Chapter 1: A New Starter
It was embarrassing having your own father be the one to hand out starter pokéttin, thought Thor. Especially when you’d somehow overslept and were late picking yours up.
‘Ah, Thor,’ said Odin, as Thor skidded into the lab. ‘Finally here.’
‘Sorry, Dad,’ said Thor, glancing towards the table where the starters were usually kept. One pokéball left. Too bad, he’d been hoping for an Electric type but he doubted he’d be getting one now.
‘Well, here you go,’ said Odin, throwing the pokéball to Thor who carefully pressed the release and watched the pokéttin form with interest. He looked like a boy a little older than Thor in quite normal clothes with green eyes and the brightest ginger hair Thor had ever seen. The only signs that he was a pokéttin were long pointed ears and tiny fangs. Odin quietly handed over a pokédex and Thor turned it on his new acquisition.
‘Loki: the changeable pokéttin.
‘Loki is capable of changing its type and of shifting into the form of any other pokéttin, as well as several animals. It is rumoured those at higher levels take this ability even further, but few are available for study.’
‘Cool,’ said Thor, putting the pokédex in his pocket. ‘Can you turn into an Electric type?’
Loki turned his head and huffed a mouthful of flame at the stone floor.
Thor shrugged. ‘Okay. Have it your way.’ He lifted the pokéball ready to recall Loki, only to have it snatched out of his hands. ‘Hey! Give that back,’ he said, to the grinning pokéttin. His attempt at snatching it got another burst of flame - directed at him this time - before Loki ran off towards the other side of the room. By the time Thor managed to pin Loki and get him inside the pokéball he was already sick of his new starter.
‘What’s wrong with him,’ he demanded of Odin, who was keeping a neutral expression although Thor suspected him of being far too amused by all this.
‘Lokis have a lot of personality,’ said Odin. ‘They’re very useful once trained. If you don’t think you can handle him -’
‘I’ll manage,’ said Thor, curtly. If his Dad had to switch his starter out for an easier one he’d never hear the end of it.
By the time Thor settled down for lunch and a longer look at the pokédex entry he was feeling better about his decision. His Loki already knew typeshift, flamethrower and steal (should have seen that coming, thought Thor) but he would learn speak next time he levelled up and transform only a few levels after that. It looked like he could shape up to be a useful pokéttin once he’d got used to Thor.
Only Thor had reason to revise that opinion once again when he spotted a Trollcat lazing in the afternoon sun and quietly released Loki.
Loki took one look at the Trollcat and then sat down and folded his arms.
Thor nudged him with a foot, not wanting to disturb the sleeping Trollcat. ‘Go on. Get it,’ he whispered.
Loki shook his head.
‘Are you sulking because I put you in your pokéball?’
‘But what else am I meant to do with you? Oh, all right. You can stay out. Just get the Trollcat!’
More head shaking.
‘But why…’ and at that point Thor looked over his shoulder to see the Trollcat was gone anyway. ‘You are useless,’ he grumbled. ‘Well, come on. If you want to stay out you’d better keep up.’
To his surprise Loki did, trotting along behind him without much fuss. Occasionally he would start up with a rapid ‘Ki. Lokiloki. Loki’ before realising Thor couldn’t tell what he was trying to say and stopping in disgust. Hopefully it would be easier to deal with him once he levelled up and learnt to talk.
It was a little after sunset and Thor was thinking they should stop for the night when he saw the Dwarf. They weren’t much good for fighting, but lots of people kept them to craft items so there was always the possibility of a trade. And this one looked a low level so Loki could get some practice.
‘Attack, Loki,’ he said.
Loki gave him a ‘you must be kidding’ look.
‘You’ve been out all afternoon. Show some gratitude. Go!’ Thor gave up on persuasion and physically shoved Loki at the Dwarf. ‘Flamethrower!’
Loki hesitated, looking a bit stunned, and the Dwarf whipped out some chains and tried to use bind. It was pretty much the only fighting move Dwarfs had.
‘Dodge!’ Thor called. Which Loki did, with a quick eyeroll in Thor’s direction. Only instead of following up with an attack Loki then ran behind Thor and stayed there.
Thor stared at him. ‘It’s a Dwarf,’ he said. ‘They’re pretty much the weakest pokéttin there are.’
The Dwarf stuck its tongue out at him and walked off.
Thor sat down on the grass. ‘Just great. You won’t stay in your pokéball. You won’t fight. What am I supposed to do with you?’
Loki sat down as well. ‘Kiloki,’ he said, then curled up on the ground and fell asleep.
‘You don’t even care, do you?’ muttered Thor. He pulled out his bedroll and hesitated for a moment before throwing a spare blanket over Loki.
A few days later they were approaching the nearest village of Midgard and Thor decided he had to face facts. His starter pokéttin was both useless and determined to remain so. Still, there were a few options. The first was trading him in for something better.
This involved first an hour fighting to get Loki into his pokéball, because Thor wasn’t going to try to sell someone who was following him around and watching, and then a day finding out that no one else wanted a wilful and cowardly pokéttin either. Then Loki sulked all evening because he’d been put in his pokéball. Okay, plan two. Thor would catch one himself.
This involved charging around the woods with first a butterfly net (it might work on bug types) and then a big stick. Unfortunately most pokéttin were faster than him and had elemental attacks as well. Which was, of course, why tame ones were used to battle them in the first place. All Thor wound up with was a few burns and sore feet. Loki, who had followed him around watching with interest and amusement but declining to help, suddenly caught Thor’s sleeve on the way back into town.
‘What is it?’ Thor asked wearily.
Catch Your Own Pokéttin, proclaimed the sign. Bait $2. Line rental $5. Boat rental $20.
Thor grinned. Looked like it was closed for tonight but he knew where he was going tomorrow.
While standing in line for the rental you could look at a map of the shoreline and see which pokéttin were likely to be found where. Closer in it was mostly small fish types, although there were Wailords further out. At the edge of the map was a red flag marker and ‘Jormungand. Avoid.’ Thor caught his breath. The legendary serpent pokéttin. Now that was a pokéttin worth having. Imagine if he caught it, how impressed his family would be.
When it was his turn to rent he abandoned his daydream and looked around to find Loki chatting to a Ratatosk perched on the windowsill.
‘Loki,’ he called. ‘Come on.’
Loki waited patiently through the rental process only to suddenly baulk at following Thor onto the boat.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Thor.
Loki turned his head and huffed a small flame.
‘Oh. Well, turn into a Water type then if it bothers you.’
Loki paused and then his hair gradually turned blue from the roots. He blew a jet of water into the air as if to check it worked and then nodded and climbed into the boat.
A lot of the rental boats were staying in near the shore. Thor supposed that something with legs was more likely that way, and that would be more useful on land, but the powerful pokéttin were further out. He was through with weak ones, he thought, firmly steering the boat out to sea.
It was a nice day and the repetitive motion of rowing was easy to fall into so it wasn’t until Loki tugged urgently at his sleeve that Thor realised how far he’d gone. He was beyond even the Wailords’ grounds and well into the place on the map marked ‘avoid’. He should probably head back. But he was a bit curious, and how likely was he to have another chance to see a legendary? He leaned over the boat’s side and peered into the blue-green water trying to catch a glimpse of scales.
’Loki!’ said Loki, looking like he wished he could say something more coherent.
‘I’m just looking,’ said Thor. How hard would Jormungand be to catch anyway? Most water types weren’t too hard once you’d hooked them. And Thor was a lot stronger than a mortal his age. The pokéttin he’d tried to catch before had been able to run, but one on a hook couldn’t. He pulled out his line and began to prepare his bait.
Loki stared at him for a moment and then hid his face in his hands.
‘Look, it’ll be fine,’ said Thor. ‘I’m not expecting you to fight it.’
‘Ki,’ groaned Loki and shook his head.
‘It probably won’t bite anyway. It’s a legendary and this is only two pokédollar bait,’ said Thor. Almost experimentally he cast his line.
The water surged under them and white teeth like shark fins broke the surface in a near perfect oval centred on them. It should have been able to swallow the boat whole. Instead those teeth dipped back under and closed daintily on the bait.
The tug jerked the boat down, nearly swamping it, and Thor thought, beneath the shock and terror and elation that he’d actually done it, that for a $5 dollar rental he’d certainly got his money’s worth on the line. He braced his feet on the bottom of the boat and pulled back, even as the next surge downward sent the knife he’d prepared the bait with flying across the floor of the boat and narrowly missing his ankles.
If he had a powerful pokéttin now would be the time to send it out. Without one Thor just had to hold on and hope Jormungand wore itself out (and deep down he knew tugging the boat around wasn’t going to wear it out anymore than playing with a rubber duck would wear him out. But he never did like to admit defeat).
The boat plunged downward, water flowing in and over Thor’s feet, and then up as the serpent reared itself out of the water, the boat riding a wave all the way up with no way back down. At the last moment, as the wave crested, the tension went out of the line and the boat slid back down in one long rollercoaster swoop. Far above them Jormungand tipped his head back and swallowed before sinking, almost lazily, back into the sea.
Thor wasn’t surprised the line had broken in the end but, looking at it, the cut was clean not frayed. He looked at Loki and saw him holding Thor’s knife and looking defiant.
‘Coward,’ said Thor without much conviction.
So, plan two was less than successful and had also got Thor banned from the beach for causing panic. The problem was he didn’t really have a plan three. Most ways of getting a pokéttin relied on already having one. And while, technically, Thor did that wasn’t much help when he couldn’t use Loki to fight. Therefore plan three was: make Loki fight.
In competitions there were arena battles where it wouldn’t be possible for a contestant to run away. But tempting as it was to shove Loki into an arena battle and watch him forced to actually use his abilities for once it wouldn’t be fair. Throwing him in without warning would only make sure he lost. And attempting to get him into a battle he had been warned about…well, it probably wasn’t going to happen.
‘Look,’ said Thor. ‘You’re going to have to fight. It will only be against pokéttin your own level and typeshift means you won’t ever be at a disadvantage.’
Loki shook his head firmly.
‘If you go up another level you’ll be able to talk,’ said Thor. ‘Don’t you want that?’
Loki paused and then shrugged.
‘Fighting’s really not so bad. You just need some experience,’ said Thor. ‘Now you can either walk there or I’ll take you in a pokéball. But you are going to fight.’
It was only a junior championship but the arena was set up properly, a circle with high wooden walls and a platform at each end for the trainers. Thor was given a number and sent through to wait with the other contestants. All of them had their pokéttin in their pokéballs and Thor felt embarrassed for a moment that his wasn’t. Then a pretty girl his age entered with two Ampurr’s winding around her legs so determinedly that she nearly tripped several times.
‘Hi,’ said Thor. ‘Are they both yours?’
‘This one’s my starter,’ she said, sitting down and pulling one of the big golden cat types onto her lap. ‘I went to sleep one night with just him and woke up to find I’d got a second one.’ She smiled. ‘I’m Freya. Pleased to meet you.’
‘Thor,’ he said. ‘You’re lucky, getting a pokéttin like that.’
‘Yes,’ she said, reaching down to scratch the ears of the Ampurr at her feet. ‘Is that one yours?’
‘Yes,’ said Thor, not quite sure what else to say. He didn’t want to admit to anything about Loki in front of the competition.
‘I’ve heard the human looking ones are the smartest,’ said Freya.
‘Yes, he’s quite clever,’ said Thor, realising only after he’d said it that he’d failed to sound at all enthusiastic. ‘He’ll learn to talk next level,’ he added, a bit more brightly.
Freya was called away to her battle first, pokéballing one cat as she led the other through to the arena. She returned smiling and triumphant just in time for Thor to be called through.
Thor was relieved to see that Loki’s first opponent was a Cubite. It would be a lot more dangerous once it evolved into a Wolfang, but currently, despite its red eyes and dark fur, it looked adorable. If Loki could be persuaded to actually fight it he should win easily.
Thor could see Loki looking around while he climbed to the trainer’s platform. When Loki realised there was no way out he shot an almost reproachful look at Thor. Then the bell sounded for the beginning of the match.
‘Loki, typeshift to Fighting,’ called Thor. He couldn’t think of a less likely type for Loki, but the Cubite was a Dark type and would be weak to it.
Loki’s hair turned brown, presumably he was obeying.
‘Cubite, bite,’ called his opponent.
‘Dodge!’ called Thor. The Cubite was fast though, and Loki jumped back with a bleeding arm.
‘Kick,’ said Thor, guessing Loki would have a Fighting type move now he’d shifted. But Loki just shook his head and backed away from the growling Cubite. Waste of two moves, thought Thor. ‘Typeshift to Fire,’ he amended.
‘Cubite, crunch,’ called the opponent at the same time.
Loki managed to dodge this time leaving the Cubite almost tumbling head over heels as it missed him.
‘Loki, flamethrower,’ called Thor. Loki performed the ranged attack a lot more willingly than tackle and the Cubite went down for a moment, only to get back up shaking its head.
Once again it was ordered to use crunch and this time it hit, leaving Loki bleeding again. But this time flamethrower hit it without Thor even having to say anything. It stayed down and was returned to its pokéball. Thor quickly returned Loki to his before he’d recovered enough to realise what was going to happen. He’d need to be run through a healing cycle before the next round.
Thor didn’t get Loki out of his pokéball until their second round was about to start. It seemed like the easiest way to get him into the arena now he knew he couldn’t get out of it. Especially once Thor got a look at the Wyrmaw he’d be facing. It was a Dragon type the size of a dog with thick plate scales and three rows of fangs that barely fit in its mouth. It couldn’t be as tough as it looked at this level of competition, but it was quite a sight.
Loki certainly thought so. He took one look at it and then looked at Thor’s platform as if calculating whether he could climb it. The bell for the beginning forestalled any attempts.
Fire was good against Dragon type moves, so Loki didn’t need to typeshift, thought Thor.
‘Wyrmaw, bite,’ called the opponent.
Loki didn’t just dodge, he ran, and the Wyrmaw ran after him. It wasn’t as fast as Loki but it was very determined.
‘Loki, flamethrower!’ Thor called, but Loki didn’t pay him the slightest attention.
‘Dragon breath!’ called the opponent.
That was a paralysing move and Thor caught his breath, but the Wyrmaw wasn’t listening either. It was too focused on carrying out the first command to hear the second. So there was nothing the trainers could do but watch their pokéttin race around the circumference of the arena as fast as either of them could go while the audience laughed. Finally the Wyrmaw collapsed from simple exhaustion and, to Thor’s surprise, it was counted as a win for Loki.
Since that was the end of the contests for that day Thor took Loki back to the pokéttin centre where he was staying before letting him out of his pokéball. Loki glared at him and folded his arms.
‘Come on, you did very well,’ said Thor.
Loki nodded, looking smug for a moment before scowling again.
‘It’s only a few more rounds to the semi-final.’
‘I’m not doing that again,’ said Loki.
Thor stared at him. ‘You can talk?’
‘Yes, but I’m not talking to you,’ said Loki.
‘It wasn’t so bad, was it?’ said Thor. ‘You won after all.’
‘I don’t see why I should fight for your benefit. And throwing me into the arena like that was a cheap trick.’
‘It’s not just for my benefit,’ protested Thor. ‘It’s for everyone’s.’
‘Oh, really,’ said Loki, glaring at Thor again.
‘A lot of pokéttin are dangerous and would invade Midgard if they could. That’s why trainers are needed, not just to catch them but to train other powerful pokéttin to go against them. The Aesir especially have always put a lot of work into defending the borders of Midgard. It’s what I’m supposed to do, one day.’
‘And why should I care if pokéttin invade Midgard? I am one.’
‘Fine,’ said Thor. ‘How about this. Why should I feed you when you’re completely useless?’
‘If I didn’t have to follow you around all the time maybe I’d have time to find my own food,’ snapped Loki. ‘I should have run away the first time you got me out. At least that way I wouldn’t have been dragged into a fight with a legendary. Did you just go completely insane that time?’
‘What does that have to do with anything?’ demanded Thor. ‘And it was hardly a fight, all you did was cut the line.’
‘I probably saved your life. Goodness knows why.’
‘If you want to run away then fine. The door’s there,’ said Thor, stabbing his finger at it. ‘You think it’s easy in the wild? You’re just going to wind up as some stronger pokéttin’s dinner.’
‘At least I won’t have people sneaking me into fights behind my back,’ said Loki. He paused at the door. ‘Good luck finding a pokéttin stupid enough to put up with you,’ he added before slamming it.
Thor sighed and sat down on the bed. Loki would probably come back once he got hungry. So much for things being easier once he learnt to speak, though.
When Loki didn’t come back the next day Thor started looking around the town for him. After a week he decided that Loki had made good on his threats and disappeared into the wild. Either he’d fallen foul of something more powerful, which Thor hoped wasn’t the case, or he was fine and not interested in coming back. So, Thor was alone in the town without a pokéttin to his name.
Pride stopped him from calling home and asking for a new starter. Even though he didn’t have anything to trade it was possible to buy weak pokéttin sometimes, so he decided to get a job and see if he could save up enough to start again by himself. Shelf stacking for the store didn’t earn much, but it turned out to be the best job he could get. Which was why he was still in town three months later, when Loki returned.
Thor had just come in from a day at work and was about to flop down on the bed when he realised that it was already occupied. How Loki had been able to sneak in through a pokécenter without someone grabbing him and putting him through a healing cycle Thor didn’t know. Even in his sleep he looked exhausted and there were bruises on his arms and cheek. Thor reached over the bed for his pack, meaning to grab Loki’s pokéball and put him through a healing cycle quickly while he wasn’t awake to make a fuss about it. But as soon as his shadow fell across the bed Loki’s eyes snapped open.
‘Thor?’ he asked groggily.
‘Yes,’ said Thor. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Do you mind going into your pokéball so I can get you healed?’ It didn’t look like Loki was in much state to put up a fight, but Thor would just feel bad about forcing him right now.
Loki hesitated. ‘Will you let me back out?’
'Yes. As soon as the cycle is done, okay?’
‘Okay,’ said Loki.
Thor picked up the pokéball and tried to return Loki, only for nothing to happen. ‘That’s odd. It should still work,’ he said, shaking it as if that was likely to help. ‘I’ll have to catch you again now.’
‘Just throw it then. I’m probably weak enough.’
‘That doesn’t matter unless you fight it.’ Thor tossed the pokéball at Loki, relieved when he dissolved into red light and disappeared into it.
The Nurse Eir on duty promised to run Loki through a healing cycle and return him to Thor as quickly as possibly, so Thor waited in the lobby rather anxiously for her to be finished. So far he’d been more worried about the state Loki had returned in than anything. As he waited he had time to wonder what to do once Loki was healed. Would Loki be more amenable to fighting now he’d found out the wild could be a rough place? If not should Thor just keep saving for something else?
Nurse Eir returned with Loki before he’d had time to reach a clear decision. As she handed him the pokéball she looked oddly worried.
‘Is he okay?’ asked Thor.
‘There was an unidentified status effect the healing cycle couldn’t remove,’ she said. ‘If you head to a city then a more advanced pokécenter might be able to deal with it.’
‘Oh. Is it going to hurt him? Before I can do that, I mean.’
‘You’ll have to ask. It didn’t seem like it would cause him any pain,’ she said.
Thor thanked her and headed back to his room to let Loki out. To his relief the bruising was gone as was the exhaustion. Loki still had a tense, wary look he hadn’t had before, which made Thor feel he should have done more to stop his pokéttin from running away in the first place.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
‘Better,’ said Loki.
‘No. Should it?’ asked Loki, with a shrewd glance at Thor.
‘There was a status effect that couldn’t be removed. Nurse Eir thought a larger pokécenter might manage it. Do you know what it might be?’ said Thor.
‘No,’ said Loki. ‘How near are we to a large enough pokécenter?’
‘A few weeks,’ said Thor, mentally calculating the distance to Nóatún City.
Loki looked oddly stricken, but Thor wouldn’t have liked having a status effect on him for that long either.
‘We’ll set off in the morning,’ said Thor.
It was the second day of travelling and, while Loki had seemed far more his old self the first day, he had been increasingly skittish all morning. That afternoon when a small trail crossed the path they were following Loki stopped and pointed.
‘We should go that way,’ he said.
‘Why?’ asked Thor, pulling out the map to take a look. ‘Nóatún’s this way.’
‘There’s a house this way. I saw trainers stopping there for the night sometimes. It’s not much out of our way and it’s better than camping,’ said Loki.
Thor shrugged. Maybe the status effect was taking more of a toll on Loki that he’d realised if the pokéttin was that eager not to sleep rough. Or maybe sleeping outside just made him nervous after his attempt at living in the wild. Either way, there was no harm in sleeping indoors tonight.
‘Lead the way then,’ he said.
The path lead through some thick woodland. Thor could hear pokéttin in the undergrowth but he didn’t try to get Loki to fight them, that could wait until Loki was fully healed. The path came out into the open again only when it crossed a river, dipping down to a narrow ford.
‘If a lot of trainers come this way you’d think they’d have a bridge,’ grumbled Thor.
‘It’s up to the trainers whether a bed for the night is worth getting their feet wet,’ said Loki. He’d shifted to a Water type and walked in without taking his shoes off.
Thor did take his shoes and socks off, stuffing them in his pack, as well as rolling his trousers up before he started walking across. The stones were firm under his feet and, although the ford was narrow, it seemed well built.
A sudden surge of water knocked Thor off his feet, he wound up on hands and knees clutching the ford. It was only when he cautiously stood back up that he realised the water hadn’t gone back down, and was now up to his knees where before it had only covered his ankles. Loki had balanced better and was still on his feet, gazing around wildly. When he stopped, eyes fixing on something, Thor followed his gaze and saw the pokéttin swimming down the river.
She was grey with greenish blue hair which stretched behind her, floating along the surface until it was indistinguishable from the river water at the ends. Her hands, when they surfaced, were huge and almost skeletal claws with ragged nails. As she came towards them the water continued to rise around her, pressing Thor backward as it lapped around his waist.
A final wave pushed both Thor and Loki off the ford, sending them, half swimming, half swept along, down the river. Thor, pushing his way above water with more determination than technique, managed to grab a small rowan tree growing on the bank with one hand and Loki with the other. The water continued to rise, sucking greedily at him as he doggedly pulled them both out. A howl rose from the river and the water surged again, climbing the bank towards them.
‘Loki. Typeshift to Electric. Thundershock the river,’ said Thor.
Loki hesitated, glancing behind them as if they might be watched, but when another howl sounded he nodded. His hair turned suddenly yellow and he raised his hands, closing his eyes as he gathered power, before releasing lightning that raced across the river in jagged bands, for a brief moment turning the water white. Thor, catching sight of the Water pokéttin, her head thrown backwards in shock, threw a pokéball and watched her disappear into it with a satisfaction that turned to chagrin when the ball floated past him and raced out of sight along the falling river.
Thor glanced at Loki, currently wet and muddy but not looking any the worse for wear. ‘Well done,’ he said. ‘That was amazing.’ He laughed, more in amazement than humour, remembering the flash of lightning on the river. ‘Are you all right?’ he added, realising how pale Loki looked.
Thor grinned at him, then pulled a face when he noticed his pack was soaked through. ‘We’d better find this house. I wonder if they knew they had a dangerous pokéttin so close?’ He brightened at the sight of smoke curling over the trees a little way away. Shelter would be good right now. However, he hadn’t gone more than a few steps when Loki caught his sleeve.
‘Thor,’ he said quietly. ‘I lied to you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Thor asked, too puzzled to be angry.
‘The house belongs to Geirrod. He’s a pokéttin, but he still catches weaker ones and makes them work for him.’
‘Is that what happened to you?’ asked Thor, remembering Loki’s failure to return to his pokéball. If he’d been caught in a different one in the meantime it would make sense.
‘Yes. I wasn’t very hard to catch,’ admitted Loki. ‘I told him I had a trainer, that they’d be angry he’d stolen me, but he just laughed. After a while I thought maybe if I told him you were one of the Aesir he’d be more impressed.’
‘So he told you what? To bring me to him?’ said Thor, voice starting to rise. ‘So one of his pokéttin could kill me?’
Loki shivered and let go of Thor’s arm, backing off slightly. ‘He used Deathcurse on me! If I don’t bring you to him before the time’s up then I’ll die. When you said an advanced pokécenter could remove it I thought maybe I’d have another choice…’
‘But you don’t have that much time,’ finished Thor. The anger was still there but not directed at Loki who had been scared and had, in any case, chosen not to go through with it. ‘How long?’
Thor nodded and turned to the rowan that had saved them, wrenching at a thick branch until it snapped. ‘I’ll have to go there. He’ll remove the curse then, right?’
‘He’ll kill you,’ said Loki, sounding bewildered.
‘I can defend myself,’ said Thor. The branch whistled satisfyingly through the air.
‘That’s your plan? Charge in with a big stick?’ demanded Loki.
‘I’m doing this for you,’ said Thor. ‘And do you have a better one?’
Loki looked away. ‘I just don’t want either of us to die.’
‘Then I have to go there,’ said Thor
‘Can’t we at least have a strategy? I…I’ll fight. Just tell me what you want me to do.’
Thor considered. Charging around without a plan hadn’t exactly worked out for him so far. And while charging in with a stick might be all he could do alone with Loki helping they could do a lot more. He reached into his soggy pack for his pokédex, grateful the things were nearly indestructible.
‘Okay,’ he said, checking the weakness chart. ‘Are they all Water types?’
‘Geirrod’s Fire,’ said Loki, looking over his shoulder. ‘Both his daughters are Water, although you already caught one. None of his pokéttin are likely to want to fight for him.’
‘Okay.’ Thor leant on his stick while reading through the table and working things out. ‘Dragon type is strong to Water and Fire, so typeshift to that now and return to it if they attack you. Use Electric to attack the daughter, Water against Geirrod. It’ll take some rapid typshifting. Think you can do it?’
‘Yes,’ said Loki. His hair gradually turned green, although not a solid green. It was yellowish at the roots and nearly black at the tips. ‘What?’ he said, noticing Thor looking at it.
‘Nothing. Being a Dragon type just gives you a cool hairstyle.’
‘And I’m meant to rely on you for strategy,’ said Loki.
‘Just be glad we have one,’ said Thor. He pulled out a few pokéballs and put them on his belt, slipped the pokédex into his pocket, and then left the sodden pack hanging in the rowan tree.
The house turned out to be a large hall built of drystone with double oak doors taking up nearly all of one end of it. Thor had to shove at one with all his strength just to get it open enough for the two of them to slip inside. The inside was as rough, yet impressive, as the outside. A hearth took up the whole end of the hall opposite the door, with the walls soot blackened around it. The roof was crisscrossed with oak beams which attached to two pillars placed in seemingly random places, the effect was as if the whole place had been shored up as it was built with no plan beforehand.
The furniture was enormous, Thor’s head didn’t reach the top of the scarred table, and the chairs were correspondingly huge. One of them had been draped with bright, slightly tattered cloth as if in some strange attempt at a throne. Standing by the fire was a pokéttin four times Thor’s height with bright red skin, long black hair and fangs nearly large enough to be tusks.
‘Welcome, young Aesir,’ he said. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ He gestured to the cloth covered chair.
Thor paused for a moment suspecting a trick, but he had to play along until the curse was off Loki. Getting into the chair proved difficult in itself since the seat was level with Thor’s forehead. He had to push himself up with the rowan branch and scramble awkwardly onto it.
Loki was hovering a little way from Geirrod, trying to get his attention without getting too close. ‘Geirrod, please,’ he said, barely above a whisper. ‘You promised.’
Geirrod shot a look at Thor, who pretended he hadn’t heard, and then grabbed Loki’s head in one clawed hand. Thor could see darkness rising from Loki like a cloud and sinking into it. When Geirrod let go Thor caught Loki’s eye, trying to inquire without speaking, and Loki gave him a quick nod behind Geirrod’s back. Thor let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
Thor moved towards the edge of the chair, planning to get back to floor level before starting a fight. Before he could jump the chair shot upwards and he only barely got the stick above his head in time to avoid being crushed against the beams. Even as he struggled to get the stick properly wedged between the chair and the ceiling before his strength gave out Thor realised he could hear the sound of falling water. Someone under the chair had used a powerful watergun to push him upwards.
The blue flare of lightning lit the building in a moment before the chair fell. Thor curled in the seat, bracing himself for the shock of hitting the ground. When it did he was thrown off, managing to roll as he hit the ground and stumble fairly rapidly to his feet. The Water pokéttin, the same kind as her sister, must have been soaked with her own watergun for a pokéttin of Loki’s level to do so much damage with thundershock, but she was passed out below the chair. Thor pokéballed her quickly and turned to check the whereabouts of his remaining foe.
Geirrod was glaring at Loki, who had returned to Dragon type and backed against the wall. ‘So you are loyal to your trainer, little one,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps only now that you’re not cursed. Well, that can be remedied.’
He lifted his hand, darkness gathering around it, and Thor ran across the hall to smack it with his stick before the move could be completed.
Geirrod’s expression was incredulous. ‘What is this?’ he asked, hand closing around the stick and wrenching at it out of Thor’s grasp. ‘I thought the Aesir believed pokéttin should fight for them, not the other way around.’
‘Loki is fighting, but there’s no reason he should do it alone,’ said Thor. ‘I won’t let you kill him!’
‘You’re right,’ said Geirrod. He threw the stick into the fire and raised his hand again, red light gathering around it this time instead of darkness. ‘I don’t need to kill him. Once you are dead he’ll serve me rather than die with you.’
Thor stepped backwards, looking around for another weapon, but even if he had found one it would have been too late. Geirrod’s firebolt was thrown underarm at him, splitting the air around it with a noise like thunder and trailing flames. Something hit Thor’s chest and he let out a yelp before realising it had been Loki’s shoulder. Loki was a Fire type again and holding the firebolt with both hands, face strained as if it was almost too heavy for him to bear.
As Thor watched Loki lifted it, clearly struggling every moment not to…drop it? Let it explode? Geirrod’s hand was glowing again, another firebolt meant to hit Loki and explode the first one with it. And Loki was struggling already, there was no way he could do whatever he was planning in time. Thor climbed to his feet, careful not to stumble against Loki, and looked around for some way to help. One of his feet nearly caught on wet cloth from the chair and he grinned, the answer suddenly obvious.
He charged forward with a yell, getting Geirrod’s attention at the same moment he threw the cloth around his hand, tangling it and quenching his half formed Fire move. Geirrod’s other hand clenched into a fist and Thor braced himself for the blow, twisting the cloth tighter even as he did, but then Geirrod’s gaze went to Loki and his eyes widened with fear. Thor found himself dragged along as Geirrod ran for the nearest pillar.
Loki was holding the firebolt level with his chest, eyes wide with effort, and Thor realised what was about to happen just in time to let go of the cloth and throw himself on the floor. The firebolt seemed even bigger than before as it ripped through the air and, scarcely slowing, through the pillar to hit Geirrod square in the chest.
Thor stood up and walked over to the downed pokéttin. Loki’s slow footsteps came up behind him as he looked.
‘Is he dead?’ asked Loki.
‘Fainted,’ said Thor. He pulled out a pokéball and, with a certain vicious satisfaction, watched Geirrod disappear into it. Then he turned to Loki. ‘Are you hurt? I’ve got potions in the pack…which isn’t here. Ah, well. It’s not far.’
‘Just tired,’ said Loki. He looked it.
On impulse Thor hugged him. ‘I didn’t even know you could catch firebolts,’ he said. ‘You were amazing!’
‘I know,’ said Loki.
Thor laughed but Loki probably deserved to be smug.
‘It’s too bad I can’t keep these,’ said Thor, gathering the fourteen pokéballs from Geirrod’s stash into his pack, now more or less dry after a few hours beside Geirrod’s fire.
‘Can’t you?’ asked Loki. He’d been asleep while Thor dried their stuff and, between that and some food, was much recovered. Currently he was a Water type and using watergun to put out the fire, since they couldn’t leave it burning unattended.
‘They were illegal captures so they have to be turned in to the police,’ said Thor. ‘At least I got two powerful pokéttin out of this, though.’
‘What?’ Loki’s watergun stopped out of astonishment. ‘You can’t mean Geirrod and his daughter.’
‘Why not? They’re high level and I captured them properly.’
‘You can’t possibly use them. Do you really think they’d obey you in battle?’ said Loki.
‘You don’t obey me in battle,’ answered Thor.
‘I don’t try to kill all the spectators and steal their pokéttin,’ hissed Loki. ‘Are you completely insane? I realise this might be a stupid question after you tried to go fishing for a legendary-’
‘You are never going to shut up about that, are you?’
‘Not as long as you keep making the same mistake!’
Thor sighed. Loki did have a point there. Wanting a powerful pokéttin and being able to use one were two different things and if he got Geirrod out around people he’d probably wind up causing a disaster.
‘Oh, fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll put them in storage.’
‘At least you’re capable of listening to sense,’ said Loki, relaxing. ‘Although I suppose you’ll want me to catch you something more biddable now,’ he added glumly.
‘I don’t know,’ said Thor. ‘I saved up a fair amount of money and the next village is on a lot of trainer routes. Maybe I’ll be able to buy something.’
‘You’re not going to make me fight?’
‘It’s more trouble than it’s worth. And it looks like when I really need you to fight I won’t have to force you.’
Loki shrugged. ‘This time was kind of my fault. Don’t expect me to rescue you from things you get yourself into.’
Thor laughed. ‘Kind of?’ he said, standing up and swinging the backpack onto his shoulder. ‘But I’ll take that deal. Now, come on. If we get a good start we’ll be able to make it to the next village in a few days.’
So they set out into the forest, walking eagerly towards their destination.
Chapter 2: Idunn's Garden
Loki and Thor visit Idunn's Garden, a place specialising in rare berries. Unfortunately for Loki a wild Thiazzi is after the very rarest.
The village had enough trainers staying in it to have a billboard with Wanted and For Sale signs up. Thor spent a lot of time looking at the Electric types, but didn’t really have enough money for anything more powerful than a Ratroll. Loki, too, was looking at the notices and Thor wondered what he hoped for as Thor’s second pokéttin.
‘How would you describe me if you were selling me?’ asked Loki, looking up from an effusive description of a Huldra.
‘Why? Fed up of me?’ asked Thor.
Loki shook his head with a grin. ‘Just wondering.’
Thor turned back to the notices. ‘We’re going to be stuck here forever if I wait for an Electric type I can afford,’ he said.
‘I know steal,’ said Loki.
‘Thor?’ asked someone and Thor turned to see Sif, his friend from Asgard, walking towards him. She had picked up her starter the same day as him but must have made an early start and he hadn’t seen her since.
‘Sif!’ he said, smiling broadly at her. ‘How have you been?’
‘Fine,’ she said, walking over to join him. ‘Is this your starter?’
‘Yes, this is Loki. Which starter did you pick?’
‘Mine’s a Strawdoll. I’ve caught a Woodmouse as well, but nothing really impressive,’ said Sif.
‘I caught some high level pokéttin, a Grippul and a Fireclaw, but they can’t really be used in battle,’ said Thor.
‘He would have tried to use them in battle if I hadn’t pointed out why he shouldn’t,’ said Loki, helpfully.
Sif looked away, clearly forcing herself not to laugh.
‘So, since Loki won’t fight,’ Thor continued pointedly, ‘I’m looking for something that will.’
‘Have you been to Idunn’s Garden?’ asked Sif.
‘Where’s that?’ said Thor.
‘It’s to the west of town. It’s a sort of nature preserve, she has a lot of rare berries growing under domes and the park is an area where rare pokéttin live. No one gets more than one permit to make captures there per year and you only get a limited amount of time there,’ said Sif. ‘The permit’s not that expensive, though.’
‘Loki won’t help catch them, though,’ said Thor. ‘If it was as simple as finding something to catch I’d have got some in the forest.’
‘You get special balls to catch them and bait to lure them in, no one is meant to fight in the park. I guess they don’t want pokéttin injured in case they don’t wind up being captured.’
‘Why let people in at all?’ asked Loki.
‘I don’t know,’ said Sif. ‘But it’s what a lot of trainers come here for.’
‘We should go there,’ said Thor. ‘Thanks, Sif!’
They were given a numbered ticket and a park map and told that it would be a few hours before Thor’s number came up and he could get a permit, but that they were free to wander the grounds and take a look at the gardens while they waited. Please stay on the marked paths, though.
The gardens were under a series of domes, filled with the small berry trees Thor had expected. He knew the more common types of berry, Oran berries for general healing, Rawst berries for burns, but most of the berries here he couldn’t even take a guess at. Among the trees were Elf types, easily distinguished by their short pointed ears. Mostly Woodelves and smaller Elfairies.
‘Are all the workers here pokéttin?’ asked Loki.
‘Elf types have an affinity for plants, especially Woodelves,’ said Thor. ‘I wonder if they all belong to Idunn?’
Loki caught the eye of an Elfairy. ‘Do you belong to Idunn?’ he asked.
She ignored him and disappeared back among the trees. Loki shrugged and carried on walking.
The last door had a notice on it:
Very sensitive tree. Please keep your voices down.
‘Sensitive?’ said Loki. ‘That sounds like we shouldn’t insult it.’
Thor slid the door open and walked in, doing his best to tread quietly. There was only a single tree under the dome, in the centre with the path clinging to the very edge of the dome in a circle. A girl who looked about sixteen was watering it, humming under her breath. The tree was silvery, silver-grey trunk and silver-green leaves, but otherwise looked fairly normal. The girl had long blonde hair and was wearing a green dress.
Thor tripped on a crack in the pavings and nearly fell, just stopping himself from exclaiming as he did. He must have made more noise than he thought though, because the girl looked up. She smiled at him, but it was only once she’d got up and walked over that she spoke.
‘Hello,’ she said, and she might either have been keeping her voice down or simply been naturally quiet. ‘Thank you for not shouting.’
‘Ah, you’re welcome,’ said Thor, trying to be as quiet as she was. ‘Is the tree really that sensitive?’
‘It’s one of a kind,’ said the girl. ‘The berries heal anything, even illnesses and severe status effects that healing cycles can’t deal with. But it only produces ten to fifteen a year, and less than that if there’s any kind of disturbance around it.’
‘Couldn’t you grow more of them?’ asked Loki
The girl smiled at him and then looked back at the tree, expression turning worried. ‘Cuttings die as soon as they’re taken. We planted the berries last year, but the shoots are growing slowly. And only the five I tended personally grew at all.’
The door slid open again as a group of trainers came to look in.
Thor looked at his watch. ‘We’d better be going,’ he said. ‘It was nice talking to you.’
‘You too,’ said the girl. As Thor reached the door to leave he could hear her quiet humming again.
The park map showed fields and woodlands sloping up the foot of the mountains the town was built near. There were a lot of Elf types, along with some Ground, Leaf and Flying types. Even a few small Dragon types.
‘Any legendaries?’ asked Loki, looking over Thor’s shoulder.
‘No,’ said Thor. ‘Thiazzis, though, those are very rare flying types. And Geflings, those are very strong.’ He pointed to the picture of the ox-like pokéttin. ‘According to this we should lure them in with bait and then throw rocks at them to weaken them before capturing them with the Park ball.’
‘Are you sure you didn’t just make that up?’ said Loki.
‘Look, it says it right here,’ said Thor, showing the pamphlet to Loki.
Loki sighed and read the part Thor was pointing to. ‘They’re as crazy as you are.’
‘Anyway, it’s true,’ said Thor. ‘Now, we’ll only have five hours, so we’ll need to make the most of it. The Geflings will be near the foothills so we should head for there.’
When the time came to get the pass Thor was told he’d have to leave Loki outside the park. He really should have seen that coming, he thought, since pokébattles weren’t allowed.
‘That’s not fair,’ said Loki. ‘I didn’t even want to fight anything.’
The girl on the desk looked a bit bewildered. ‘I’m sorry, but your trainer can’t take you in there.’
‘Would I be allowed in if I was a wild pokéttin?’
‘Yes, but you’re not. If we let pokéttin in because people said they wouldn’t fight then we’d have an awful lot of trouble enforcing the rules.’
‘Come on,’ said Thor. ‘Did you really want to go in that badly?’
‘I wanted to see what it was like,’ said Loki, looking sulky. ‘I don’t want to be left in a tray with your spare pokéballs either.’
Thor sighed. ‘Can he stay out if I leave him here? He doesn’t like being in his pokéball.’
‘That’s fine,’ said the girl on the desk. ‘Here’s your permit. Enjoy your time in the park.’
‘Be good,’ said Thor to Loki.
Loki glared at him.
Loki had been curious to see the park and also rather worried about a place that encouraged Thor to go around throwing rocks at powerful pokéttin. Add to that that he was now angry enough not to care if he got Thor into trouble and the answer was clear. He was going to sneak in.
The girl at the desk had just directed him to a chair in the corner and left him to his own devices, apparently not considering that he might misbehave. The way into the park was guarded and Loki wasn’t a native type so masquerading as a wild pokéttin seemed unlikely to get him in (too bad he didn’t know transform yet). However there was a pile of Park balls, several of which were handed to each permit holder who went in. Loki was somewhat reluctant to put his plan into action, but having one pushed him to discover whether it would work. And he didn’t appreciate people trying to leave him out.
Loki grabbed an unattended Park ball and tapped himself on the head with it, dissolving into light as he flowed into it.
He really hated being in a pokéball, special sort or not. It was perfectly comfortable and everything seemed far away and dreamlike while he was in one, but he still felt confined. Powerless while things were done to him with only a hazy awareness on his part. It didn't take very long at all for him to reconsider the wisdom of his plan. Still, it was too late now. Loki tried to ignore the tense, heavy feeling which probably would have been in his stomach if he currently had one and stayed as alert as he could manage for the next stage of his plan.
The awareness that the Park ball was airborne came a moment before it opened. If it had been empty it would have caught the startled Reindark which instead wound up with Loki under its hooves. Loki rolled to one side then got to his feet and fled, leaving both puzzled trainer and pokéttin behind.
Loki stopped to look around once he’d put some distance between them. He was nearly in the foothills, which was where Thor had been heading. So, should he look for his trainer, who would probably just be angry he’d broken the rules, or take a look around since he’d managed to get in? He decided that both at once was feasible since finding Thor was unlikely to be easy anyway. He could poke around the foothills and decide whether to talk to Thor if and when he happened across him.
The Elf types made Loki nervous because many of them would know speak and therefore be able to alert the guards to a misplaced Loki wandering around. The Geflings and Reindarks in the foothills eyed him suspiciously but did nothing to stop him. Loki typshifted to rock in order to stand out less, although he normally hated the fact that it turned his hair grey.
Being very careful to avoid trainers who might want to catch him (he was, technically, fairly rare, although not on the level of the Park pokéttin) Loki followed the narrow paths between the rocks. The sight of Thor’s hair, only a little less vivid than his own as a Fire type, alerted him to his trainer’s whereabouts on a path below him. Loki may look human but he had a much higher level of agility and he simply left the path to make his way down over the tumbled rocks.
It was only when he got closer that he could see why Thor was standing still. There was a Gefling facing him on the path and Thor, with a rock wall on one side of him and a nearly sheer drop on the other, was throwing rocks at it. It was huge, head set low and shoulders bulging with muscle. Loki remembered a story he’d heard, that four of them had created an island by dragging a piece of land out to sea. Right now he could believe it.
‘Thor!’ he yelled. ‘Don’t annoy it!’
Thor’s head came up to see who was calling. The Gefling seized the moment and charged. Loki, panicking, typeshifted to Fire and half slid down the rocks. The tip of a horn caught Thor, blood welling as the point nicked his shoulder, at the same moment as Loki got close enough to use flamethrower. The Gefling balked at the blast, glared at him, then wheeled on its back hooves to change direction on the narrow track and fled.
‘Are you all right?’ called Thor, trying to climb up to Loki, who was making his way down more carefully now.
‘Fine,’ answered Loki. ‘You were the one about to be charged by a Gefling.’ Loki slid down the last drop and was caught by Thor, who hardly seemed bothered by the cut on his shoulder.
‘Thanks for that,’ said Thor. ‘I thought you weren’t going to interfere with situations I’d got myself into?’
‘I’ll make an exception for times you could wind up dead,’ answered Loki. He pulled himself together and stepped out of Thor’s arms. ‘I don’t suppose you have potions that work on you?’
‘I’ve got a first-aid kit,’ said Thor.
‘At least you’re not completely unprepared,’ said Loki. He was about to say more when he realised Thor wasn’t listening. His gaze was over Loki’s head. Loki turned to see what he was looking at and saw a bird pokéttin coming towards them, silhouetted against the sun. At first he thought it was quite close but then it kept getting bigger and he realised it was simply enormous. It swooped down and landed on an outcropping of rock next to them, its body was around the size of Loki’s but its wing span was more than twice that and made it look much bigger. In shape it looked like an eagle but with deep grey-purple feathers except for white wingtips.
‘There are no pokéttin allowed in the park,’ it said. Or rather, Loki understood it to say that. Out loud it was saying ‘Thiazzi’, so at least Loki knew what type it was now. And it sounded male.
‘That’s a pretty stupid thing to say,’ he answered, dropping into pokéttin speak himself.
‘No outside pokéttin,’ amended Thiazzi. ‘No tame ones. And there are no native Fire types here.’
‘I’m not doing any harm,’ said Loki. ‘I’m not even a Fire type, see?’ He switched to Rock type again.
Thiazzi looked at him suspiciously. Then he dived over Loki and landed on Thor’s backpack, pulling it off Thor’s shoulder and using his beak to rip open the top, tearing the buckle strap in the process.
‘Hey!’ said Thor. Then, in a move Loki wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or dismayed by, he grabbed one of the Park balls Thiazzi had just sent flying and threw it at him. Thiazzi dodged with a quick flutter and turned a very impressive glare on Thor.
‘You had better not have illegally captured my kin,’ he said.
‘He can’t understand you,’ snapped Loki. ‘And I already told you I hadn’t helped him catch anything. I only wanted to see the park but I couldn’t let him get killed. Anyway, what difference does it even make to you how your kin are captured?’
‘They should not belong to trainers unwilling to face them alone.’
Loki couldn’t help laughing. ‘Thor’s not unwilling to face anything alone. Believe me.’
Thiazzi dived at the backpack again. ‘I will take reparation for your trespass, either way,’ he said. He started piling potions and antidotes beside his talons.
‘What are you two saying?’ asked Thor.
‘He won’t believe I’m not here to help you catch pokéttin,’ said Loki. ‘And now he wants to take our stuff.’
‘I noticed,’ said Thor. He grabbed another Park ball and threw it at Thiazzi, who deflected it with a wing. Thiazzi lifted one foot and slashed at Thor, opening three parallel cuts on his arm below the injured shoulder. Thor grunted but then ignored his injuries and tried to grab the backpack. Thiazzi caught it one of the straps in his beak and the two of them began, to Loki’s disbelief, an impromptu tug of war.
‘Let him have it,’ he told Thor and, unsurprisingly, was completely ignored.
Thor and Thiazzi were too close together for most distance moves, certainly for Fire or Electric ones. So, thinking quickly, Loki typeshifted to Grass. Using vinewhip felt odd, none of his other moves caused things to sprout from his shoulder-blades, but his vines sprang forward and snared Thiazzi’s feet before he could lash out at Thor again. Only Thiazzi simply tightened his talons around the vines and took off. Loki tried to retract his vines but Thiazzi’s grip was firm and soon he was plucked off the ground, dangling at the end of his own vines.
Thor tried throwing another Park ball at Thiazzi, who swerved to avoid it and smacked Loki into the side of the mountain. After that Thor must have decided that Loki was too high up for him to risk catching Thiazzi, because there were no more Park balls thrown. But when Loki recovered himself enough to look down he could see Thor running determinedly after them, even when it meant scrambling up heaps of loose rocks.
‘Let me down,’ Loki said to Thiazzi. ‘What use am I going to be to you?’
Which might be a stupid question considering Geirrod had found plenty of use for him. Thiazzi had referred to the pokéttin around here as his kin, though, so it was a fair bet he wasn’t capturing them. Hopefully he wouldn’t make an exception for Loki.
‘If you want to get down then you’ll bring me something I need,’ said Thiazzi. He swerved away from the mountain, heading towards the forests below. Thor turned around and almost slid down the rocks he’d just climbed, landing in a spray of them while Loki winced.
‘What?’ said Loki.
‘Berries,’ said Thiazzi. ‘Idunn’s golden berries can cure all ills, but she favours the elves and won’t share them with the other types.’
‘She may not have-’ Loki had to stop as Thiazzi dragged him abruptly past the tree line, just low enough that he hit all the highest branches, before swooping above them again. ‘Ow. Don’t drag me through trees when I’m trying to talk to you! Idunn may not have any. If they’re the ones grown on the silver tree then they only get ten or fifteen and they planted them last year.’
‘She’ll have some,’ said Thiazzi. ‘In case one of her pets gets ill.’
’You don’t look ill,’ said Loki.
‘It’s not for me.’ Thiazzi sounded sad, so far he had only sounded implacable. ‘You do not need to know who it is for. You will bring me the berries to save yourself, not anyone else.’
‘There’s no harm in telling me why you want me to get them, is there?’ asked Loki. ‘And even if Idunn does have them how am I meant to find them? Much less get them in here? I really don’t think anyone’s going to let me sneak…ow. Will you stop that?’
‘Not until you agree to do as I say,’ said Thiazzi. ‘I can fly all day.’
‘Of course you can,’ muttered Loki. He was getting more battered than he would in most battles. ‘I’ll faint if you keep this up,’ he said.
‘I can wait for you to come around,’ said Thiazzi. ‘And then we can continue.’
Loki shivered. He very much believed Thiazzi would carry out his threats. How much harm could stealing a few berries really do?
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll bring them. Just put me down.’
‘Swear it,’ said Thiazzi.
‘I swear,’ said Loki miserably.
Thiazzi banked again, although this time he was heading for a clearing. ‘If you forget your promise once you are on the ground then I will pass word on to my kin, and they to their kin, so that you will have to go a long way before you can see a bird in the sky without fear.’
Thiazzi hovered where Loki’s feet could reach the ground and let him retract his vine whip. His vines hurt, Loki realised, and even once he’d retracted them it just meant his shoulder-blades started hurting instead. Pretty much all of him hurt. He should find Thor, but he just needed to sit down for a moment. Thiazzi’s wingbeats were fading away above him, thank goodness, and he could relax for a moment.
‘Loki!’ Thor’s voice roused him from the stupor he’d fallen into.
‘Hello, Thor,’ he said. Thor was bruised as well, all those rocks he’d slid down. And he was holding a tree branch. Loki tried to suppress a giggle and failed entirely, only to find that once he’d started laughing it was impossible to stop.
‘Are you all right?’ asked Thor, sounding bemused. He ran a hand over Loki’s head, checking for concussion Loki realised and resisted the urge to nuzzle.
‘I’ve been dragged through a lot of trees,’ he said once he’d managed to choke down the giggles.
‘I think you’d better go in your…’ Thor sighed. ‘Your pokéball is back at the reception, isn’t it? Can you walk there?’
Loki tried to stand only for his legs to give out under him, leaving him, surprised and indignant, on the forest floor. They had taken the worst beating he supposed. ‘You brought the pack,’ he said. ‘Catch me in a Park ball.’
‘Do they work on non-Park pokéttin?’ wondered Thor.
‘Sure,’ said Loki. ‘I caught myself in one to get in.’
‘That…you do realise that was a really stupid plan?’ said Thor while he rummaged through the pack for a Park ball. ‘What if the trainer hadn’t used it and you’d wound up given back in and put in a cupboard or something?’
‘And your plans are so much better,’ said Loki.
‘Maybe not, but you give me enough grief over them. I’m planning to return the favour,’ said Thor and got the last word by throwing the Park ball at Loki. Loki dissolved into red light with, for once, a certain amount of relief.
Explaining to the Park assistant who checked his catch that the pokéttin inside wasn’t native to the park because it was already his and had followed him in was embarrassing and also got him some suspicious looks. He was sent to the park’s pokécenter and told to stay there until Idunn could be brought to deal with him. By the time he was called out to speak with her Loki had been through a healing cycle and Thor himself had been patched up at the first aid station. Thor opted to leave Loki in his pokéball. He’d sulk about it afterwards but Thor would rather deal with the situation without Loki’s commentary on it.
To Thor’s surprise the person waiting for him was the girl he’d met by the silver tree.
‘Ah, hello,’ he said, rubbing the back of his head. ‘I’m sorry about this.’
‘Hello,’ she said, looking worried. ‘I’m told you somehow took a pokéttin into the park and tried to make a capture with it.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Thor indignantly. ‘He followed me in because he was worried and then got attacked by one of the Thiazzis.’
‘And you didn’t try to catch the Thiazzi?’ asked Idunn.
‘…I did actually. But only because it was hurting Loki. I would have turned it is as an illegal capture.’
Idunn smiled at him. ‘You are recorded as having turned in several illegal captures when you first arrived at the pokécenter in the village. So I’m inclined to believe you.’
‘Oh,’ Thor relaxed and smiled back. ‘Thank you.’
‘It’s good that your pokéttin shows such loyalty,’ she said. ‘But maybe you should work on his discipline.’
‘I will,’ said Thor, wondering how in nine worlds he was going to do that.
He waited until he was back in his room at the village pokécenter to let Loki out. The walk back had left him aching all over from the bruises he’d picked up and he felt a little jealous when Loki came out of his pokéball good as new.
‘They weren’t angry,’ said Thor.
Loki nodded. ‘That’s good.’ He paused. ‘So you could have let me out of my pokéball without any consequences?’
‘I didn’t need any smart remarks while I was explaining. Idunn already thinks I need to teach you discipline.’
‘You neglected to mention that I saved your life then?’
‘It didn’t come up.’ Thor sat down on the bed with a yawn. It wasn’t evening yet, but he just wanted to curl up and sleep. At least until he ached a bit less. ‘I’m going to take a nap. Don’t go anywhere.’
Thor was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. When he woke up at dinnertime Loki was nowhere to be seen. Probably off sulking somewhere, he thought, and agreed with Idunn that they needed to work on discipline. He wasn’t planning on chasing his pokéttin all over the village though. Loki would probably turn up for breakfast the next morning, he’d be hungry by then.
Loki headed into the gardens. The late afternoon sunlight slanting through the domes leant a startling clarity to the green leaves and the more colourful berries nestled among them. There were still trainers waiting for their permits, although it would soon be too late for them to get their five hours before nightfall, and other tourists as well walking along the paths. Loki just walked with purpose and found himself ignored, taken for one of the resident pokéttin. Finally he reached the dome holding the silver tree and carefully pushed the door aside to enter.
Idunn was, as he expected, still tending to the tree. Not watering it now, but weeding around it, still humming. Maybe her song was the key to its growth, had anyone hummed to the other shoots? The idea was interesting, but beside the point.
‘Idunn?’ Loki said softly and she looked up at him, blinking a moment as she placed him. She walked over to him, fork still in hand.
‘So you’re the one who snuck into the park earlier?’ she said.
‘Yes. I wanted to apologise for that,’ said Loki, although he didn’t particularly. ‘But I need to talk to you as well. While I was in there, I saw something.’ He trailed off and looked at her, large eyed.
‘It’s all right,’ she assured him quickly. ‘What did you see?’
‘A tree like that one,’ he said, pointing. Idunn’s breath hitched and he knew he had her. ‘I think. It was the same colour. I’ve never seen the berries, though. So I couldn’t compare them.’
‘It had berries? Were they golden?’
‘Yes. I think so,’ said Loki. ‘Maybe you should bring some to compare. I can take you to it now if you like?’
‘Oh. Yes, please,’ said Idunn. ‘Let me fetch the berries. Wait here for me, please.’
She returned with a coat thrown on over her green cotton gardening dress, holding two boxes.
‘I thought there weren’t many berries,’ said Loki in surprise. They were small boxes, about the size of a matchbox, but still.
‘There aren’t,’ said Idunn. She took the lid off one box to show three dried berries in one corner. ‘The other’s empty, I’ll gather berries that look ripe from the tree.’
Loki really hoped Thiazzi would be satisfied with three berries. He could hardly insist Idunn bring her entire stock to compare, though. For all he knew this was her entire stock.
They were let into the park without question, of course, and Loki took them through the forest to the clearing where Thiazzi had dropped him, rather hoping that Thiazzi was keeping a lookout for him since they hadn’t arranged anything resembling a time. The silhouette of a bird above them was a good sign, he thought. Thiazzi wouldn’t have any trouble taking the berries from Idunn and, with any luck, no one would connect him to Loki.
As soon as they entered the clearing Thiazzi dropped out of the sky, making Idunn let out a small scream and instinctively clutch the berries to her. Thiazzi landed in the tree.
‘Where are the berries?’ he asked.
‘Idunn has them,’ said Loki in pokéttin speak. ‘It shouldn’t be hard for you to take them.’
Thiazzi took off again, rattling the branches of the tree.
‘What did he say?’ asked Idunn, smoothing her dress with one hand nervously.
Thiazzi swooped again and this time Idunn never saw him coming.
Loki winced as Thiazzi’s claws closed around Idunn. Couldn’t he just get a claw around the berries? There was no need to be rough with her. Then Thiazzi took off, carrying her into the air as easily as he had Loki. Loki’s overwhelming feeling was dismay mixed with indignation. That hadn’t been part of the bargain. It just wasn’t fair.
Loki shivered. He didn’t want Idunn to get hurt but he didn’t know where Thiazzi’s eyrie was, nor could he fight him if he found it. And if he told anyone they’d just get angry with him, never mind that Thiazzi hadn’t stuck by their terms. Thiazzi was probably just planning to scare Idunn and she’d be home tomorrow, he thought optimistically. And if she wasn’t he could decide what to do about it then.
With that settled in his own mind Loki set out for the gates. He told the person guarding them that Idunn had stayed behind to take a sample of something, and then hurried back to the pokécenter. It was nightfall now and he found Thor already asleep, which saved him coming up with an explanation. Loki climbed into the camp bed which had been set out for him and, despite how worried he was, quickly fell asleep.
Thor was woken up too early in the morning by Nurse Eir’s Groa coming up to tell him he had a visitor. Groas were generally reliable pokéttin, if somewhat prone to forgetfulness when excited, and had an affinity for healing that meant they were often used in pokécenters. Also, they could talk, although Thor wondered if that was an advantage as he stumbled out of bed. He dressed hurriedly and went downstairs to see who it was.
It turned out to be a policewoman. ‘Thor Odinson?’ she said. When Thor nodded she continued, ‘I’m Officer Vör. I’d like to speak to your Loki.’
Thor blinked. ‘What’s he done?’
‘Nothing as far as I’m aware,’ said Officer Vör. ‘Idunn is missing and he’s the last person known to have seen her.’
‘Idunn’s missing?’ Thor rubbed his eyes. ‘We saw her yesterday afternoon, we can’t possibly have been the last.’
‘You weren’t aware your Loki went to visit her last night?’ She sounded disapproving.
‘I…no, I was asleep. Come in.’
They went upstairs to where Loki was still asleep. Thor shook his shoulder to wake him.
‘Kiloki?’ he muttered.
‘Wake up,’ said Thor. ‘Officer Vör needs to talk to you.’
Loki did wake up at that, sitting up suddenly and, for a moment, looking absolutely terrified. Officer Vör sat down on the bed and smiled at him. ‘You’re not in trouble,’ she said. ‘But Idunn is missing and you were the last person to talk to her.’
Loki calmed down and moved himself into a more comfortable position on the bed. Thor went to sit down next to him, both of them facing Officer Vör.
‘Why did you go to visit her?’ she asked.
‘I wanted to apologise,’ said Loki. Thor doubted it, more likely Loki had been curious and used that as a pretext to see more of the gardens. ‘Then I mentioned something I’d seen in the park while I was looking for Thor. She wanted to go and gather it right then and took me with her. It looked like it would take her a while so she sent me back ahead of her.’
Officer Vör nodded. ‘Can you take me to the last place you saw her? I’ve put out a call for trainers in the area to form search parties and I’d like to start from there.’
‘Of course,’ said Loki.
‘We’ll join the search as well,’ said Thor.
‘Good,’ said Officer Vör. ‘Come with me.’
The search party really did seem to include every trainer in the area. Thor found Sif among them when they joined the gathering at the entrance to the park. She smiled at him, a solemn sort of smile as if she wasn’t sure the circumstances called for one but still wanted to greet him.
‘They’re taking down the ban on pokéttin in the park,’ she said quietly. ‘We’re all authorised to use them if it might help Idunn, but not to make captures.’
Thor nodded. ‘I’ve only got Loki and they need him anyway.’ He looked at the crowd, pokéttin scattered here and there in it but outnumbered by trainers. ‘You don’t have yours out yet?’
‘They’re both a bit shy. It seems to be a thing with Grass types. They’ll be happier if I wait until we’re out of a crowd.’ She looked around at the other trainers. ‘We’ve been told to look in groups of two or three, most people are already with friends. Want to join me?’
‘Of course,’ said Thor.
‘Now, listen up,’ said Officer Vör through a megaphone. ‘We’ve been over this but for latecomers here’s what we’re doing. We’ll be following Thor’s Loki until we reach the last spot he saw Idunn. After that we’ll split up to search. The park pokéttin are quite strong and not used to this much activity, so trainers should go in groups of two or three and keep at least one pokéttin out. There will be no captures. Any questions?’
An older trainer put up her hand. ‘What if we have to capture a pokéttin to stop it attacking?’
Officer Vör nodded. ‘Then you’ll turn it in once you return from the park. All right?’ There were nods from the assembled trainers. ‘Good. Thor, come here.’
Thor went to the front of the crowd with Loki following and they set off into the park.
The journey to the spot where Loki had lost Idunn took place in something approximating silence, whispers mingling with the nervous growls of the pokéttin, who were feeling protective of their trainers in a strange place and in a crowd. Loki was skittish too in a way that Thor wouldn’t have expected but which tugged uneasily at his memory.
‘Here,’ said Loki, quietly.
Thor looked around. ‘But this is where -’
‘It was where she wanted to come,’ said Loki.
‘What happened here?’ asked Officer Vör.
Thor shrugged. ‘Loki got carried off by a Thiazzi. It dropped him here.’
Officer Vör nodded and lifted the megaphone. ‘This is the place. Everyone get into your teams and release your pokéttin.’
Thor looked around for Sif, who caught his eye and walked over to join him. She released her Strawdoll, a pokéttin that looked like you’d expect, a waist high doll made of woven straw. Only the eyes, bright green and full of life, made it look like a living thing. It caught Sif’s skirt and moved to hide behind her.
‘She’s really shy,’ said Sif apologetically. Then she turned to the Strawdoll. ‘Dolly, we’re here to look for someone who’s gone missing. So keep an eye out for any signs of a human, okay?’
The Strawdoll nodded and Sif patted her head.
Officer Vör continued. ‘Idunn has long blonde hair and is wearing a green cotton dress. Come up here in your pairs and I’ll assign you an area to check. Once you’ve checked your area come back here. If you or your pokéttin are injured return to the centre immediately. Understood?’
There were general nods and murmurs of agreement as the trainers started to form into a line.
Their area encompassed some of the mountains, which caused Loki a mixture of fear and relief. All the mountains inside the park were being searched by someone, so they were bound to find Idunn even if he didn’t tell them about Thaizzi. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be the one to find her or not.
Thor was unusually professional about it, looking carefully around as they went, and Sif too was on alert. The Strawdoll, Dolly, went ahead of them, keeping a lookout for wild pokéttin. Loki thought it was brave of her, considering she was so small and light enough that she didn’t leave footprints, but she was probably a higher level than he was. It wasn’t much past dawn and there were a lot of bird calls in the air, semi-musical, although Loki could understand what they were yelling at each other which rather spoilt it.
Thor paused for a moment when they reached the bottom of the mountains. ‘She wouldn’t have gone up there for plants, would she?’ he asked.
Sif looked thoughtful. ‘Loki, what kind of plant was she after?’
‘It was green,’ said Loki and immediately decided never to say something that stupid again. ‘Um. Sort of a shrub. It could grow in the mountains. Or something else could and she decided to gather that while she was out here.’
‘That’s true,’ said Sif. ‘We’d better get started.’
They mostly stuck to the paths as they climbed the foothills, although Dolly proved able to climb nearly sheer rock faces. Maybe it was her light weight. They were coming close to the place Thiazzi had attacked the day before and Loki instinctively glanced upwards only to spot a very familiar silhouette. Thiazzi.
It might be a different Thiazzi, except Loki knew it wasn’t. Especially as it got closer and he could see the pattern of feathers. Pokéttin might look much the same to trainers but they could recognise each other. And Thiazzi was about to pass right overhead. Maybe he’d rather leave things be but this wasn’t a chance he could miss. Not if he meant it about not wanting Idunn to be hurt.
‘Thor!’ he said urgently, pointing up.
Thor followed where he was pointing. ‘Don’t worry -’ he began.
Loki shook his head vigorously. ‘We have to follow him.’
‘What? Why?’ asked Thor. Thiazzi was past them now and Loki turned to run after him. Thor followed. ‘Loki? Why?’
‘What are we doing?’ asked Sif, falling into step behind them. ‘We’re meant to find Idunn.’
‘We are,’ said Loki breathlessly. At least running gave him an excuse not to look at Thor. ‘That Thiazzi carried her off.’
‘Why didn’t you say?’ Thor demanded.
‘Because I didn’t stop him. I didn’t want people to be angry and I thought they’d find her anyway.’
Thor’s answer was forestalled by the necessity of scrambling up a rock face in an attempt to keep up with a flying bird. Dolly went up ahead and then clung to an outcropping and threw vines back down to help. After seeing that Loki typeshifted to Grass and did the same.
Surprisingly they were still keeping up, more or less, and apparently unnoticed when Thiazzi flew into a hole in the side of the mountain at the top of a sheer rock face. They stopped in the lee of a large outcropping and caught their breath.
‘We should tell Officer Vör she’s in there,’ said Sif.
Thor nodded. ‘One of us should keep an eye on things while the other gets help.’
‘I’ll go,’ said Sif. ‘Dolly can help me with the climb.’
‘Okay,’ said Thor. ‘We’ll keep an eye on things here.’
They nodded at each other and then Sif began the trek back down almost as quickly as they’d come up.
Thor and Loki settled down behind the rock keeping a close eye on the entrance to the eyrie. Thor was turning something over in his head. Loki’s skittishness was explained by his hiding the fact that Idunn had been kidnapped but…well, he hadn’t sounded too sure about the nature of the plant he’d supposedly remembered well enough to tell Idunn about. And Thor knew he hadn’t gone back to the Garden to apologise.
‘Loki,’ he said. ‘What really happened?’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ said Loki, eyes fixed on the entrance.
‘Idunn’s just going to tell us when we rescue her,’ said Thor. ‘You might as well come clean.’
Loki hesitated and then said. ‘He wanted the golden berries. I had to promise or he wouldn’t have let me go. I didn’t know he was going to take Idunn, I only brought her because she knew where the berries were and I couldn’t get into the park by myself.’
Thor groaned. ‘Oh, Loki. How did you convince her to bring the berries anyway?’
‘I told her there was another tree, a silver one with berries on it. I really didn’t know he’d take her too.’
‘I believe you. But even if he hadn’t taken her that’s still stealing.’
‘Steal is on my move list,’ said Loki.
‘That’s no excuse. You have fighting moves too and you don’t use them.’ Thor sighed and rubbed his forehead. ‘Tell me you’re not going to make a habit of promising things to random pokéttin.’
‘It’s only been twice. It’s not a habit until it happens three times.’
‘Considering how much trouble you’ve caused I think you’d better take this seriously,’ began Thor.
Thiazzi’s head poked out from above them and they both stopped talking, freezing where they sat. Thiazzi stepped to the edge of the entrance and dropped. His wings spread and beat and he sped off, his shadow flickering over them as he went.
‘Are you angry?’ asked Loki, still watching the entrance.
‘Of course I am. You just got someone kidnapped!’ snapped Thor.
Loki nodded and stood up. ‘Do you want me to go and get her?’
‘What?’ Thor stood up as well and put a hand on Loki’s shoulder.
‘Once Thiazzi comes back then he can carry her somewhere else if he’s threatened. And no one could attack while he’s carrying her. If I get her now we can be gone before he arrives.’
‘You’re right,’ said Thor. ‘Be careful, though.’
Loki nodded. ‘Keep a look out. Yell if you see him coming.’
Then he went to the base of the rock face and threw a vinewhip up to catch the lip of the entrance. He walked up the wall with his weight on the vines and soon disappeared into the opening.
Loki saw Idunn as soon as he reached the top, not far from the entrance herself. She was sitting in a patch of sunlight bent over…an old boot? The rest of the cave was empty, save a ramshackle nest near the back.
‘Hello, Idunn,’ said Loki.
Idunn looked up. ‘What are you doing here?’ she said.
‘Rescuing you,’ he said.
‘That makes a change,’ said Idunn.
‘Sorry,’ said Loki quickly. ‘He made me promise to bring the berries, but I didn’t know he was going to take you. Anyway, you can be angry later. We’ve got to go before he gets back.’
Idunn put down the boot and stood up. Loki reached for her hand but she shook her head and looked towards the nest. Loki followed her gaze and saw a baby pokéttin, her head poking over the top of the nest. A nearly human face, although with blue-purple eyes far too big for it, framed by what could be a white fur hood. Her cheeks were flushed unhealthily.
‘Is she Thiazzi’s?’ asked Loki, surprised. Pokéttin usually took after their mothers, true, but he wouldn’t have expected a Snoshu. Especially not this far south.
‘We have to take her with us,’ said Idunn.
Loki stared at her. ‘Do you have any idea how much Thiazzi will flip out if we steal his daughter?’
‘She needs medical attention. Thiazzi gave her two of the berries but it wasn’t enough. He made me plant the third.’ She nodded to the boot. ‘It’s not going to grow in time. I tried to explain but he just got angry.’
Loki sighed. But Thiazzi was going to flip out anyway and the Snoshu was really cute. ‘Fine. Grab her then.’
Idunn picked up the Snoshu, murmuring soothingly as she did. The Snoshu looked around with large eyes, holding onto Idunn with little black hands like mittens. The white fur extended over her body, looking like a coat but actually her own fur. Her legs, dangling from Idunn’s arms, were black with broad round feet forming natural snowshoes.
‘I’ll lower you two and then climb down last,’ said Loki. ‘Thor’s at the bottom,’ he added.
Idunn nodded and let him wrap his vines around her waist to lower her. The Snoshu remained calm until the moment Idunn was lowered over the ledge at which point she started screaming at the top of her lungs.
‘Daddy!’ she wailed ‘Daddy! DADDY!’
Even to Idunn, who couldn’t understand her, it must have been obvious what she was saying. Thor, who had been looking away from them watching for Thiazzi, jumped and then turned around and stared.
‘Don’t stop looking out now,’ called Loki, not bothering to be quiet under the circumstances. He lowered Idunn rather faster than he’d intended and managed to catch her with a jerk before she hit the ground. Then he grabbed the lip of the cave with his vines and started lowering himself after.
‘Loki, hurry! He’s coming back,’ yelled Thor. Loki almost dropped the last part.
The three of them ran, Idunn still holding the Snoshu. There was no way that they could outrun a bird, though, and with the Snoshu in her arms Idunn couldn’t risk the steeper slopes.
‘Loki,’ panted Thor. ‘Go ahead. See if people are coming.’
‘But-’ started Loki. He might not like fighting, but he did have moves. Thor and Idunn didn’t.
‘Go!’ snapped Thor.
Loki hesitated and then nodded, running down the slopes with a sense of balance known only to pokéttin.
Officer Vör and about ten trainers, presumably those who had finished their area, were thankfully not far down the mountain. They were climbing it, lead by Sif and Dolly, when Loki nearly ran into them. Sif caught his shoulders and steadied him while he gulped a few quick breaths.
‘Thor and Idunn are coming. Thiazzi’s chasing them,’ he said.
There was some murmuring quickly silenced when Officer Vör spoke. ‘Everyone get out pokéttin with distance attacks, if you have them, and get ready. When you see Thiazzi, hit him. Don’t risk hitting Thor or Idunn.’
Trainers let out their pokéttin, if the ones they had out didn’t have distance attacks, and repeated the instructions to them. The pokéttin formed a line across the path in front of their trainers, which Loki joined. Then they all watched the paths and the sky with bated breath.
Thor and Idunn came into view running hard. The Snoshu in Idunn’s arms was quiet now, probably worn out. Thiazzi was hovering over them, not too far above, from the looks of it he was holding off for fear of hurting his daughter. When he saw the barricade, parting quickly to let Thor and Idunn through, he gave up on caution and swept down in one powerful swoop.
Idunn had to throw herself down to avoid it and Thor caught her, pulling her quickly behind the line of pokéttin, who swiftly attacked. Flamethrowers and thundershocks predominated, Loki’s flamethrower among them. Thiazzi, singed and paralysed, spiralled down to the ground like a falling leaf. Then someone threw a pokéball and he vanished The pokéball rocked indignantly as he tried to escape before finally settling.
They returned to the gardens. All the trainers except Thor were sent away with grateful thanks; Sif promised to meet them back at the village pokécenter. Meanwhile they were taken to the park’s pokécenter, along with Idunn and Officer Vör, where Thiazzi was healed and the exhausted Snoshu was forced to take some medicine. She fell asleep soon after and was placed in a cot in one of the pokécenter’s rooms.
Under the circumstances Loki gave in and told the truth when questioned. Officer Vör listened fairly impassively.
‘How much trouble am I in?’ he asked when he’d finished.
‘We can’t press charges against a pokéttin,’ said Officer Vör. ‘One known to be a danger could be confiscated for retraining or forcibly placed in stasis.’
Loki shifted his chair towards Thor’s instinctively.
‘He’s not dangerous,’ protested Thor, despite having been lead into danger by Loki himself. ‘He’d been threatened.’
Officer Vör sighed. ‘Yes. We could charge you if he’d been acting on your orders or you’d been neglectful. Leaving your pokéttin out of his pokéball while you were asleep doesn’t count, though, since you had no reason to think he’d leave the room. The most we could do is fine you and I doubt it would make any difference. Keep a closer eye on your pokéttin in future and we’ll leave it at that.’
‘Thank you,’ said Thor, relieved.
‘We’ll need to talk to the Thiazzi,’ said Idunn. ‘I can bring some Woodelves in to restrain him and to translate.’
‘He’s not going to talk to people restraining him,’ said Loki. ‘And he doesn’t like Elf types. He thinks you favour them.’
‘Recovers quickly, doesn’t he?’ said Officer Vör. Loki caught her hiding a smile.
‘Most pokéttin that learn speak are Elf types,’ said Thor. ‘Or were you offering to translate?’
‘That would be useful,’ said Idunn.
Loki shook his head. ‘I don’t think he likes me much either.’
‘There would be no reason for him to think I’d favour you, though,’ said Idunn. ‘And you seem to understand him, somewhat.’
Loki looked pleadingly at Thor.
‘He’ll be restrained,’ said Thor. ‘We’d better see this through now.’
‘All right,’ said Loki unhappily.
Two Ivyrms was brought in, dog-sized elegant dragons with ivy-leaf shaped scales, vines waving in the air ready to ensnare the prisoner. When Thiazzi was released he tried instantly to pounce on Loki only for the vines to catch him and tie him down, held between the Ivyrms so he couldn’t reach either of them.
‘Calm down, I’m just the translator,’ said Loki. He spoke in human language, on the basis that the other people present would like to know what he was saying. ‘Your daughter’s fine,’ he added. ‘She’s in the cot over there.’
‘Skadi?’ called Thiazzi softly, ignoring Loki now to focus on the cot.
Two bright eyes poked over the top of the cot a moment later. ‘Daddy?’
Thiazzi managed to tug just far enough forward to rub his beak against her cheek.
‘We’ve given the Snoshu medicine,’ said Idunn. ‘But she’ll need to stay here for a few weeks.’ She looked at Loki. ‘Does he understand?’
‘He understands you as well as he did me, obviously,’ said Loki. ‘The Snoshu is called Skadi, by the way.’
‘How does your language even work?’ asked Thor.
Idunn sighed. ‘I had a hard time communicating with him before, so perhaps asking if he’s willing to listen to me would-’
Thiazzi looked up. ‘If you were willing to help her why deny us the berries?’
‘Maybe because she only had three?’ said Loki. Then he remembered his role and repeated the question to Idunn instead.
‘I had no idea you needed them,’ said Idunn. ‘The Elf types ask me for help. I’d assumed they’d tell me if anyone did.’
‘They have no great liking for the other types in the park,’ said Thiazzi. Loki repeated it again.
‘And now that I know that I’ll keep a closer eye on other types. Any pokéttin could come here and ask one of my own elves to translate. They don’t take sides in wild pokéttin’s quarrels.’
‘Then I’ll give them orders to pass on such messages,’ amended Idunn. ‘And if they have taken sides in this I will be having words with all of them.’
Thiazzi considered and finally ducked his head in acknowledgement. Then he turned abruptly to Loki. ‘Ask her what is to become of Skadi. I may be captive now, but she should not grow up as a pet.’
‘He doesn’t want Skadi to grow up a pet,’ said Loki. ‘He wants to know what you’re going to do with her.’
‘If he agrees to drop his grievance with me and to let her stay here until she is well then I’m planning to release both of them,’ said Idunn. ‘He was hardly a legal capture.’
Thiazzi stared at her, tipping his head from side to side to regard her with both eyes. ‘Give her my apologies. And thanks,’ he said. ‘I misjudged her.’
Loki repeated this and Idunn smiled. ‘I am sorry too. I should have noticed something was wrong when only elves seemed to be coming to me for aid. Now, would you like to stay here while your daughter is treated? If you promise to harm no one then you can.’
‘I promise,’ said Thiazzi. ‘So long as they do not harm me or Skadi.’
‘He promised,’ said Loki. ‘But only if you don’t hurt him or Skadi. So he might flip out at doctors who upset her.’
‘Brat,’ said Thiazzi. ‘Serious harm. I’m not a fool.’
‘Considering how quickly you thought trees grew,’ began Loki.
‘Loki,’ growled Thor. ‘Shut up and translate.’
Loki opened his mouth to ask which he should do and then thought better of it. ‘He promises as long as no one does serious harm to him or Skadi. And says he’s not a fool.’
Idunn nodded and turned to the Ivyrms. ‘You can release him,’ she said.
They did, giving their vines a stretch and shake before retracting them and altogether looking quite relieved. Thiazzi did nothing worse than walk across the room to spread a wing over Skadi’s cot. Loki took a step back anyway.
‘So, are we done here?’ asked Loki brightly.
‘Yes,’ said Idunn. ‘Thank you for translating.’
Thor looked embarrassed at the thanks under the circumstances. He said an uncertain goodbye as if he felt he ought to hang around but wasn’t sure why.
‘We’ll be fine,’ said Idunn, smiling at him.
Loki tugged on his arm. ‘Come on, Sif will be wondering what happened to us. Bye, Idunn.’ He hesitated and then added. ‘Sorry about everything.’
‘It’s all right. In the end it’s worked out for the best. For Skadi and for any other non-Elf types in need of help,’ said Idunn. ‘Goodbye, Loki.’
After that Thor seemed at least a bit less reluctant to leave and they finally headed back to town and the pokécenter.
They went to the pokécenter canteen for lunch and had just finished both the food and the explanation when Groa came in to tell Thor he had a video call.
‘Sif, mind keeping an eye on Loki while I answer that?’ he asked.
‘I’m not going to get into trouble every time you take your eye off me,’ protested Loki.
‘That hasn’t been true so far,’ said Thor.
‘I don’t mind,’ said Sif. ‘Go and answer your call.’
The screen in the video booth was already active when Thor sat down, his father’s face looking down at him with a small smile. ‘You’ve sent two powerful pokéttin into storage,’ he said. ‘Any reason you’re not using them?’
‘They were aggressive enough to try and kill me and Loki,’ said Thor.
Odin nodded. ‘You are aware there’s a standing reward for catching dangerous pokéttin?’
‘Ones that are known to be dangerous,’ said Thor. ‘Not when it’s only the trainer’s word for it.’
‘I’m one of the ones who offers the reward,’ said Odin. ‘And I’m willing to take your word. The pokédollars are being transferred to your account now.’
Thor considered protesting the special treatment. Then he considered that he was nearly out of money, still hadn’t got a pokéttin that would fight, and really had caught two aggressive pokéttin.
‘Thanks,’ he said.
‘You earned it,’ said Odin. ‘How are you and Loki getting along?’
Thor ran a hand through his hair. ‘I like him,’ he said. ‘He won’t fight, hates being in his pokéball and is some kind of magnet for trouble. But I like him.’
‘You wouldn’t like to swap him for something else? I could still arrange it.’
‘No!’ That didn’t even require thought.
Odin smiled. ‘There are worse starts to a relationship with a pokéttin. If you care about each other then you can work on the rest.’
‘Okay,’ said Thor. ‘Thanks.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ said Odin. ‘Are you going to Nóatún next?’
‘Maybe,’ said Thor. ‘We’re hardly ready for a gym battle so we’ll go the slow way.’
‘If you don’t mind heading out of your way a little I’ve heard interesting things about Utgard,’ said Odin. ‘Things going missing, people seeing things that aren’t there. No one’s been hurt, but the residents are worried. I could use a report before deciding whether I need to send a troubleshooter there.’
‘Of course,’ said Thor, unable to hide his delight at being included in proper Aesir work. ‘I’ll go there straight away.’
‘Good luck,’ said Odin, and the picture faded out.
Thor headed back to the canteen deep in thought. He could buy an Electric type tomorrow and set out the day after.
‘What are you so happy about?’ asked Loki.
‘Odin’s sending us to Utgard. And we’ve been given money for catching Geirrod,’ said Thor. He looked at Sif. ‘Do you want to come to Utgard?’
Sif shook her head. ‘With two Grass types I might be able to handle the Water Gym. I want to try anyway.’
‘We’ll see you when we catch up with you then,’ said Thor, grinning.
‘If you catch up with me,’ said Sif, smiling back.
Chapter 3: Another Loki
In Utgard, Loki meets another of his species for the first time. A Loki of a much higher level.
‘I still can’t believe you spent all that money on a baby goat,’ said Loki.
The being in question was a Griff, a pokéttin which looked like a kid with silky white fur, floppy ears and bronze hooves and horns. Currently more bronze nubs than anything else. Thor had named him Tangrisnir, rather grandly for such a small pokéttin and, while he might grow into it once he evolved, currently he was answering to Tang.
‘I wanted an Electric type,’ said Thor. He looked at Tang who was trotting happily alongside them rather than in his pokéball. Normally he nudged the pack when he got tired and wanted to be returned. ‘And he’s been dealing with wild pokéttin pretty well. Next time we reach a town I’ll try him in the arena.’
‘If he doesn’t wear himself out first, chasing butterflies,’ said Loki. ‘Shouldn’t he be in his pokéball?’
‘Why?’ asked Thor. ‘I don’t keep you in a pokéball.’
‘Only because I wouldn’t let you. He doesn’t even mind it and you let him out all the time.’
Tang looked up and made some noises that sounded like a cross between the word Griff and a bleat. Loki said his own name a few times in reply, rather huffily.
‘What are you two fighting about?’ asked Thor.
‘Your new pokéttin has no manners,’ said Loki.
Tang sidled up to Thor and nuzzled him, getting an automatic scratch behind the ears for it.
‘Oh, that’ll teach him better,’ said Loki. ‘And you never pet me.’
‘But you look like a person,’ said Thor.
‘I am a person. I still want to be petted.’ Loki stared at Thor as if in challenge and Thor tried to imagine scratching behind the ears of someone who not only looked like a human or Aes but who acted like Loki. He realised he’d absentmindedly started scratching Tang’s ears again at the same moment that Loki turned and stalked off into the forest.
After the trouble at Idunn’s Garden Thor wondered whether he should worry about what Loki was getting himself into. There wasn’t much point trying to catch up with him, though, and he’d come back either when danger threatened or when he’d calmed down.
‘You’re a lot less moody,’ Thor told Tang. Then, realising Tang and Loki could understand one another, ‘Don’t repeat that to him.’
Loki’s bad mood lasted until he saw smoke drifting through the trees. After checking it was a cottage and not a Fire type, he ran back to let Thor and Tang know. It wasn’t that he minded sleeping on the forest floor so much as that he was hoping for a more interesting meal than pokéchow.
As it happened he was out of luck. The two who owned the cottage turned out to have barely enough to feed themselves and their pokéttin - a pair of adorable Telflets called Thialfi and Roskva. Like all Elf types they looked human, with dark curly hair and rosy cheeks. They also looked about eight but, as with any Pokéttin, age could be hard to judge. Thor wound up giving them pokéchow instead and Loki tried not to sulk when the family was being hospitable.
Tang was made a huge fuss of. Possibly he considered the Telflets to be competition since he was putting in extra effort to be cute. Either way it didn’t help Loki’s mood, especially since the Telflets seemed oddly intent on sucking up to Thor as well. And he ruffled Thialfi’s hair, which just proved that it had nothing to do with not looking like an animal.
It was later that evening that theTelflets purpose became clear. They’d been sitting by the fire talking, and Thor had been saying that, yes, he did only have two pokéttin so far. But he’d probably buy or catch some other ones later.
‘You could buy us,’ said Thialfi boldly. His owners looked a bit startled, but Roskva nodded and he continued. ‘They need the money. And we’d be useful, we have some good evolutions.’
‘So that’s it,’ said the man, Egil. ‘You want to evolve and you know you won’t here.’
‘You’ve taken good care of us,’ said Roskva, breaking in. ‘And we don’t want to just leave you. But you do need the money and we would like to evolve someday.’
‘I can’t afford you,’ said Thor quickly. ‘Really, I just spent all my money on Tang.’ Tang looked rather smug at that and gave his tail a few flicks.
The subject was dropped but the Telflets continued to look a bit crestfallen and spent part of the evening whispering together. Loki was quieter than usual, mind already turning over a plan.
Gradually all their owners started getting ready for bed and Tang was put in his pokéball for the night. To Loki’s surprise the Telflets were simply left free. ‘Don’t you two have pokéballs?’ he asked.
Roskva shook her head. ‘We weren’t ever caught. We were found as eggs and our owners don’t have the money for pokéballs we don’t need.’
‘What about if you get hurt and need to go to the pokécentre?’ asked Loki, struck by a thought. ‘Neither of you has ever battled, have you?’
‘We sort of practised a bit on each other,’ said Thialfi defensively.
‘That’s not going to impress Thor much,’ said Loki. ‘If you were still hoping to be bought by him, that is.’
‘If we evolve…’ said Roskva.
‘Yes, yes. But you’re not going to evolve as soon as Thor gets you. He needs to know you can be useful now,’ said Loki. He put on a thoughtful look. ‘Maybe you could prove it to him. Here, I’ll tell you what you can do.’
Thor was woken up by Loki shaking him. For once it wasn’t because he wanted breakfast. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘You know you wanted to test Tang in a pokébattle? The Telflets are volunteering.’
‘And you’re waking me up for this because…?’
‘Because they might change their minds if you don’t take them up on it,’ said Loki. ‘Come on.’
Thor got up and dressed on the basis that Loki was probably not going to let him go back to sleep. He grabbed Tang’s pokéball before following Loki outside, to where the Telflets were waiting in a field, looking nervous.
‘Loki said you’d volunteered to fight Tang,’ he said. They both nodded. ‘Both of you at once?’ he asked.
‘We don’t have much experience,’ said Roskva. ‘And he’s probably a higher level.’
Thor pulled out his pokédex and pointed it at them. Level three, which was a few levels below Tang. He should be able to take both of them, and it would be a fairer fight. They really did look nervous, standing there. ‘Are you two sure you want to do this?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ said Thialfi. ‘We’re ready.’
Thor picked up Tang’s pokéball and threw it, releasing Tang into the field. The overgrown grass he found himself standing among covered most of his legs and he stopped to nibble on some of it before Thor called him to attention. ‘Tang! Headbutt,’ he called.
Tang charged at Roskva with a will, only to go straight through her without doing any damage. Elf type, thought Thor, thoroughly annoyed with himself. Immune to Normal type moves. ‘Tang, thundershock.’
Tang, looking nonplussed by his attack’s failure, turned to face Roskva. He reared up and then stomped his front hooves down, lightning arcing up from them as he did. Roskva took the hit, but Thialfi used the time to dart in and aim a clumsy slap at Tang’s side. Tang instinctively turned to headbutt him which, again, proved useless.
Thor frowned. Tang had a different set of problems to Loki. With Loki you couldn’t get him to fight under most circumstances, but once you did he either handled himself or realised he couldn’t and took direction. Tang needed direction but didn’t wait to take it. Headbutting the Elf types was pointless, but he still kept trying it instead of doing as he was told and using thundershock. The Telflets were getting better at dodging thundershock as well and their delight in doing so was annoying Tang further (Thor thought it was kind of cute, actually). They weren’t landing many blows, but Tang wasn’t succeeding in doing much besides chasing them halfway across the field. They were now quite a way from where they’d begun.
‘Tang, thunder-’ Thor began, yelling as much because of the distance as frustration. He could see Thialfi saying something at the same time, probably a taunt.
Tang, ignoring him again, charged forward. There was a snap, heard clearly across the field, and Tang screamed.
‘Tang!’ Thor raced across the field.
Loki ran after him and grabbed his arm before he could reach Tang. ‘Careful, he tripped on something.’
Thor slowed reluctantly and even so his foot twisted under him as he approached Tang. Rabbit holes were hidden under the grass, the sure-footed and semi-intangible Elf types had had no trouble running among them. Only Tang had tried to follow.
‘His leg’s broken,’ said Roskva. She and Thialfi were both white and clinging to one another’s hands.
‘Tang, return,’ said Thor, holding out his pokéball. At least he wouldn’t feel pain while inside it. A broken leg couldn’t be healed by potions, he’d have to go back to the nearest village to get it fixed.
‘And you two,’ said Thor, turning on the Telflets. ‘What were you thinking, holding a pokébattle in a field full of rabbit holes? I should take this out of your hides.’
‘I’m sure they didn’t mean to,’ said Loki, forestalling whatever Thialfi had been about to say.
There was a moment when no one seemed sure how to continue and then Thialfi said in a small voice, ‘Yes. We didn’t mean to.’
And then Egil and his wife, Katla, came running out, having woken up and hastily thrown on some clothes. By the time Thor had explained what had happened he’d calmed down a bit.
‘Only now I’ll have to go back and find a village,’ said Thor. He sighed.
‘The nearest one isn’t that far,’ said Egil.
‘I know,’ said Thor. ‘But I’ve been looking for a group of pokéttin who’ve been stealing things and causing trouble. The sightings seem to centre on different places at different times, and lately it’s been somewhere near here.’ Loki had been the one to notice the time pattern, although Thor was sure he would have done, if not as quickly. ‘If we go back now they could move again. I can’t leave poor Tang with a broken leg, though.’
‘Why not? He’s in his pokéball, he’s not in any pain,’ said Loki. Thor glared at him hard enough that he actually shut up.
‘It was our fault,’ said Katla. ‘We should have kept a closer eye on our pokéttin. If you want to close in on the pokéttin you’re chasing then we’ll take Tang to the village for you. And, since you’re down to one pokéttin because of this, you can borrow Thialfi and Roskva if you wish.’
Thialfi and Roskva looked as if they were trying hard not to look as if they couldn’t believe their luck. Clearly this wasn’t going to function as any kind of punishment for them. On the other hand a few extra pokéttin could be useful and, despite a complete lack of experience, he’d just seen them hold their own in a fight. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’
‘Seriously,’ said Loki. Then Roskva caught his eye and, to Thor’s bewilderment, he stopped talking.
Thor left the Telflets out of their pokéballs mostly to see how they coped with travelling. They were lively and fascinated by everything but tired quickly and had to be returned before long. Possibly their stamina would improve with time - or with levelling, it could be hard to guess with pokéttin. Either way Thor was unlikely to have them long enough for it to matter. Loki was oddly quiet, Thor thought he might still be sulking about the Telflets coming along.
‘You can’t make this kind of fuss every time I get a new pokéttin,’ Thor said, too annoyed with the world in general to care about being tactful. ‘I’m a trainer. Really, I don’t know why Odin didn’t sell you as a pet.’ Pets were often owned by people who didn’t want more than one pokéttin and they weren’t used to fight. Loki seemed like he’d be perfect as one.
‘I’m not a legal pet species,’ said Loki sourly. ‘Look it up.’
Thor checked his pokédex when they stopped for dinner. Loki was, as he’d said, not on the list of legal pet species. You needed a trainer’s licence to own him. Possibly it made sense; he wasn’t aggressive but if all Lokis were as prone to finding trouble as he was then unsuspecting pet owners should probably avoid them.
‘Would you rather have been a pet?’ asked Thor.
Loki shrugged. ‘They might have been nicer to me. People who have pokéttin as pets don’t just think of them as tools for winning battles.’
‘Considering the amount I put up with from you, you’re…really ungrateful,’ said Thor, suppressing the urge to call Loki anything worse. ‘I haven’t got rid of you yet, have I?’
‘Only because no one would buy me!’ snapped Loki.
Thor blinked. ‘You…were aware of that?’
‘I’m not actually unconscious when I’m in my pokéball,’ said Loki. ‘If you were half the trainer you think you are you’d know that. And trying to sell me while you thought I wouldn’t know about it doesn’t actually make it better.’
‘That was then,’ said Thor. ‘When I spoke to my father before coming here he offered to swap you for a different starter and I refused. Maybe I should have taken him up on it.’
Loki hesitated, looking unhappy, and Thor felt mean for adding the last bit. He was just about to say something else, perhaps take it back, when the trees at the edge of their campsite was pushed aside and an enormous pokéttin walked in.
It was clearly a plant type; green skin, leaves on its head instead of hair and a sort of leaf tunic which was probably part of its body. Thor had a vague feeling he should know what it was and reached for his pokédex to find out. Only to find that his pokédex wasn’t where it had been a moment ago.
‘Loki, did you take my pokédex?’ he asked.
Loki spread his arms and gestured to the empty ground around him sarcastically.
‘If you want to know what I am then I can tell you,’ said the pokéttin in an amiable rumble. ‘I am a Skrymir.’
Thor relaxed, he’d known that the pokéttin looked familiar. Skrymirs were harmless and often helpful to travellers.
‘Perhaps you’d like to join us for dinner,’ he said politely. Although perhaps not wisely since the Skrymir picked up the backpack and emptied it of everything edible in one mouthful before returning it to Thor. Loki alternated glaring at the Skrymir with glaring at Thor.
‘Thank you,’ said the Skrymir with a smile. ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
‘We’re looking for a group of pokéttin who have been causing trouble in villages around here,’ said Thor. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen them?’
‘Ah, yes,’ rumbled Skrymir. ‘But you don’t want to go there. Those pokéttin are so powerful that even wild types won’t go near them.’
‘Are you sure?’ said Thor. ‘They’ve mostly been causing mischief and using illusions from what I’ve heard. I’d expect worse if they were that strong.’
‘They are quite restrained considering their power,’ said the Skrymir. ‘You won’t find any as strong or glorious anywhere else. Their king could crush you with one finger.’
‘Most pokéttin could,’ said Loki. ‘Thor’s not going to be fighting them himself.’ Then, under his breath. ‘I hope.’
‘We’re not here to fight them,’ said Thor, reassuringly. ‘We just need information.’
‘I could give you that myself,’ said the Skrymir. Then, as if struck by a thought. ‘Of perhaps I could show you the way there tomorrow. They aren’t a violent group and won’t harm you if you come as a guest. Then you could see their might for yourself.’
‘Thank you,’ said Thor, feeling that was probably worth losing their food over. It would certainly make their journey shorter. ‘I’d be grateful for that.’
The castle looked as if someone had started out trying to make it ominous, with lots of high arches and looming towers, and then decided it also needed to be shiny and plated it with gold. The end result was like something you might sell to tourists scaled up to full castle size. Loki rather liked it, in a way, although he had to admit it was extremely tacky.
Thor looked at it in disbelief. ‘They can’t live in there.’
‘It’s not like half of Asgard isn’t gold plated,’ said Loki, shrugging.
‘But it’s a castle,’ said Thor. ‘They’ve been moving around. And surely someone would notice something that shiny?’
‘Maybe it’s not real,’ said Loki. ‘You did say they’d been using illusions.’
‘That makes sense,’ said Thor. He reached pulled out the Telflets’ pokéballs and released them. They looked around blinking for a moment.
‘Why didn’t you let us out for dinner?’ said Roskva.
‘There wasn’t any,’ said Loki, reminded of how hungry he was. ‘Thor let a Skrymir eat all our food.’
The Skrymir had refused to come all the way to the castle with them, claiming to be too scared of the pokéttin living there. Loki had been glad to see the back of the greedy thing, no matter how friendly they were meant to be.
‘The Skrymir said the pokéttin living here are very dangerous, but that they won’t harm guests,’ said Thor. ‘We need to stick together and keep an eye out for tricks. But try not to offend them.’
‘That doesn’t exactly look like somewhere dangerous pokéttin would live,’ said Thialfi.
Thor gave the castle another doubtful look. ‘Be careful anyway,’ he said.
Thor pushed on a door several times larger than him and it opened with a groaning creak. The inside came as a bit of a shock. No matter how many floors the outside had appeared to have, inside was one large sooty room with a firepit down the middle. Furniture consisted of rough hewn, yet gold plated, benches and tables, and sitting, standing and lounging everywhere was the greatest variety of pokéttin Loki had ever seen in one place.
There were wolf types, bird types, including several hawks and some magpies (which might have explained a few things), fox types, snake types lying along the edges of the firepit, even ones that looked like bats or rabbits. There were also the ones that looked more or less human shaped, with the small fangs and long ears typical of many species, and bright facial markings indicating their type. Most of the pokéttin there Loki couldn’t even have tried to put a name to. But there was one which looked very familiar.
Sitting on a golden throne was a Loki, fully grown and undoubtedly a high level, with black hair that indicated he was currently a Dark type. Loki couldn’t help staring, he’d never seen another Loki before. Lokis could breed true but they were rare enough that it was unusual to get two in the hands of the same breeder; his own parents had been a Woodelf and a Strikruel. He found himself brushing down his clothes unconsciously and quickly stopped.
The Loki smiled, showing his fangs. ‘Welcome to my hall,’ he said. ‘I am Utgard-Loki.’
‘I am Thor Odinsson,’ said Thor, stepping forward. ‘And these are Thialfi and Roskva. This is Loki.’ He said the last a little uncertainly, perhaps feeling it was odd to introduce one Loki to another.
Utgard-Loki looked at Loki with interest. ‘I am pleased to have you in my hall,’ he said, and Loki got the feeling he was the only one being spoken to. ‘Normally pokéttin who visit us compete in contests to determine their worth. I suppose for tame ones it might be different?’
‘I’ll compete,’ said Loki. Thor looked at him incredulously but Loki really didn’t want to look bad in front of the first member of his species he’d ever met. Especially one who was so cool. And, underneath that, was the hope that proving himself here would somehow stop Thor trading him in or putting him in stasis as soon as something better came along. Right now he had spare slots, but if he kept the Telflets then that would be four slots filled when he got Tang back and he’d probably wind up catching more pokéttin quite quickly.
Thialfi and Roskva looked at each other. ‘We’ll compete too,’ they said, almost in unison. Loki could hear the same hope of impressing Thor in their voices and resented them for it; they had a home to go back to after all.
‘First challenger,’ said Utgard-Loki, pointing at Loki. ‘Choose your contest.’
The hall had gone eerily quiet, everyone suddenly focused on what Loki suspected was the evening’s entertainment. His mind was blank, he couldn’t win a battle. Shapshifting contests were something he’d heard of, but he couldn’t even do that yet. A sharp growl from his stomach reminded him both that he hadn’t eaten since yesterday and that maybe there was a contest he could win. A pretty silly one, perhaps, but they hadn’t placed any limits on the contests allowed.
‘An eating competition,’ said Loki.
Utgard-Loki’s lips twitched but he nodded. ‘Logi?’ he called. The crowd of pokéttin parted to let one through that Loki hadn’t noticed before. Clearly a fire type, he was about Loki’s size and more or less human shaped, with the typical long ears, burnished orange skin and wild hair shaded from blue at the roots through orange to red at the tips. He grinned at Loki, showing teeth as sharp as knives and so white they were nearly blue.
Other pokéttin were hurriedly pulling meat from where it had been roasting in the fire and setting it on one of the tables. Those not engaged in this were picking good seats, many of the smaller pokéttin had climbed to the rafters for a better view. Once the table had been set up one of the pokéttin drew a gold ribbon out of thin air and set it across the middle of the table with a flourish.
‘The first one to reach the ribbon is the winner,’ announced Utgard-Loki.
Loki looked at the food warily - he was hungry but that was a lot of meat. Even in his habitual Fire type form he hadn’t been quite that hungry. Still, he was sure he could eat it. He just might regret it afterwards.
Logi took his place at the other end of the table looking nothing but eager and Loki walked to his own end. Utgard Loki started to count down, ‘Three…two…one…go!’
They went. Loki started out eating fast because he really was that hungry and continued because Logi wasn’t slowing down so he couldn’t either. It was very nice meat, even eating so fast he didn’t have time to savour it, but by halfway down the table it had lost its flavour and he heaved a sigh of relief when he reached the ribbon nose to nose with Logi. A draw wasn’t so bad and at least he could stop eating now.
‘Logi wins!’ announced Utgard-Loki.
‘But -’ Loki started to protest.
Utgard-Loki pointed to Logi’s half of the table and Loki saw that it was…gone. All right, some pokéttin could eat wood. And Logi was clearly a Fire type. But surely he wasn’t big enough to eat the table.
Thor patted Loki’s shoulder. ‘Nice try,’ he said. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Fine,’ said Loki. His stomach felt heavy and he just wanted to curl up and sleep it off, but that was probably a bad idea among strange pokéttin. Besides, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of admitting it.
‘Next challenger,’ said Utgard-Loki. Thialfi and Roskva looked at one another, in that way of holding a silent conference they had, and then Thialfi stepped forward. ‘Choose your contest.’
‘A race,’ said Thialfi confidently. He’d clearly been thinking about it during Loki’s contest.
‘Loptr?’ called Utgard-Loki.
The pokéttin that stepped forwards was another humanlike one, a light silvery blue with fine white hair drifting in a cloud around his head. Loki thought that he hadn’t noticed this one lounging around the fires either. Was Utgard-Loki keeping his champions in another room? Yet this seemed to be the only room there was and, however hard he looked, Loki could only see the one door.
The other pokéttin pulled benches and tables back from the fire until they had a clear aisle alongside the firepit. One of them produced another of those gold ribbons and two of them held it across the top of the aisle. Thialfi and Loptr lined up in front of it, eyes on Utgard-Loki as he held his hand up ready to give them the signal to go.
When he did they both shot off so fast Loki could have sworn they blurred. Elves were some of the fastest pokéttin and Thialfi was fast even for an elf. The discovery that he did indeed have skills beyond the possibility of a good evolution wasn’t entirely welcome to Loki, but he grudgingly admired his running anyway. Only Loptr was somehow faster, all the way down the hall before Thialfi was halfway and back before Thialfi had touched the wall. Thialfi ended the race panting hard and clearly holding back tears - which might have been why he got a hug from Thor. It seemed to make him feel better, anyway.
‘Next challenger,’ said Utgard-Loki.
Roskva stepped forward looking a lot less sure of herself than she had earlier. ‘A test of agility,’ she said. That should be a sure thing. Elves were fast, but there were pokéttin faster. Nothing was more nimble than an elf, however, and Loki hadn’t seen any Elf types here. He’d checked the ears.
‘Vindr?’ called Utgard-Loki.
Loki tried very hard this time to see where Vindr came from. But she really did just come out of the crowd as if she’d been there all along - only Loki hadn’t seen her. She could have been Loptr’s sister; same silvery blue, same flyaway hair. Probably they were the same species. At any rate she wasn’t an Elf type.
The pokéttin started pulling benches back into the path they’d cleared, in some cases balancing them on each other to form slopes. Loki managed to snag a seat on one of the benches they weren’t using while the pokéttin who had been sitting there were busy. No one kicked him off when they’d finished arranging things, just piled back onto the bench around him, so Loki wrapped his arms around his stomach and resisted the temptation to curl up on the pokéttin next to him.
Roskva took her position looking nervously determined. Vindr, next to her, looked like she was enjoying herself. Both of them watched Utgard-Loki for the signal. He gave it and they ran. They ran up tilted benches, along the sides of tipped ones, jumped from leg to leg of upturned tables. And Roskva was left ever further behind.
It wasn’t right, thought Loki. He remembered his mother training by running along silk threads no thicker than cobwebs and jumping from the points of spears. Roskva was a much lower level but, even so, nothing was nimbler than an elf. Maybe this was some undiscovered species, more nimble than anything in the pokédex (and of course Thor had lost his just when it would be useful)? Loki wished he felt a bit more awake, surely he was missing something here?
Roskva finished her race as out of breath as her brother but she looked less tearful and more furious. Thor put a hand on her shoulder and said something, she shook her head but her shoulders slumped and she looked less ready to fight.
‘So, now that all challengers have had their turn,’ said Utgard-Loki, only to be interrupted by Thor.
‘I haven’t had a contest,’ he said.
Loki groaned. This couldn’t end well.
‘You are not a pokéttin,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘Surely you don’t want to challenge us in strength or speed?’
Or eating, thought Loki.
‘Let me prove myself as a trainer then,’ said Thor.
Utgard-Loki looked amused. ‘But none of us are trainers,’ he said. ‘Who would you compete with?’
‘I don’t need to compete with anyone,’ said Thor. ‘Just give me a way to prove myself to you.’
Loki felt a tap on his arm and turned to see a pretty pokéttin girl standing behind him, with blue hair and blue sunburst markings on her cheeks. She was holding a goblet full of something green. ‘It will make you feel better,’ she said, holding it out.
Loki should probably have been more suspicious, but his stomach was really hurting now and he’d never been good at dealing with pain. The drink tasted of mint and it did seem to settle his stomach a bit. ‘Thank you,’ he said, handing the goblet back.
He’d missed Thor and Utgard-Loki hashing out the details of the contest but, whatever it was, it involved a fire with a thin silk screen in front of it. The crowd drew in around the screen, completely hiding it from view. When they drew back Loki could see the silhouette of someone behind the screen. Ah, a guess the pokéttin contest. Well, that could be worse.
‘Who’s that pokéttin?’ chanted the room. It was a wolf type, Loki could see the canine head and pricked ears.
‘Cubite,’ said Thor.
‘No,’ came the answer from all around the room and, from behind the screen came a Growlf. They could reasonably be mistaken for one another, Loki supposed, although the Growlf must have been standing in a way that hid the cuffs on its ankles. He finally gave into temptation and curled up on the pokéttin next to him. It was something broad and furry and didn’t seem to mind. He yawned.
‘Who’s that pokéttin?’ came the chant again, laughter threading through it.
Thor hesitated this time, the pokéttin less familiar to him and his confidence shaken. ‘Runecalf,’ he guessed.
‘No.’ A Heidrun came from behind the screen and Loki frowned. It really hadn’t looked like a goat, although a Heidrun and a Runecalf were about the same size and both had horns. He blinked, realising he was on the verge of falling asleep. No, not a good idea, but he couldn’t seem to move into a less comfortable position.
‘Who’s that pokéttin?’
A Thiazzi,’ thought Loki. He knew that silhouette.
‘A Thiazzi,’ said Thor.
‘No,’ came the triumphant call.
Loki focused muzzily on the Hraesvelgr walking out from behind the screen. That had definitely been a Thiazzi a moment ago. They cheated,’ he thought indignantly, but he was already more asleep than awake and it wasn’t long before he wasn’t awake at all.
Thor had to wake Loki up before they could leave. It made him feel a bit guilty, but they couldn’t really stay in a nest of semi-hostile pokéttin, especially ones that had just bested them. Loki, surprisingly, didn’t complain about it and just followed him out yawning. In fact he was quiet all morning, perhaps sulking over his loss. If that was so he wasn’t the only one; Thor was fuming himself and Roskva was imitating a very small thundercloud. Thialfi seemed to have recovered quickest from his loss and was looking around with interest as he walked - at least until he stumbled and Thor realised he was worn out after his race that morning. Roskva’s steps were flagging too.
‘You’d better go back in your pokéballs,’ said Thor.
‘I don’t want to,’ said Loki.
Thor looked at him in puzzlement. ‘When’s the last time I even tried putting you in a pokéball? I meant the Telflets. They’re tired.’
‘I’m fine,’ protested Thialfi, more out of pride than a desire to avoid his pokéball.
Thor shook his head. ‘You ran well, but it’s no use being worn out. What if we were attacked by a wild pokéttin and I wanted to use you to battle?’
Thialfi looked as if he wasn’t sure whether to be worried or excited by the prospect, but he did go into his pokéball without any more fuss. Roskva seemed ready to go into her pokéball without any convincing at all. Possibly she wanted to be alone as much as to rest.
Thor wondered whether the Telflets would be glad to go home after this. They’d done well, even if they didn’t fully realise it themselves, and he found himself wondering whether he could scrape together enough money to buy them if they still wanted to be his. They were determined, spirited, willing to give things their best go. If only they got on with Loki better - although, really, that was the other way around. He glanced back at Loki, still walking in unusual silence.
‘You know,’ began Thor. ‘We’d have a much better chance at the Water gym if we took the Telflets. I know Tang could probably catch something, but they’re willing fighters and willing to learn.’ And Thor doubted Loki would like wild caught pokéttin any better, he seemed to have it in for anyone he had to share Thor’s attention with. ‘It’s too bad Roskva’s so young, I could use a Grass type at the Water gym. But if she evolves now she’s going to miss a lot of moves.’ He reached for his pocket and sighed. Odin was going to kill him for losing that pokédex - and if it turned out Loki had taken it Thor was going to kill him. ‘At least I have Tang.’
‘I can be a Grass type,’ said Loki.
‘I know. But that’s only any use if you actually fight.’
Loki shrugged. ‘It’s not up to me whether you keep them,’ he said.
‘Yes, but we’ve only just got Tang,’ said Thor. ‘And you weren’t getting on with him. Getting two more pokéttin you also don’t like…maybe it’s a bit much at once.’ He hesitated. ‘I’m sorry about last night. I’ve been worried about Tang, but I shouldn’t have snapped at you.’
‘It’s okay,’ said Loki. Then he added, ‘I’m going to scout ahead,’ and disappeared, leaving Thor unsure of whether he’d been forgiven or was being avoided.
Thor got the Telflets out when they stopped for the night, even though they still didn’t have any food. It would be their last night before going home, they should get to look around and maybe camp out if they wanted to. Loki returned from his scouting, still uncharacteristically quiet, leaving Thor to wonder whether he was sulking about earlier, angry with Thor after all or not feeling well. Asking him just got a shrug and the answer that he was tired.
Thialfi and Roskva had their heads together, conversing with soft, ‘telflet, telf, telflet,’ noises which made Thor want to demand they speak a language he could understand. They weren’t really his, though, and they’d had a long day.
‘We’ll be back at your house by midday tomorrow,’ he told them.
‘Have you thought any more about buying us?’ asked Thialfi, hopefully. Although he didn’t sound like the thought the answer would be yes.
‘I’d like to buy you,’ said Thor. ‘But I’m not sure I could offer your owners a fair price. And I’ve already bought Tang recently, so I wanted to make sure it was okay with Loki.’ Maybe it was unfair to put Loki on the spot in front of the Telflets, but Thor did want a straight answer out of him.
‘He won’t mind,’ said Roskva. ‘Will you?’ she added to Loki, looking at him oddly directly.
Loki seemed puzzled too. ‘Are you threatening me?’ he asked. ‘You couldn’t possibly win a battle.’
That was odd. Loki never voluntarily battled unless someone’s life was in danger. Possibly backing down in front of a level three Telflet was too much for his pride, but Loki often seemed to take a perverse pride in backing down from battles with anything. He’d been acting strangely all day - there had been that comment about being able to be a Grass type. Was he trying to take up battling in competition with the new pokéttin?
‘No,’ said Roskva. ‘It’s not about battling.’ She dropped into pokéttin speak but Thor cut her off halfway through the first word.
‘What is it about?’ he asked. ‘And don’t talk over my head. I don’t mind with your brother, but if there’s something you want to say to Loki I’d like to know what it is.’
Roskva hesitated and then shook her head. ‘It’s nothing.’
‘Fine,’ said Thor. Then he turned to Loki. ‘And what is up with you? You’re not acting like yourself at all.’
There was a brief pause, a flicker of something in Loki’s eyes. ‘…I’m just tired,’ he said.
Thor stared at him. ‘Who was the first pokéttin you fought?’ he asked.
‘You can’t expect me to remember every battle I’ve ever been in,’ protested Loki.
‘Why not? There haven’t been very many of them,’ said Thor. ‘You’re not my Loki, are you?’ The Loki jumped to his feet. ‘Tackle!’ yelled Thor and Thialfi and Roskva sprang at him. But he transformed into a Kisstrel and flew out of their reach, leaving them both with furious expressions and Thialfi with a handful of feathers.
‘You two get in your pokéballs,’ said Thor. ‘We’ll have to go back.’
‘You’ve already been walking all day and you don’t have any food,’ said Roskva. ‘And they’re stronger than us.’
Thor shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter. They’ve got Loki and we know they can move the castle.’ He really hoped this wasn’t a repeat of the situation with Geirrod. That Loki wouldn’t wind up hurt again. ‘Don’t argue. Return now or I’ll return you.’
Loki woke in - not in a cell. It should have been a cell, even half-asleep he knew he’d just been drugged and kidnapped, but it wasn’t. It was the hall from last night, with the benches shoved back against the walls and furs and cushions spread over the floor. Pokéttin were curled around each other, using one another as pillows and blankets and hot water bottles. It looked cosy. It also looked like an army, ready to wake up and stop him from escaping. Loki swallowed and started to step cautiously between sleeping bodies. A hand on his shoulder made him jump several inches and nearly land on someone’s tail.
‘How are you feeling?’ asked Utgard-Loki.
‘Kidnapped,’ said Loki. He wrapped his arms around himself and didn’t say scared.
‘You’re domestic born, aren’t you?’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘Is that why you didn’t run away from him?’
‘From - from Thor?’ asked Loki.
‘Of course.’ Utgard-Loki started steering him towards the benches, deftly avoiding the sleeping pokéttin. ‘He thinks of you as a tool for winning battles, he’s tried to get rid of you. Why would you want to stay with him?’
‘You -’ You were the Skrymir. I’m such an idiot. ‘You ate all our food!’ Under the circumstances it was such a stupid thing to get indignant about. But Loki was anyway.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Utgard-Loki. He sounded sincere, and while Loki suspected him of laughing underneath he couldn’t find grounds for accusing him of it. ‘But I did make up for it later.’
‘Hmph,’ said Loki. ‘Listen, Thor’s not really like that. We were just arguing. I have to get back to him.’
‘And why were you arguing?’
Loki could tell him it was none of his business. But that wouldn’t convince Utgard-Loki to let him go. ‘Because I don’t like to fight, and he lets me not battle. But he needs other pokéttin that will and I don’t like his Griff.’
‘He lets you not battle,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘But you’re taking up a slot that could belong to a pokéttin that will. Now that he’s got someone who can catch wild pokéttin, how long do you think it will be before he puts you in stasis? And you can’t run away because you don’t know how to survive in the wild.’
‘No,’ said Loki. It came out choked. He’d thought those things, of course he had, but he didn’t want to hear them. He wanted someone to tell him that he was wrong, being foolish, that Thor wouldn’t do anything like that. The last thing he wanted was to be told he was right.
Utgard-Loki’s hand gently stroked his hair. ‘You belong here. Among your own kind.’
‘You -’ Who’s that pokéttin? ‘You’re all Lokis?’
‘Yes,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘Once we learn transform we can take on any shape that suits us.’
Even miserable as he was Loki managed to be curious. ‘What did they transform into yesterday to win the contests?’
‘Fire, Air and Wind,’ said Utgard-Loki.
‘But those aren’t pokéttin,’ said Loki weakly. ‘Can we really do that?’
‘At a high enough level,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘You’ll learn it too, in time.’
Maybe that would impress Thor enough for him to keep Loki around. ‘Yes, yes. But you’re not going to evolve as soon as Thor gets you. He needs to know you can be useful now, said Loki’s own voice in his head.
‘Will you let me go if I ask?’ said Loki.
‘Your trainer is long gone,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘You can leave, but you won’t have anywhere to go.’
‘I’m not stupid,’ said Loki. ‘I only need to find a computer. I can contact his father and have myself sent back to him.’ He felt better for saying it, more capable of carrying it out. Of reaching a town without getting caught by trainers on the way, or hostile pokéttin.
‘And then what? He’ll welcome you back with open arms, but only until he needs your slot for someone else.’
‘That’s not true. He’ll be worried about me.’
‘If that’s the case then why run after him? Shouldn’t he come back for you if he’s so worried?’
Loki hesitated. Never mind coming back, shouldn’t Thor still be here? ‘How did you make him leave?’
‘We sent another Loki with him. Since trainers regard all members of a species as interchangeable I doubt he’ll notice. And the Loki we sent will return to us, once we have had time to move the castle.’
‘Why move it if you expect him not to come back for me? You know he cares,’ said Loki. It was a relief to think Utgard-Loki didn’t believe what he’d been saying, it made it seem less like the truth.
‘Because he would regard you as stolen property,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘Did he even give you a name?’
‘We weren’t on good terms at first, I probably wouldn’t have answered to any name he gave me. And then it was habit,’ said Loki. He shook himself. ‘I don’t have to explain myself to you. And I don’t have to explain Thor. I just want you to let me go with him when he comes back.’
‘We’ll leave the castle where it is for now, then,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘And we won’t stop you from leaving. I think you’d be better off with us, but it’s not our intent to imprison you.’
Loki let out a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you.’
It was strange, being among other Lokis. They were classified as rare, so he’d never even imagined a large group of them. But here they lived in a huge, chaotic family and, if he hadn’t been missing Thor, Loki could have seen the appeal of staying with them. If he’d run into them instead of Geirrod when he’d run away then he would probably never have gone back to Thor at all. Never have found out that Thor would risk his life for him, even though he’d tried to sell him…
‘The Loki we sent with your trainer has returned,’ Utgard-Loki told him, taking him aside to talk.
‘Thor knew he wasn’t me, didn’t he?’ said Loki, a sharp burst of warmth radiating through him. ‘I told you he didn’t think I was interchangeable.’
‘The Loki we sent didn’t know enough about your past to fake it. It still took him most of a day to notice.’
Loki flinched. ‘He probably just thought…’ Thought what? That Loki was in a bad mood? Unless bad moods could cause amnesia that wouldn’t work as an excuse. Probably he hadn’t actually been listening to anything Loki had said.
‘Don’t cry,’ said Utgard-Loki, gently. ‘It’s not your fault.’
‘I’m not,’ said Loki. Only he was. He scrubbed the tears away quickly with the back of his hand.
‘Do you still want to leave with him?’ Utgard-Loki put his arm around Loki, who found himself curling up against him without meaning to.
‘I don’t know.’ He’s my best friend. I miss him. I don’t want to be put in stasis, or sold, or kept around as backup while he spends all his time on pokéttin he can actually train. I don’t want… ‘He’s protected me. Maybe he’d just do that for any pokéttin, or for anyone at all, but he didn’t have to. I don’t just want to abandon him.’
‘You want to know if he cares about you,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘Whether he really can’t tell you apart from any other Loki. Whether you are just a tool to him.’
Loki nodded. ‘I want to know,’ he said.
Utgard-Loki lifted his chin with one finger, and Loki looked up to meet eyes as green as his own. ‘We can find out.’
Thor stopped on the hillside to catch his breath, relieved that the tacky castle was in the same place he’d left it. He wished Loki was here to help him sort out what to do, even though if Loki had been there he wouldn’t have needed to do anything at all. Whatever the pokéttin in there were (and at least some of them were Lokis, he was sure their impostor had been) they were powerful. A stick wasn’t even going to come close to cutting it. Roskva and Thialfi, when released from their pokéballs, took one look at the castle and moved closer together.
‘We need to get Loki out of there,’ said Thor. ‘Any ideas?’
They dropped into pokéttin speak for a moment. Then Roskva spoke up. ‘You could leave him there. They’re Lokis, he’s a Loki. I don’t think they’re going to hurt him. But they might hurt us.’
‘We don’t know they won’t hurt him,’ said Thor, frowning. ‘He ran away once and the pokéttin that caught him that time nearly killed him. I don’t want it to happen again.’
‘Why do you want him back?’ Thialfi burst out. ‘He ran away, he doesn’t fight, and he -’
Thor scowled at him. ‘I’ve had him a lot longer than I’ve had you. And I can still change my mind about buying you.’
‘He wanted Tang to get hurt,’ said Roskva, stepping in front of Thialfi. ‘He told us to lead him to the part of the field with rabbit holes, that they’d slow him down. But he guessed that they wouldn’t, I think. He knew Tang would still try to charge at us. He probably hoped we’d get hurt too, he was asking what would happen if we did and we told him we didn’t have pokéballs -’ She faltered under Thor’s glare and fell silent, although by this point it was no longer aimed entirely at her.
Thor ran both hands through his hair. ‘What is wrong with him lately,’ he said, not to the Telflets particularly. He’d known Loki was jealous, but not to that extent. The reason the limit was six was because a travelling trainer couldn’t give adequate attention to more pokéttin than that. But most pokéttin had no trouble within that limit, and, while not all pokéttin in a squad would necessarily get on, they didn’t attack one another over it. Thor shook his head. He had to get Loki back first, then they could talk about it. Except Loki would be snippy, Thor would yell, and they still wouldn’t have solved anything.
‘You went along with it,’ he said, this time actually to Roskva. ‘You must have realised you were risking hurting Tang.’
‘That’s why we didn’t tell you,’ admitted Thialfi, stepping up next to his sister. ‘But we didn’t plan to hurt him. Loki did.’
‘Forget it,’ said Thor. ‘For now we have to get Loki back. We can deal with this afterwards.’ Thor looked at the castle. There was no way to storm it with two Telflets and with him worn out from almost two days straight of walking. ‘If you don’t have any plans then let’s try mine. They weren’t so bad yesterday. Let’s go and talk to them.’
Until now the fact that he was in a hall full of pokéttin like him had meant something a bit broader. Now Loki was in a hall full of pokéttin that looked like him. Exactly like him, right down to the worried expressions. It was like being in a hall of mirrors and distinctly unnerving. The only one not in on the charade was Utgard-Loki, who was sitting, poised and confident, on his throne.
Thor walked in flanked by Thialfi and Roskva, all three doing their best not to look frightened. At least until they got a good look around, then they just looked bewildered.
‘You kidnapped my Loki,’ said Thor, without preamble.
Utgard-Loki waved languidly at the room. ‘You can have him back if you can find him,’ he said.
Thor looked around, clearly at a loss. His eyes skimmed over Loki with no more recognition than anyone else. Don’t start crying again,’ Loki told himself. Either that would count as a tell, or they’ll all start crying and this is strange enough already. Thor looked around the room again, confusion giving way to annoyance. Loki’s heart skipped a beat at the thought of Thor trying to start a fight with the whole of Utgard-Loki’s clan.
‘Loki,’ said Thor. He ran a hand through his hair. ‘Either you’re being forced into this or your doing it willingly. If you’ve been threatened they I expect you’ll figure out how to get around it. You’re a lot smarter than I am. If you’re doing this on purpose, if you’re testing me, then for someone so smart you’re being really stupid.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I want to apologise. I did apologise, when I thought the impostor was you, but I don’t suppose they told you that. I was upset about Tang and I shouldn’t have -’ He stopped. ‘I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. Not when I had no reason then to think what happened to Tang was your fault.’
Loki shivered at the phrasing. Thor did know now, then. And - and he was about to say it in front of the entire clan of Lokis. Would they want Loki when they knew? And, if Thor was about to say that this was pointless because Thor didn’t want him back now, then where would he go if they didn’t?
Thor carried on. ‘Roskva told me, and I still want you back. But if you don’t want to come back then you don’t have to. You are going to have to tell me, though, because the last few times you’ve been caught by wild pokéttin it hasn’t gone well for you. So I want to be sure you aren’t being hurt.’ Thor paused and looked around. Loki stayed still. If Thor wanted him back he’d have to find him. ‘And if this is a test then I’m going to fail it. Caring about you doesn’t give me magic powers to see through disguises. But I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’re safe.’
Thor folded his arms and radiated not-going-anywhere. Utgard-Loki just watched, clearly not about to intervene. Loki looked at both of them, feeling a million miles away from either. Thor was right, not being able to pick out the right Loki wasn’t proof of anything. But Loki wasn’t sure what would be, and he desperately wanted something that was. The Telflets drew together, standing at one another’s backs, and their nervousness brought Loki back to the situation sharply. They were in danger. Thor was in danger. And he wasn’t leaving until Loki said something.
What came out was the first thought to enter Loki’s head. ‘I don’t want to go into stasis.’ Every pair of eyes in the hall, and they were mostly his own eyes, suddenly fixed on him. He shrank back against the bench. ‘I don’t want to go to sleep and not know when I’ll wake up, or if I’ll wake up.’
‘Loki…’ Thor nearly ran across the hall to him, perhaps afraid of losing track again of which one he was. He stopped in front of Loki and put both hands on Loki’s shoulders. ‘Even if I sent you back to the lab it wouldn’t be like that. You’re not dangerous, and pokéttin that aren’t aren’t usually left in stasis. You’d be allowed to wander around the labs and you were raised there.’
Normally Loki was taller than Thor, but like this he had to look up to meet his eyes. ‘I didn’t know that,’ he said weakly.
Thor sighed. ‘You could have asked.’
‘You could have told me!’
‘How am I meant to know what you’re worrying about? What’s the point of knowing speak if you never use it to talk about things?’
‘You don’t listen to me when I do,’ snapped Loki. ‘I told you Tang was being rude to me and you just went and petted him for it.’
‘He’s just a kid,’ protested Thor. ‘You just don’t like him because you’re jealous.’
‘Because you fuss over him all the time!’
‘And he deserved to have his leg broken for that?’ Thor yelled.
The hall around them was very quiet and both of the simultaneously realised they were being watched closely by dozens of identical Loki’s. Thor glared at them, anger spilling over and apparently winning over caution. ‘The show’s over. Look different and stop being creepy.’
There was a wave of whispering around the hall and then, surprisingly, laughter. About half the Lokis gradually turned into forms that were not him. Loki was surprised how much better he felt now that he wasn’t in the world’s strangest hall of mirrors.
‘We shouldn’t have this conversation here,’ said Thor.
Loki shook his head. ‘I can’t manage in the wild. And I don’t want to go back to the lab, or to be sold. You said you still wanted me, but now you’re shouting, so if you’re going to change your mind I’d rather stay here.’ Going back to the lab wouldn’t be as bad as being in stasis by a long way, but he remembered it as rather boring. Staying with other Lokis would be better, if Thor…And now he was crying. Stupid. Thor wrapped an arm around him and, a moment later, Loki felt a hand stroking his hair. Of course Thor would pick now to start petting him.
‘You’re also shouting at me,’ said Thor. Which sounded oddly like a reassurance when said while hugging Loki.
‘Sorry,’ Loki muttered. He managed to stop crying and pulled back, with a guilty glance at the wet patch on Thor’s chest.
‘I’m not going to change my mind,’ said Thor firmly. ‘So can we please have this conversation without an audience?’
‘I don’t think it could possibly get any more embarrassing than it already has,’ said Loki.
Thor snorted. ‘Maybe not. But do you have any pressing reason for wanting them to see this?’
‘I suspect it’s a matter of trust,’ said Utgard-Loki. ‘We are his only other option aside from you, and you want him to leave us with things still unresolved.’
‘You trust people who drugged and kidnapped you more than you trust me?’ asked Thor, incredulously.
‘No,’ said Loki. ‘But they don’t need me to do anything. You’ll want to spend time with the pokéttin that can fight, now you have them.’
‘Stop being so stupid,’ snapped Roskva, getting rather startled looks from everyone. ‘He hasn’t eaten in two days, nearly, or stopped walking. And you think he doesn’t care about you enough. I wish we could convince him to leave you behind, because I’m pretty sure you’re more trouble than you’re worth. But Thor doesn’t think so, so stop trying to prove him wrong.’
‘Roskva,’ Thor started, and was interrupted by a Loki who looked like a cat.
‘So do you get captured by wild pokéttin on a regular basis?’ it asked Loki curiously, apparently having decided the show was now taking questions from the floor. ‘Because that's really not customary and I'm starting to wonder if you have psychological problems from being raised in captivity.’
‘...Are you under the delusion that you're helping?’ Loki asked, not sure whether he was aiming that at the Loki or at Roskva. Although Roskva had succeeded in making him feel guilty. He glared around the room. ‘Anyone else have speculations they’d like to share?’ His gaze settled on Thor. ‘Want to join in on the speculations about my mental state? Tell me that I’m too much trouble, that there’s something wrong with me, but you’ll keep me anyway because you’re just that nice?’
‘Isn’t that what the other Lokis are saying?’ said Thor. ‘I didn’t say that.’
Thor was right. Ever since Loki had got here he’d been treated as if he didn’t know what he wanted. They’d told him all his fears were right, and discounted any desire to return to his trainer. Probably they’d thought being domesticated was a sign of insanity all along. ‘You don’t think I act like a normal pokéttin,’ said Loki.
‘I’m starting to think you act like a normal Loki,’ said Thor. ‘The pokédex entry didn’t mention your species was like this.’
‘Right now I’m not taking that as a compliment,’ said Loki. He stood up and shook himself. ‘Let’s go. I don’t think staying with them is a good option after all.’
Everyone in the hall turned to look at Utgard-Loki. The Lokis possibly for orders (or possibly not, perhaps they just thought that was his cue).
‘Are you sure about that?’ he asked.
Loki tensed. ‘You said you wouldn’t stop me from leaving.’
‘And I’m a pokéttin of my word. Although I think you’ll regret it,’ he said. He waved towards the door. ‘I wish you luck.’
As soon as they were outside the doors to the castle banged closed and when Loki looked back, startled by the noise, the castle was gone.
Thor fell asleep practically as soon as they were out of sight of the place the castle had been - after issuing strict instructions that everyone should stay close and not fight. He woke up to the smell of cooking meat and found all three pokéttin cooking inexpertly skinned and skewered rabbit over a fire.
‘Have you three come to an agreement then?’ he asked, rubbing his eyes.
‘…Only that we didn’t want you to be hungry,’ said Loki. He poked at the rabbit. ‘It’s nearly cooked.’
Thor sat up and smiled at them. ‘It’s a start.’
Loki said he wasn’t hungry so Thor just shared the rabbit with the Telflets. It was scorched in places and nearly raw in others but, hungry as Thor was, it was delicious. Afterwards the Telflets went into their pokéballs without prompting and Thor and Loki started walking. They went some way in a faintly embarrassed silence before Loki broke it.
‘Did your father really offer you another starter?’
‘Yes,’ said Thor. ‘I think he knew I’d keep you, though.’
‘Which one did he offer you?’
Thor shrugged. ‘I didn’t ask.’
‘Oh.’ There was another long pause. ‘You are going to spend more time with Tang and the Telflets though, aren’t you? Training them to fight.’
Thor sighed. ‘Believe it or not, they need it more than you do. So far once you’ve made up your mind to fight you’ve actually been pretty good at it.’
Loki looked surprised and reluctantly gratified, before shaking his head. ‘Why does it all have to be about fighting, anyway?’
‘Because some pokéttin are dangerous,’ said Thor. ‘The Lokis were only annoying people, but there are some that kill people or even eat them. It’s the job of trainers to create teams of tame pokéttin to take them on, to protect people. Not all trainers do that, some only help incidentally by taking pokéttin that might have been dangerous out of the wild by catching them. But I told you once before that that’s what the Aesir focus on, and I think you’ve seen enough now to know why.’
Loki looked taken aback at the conviction in Thor’s voice and then dropped his head. ‘And I’m really no use to you in that.’
‘That’s not true. We’ve just seen what high level Lokis can do, even if I’m not sure how they did it. You’ll be able to fly once you learn transform, you can scout for me. You’re the one who figured out the pattern so we could find the Lokis in the first place, you’re smarter than I am.’
‘So you’ll keep me around to do your thinking for you?’ Loki looked a little amused and quite a lot reassured.
Thor laughed. ‘Someone has to.’
‘True.’ Loki caught Thor’s hand, squeezing it for a moment. ‘They turned into fire, wind and air, you know. That’s how they beat us. But I don’t know how it was possible.’
‘You see?’ said Thor. ‘Just wait until we level you up.’ Then he stopped and turned, putting his hands on Loki’s shoulders and meeting his eyes. ‘I’m not planning on constantly catching new pokéttin. I want a full team, and a balanced one, but after that I’d rather stick with what I have than constantly get new pokéttin to train. And I do want you as part of that team.’
Loki smiled at him. ‘Thank you.’ Then he added, quietly, ‘I’m sorry about Tang.’
‘Don’t do anything like that again,’ said Thor. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if Loki did. Punishing him seemed likely to be counterproductive. Then, struck by inspiration. ‘And you can apologise to him when we get back.’
Loki pulled a face, but nodded. ‘All right.’
‘Good,’ said Thor softly. ‘Now, let’s get on. Egil and Katla are going to be wondering what’s happened to us.’
Egil and Katla were very glad to see them home safely, especially Thialfi and Roskva. Tang was glad to see Thor and seemed fine, bounding around on all four legs with no sign of distress. He did get his apology from Loki, as well as a less prompted one from Thialfi and Roskva.
‘He didn’t accept it,’ said Roskva, afterwards. ‘He says that if we’re all sorry we’re all going to have to do what he says from now on.’
‘Tang, knock that off,’ said Thor. ‘They don’t have to do as you say. And if you’d listened to what I was telling you, you’d have won the battle before you got hurt.’
This caused Tang to walk off with his nose in the air, looking disgruntled.
Thor left him to sulk and asked Katla if there was a videophone he could borrow to make his report. Fortunately, cut off as they were, Katla and Egil needed one and Thor was soon ushered to the videophone room. To his surprise Loki followed, and then sat in a corner where the camera wouldn’t see him. Thor considered ordering him out and then decided that would do more harm than good and let him stay.
He made his report to Odin accurately and without embellishments (though he did include the parts he’d got from Loki) ending with, ‘And they didn’t give me my pokédex back, so I’m requesting a new one.’
‘That won’t be a problem,’ said Odin. ‘You’ve given us quite a bit more information for the Loki entry.’
‘I wasn’t expecting to see so many of them together,’ said Thor, relaxing. ‘I thought they were rare.’
‘Captive ones are rare,’ said Odin. ‘You can’t capture wild Lokis. Or rather, you can, but they run away as soon as they have the opportunity. Never giving them the opportunity results in extreme depression. Even captive bred Lokis have been known to run away.’
Thor carefully didn’t look towards Loki’s corner. ‘And you thought I could handle one?’
‘No. Lokis take very badly to being handled. I gave you one because I didn’t think you’d be able to handle him.’
So much for that being any kind of compliment to his skill as a trainer. Thor wasn’t sure whether to be offended or just bewildered. ‘So what was I meant to do?’
‘He’s chosen to remain with you despite having the option of joining a pack of his own species. You’ve now done better than ninety percent of the people who tried to have a Loki on their team,’ said Odin.
‘So why not keep him in the lab? Domestic Lokis are rare, and you were taking a huge risk on…on my lack of ability as a trainer,’ Thor finished sourly.
‘They also run away if they get too bored, and the lab wasn’t exactly exciting. They’re difficult creatures to please.’ Odin chuckled. ‘And don’t be offended. I knew you wouldn’t be able to force him to do things your way, but I did rely on your tenacity. I didn’t think you’d be willing to give up on a pokéttin you’d agreed to train.’
‘Of course not,’ said Thor.
‘Your job is done and I’ll be sending the information to be added to the pokédex,’ Odin finished. ‘Good luck with the Water Gym.’
‘Thanks,’ said Thor. The screen went blank.
‘You didn’t tell him you tried to sell me,’ said Loki. ‘Or that you told me I could run away.’
‘And you did run away,’ said Thor. He leant over and scratched behind one of Loki’s ears. ‘Thanks for not telling him.’
‘Blackmail material for later,’ said Loki happily.
The forest was still dim this early in the day, everything a cool and dappled green. Tang, having discovered he couldn’t boss the Telflets about, was instead playing tag with them with an enthusiasm that would lead to them all wanting to be back in their pokéballs before noon.
‘You spent all our money again,’ said Loki, not sounding as if he really cared that much. Actually Thor had spent money he didn’t have yet, but Egil and Katla had accepted a payment now and a promise to pay the rest when he could. Mostly because Thialfi and Roskva were clearly so excited about going with him.
‘It would be more expensive waiting to buy pokéttin in the city,’ said Thor. ‘And these ones know what they’re getting into.’
Loki snorted. ‘Good point. Any other pokéttin might have expected a trainer who was sane.’
Thor looked up quickly at a flash of light. ‘Tang! Don’t use thundershock in tag games!’ he called.
Loki snickered. ‘The Telflets don’t count his tags sometimes because they can’t feel it. They just say they didn’t notice.’
Thor sighed. ‘And you Telflets play fair!’ he added.
He suspected that all three were going to ignore him, but it wasn’t that big a deal right now. At least they were having fun.
Chapter 4: Selkie Bay
The gym battle Thor intended to have in Noátún gets delayed by problems with the local Selkies.
Noátún was the first large town Thor had entered on his journey and it was somewhat amusing to see his pokéttin staring around them and getting excited about the shops.
‘Asgard isn’t any smaller,’ he told Loki.
‘I wasn’t allowed outside in Asgard,’ Loki responded. ‘I had to stay in the lab like all the other starters. What’s that?’
‘A grooming parlour. And I don’t have enough money to pay for haircuts,’ said Thor. ‘We need to find the pokécenter first so we’ve got somewhere to stay.’
‘There are a lot of those seal pokéttin around,’ said Thialfi, pointing. He was right, there were a lot of seal pokéttin, both grey-white pups so fluffy they looked almost round and sleek grey adults with intelligent eyes.
‘We’re near the beach,’ answered Loki. ‘I expect they catch them locally.’
‘Maybe I’ll look around for where they get them,’ said Thor. ‘I don’t have a water type yet.’
‘Thor!’ the shout broke into their conversation and they all turned. Sif was waving to him from across the street, one of the fluffy pups sitting at her feet.
‘Hello!’ Thor called back, and ran across the street to meet her. ‘These are Thialfi and Roskva,’ he said as the Telflets came to stand next to him. ‘I’ve got a Griff, too, but he’s in his pokéball.’
‘This is Kerr,’ said Sif, patting her seal pokéttin on the head. ‘He’s a Pompup. There are a lot of them around here, most people catch them when they’re young and evolve them into Seols.’
‘Including you,’ said Thor. ‘I’m surprised you’re still here actually. I thought you’d have your water badge and be gone by the time we arrived.’
Sif opened her jacket and showed them the badge pinned inside, a blue crystal teardrop with the laguz rune inside it. ‘I stayed because I wanted to be here for the full moon. It’s rumoured that Seols have an evolution ceremony at the full moon, but very few people have seen it happen.’
‘Isn’t it full moon tonight?’ said Roskva.
‘Yes, you got here just in time,’ said Sif, smiling. ‘Want to come with me tonight and try to see it?’
Thor nodded. ‘It sounds interesting,’ he said. ‘Are you staying at the pokécenter?’
‘Yes, let me show you were it is,’ said Sif, with a smile.
By evening they’d caught Sif up on their adventures with wild Lokis and she’d described her gym battle. Thor looked up the pokédex entry for Seols and found that they evolved into Selkies, a pokéttin generally considered quite powerful, but known for becoming extremely depressed in captivity or if in any way seperated from the sea.
‘So we won’t be catching any newly evolved Selkies?’ said Roskva.
‘No,’ said Thor. ‘It still sounds like it will be interesting to watch. Not many pokéttin species need a ceremony to evolve, and the ones that do tend to be secretive about it.’
‘Because otherwise they get a bunch of trainers waiting around to capture them in their final form,’ said Loki.
‘What about Seols that were raised in captivity?’ asked Thialfi. ‘We saw a lot of them about. Don’t they ever evolve?’
Thor flicked through the pokédex entry. ‘They can’t evolve in captivity. I suppose they can evolve if the trainer releases them, but it doesn’t say anything about that. Maybe they don’t come back.’
‘That’s right,’ said Sif. ‘I asked around. A lot of people let their Seols go near the full moon if they want to leave. No one’s ever had a Selkie come back afterwards, although sometimes they come back still Seols.’
‘You wouldn’t think evolving would make such a difference,’ said Loki.
‘You wouldn’t know anything about it,’ said Roskva.
Loki poked her. ‘I don’t need to evolve. One more level and I can turn into anything I like. Shall I start with Woodelf?
Roskva poked back and Thor intervened before Thialfi could join in. ‘It’s nearly sunset. Do we know where we’re going?’
‘It’s always one of the beaches around here,’ said Sif. ‘It’s probably place based, as well as needing the ceremony. I thought we could walk along the coast and if we see Seols going somewhere we can follow them. We might be out all night, so we should pack some coffee and sandwiches.’
‘Let’s start by going to the kitchen, then,’ said Thor.
The Groa at this pokécenter was happy to let them use the kitchen, and to help them make sandwiches as well. It wasn’t long before she was waving them off as they set out towards the beaches. Kerr found it hard to keep up, bouncing along on flippers and tail, so Sif picked him up in her arms and carried him.
‘You’re not getting any of your other pokéttin out?’ asked Thor, resisting the urge to whisper even though they hadn’t left town yet and the buzz of people eating in nearby restaurants could clearly be heard.
‘I think yours might be a bit overwhelming for my Grass types,’ she said, shooting an amused look at where Loki, Thialfi and Roskva were having an argument in both whispers and pokéttin speak. From the tone it didn’t sound serious though. ‘What about your Griff?’
‘Tang might be a bit impetuous for this kind of thing,’ said Thor. ‘At least these ones will quiet down once there’s something happening.’
Sif nodded. ‘I might get Dolly out once we’re there.’
At first Thor wasn’t sure how they’d ever find the one specific beach they were looking for. Moonlight caught the ripples of the quiet sea and turned the sand grainy silver, but nothing living seemed to be stirring. Then he saw the trailing point of light, wake spreading to either side of it. He caught Sif’s arm and pointed, and now they could both see other faint ripples marking the heads of Seols cutting through the water. Loki, Thialfi and Roskva fell quiet beside them, and without a word the group set out after the Seols.
They thought they’d lost them at one point, but the sound of flippers on rock and sand could be heard nearby, and the soft pokéttin speak of Seols. Creeping closer, to the edge of a rock formation that had tumbled down from a cliff long enough ago to be worn around the edges, they peered at the gathering. The Seols spoke to one another in soft, excited barks, and often looked up at the full moon, which caught their dark eyes and made them shine like coins.
At the edge of the sea more Seols were arriving and being greeted, but some of the arrows of wake pointed away from the beach as if Seols had been coming there and turned back.
‘What are those ones doing?’ Thialfi asked in a whisper, pointing.
Kerr made a soft ‘pu pu’ barking noise.
‘He says they have trainers,’ Loki translated. ‘They know they can’t go back if they evolve, so some of them change their minds.’
‘I wouldn’t,’ said Roskva. ‘Even if changing meant leaving behind everything I’d ever known, I’d want to be the best I could be.’
‘You’re kind of scary for a little elf type,’ said Loki.
Whatever Roskva might have said in reply was lost as one of the Seols on the beach stood up, changing as it did and revealing what they hadn’t been able to tell from where they were. It was not a Seol at all, but a Selkie, and it was now taking its Magic Forme. Others were changing too, until seven pale skinned men and women were standing on the beach wrapped in dark cloaks, dark hair framing their faces, like black and white ink drawings in the moonlight.
‘Are they evolving?’ asked Thor.
‘No light,’ Loki answered, referring to the flash of white that accompanied an evolution. These had been Selkies already, and had only changed their Formes.
The Seols were shuffling back, taking their places at the edge of the beach, leaving an expanse of moonlit sand in the centre. The Selkies formed a circle there, spaced out evenly from one another and not touching. There was a moment of silence, the only sound the gentle slap of waves, all of the Seols holding perfectly still in the shadows and the Selkies poised for a dance that had not yet begun. Then it started, a dance of swaying hypnotic movements, cloaks flowing and half obscuring the motions so that it was hard to tell when the Selkies changed places. The circle shrank and grew, reaching the silent audience as it expanded. There were bursts of light, leaving dazzling afterimages in the dark, and when the circle closed again there were more Selkies in it than there had been.
The dance continued, expanding, contracting, changing, as regular as the tides. Soon there was a double ring, dancing soundlessly. Something about it made it hard to stay awake and Thor yawned, rubbing his eyes, even as he continued to watch.
Suddenly there was a change, as if the wave had hit a rock. The circles were breaking up, converging on one point, the audience was rushing in with indignant barks. Jets of water caught the light as Seols fired waterguns. The many-coloured flashes of Magic based moves being cast by the Selkies lit up the rocks.
Thor jumped up, trying to see what had happened and whether any of the Selkies were hurt, and was pulled down by Loki, Thialfi and Roskva. When he looked over at Sif she was holding Kerr back, while he dug tail and flippers into the sand in an attempt to rush forward.
‘What happened?’ asked Sif.
‘I don’t know, but there’s a battle going on,’ said Thor. ‘We should-’
Kerr started barking furiously at the top of his voice. Sif managed to hold him with one hand long enough to pokéball him with the other, but on the beach Seol heads were starting to turn their way. Loki jumped to his feet and held out a hand to pull Thor up. Thialfi and Roskva had stood up too and were holding hands. Further away the commotion had died down, but the mood was tense and angry. Selkies were starting to walk towards where the group was hiding, striding through the milling Seols without ever missing a step.
Loki’s hair changed colour, although Thor couldn’t see what colour it was in the washed out light. ‘Get ready to run,’ he said.
‘But someone attacked them -’ Thor began.
Sif tugged at his arm. ‘I don’t think they care that it wasn’t us,’ she said.
Loki bowed his head, clearly concentrating, and Thor could feel the charge in the air around him. When he used thundershock it lit up the whole beach, displaying a stark blue white panorama of angry Seols and Selkies. The closest ones fell back and some of the Seols, perhaps worn down by the earlier battle, actually collapsed. Loki stumbled for a moment and Thor grabbed his arm, pulling him into a run.
They made it halfway back to town before they were sure they weren’t being followed.
‘They lost us?’ said Thor, who was half supporting Loki.
‘Seols aren’t very fast,’ gasped Loki. ‘And the Selkies wouldn’t want to come into town by themselves.’
‘Are you all right?’ asked Thor. Even in the dark Loki looked pale.
‘My head,’ Loki groaned. ‘It feels like there’s too much in there. I think I’m learning a new move. Ow. Tell me which one you want me to forget.’
‘Forget steal,’ said Thor, quickly.
Loki nodded, then looked like he regretted doing so, and closed his eyes. When he opened them he looked better, if still bit shaky.
‘I didn’t know learning more than four moves hurt,’ said Thialfi, sounding worried.
‘Just bad timing,’ said Sif. ‘Normally Thor would have told Loki which to forget straight away, but we had to run.’
‘Did you just learn transform?’ asked Thor, realising what Loki’s next (and final) move was.
‘…I guess so,’ said Loki, suddenly perking up. He closed his eyes with a smile hovering around the corners of his lips and turned into…well, it had a Griff’s body, but since the head was still Loki’s own the effect was just strange.
‘I think you need more practise,’ said Thialfi.
Thor laughed and ruffled the Griff-Loki’s hair. ‘That’s still pretty impressive for a first try. It might be a good idea to turn back and get some sleep, though.’
‘Should we tell anyone about tonight?’ Sif asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said Thor. ‘Something disturbed the Selkies, but we don’t know whether it was a person or a pokéttin.’
‘Or whether they were just watching, like us, and got caught,’ said Loki, now back in his normal form.
‘There’s no rule against watching,’ said Sif, slightly defensively since it had been her idea. She sighed. ‘It’s not exactly approved though. And if they were just watching, then telling someone about them is going to make us look like hypocrites.’
Thor put his arm around Loki, who was swaying slightly. ‘Let’s get some sleep and think about it tomorrow,’ he suggested.
Loki was woken by the wild alarm crowing of a Vithafnir, something he recognised from emergencies in Asgard. Thor was already awake, rubbing at his eyes with one hand while pulling his trousers on with the other.
‘What happened?’ asked Loki. ‘Is this about the Selkies?’
Thor shook his head. ‘They wouldn’t sound an alarm unless people were in danger now. We’ve got to go and help.’
He grabbed his pack as soon as he’d got his shoes on, his other pokéttin currently inside it asleep in their pokéballs, and headed out the door with Loki following.
Sif was in the corridor, looking as hastily dressed as Thor and even more worried. ‘Kerr’s gone,’ she said.
‘Did you leave him out of his pokéball?’ asked Thor.
‘No, he was in it last night. But I got everyone out this morning to tell them something was going on - because I didn’t want to surprise my Grass types with an emergency - and he was gone.’ She looked at them with worried eyes.
Outside the Vithafnir stopped crowing, the sudden silence seeming to ring as loud as the preceding uproar. Thor’s head turned sharply towards the stairs. ‘We need to find out what’s happening,’ he said. ‘We can look for Kerr on the way.’
The three of them ran down the stairs to find Groa manning the pokécenter desk. ‘Do you know what’s happened?’ Loki asked her.
‘There’s been an attack at the docks,’ she said. ‘Nurse Eir’s getting the pokécenter ready in case we need more than healing cycles. They didn’t have time to tell us more than that.’
They thanked her quickly and ran towards the docks, looking around them as the ran but seeing neither whisker nor tail of Kerr.
Once they got close to their destination they could see for themselves what had happened. The fishing boats were plainly visible, just far enough out of the harbour that they were having a hard time returning to it. They must have gone out at dawn and been attacked almost at once, the sky was still pink even now. Around the ship the heads of Seols bobbed, just above the water. Rising higher out of it, and plainly on the Seols’ side, were the strangely humanlike torsos of Merines, with their silver-blue scales and green hair, their triangular fins draped around their armless shoulders like shawls and only spreading when they went to dive.
But some of the Merines were struggling with others of their own kind, and when an Aquamerine - three times the size of a Merine and with a tail that could crush ships - rose from the water it was to push a struggling rowboat towards the harbour. Above the water Gullits and Gullouds swooped and dived, driving the Seols and Merines back from the boats. All of those pokéttin trying to save the boats wore blue ribbons, some as sashes and some around their necks or wrists, but in every case it picked them out from their opponents. Around the whole thing Sea-Vaettr jumped on the waves, the translucent otter pokéttin seeming not to be on anyone’s side but simply agitated by the fighting.
‘Njord’s gym pokéttin,’ said Thor, gesturing to the blue ribboned ones.
‘We were going to fight them?’ said Loki, incredulously. He was standing a little behind Thor, wary of the fighting going on even if most of the combatants couldn’t come on land.
Thor shook his head distractedly, scanning the crowd for something. ‘There are teams for fighting trainers, of different levels depending on how many badges you already have. It’s a way for the gym to train their pokéttin without having to travel, but defending towns from areas with dangerous wild pokéttin is their real purpose.’ Sif grabbed his wrist and pointed and he nodded. ‘This way,’ he told Loki.
Sif lead them to Officer Vör, who was standing at a table covered with white ribbons and surrounded by trainers. Beside her stood the Vithofnir they had heard earlier, the golden rooster continually half opening his wings before settling.
‘Pokéttin?’ she said.
‘Woodmouse, Strawdoll…’ Sif trailed off, clearly having been about to say Pompup.
If the Officer Vör noticed she didn’t say anything, just nodded. ‘Take two white ribbons, join the team securing the boats. Have your pokéttin use vinewhip to pull the boats in, try not to engage any wild pokéttin.’ She turned to Thor. ‘Pokéttin?’
‘Two Telflets, a Griff and a Loki,’ said Thor.
‘Two ribbons. Have the Loki typeshift to Electric and use him and the Griff to cover the teams securing the boats. Keep the Telflets pokéballed.’
Loki was relieved that Roskva and Thialfi would be out of it, they were simply too low a level and they had no distance moves. He rather wished he could be pokéballed as well. But he didn’t trust Thor to stick to directing them, and he didn’t trust Tang to look after Thor, so he typeshifted quickly and tied his ribbon around his neck as the place it was least likely to fall off if he had to use transform.
Meanwhile Thor had tied a white ribbon in a bow around Tang’s neck. Tang was looking pleased with himself for having a ribbon, and looking adorable in it, rather than as if he was about to be in a serious fight. Thor put a hand on his head between his horns and looked solemnly at him.
‘This isn’t a contest battle, Tang. People’s lives depend on you. Take it seriously and listen to me.’
Tang dropped his head in response, looking chastened, and then tossed it, stomping one little bronze hoof determinedly.
‘Good,’ said Thor. ‘Now come on.’
The white ribboned pokéttin were nearly all Electric, Grass or Flying, two with a type advantage and one that could stay out of range. They clearly didn’t want to risk helpful civillians becoming casualties themselves. Sif was crouched on a pier and Loki followed as Thor headed towards her. Beside her Dolly had her vines, alongside those of four other grass types, hooked around the front of a boat and was hauling for all she was worth. In front of Sif, and taking nearly all of her attention, was her Woodmouse. She was the size of a small cat, with mossy green fur and a brown tail ending in a spray of oak leaves. At the moment she was quivering, Sif running a hand soothingly over her back as she tried to talk her into helping.
Dolly was suddenly wrenched forward as six Seols emerged from under the boat and towed it back, her light body unable to resist even as she held the vinewhip. Loki jumped forward instinctively and grabbed her waist. Tang jumped over to land beside them, the sparks from his hooves as they hit the pier turning into a thundershock that briefly lit the churning water white.
‘Thank you,’ gasped Dolly as Sif looked up, dismayed.
‘I can’t use thundershock like this without hurting you. Will you let Thor hold onto you?’ asked Loki. If she would that would both keep her weighed down and stop Thor charging off.
‘Yes,’ said Dolly, nodding as she said it.
Thor reached out and Loki passed Dolly to him before stepping up to join Tang. The hard part was aiming the thundershocks, once they hit the water all Water types in range would be taking damage, wild or tame. The gym pokéttin seemed to accept that as a necessity, willing to take the edges of hits that took out wild pokéttin holding the boats.
Among the blue ribboned pokéttin were a few Skiffbladnirs, little rowing boat shaped pokéttin with oversized dragon heads, weaving in and out among the real boats. The gym Merines had almost abandoned the battle and were fishing out sailors that had been knocked overboard, swimming up to the Skiffbladnirs or to the shore with limp or struggling bodies wrapped under one fin. Sometimes they had to carry pokéttin out too, more often there would be the flash of red that meant a tired or wounded one had been pokéballed.
The Woodmouse had finally been persuaded to join her vinewhip to the others, directed by Sif, while Thor both held onto Dolly and called out instructions to Tang. Most of the Electric types were staying in one place and covering the Grass types around them, but Tang was nimble enough to jump the straining vinewhips and was running back and forth along the edge of the pier, throwing thundershocks wherever necessary, even as he was visibly tiring.
‘Tang, that’s enough,’ Thor called. ‘Back to me.’
Tang hesistated, but as a shout came from further down and vinewhips visibly came loose he ran that way instead, only to mistime a jump and trip on a vine. The owner of the vine let go of the boat and grabbed for him instead, but too late. Tang was already in the water, hooves thrashing for a moment before he went under. Loki looked at Thor, who was looking for Sif to hand Dolly off to, and sighed. He didn’t want to do this, but he already knew he would.
The Seol transformation worked better than the Griff one the night before, even if his face seemed a bit too flat. He’d been sliding off the edge of the pier before he was more than half transformed, and he was relieved when he got the shape well enough to managed a creditable dive. Tang’s limp form was drifting just below the surface, it was the work of the moment for Loki to slip his shoulders under Tang’s belly and lift him.
Thor was waiting with Tang’s pokéball ready, and Loki had barely reached the surface when Tang’s weight was lifted from him in a glow of red light. He dived under again to get the momentum for a jump onto the pier. A moment later something hit his shoulder, and he turned his head to see another Seol next to him. Teeth caught his tail next, and then another Seol was ramming his stomach, pressing him against one of the legs of the pier. Looking around frantically Loki saw that the water around him was dark with Seols, he could hardly make out one from the next they blocked so much light. And every single one of them seemed to be focused on him.
Loki swam downward, the only direction even slightly open to him, and the Seols continued to gather, pressing down on him from above until his lungs were bursting. He needed to transform again, to something that could breath underwater, but he hadn’t seen the Merines closely enough and every time he tried to pause to concentrate he found himself being slapped, butted and bitten.
He was nearly fainting when a huge triangular fin closed around him and pulled him to the surface.
Thor had been forced to pokéball Loki, since he’d been on the verge of passing out in the middle of a battle. Once back at the pokécenter Thor been hoping to put both Tang and Loki through a healing cycle - only to find that the pokécenter was full of trainers there to do the same thing with their pokéttin. He was forced to join the queue and wait. By the time he had had them returned to him the queue was nearly out the door, and he was about to go up to his room when he noticed Sif a few places from the back.
‘What happened after I left?’ he asked, stopping beside her.
‘We got the boats in in the end. Dolly fainted before we’d got the last few, she’d been right in the thick of it the whole time,’ she said, sounding proud. ‘I don’t know if anyone died, a lot were being fished out the water,’ she added more sombrely. ‘If they didn’t it won’t be for lack of trying on the Seols’ part. I’ve never been in a battle where pokéttin were seriously trying to kill people before.’
‘I have,’ said Thor, thinking of Geirrod. ‘But not like that. Not with so many of them.’
‘They got some boats in just before you left,’ said Sif. ‘The Seols broke off from attacking the boats completely.’
‘…In order to attack Loki?’ said Thor. There had been so many of them swarming around the pier, if the Aquamerine hadn’t saved him Loki would have drowned.
‘Yes,’ said Sif. She rubbed her head and looked miserable. ‘Kerr’s still missing, too. And not just him, every Seol or Pompup in the town is gone.’
‘Maybe they went to join the Seols and Selkies?’ said Thor. He thought for a moment. ‘I didn’t see any Seols wearing gym colours either.’
‘Njord didn’t have any on the team when I fought him. But it was his lowest level team, I don’t know if he has them on others.’
Thor ran a hand through his hair. ‘It’s worrying if gym Seols have run off to the wild over this.’
‘Do you think we should talk to him?’ asked Sif. ‘I wondered if we should go to the police, but catching Selkies isn’t illegal even if most people would disapprove. It’s the gym leader’s job to handle problems with wild pokéttin.’
‘We could try,’ said Thor, at which point he was inturrupted by his stomach rumbling. It was nearly noon and they’d skipped breakfast. ‘How about we meet in the canteen after you’ve put your pokéttin through their healing cycle and get some lunch first, though?’
‘I think the pokéttin will need to be fed,’ said Sif. They didn’t, always, if they’d just been in the pokéballs and not using energy. ‘Maybe you could grab some food for both of us and meet in my room? Then we can feed them while we eat.’
They could have got them out in the canteen, but Sif’s were shy and had just had a stressful morning. So Thor agreed and headed off to grab some sandwiches. Once the sandwiches were bought (including some for Loki, Thialfi and Roskva, since all three could eat food meant for humans) he headed up to Sif’s room and got Loki out. Loki promptly sat down and curled up in a ball. Thor knelt next to him and patted his shoulder.
‘You’re fine,’ he said.
‘I thought they were going to kill me,’ said Loki, curling up against Thor. It was hard to tell if this was a reaction to danger or an excuse to get made a fuss of, but Loki deserved some affection right now so Thor obliged by stroking his hair.
‘I know, but it’s over now. And you did very well,’ said Thor.
Loki nodded. ‘What are we going to do now?’
‘Sif thinks we should go to talk to Njord,’ said Thor. ‘What do you think?’
Loki sat up a bit and looked thoughtful. ‘I think we need to speak to the Selkies. But I don’t think they’ll want to listen.’
‘And tell them that they’re attacking the wrong people?’ asked Thor.
‘And tell them that we can get their missing members back if they calm down and help us,’ said Loki.
‘Could we?’ said Thor. ‘Whoever caught one is probably long gone by now.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Loki. ‘You saw how many Seols and Selkies there were on that beach. Anyone just attacking opportunistically would have been defeated. But I’m sure someone was caught or they wouldn’t have reacted like this. I think it was planned, and there are still two more nights of the full moon.’
‘They’re going to be in danger at their evolution ceremonies,’ said Thor. ‘But they’re going to react really badly if we try to watch it again to protect them.’
‘Right,’ said Loki.
‘Talking to Njord might still be the best way, then. He’s got the resources to protect them even if they don’t like it,’ said Thor.
The door opened and Sif walked in, looking a bit happier now her pokéttin were healed. ‘Hello, Loki, how are you feeling?’ she asked.
‘Better now he’s plotting,’ said Thor. ‘Here, come and pick some sandwiches.’
Over lunch they talked about Loki’s ideas and proved that Thor’s pokéttin could be in the same room and Sif’s without causing a panic, as long as Tang was too busy eating to try and play. After talking it over they decided that heading for the gym was the best idea, and set out with everyone back in their pokéballs except for Loki.
The gym door was guarded by a woman in blue uniform. Her Gulloud stood on the other side of the door, nearly as tall as her due to the military posture it had adoped. Loki found himself studying it carefully, knowing transform gave him a whole new perspective on things and he suspected he’d need wings sooner or later.
‘The gym’s closed to trainers,’ said the guard, automatically, as they approached.
‘I’m not here to get my badge,’ protested Thor. ‘I need to talk to Njord. We…’ He broke off and glanced at Sif, who nodded. ‘We saw the evolution ceremony last night.’
The guard frowned at him. ‘People aren’t supposed to spy on those,’ she said. ‘Wait here. Anika, watch them.’
They waited uncomfortably for a few minutes until, to Loki’s surprise, the Gulloud winked at him. ‘Did you just learn transform?’ she asked in pokéspeak.
Loki looked down, embarrassed at having the attention he was paying her noticed, and answered in pokéspeak. ‘Er. Yes. You can tell I’m a shapeshifter?’
She cackled a laugh. ‘I’ve seen Lokis before, although not often and not tame.’
Loki nodded. ‘Apparently most of us don’t do well in captivity. Not quite like the Selkies, but there would have been a similar reaction if one was caught.’
Anika scratched her wing with one foot. ‘The Selkies have always been a law unto themselves. It’s why we don’t have any of that evolutionary line in the gym, you need loyalty in warriors.’
Loki nodded, somewhat relieved that there hadn’t been gym Seols who were now out with the Selkies’ group. Even if it did rob them of Seols they could maybe have got through to. ‘Are we going to be in trouble for having watched the ceremony?’ he asked.
Anika cackled again. ‘Everyone watches it once,’ she said. ‘But as long as it’s known as something you’re not supposed to do they stick to once, and discreeetly.’
The return of the guard prevented Loki from relaying that information to Thor and Sif, which was a shame because they would have found it as reassuring as he did.
‘Njord says he’ll see you,’ said the guard.
Anika was once again left on guard duty while they walked through the gym. It was not what Loki had expected, at least on the first floor, being railed catwalks over a giant pool of water. Here and there the catwalks met at large, round islands, which seemed to function as workspaces. Merines popped their heads out as they went past, and floating Skiffbladnirs turned to look. The occasional Merby jumped right out of the water, triangular fins spread to catch the air.
At the centre of the gym were four catwalks arranged to cut out a rectangle of water, about the size of a swimming pool. In the centre of each of the shorter ends was a semicircular projection without railings. This must be where the gym battles took place. Njord was seated on one of the semicircles, an Aquamerine towering out of the water in front of him. The guard halted at a slight distance and they waited with her until the Aquamerine dived, leaving Njord alone. Njord turned and beckoned them over.
‘You saw the evolution ceremony?’ he said, not really a question but a confirmation of something he’d already been told.
‘Yes,’ said Sif. ‘We were watching from behind a rock when we saw a battle start. We couldn’t see much of it, just spells being cast. I had to grab Kerr…my Pompup…he was too low a level to just charge in.’
‘And I had to grab Thor,’ said Loki. He ignored the irritated glance Thor sent his way. ‘Someone captured at least one Selkie, and we need to talk to the Selkies or it’s going to happen again.’
‘I knew that,’ said Njord. ‘Nothing else could have set them off like this. And I’ve been trying to talk to them, but the Selkies won’t listen. My Aquamerine managed to convince the wild Merines that we mean the Selkies no harm, but when they agreed to try and talk to the Selkies the Selkies stopped talking to them entirely. As far as the Selkies are concerned anyone who doesn’t agree with them is an enemy.’
‘Then you’ll have to find someone they will listen to,’ said Loki. ‘You can’t just give up on them.’
‘I’m not giving up on them,’ said Njord. ‘We’ll protect them whether they want us to or not, but there’s no time to try and talk them around.’ He continued before Loki could speak again. ‘Describe what you saw. It might help tell us what we’re up against.’
The three of them described the battle that had, from their point of view, mostly been flashes of light. Njord thought it was either more than one person or one person with a very strong team of pokéttin.
‘If it’s one person they have to be carrying more than six,’ he said. ‘Which means they’re not a registered trainer, because they have extras sent back automatically. It’s not much to go on, but thank you.’ He glanced back at the pool where the Aquamerine’s head was once again visible. ‘If that was all?’
They left, Sif and Thor looking downcast and Loki feeling indignant.
‘They should find a way to talk to them. It isn’t any good this way,’ he said.
Thor shook his head. ‘Njord’s right, he doesn’t have time. The Selkies won’t calm down enough to listen before it’s too late.’
‘You just don’t want to believe a gym leader could be wrong,’ said Loki. ‘You have too much faith in strong trainers.’
‘At least he wasn’t angry with us,’ said Sif.
Loki shrugged. ‘Anika said everyone watches once, it’s just not advertised. I was about to tell you when we were called in.’
Sif and Thor both looked relieved at that news, although still worried.
‘I guess there’s nothing else we can do,’ said Thor. ‘Even if you don’t like his decision, it really is up to Njord now.’
That afternoon they were restless, left with nothing to do and no part in what would happen that night. Thor took them to a pokémart so he could stock up on pokéchow and potions, and let the others out of their pokéballs to look around as well.
‘Look, a Leaf Stone!’ said Roskva, turning to look at Thor pleadingly.
Thor shook his head. ‘For one thing I can’t afford it. For another you’re still too low a level. You wouldn’t learn your first move as Woodelf until level thirty, and you’ll learn some before that as a Telflet.’
Thialfi, who had been looking at a Dawn Stone, drooped visibly and Roskva looked unhappy too, but they both accepted it.
Loki looked at the other, very expensive, evolution stones and the evolution inducing Items next to them. The gold bracelet was a Draupnir Ring and would evolve gold types, he knew that, and there were a couple of other familiar ones as well. One mystified him though.
‘Thor? What does a Cursed Ring do?’
‘It evolves Dwarf into Fafnir,’ said Sif. When Thor looked at her she shrugged. ‘I asked last time I was in here. Aside from that it makes most of a pokéttin’s moves miss in battle and most of the enemy’s hit. So it’s only bought as an evolution Item.’
They moved onto examining Items that could be held in battle; swords and shields could unsurprisingly increase the attack and defense of humanlike pokéttin, for the others the Items were more esoteric. Tang developed a strong desire for an Amber Pendant that would have increased his electrical attacks, and Thor once again pointed out that they had no money and decided they should spend the afternoon somewhere else.
They wandered down the beach, which was quiet and, despite the sunny weather, had the sense of an impending storm. People were subdued and hurried along, and the Seol heads which appeared occasionally on the horizon made everything feel ominous. Despite this there were people on the beach who didn’t seem to have anything to do there, and who looked hopefully at each Seol in the distance. Trainers, Loki thought, who had lost their Seols.
He hurried a few steps to catch up with Thor, wanting a distraction more than ever.
‘I’m going to practise transforming,’ he said.
‘Go ahead, then,’ said Thor.
Loki nodded. He thought about Anika, the white body with blue edges to the wings, the large beak with a smile around the corners, and closed his eyes. When he opened them he was…covered in feathers. And otherwise decidedly Loki-shaped. With a sigh he transformed back.
‘You turned into a pretty accurate Seol this morning,’ said Thor.
Loki winced. ‘I’m not repeating that where they can see me. I think they attacked because I seemed to be one of them on the same side as humans.’
‘Right,’ said Thor, quickly, casting a glance seaward. ‘What else have you seen recently?’
Loki considered and settled on one of the Skiffbladnirs. They certainly had a distinctive shape, looking like rowing boats carved from oak with their legs attached high at the sides like oars. He thought about the dragonlike heads, with red and green highlights on the ears and red eyebrows over round green eyes. This time he didn’t shut his eyes, wondering if it would work better with them open. At first he thought it had worked, looking back over himself he was definitely a boat. But then Thor started laughing.
‘What went wrong?’ he asked, resignedly.
‘Your head still looks like you,’ said Thor, grinning. ‘Scaled up, made of oak, and with your hair painted in green and red curls. But definitely you.’
‘I think it’s pretty good,’ said Thialfi. ‘You could still carry us, even if you don’t look like a dragon.’
Loki tried to take a few steps and discovered that it’s rather difficult with your legs attached high up and only the size of oars in proportion to a boat. It involved a lot of rocking from side to side. He decided to turn back and practise that transformation in water next time.
‘Can you turn into a Woodelf?’ asked Roskva.
‘Of course. Transform lets me turn into anything,’ said Loki. His mother was a Woodelf, so he should certainly be familiar with them, and it wasn’t as if they were very different from his own form. Shorter ears, no fangs, brown hair and eyes. That transformation worked perfectly.
‘Do a Lightelf,’ said Thialfi.
Blond hair, slightly glowing skin, slightly more muscular build. ‘Done!’ said Loki triumphantly. He hadn’t actually seen a whole lot of Lightelfs.
‘Hey, Thor, lend me your pokédex,’ said Roskva.
Thor, perhaps glad to see them all distracted, obliged and for a while Loki was attempting to do requests from pictures of pokéttin he’d never seen in the flesh. It was more amusing than accurate, but Loki didn’t feel embarrassed when he was working from that kind of reference, and it kept them all distracted until he was too tired to continue.
Loki slept better than he would have expected that night, but still woke early. He ran to the window, as if he might actually be able to see whether Njord had failed or succeeded last night, and saw nothing but the town looking pink and grey in the dawn. Thor was snoring behind him and Loki abandoned the window to go and shake his trainer awake.
‘We need to go and ask Njord what happened,’ he said as soon as Thor’s eyes opened.
Thor blinked blearily and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘I’m not sure it’s our business. We told them what we knew.’
‘It is our business,’ said Loki. ‘Either come with me or I’ll go by myself.’
Thor groaned. ‘After breakfast,’ he said.
True to his word, and despite mutterings about how any sensible trainer would just put Loki in a pokéball instead of giving in, Thor took Loki to Njord’s gym as soon as they had eaten. The guard was the same one as last time, although it was just her and not Anika standing by the door. She looked tired.
‘Hello,’ said Thor, sounding apologetic. ‘Loki wanted to know what happened last night.’
She looked up at the building behind them and sighed. ‘I’ll tell you so you don’t bother Njord. The Selkies fought us, and because of that we couldn’t effectively fight the people after them. Tonight the Selkies will probably not hold their ceremony at all, and if they do we won’t be able to find them.’
‘Was Anika hurt?’ asked Loki.
The guard nodded. ‘She’s going through a healing cycle now.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Thor.
The guard smiled tiredly at him. ‘She’ll be fine.’
Thor thanked her and turned away and Loki followed, dejected. ‘I wish we could have talked to Njord.’
‘Why?’ asked Thor. ‘If they don’t evolve tonight the Selkies are safe, and they seem to have stopped attacking fishing vessels.’ He pointed to a little fleet on the horizon.
‘If they don’t start trusting people again they won’t let the Seols and Pompups come back,’ said Loki. ‘They were everywhere when we arrived, and they looked happy.’
Thor ruffled his hair. ‘Thinking about Utgard?’
‘It’s not quite the same,’ said Thor, musingly. ‘You seem to be the only domesticated Loki, but as you said there were Seols and Pompups everywhere. You’d think there’d be enough of them to try and put their view to the Selkies.’
‘Respect for their highest evolution?’ suggested Loki, uncertainly. Evolution types were a bit of a mystery to him.
They returned to the pokécenter to find Sif eating breakfast with Dolly out of her pokéball in the canteen for once. Loki guessed she’d wanted to provide support for her trainer, since Sif was reaching the point of giving up hope on ever getting Kerr back.
‘I did think he was happy with me,’ she told them after they’d grabbed some hot chocolate and joined her at the table.
‘He was,’ said Loki. ‘They all were happy with their trainers. They’re just letting the Selkies tell them what to do.’
‘It can’t be easy to speak out against your whole species,’ said Sif.
‘But it wouldn’t be against their whole species. There were tons of tame ones,’ protested Loki.
‘If none of them want to speak out, maybe they don’t know that,’ said Thor.
Loki opened his mouth to argue and then shut it again. He finished his hot chocolate while thinking furiously. ‘I’ve got a plan,’ he said. ‘If they don’t know they wouldn’t be alone someone has to tell them. If one of them can be convinced to say something they’d get support from others. So, I have to go and find Kerr.’
‘Loki!’ Thor said, putting a hand on Loki’s shoulder. ‘They nearly killed you yesterday. And no one would be there to help you if something went wrong.’
‘They went after me because they were convinced I was a Seol and I was wearing a ribbon. If I’m not wearing a ribbon and I go among them I’ll just look like any other Seol.’
‘Until you talk,’ said Dolly, softly. ‘Seols don’t learn speak, and your pokéspeak sounds different.’
‘I’ll only talk to Kerr,’ said Loki. ‘There must be lots of pods who don’t know each other gathered, a stranger won’t stand out and if I look like I know what I’m doing I probably won’t be bothered.’
‘I really don’t like you doing this,’ said Thor.
‘You’d do it if you knew transform. And you don’t even have thundershock,’ said Loki, putting his hand over Thor’s where it rested on his shoulder.
Thor grimaced. ‘That’s the only reason I’m not going to stop you. But please be careful.’
Sif hesitated, possibly unsure whether she wanted to encourage or discourage him. ‘If Kerr doesn’t want to talk to the Selkies, or if it would put him in danger, please tell him I wish him well whatever happens,’ she said.
Loki nodded. ‘I will,’ he said.
Loki swam through the ocean, the flowing motions coming naturally to his Seol body, occasionally popping his head up both to breath and to look around. Once again he was following the V-shaped wake left by Seols, trailing them towards their gathering place.
The place, when he saw it, was a skerry nearly completely covered with Seols. The Pompups were crowded at the top of it, further from the waterline, making it look grey around the base, where rock and Seol blended due to being nearly the same colour, and fluffy grey-white at the top. Loki took a deep breath, there were so many of them, and swam forward. He’d been assured his Seol disguise was fine, even the face, so he when he reached the base of the skerry he hauled himself out among the crowd and tried not to look worried in case someone stopped him to find out what was wrong.
He wasn’t the only Seol climbing up to the top where the Pompups were, although most of the others were carrying fish. Loki wondered if catching one would have been a good idea, and then whether he could have caught one if he’d tried. Once he was up there he had to nudge Pompups out of the way in order to move around, and then ignore their demands to know what was going on and whether he was looking for someone. Spotting Kerr was a distinct relief and Loki hurried over (or tried to, a Seol body was not built for hurrying on land).
Kerr gave Loki a questioning look when he stopped beside him.
Loki dropped his head down next to Kerr’s, resisting the urge to look around since that would just look suspicious. ‘Hey, it’s me,’ he said, in his own pokéspeak.
Kerr looked startled and then dropped his own voice, replying in a shocked whisper. ‘What are you doing? Are you out of your mind?’
‘Probably,’ said Loki. ‘But I was worried. Sif says she wishes you well, by the way.’
Kerr dropped his gaze. ‘I liked her,’ he said. ‘Everything was going so well…’
‘And then the Selkies ruined it?’
Kerr looked around guiltily. ‘They’re our highest evolution and we have to trust them,’ he said.
‘But they’re not trusting you, are they?’ said Loki. ‘They’re not trusting that you can make your own decisions and choose a trainer you can be happy with. When I first got here there were Seols and Pompups everywhere. I saw Seols sitting with people in restaurants and a girl sharing her icecream with a Pompup. And now the Selkies say you’re supposed to believe all the people of Noátún are against you? How many of the pokéttin here know that’s not true?’
Kerr’s eyes widened. ‘Why did you come here?’
‘Because if we can make the Selkies listen I think we can get back the ones that were lost and get all of you who want it back to your trainers. But they won’t listen to anyone but their own kind, and if their lower evolutions won’t speak up then there’s no chance.’
‘I can’t!’ Kerr whispered frantically. ‘I’m just a Pompup, I can’t go up to the Selkies and just…tell them they’re wrong.’
Loki put a flipper over his back. ‘Can you talk to other Pompups?’
Kerr hesistated again, resting his head on Loki’s shoulder. ‘I think I recognise a few that I saw in town,’ he admitted. ‘Will you stay here while I try?’
‘I’ll be right here,’ Loki said comfortingly, wondering whether it was the Seol body that made him feel like an older brother or being the oldest of Thor’s pokéttin.
Loki waited anxiously as the morning passed into afternoon, listening hard to the hubbub around him. Kerr’s assertion that they should trust the humans to help had first split the Pompups between, mostly, wild and tame. Then, as the tame ones admitted more and more readily to missing their trainers and stories about them were shared, the wild ones started to be won over. There was a furtive air about it, but when more than one Pompup had wound up crying from homesickness as soon as they admitted to it the Seols could hardly help but notice. Which caused the same split over again, with added arguments about whether the Pompups were upset because humans had taught them to be dependent or because they’d just been ripped from their homes in the name of species loyalty.
The Selkies were spending more time patrolling in the water than on the Skerry. But eventually one of them either noticed or was told by a Seol on their side of the argument. As soon as she climbed out of the water and up the rock everything fell silent and every Pompup simultaneously hung their head.
‘What’s going on?’ she asked in a deep, resonant voice.
There was a lot of shuffling of flippers and looking sideways at one another and then one of the Seols came forward. ‘A lot of the Pompups want to go home,’ she said. ‘They were happy with their trainers.’
The Selkie looked at her, drawing herself up on her fins to make her size advantage over the Seols more obvious. ‘And did you also want to return to the treacherous humans?’
The Seol bowed her head, respectful rather than cowed. ‘I was happy enough with my trainer that I chose not to evolve this full moon. He caught me as a Pompup and has never once treated me harshly or asked anything of me I did not wish to give. We have come to your summons because we love you, but we love our trainers too. We will not leave you, but neither can we forget them.’
Loki watched her in admiration and relief, not having dared to expect such a good spokesperson for the tame pokéttin. He wondered who her trainer was and whether he knew how remarkable his Seol was. There were other Selkies coming out of the water now, and Loki wished they could have heard her speech.
The first Selkie drew a deep breath. ‘Have you forgotten how many we have lost to these humans that you miss?’ she bellowed. ‘They took those who had not yet grown accustomed to their Magic Formes and could not defend themselves with spells. They fought with machines, dishonourable even in their methods. And you wish to return to them.’
‘Not the same humans,’ said the Seol.
‘And not all humans,’ said Kerr, just on the edge of hearing. The three trainer races were often referred to as humans, the most numurous of the three, but Loki, also owned by an Ás, had to smile at the quiet correction.
‘And how do you know they were not the same humans? Did you see them?’ demanded another Selkie, from the edge of the crowd.
This, to the evident surprise of the Selkies, caused a complete outcry. ‘My trainer would never-’ ‘One thing to leave her, but to think-’ ‘-just a child-’ ‘-known him all my life, of course he wouldn’t-’ ‘-even imagine-’ ‘Some of you had trainers once, surely you trusted them more than that.’
‘Silence!’ bellowed the first Selkie. She pointed a flipper into the crowd. ‘What did you say?’
The Seol she pointed at bowed almost to the ground, unlike the spokesperson earlier he did look cowed. ‘I said some of you had trainers,’ he almost whispered.
‘He’s right,’ said another Seol more boldly. ‘I know not all of you did, but some of you were tame when you were Seols. You can’t all have hated them, even if you left them to evolve.’
‘I had a trainer,’ said one of the Selkies. ‘And she didn’t stop me from leaving when I wanted to evolve. Maybe we should listen to them.’
‘To the humans?’ demanded the first Selkie.
‘To our own lower evolutions,’ he replied.
The Selkies moved together, Seols and Pompups withdrawing a respectful distance while the Selkies conferred. Finally one of the Selkies turned to the crowd. ‘If you wish to go, then go,’ he said, in tones of contempt. ‘The evolution ceremony cannot happen tonight, you can’t do any more harm by abandoning us.’
The Seols and Pompups looked at one another uncertainly, not wanting to leave at odds with the Selkies or to fail to protect them if they did need it. Kerr shuffled forward.
‘It’s not just that we want to go home,’ he said. ‘If we co-operate with the trainer races we can get back the Selkies that were taken.’
Everyone stared at him and he hunched down under their attention.
‘What do you mean?’ asked a Selkie, not unkindly.
‘I-I-’ Kerr looked around for help.
Loki glanced at the sun overhead, it was already past mid-afternoon and there was no time to go back and convince Njord to send another ambassador. Besides, Kerr needed him now. But if this went wrong he was really, really going to wish he’d mastered a form with wings.
Loki transformed into his normal shape and stepped forward. For a moment this seemed to cause only a little puzzlement as the Seols and Pompups wondered why a Selkie had taken on their Magic Forme. Then they got a good look at him, the red hair, fangs and long, pointed ears, and suddenly he was at the centre of a widening circle of space, Seols pulling Pompups away from him. Loki held up his hands.
‘I’m not here to hurt anyone and no one sent me,’ he said. ‘Even my trainer didn’t send me, I did this on my own, so please don’t blame the humans for me coming here in disguise. I know these aren’t the best circumstances to ask you to trust me, but we don’t have much time. If you want to get the missing Selkies back you’re going to have to listen to me. And make up your minds fast, because I still have to tell Njord about this before moonrise.’
‘You convinced the Pompups to speak to each other,’ said a Seol, voice neutral.
Loki hesitated and then sighed. ‘I met some wild Lokis recently who tried to take me away from my trainer because they thought I was being abused. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.’
That got a murmur from the crowd, although Loki couldn’t make out what was being said.
The first Selkie surprised Loki by nodding to him. ‘We’d be willing to risk a lot to regain those who are lost,’ she said. ‘Tell us your plan.’
Loki closed his eyes for a moment, dizzy with relief, and then he started to explain.
Thor looked down from their vantage point on the cliffs. This beach had been chosen especially for having low cliffs surrounding it, with places where the cliff face had crumbled providing paths down to the beach itself. Trees grew up to the edge, their roots exposed at the lip of the cliff, and among them lurked the land-based members of Njord’s gym. Seols and Pompups were here too, every one of them ready to slither down the scree and join battle. There was a pretty good chance of overwhelming the foe by sheer numbers, especially since they were taking direction from Njord’s gym trainers. The sea-based members of Njord’s gym were underwater and therefore invisible, forming a semi-circle around the bay.
Next to Thor stood Loki, breathing quickly with nerves. Thor squeezed his hand and got a smile in return. On his other side was Sif, Kerr and Dolly both standing next to her. Unlike the rest of the Pompups, Kerr was wearing a white ribbon, as were Dolly and Loki. They were the only three not to be wearing either a blue ribbon or none at all.
The moon was had just risen fully above the horizon and every wave was tipped with silver. From here the dark heads and silver wakes of the incoming Seols were clearly visible. There were a great deal fewer of them than there had been before. Just ten, volunteers willing to have their evolution at a time when they would be put at risk of capture in order to get back those taken over the last few nights.
Loki shivered. ‘If they get taken too…’ he whispered.
‘Then it won’t be your fault, they knew what they were risking,’ Thor whispered back. ‘And they won’t be.’
The Seols on the beach lined up along base of the cliff, facing the sea. There was an air of anticipation to them that, fortunately, wasn’t visibly different from the anticipation of a normal ceremony. The wakes of the Selkies could be seen, cutting their way towards to beach. Just two, although many more were lurking below the water. They pulled themselves onto the beach and took their Magic Formes, one male and one female.
The group above shuffled around, trying both to see and to stay quiet. Thor could see Anika gently pushing her trainer’s group of Pompups back together. Down on the beach the Selkies looked up at the moon, and for a moment there was a hesitation less like fear of capture than like stage-fright, as if they suddenly couldn’t remember the steps. Then they started to dance.
With only two of them there were no circles, yet the movements were still hypnotic. The soft, shuffling, swaying dance drawing the eye, their feet leaving dusky smudges on the silver sand. When one of the Selkies reached for a Seol there was a sense of holding back, an unspoken do you really want this? But the Seol held out her flippers with no hesitation, and soon she was pulled, in a burst of white light, to new feet, her hands holding those of the Selkie.
Kerr whispered something, unintelligible to Thor, and Loki shook his head.
‘Not until they’re all evolved. With so few of them they’ll want to get them all,’ he answered.
The tension mounted as the dance went on, the new Selkies were quicker to reach for the unevolved Seols than the first two, perhaps less protective due to the similar age or just having more faith in the resolve of their peers. As the last one evolved the dance fell to pieces. Thor thought it should have gone on longer, somehow, or ended more gracefully, but the Selkies, old and new, couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer. The circle of their dance turned inside out, all of them facing the world around them and ready for danger from any direction. It came from above.
Kisstrels were not what Thor had been expecting. They were fast, but one of the smaller flying types and without any long range attacks. They also just weren’t very threatening, although in the moonlight, where you couldn’t see the pink bars on their wings and tails or the blush patches on their cheeks, they almost managed to look ominous. They came down fast, twisting up at the moment they would have come in reach of the Selkies with the agility they were known for. Suddenly the bay was lit with the bright flash of an electric attack, and for a moment Thor thought he’d been wrong about them being Kisstrels. Then one banked sideways and he saw the gun clasped in its talons.
One of the Selkies was down, others stunned and trying to shake it off. Loki was murmuring something that Thor couldn’t catch, aside from the rhythm that suggested he was repeating the words over and over. Thor looked around, wondering why the signal hadn’t been given. Then four boats drew up. They were low draft for the shallow water, but not the rowboats the villagers used. These were motor boats, although their motors were nearly silent, and large enough to have Fireclaws on them along with the trainers. Geirrod had been a Fireclaw and these, four times human size and tusked, made Thor glad he wasn’t facing them alone. The shock guns mounted at the fronts of the boats looked as if they should have been large enough to tip them over.
A Gulloud’s shriek rang out, wild, loud and oddly joyful. The Seols and Pompups surged forward like a tide. Around the bay Merine, Aquamerine and Selkie heads were popping up, the boats well inside their semi-circle.
Loki and Thor ran down with the tide of Pompups, staying with Sif who was staying with Kerr. The Pompups, aided by Magic Forme Selkies, covered the beach, making it impossible for the boats to land. The Seols headed straight into the water, attacking the boats directly and pushing them back against the cordon of Merines. The flash guns went off again and again, ruining everyone’s night vision and making it impossible for Thor to tell what was going on.
‘They’re aiming them into the water, just stunning everyone,’ said Loki by his ear. ‘But the Fireclaws are fainting on the decks, weak to Water.’
Above them the Kisstrels had been forced to engage with the Gullits and Gullouds, leaving them unable to pick off Pompups on the beach.
The first pokéballs were thrown as soon as the boats got close enough to toss them to the shore. Gruffs, with their curling bronze horns, had clearly been picked to use on Water types. Electric had an advantage against Flying too, leaving the Gullits and Gullouds doubly vulnerable if they couldn’t stay out of range. The rest was the sort of collection of types any trainer might have. A Wolfang here, a Trollcat’s rough planes catching the light there. The Pompups overwhelmed them swiftly by sheer numbers and then focused on the Gruffs.
‘Loki, switch to Ground type,’ Thor said. One thing having a typeshifter had forced him to do was memorise the advantage chart.
Loki nodded, hair going duller.
‘Okay, what’s your move?’ Thor asked.
Loki thought for a moment and then grinned. ‘Mud bomb. Long distance.’ He demonstrated on a hapless Gruff, who clearly couldn’t figure out where in the crowd of water types the mud had come from.
The Gruffs were managing to clear a space. One of the boats had been overrun by Seols and Merines, and another was having trouble, but the last two made it to the shore. Trainers jumped off into the shallows, throwing more pokéballs now they were sure to reach land. Thor followed the arc of one pokéball and, instead of a pokéttin coming out, a downed Pompup vanished into it.
‘They’re catching people!’ he said to Loki.
Loki looked around. ‘Ignore the pokéttin unless you have to defend yourselves!’ he yelled. ‘Take down any trainers on the shore!’
Thor wondered what Njord would think of Loki taking command for a moment, but then Njord’s voice could be heard repeating the same thing with the benefit of a megaphone. The Pompups surged at the trainers with a will, shrugging off hits until they went down under the Gruff’s thundershocks. Those that made it simply hurled themselves at the trainers, burying them under fluff and flippers.
Thor, seeing a trainer retreating towards the cliff, called, ‘Loki!’
The mud bomb knocked the trainer sideways. Thor ran over to secure her. Once he was close to her he could see she was wearing a woolen hat and goggles, perhaps night vision goggles or just ones to keep the spray of water out of her eyes, along with a black sweater and black trousers. There was a large red M on her chest.
‘Wolfang, bite,’ she shouted, and Thor jumped sideways, not fast enough to avoid the teeth scraping the side of his leg. Just as Thor turned a spray of silver spikes hit the Wolfang and it went down. Thor grabbed the trainer’s hands. ‘What was that?’ he asked over his shoulder.
‘Pin missile. Bug type move,’ said Loki.
‘Really?’ said Thor, twisting around to see.
Loki snorted. ‘I just have green hair, I don’t look like a bug. Pay attention to what you’re doing.’
‘I thought you might have antennae of something - ack,’ said Thor, as the trainer headbutted his shoulder, aiming for his nose and missing. He tried to get her pinned hands between her head and him, while she squirmed around and flailed at him. ‘Help me out here.’
Loki grabbed her head, dislodging her goggles and revealing eyes that shimmered like light on water.
‘She’s a pokéttin?’ said Thor. ‘But that Wolfang was hers.’
Loki snarled, unusually animal for him and somewhat shocking. ‘She’s not the first pokéttin we’ve met who thought they could own others,’ he said. ‘Hold her while I find an empty pokéball.’
She started struggling harder at that, and Thor had to practically kneel on her to hold her down. He wondered whether a pokéball would hold her when her own pokéttin had been doing most of the fighting, but maybe she was worn out from struggling because when Loki threw one at her she vanished into it at once.
The battle was winding down now the trainers were subdued. Thor went to find Njord with the pokéball and told him what had happened.
‘You’re not the only one who found that out,’ said Njord. ‘About half the trainers were human, the other half were Skimiluse like her.’
‘Skimiluse?’ asked Thor.
‘Fire types,’ said Njord. ‘With a penchant for illusion.’
‘Can you make them tell you where the captured Selkies are?’ Loki asked.
‘No need,’ said Njord. ‘They had them on the boats. I guess they wanted to keep them close for a quick getaway.’
Thor and Loki simultaneously sighed in relief.
‘I’d better get out of your way then,’ said Thor.
‘One more thing,’ said Njord. When Thor turned he was holding out a blue teardrop shape.
‘A badge?’ said Thor. ‘But I didn’t win a gym battle.’
‘You and your pokéttin won a far more important battle. It’s up to me to decide who is worthy of this,’ said Njord. ‘Besides, we’re not going to be open for battles for a while, with all this to sort out. I don’t want to hold up your journey.’
Thor smiled and took the badge. ‘Thank you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Njord. ‘You and Loki.’
The next day felt like a holiday. The streets were full of happy reunions between children and Pompups and pokéttin being welcomed home with days out. Kerr seemed to have become a celebrity among the other Pompups, and was enjoying the attention, while Sif watched him with fond amusement. Loki had a similar celebrity status and was enjoying it just as much, so when Thor went to find a videophone he left Loki with Sif and Kerr.
The conversation with Odin consisted mostly of Thor speaking and Odin listening, as he relayed the whole thing to his father. It wasn’t until he had finished that Odin said, ‘This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, although it’s on a larger scale. Lately a lot of wild pokéttin have been getting hold of pokéballs. Always Fire or Ice types.’
‘Geirrod?’ asked Thor.
‘Possibly,’ said Odin. ‘There have always been instances of it. Some pokéttin can disguise themselves as trainer races and buy pokéballs that way, often trading them on to others. But the type pattern suggests there’s something else going on. And now we have them working with humans, yet not owned by them. And, in fact, owning their own pokéttin.’
‘What should I do?’ Thor asked.
Odin shook his head. ‘You’ve done well, but you’re still a very young trainer. Keep your eyes open, but concentrate on your own journey. If there’s anything more I need you to do I’ll call you.’
‘Yes, Dad,’ said Thor.
As he left the video booth he could hear the chiming of an ice cream van so he hurried out. What Odin had told him was worrying and he’d talk to Loki about it later. But for now he was going to let the rest of his pokéttin out and enjoy the day with everyone else.