Sandgem was as unremarkable of a town as anyone could want. For as close as it was to the ocean it had weathered the Cataclysm better than most small seaside villages. Despite that, it still held little of interest. There were homes - some in better condition that others, a few small shops, a beach littered with shells and ruined rotting boats, and a row of hopeful vendors’ stalls whose owners were convinced that, any day now, the town would explode into a tourism hotspot. That hadn’t happened yet, but they’d be ready when it did.
Still, there was one place worth seeing, and frankly it was hard to miss. At the very edge of town was a massive structure, a hodgepodge of ruined houses, ramshackle hallways, low towers, and single shack-like rooms poking out of every available surface, with new ones popping up seemingly overnight. The complex was made from whatever its residents could find, from the scavenged remains of other destroyed buildings, to the many old boats who washed ashore, to even more primitive means like boulders and old logs, though these had largely been replaced by more stable materials over the years.
This was Driftwood Cottage, its name as mismatched as its architecture. It was the home of the Diamond Platoon, a loose guild of adventures, rogues, wanderers, ne’er-do-wells, pirates, and self-proclaimed heroes. They all had their reasons for joining, whether it was a search for adventure, a want for companionship, or simply because they didn’t fancy living under the land’s many petty warlords.
The Platoon had been founded many years ago by the great Blaziken warrior Firebrand Breakbeak, whose deeds and those of his followers had spared many innocent lives during the Cataclysm. Though peace had followed those dark times, the Diamond Platoon still had many members, unwilling to leave or, in many cases, having no where else to go. It was their home, their family, and they would fight to keep it. And though Firebrand may have passed the torch of leadership long ago, his spirit still burns bright in the hearts of the Platoon, who are eager to keep his legacy alive.
This is their story.
Just outside the village of Sandgem was a hill. There was little to make it stand out from the many other hills surrounding the town, save for a single tree. It was a stout, stocky old oak, one that had watched the valley long before the town was built. The centuries had made its branches thick and sturdy, perfect for hanging a swing from. Long ago someone had seen to that, and now all these years later, the old rope and wooden seat still hung there. The swing held many memories, of sunny summer days and the happy squeals of its riders determined to swing themselves into the sky, to the secret meeting place of lovers stealing away from the prying eyes of the town, to just the best place to watch the sun sink into the sea beyond. It was a place of happy times and cherished moments.
But as the young Kirlia climbed the hill, alone and upset, it was obvious today wouldn’t be among them.
The old swing bobbed back and forth lazily, its occupant not bothering to actually swing in it. Frankly she wasn’t bothering to do much at all, only holding on to the tattered rope with one hand while the other hung limply by her side. Her legs hung over the seat, her feet just touching the long green grass as it swayed in the chill air.
“It’s not fair...” the Kirlia muttered to herself, her ruby eyes downcast as she dejectedly stared down the hill at the houses below. The gray light of the overcast afternoon cast strange shadows over the town, and the first lights flickered on inside the homes for the coming evening.
It must be said that, for a secret hiding spot, the swing was a remarkably obvious one. The hill’s low height and lack of any other foliage besides the lone tree offered little shelter.
What it did offer however, was solitude, and right now, that's all Nia needed. She was a young Kirlia, having barely come out of Raltshood. Her horns were little more than crimson ridges poking through her green hair, matching the large round baubles that held her pigtails together. She wore a short-sleeved loose white dress, one that was proving to have been far more comfortable during the warm Summer months than now.
A strong breeze blew over the hill from behind her, pushing the swing and blowing her hair and dress about. Nia shivered, the chill gust blowing through the white fabric. She let go of the rope and hugged herself, trying to shield against the wind. She knew she could get off the swing, walk down into the cottage and bask in the warmth of hearth and home, but she was in the middle of feeling sorry for herself, and that's terribly hard to do when you're warm and comfortable and surrounded by loved ones. No, the swing would have to do.
The autumn breeze blew again and she pulled her legs together, trying to curl up as best as the swing would allow her. It offset her balance, but that didn't matter. She was alone on the hill, alone with herself and her self-pity. Besides, the swing wasn’t going anywhere-
“There you are!”
Nia jumped, sending the swing spinning wildly and making her lose what precious little balance she had. She tumbled off her precarious perch, landing with a face full of grass and her rump in the air. The mystery voice gasped, then suppressed a giggle. As Nia pushed herself back up, she felt two slender hands wrap around her waist and pull her to her feet, straightening her dress and dusting her off. The little girl shook her head to clear it, and found herself looking back at a pair of warm, equally crimson eyes. A familiar Gardevoir had knelt down in front of her, a soft smile on her face as she looked over her younger sibling, relieved.
“I'm sorry, sweetie, I thought you heard me coming.” She finally stopped probing Nia for any stray dirt and folded her hands in her lap.
“Hi Flidais…” Nia mumbled, looking away and crossing her arms, her frown deepening.
Although they had no blood relation beyond species, Flidais and Nia saw each other as family. The Gardevoir had taken the orphaned Kirlia under her wing, as the previous leader for the Diamond Platoon had done for her all those years ago. They were inseparable, both home and abroad. The only things that could pull them apart were missions, and, it seemed, bouts of sulking.
So it was little surprise that Flidais didn't need her empathic abilities to tell her Nia was upset. She also knew it would take some coaxing to get her to talk about it.
“Aren't you chilly out here? That dress doesn't look very warm, pixie.”
“I’m fine.” It was an obvious lie, but she kept a convincingly straight face, up until the wind picked up again and made her shiver. Flidais tilted her head, her expression worried. She could see the quiver of Nia’s lips, the tightening self-hug, and the hints of a blush from anger, embarrassment, and the chill of the biting autumn cold.
The wind blew again, fiercer this time, and Nia tried to curl up further, only to find herself pulled into a warm, tight embrace. Flidais scooped Nia up, holding her adopted sister to her chest and running down the hill, her natural grace letting her almost fly over the ground, even with her burden. Nia gave only a marginal struggle, surrendering to her cozy captivity almost immediately.
Half a minute later they were down by their home, the misleadingly named Driftwood Cottage. A purple glow enveloped the dull brass door handle, twisting it open and allowing them in. Flidais closed the door in the same way, latching it before setting Nia back down. Color returned to her face almost as soon as the home’s cozy heat hit her. Or at least as much color as her alabaster face held, anyway. The snug warmth also had the benefit of elevating Nia’s mood from “depressive recluse” to just “deeply sad and upset.” A tiny step in the right direction, sure, but it was a step all the same.
Still, Flidais’ work was far from done, and Nia drifted deeper into the house, Flidais following behind a few paces. She watched as Nia pulled herself up the staircase and noisily plodded her way to their room, before a soft thud was heard from inside. Flidais climbed up after her and stopped outside it, knocking on the half-closed door.
“Pixie? Are you in there?”
“Yffmph…” came a muffled non-answer.
“Can I come in?”
With that Flidais stepped inside. Sure enough there was Nia, laying face down on her bed, head buried in her pillow. Flidais sat down on the foot of the bed, turning to her little sister.
For a long while they stayed like that, the only interruption coming from Nia pulling her legs in away from Flidais, slightly raising her backside in the air. It would have been comical, had it not been for the poor girl's distress. Flidais scooted closer to the green and white blob crumpled up on the bed and laid a hand on her back. Nia only lay there, gloomily accepting the gesture.
“Okay, what's wrong, Nia?” Flidais asked, her tone firm yet kind. It was the tone of voice that says “I’m going to get an answer and I’ll make you give me one, because I love you very much.”
“Nuffing!” a far clearer answer came from the pillow than before, and Flidais pressed the advantage.
“It sure seems like a pretty big nothing to get you like this, sweetie.”
Flidais felt her sister’s shoulders tense. Without warning, she rolled over on her back and flopped down, arms outstretched and glaring despairingly up at the ceiling.
“It’s not fair!” she screamed, a half-sob caught in her throat. “You guys all go on adventures and fight bad guys, and I’m just... I’m just... I’m...useless.” She turned over, her back facing Flidais.
Flidais’s mouth hung open in shock. She had imagined many things had gotten to her little sister, but this... this wasn’t one of them. Fortunately her mouth had processed this news far quicker than her mind or emotions had.
“Nia, you’re not useless, you-”
“Yes I am! I can’t fight bad guys, I can’t go exploring, I can’t do any moves!”
Flidais was taken aback, but quickly regained her composure. “No, don’t say that. I’ve seen your Lucky Chant, it’s really good!”
Nia just huffed. “A lotta good that is...”
“Don’t put yourself down like that. Maybe it’s not the...” She was about to say “not the best move”, but quickly realized saying that wouldn’t have been the best move itself.
“You just have to keep at it. You’ll keep getting better the more you practice.”
There was a long, painful silence. At last, sensing its occupant wanted to be left alone, Flidais pushed herself up off the small bed. She turned to look down at the small green figure curled up in its corner.
Nia didn’t respond.
“Nia, you know we’re happy to have you on the team. I’M happy to have you on the team. Do you believe me?”
Nia made a noncommittal groan from the bed, and Flidais sighed, shaking her head. She crossed the room to the door, opening it before stopping in the doorway, and glanced back.
“I’m proud of you, sis. You’re going to do more than you’d ever think you could.”
Nia remained quiet.
“Love you, little Pixie.”
“Love you too...” Nia murmured automatically, just loud enough to let Flidais hear it. Flidais gave her a weak smile, before shutting the door.
The mug of tea had stopped steaming, its contents almost untouched while its drinker sat dejectedly at the round, wooden kitchen table. Flidais swirled the cup in her hands absentmindedly, unable to get her mind off what Nia had said. Flidais believed what she had said, that the girl did have great potential in her. Still, that didn’t disprove Nia’s counterpoint. True, her skills were somewhat... minimal, when it came to combat at least. Flidais didn’t blame her for this, of course, Nia being as young as she was.
That didn’t make growing up and watching the world pass you by any easier, however. Flidais knew how that felt. Her own mentor, Diamond’s founder and former leader Firebrand, had always led the charge into battle, while she had been able to do little more than provide nominal support to the fight. She was practically a Gardevoir before she learned any real hard-hitting moves. She remembered fighting alongside the fearsome Blaziken proudly, for those early adventures were some of her fondest memories.
Her ride down Memory Lane came to a literal fiery crash as one of the kitchen cabinets tore free from the wall and landed on the floor with a cacophony of splintering wood and metal pots banging into anything and everything nearby, mostly each other. Adding to the symphony of destruction was a chorus of howls and screeching profanity.
There, standing over the wreckage, was Hellfire, the current leader of The Diamond Platoon. The Infernape was stomping on the ruined cabinet, apparently deciding it wasn’t destroyed enough yet. His temper, true to his nature, was fiery, but like how the hottest fires burn out the fastest, his simmered down soon enough, and when he spotted the thick bunch of yellow bananas he had been reaching for, it cooled immediately. He grabbed the lot and tore one off, popping it in his mouth without bothering to remove the peel first. It was only after he had swallowed the heavenly fruit that he noticed Flidais sitting in stunned silence.
“I think it’s safe now.” he muttered flatly with a sheepish smirk, before joining her at the table, stuffing another banana down his gullet.
“So what’re you doing down here, Flee?” he asked, twisting another banana open to reveal its precious contents. When he wasn’t met with the usual huff from his chosen nickname for her, he lowered the fruit and leaned forward.
“Alright, what’s going on. Did Castabra leave another dead bird in your room?”
“No, it’s not that. And don’t be so hard on her, she’s not so bad when you give her a chance... Chances.”
Hellfire stowed his grudge against the Weavile for now and pointed the dissected banana at Flidais.
“Well, what is it?”
“It’s Nia.” Flidais sighed, taking a long sip of the cold tea before continuing. “She doesn’t feel like she’s contributing. She even told she thinks she’s... ‘useless’.” The word stung as she finally spat it out.
“Yeah, heard that.” Hellfire grunted, squeezing the banana into a mush in its own skin. Flidais blinked, surprised.
“You... heard that?”
“How could you not? The squirt can make some noise when she wants.” Satisfied his banana was sufficiently mashed, he stuck a finger in the slit of the peel and scooped out the grayish mush. Flidais tried not to cringe as he slurped up the fruit with his usual table manners.
“So,” he began after eating the peel as well, “what are you going to do about that?”
Hellfire snorted. “Do about Nia. She’s bummed out, you’re concerned. What’s your plan?”
Flidais stuttered, taken aback. “I don’t really... What would you do?”
Flidais nearly dropped the mug. “Wh-what? You’re not... She’s too young!” Hellfire only scoffed.
“I was younger than her when I went out in the world. So were you.”
“I had Firebrand with me.”
“Exactly.” He began peeling another banana. “If the old bird thought it was a good idea, then why not?”
“Because I’m not Firebrand.” Flidais huffed. Hellfire sighed, rubbing his temple. “Neither of us are. But you ARE Flidais, and that means a whole lot more to that kid than Ol’ Beaky.”
When she didn’t respond, he snorted back a laugh. “Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. She worships the ground you walk on. If you offer to teach her, you’ll make her year.”
Hellfire gulped down his banana as he watched her mull it over, swirling the mug in her hands nervously. Finally, she spoke.
“If you think it’s a good idea...”
“I do. Now go tell her. I don’t like seeing her mope around any more than you do.”
Flidais gave a weak chuckle. “It can’t hurt, right?”
“It can always hurt, but it’s a risk worth taking.” He reached for the last banana before pausing and holding it up to her. “Hey, did you want one?”
“Uh, no thanks, I’m fine-” No sooner did she say ‘no’ before he popped it in his mouth.
Not a minute later Flidais found herself outside her door once again. At first it hadn’t been hard, eager to take any excuse to not watch Hellfire do unspeakable things to more fruit. Right now though, she’d happily watch him desecrate an entire crate of bananas if it meant not going opening the door.
Okay, half a crate. She wasn’t that desperate.
But, that wasn’t a choice she could make. The choice was opening her door. Her hand was frozen on the handle, her mind paralyzing her. Fears and doubts buzzed in her mind, each screeching their protests louder than the last. Was she making a mistake? What if Nia hurt herself? What if she hurt Nia? What if -
No, no the mistake was leaving that door closed.
She steeled herself, and with an immense force of will, turned the knob and pushed the door open. The creaking of the long unoiled hinges seemed to ring through the hallway. Despite her fears, Flidias managed to force herself through the door frame.
What she saw inside didn’t fill her with any more confidence. Still on her bed lay Nia, flopped on her back with an old issue of “LUDICRASH!” by her side. The comic recounted the adventures of the titular Ludi, a clumsy Ludicolo superhero, and his Lombre sidekick Soggy, a perpetual pessimist and wet blanket. Despite the rather creepy-looking protagonist, Nia loved it, although right now Flidais could guess which of the pair the poor girl could relate to.
Flidais cleared her throat, causing Nia to look up. She wasn’t looking any happier than when Flidais had last been in here.
Taking that as as much of an invitation as she was going to get, Flidais stepped in and sat on the foot of the bed. After not getting any response from Nia, she picked up the discarded comic and flipped it over, reading the cover. It featured a large yellow splash of its hero popping out of an ice cream cart, sending frozen treats flying everywhere as he threw the lids open. Flidais tried to force a grin as the beaked pineapple monstrosity stared out at her.
“What are you reading?”
“Just a comic. It’s dumb.” Well she wasn’t wrong. As Flidais flipped through the issue, she found the cover seemed to summarize the plot quite succinctly. Still, this wasn’t the time to discuss Nia’s taste in reading material. Flidais set the unsightly comic down on the bed and turned to her sister, this time her smile less forced.
“So, I talked to Hellfire a little while ago.” Nia perked back up, this time looking genuinely curious. Seeing she had her attention this time, Flidais continued.
“He gave me a very special mission. Tomorrow, you and I are going to go out...”
Nia was sitting up fully now, her round eyes wide and mouth slightly agape.
“...And go train together.”
Time seemed to stop. The world was silent, so silent Flidais could swear she could hear her own heartbeat, quickening in anticipation. Nia’s eyes only grew wider, until in a whisper she asked just two words.
“For really.” Flidais chuckled at her sister’s choice of words.
Then the wind was knocked out of her.
“YES! YES YES YES OH THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!”
It was as if all the world’s joy had been sucked into Nia and was now bursting out in a violent maelstrom of pure happiness. She launched herself at Flidais, knocking her off-balance and onto the bed, as she gave her older sister as bone-crushing a hug as her small arms would let her.
“THANK YOU THANK YOU OH MY GOSH YOU’RE THE BEST BIG SISTER EVER!”
The room itself seemed brighter as Nia alternated between dancing around the room with her usual boundless energy and tackling Flidais with more hugs. It didn’t take long for her to find her way out of the room as she pranced through the house, her excitement radiating off her as she sang and whooped her glee to the world. She would pause only to share her world-changing good news with any of the other members of the Platoon she ran into, some of whom congratulated her, while others were less than pleased that she let herself into their rooms to squeal in their faces. Nia didn’t care though, and for the next fifteen minutes Driftwood Cottage was ablaze with her seemingly-limitless happiness, stopped only by Nia finally collapsing on the carpet in a giggling exhausted heap.
Flidais finally caught up to her, scooping her up and carrying her back upstairs.
“Come on, little warrior, they’ll be plenty to use that energy on in the morning.”
The soft white sounds stretched on for miles, broken only by the occasional brightly-colored shell. The azure sky was bright and warm, littered with enormous puffy clouds drifting lazily across the endless blue. The turquoise sea lapped at the shore as crabs scuttled at its edge, searching hungrily for the sea’s many bounties. Behind the beach was a thick green jungle, every tree and bush bursting with vibrant-colored juicy fruit, where even the smallest berry was the size of your fist.
In the middle of this paradise was a single beach chair, its occupant sunning herself in the bright sunlight as she sipped at a drink as bright as the fruit in the jungle. Flidais breathed in the heavenly air, filled with the intoxicating scents of salty ocean and the ripe fruit.
A Wingull landed beside her chair and looked up hungrily, its shining blue eyes and smiling beak begging for both treats and attention. Flidais adjusted her sunglasses and stretched out a hand to stroke the silly-looking bird.
“Well hello there!” She cooed, scratching under its beak.
Flidais blinked, taken aback by the bird’s strange response.
“Flidais, wake up!” It squawked again.
“Wake up wake up WAKE UP!”
Something slammed into her chest and Flidais’ eyes shot open. There, sprawled across her, was Nia. The Kirlia’s scolding eyes widened to excitement as Flidais started crawling out of dreamland, only to scowl at her when Flidais shut her eyes again. Nia scampered to her feet and glared down at her lazy sister.
“Come on, it’s morning! Get up!” To assert her point, Nia started jumping on the bed, emphasizing each bounce with another “get up!”, her loose pigtails and oversized t-shirt bouncing with her. Flidais turned over, covering her face with a pillow. Nia didn’t give up however, and knelt down to try pulling the pillow off, grunting with effort.
“You’ve slept enough! Get up- YAH!”
Flidais sprung up and wrapped her arms around Nia, pulling her in under the covers and cuddling her like a large teddy bear. It was hard not to laugh at her annoyed squirming.
“Five more minutes...”
“No! No more minutes! Lemme go!”
Flidais loosened her grip just enough to let Nia wiggle free and finally gave up trying to get any more sleep. Blearily she rubbed her eyes and looked out the window. The first purple streaks of sunrise were poking over the horizon. Well, it was morning, in the most technical sense.
With all the grace of a Snorlax waddling across the grease-splattered floor of a free all-you-can-eat buffet, Flidais pulled herself out of bed, with Nia helpfully pushing her from behind. Any hope for getting more sleep was long gone by this point, and touching the cold wooden floor with her feet only confirmed that. Flidais shambled out into the dark hallway, Nia scrambled after her and began peppering her with questions.
“What are we gonna start with first? Shadow Ball?”
“No, Pixie, not for a long time.”
“Something simpler for now.”
“We can’t use Fire Blast, sweetie.”
The barrage of questions, suggestions, and more than a few “why not?”s continued throughout their morning routine. From breakfast, to brushing their teeth, to getting dressed for the day. The only reprieve came when it was Nia’s turn to use the shower, and even then Flidais could hear her sing-song speculations through the wall.
Finally though, Nia’s lack of patience was rewarded. Together, hand in hand, teacher and student stepped out the front door. The sun peaked over the horizon, bathing them in golden orange light as they marched out to face the day, and all the possibilities it held.