Robert had been camped out for almost a week living off of poorly cooked staples foraged by his ‘girls when Mikhail made his appearance. He looked… tense. This could be a problem or an opportunity for Robert. Unfortunately, his current plan hinged on Mikhail for the moment. He had a loosely thought out plan B or two, but this was by far the most optimal path to his end goals.

“Welcome,” Robert greeted pleasantly, “How’ve you been?” It was best to act as if nothing was amiss at these times as learned from Robert’s experiences growing up as Charlemagne Fitzmolyneux.

“Hey,” Mikhail attempted to look normal but hid it poorly. It’s not his fault. The asymmetry of his smile and a couple other signaling expressions were a dead giveaway that he was acting- rather poorly at that. It wasn’t his fault. He had no training and hormones from pubescence interfere with a person’s empathy and ability to read body language and facial expressions unless certain steps were taken to get around that…

“Been busy?” Robert asked conversationally maintaining his pleasant air. He had a sneaking suspicion that something had happened and Mikhail wasn’t looking forward to seeing him. Then, in typical human fashion, he must have procrastinated. What was going on?

“Francisco is on the war path,” Mikhail informed numbly.


“He thinks you’ve skipped town on us. He’s not so much upset about the tent and supplies as he is about his chances of sinking his claws into the local feral population.”

Robert chuckled. He had suspected this might happen. “Has this inconvenienced you any?” he asked, sincerely wanting to know not only because Mikhail’s answer would allow him to gauge his chances of pulling him completely under his wing but also out of genuine concern for his friend.

Mikhail gave a halfhearted shrug. “He takes some of his frustration out on me and is pressuring me into spying on you,” he confessed honestly.

Robert eyed Mikhail. He had suspected something like this might happen. If Francisco had had two brain cells to rub together he would have done it the moment Mikhail and Robert started to socialize before any form of friendship could form rather than waiting this long. He hadn’t, however, expected this kind of honesty right off the bat from Mikhail. Had he been avoiding him in order to feign ignorance as to his location and to avoid unnecessary pressure from Francisco?

“I appreciate you telling me,” Robert thanked. He paused for a while. It was probably best to help get his mind off of things first so he didn’t freak when he sprung his proposition on him. “Come on, let’s wash this away with something mind numbing.”

“You got booze?” Mikhail asked with an arched eyebrow.

Robert barked a laugh. “Not what I was thinkin,” he answered.

An hour and a half of appropriately termed ‘mind numbing’ exercise later, the two men and the three pokégirls slouched down after they had been appropriately ‘cooled down.’ Robert was in the process of kneading Chrissie’s shoulders as they all relaxed.

“You haven’t been slacking without me, I see,” Robert noted.

Mikhail grinned feeling the dopamine flooding his system from his accomplishments, “No, I kept it up on my own time after my day’s work was over. It’s become a habit now.”

They sank into a companionable silence for a time. Time slipped by as they simply basked in each other’s company, Robert cuddled with his ‘girls for a time not wanting them to feel attention deprived. Daniele also took the opportunity to inspect the newcomer from a distance, but in the end turned to ignore him in favor of poking Robert.

“I have a long term plan,” Robert announced suddenly. He wanted to gauge Mikhail’s reaction.

He chuckled. “Of course you do,” he said, “If you didn’t you would have given into Francisco’s demands long ago.”

“Do you know why I haven’t been distributing pokégirls willy-nilly to everyone?” Robert asked. His heart picked up the pace. This was it, do or die, make it or break it.

“Something to do with your plan?” Mikhail hazarded a lazy guess.

Robert turned his head to look at him. Mikhail met his gaze. “It’s because right now my ability to catch pokégirls and my knowledge of them is all that I have. If I were to distribute it, I’d be useless and cast aside. It’s nothing personal; I’ll probably just be unable to go on if I don’t have any marketable skills,” he explained, “Do you think for one second that Francisco would follow through on any promises he made to me once he had no reason to fulfill his end of the bargain?”

Mikhail gave him a sideways glance. “What are you implying?”

Robert shrugged. “What obligation would he have to me once I spilled my guts? It might sound selfish, but this is my life we’re talking about.”

Mikhail frowned at him, considering. “You could do something similar to the arrangement I have with Francisco. Few years of work and-“

Robert laughed. “With pokégirls around to do all the grunt work, why would anyone need me? For that matter, why would anyone need you?”

A panic stricken look crossed Mikhail’s face. His entire world came crashing down; at least the dread of the possibility had had its impact. “I have an agreement with Francisco,” he tried to assure himself.

Robert gave him a sympathetic look. “True, but do you honestly think that he wouldn’t replace you with something he didn’t have an obligation to? The only way to be sure would to have him fulfill his side of the obligation first. If he’s not willing to do that then chances are he’s trying to pull one over you.”

Mikhail had an ultimatum placed in front of him only he didn’t know there was a way out. “I don’t have anything I can give him,” he whispered. Then suddenly a look of realization flashed across his face before being shuffled away into the corner of his mind.

This did not evade Robert. “What is it?” he asked.

“What’s what?” Mikhail feigned his ignorance.

“What is it that Francisco wants?” Robert asked.

“Well, I told you that I have an arrangement with Francisco for a parcel of land and a claim shanty in exchange for several years of labor-“

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Robert interrupted him, “You already admitted that Francisco was pressuring you to spy on me, and it’s fairly obvious what he wants; so come on out with it already. I might be able to help you. “

            Mikhail visibly floundered for a few moments before recovering. “He wants the secret to taming pokégirls.”

            “Of course,” Robert chuckled to himself, “I’m pretty sure the only reason he hasn’t taken more direct action is because he doesn’t want to tangle with Chrissie or anything else I may have picked up.”

            “Direct action?”

            “Extracting the information,” Robert insinuated.


            “Has he promised anything in exchange for the information or is he simply being a bastard?”

            Mikhail didn’t speak for a while, but when he did, it was softly: “He told me he’d get me the home and land he promised me set up in exchange for the information and that I wouldn’t have to work for him any longer.”

            Robert nodded, thinking. “That would sound tempting to someone, I suppose,” he thought aloud, “You do know that the information is worth a lot more than that, right? It’s like suddenly giving everyone a tool that will farm for them and increase production to the point where they don’t have to simply scrimp by to survive. What is that worth, do you think?”

            “I dunno,” Mikhail mumbled with a bowed head.

            “Look, I suggest you sleep on it for a bit, but never forget that the moment pokégirls are available to them, you’re expendable.”

            It was a troubled Mikhail that left later that evening. He was nearly too exhausted to think, yet his mind was ablaze with the ramifications of what had been brought to his attention, what he had never considered; he doubted anyone else had considered it either. He needed sleep. This was something that he could put off until the morning. The world had become a darker place for him that day.

            Unbeknownst to Mikhail, Francisco watched him as he stumbled to his quarters. It looks as if the boy was too stupid to realize what the town needed. It was getting more and more difficult to live off of the land. Their troughs had slowly shrunk over the years. It would look like Mikhail was going to conflict the interests of the village. It was unfortunate. The lad was such a hard worker. And smart, Francisco added as an afterthought.

            A crash awoke Mikhail in the middle of the night. He had always been a light sleeper. You needed to be; a feral could bust in at any moment and tear your face off if you weren’t careful. Grabbing his rifle, he poked his head outside to inspect his surroundings and hopefully detect the source of the noise. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Something was wrong. He got the sudden urge to teleport away as he always did when something was wrong… off.

            Skulking silently across from the shed where he slept, he sidled towards Francisco’s domicile. It was then that he heard voices. Turns out, the voices were coming from Francisco’s kitchen. Odd, what was going on at this ungodly hour? Who was he talking to? Mikhail strained his ears to eaves drop…

            “… you idiot! We can’t just abandon…”

            “… know as well as … that the town’s in trouble... soil’s dying.”

            “They’re people, Francisco!... listen to yourself… speaking the unspeakable.”

            “Because I must…”

            Mikhail gritted his teeth. This was important and he could barely hear what was going on. Maybe if he eased the shutter away from the window? He gently grasped the window shutter and prayed that the hinges wouldn’t squeak. Fortunately, they were almost soundless allowing Mikhail to press his ear closer to the source of the voices.

            “… even Mikhail has been getting close to that… that ruffian! He’s too charismatic. Some of the townspeople like him. We need what’s in his head soon or we’re all dead!”

            “I don’t deny that, but have you tried reasoning with him; I mean actually playing it straight for once and talking to him? The guy’s not a heartless monster, just clearly afraid for himself. He obviously thinks that he needs to hold onto what he knows just to survive in a League he doesn’t belong in-”

            “And that’s where you and I will always differ, my dear friend. You have too much faith in people. That bastard is hiding on the edge of town for some reason and I don’t know what for. Mikhail is still visiting him.”

            “Let’s just reason with him!”

            “No!!! Listen here. Some of the hangers on around here are going to lead us all to our deaths. They need to be culled. Those idiots Tim and Russell for one hardly work, and it’s pretty obvious they’ve been stealing. Franz seems docile most of the time, but he keeps endangering the town by pulling ferals to us. Mikhail used to be an okay lad, but now he’s off consorting with that fucker and obviously is on his side. Many of the people here won’t be needed once we have pokégirls anyways. Darwin is pounding his gavel, and I for one don’t intend to be the one he passes his judgment on!”

            The other person stumbled back from the vehemence in Francisco’s voice. Silence reigned for a seemingly indefinite time and the silence deafened all those present to hear it.

            “’Cisco… what… why? Why are you saying these things? Mi hermano, what has brought you to this?”

            “Things you wouldn’t understand,” Francisco’s voice sounded weary and aged, a voice that had been dragged through the muck for decades.

            “Please, be reasonable. You can’t do this.”

            “The people have always deferred to my judgment ever since my father passed and all eyes fell on me. We have no protection from ferals other than what armaments we can cobble together from scavenged material. The people will listen to me as they always have.”

            “It’s too terrible a thing. You can’t. Please! Tell me you won’t do it. It’s too terrible a thing!”

            “Come here, my brother,” Francisco uttered in a comforting tone. The other man in the room stepped forward, his breath heavy and filled with the sound of sorrow. A sudden squelching noise was heard followed by a quick slish. A heavy thud hit the ground. Followed only by quiet sobbing. “Lo siento, mi hermano, lo siento…” Francisco’s voice wept as he uttered his farewell to his only sibling.

            Mikhail began hyperventilating. The urge to just disappear and run back to his newfound friend rang throughout his psyche. He contained it. He first needed to slip away. When he teleported, he sometimes caused distortions in the air that could be quite noisy. First… he had to get away…

            Elsewhere, Robert and his two ‘girls looked up to the sound of gushing wind emanating from a few feet away. There stood a hyperventilating Mikhail. Robert stood quickly and approached his panicking friend. “What’s wrong?” he asked seriously.

            “He-he-he-he-…” it was all Mikhail could say. He dropped the rucksack he had in his hand and fell backwards onto the ground. Robert knelt down to inspect him. What had happened to render the normally levelheaded Mikhail like this?

            “Mikhail,” Robert spoke firmly as he placed a hand on his shoulder, “you need to take deeper breaths. Come on, slowly like this.” Robert began taking slow deep breaths, and Mikhail began emulating him. Once Mikhail got his breathing under control, Robert asked again, “Hey, what’s wrong?”

            “Francisco-“ Mikhail gulped for air a couple times before continuing, “-killed Salvador.”

            “Salvador?” Robert inquired. He didn’t remember a Salvador.

            “His Brother,” Mikhail replied, his breathing slowing, “Don’t think you’ve met him. He keeps to himself mostly. Doesn’t really leave his farm or his family too often.”

            Robert’s expression hardened. “We’ve got to tell the others before Francisco can get to them,” he declared. They’d have to act fast. Granted, they’d have to find the right person to go to but-

            “No!” Mikhail shouted suddenly.

            “What, why?” Robert asked, bewildered.

            “We can’t go back. He’ll spin this against us. Everyone trusts him too much,” Mikhail hastily explained, “We’ll be shot before the days out on his word.”

            Breaking away from his incredulous stare, Robert gathered his thoughts: “Who can we go to?”

            Mikhail furrowed his brow in thought before shaking his head. “No one,” he answered, “They only people who’d believe us are unlikely to stand up against Francisco.”

            “Well,” Robert began slowly, “Francisco needs to be stopped. Perhaps we can kill him before we go to the others?”

            Mikhail looked up in shock before shaking his head to clear his thoughts and get his priorities in order. “No, they’ll just think we killed him and his brother,” he said with a tone of finality.

            Robert wasn’t so sure, but he could tell it was best that he not push this issue. Besides, without Mikhail’s help, he wouldn’t have a chance swaying the villagers to his side because of the stigma that followed all outsiders. “Then we have to take a different course of action,” he said.

            “What’s that?”

            Robert smiled. “Well, the first thing is that I need to explain a few things too you. First of all… my name… well it’s not really Robert.”

            Mikhail’s eyes bulged. Just one shock after the next for him today. “Then… then what is it?” he asked, wary now.

            ‘Robert’ sighed. “Before I explain, please keep in mind that when I introduced myself, I had no idea where I was and who was friendly and who wasn’t. The guise of anonymity was the first defense mechanism I could think of. When I arrived here, I lost everything even my last remaining companion thanks to Francisco’s idiot son.”

            Mikhail nodded, still wary, but his guard had lowered somewhat. “Then, who are you exactly?”

            “My name, my real name, is Charlemagne, or Charles if that is too much of a mouthful for you…”

            And so he explained a few things to him, not everything mind you. Much of it would have made him sound insane; the information about the Molyneux power network alone would have made him appear to be some sort of gibbering loon or a particularly unoriginal conspiracy theorist. The average person would be written off as a loon for uttering such ‘nonsense.’ He did spill enough to paint a shadow of his identity, that he was the bastard of some fat-cat who wanted him dead which Charles implied was because of his previously implied blood trait. The pokégirls he had were painted as stolen, which they technically were since they were not officially in Charles’s name.  Overall, he thought that a believable and mostly true picture had been presented effectively.

            Mikhail took this all in. “So… Charlemagne?”

            Charles smiled in a friendly manner. “If that’s what you want to call me.”

            Mikhail shook his head. “I think I’d prefer Charles if that’s okay with you.”

            “Fine by me.”

            “Okay, I think I can understand your reasons for secrecy considering my own predicament… after all, too many people are hunting the traited, and with your identity publically known…”

            Charles chuckled. “Yes, that’s the gist of it.”

            There was a silent pause between them. Mikhail was clearly thinking, his eyes staring at nothing in particular. After a while, he finally asked: “What are we going to do?”

            “Well, I do have a plan,” Charles declared as his friendly smile shifted into one that showed too many teeth, a smile filled with razors, intricacy, and promises of torment.

            His friend nodded. “What is this mysterious plan exactly? It’s probably all we’ve got right now.”

            “Oh, far from it,” Charles gestured to Chrissie and Daniel, “We’ve got to get more ‘girls and your teleportation trained up, and then, we can act in a fashion that will rock the foundation of far more than just this backwards little town in the middle of nowhere. And, it starts… with you me, my girls, and… this,” he spoke with a rising excitement as he drew out the still bound but healthy Eva he, Chissie and Daniel had captured back when they had acquired Liz.

            A week later, the two men and their ‘girls were deep in the woods. The Eva that Charles gave to Mikhail was much more timid than Liz was, but she proved her medal fighting sparring against Charles’s ‘girls.  It wasn’t long before Charles felt comfortable letting Mikhail attempt to catch a feral for himself with Charles as nothing more than a benevolent bystander. He was curious as to how the younger lad would fair.

            Mikhail and his Eva- he hadn’t thought of a name for her yet- crept through the underbrush. Charles had helped him scout out a feral that had been stalking them for a few days but remaining distant. His heart was in his throat. Granted, at any time he could teleport away, but he needed to catch this ‘girl. Charles had that crazy plan of his… which actually sounded feasible and he needed to be able to contribute to it. It was his only way out now that Francisco had dove over the edge.

            That was something that bothered him. Francisco was clearly bigoted against pokégirls and the traited- everyone was- but he hadn’t ever seemed extreme before recently. Was the thirst for control over the local feral population driving him to this? Did he really think that he knew what was best for the entire village? Everyone had looked up to him and his father before him, the founder of their little village, yet he seemed entitled. Mikhail could only guess at what was fueling Francisco’s madness.

            He snapped himself back into the present; it was time to concentrate. The feral was near and he couldn’t let Charles down. It was strange having a friend like Charles. He seemed very good at playing the part of the mentor like an older brother of some sort. He was a lot more comfortable with talking of things such as killing Francisco… but maybe that was from wisdom and experience. Charles hadn’t revealed too many details when he summarized his past and seemed to be downplaying a lot of things. Not the type for melodrama, Mikhail guessed.

            A rustle from the canopy above them drew his and his Eva’s attention. His eyes searched for a figure, a form, but found nothing. Something was definitely up their though. A woodchip fell from a branch. There!

            Mikhail fired his gun but didn’t aim at anything particular. The noise and smoke however scared the feral enough to cause her to bolt from her hiding spot, leaping to a different tree in a panic. The Eva scampered up the side of the t tree and got into pursuit. Mikhail gritted his teeth. He felt rather useless down here and attempted to locate the feral and his Eva. He saw the Eva but not the feral. Wait, there it was. It was a leafy green and mud brown lizard-looking breed. He didn’t know what kind, but it had impeccable camouflage save for when she made sudden movements.

            In a moment, Mikhail used his gift and appeared in the canopy behind the feral. He attempted to bash her with the butt of his gun but missed when she jerked to the side catching her shoulder instead. The muscular tail of the feral swept his feet from beneath him causing him to hit his back on the branch he had been standing on, flipping over the side, and careening face-first towards the forest floor.

            Fortunately, in a fit of panicked reflexive action, Mikhail’s gift activated and he was suddenly lying vertically on the ground only to tumble over onto the ground and roll several meters into the side of a tree. He grit his teeth and stood shakily spitting out dirt and twigs`. Not only did that hurt like a son of a bitch, but teleporting at intervals so close together tired him out fast. It could’ve been worse though. He couldn’t exactly change his momentum when he teleported and had to deal with trying to decelerate enough not to hurt himself too much whenever he did something stupid like try to engage a feral.

            About six meters away, the lizard-like feral plummeted to the ground and hit with a thud. The Eva was on top of her and was attempting to brain her with a rock. It wasn’t long before the feral was unconscious and Mikhail managed to get his Eva off of her before she did any permanent damage.

            He sighed and fell on his rear, his adrenaline fading from him. Shortly after, the proud sense of accomplishment sang forth from his psyche. Maybe Charles could tell him what kind of ‘girl she was? She had excellent camouflage and would probably make a great hunter. It wasn’t long before Charles appeared and they both returned to camp.

            About a month a half later, Mikhail and Robert rested in the middle of the wilderness in an ad hoc camp with two pitched, canvas tents and a small fire pit. Robert tended the fire with a medium length stick as he considered what they were about to do. It was big and would send of so many red flags… He wasn’t actually sure what the repercussions would be in the entire scope of things. What he did know is that the Tropic Confederacy would hush things up big time. Panics destroyed economies and wrecked economies destroyed empires. Now… how to use that to his advantage once he was ready to come out into the open?

            Charles’s train of thought was interrupted when a happy Chrissie dropped into his lap with a happy chirp and began nuzzling into his chest. She looked up at him with those adorable puppy-dog eyes that she had somehow picked up and asked cutely: “Kiss?”

            The vocabulary of the pokégirls that he and Mikhail had acquired had been growing steadily. Daniele seemed to be able to recognize and utilize the most words despite ironically being the quietest of the bunch. She was more the observant type.

            “Sure,” Charles indulged Chrissie and pecked her on the cheek. She harrumphed indignantly. Clearly that was not what she was after. She opened her mouth to enunciate something, but Charles snuck in and pressed his lips against hers and slipped his tongue in while he was at it. Surprised but not at all displeased, Chrissie leaned into him and reciprocated.

            Charles broke away from the panting plant-type as Mikhail sat down by the fire not wanting to be rude. Next to him was a plant-type of his own, a Mossmelon, a lizard-like pokégirl that was quick, stealthy, and could scale trees faster than Daniel even could. She had a mostly human body save for head-to-toe green and brown scales covering her body, some gnarly claws, and a tail as long as her torso serving as a counter balance. She didn’t speak much and had a tendency to disappear if you lost sight of her for more than an eye blink. An interesting creature if you could get over her unnerving, shifty nature.

            Liz also appeared. She had evolved into something that she proudly declared to be an Espea. This was an interesting development since she apparently was one of those fabled psychic types, the kind that were whispered about in fear of what they could do to a man without anyone realizing it. The one thing that did come as a benefit, though, was that she could communicate nonverbally now. Charles just sort of ‘felt’ what she intended. On one hand, it made her lazy with learning how to speak; on the other, she was a valuable intermediary with communicating with the other ‘girls including freshly tamed ferals. She was therefore invaluable. Unfortunately, she could read minds and thus knew this all too well.

            The thing that kept Liz from being top dog was the fact that the Eva that Charles had given to Mikhail had evolved into an Umbrea who was more than capable of beating her into the dirt and was pretty much immune to Liz’s mental attacks. Fortunately, a balance had evolved from this since Daniele had some kind of advantage that allowed her to take down the Umbrea especially once she had evolved from a lowly Pri-mate to a Atlesia, a taller, much more agile and dangerous version of her previous form. Yet, the psychic Liz could still stop her in her tracks. Strange, these mechanics. Charles still didn’t understand it. Was it an intention of Sukebe, a side effect, or just more madness to be spread out into the world at the whims of a lunatic.

            They had all grown greatly including Mikhail who could teleport himself many times more often than he used to before exhausting himself. They were ready to undergo something great, something that would shake this little corner of the world. Would it work? Even if it didn’t, it was probably worth it just so Charles could deliver a sound slap to the Molyneux family’s collective face.