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The Mystery of Mt. Moon

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Typically, the mysteries of Mt. Moon are left to be just that—mystery. Unsought, unsolved. At least, where Kantosakana-kai are concerned. Leave the ancient mountain to its own devices, it’s better that way. Besides, there’s no profit in risking the wrath of Arceus-knows-what just to get a few rocks. No, Kantosakana-kai knows better than that.

Or, most of them do.

A nighttime trek from Pewter City to Cerulean City leads a member of the kai through a well-traversed cavern system deep within the mountain. Tomo, an adult member of the largest kai in the pokemon world, walks with careful steps and a watchful eye. If only his aerodactyl wasn’t so young, he could’ve flown the distance and bypassed the mountain entirely. Instead, he’s traveling through eerie caves, flashlight in one hand, and a white-knuckled grip on his primary pokeball in the other. He’s not a man easily scared, but cramped caves means he can only have one of his pokemon partners-large as they are-at his side during battle. Meaning he’s basically alone in his climb through ancient caves. The scuttle of zubat wings across cavernous rock, a constant drip of water into stagnant and half-iced pools, the distant chatter of Rocket grunts.

—wait.

Tomo halts, clicking his flashlight off, and listens. For a scant few moments, all he hears is the pounding of his heart against his ribcage, nervously begging him to turn tail and run. But he wouldn’t be a proud member of the Kantosakana-kai if he did that. Another moment, thumb grazing over the button of the pokeball in his hand, when voices once again whisper through the darkness.

“They gone?” One asks, in the loudest whisper Tomo has ever heard.

“Dunno. You wanna check it out?” The other replies.

“I sure as shit don’t.” There’s a snicker from one, and Tomo shakes his head slowly in disbelief as he hears footsteps moving away—toward the summit. But he does what he can to keep in time with the steps he hears, flashlight dim as it can go, only enough light to make out the most basic of shapes. True to form, the Rocket duo ahead of him picks up conversation, as though they weren’t just suspecting a follower on their tail.

“You think our source was right?” They’re not even trying to whisper at this point.

“Aw, c’mon Nim. It’s a full moon, the kid was spotted in town all day. Where else would a nerd-brained scientist go around here on a night like tonight?”

“This place is going to be moon-fairy city! We’ll be rich!” Nim claps his hands once, the sound echoing through the caves with a sharp echo. His partner hushes him quickly with a dissonant curse, as thought the whole cavern system doesn’t already know they’re here.

They’re nearing the cave’s exit to the summit, this much Tomo remembers about the climb, though it’s been a while since he’s taken the route himself. One last corner and the cave starts to widen into open rock and the soft glow of the moon above. Tomo shuts off his flashlight and pockets it, his now-free hand tugging the strap of his courier satchel just a bit tighter. It’s a precious load this time—rare fossils from Pewter City. Not the first fragile package he’s delivered, but he’s got to be careful if he doesn’t want it to be his last.

With the moonlight ahead of them, his suspicions of the Rocket’s intentions are confirmed—the duo is obviously looking to net themselves some clefairy if they’re all the way up the summit on a full moon of all times. Tomo feels his eyes roll on instinct—superstitious fools, the lot of them. If clef-sorts of pokemon appeared atop Mt. Moon with every full moon, they wouldn’t be heralded with the same mystery and rarity that the Rockets are banking on to make a profit. Odds are that they’ll breach the summit, bother a handful of stargazers, and go home empty-handed. Tomo can play the traveling trainer, as he always does in a situation like this. And at this point in his life, he’s good at it. Head down, hood yanked up to hide at least some of his face, and a broad stature most don’t want to bother. Good enough for him.

The Rockets stop ahead of him, just at the exit of the cave, and Tomo hangs back to watch. Nim—and Zip, Tomo had heard the other’s name at this point as well—sloppily rifle through their pockets for pokeballs. Some real rookies, if they don’t have them easily available. But it gives Tomo time to finally click the button of his own pokeball in-hand and let his prized Ven materialize in the cavern space behind himself. A Venusaur, close to the same age as Tomo, and one that he’s had nearly his whole life. From Bulbasaur to now, a constant companion.

As the Rockets get themselves situated, Tomo notices something unusual about the sight just beyond. The moonlit glow he entered the base of Mt. Moon under isn’t the same here. Brighter, sure, that’s expected as high up as they are. It’s not just that, however.

It’s pink.

The goons ahead of him take off at a run, stumbling in fresh snow and just about as noisy as they could get. Once they’re fully illuminated in the glow of the full moon, Tomo makes out another detail or two: fresh uniforms and shiny boots. The most rookie of any Team Rocket members he’s ever seen in his life. It’s pure luck that they even made it up to the summit in the first place—not to mention on a full moon, when the mountain is silent out of superstition.

And yet, as the Rockets clear from the tunnel’s exit, he can see hints of the summit beyond. Small, round creatures of pink and white, light enough that they almost float along atop the snow. Tomo blinks hard a time or two as he takes cautious steps forward, sure that his mind is playing him for a fool. There are so many of them, more than he ever would have imagined, bouncing across the mountain summit. Moonlight glints off of their round forms, casting pink across the snow as their voices raise in song to match their graceful movements.

—with two young idiots encroaching on them, of course.

Tomo steps into the entrance, still cast enough in shadow to obscure his form, but not enough that he can’t see the soft fairy-types turning in surprise at their new, not-so-peaceful guests. Something leaf-green brushes against Tomo’s arm, and he reaches out to rest fingertips on sun-dappled scales. There’s barely room enough in the cavern for trainer and venusaur to stand side-by-side, but they manage. Ven rumbles a soft inquiry at her partner as they watch the Rocket goons reel back, pokeballs in-hand.

“Get ‘em, Ven.” Tomo says, without hesitation.

Tendrils of green lash out in a heartbeat to follow the command of the trainer she’s been with for so many years. The vines snatch the Rockets’ feet out from under them, wrapping around legs and sliding up to hold their arms immobile as well. The inexperienced duo remain secured aloft while Tomo and his venusaur partner make their way from the cavern entrance.

“You lost?” Tomo asks, hands in his pockets. Ven draws the Rockets closer with her vines, to somewhat close the distance and draw them away from stunned clef. The Rocket duo are stricken pale, eyes wide and mouths slightly agape at the older trainer and his pokemon who have caught them in the act.

“I-it was you! You were following us!” Nim blurts out. Next to him, Zip thrashes against his bonds, but there’s no breaking from a venusaur’s vine whip. At least, not when you’re an inexperienced Rocket rookie with your pokeballs out-of-reach.

“Why don’t you leave well enough alone this time?” Tomo asks as he takes another couple of steps in to loom over the both of them. He’s not mad, not really, just rather done with the continuous bullshit of Teams that don’t respect pokemon. And as a Kanto native, Rocket is at the top of that particular shit list.

“Never! All pokemon belong to Team Rocket! You’ll see!” Nim continues to shout. Zip thrashes even harder, this time tilting his head up to bite the particular tendril closest in teeth-range. Ven grunts in discomfort, shifting the tendril further up and out of reach, but what’s done is done, and Tomo feels the heat rise in his face.

“Z-Zip?” One rocket says, trying to get the attention of the other, but his partner is still fully invested in using all of his strength in a bid for freedom. “Zip!”

“What?!” Zip’s head snaps over so he can affix Nim with a glare, only to be met with a pale face and a truly frightened grimace.

“Looks like we’re—“ Nim starts, a tremor in his voice.

“—don’t. Don’t even say it.” Zip finishes for him instead, but it’s too late.

Tomo clenches his jaw, face flushed now, and gives a sidelong glance at Ven. The venusaur sits waiting patiently for her trainer, leaves of her back-flower glinting in the oddly pink moonlight. There are times when a partnership as long as theirs doesn’t need words.

Times like now.

With a flick of Ven’s vines, the Rockets are launched from the summit. Tomo doesn’t even spare them a second thought while he reaches out to check his partner’s retracting vines for any bite-damage.

After all, they probably have their pokemon. They should be fine, as far as he cares.

————————————————

[Earlier.]

It’s been too long since they’ve been back to Mt. Moon. They’d tried to make it back more, but with the internship and a recent trip to Alola, once a year may be the best they could manage. At least, right now. Maybe some day it’ll be easier.

Castor tucks a shiny new travel-trailer away safely at the Pewter Museum of Science—with permission, of course—as they’d seen a couple of Rocket-types casing the city. They didn’t want to risk this new—vehicle? home?—their trailer being touched by ne’er do wells. Considering Castor’s family history, it’s easy for them to secure the trailer with the museum and be left with freedom to a trek they’ve been looking forward to for months. Back up to Mt. Moon once again, to visit their most favorite old friends.

The blonde scientist realizes just how long they’d been wistfully staring up at the mountain’s impressive peaks when a tiny Morelull chirps at them from its perch on Castor’s shoulder. Time to venture onward and upward.

It’s easy to forget the peace that a full moon brings to the mountain when caves in the pokemon world are typically so active, no matter the time of day or night. But with morelull on their shoulder and a warm growlithe next to them, Castor barely encounters anything at all on their way to the summit, let alone any other trainers. On one hand, it’s a bit sad how people fear the mountain’s legends. On the other hand, it keeps their friends safe. Which is, in Castor’s opinion, of utmost importance.

They arrive to a quiet summit, the last dredges of sunset still glittering across the snow, and the mountaintop silent—completely serene. Even if they weren’t there for a specific reason, the view alone would be worth it. First glimpses of starlight, untouched fresh snow, and not a soul to be seen. Castor gently pushes morelull back into the fluffy collar of their coat a bit more, keeping it as warm as a little mushroom needs to be. The growlithe, on the other hand, is handling itself without issue, between a thick layer of fur and its internal flame. The scientist counts the flickers of starlight, their hands cupped around a thermos of steamed moomoo milk.

Ten, a hundred, more than Castor could count, and they begin to hear what they’ve traveled this far for: the melodic voices of those who call the peak home. A twinkle of pink sparkling in the light of the full moon, and Castor notices small hands tugging at their pant-leg, wanting their attention. Out from well-hidden caverns come the rest, echoing the call of the clefable at Castor’s side. Clefairy and a few precious cleffa as well, all showing up to greet an old friend.

————————————————

[Now.]

It’s not a battle, per se, that draws Castor from the warmth of the summit-cave where the clef tribe lives. But they do hear voices risen in conflict and the rumble of something that sounds like an unfamiliar pokemon, for sure. They’ve had to chase off poachers and what have you a time or two in the past, so they stroll out with growlithe on-guard. The fire-type’s fur fluffed out in warning as it readies itself for battle.

To their surprise, they find the situation already being handled quite easily. A venusaur, broad and leafy, taking control of an encounter that surely would’ve gone worse without intervention. Its trainer the most calm and collected that Castor has seen on the mountain in quite some time. At least, since scientists stopped posting up here regularly.

The offenders—Rockets this time, to no one’s surprise—get dispatched quickly, and Castor watches the newcomer with quiet curiosity. They wait to see if this supposed good samaritan turns on the too-welcoming clefs as well. But what they see instead is a trainer reaching out and taking careful hold of the venusaur’s vine, as though inspecting it for damage. Tomo’s fingertips trace along green, but he does let it withdraw after a moment. There’s no damage, thankfully. Instead he smoothes his hands around Ven’s bumpy head and face.

“You cold, big girl?” Tomo asks, his voice low and calm. The anger gone with the Rockets’ expulsion from the mountaintop. In response, the venusaur’s leaves rustle for a moment as she shakes her head. “Just makin’ sure.”

Castor is almost knocked stumbling in the snow as something pink and winged clips their leg in passing. A clefable—well, the clefable—bounds across the snow and approaches the trainer and his large reptilian pokemon without fear. The visitor doesn’t take notice at first, too busy in venusaur face-pats to be aware, until a small hand is pap-papping him on the thigh. Another insistent pap and the pokemon demands attention with a loud “fa-able!”

Tomo looks down at the pink, round creature, his eyes nearly at his hairline. He’d almost forgotten that he was surrounded by pokemon so rare that they were basically alien to him.

“Yeah?” He asks, taking a hand off of his partner so that he can turn to the clefable. Its small hand grips his pant-leg and tugs, pointing back toward where it came from. And where Castor still stands. The trainer’s gaze trails from a pokemon he’s only ever even heard about and across the snow to the previously obscured entrance of the summit cavern, stopping at an unfamiliar face. Tanned skin, blonde hair fluffed short in the back with longer bits at the temples, and clad in warm, purplish clothes.

A scientist, maybe? Either way, they don’t look hostile. Confused, but so was Tomo right about then.

A couple of demanding tugs from the clefable still gripped onto his pant-leg, and Tomo is made to walk closer, with Ven lumbering along behind them. The trainer crunches through summit snow, and manages to stop in front of Castor. There’s a long moment of silence before the blonde breaks it.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone else stick their neck out for these little guys.” Castor says as a smile starts to ease onto their face.

Honestly, Tomo hadn’t expected anyone to be up here, besides a stray Rocket or two—but they’re everywhere. Like an infestation of weedle. And yet here’s a someone, surrounded by a gaggle of clefs, wide-eyed and curious and talking to him. Probably expecting and answer as well, since that’s how conversations go.

Tomo, well, he’s not great at the whole conversation thing. Not because he wants to be a man of few words, but he’s always been particularly awkward as a person in general. That’s why being a lonely courier appeals to him so much, it means he doesn’t have to stumble through something he’s not great at. His hands gravitate to the strap of his bag, and he tugs at it slightly in anxiety.

“Ain’t anything special,” he says, glancing from Castor to clefable, across the clefairy gathered around them and eventually settling his gaze on a small morelull peering around Castor’s leg curiously. Beside him, Ven shudders living foliage against Tomo’s arm and he instinctively responds by placing a fidgeting hand out immediately to rest on the grass-type’s bumpy head. “I just don’t like seein’ pokes get hurt, that’s all.”

The grin on Castor’s face turns into a smile, since the stranger’s words seem to ring with truth. Someone who dispatches with Rocket grunts outright and treats his pokemon like a real partner instead of a mere battle tool. They watch as the stranger scritches behind his venusaur’s ear nub, apparently finding comfort in their massive pokemon partner’s presence.

“What’s your name?” The scientist asks curiously. “Mine’s Castor.”

For a moment, he thinks of giving an alias. After all, he’s got a few that he falls upon now and again—when an officer of the law pokes around too much, for instance. After a moment of considering the fact that he wasn’t up on this summit for anything nefarious, and the fact that he’s not carrying anything particularly illegal, he decides to be truthful. After all, what harm would it be for them to know his real name?

“Tomo,” He replies, running his hand over Ven’s broad nose. The pokemon grumbles at him idly. “You, uh, come up here often?” As soon as the words leave his lips, Tomo almost winces. Apparently he’s all out of words today.

“Not as often as I’d like,” Castor says with a chuckle. “At least once a year, if I can manage.” Finally taking notice of the little one tucked in against their leg, they reach down and scoop the morelull up, tucking it properly underneath the coat loosely closed over their chest.

“It’s pretty rare for a wild herd to adopt a human as one of their own,” Tomo says, not yet noticing the smile creeping over his own features. Castor and their clef family were—well, quite a sight to see. They would be for any observer, but Tomo in particular wouldn’t be a part of his own found family if he wasn’t fond of pokemon. The whole sight around him was endearing, to be frank.

“You’re right,” The scientist replies as they gently pat at the head of the little morelull in their arms, glancing at the faces of the clef herd around them. “Can’t say it doesn’t still surprise even me on occasion.”

As they talk, the clefable that had instigated their meeting shoulders in between them and the rest of the clefairy. It parks itself in front of Tomo, wings splayed and head held high. If the trainer had to guess, this must be the leader of the cotton-candy colored family. And it wasn’t getting as much attention for its efforts as it seemed to want. Tomo sneaks his hand from the strap of his courier bag, down into a pocket of his coat, and back out again. There’s a crinkle to what he now holds in his hand—a pokemon snack, store brand and wrapped in a neat little wrapper like an individual piece of candy would be. Though Tomo prefers to make pokemon snacks for his partners when he can, this is easier when he’s on the move. And lasts longer.

It takes but the span of a heartbeat for the clefable to snatch the candy bar-shaped snack from Tomo’s open hand, and he watches with an unrestrained grin as the clef tribe’s leader retreats with fluttering, taffy-colored wings back to the summit cavern, followed by most of its ilk.

“That’s—“ Castor starts, trying to sound disappointed, but ends up laughing instead. His current company echoes him with a chuckle for a moment. “Food’s usually the way to their hearts, yeah.” The scientist is grinning now, too, shaking their head just a bit. Much as they love the gaggle of clef, it wasn’t too hard to earn their trust once they showed themselves. Especially given Castor’s current pleasantness to this stranger.

“It’s usually the way to my heart, too.” Tomo mumbles absently as he watches the tribe disappear and seem to go back to business as usual in their cavern, a handful still mingling in the snow outside.

“You could always come in for ramen?” Castor blurts out, though the statement seems to even surprise even the scientist themself, as they flush a bit pink in the cheeks and stare at Tomo for a response.

The request doesn’t even process for Tomo at first. He blinks for a moment, turning back to look at Castor finally, even though the clefable his gaze had originally followed has been well out of sight for a good moment.

“—ramen?” He asks, though it’s more of an echo than anything else, confirming in his tired head that the new friend before him had actually asked him to have—dinner? Or something resembling it.

“Yeah! I always bring extra when I hike up here. Just in case I stay longer. Or have a guest!” Castor pipes up again, elaborating. Besides, they have a few theories about this curious stranger, and what better way to test them, but over a hot cup of noodle?

“I, uh—“ Tomo starts, but there’s a nudge, or at least meant to be, from the venusaur at his side. It ends up being a hip-check, and the trainer would’ve been sent stumbling if he wasn’t both used to the strong affection of his pokemon and settled into his usual solid stance. But, a warm cave and warmer food honestly sounded great to Tomo regardless of Ven’s opinion on the matter. “Sure, yeah.”

Almost immediately, Castor turns to head back into the warm glow of the cave, morelull in-hand. The man follows, hands back in his pockets out of habit, and to stave away the chill of Mt. Moon. At first, he can hear his venusaur’s solid steps behind him—but the sound stops before Tomo even gets to the cave’s entrance. Almost safe in the warmth, the trainer turns back around to find his massive pokemon partner nose-to-nose with Castor’s not even close to large growlithe. The fire-type’s fur is on-end, its stocky legs wide in a clear gesture of an immobile protector. Where there would have been snow under the growlithe’s feet is instead melted slush, though the puppy’s stance stays firm.

“Saaur…” The large reptile is less than intimidated, instead tipping its massive head up to give a pleading look over the puppy, at Tomo. Why won’t the small warm thing move out of her way?

“Really, Sirius?” Castor says from behind Tomo, appearing again in the cavern’s entrance. There’s a sigh in their voice, and though the puppy doesn’t change its stance, its fluffy, curled tail starts to bob back and forth at the sound of its trainer’s voice. “Sirius.” The scientist repeats, which only causes the growlithe’s tail to wag even harder. On the other side of the growlithe, Ven groans.

“Your pup thinks it’s super effective against my lizard.” Tomo says, smiling again.

“My pup doesn’t know when to give up.” Castor replies, chuckling again, and the courier feels the warmth rise in his own cheeks. From being so close to the cave, surely. Definitely. It’s not like that laugh is cute or anything.

“Ven,” Tomo clears his throat, tearing his gaze away from the scientist at his side. The venusaur he looks back to is giving him a look that is most certainly loaded with judgement, and he does his best to ignore it. “Shake, Ven. Say hello.”

The large green reptile nods its head and its vines uncurl, sneaking quickly but gently around the growlithe’s furry torso. Ven lifts the pup from the ground and shakes as commanded—not violently, but like one would shake the hand of a new friend. Up, down, and again. Afterwards, the pup gets sat back in the puddle of slush once more. And doesn’t move, still stock-still in its stance.

“—Sirius?” Castor asks after their partner, and the name snaps the growlithe to attention. The fire-type lets out a sharp bark and very quickly retreats back to the cavern without hesitation, leaving both trainers laughing together as the venusaur approaches. But, Ven isn’t done with her vines. She reaches out with one tendril, green knob at the end prodding at the small morelull in Castor’s arms oh so gently. Tiny mushroom tendrils lift up, an invitation for the vine to curl around a tiny pokemon form and be lifted, only to be deposited comfortably amongst a giant flower on the venusaur’s back. Grass-type solidarity.

The cave beyond is warm, carved from the mountain summit long ago. There are peeks of clef-sized exits from it leading here and there, supposedly wandering deeper into the mountain, but the main entrance is just big enough for Ven to fit through. The cavern itself is beyond spacious enough for the lot of them, obviously meant to be a gathering space for the tribe and any of its visitors. A firepit in the center, where a slightly shellshocked growlithe rekindles flames keeping the place warm and lit. Murals of fairy-make across the cavern’s rock walls and crawling up, toward the ceiling. Across it, even, as clefairy need not be bound by gravity, of course.

Ven settles with its new morelull friend toward the back of the cavern, in a space between two small tunnels. It’s just barely wide enough for her to settle without blocking either, but she manages. Immediately as she settles, she’s joined by curious clef herd members, who pile atop her in exploration of knobby scales and leafy foliage. The venusaur settles down, large head against the warm stone floor in content. She’s always been a creature of patience, even back when she was just a little bulbasaur.

Closer to the fire, Castor waves Tomo closer. They’ve got a set-up there, with a portable camp grill, their pack, and an already rolled-out sleeping pallet. The courier sits down as beckoned—not too close, of course, but comfortable. Especially with the firepit casting a glow over his strong, soft form. He hears a faint crinkle of plastic, and turns to watch the clefable from earlier as it eagerly opens its happily acquired treat. Surely, it’s getting crumbs on Castor’s pallet, but neither seem to care.

Rather, the apparent scientist just works around the fairy-type, fishing out a couple of cups of ramen from their pack. They set the little camp grill over the fire, and a kettle atop it. Tomo is somewhat distracted in watching his newfound friend that it takes him a moment to notice the warmth coming from a growlithe rooting its muzzle into the pokeball pocket of Tomo’s jacket. There are a couple of pokeballs rattling around in there, of course, but not much in the way of befriending a growlithe.

“You want a friend, bud?” Tomo reaches out, cupping Sirius’s head with a steady hand. The small fire-type growls playfully, tail flipping side to side. The pup isn’t arcanine size, that’s certain, and any encounter with the courier’s team is likely to end up as it did with Ven earlier: a growlithe dwarfed by a giant reptile. And yet—

The courier reaches into his pocket once more, this time emerging with a pokeball. The newest in his team, in fact. A quick press of the button on the ball and from it materializes a young pokemon—an aerodactyl, though still not fully grown. Granted even a juvenile aerodactyl still dwarfs a growlithe, but it’s the closest Tomo’s team gets to small. Sirius, however, seems pleased. The growlithe’s tail wags with renewed vigor as he inspects his new friend. In response the aerodactyl chirps, ruffling its wings in excitement. Tomo finds himself smiling once again as he watches the duo.

His observations are interrupted by the whistle of Castor’s kettle, which draws his attention back to the firepit and his newfound friend. Castor takes the kettle from the camp grill and with careful hands pours steaming water into the two ramen cups, handing one over to Tomo after.

“It’s not much.” Castor says as they fish a pair of disposable chopsticks from their bag as well, handing them over to Tomo. The courier accepts the utensils, though chooses to cup his hands around the steeping cup of ramen for the time being.

“Mh. It’s warm.” He replies. Honestly, warm by itself is good enough for him right about now. He hadn’t realized just how cold he’d gotten from Pewter City on up the mountain. But the cold is well remedied by a warm cup of ramen in his hands, a hot fire casting light across his front, and good company—both human and pokemon. This as about as good as it got, as far as he was concerned.

Definitely not what he expected for a routine trip through Mt. Moon.