The sun had just made it’s slow but inevitable way above the horizon when it fell upon the young Ninetales who laid gracefully stretched across the deck of a cruise ship’s rear. Her golden fur glistened and shined in the morning’s refreshing light; comfortably warming her. She took a long and relaxed stretch before finally opening her eyes and rising to her feet. Poking her head through the guard rail, she took a close and careful look down at the vast ocean surrounding the vessel. It was beginning to shallow.
With an air of both excitement and anxiety, she raced towards the front of the cruise ship past several passengers who had recently roused from their bedrooms. Sliding to a halt at the bow, she smiled to see her home region not only in view, but drawing very close.
“Good morning, passengers!” A welcoming voice boomed over the ship’s speakers. “We will be docking in Goldenrod city in about 20 minutes.”
The captain placed the microphone back on its mount shortly before hearing familiar footsteps and turning to see the fox advancing up the stairs towards the bridge.
“Enjoy the trip, Ms. Auburn?” He inquired.
“Very much, sir.” She smiled politely, her many tails gently swaying back and forth. “I really appreciate the free ride.”
“Well.” He chuckled. “With someone like you on board, we don’t have to worry much about any sort of threats on the water. So I’d say we’re square.”
With a blare of the ship’s horn, Ninetales walked excitedly past him to look out the window and down at the city.
“I hope you enjoy your time in Johto. And just so you know, for the same agreement, you can feel free to ride with us again any time.”
Goldenrod city sparkled with the morning light, growing busy with many people out on their own affairs. The Ninetales strolled at a leisurely pace around the town, excitedly taking in all the new sights and smells she had never seen before she had left. All this time had no doubt changed things. She had always thought that people might fear her in Johto, but it was in fact quite the opposite! Both People and Pokemon alike didn’t seem to be bothered by her in one bit. She had even temporarily left the city and gathered some hard-to-find berries to trade with a shopkeeper in exchange for a lovely breakfast. However, It was going to be a long day for her. She then said her thanks and departed.
Auburn turned to see the metropolis slowly shrinking into the distance behind her. The humans would say it was about 8 o'clock. With a full belly and two good pairs of legs, she figured she could make it to Ecruteak by the afternoon.
“Haven’t ran by myself in a while…” She thought as she made sure her small saddle bag was tightened. “Better make sure Luxray hasn’t been slowing me down!”
She gleefully sprinted through high grass and over long plains, allowing some wind to blow through her mane, and enjoying every second of being home again. For a beautiful fleeting hour or two, she was able to forget all the horrible things that had driven her away in the first place. However, it all came crashing back when familiar sights and smells came to her. She slid to a halt upon realizing that over the next hill she would see the town and mountain that where not only the cradle of her childhood, but the site of her worst nightmares. Her head hanging low, she forced herself to take the last few steps.
Auburn stopped once more beneath a large, flowering pink tree and slowly raised her eyes to look at the scene. While it still stayed mostly old fashioned, it had surely modernized a good deal, some cars and a bus barely visible off the bat. Doubt roared inside of her, soon becoming audible.
“It’s been almost 90 years… Would they even remember?” She questioned. “No. They couldn’t, they’d all be gone now, right? But what if the story never went away…”
“Well I wouldn’t-know-bout-that” A slightly annoyed voice quickly spoke. Eyes widened, she darted her glance up into the branches above. A figure lay on top of one of the thicker limbs of the tree, its wings draped over both sides. It nonchalantly leaned its long beak over one side, the corner of its deep red eye barely visible.
“But lemme tell ya somethin’ lady; you’re a strange one.”
“Have you been listening this entire time!?” She furiously barked, eyes narrowing.
“Long enough, considering you interrupted my perfect nap.” The Honchkrow sneered. “Listen toots, them’s people in that town are dumb as dirt. They don’t know well enough to notice me swindlin’ em every other day much less anything that happened ‘fore I was even born.
“And just what exactly makes you think it’s ok to talk about them like that!” She muttered, angrily.
“Hey, doesn’t sound to me like you think too highly of them, what with your self complication-evaluation-communication whatevuh.”
“You have no idea the things i’ve been through to come back here.” She stated. “I won’t falter now!”
“Ey, don’t lemme stop ya.” He grinned, using a wing to pluck a berry from the tree before effortlessly tossing into his mouth. “I’m just sayin if you need any dirt on the place I can hook yous up! For a little, uh, dinero if you know what I’m sayin’.
“I will go down there, if it means I don’t have to hear any more news from whatever gutter you came out of…” She scoffed, strolling onward.
“Catch ya later, sweetheart.” He chuckled, pulling his hat-like feathers down over his eyes. Immediately and awkwardly rousing again to hear her return.
“Alright, there’s one thing...” She admitted with some disgust.
“Go on... “ He teased, standing up.
“There was an old property there, the Kaizen house. What happened to it after it burned down?”
“Sheesh you weren't kiddin’, yer really that old!?” He mewed, leaning over the edge of the branch and tilting his head to the side.
“What happened to it!” She insisted.”
“Alright, alright!” He rolled his eyes. “Cool it, hothead I was getting to that. See, history’s not my strong suit, but word on the street is that the next-of-kin had it rebuilt exactly as it was, down to the cracks in the floorboards.”
“Next of kin…” She thought to herself. “His brother’s. That rat stole his life and then had the audacity to pass it on!?”
“Sounds like your family's pretty screwy. Buuuut, none the less, I helped you. So, whadda-I-get-out’ve-it.”
“I’ll think of something.” She grumbled, leaving once more.
“You’d bettuh!” He shouted after her. “I don’t work for free!”
Evening slowly took its hold over Ecruteak as Auburn shyly wandered down the quiet sidewalks and back roads of the town. Despite the amount of time that had passed, she couldn’t help but feel she would be recognized. A few people she passed looked at her strangely, some whispering about the unfamiliar fox. She new she looked suspicious, and tried to take a deep breath and walk with more confidence. This did work to her favor at least a little. Walking with some purpose made her stand out less. Autumn was taking a grip over the town, she now noticed. Some fallen leaves of reds and browns crunched under her feet. This town, its colors, its past. Even at the most peaceful of times it always felt as if it were ablaze in some way.
She was getting close; ninety years and she still new the way home. Her eyes widened as the kaizen property slowly came into view, and started to pick up her pace. Honchkrow hadn’t lied, the house had been restored to the efficacy of the original! Still on the southern edge of town, still secluded from everything by a long path, surrounded by spacious and shady trees. Shiny fresh wood replacing the ashes that remained. A small hut that served as the property's gatehouse… yet another thing she recognized. Two unarmed men stood at the metal gates, staring at her nervously as she approached. Noticing this, Ninetales stopped and sat before them, calmly eyeing the two. Perhaps they had been told of her by their predecessors who, in turn, had been told similar stories by their predecessors. The took a look at each other and back at her, but she did not so much as flinch. It was now becoming apparent to her that within this town, she no longer existed. Nearly a century had passed since the fire, and she had become more of an urban legend, or myth. The two stayed in this mystified state before one hesitantly reached over and opened the gate, not wanting to cause her any trouble. She happily waved her tails back and forth and strode past them, smiling.
What now? She was unsure of how to approach this situation. Of course she couldn’t just walk inside… but would knocking be any less intrusive? With a bit of frustration she looked around, and suddenly was filled with glee when she noticed something she had not on the night she fled. The Kaizen house was lost on that night; destroyed. However, its garden: its magnificent garden where she had spent most of her time in had survived. Immediately she lost herself in it, wandering between the well tended shrubbery and bamboo, reliving happy memories of training with her master, reading and playing beneath the maple trees, and walking the smooth stone paths admiring the scene on eve's such as this.
Then, among all the familiar sights and sounds she heard something new. She had never heard this voice here before, but it sounded as though it belonged; a child’s laughter. Curious, Auburn poked her head around a corner and saw her. A young girl in a brown dress, their hair was long and blonde just like hers, and gently bounced as the child played with some flowers she had picked.
“Hello there, little one~” She cooed, approaching slowly and as nonthreatening as possible.
“Oooh Pretty!” The girl cried excitedly, looking up at her. She blushed, looking around. This girl was just adorable…
“Thank you…” she smiled, lowering herself to the ground beside the child. She then gently tickled the childs nose with one of her tails. “But didn’t anyone tell you not to talk to strangers?”
The child seemed almost too distracted to answer, Taking Auburn’s mane in her hands and playfully running her fingers through it, even putting a few flowers in it.
“Do you… live here?” She inquired, lowering her head so that the girl could place another flower behind her ear.
“Yea. With my mummy! She’s…”
“Lena!” A panicked voice interrupted. Ninetales turned her head to see a taller blonde woman in a white dress standing a few feet away from them. “You get away from that fox right now!”
The girl obediently stood up and ran over to her mother's side, quickly ushered behind her. Auburn immediately stood up, suddenly missing the girl’s close presence.
“I didn’t mean her any harm…” She shook her head.
“You stay back.” The woman fearfully ordered, backing up a step. “I know who you are!”
The light suddenly left her hopeful eyes, and she looked down sadly, re-evaluating whether this really was a good idea. She shook the flowers out of her hair and looked back up at the woman.
“You think I did those things too, don’t you…” Auburn muttered, a single tear running down her cheek.
“What, you think I don’t know what happened to this house? My parents were the ones who had it restored!”
“I never hurt anyone… and I never wanted anyone to get hurt!” She pleaded. “I was here. I know what really happened. Wouldn’t you at least listen to me?”
The woman seemed hesitant, and looked down upon feeling a tug on her dress. Lena looked intently up at her and then back at the fox.
“She’s real nice, mummy.”
“... Alright… I’ll hear you out but nothing funny!” She finally crumbled. Some hope then returned to her sorrow filled eyes. “It’s getting late. I guess we can go inside.”
“No… I didn’t know your grandfather all that well. But he knew me, I realized.” Auburn stated, watching the sunset outside. “I don’t think Lena here should be listening, the rest of this story is for grown-up’s only.”
“Hey! I’m grown up!” The girl protested.
“Lena, it’s late.” Her mother said. “Why don’t you go to bed and you can talk to her in the morning.”
“No, it’s quite alright.” Auburn chuckled with an air of mischief. “If you're so grown-up, Lena, why don’t you come sit by me so you can hear better.”
Confused, the young girl suspiciously stood up from beside her mother and hopped up onto the couch, scooting over next to the Ninetales. Several of her magnificent tails quickly surrounded the girl, pulling her even closer.
“Alright, little one. Listen closely…” She softly spoke, her eyes taking on a red glow.
“Whuh… whah?” She muttered.
“What are you doing to her!?” The mother pressed nervously.
“Don’t worry. It’s just a little trick I picked up from a friend of mine. Works great with kids.” She smiled, as the girl began to struggle to stay focused. “Now, sweetheart, I know you’re so eager to hear my tale, but I fear you would be asleep after the first few words! After all, adult stories are quite boring…”
“I… boring..?” Lena mumbled. Auburn’s tails slowly shifted themselves to provide a nice surface for the girl to rest against.
“Shhh.” Auburn whispered, gently blanketing the girl with a few more. “Your eyes are so heavy, why don’t you just lay back and rest, I don’t mind.”
Lena was then fast asleep. The Ninetales then gently stroked the child’s hair before lifting her up and setting her back besides her mother.
“Your daughter is just the cutest.” She grinned, returning to her seat.
“I know. She’s usually so shy, but she loves you already.” The woman smiled. “So please, tell me the truth, whatever it is; I have to know that she’s safe around you.”
“What if the truth hurts you more than me just telling you I did it?” She asked.
“If it means my house is safe now, and that my daughter is happy and never caught up in all of this… Then I can accept that.”
“The truth then.” She sighed. “I watched the night this house burned, and my beloved master Rin died. I was accused, immediately thought guilty of what happened here... I was run out of town, chased by weapons and even further by thrown rocks. I left and fled for all those years, I never stopped running away until today. What I could never understand was how I deserved to be punished for the death of a man who was murdered by his own brother.
“You’re saying that…”
“That your grandfather Len committed this atrocity. I know, and I’m sorry.” She sighed, slowly moving over beside the two. “He was angry. He thought I was replacing him… He thought that his brother loved me more than he loved him. It doesn’t justify what he did, even if he was right. I’ll be honest, I wanted to come back and hurt him for what he did... But I made friends, and if there was one thing they taught me, it’s that revenge would only make me the monster I was in the people’s beliefs.”
“Is there… Is there any way you can prove all of this?” Lena’s mother sniffled, wiping her eyes with a tissue.
“Is the family sword still here?” Auburn asked. “The handle is hollow, Len never would have known that. If there is any proof, it’s in the handle.”
The woman immediately left the living room, going up the stairs and soon returning with the sheathed blade in hand. She felt along the handle and soon found the way to open it. A shriveled, old piece of paper was rolled up inside. She carefully removed and read it, quickly dropping it along with the blade, and backing away in tears. Auburn picked up with two objects with her psychic, fully unraveling the paper.
In the event that I should pass, all of my property including my money, possessions, and home, shall be placed under the ownership of one “Auburn Shiba”: a pokemon of the Ninetales species, and my adoptive daughter.
She remains my closest family for a long period of my life, and while it may be short to her, I am happy to have been a small part of her long life. Please inform her that my best wishes shall always be with her.
Signed, Rin Shao Kaizen
“Master.” She stated softly, a few tears welling up in her eyes. Suddenly, she felt a tight embrace, as Lena’s mother knelt down and wrapped her in a tight hug.
“You shouldn’t have been pushed away by fear and blame, you most of all deserve to be here. I’m so sorry…” She cried.
“It belongs to you just as much. I don’t want to hold that over you; you didn’t know...”
“I can’t believe that he would do that…” She muttered, shaking her head.
“I couldn’t either, but that is in the past.” Auburn said, turning her attention to a sleeping Lena. She then strode over and gently caressed the girl’s cheek with her tail. “This child... She can represent a change for the better. She doesn’t know about any of this. With her, everything that’s happened can start to fade away, and not haunt us anymore.”
“You’re right…” She sniffled. “All this and I never even introduced myself. My name is Layla.”
“Auburn,” She replied. “But I guess you knew that.”
“I want you to know that you’re always welcome here. This house belongs to you, after all.” Layla nodded.
“I’ll be happy to stay here sometimes.” She smiled. “Especially if it means I get to see this precious little girl.”
“Well, let’s get her up to bed, and then you and I can have a proper introduction.”
“That sounds delightful.” Auburn politely agreed.
I followed the trail as best I could in the darkness of the night. It soon led me to the cliffside that overlooked our beach. The sound of the gently waves and slight wind was almost hypnotic. I soon realized I was not the only who came to hear it.
“Did you have a nightmare about it too?” Ampharos asked.
“You know I’d never admit to it.” I joked, sitting down beside him.
“I can’t stop thinking that it wasn’t the only one...” He shook his head. “I’m kinda worried about her out there by herself.”
“She can take care of herself, you know that.” I reminded. “I’m sure she’ll come back just fine.”
“I just hope she’s the only thing that comes back.” He sighed, leaning against me a bit.
Book 2 - Pokemon: Scourge of Shadows - Coming soon.