke through the top.
Nani crawled to the bike and plucked the hatching egg off of the luggage rack. A second claw poked through the shell, followed by a third. She browsed her memory for all the pokemon species she knew, trying to figure out what this thing could be. She had narrowed it down to a few choices, and the top one was confirmed when a dark blue, blade-like extrusion burst through the side of the egg. It almost took her finger off, but she was too amazed to care.
With that last push, the top of the egg shattered, and out popped an itty-bitty baby Absol. Its usually dark skin was a light dusty grey and its fur coat was little more than fluid soaked pecha-fuzz, but the stubby crescent blade coming out of its skull was enough to confirm its species.
The Absol clambered out of the egg and flopped onto Nani’s arm. Its eyes were still fused shut as many furry pokemon’s were when newborn, so all it could do was sniff the air to coordinate itself. Nani cooed and rubbed its cheek lightly with her thumb. Its precious face was making it easy to forget her own wounds. “Hey little guy,” she said. “What was your egg doing on my bike?”
It mewled and nipped at her finger, although its toothless gums didn’t do any damage. Nani just laughed. “Hungry, huh? I’ll bet. How does some warm milk sound?”
She stood and was about to carry the Absol inside when she spotted her parents running her way. Her father had two first aid kits, one in each hand. Mrs. Hynson looked exasperated when she saw that her daughter was standing up.
“Nani, I told you to take it easy,” she said. She hesitated when she noticed the baby pokemon in Nani’s arms. “What’s that?”
“I think it’s an Absol,” Nani said, rocking it back and forth. It purred in contentment, calming her nerves a bit. “Its egg got mixed up with the others somehow, and I took it on the ride by accident. It just hatched.”
Her father flinched at the mention of its species, but her less superstitious mother remained unfazed. She just smiled. “Well, it seems like it’s grown pretty attached to you already, and we can’t sell it to Professor Birch... Would you like to keep it?”
The question caught Nani off guard. Despite having lived on a pokemon breeding ranch her entire life, she had never owned a pokemon all by herself. There had always been little ones around to play with, and she and her siblings just used the off-season breeding sires for battling if they ever got the itch. Getting her own pokemon had never crossed her mind. For an unsure moment she wondered if she could handle the responsibility, but then she remembered that she had been taking care of pokemon at a professional level for as long as she could remember, and that she was a thousand times more qualified to care for one than most of the 10 year olds that the ranch’s starters end up with.
“Definitely,” she answered. She grinned from ear to ear and placed a gentle peck on the Absol’s delicate skull.
In her excitement she hadn’t noticed Mr. Hynson coming up behind her and unscrewing the top of the burn salve. He applied a large glob of the cream to the burn on the back of her right arm. The sharp coolness and subsequent relief made her shiver and gasp.
“That better?” he asked with a light chuckle.
Her eyelids flickered as she reveled in the feeling. “So much. Thank you.”
The salve had already put her in a better mood. The incident at the lake drifted into the foggy outskirts of her mind, as all things she preferred not to think about tended to. It would no doubt return and cry out for attention in the middle of the night when there was nothing to distract her senses, but for the time being she could focus on the good. She had her own pokemon now, and a rare one at that.
“It needs to be fed and dried off,” Mrs. Hynson said, glancing at the baby Absol. “I’ll take care of it while Dad patches you up.”
“Hold on,” Nani said. “I need to name it.” She examined it closely. Unlike the starter pokemon, she didn’t know enough about Absols to determine it’s gender at a glance. That was okay. The name she had in mind was gender neutral, anyway.
“I sure was lucky to end up with you,” she said softly, holding it up to her face. “I’m gonna call you Lucky.”
Although its eyes had yet to open, Lucky stopped squirming and seemed to look its new owner dead in the eyes. For a drawn-out moment it was uncomfortably silent. Lucky then started kicking his feet as if doing the doggie paddle, causing Nani to chuckle.
“Lucky it is,” she said, handing the Absol off to her mother. “Be careful with them, alright?”
“And you be careful with yourself,” Mrs. Hynson said. “You’re taking the rest of the day off, understood?”
Nani sighed, shoulders slumping. “Yes, mom.” She loved vacation time as much as anyone, but unexpected days off always made her feel lazy and useless. Her work always got dumped on someone else, and that barely seemed fair to her. Still, there was no arguing with her mother. She held out her arms to make it easier for her dad to apply the salve to her smaller burns and watched her mom carry Lucky away.
“So,” Mr. Hynson said as he rubbed the cream over her left arm, “now that you have you own pokemon, do you think you’ll be going on a trainer journey?”
Nani let out an almost playful groan. “Dad, do I look like I should be making big life decisions right now?”
“Well, you don’t have to leave right away,” he said. She wasn’t even allowed to leave right away; their family had a long standing rule about no trainer journeys until the person is sixteen years old, and Nani’s sweet sixteen wouldn’t be here for another couple of months. “It’s never to early to think about it.”
She went quite for a moment, mulling it over. “I’ll see how Lucky feels about it.”
Nani spent the rest of the day in bed, reading guides about Absol care on her laptop and applying burn salve to her arms and legs every half hour. Her mom acted as the go-between between her and the outside world, giving her updates on Bumper’s health (“He’s a strong little fella, Sadie says he’s gonna be just fine”) and progress reports about various other activities on the ranch. She even went down to the lake herself and reported seeing no signs of a fire, not even a charred twig or a dusting of soot. Nani feigned thankfulness when she heard that news, but really it made her stomach twist.
Eventually Mrs. Hynson brought Lucky up to the room. The staff had identified him as a boy and given him proper food, but he had started to grow anxious after being separated from his “mother.” Nani was grateful for the company, and let Lucky sprawl out on her lap as she continued to surf the web.
At one point she decided to scour google for answers about what happened that morning. She searched for disappearing fire, spacial distortions, explosions from nowhere. Nothing of substance came up, and after ten minutes her stomach began to churn and lurch at the memories that threatened to overwhelm her. She watched some cute Skitty videos to take her mind off of it.
When the sun hit the horizon and splashed warm hues across the darkening sky, Nani shut the blinds and hid under her blanket. Those colors were the last thing she wanted to see, and yet whenever she closed her eyes red and oranges danced across the backs of her eyelids. She thought about that thing she had seen through the steam. Her memory was blurry, but she recalled two spots of blue near the top of it. Maybe those were its eyes. She felt like it was still watching her.
Unsettled, she opened her eyes and poked her head out from under the blankets. Something was watching her, but it wasn’t the mysterious flaming steam monster. Lucky had crawled up her chest and was now face to face with her, so close that their noses were nearly touching. Nani chuckled at her own paranoia.
“Are you in on all this, Lucky?” she asked, pretending that the question was a joke.
Lucky nipped and licked her nose, then nuzzled his head up under her chin. His crescent head-blade cupped the side of her face, but thankfully it was still too dull to cut her; Absol’s blades didn’t get sharp until a month after their birth. Nani picked him up and moved him onto the pillow next to her.
“Goodnight, nubbins,” she said, lightly tapping on the rounded point of his head-blade.
Lucky curled up and fell asleep almost immediately. For a while she just watched his fuzzy side rise and fall and listened to the light whisper of his breathing. Maybe he was a part of whatever had happened in the woods. Maybe he was even behind it all. Whatever the case, Nani had a feeling Lucky would be worth all the burns and the panic in the end. This was the start of something great. She counted his rhythmic breaths until she drifted off to sleep alongside him.