Rapp and Zipp both lost to their boss in short order. No surprises there. It was a bit of a relief to Fi, though. The sooner she got on with this fight, the sooner she could get back to camp so Pierce didn’t come looking for her.
Guzma grinned and cracked his knuckles before motioning her forward. She shrugged and approached with a yawn, just to make clear she was doing this at her leisure, not his command. No one was ordering her around anymore. Ever.
She stepped into the arena. For a brute like Guzma she wouldn’t send Phantom. Not with a type disadvantage. This was her challenge to fight.
“Trainers ready?” Plumeria raised her hand and made a chopping motion. “And…fight!”
Guzma pointed, sending his tank of a Golisopod forward. Fi knew he would. He’d be stupid not to.
“First impression!” commanded Guzma. Another idiot-proof strategy. Fi braced for the unavoidable impact, shielding her face and steeling her nerves. It was hard to avoid a locomotive in the open without cover. Even with 40 percent Absol DNA.
The blow made her teeth rattle. The one downfall of her merging. Super-effective moves hurt a hundred–no, a thousand times worse than any of the full-body drug infusions she’d endured. She bit back her scream. Not easy since the impact also sent her skimming across the arena like a Surskit over ice. Fi pulled her body into a tuck, softening the impacts until she finally rolled to a halt in a spray of sand. Darn Guzma. Such a cheap shot. Well, two could play that game. Despite her throbbing insides, she stood, rubbed a smear of blood from her nose, and smiled. “Is that all you’ve got?” she spat.
Guzma puffed. “Liquidation!” he yelled, not noticing the ring of swords boosting her attack. She dodged Golisopod’s flurry of swings with a mocking “Missed me! Missed me again! Oops! And again!” Silently she executed another Swords Dance. Then a third.
By the time Guzma recognized her screw-with-him-and-make-him-mess-up tactic and thought to use Pin Missile, it was too late. Her blood was pumping with adrenaline and attack buffs. She flexed her claws, charging in for a full-powered Slash attack. Golisopod braced itself, bringing up its huge forearms like a built-in shield. But Fi wasn’t aiming for those. The bug might have been a tank, but he was not invincible. His armor plating had kinks: Around his soft belly. The backs of his knees. The little groves along the plates on his back and down his spine. Instead of striking his shielding arms, Fi darted up them, launched herself high, twisted and came down claws first, landing her attack between the Pokémon’s armor.
Golisopod roared in pain. He turned to counterattack with Pin Missile, like his trainer commanded. But Fi was already out of range. Already darting in again from a different angle, this time aiming her Slash for an unprotected knee.
She got in three more solid hits before it finally dawned on Guzma that he’d clearly underestimated her. “Poison Jab! Give it everything you’ve got!”
Golisopod roared. It brought back its mighty forearm, its talons brimming with poison, leaving its belly completely exposed. Fi couldn’t miss the chance. She charged in and lashed out her attack at the same instant Golisopod did.
Her claws hit home, raking soft bug-hide like a knife through berries. She would have laughed with satisfaction, if not for the searing pain that followed. Unlike Tupp’s Grimer, Golisopod’s poison was as nasty at it got.
They staggered apart, Golisopod hunched and clutching its stomach. Fi breathing hard but holding her ground. Her whole arm was throbbing from wrist to shoulder and she could already feel her fingers going numb from the poison. Better finish this up quick before it spread. She eyed Golisopod. More specifically she watched its trembling knees and the uneasy way it kept glancing back at Guzma.
Fi advanced a step and snarled. In a flash of red, the bug Pokémon retreated back into its Pokéball, sending out a baffled Scizor in its place. Guzma wasn’t happy. Though he tried to make it look like he totally had his Pokémon do that on purpose, Fi could see his eyebrow twitching.
“Not bad. It’s been a while since anyone’s given Golisopod a decent workout.” He stuck up his chin. “But don’t start thinkin’ you’ve w–”
“Hakaaaa!” screeched a Pokémon voice from seemingly out of nowhere. Fi glanced aside just in time to see a gray blur dart past, missing her by inches. In her next blink, a Hakamo-o stood before her in a fighting-type stance, one arm protectively out in front of her. The other aimed claws at Guzma and Scizor.
“Spade? What–” Fi sputtered in furious recognition. Pierce had sent his Pokémon to track her down. Which meant he was likely not far behind and that she was in for a lecture that she did not need smug Guzma or her future underlings to see. “I’m fine. It’s just a friendly match,” she tried to explain. But too late. An instant later, Raven’s dark silhouette filled the sky. She landed on Fi’s other side and added her voice to the warning.
“Hey, what gives?” demanded Tup.
“Yeah!” voiced Rapp. “Bringing in outside Pokémon is cheating!”
Fi scowled. “They’re here for me, not the match,” she began until she noticed the satchel with her unhatched egg wasn’t around Raven’s neck like it should be. “Raven?” She felt the blood drain from her face. “Where’s the baby?”
“Fi!” Pierce called.
Spade answered him, barking out their position.
Soon he came skidding around the corner, his chest heaving and his face dripping with sweat. He’d run the entire way in that silly trench coat of his. “There you are!” He painted. Her satchel was over his shoulder.
Fi closed the gap between them in a few strides. Spade at her heels. “Is he okay?” she gasped.
Pierce opened the pouch, letting her see the perfectly fine, un-endangered egg still nestled cozy-as-can-be in its blankets.
“He’s fine.” He looked her over. “Are you okay?”
“Okay? Other than the heart attack you gave me just now?” She was shouting. Fi realized. But she didn’t care. After all her hard work threatening and manipulating. After facing down Guzma and his Golisopod. Her scheme to join Team Skull was deteriorating before her eyes.
“Yo,” Guzma called, and Fi turned to find the entire group had moved in closer. Their match was apparently forgotten. “Who’s the secret agent?”
Pierce glared over Fi’s shoulder. “The name’s Pierce,” he snapped, doing his very best to sound cool and intimidating and having the total opposite effect.
Fi let out an exasperated breath. “Guzma, Plum, Grunts, meet my bestie-slash-partner-in-crime-slash-overprotective-nursemaid.”
Pierce’s mouth hardened. “Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to be protective if you didn’t keep getting into fights. Look what you did to your arm!”
Fi shoved her injured arm behind her back. Stupid Pierce and his accurate observations. “It’s just a scratch.”
Pierce frowned and glanced at Spade. His Pokémon nodded at some silent cue, then reached out with nimble dragon claws to catch Fi’s sleeve and split it wide open.
“Hey!” Fi’s protest came too late. Her lie, along with her definitely-more-than-a-scratch injury was exposed. Pierce was already digging antidotes and potions out of her satchel, muttering about her carelessness. “Okay, fine!” Fi stuck up her chin, trying to salvage both her last shred of opportunity and her dignity.”The bug got a lucky hit. But that doesn’t mean this is over!”
“Actually,” Guzma said, raising one hand as he pocketed Golisopod’s ball with the other, “I think I’ve seen enough.”
Everyone looked at Guzma in wide-eyed shock. “I ain’t makin’ any decisions yet,” he clarified, giving Fi his fiercest, I-am-so-serious glare. “But if you and your uh…” He glanced in Pierce’s direction. “…guy friend need a place to crash, you’re welcome here as long as you pull your weight.”
“How so?” Fi asked, turning so her uninjured arm faced forward while said guy friend sprayed down the other with hyper potion.
Guzma pointed to her, Rapp, and Zipp. “You three’ll take turns managing the rest of these grunts. Me and Plum will decide who’s taking over once we see how each of you lead. Also when we feel like it.” He seemingly added that last part only so he didn’t sound like he was losing his edge. Then he nodded to Pierce. “You. Secret agent man. You good at anything? Besides butting into other people’s business?”
Pierce “humphed” at him.
The Hakamo-o by his side puffed up her chest and bared her teeth. But Fi held her back from actually charging. “You happen to be looking at the inventor of merger tech. Do you know how many degrees a normal person would have to earn before they could do that? Like all the different Biologies and Chemistrys. Plus Pierce is great with computers. Or anything mechanical really. The man’s basically a genius.”
A genius? Maybe. Good at taking what he dished out, definitely not. The more Fi talked, the redder Pierce’s face got. He only managed to get out two words: “Fi…stop.”
Fi thumped him on the shoulder. “And he’s super modest!”
Guzma glanced at Plum, who nodded. “So you’re a handy guy, then? Well, we’ve got a lot of stuff that needs fixin’ around here. Think you can handle a few repair chores?”
Pierce turned his nose up at the word “chores,” but before he could argue it, Fi cut him off. “We’ve got you covered. But if you don’t mind, I think we’ll delay fully moving in. We’ve got a little spot we’re camped out in, and we need time to pack everything up.”
Guzma scoffed, his face an open book. Did Fi not even have the dedication to live with the rest of the team? That’d be a big strike against her from the start. And Guzma didn’t like her much already.
She immediately backtracked. “It shouldn’t take long. We didn’t exactly bring a lot with us. But there’s some Pokémon who aren’t in great health, and I need time to get them acclimated enough to move. I’m sure you don’t want even a potential leader who can’t care for her own Pokémon.”
Guzma hmphed at that, which only made her lay on an extra later of flattery. “Of course, getting in and getting to work with Team Skull will be our highest priority.”
Guzma hmphed again. He might be slow to admit it, but everyone liked a little praise.
Satisfied enough, Guzma gave Pierce and Fi permission to come and leave as needed, and the two of them quickly took off back into the ally and out of sight. Guzma and Plum headed inside while the rest of the crew…well, truth be told, Guzma didn’t know what they did half the time squatting and lounging around in front of the Shady House. But whatever it was, they did it with that hard Team Skull attitude, and in the end, it was all that mattered to Guzma.
“You didn’t ask Tupp to battle you,” Plumeria observed once they got into the foyer. She motioned outside to the blue-haired grunt kicked angrily at a clump of beach grass.
“Tupp’s got good potential,” Guzma said. “But potential ain’t enough. Right now, that guy cares too much about leading and not enough about who he’s leading.”
Plumeria smirked. “Well, well. When did you get all philosophical?”
“Never! I mean, I didn’t! I mean–ugh! I’m gonna go check on Sabrina.” Guzma ran his hands through his hair, resisting the urge to smack himself on the forehead. It was an old habit, but Plum made clear she wouldn’t tolerate it anymore. Their kid would grow up to love themselves, not beat themselves up for every little mistake the way Guzma did through his teen years. Having a messed-up dad was all the more reason to be an amazing one himself. Show that old man how it was done.
Guzma got to the end of the hall, almost forgetting why he had even come there. Sabrina. Right. The floorboards squeaked beneath his feet as he stepped towards the smallest room on the left. Sabrina was almost always in her own head these days, so it wasn’t like she needed a lot of space. He knocked quietly.
“Come in,” Sabrina replied right as his knuckles tapped the doorframe. Dang precog powers.
Guzma sighed and opened the door. The room wasn’t much–cream-colored walls with less paint peeling than a lot of the other rooms. Wooden floorboards that looked worn and uneven but swept and as clean as one could make them. Sabrina had a pile of blankets in the center of the room that she sat on to meditate. She slept that way, too, if she wasn’t sleeping in the Master Ball. And it still creeped Guzma out to see her human face on Gardevoir’s Pokémon body.
“You had a question?” Sabrina prompted, brushing a thin strand of green hair from her eyes.
Guzma coughed. “Nothing specific. Just checkin’ in on you, is all. You haven’t come out in a while.”
Sabrina frowned, her gaze falling to a crack in the nearest floorboard. “I keep trying to get specifics on this vision. But it’s always so vague. It’s like…a hole opens up in the middle of this entire place, and I can’t see anything beyond it. Like it’s a completely different world I have no access to.”
Yeah, that’s not unnerving or anything, Guzma thought to himself. Not that he let his worry show on his face. “Sounds like some freaky nightmare to me,” he said. “You sure it’s a vision and not, I dunno, one too many bad malasadas?” He figured she’d get mad about that, but to his surprise, she looked up and almost smiled at his lame joke.
“It would be nice if that was all it was,” she said then gave a long sigh. Guzma waited for her to elaborate, but she was already staring off into space again, looking worried. Like she was reliving her dream or vision or whatever it was even though she was still awake.
“Hey, we’re gonna have dinner soon,” Guzma said. “Come join when you’re ready, ‘kay?”
He got a nod in return and nothing else. Guess that would have to do for now.