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Arbitrary Execution

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Now I just gotta say this quick: while reading chapter seven I felt genuinely chilled by the whole thing. It might've been because I was ill, idk, but at one point I literally thought "this is actually unnerving me". And that's amazing. If a fic can do that, then you know it's a brilliant one.
Glad you liked it! I didn't have seven down as a particularly spooky chapter, but of course the nice thing about writing something is getting to see the difference between how you as a writer see a story and how your readers see it, and often parts you didn't think much of while writing them turn out to be things that stand out much more strongly for readers. So yeah, nice to hear that seven occupied that place for you.

I'm so so so intrigued by the breach events, they just fascinate me to no end. The fact that the Glitch Oak can time travel and it attacked like that is oddly badass and I love it. Also, I really feel for poor old Artie with a second breach event happening near her. Speaking of breach, I'm certainly becoming suspicious of the real Oak after Rena was so dismissive of breach. The fact that the Glitch Oak looks just like him somewhat supports that as well.
The plot is certainly thickening! There's a lot going on within the League, that's for sure, and it's difficult to talk about it without giving too much away but you'll definitely see more of it in future chapters, especially after we finally arrive in Cinnabar. Hopefully you'll like my next breach event, too -- it's an oldie, but a goodie, and I've done my best to treat it in an original way.

Hmm, A. Grahame... perhaps Ariana or Archer, the future Rocket executives? It wouldn't seem too far out. I'm tempted to say Agatha but her name would be all over those important files Emilia looked at, so she's out of the question. Yep yep, my guess is one of the Rocket executives.
It's obviously A for Archie of Team Aqua It might be worth keeping in mind that the files Emilia looked at were specifically the records for Lorelei's departments. If A. Grahame works for another part of the League, then she wouldn't have come across their name -- it's just that she didn't look in those, because Lorelei's departments are the secret ones that are likely to be involved with breach, and also because they are not stored centrally with Lorelei's departments' records because the League is the bureaucratic equivalent of someone who lives in Los Angeles but has never learned to drive.

I feel for the Scyther/Scizor. If it is actually put down I'll understand but y'know still sucks because it just wanted to live out life...
It also wanted to murder everyone it sees, so y'know, there are positives and negatives to be weighed here. But yes, it would kinda be a shame. Unfortunately, the prognosis is not very good, as it happens.

Waitwaitwait I need to hear more on this
It has been mentioned in passing in previous chapters! The current reigning Champion, Casey Rigadeau, is nonbinary; Emilia says as much in chapter four. This mention here is mostly to confirm that they do also identify as trans.

Funny, I've been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and in it there's a massive wormhole in the sky called "the breach" and it first manifests as a laser-esque thing that destroys a load of stuff. And in it, the main protagonist closes it with a mark on their hand called the anchor. Just thought I'd mention it because I'm a nerd like that, it doesn't really impact anything tbh.

Overall I'm still lovin it!
Never could get into Dragon Age myself; I'm more of a Mass Effect kinda person. But yeah, terms like breach and anchor are resonant, I guess; they turn up over and over in a bunch of different media. My use of breach in Arbitrary Execution owes more to China Miéville's The City and the City than anything else -- I just really liked the idea of a creepy voice repeating the word over and over. Anyway! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! <3

-Hmm, I’m a bit torn on the opening scene. Not on the quality. Just on what Artemis is thinking. Have the breach experiences been so traumatizing she finds the need for something familiar, even if that familiarity isn’t necessarily pleasant? Or is it just something she’s doing to try and make herself seem “normal” in some way, at least compared to Cass? I think it’s the former, but I’m not sure.
In the last chapter, when leaving Viridian, Artemis did think that she'd have to call her parents sooner or later, because she knows that despite her attempts to escape them she's kinda still bound to them by filial loyalty, however misplaced. She's calling them now because of that; because they have for so long had such control of her life that she finds it hard to truly be free; because she needs, as you say, familiarity, and she doesn't have much of that other than her parents. Hopefully, the more we learn about Artemis' relationship with her parents, the more sense her actions with regard to them will make.

And the award for “Most ridiculous name I’ve ever seen” goes to… this girl.
I mean, she's just Icelandic. As someone with a polysyllabic surname from distant lands that English speakers tend to struggle with, I think my sympathies lie with Rena on this one. :p

-I do like this portrayal of the Oak labs as, well, exactly what you said it is. A uni-affiliated research center. It stands out from your run-of-the-mill Pokémon lab we see in every game ever. And, while creeped out by the little tidbit about Eevee genetic instability, I’m gonna call it a friendly tip of the hat to Vee to Pokémon Adventures and move on.
I kind of wanted to make the Oak labs make sense: if he's the authority that he says he is, why is he in Pallet, a tiny backwater town, and not in one of the big cities? So I gave him a backstory that implies he set up here rebelling against authority, only to become part of the establishment as he got older and more well respected. I'm glad you like it, anyway! Also, I'm going to have to confess I'm not 100% sure what Pokémon Adventures is. Part of the manga? The anime? Either way, I don't think I've heard of this Vee -- I just wanted to place the scyther in context with other cases of evolution going wrong, and eevee seemed to me to be the logical choice, since it has the greatest number of evolutions and hence the greatest potential for evolutionary mishaps.

I’m genuinely curious if you had a college professor like this because that is a strange collection of things. And I totally didn’t have to look up Mahabharata because I didn’t know what it was. Nope. Absolutely 100% didn’t.
Yes, I did. One of my favourite professors had an office that was almost exactly like that, except instead of the Mahabharata she had ancient carvings of a kind I could not identify from somewhere in India that I also could not identify, and her Marxist lolcats had slightly different captions. She wasn't anything like Rena in terms of personality, but her office was such a striking image I had to reuse it.

-That’s a very vivid description of that Scyther. An unnerving one, but in a, “Please get me out of here before something goes wrong,” kind of way.
More or less what I was going for, so thank you!

That’s not very scientific, Rena. Tsk, tsk.
Scientists very often aren't, in my experience. Or no, they are, but like in the very next second they suddenly stop again and start just being people. I find that very endearing, so that's the sort of personality I went for with Rena.

-Oooh, more teasing about Emilia’s past exploits. Including one where she apparently circumnavigated the system for whoever this Stella is. And then we’re off to the Indigo Plateau. Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting this locale to show up until later. I like how – what’s the word? – “sterile” you make it. I’ve been in a few federal office buildings from time to time and I just got this sense I was back in the middle of DC, with maybe just a touch of Britain thrown in for good measure.
That's the atmosphere I wanted! If it feels British at all, that's probably just because that's where I live and so that's where most of the government machinery I've encountered has been based, so it's necessarily what has inflected my portrait of the Plateau. Of course, the Plateau is more like DC than say, Westminster, because it was purpose built as a seat of power, so perhaps that influenced me as well. I've really enjoyed figuring out how the Indigo League works, and hopefully that comes through -- both in this chapter and in future ones, where I deal with more League history while Artemis and Cass tourist it up in Cinnabar, and the actual process of mounting a Gym challenge.

Wait… does this mean what I think it means or am I misreading?
That sorta depends what you think it means, I guess? If it's about Emilia being trans, then yeah, that's what she is. I kinda said as much openly in chapter six, and in my response to your last review.

It wouldn’t be a conspiracy if the respected scientists weren’t in on it, I suppose. But that just makes it creepier. That means they have legitimate data and factual evidence on this stuff and they’re trying to sweep it under the rug and hope no one notices. Having things end of with friendly chit-chat about the “good old days of trainerdom” actually unnerves me more. Like, Rena knows there’s something wrong and is doing her damndest not to lead Artemis on.
There are definitely real and serious questions to be asked about what Rena knows, and how much. Do also bear in mind, though, that while Artemis is a suspicious person both by nature and like as a political thing, she isn't always reliable. Is Rena really in on it? Hard to say, with the data that is available so far. Artemis certainly thinks so, but even she isn't sure that she trusts herself to see clearly enough to make that judgement without bias, and when the narration follows her it's very much from her point of view, first person or not.

-The league has a time travel research division? I’m gonna assume it involves Dialga and Celebi. But, nevertheless, while the suspicious files (either manual or computer-driven) are a pretty classic staple of these sorts of thrillers, I do appreciate the Pokémon slanted theme you gave them, even if I think some of the references flew over my head.
There aren't so many references there, honestly. Glossolalia is of course the speaking in tongues that occurs in the Acts of the Apostles; B/8 is a reference to a thing in an old book from the eighties I once read about teaching computers to recognise the difference between a B and an 8 (I have no idea if it's a real thing or not); OD4R is a reference to ODAR, the secret time travel police of the US government in the podcast ars PARADOXICA -- and yes, it is celebi-focused: that's why I said it was based in Ilex Forest. The rest are all just made-up nonsense, except of course for ROCKETS, which is, y'know, Team Rocket. It is also an actual acronym, and let me tell you, it was not easy to come up with a plausible thing that ROCKET could be short for. In the end I had to add an S on the end just to make it work.

This isn’t as heavy of a chapter, I think, but I still love these cute little moments! They’re so adorable. <3
Good! The world is full of terrible things and unfair power relations, but it's also the only place where you'll find good people and precious moments, and I really try to do both of those sides to reality justice with this fic. I'm glad you like these little touches.

As ever, thank you for reading and responding, especially so promptly and consistently! It's really very flattering. Next time, Artemis breaks the law, and Emilia receives a worrying phone call from Lorelei. Until then -- thank you all again for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy the story!
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Ch 7
Concerning the reveal of Emilia being trans, that does explain her taking some interest in Artemis there. I admit the "going stealth" phrase I never knew it being used that way before. Sounds like Effie is getting worse poor thing, but that email address there looks like a new lead for Emilia there.

Well, that encounter with that odd Scyhter sure is something. I can see why Artemis grew unsettled after Cass said about strange stuff happening since she met her.

Ch 8
Rena seems like an upbeat person who knows her stuff but can get carried away sometimes heh. Too bad looks like that Scyther has to be put down. Would probably be too stressful for Artemis to deal with. Looks like the breach caused Rena to be jumpy there, leading maybe she does have an idea there.

You've been referencing your worldbuilding on the Pokemon League the past few chapters, but it's cool we get a glimpse of inside their location this time. All these secret projects there, oh boy.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Ch 7
Concerning the reveal of Emilia being trans, that does explain her taking some interest in Artemis there. I admit the "going stealth" phrase I never knew it being used that way before. Sounds like Effie is getting worse poor thing, but that email address there looks like a new lead for Emilia there.
No reason why you would've heard it before, I guess! It's like a fairly specific community of people that use the phrase; I just kinda hoped it would be made clear in context. And yeah, her interest with Artemis is definitely more than professional. There's more to come on that front, as the problems facing Emilia mount up and she has to start finding things to spur herself on.

Well, that encounter with that odd Scyhter sure is something. I can see why Artemis grew unsettled after Cass said about strange stuff happening since she met her.
Yeah, poor kid. :c Nobody likes to have their difference pointed out like that, especially not in a way that encourages you to think it might be your fault.

Ch 8
Rena seems like an upbeat person who knows her stuff but can get carried away sometimes heh. Too bad looks like that Scyther has to be put down. Would probably be too stressful for Artemis to deal with. Looks like the breach caused Rena to be jumpy there, leading maybe she does have an idea there.

You've been referencing your worldbuilding on the Pokemon League the past few chapters, but it's cool we get a glimpse of inside their location this time. All these secret projects there, oh boy.
I'm glad you like it! I had a lot of fun with the League, as I did with most of this story -- like, after doing something as bleak and think-y as Go Home, I really appreciated just having a chance to make up a whole bunch of fun stuff, and in some places I suspected myself of having gone overboard trying to give the League a sense of history. But it looks like it's turning out okay. Thank you for the read and response!
 

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
Okay, I binge read all of this and, well, it was a wild ride. Let's put it that way. It was a good kind of rollercoaster ride, with lots of unexpected twists and turns that leave me wanting more and also kind of winded because it's just that wild.

I knew, at the very least, that glitches were a thing in this fic. And some for reason, I thought maybe this would be... a crack fic? Pure comedy? I don't know why I thought that, considering I've read your other works and they've never leaned in that direction whatsoever. Anyway, I've enjoyed the way you've integrated politics and law enforcement in this fic. It makes sense that supernatural occurances are common in the pokemon world and that the League not only deals with them as they come, but also studies them. In short, the worldbuilding in this fic is probably my favorite out of everything I've read of yours so far.

Emilia's job, which in part requires her to cover for some of their secrets and misdeeds, only adds to that political atmosphere and that feeling that, you know, maybe the public doesn't want to hear about ghost pokemon haunting people or whatever, even if it doesn't quite affect them personally. I was a little skeptical as to why Emilia was so attached to Artemis for a while, but her being revealed as trans quelled my skepticism pretty quickly. I actually liked how you waited to say that explicitly (and I'm not sure there were many hints at it beforehand, either) because a lot of Artemis's focus as a young trans woman is trying to pass as a young trans woman to people. She's having trouble doing so, but on the other hand, Emilia's not having trouble at all. She has none of the troubles Artemis has, really, and the protectiveness she feels for Artemis because of her struggles is endearing to read.

As for Artemis herself, she resembles Gwyneth to me in a lot of ways. She's not quite in tune with reality, just in a different way as Gwyneth. Her invasive thoughts mixed with her delusional ones make for an interesting dynamic when it comes to, you know, supernatural theories and conspiracy theories. She also, like Gwyneth, feels a distinct lack of confidence that affects a lot of her actions and prefers not to socialize, the latter of which appears to be a part of her personality rather than solely the byproduct of the way people treat those who aren't cis. The poor relationship with parents and the past sickness delaying her journey reminds me of another character I know, lol, and the not including them much in the fic only emphasizes, to me, how badly Artemis wants to leave them behind and not hear anything they have to say. Even if she feels guilty for it.

I tried not to gush about your perfect, relatable descriptions of mental health that rip at my heart this time around, though you're doing that as well as usual. ;P I'll be back for next chapter because how could I not come back, seriously?
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Okay, I binge read all of this and, well, it was a wild ride. Let's put it that way. It was a good kind of rollercoaster ride, with lots of unexpected twists and turns that leave me wanting more and also kind of winded because it's just that wild.
Thank you for saying so! I'm glad you want more, because there is an ungodly amount of this to come. Apparently this is going to be one of those stories.

I knew, at the very least, that glitches were a thing in this fic. And some for reason, I thought maybe this would be... a crack fic? Pure comedy? I don't know why I thought that, considering I've read your other works and they've never leaned in that direction whatsoever. Anyway, I've enjoyed the way you've integrated politics and law enforcement in this fic. It makes sense that supernatural occurances are common in the pokemon world and that the League not only deals with them as they come, but also studies them. In short, the worldbuilding in this fic is probably my favorite out of everything I've read of yours so far.
Great to hear! I really like the worldbuilding in this one too -- I'm interested in politics, as is probably clear, and I've always wanted to do something with elements of a political thriller, and while this isn't quite that it's about as close as I've ever come to it. I also really like detective stories, by which I mean I'm not actually that fond of reading detective stories but I love the form and its history (which is I guess the most pretentious way to like detective stories but whatever), and with Emilia's half (or slightly less than half) of the narrative I've been able to indulge that interest too. I wanted the League to feel like the huge, omnipresent force that it must be in a place like Kanto, wanted to give it history and depth and flavour that would work to the advantage of both the trainer fic elements and the conspiracy theory elements, and it's good to know I've been getting the solidity I was after. I always imagined Kanto's League was much, much older and more established than in, say, Unova, where the League is sort of peripheral (all the Leaders have second jobs, and they're worse than useless when it comes to dealing with Team Plasma), and my aim was to cement it into the world as thoroughly as I could.

Emilia's job, which in part requires her to cover for some of their secrets and misdeeds, only adds to that political atmosphere and that feeling that, you know, maybe the public doesn't want to hear about ghost pokemon haunting people or whatever, even if it doesn't quite affect them personally. I was a little skeptical as to why Emilia was so attached to Artemis for a while, but her being revealed as trans quelled my skepticism pretty quickly. I actually liked how you waited to say that explicitly (and I'm not sure there were many hints at it beforehand, either) because a lot of Artemis's focus as a young trans woman is trying to pass as a young trans woman to people. She's having trouble doing so, but on the other hand, Emilia's not having trouble at all. She has none of the troubles Artemis has, really, and the protectiveness she feels for Artemis because of her struggles is endearing to read.
I'm pleased you like her! Emilia was always less immediately interesting than Artemis, just because that's who she is, and I'm glad that she's turned out to grow on people as they learn more about her. I was a little hesitant about leaving the revelations about her for a while, but in the end I just figured it really fits her best -- she's thirty-seven, she transitioned nearly two decades ago, she just doesn't think about these things as much as, or in the same way as, Artemis. Part of it is deliberate, of course, because she's got this whole complex of emotions about (a) becoming bourgeois and (b) passing so effectively as cis, but part of it is also that she's just ... been doing this for longer. There will definitely be an endearing conversation at some point where the two of them get to talk to each other about this kind of thing, to various degrees of success. I can say this with absolute certainty because it's coming in two chapters' time.

As for Artemis herself, she resembles Gwyneth to me in a lot of ways. She's not quite in tune with reality, just in a different way as Gwyneth. Her invasive thoughts mixed with her delusional ones make for an interesting dynamic when it comes to, you know, supernatural theories and conspiracy theories. She also, like Gwyneth, feels a distinct lack of confidence that affects a lot of her actions and prefers not to socialize, the latter of which appears to be a part of her personality rather than solely the byproduct of the way people treat those who aren't cis. The poor relationship with parents and the past sickness delaying her journey reminds me of another character I know, lol, and the not including them much in the fic only emphasizes, to me, how badly Artemis wants to leave them behind and not hear anything they have to say. Even if she feels guilty for it.
It's so cool to me that you pick up on all that. I mean, I tried to write it all, of course, but I never know if I've got it across until someone replies and says "yeah, I see X in Y character". I guess at heart Artemis and Gwyneth are both variations on a type of person who I always seem to end up writing about: they're both very empathetic, but prefer to be empathetic far away from other people. But Artemis is younger and she still has some hope left in her because she starts this story just having figured out a way to escape everything she's had to deal with for all this time, whereas Gwyneth starts her journey in a much worse place, because I'm pretty sure she goes to Humilau at least in part because she doesn't think she'll make it there alive. And like, I wanted to write about someone who's struggled with psychosis but is not either (a) actually having visions of a cosmic truth that other people wrongly dismiss as mental illness or (b) wrong about the conspiracy. I felt like I'd never read a story about someone like that who actually succeeds, and that meant I had to write one if I ever wanted to read it.

I tried not to gush about your perfect, relatable descriptions of mental health that rip at my heart this time around, though you're doing that as well as usual. ;P I'll be back for next chapter because how could I not come back, seriously?
Thanks! I have to admit, I was way less confident with Artemis than with Gwyneth -- because I know how to write depression and dissociation and I knew I did before I set out to write Go Home, and this time around, well. I had a good idea of how I'd write anxiety, but I wasn't sure how I'd go about trying to represent hallucinations and delusions, because they have this ... I don't know how to describe it, this different sort of quality to them that makes them hard to pin to the page with words. I rewrote the first few passages where they come up quite a few times before I settled on something I liked enough to keep.

Anyway! I look forward to seeing you next chapter, I guess! Thank you as ever for reading, and for such an incisive response.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
09: COVERT OPERATIONS

After her trip to the Plateau, Emilia finds herself at an impasse. She puts out some feelers, asks a few acquaintances if they know anything about an organisation or agency called ROCKETS, but every avenue of investigation turns up a blank. It figures, really. Emilia has always known that the League makes sure that certain people don't come into contact with her. She's very good at what she does, and she has a conscience: a combination that makes her both extremely valuable and also something of a liability. This is fine. Emilia is perfectly capable of finding out most of the League's secrets anyway, if she really wants to. It's only the very deeply buried stuff that gives her trouble, and ROCKETS, whatever it is, seems to be that kind of thing.

So. She continues on with her usual business for a day or two: catches up on what she missed, liaises with Parliament, comes home and sits cross-legged in front of Effie, charting the development of the swelling at the tip of her stem. She Googles pictures of vileplume fruit and sees a bewildering variety, from every subspecies known to humankind; she narrows it down to Effie's species, the greater corpseflower, and sees fruits about the size and shape of a mango, virulently red and mottled with brown.

Effie's fruit is just beginning to take shape. Still green, and still for now smaller than Emilia's thumb. Emilia watches, measures, begins to consider buying a sack of potting compost and some little flowerpots.

The practicality of her thinking nauseates her. Some things are supposed to hit you hard, to be beyond your ability to reason with and prepare for. But apparently Emilia is that kind of pragmatic monster who can plan out how to plant Effie's brood while she dies right in front of her eyes.

Nadia watches all of it with her unblinking eyes, attempting to understand. Emilia can feel her mind on the edge of her own, working hard to parse the emotions she's picking up. She doesn't attempt to explain it to her. Every time she thinks she might, she realises that one day maybe eight years from now she'll be burying Nadia too.

It occurs to her then that it's been eight years since Sam, as well. Maybe there's a pattern there, she thinks, before carefully and deliberately burying the thought as deep as she possibly can.

During the day she smiles and shakes hands and helps the civil service understand the weirdness going on up on the Plateau. It's all so normal, so efficient, so stifling, and frankly when Lorelei next calls her for advice it's something of a relief.

The call comes at an inconvenient time. Emilia is on her way to a meeting with a senior secretary in the Home Office, who has been tasked with making sure that League regulations on eligibility for trainer grants are modified to be fully in line with the latest immigration laws. Emilia has seen the legislation, and knows full well that it boils down to giving less money out to kids who probably need it more than most; nevertheless, she will go and sit in front of a man whose life this law will never touch and agree to see that it happens, because that is her job and the alternative is unthinkable. She walks to the offices rather than taking a cab, to clear her head and get into the right frame of mind, and halfway down the Old Palace Road she hears her phone go off in her bag.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Em. Lori.” She sounds tired, and worried. Could just be asking for advice – but on the other hand, it could be something more. Something, maybe, that would get her out of this godawful meeting. Emilia feels petty and selfish for thinking it, but what the hell. Her partner's dying and she can't go a week without being called on to cover up outbreaks of cosmic horror. She's owed a break. “I have a question.”

“Okay, Lori. Ask me, then.”

“Someone tripped the sensors at the Oak Foundation earlier today. Talking about breach radiation. A scientist whose name I'm not even going to try to pronounce called it in. Didn't know what breach was, but it's in all their contracts to report it if it comes up.”

“Okay,” says Emilia, hitting the button at a crossing and waiting for the lights to change. “So have someone come down and investigate.”

“Yeah, I know the protocol. But it's the kid from before. That Apanchomene girl. And honestly, after seeing two, possibly three breach events, I'm not sure she isn't justified in asking a question or two.”

“Wait,” says Emilia, scowling. “Three? Three events?”

Lorelei pauses.

“You didn't hear this,” she says, “but the kid ran into a mutant scyther on the way down to Pallet. Nobody at the Foundation knows what to do with it; might be breach mutation, might not.”

“A scyther? Is she all right?”

“Huh? Yeah, fine. It was very weak, she caught it and took it to the lab.” (A weird little burst of second-hand pride.) “We didn't send anyone to contain it because the scientists basically explained it away by themselves. Evolutionary mishap, is the official verdict. The point is, I was going to send someone down to talk to her, but … I'm honestly not sure how to approach this.” Lorelei sighs. “It's bad enough that this keeps happening, but it's even worse that it keeps happening to the same person. No one I've spoken to can tell me why. I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't take her in for her own safety, but I don't want to ruin her trainer journey before it's even started.”

Red light, green man. Emilia crosses through a haze of petrol fumes.

“That's definitely a delicate situation,” she says, thinking fast. “Okay, Lori, here's what you do. You send me and Nadia to Pallet to have a chat with her. We get the measure of the situation, gently advise her not to do whatever digging she's doing, then regroup with you and decide where to go from there. How does that sound?”

“Like a solution.” Lorelei chuckles. It's a little rueful, a little self-deprecating. The Elite Four job is hard, and having Emilia around to solve problems is a good thing, but Lorelei has never liked being reminded of her own limitations. Emilia has done her best to make her a little more open to asking for help over the years, and she's mostly succeeded, but that stubbornness lingers. “Thanks, Em. I don't know what we'd do without you.”

“Hire another lawyer,” replies Emilia, changing direction, heading for a taxi instead of the office. “Do you have a location for me?”

“She's checked in at the Pallet Pokémon Centre. How soon can you be there?”

“Soon as you like,” she says. “Sooner if this cab will stop for me.”

“You're a lifesaver. Let me know when you've spoken to her?”

“I will,” says Emilia. “Talk to you later, Lori.”

She hangs up and looks at Nadia, listening in on her shoulder.

“Make a note to reschedule that meeting with the secretary and assign it to Alex,” she says, with a certain guilty satisfaction. “I think I'm going to be busy.”

*​

It's kind of strange, being out here on the open ocean. There's a thin sliver of land just visible to the north, but apart from that Artemis can see nothing but water, rolling on towards the horizon in every direction. It's pretty, especially now as the sun sets, but it's frightening too. All that space. That decisive lack of land, of enclosure, of buildings. Of anything that might stand for security and safety.

At times like this, she's acutely aware of how small her life has been. When she was little, her parents didn't often have the time or money for holidays, and her teenage years were disrupted by her two illnesses. She hasn't left Pewter for years, and the Kantan mainland ever. Now here she is on a boat out in the middle of the ocean, a tiny nothing against the vast totality of the world.

The thought occurs to her that she could jump off the ferry now and disappear forever. She lets it come, and then lets it go again as she has been taught, without trying to fight or worry about it. These things happen. It's okay.

“Weird, huh,” she says to Brauron, clinging to her shoulder. “You seen the ocean before? Where were you even born, anyway?”

She's got Brauron's documentation somewhere in her bag, but that's back in the cabin and so she doesn't check it. Probably it doesn't matter. Alola or Kanto, she's here now, with Artemis. Something to hold onto in the middle of this huge, quiet emptiness.

The ferry is not quite as small as it looked from shore; Artemis isn't alone on the deck, even now as the sun starts to go down, but there's enough space that it almost feels that way. Cass is inside somewhere, and right now Artemis is sharing the deck with just a few others, all of whom she recognises from earlier. There aren't so many other passengers – fifteen, twenty at most. None of them are the man who came to the Pokémon Centre and who she is trying not to believe was following her.

It's interesting, really. At the same time that she feels alone in the emptiness, she is acutely aware that she is stuck on this tiny moving platform with just a few other people. This is a perfect setting for a murder mystery, right? A bunch of people, close proximity, no possible outside interference. Artemis half expects to wake up tomorrow to find out someone's been stabbed with an antique Chinese dagger or poisoned with the saliva of a rare South American toad.

Or, alternatively, to find a League agent watching her from the other end of the breakfast table.

She sighs and turns away from the view, Brauron crawling across her chest to stay out of the wind as she moves. It's time to go back indoors. Maybe if she talks to Cass instead of hanging around worrying she'll feel a little better.

Inside, the ferry is mostly corridor, with ten or twelve little cabins, and a common area with seating and a small bar. This last room is where Artemis finds Cass, throwing peanuts into the air and trying to catch them in her mouth. So far, she seems to have missed every time, although to be fair to her part of the problem is that Ringo keeps snatching them away out of the air.

“Damn it, Ringo, what did I just say?” she says, as he steals another one. “Gimme a break here. Oh, hey Artemis. It's pretty nice out there, huh?”

“Yeah.” Artemis sits down with her and deposits Brauron on the table, which she promptly claims as her territory by hissing at Ringo and chasing him back to Cass' shoulder. “Kind of weird. I've never been on a boat before.”

“What, never?”

“Nope. First time.”

“Well, it's kind of halfway between a hotel and a bus.” Cass shrugs. “Not all that interesting, really.”

That isn't really what Artemis meant, but okay.

“Yeah,” she says. “Kinda. Want anything to eat? I'm gonna get something.”

She's already eaten, so Artemis gets herself a sandwich at the bar and returns to find her still attempting the trick with the peanuts. The two of them eat, one of them less efficiently than the other, and talk about Cinnabar. What's it like, training at a Gym? Well, Cass didn't spend long training in Pewter but it's pretty cool, the Gym trainers all know a whole bunch of interesting battle tricks that you can use even if you don't train rock-types or whatever it is they specialise in.

“Besides, they don't just have their specialist pokémon, you know?” says Cass. “Like in Pewter this guy Edwin had a golem that's like his work pokémon, but he also had a togetic from his trainer journey, so he had some tips on how to train flying-types too. Tips that, uh, I kinda didn't really put into practice, but y'know, at least I listened to them.”

They keep chatting, discuss the pokémon that live on the slopes of Mt Catalayne – is it true that there are obsidian geodude and lava grimer up there on the volcano? Yes, as far as Artemis knows it is – and little by little, Artemis talks her fears back down into the hole deep inside her where they usually live. It's enough for now, and they do not come back until later that night, when she lies awake in the tiny cabin she shares with Cass, wondering if she's going to get off at Cinnabar and find League agents waiting for her at the docks.

There are ghost people tonight, horribly large inside the small space, bleeding and breathing and crowding around her bed like mourners around a grave, but it's all right; Artemis survives. She always does. She is a little worried at how much she has seen them recently, after six months in which she barely saw anything wrong at all, but still, they are an old problem and she knows how to deal with them. It's all right. It is.

She wakes early, limbs cramped from being forced into a bed a little too small to contain them, and slips into the equally tiny bathroom to fix her face before Cass wakes up. Brauron stirs sleepily at the sound of the tap, and Artemis takes her up on deck to watch the sun rising over the waves.

The two of them are utterly alone. Artemis knows, intellectually, that there must be someone driving the boat, but in the depth of the silence and the space, she cannot find it in herself to believe that this is true. She watches the dawn light spread in bloody fingers across the sky and water, and maybe her head's just in a better place than yesterday but she has to admit, it really is kinda beautiful.

Later, the other passengers begin to wake, and Cass emerges from the cabin with sleepy eyes and crumpled clothes, and the magic fades as the ferry fills up again with noise and motion, shifting from a dream back into real life. Artemis feeds Brauron ash pellets and bits of meat and waits for the ocean to give way to land.

Cinnabar is visible a long way off, the dun rise of the volcano looming on the horizon. It's bigger than Artemis was expecting, although she doesn't know why she thought it would be smaller; it is a volcano, after all. The buildings of the town are clustered around its base on the east side, and then on the lower slopes are swathes of green that Artemis guesses must be the vineyards. Cinnabar isn't exactly Champagne or Bordeaux, but if you want home-grown Kantan wine that doesn't taste like feet, this is the place to get it. Above that, the vegetation thins out, and Mt Catalayne rises in dark, dull cliffs towards the sky.

She considers the effects of being caught in a volcanic eruption for a moment, and imagines a future archaeologist pouring plaster into the ash like they did at Pompeii, finding the hollow left in the earth by her corpse. Adult male, they would say, pulling the cast from the earth, examining its size and proportions. And then put it on display in the ruins of the Pokémon Centre for future tourists to see.

The thought makes her skin crawl. When she dies, Artemis is determined, she will be cremated. No bones left to betray her.

It takes a deceptively long time to actually arrive at Cinnabar: it's bigger than it looks, and further away. When at last they do, Cass and Artemis are among the first off, ready to get moving again after the day of inactivity. And the town is a pleasant place to walk around; it's small and pretty, full of brightly-coloured little houses and interesting old architecture. Fountains, a clock tower carved with legends, a thousand-year-old synagogue with a battered plaque proclaiming in Old Kantan that the King of Cinnabar has permitted the Jewish community to live by their own law in their quarter of the town. There's a lot to see here for such a small place, and Artemis and Cass only really glance at it in passing on the way to the Pokémon Centre. Artemis is actually kind of excited, despite her fears. This? This is what she was expecting from her trainer journey, not spires and blurred men, and okay so she has to do some investigating here but still, she can stay a few weeks and explore this place properly. See the sights that she read about online: the old buildings, the natural caves, the vineyards, the historic marketplace.

And, of course, train. Blaine's Gym is up on the slope of the volcano, brooding like a dragon in its mountain lair. Cinnabar's buildings are not tall, and from pretty much anywhere in town you can see it: a big columned knuckle of dark stone, looming over you. It's one of the old Gyms from way back when Kanto was first unified by what would become the League, and it was, up until Cinnabar was annexed, the last redoubt of the island's monarchs. Looking up at it, Artemis feels that it's very impressive, although probably also kind of a pain to get to every day if you work there. The road up there must be steep as hell.

But all of that is for another time: right now, Artemis just needs to get to the Centre and unpack a little. It's more popular than the one in Pallet – Cinnabar has a Gym, of course, and it's summer – and she and Cass are once again put together in a twin room, much to her relief. All of these places are built on the same plan, and that means the same bathroom layout as before. It was okay in Pallet, where nobody was using the bathrooms anyway and so Artemis could just sneak in by herself, but here she doesn't know what she'd do if they didn't have the en suite.

But they do, and that's good, so she just dumps her backpack and listens to Cass trying to decide what to do first.

“Like I don't think we can go train yet,” she says. “By the time we get there it's gonna be past five and they'll be closed, so―”

Six thirty, thinks Artemis. They close at six thirty. But okay.

“―like I guess we could go do something else. Lotta old stuff in Cinnabar. And that lab where they do that Jurassic Park sh*t with fossils. Don't suppose you got a spare thirty thousand florins, huh?” Artemis shakes her head. “Oh, well. Woulda been cool to have a fossil 'mon. You know that meme of the omanyte holding a knife like a sword?” Artemis nods. “I love that thing. Mostly for the pun. Omaknight.” Cass smiles as she says it. “Where was I? Oh yeah. So like what do you wanna do?”

Artemis shrugs.

“I'm okay with whatever,” she says. “It might be cool to have a walk up the volcano now the sun's gone down a bit. Not so hot out now, you know?”

“That is … a really good idea,” says Cass, nodding. “I knew there was a reason I was hanging out with you.”

Artemis smiles, embarrassed.

“Um, okay. You ready to go, then? Maybe we'll find one of those obsidian geodude.”

“That'd be cool,” agrees Cass. “Okay, Ringo, ready to take your anger out on some poor defenceless wildlife?”

He absolutely is, and off they go. It's a very short walk from the Centre out of town, and within ten minutes the neat little houses have given way to steep, stony fields rising up on either side of a winding footpath. Ahead, Mt Catalayne rises in a series of bumps and lumps; off to the north, Artemis can just see a line of green over the edge of the hill that must be one of the vineyards. It's strange, really. This is all so … rural. Pallet was a small town, but that was just a suburb of Viridian, really, and Artemis knows suburbs. Cinnabar, though, is something else. Tiny buildings. Green spaces everywhere. Artemis has only seen Greece in photographs stumbled across online while searching for information about classical mythology, but she feels like this is what it must look like. Sun, wine, gnarled old olive trees. Kanto's own little slice of the Mediterranean.

Crickets whirring. The thin song of a black Kantan finch. The industrious sounds of the town below. It's peaceful, Artemis will give it that. She climbs the hill, watching Ringo fly on ahead from branch to rock to branch again, and despite herself she feels her shoulders untense. Maybe Giovanni and his team were doing something bad out here, but even so, this place is lovely.

Brauron seems to agree. She stretches herself out across Artemis' shoulders in the sunlight, tail markings glowing with contentment. Her presence gives Artemis a slightly giddy feeling of pleasure: her partner's happy, and she's responsible, and how amazing is it that she is actually capable of looking after another living thing like that? All this time Artemis thought she could barely look after herself, and now this. Of course, part of the point of a trainer journey is learning about that kind of thing, taking on responsibilities and expanding your capabilities, but somehow Artemis has always thought that that wouldn't apply to her. She supposes that was probably just the depression talking.

A couple of rabbits jump up at their approach and bolt across the path; powder-blue butterflies alight on the flowering clover. Cass breathes in deeply next to her and sighs.

“Man,” she says. “Good call on taking a walk, Artemis. This is great.”

Artemis is not very good at taking compliments, but she mutters something that might be thanks and Cass seems to get the picture. For a few minutes, they walk on in an awkward silence, and then Cass points at something over the hill to the south.

“Look at that,” she says. “Some kinda mansion.”

Artemis follows her finger and sees the husk of a huge old house, windows broken or boarded up, surrounded by a tall wire fence.

“Yeah,” she says. “Guess so.” She frowns. “Is that razor wire?”

“Huh?”

“There. On the fence.”

Cass squints.

“Looks like it,” she says. “That's weird. Maybe people break in a lot?”

Artemis looks at the house, thinking.

I haven't forgotten about Cinnabar, Giovanni said.

“Yeah,” she says, as the first fearful stirrings of belief rise inside her. “Maybe.”

*​

It's not a bad walk, even after that. They find a few wild pokémon, some grey-furred rock nidoran that hide among the stones and a spectacular royal pidgeot whose crest is a riot of glittering colour in the afternoon light; Cass makes a half-hearted attempt to catch that one, but it's too strong for her and it knows it, refusing even to let her try to fight it.

“Oh well,” she says, as it flies off up the mountainside. “Probably for the best.”

When the light starts to fade, they turn at the top of a ridge and make their way back, down towards the town below. The view is spectacular, even now: you can see the whole of the west half of the island, and the sea beyond it on all sides. Cass and Artemis walk down into the midst of it all and carry the view with them as they go, a charged memory that lingers in the mind like the midday heat in the sun-baked earth.

Then they're back at the Centre, and Artemis sits down at the computer to Google abandoned mansion cinnabar island. And she reads without much surprise that Cinnabar House, as it's known, has been abandoned for over fifty years and that no one has yet done anything about it because there's some legal complications with the land it's on and nobody has worked out yet who's owned it.

Abandoned for over fifty years. And yet – a twelve-foot fence with razor wire.

If you were investigating breach, where would you do it? Somewhere out of the way, right? Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, on a tiny island with one tiny town, in a crumbling old house that nobody ever visits. Somewhere you could contain a situation.

Because there was a situation, wasn't there? Giovanni pretty much confirmed it in that phone call she overheard. Something happened, right here on Cinnabar. Artemis moves Brauron off the keyboard, which she has decided to sit on now that Artemis is no longer poking it, and clicks through any mentions of Cinnabar House in the news. There aren't many, but she gets one, an old Cataphract article from ten years ago, that mentions gunshots and crashes heard from the house at night and a subsequent investigation that showed a second-floor window had been broken from the inside. Nothing else was ever found.

Artemis knows all about terrible things that wreak havoc and then disappear into thin air. So does the author of the article, apparently, one Mark Trelawney; he goes on to present evidence gathered from speaking to Cinnabar residents, reports of a strange light seen flying away over the town and unusual nightmares consistent with tremendous upheaval on the psychic plane somewhere nearby. He doesn't say the word breach, and perhaps doesn't even know that that's the word he needs, but he was damn sure that something more happened that night in Cinnabar House than the official investigation let on.

Brauron puts one forefoot on her arm, head tilted at a questioning angle.

“Is it that obvious, huh?” asks Artemis, picking her up. “Yeah, I'm …” She doesn't finish. She can't. She can barely even think it, let alone say it. “I think we might have to do something scary,” she says instead. Slowly. Carefully. “Worse than the last scary thing we did.” She pauses. Brauron looks at her with earnest purple eyes. “Maybe we don't think about that just yet,” says Artemis, her nerve failing her. “Maybe it's just time we found Cass and Ringo and got something to eat.”

She closes the browser and is about to log out of the computer when she hesitates and goes back to clear her history, just in case. You never know, after all. And not knowing is the root of all suspicion. Not knowing is what drives her again and again to libraries and the internet, seeking relief in facts, in Latin names and photographs and cartography. Not knowing is what makes the ghost people as frightening as they are, and the spire, and Giovanni.

And it is not knowing that makes Artemis slip quietly out of bed that night, a little after one o'clock when she's sure that Cass is asleep. She dresses – in jeans, for the first time since leaving home, for practicality – and collects Brauron, with a finger to her lips to forestall any hissing or croaking. She glances quickly back at Cass, still and quiet in her bed, and then she slips out of the door and down the hall.

It isn't the last of the not knowing that night. There is more, and it will come back to bite her. But for now, Artemis continues in her ignorance, down the hall to the (mercifully empty) bathroom, where she can put the light on and make a few quick adjustments to her face. It's for her own benefit really – if anyone sees her face tonight, she's going to have more than dysphoria to worry about – but still, she doesn't want to go out unready. She considers recalling Brauron to her ball, the better to go unnoticed in the lobby, but if she's honest she stands out enough that even without such a distinctive pokémon there isn't much chance that the receptionist on duty won't notice her. She walks out as casually as she can, into the warm air and cool breeze of a summer night in Cinnabar, and heads out of town up the side of the volcano.

It's a beautiful night. Dark, clear, moonlit; perfumed with wild flowers and soundtracked by the whirrs and chirps of bugs and birds. Below her and behind, the town is a shadowscape in black and indigo. Above and ahead, the volcano is huge and silent, like a sleeping giant silhouetted against the stars.

“Nice night,” Artemis remarks to Brauron, whispering partly out of misplaced fear and partly because it's that kind of night, where everything is too calm and quiet to ruin with a raised voice. She's only ever experienced a couple of these before. Pewter is a city, loud and sleepless, and Greyside isn't a particularly peaceful part of town. This is very different: kind of eerie, kind of wonderful.

She checks the route again on her phone: right at the signpost, down the trail across the hill. It's not far, really – nowhere is, here – and in fact she'd like it to be a little further, so she can put off the moment of arriving. At least the approach is mostly over open ground. Someone could be hiding in the shadows of that olive grove, she supposes, and as soon as she thinks that she becomes convinced that every single shadow must be hiding someone watching and almost turns back right then. But Brauron's there, a warm and comforting weight on her arm, and anyway this is the only plan she's got, so after stopping and breathing a little she carries on down the slope towards Cinnabar House.

And then, all too soon, she's there. There are no lights, and the moon picks out nothing more than general details: the edge of a roof, the pediment above a door. The bladed edge of the razor wire.

“Okay,” whispers Artemis. “Okay.”

It isn't okay, at all actually, but she's out of options. She makes her final preparations, raising her hood and tugging her scarf up over her face, then follows the last few feet of trail down to the coastal road that leads back round to town. She could follow this up to the driveway, but she's absolutely sure that the main gates will be overlooked by CCTV, so she instead crosses the road and follows the fence around to the back of the house. It's an ugly thing really, that fence. Nobody has tried to mask it with trees or shrubs, probably in case someone uses them to try and climb over. It looks out of place. Like a ghost person.

Artemis wishes she hadn't thought of that.

At the back of the house, she stops and takes stock of the situation. No cameras that she can see, although of course she can't see anything at all, so that's not necessarily all that helpful. No other gates or gaps in the fence. But – more shadows, and hidden from the road by the bulk of the old house itself. That's going to have to do.

“Okay, kiddo,” she whispers. “Time to find out how well you really understand me, huh?” She points up at the fence. “See that wire? I need it out of the way.”

Brauron follows her finger with her eyes.

“Yeah?” asks Artemis. “You got it?”

No response. She holds Brauron up to the fence until she gets that she's supposed to grab onto it, and then lets go.

Nothing. Brauron hangs there like a gecko on a wall and watches her with her usual equanimity.

“Come on,” whispers Artemis. “Please, Brauron. I need you to deal with the razor wire. That stuff, up there. Melt it, cut it, whatever. Can you do that? Please?” Still nothing. Artemis curls her fingers into claws and mimes slashing, and this seems to have at least some kind of an effect: Brauron climbs up the fence and scratches experimentally at a coil of wire. “Yes!” hisses Artemis. “Break it!”

Brauron tries to cut it again, but her claws are not that sharp, and she doesn't know any moves that might do the trick. She hisses and bites it instead, and Artemis hears a faint sizzle as her corrosive saliva goes to work on the metal. A moment later, the coil snaps and falls away past her in ragged loops, burnt right the way through. Brauron spits out a lump of tarnished metal and looks back at Artemis, eyes questioning.

“Yeah! That's it, that's exactly it. Okay, now if you just wait, I gotta get up there with you …”

Artemis is not much of a climber. She doesn't really have the build for it, in any case: there's too much of her to pull up, too much muscle and fat and bone dragging her back down towards the ground. And her big, clumsy hands and feet don't fit well into the gaps between each link in the fence. Still, she's strong and she's persistent, and though she doesn't get up there quickly or easily she does make it, after a couple of minutes of grunting and sweating. Long enough to regret wearing a hoodie and scarf in summer, certainly. At the top, there's now a gap in the wire just large enough for her to squeeze through, although she tears her sleeve on the blades getting through, and then she drops awkwardly down to the other side.

“Ow,” she mutters, landing badly and falling over. “Oof.”

Brauron crawls headfirst down the fence and peers at her with interest. Artemis picks herself up and sighs.

“Yeah, okay, no need to rub it in,” she says. “C'mere, you. Well done.”

Brauron leans into her hand eagerly to get her head rubbed, and Artemis is happy to oblige, although she has to be careful not to touch the splashes of acid around her mouth.

“Okay,” she whispers. “More of that later, all right? Now … now we gotta do the scary bit.”

Brauron doesn't quite see why she can't just continue getting petted all night, but after a while she does settle back down on Artemis' chest, and Artemis can turn her attention towards the house itself. Not that she wants to, particularly – here in its shadow, her heart is pounding against her breastbone like a blacksmith on an anvil – but, well, she's already past the fence now, hasn't she? By anyone's standards, she's pretty bloody committed.

Breathe, Artie. Breathe, and walk slowly, and get round to the side.

Most of the pictures of Cinnabar House are from the same angle: the front and to the right, to get in both the striking old façade and the dramatic rise of Mt Catalayne behind it. In every single one, Artemis noticed, the first ground-floor side window isn't properly blocked up: just a couple of old wooden boards nailed across the gap. Probably there used to be more, but if there were then they rotted or fell off years ago.

Which means, and Artemis is trying very hard not to think too much about the fact that this is something she actually plans to do, that this is probably the easiest place to break in.

She creeps quietly along, sticking close to the wall. Her boots seem to crunch the dirt like gravel, impossibly loud. Seconds pass. The night-birds call.

Her outstretched hand touches old, dry wood, and Artemis sighs in relief.

Okay. This is it. She tugs on a plank, and feels it give. Interesting: she was planning on having Brauron burn her way in, but if she could do it herself, that might leave fewer clues. Salandit fire's distinctive, right? All that poison. And if she pulls her sleeve over her hand, she won't leave prints. All right, it'll make a noise, but honestly it won't be any more noticeable than a sudden burst of bright green fire, so …

Artemis shuts her eyes for a moment. She's doing this, isn't she? She's breaking into what might be a front for a secret League operation, based on nothing except a hunch and without knowing a single goddamn thing about it. If you asked her to make a list of the worst decisions of her life, there aren't many that could top this one. What if the place is full of League people? And what is she planning to do if she does find anything? What is even the point of all this?

But it's not knowing, as it always is; it's not knowing, it's doubting, that vicious biting suspicion that drives you to do regrettable things, and Artemis has no choice. She tugs her torn sleeve down over her fingers, grabs the board, and pulls.

The wood is old and weather-worn, and it splinters almost at a touch. It is loud, yes, but not nearly as loud as Artemis was afraid it would be, and, emboldened, she moves on to the next right away. This one is tougher, but after a good kicking it gives way easily enough. Behind them, the window is a glassless void, and before she has a chance to think twice Artemis forces herself up and through into the house itself.

Her boots hit the floorboards and crunch on broken glass. She stands there, still and silent, listening for anything at all – but there's nothing.

She's in.

*​

No alarms, no rushing footsteps. No lasers or gunshots or lurking pokémon. Nothing at all except Artemis and the relentless thudding of her heart.

Eventually, she has to start breathing again or pass out from lack of oxygen, and then she forces herself to untense her shoulders and look down at Brauron.

Okay?

Okay.

“All right,” she says, so quietly she isn't even sure she can hear herself. “All right, kiddo, that's phase one.”

She takes her torch from her pocket and grips it firmly, though she doesn't dare turn it on just yet, not with the open window right there. There's just enough moonlight for her to see that she's in a wide, empty room, where there is a closed door and not much else. No furniture, no signs of habitation at all. Figures. Artemis suspects that none of the rooms you can see into from outside will look anything other than deserted.

The door is not locked. She opens it (covering her hand with her sleeve again) and steps into a long, dark corridor. No moonlight here, which means no one outside can see, so after closing the door again she clicks the torch on. She flicks the beam back and forth, and sees nothing but dry boards and mouldering carpet from whose threadbare pile dozens of little black beetles run when the light touches them. The movement makes Artemis tense up, but only for a moment. Bugs don't really bother her, except for the fear of accidentally crushing them.

“All right,” she murmurs, and begins poking around.

Trusting her hunch that the outer rooms will all be empty, on the ground floor at least, Artemis creeps left into the main hall. The torchlight picks out two figures and for a second she flinches – but they're just statues, worn stone kangaskhan flanking the staircase up to the first floor. She keeps breathing and moves the torch across the room, over a once-red rug and fluted pillars supporting the upper level. The rug is worth a second look: no footprints, no place where the dust has been trodden away to reveal the red fabric beneath. No one's come here for a while. The only motes swirling in the beam of her torch are those she kicked up herself.

Maybe they shut this place down after whatever it was that happened ten years ago. Or maybe they don't come in through the front door. That's an option too, of course. A place like this, Artemis wouldn't be surprised if it was riddled with secret passages, although maybe that's only in movies. Either way, the thing about secret passages is that they're secret, so if there are any Artemis is probably not going to find them. She puts the thought out of her mind and tests the stairs with one foot. They creak, but they don't collapse. It will have to do.

Up, then, sticking close to the bannister where the boards will creak less. Her sleeve brushes the rail and carves shiny mahogany trails in the dust.

Brauron sneezes and Artemis almost falls off the stairs at the sudden noise.

“Oh god,” she says, almost forgetting to whisper. “Oh god, you scared the sh*t out of me.”

Brauron looks at her inquisitively, and Artemis sighs.

“Okay, I can't be mad at you. Just don't … well, I'll try not to raise any more dust.”

Several steps and many heart-stopping creaks later, she reaches the landing, and another corridor. The dust here is still thick, but something seems off. Artemis stares, trying to figure it out, and then she gets it: the doors all have modern handles, instead of the antique knobs from downstairs. Someone fitted these with locks this century.

A little chill runs down her spine. Gunshots and crashes, and a mysterious flying creature. And new locks on all the doors. Does she even want to know what happened here? Really, honestly – no. But. No choice. So. Artemis makes herself breathe, and starts trying doors.

These rooms have furniture: beds, desks, dressers. Heavy curtains that are very thick with dust but not rotting – new, then, or at least not as old as the carpets. Artemis wonders how you might hide that you had staff here in a supposedly abandoned house, how you'd conceal movement behind the boards on the windows, and has to admit that curtains would be a pretty simple solution. She holds her torch up and opens a few drawers and cupboards; most are empty, but some have moth-eaten clothes or yellowed documents. Artemis does skim a couple, but doesn't understand them – someone's accounts, someone else's notes about nucleotides, whatever those are. Nothing as helpful as a signed confession to researching breach, although Artemis supposes that would be a bit much to hope for.

What she can tell is that whoever was staying here left in a hurry, if the clothes are anything to go by. Other than that, the bedrooms don't betray much about their owners. After the fifth room turns up nothing but an empty desk, Artemis is ready to give up and search elsewhere when Brauron suddenly hisses and clambers down her arm.

“Huh? What's up?”

Brauron moves her head back and forth, sniffing or staring or whatever it is that salandit do, and then slithers through her hand onto the desk, feet and belly leaving trails in the dust. She puts her eye to the gap between the desk and the wall, and then looks back over her shoulder at Artemis, croaking triumphantly.

“Something down the back?” she asks. “Let me see …”

Artemis shines the torch down the back and sees – something, she's not sure what, but something thin wedged between desk and wall. There's no way she'll fit her hand down there to get it, though, so after thirty seconds or so of agonised indecision she makes up her mind to move the desk. It's going to be noisy, yes, and there's a good chance that whatever's down the back of it is going to be garbage like everything else – but if she doesn't get it she won't know, and she can't leave without some kind of clue. Not after all this, not after actually breaking and entering and everything else she's had to do to get here. No, Artemis has to try, because if she doesn't even try then what's the point of her, right, and so she crouches down and grips the desk and with a creak and grinding scrape loud enough to wake the dead she hauls it a few inches out of position.

Pause. Jump away from it, sick and shivery with fear, light-headed, tight-chested. Listen, straining against the silence―

Nothing. No footsteps, no voices, no alarms or sirens.

Artemis clenches her fists very tightly, doubles over a little with the effort of suppressing it all. She wants to cry, and it's more than the dust in her eyes. What is she even doing here? She isn't meant for this, isn't meant for anything at all other than a tiny little life in a tiny little corner of Pewter, four walls around her, expectations on her back and her old name like an albatross around her neck.

Brauron touches her hand and Artemis jumps halfway across the room, an ugly ragged gasping noise tearing loose from her throat. The little salandit stares at her from the desk, alarmed, and Artemis blinks back tears.

“Sorry,” she says, wiping her eyes. “I'm sorry, I just … I'm not good at this.” She sniffs, feeling the ugliness of her emotion, and reaches out to Brauron on the desk. “Here,” she says. “You can hop on whenever you like.”

Brauron watches her for a moment longer, violet eyes clouded with some amphibian thought that Artemis cannot name, and then, moving very slowly, she climbs back up her arm onto her shoulder.

“Trying not to scare me?” Artemis tries for a smile and just about succeeds. “'S okay, Brauron, I'm … I dunno, but I'm not gonna do that again.” She rubs Brauron's head gently, feels the warmth beneath her fingers. “Okay. Okay, let's see what we got then, huh?”

She straightens up and goes to check behind the desk. On the floor, splayed half-open against the wall, is a book.

Artemis has a bad feeling about this. But she has a bad feeling about most things, so she swallows it and picks the book up instead.

Property of M. Fuji, reads a note on the inside front cover. And then, on the first page: 5th August 2006. I've decided to accept the League post. I know, it's a long way from Lavender, but it'll be nice to revisit my old stomping grounds, and honestly in the end I really can't turn down the chance to be a part of such a fascinating project. I just hope that my journalling doesn't suffer too much. Much of what I'll be working on is so highly classified that …

A diary. A diary belonging to someone who worked here on whatever project was―

In the stillness of the night, the engine of the car pulling up outside is as loud and threatening as the roar of an aggron.

*​

Emilia feels a little guilty about thinking it, but Cinnabar is so damn provincial. Yes, it's pretty, yes it has history, but do you know what it doesn't have? An airport. Not even a little airstrip where you can land a light plane. When she hears from the staff at the Pallet Pokémon Centre that Artemis and the girl she's travelling with have already moved on to Cinnabar, Emilia is not best pleased. Inactivity doesn't suit her; she likes to be in motion at all times, to be doing. A twenty-hour ferry ride isn't her idea of a good time.

Still, there's no other way out there – Nadia can teleport, technically, but she's not that strong and there's only one of her and these things together mean her effective range is limited to a few dozen metres – so she bites back her irritation and buys the ticket instead. While she's hanging around the ferry terminal, sending emails from her phone in a bid to make this null time productive, Lorelei calls. They don't talk long – Emilia reports that Artemis has gone on to Cinnabar, and Lorelei gets slightly wistful for her childhood in the Sevii Islands before asking for an update when she's done – and afterwards it's time to board, an activity Emilia undertakes with the grim determination of a woman who knows she will be horribly seasick before the hour is out.

The best thing that Emilia can say about the ferry ride is that, eventually, it ends. She spends most of it in her cabin, staring at the wall and swallowing, out of phone signal and so without any possible way to distract herself from the nausea that rises afresh in her throat with every slight shift of the ship on the water, and then practically sprints out onto the dock the second the passengers are allowed out. For a few minutes she stands there, breathing heavily and luxuriating in the way the concrete doesn't roll beneath her feet, and then she hurries on through the night towards the Pokémon Centre. It's late – three in the morning kind of late – but there's always someone on duty, and Emilia wants to make sure she doesn't lose track of Artemis again before she finds a hotel and gets some sleep.

Cinnabar is very pretty even at this hour. Emilia notices the scale of things, how small they all are and how neat, and has to admit that the place has its charms. They aren't charms worth the pain of the ferry trip, but they are charms.

It still smells of the ocean, though, and Emilia is thankful for the air-conditioned interior of the Pokémon Centre, which smells of antiseptic instead of brine and is much more to her taste.

“Hello,” she says, to the bored-looking man at the desk. “I'm looking for Artemis Apanchomene. I think she should be staying here?”

“Okay,” he replies. “Uh, who are you, exactly?”

“Emilia Santangelo, Indigo League,” she replies. “This is Nadia, my partner.”

Nadia chirps, and out comes the card. His eyes lock onto it with that familiar mixture of fascination and alarm.

“League business, huh,” he says.

“League business,” confirms Emilia.

Pause. Emilia sighs.

“Look,” she says. “I don't want to wake her or anything, I'd just like to know if she's here. If she is, perhaps you could let her know in the morning that I wanted to speak to her?”

“Okay,” says the man. “Okay, I guess I can do that. Let me pull up her record and see … is this who you're looking for?” He twists his computer screen around for her to see Artemis' League file, the digital companion piece to her trainer card. Emilia nods. “In that case, I think she's actually up and about,” he continues. “I saw her go out a couple of hours ago.”

HOUSE, says Nadia, at the exact same moment as Emilia's heart skips a beat. Artemis, sneaking out in the middle of the night on Cinnabar Island? All right, so she might want to find some nocturnal pokémon – but she might not. She might want something else. If she's been asking questions – and if she somehow stumbled on the M entity – and if she saw Cinnabar House earlier today …

“You're sure about that?” asks Emilia, keeping her face carefully blank. The receptionist nods.

“Sure,” he says. “She's the only person I've seen go in or out tonight. I remember thinking she was dressed kinda heavily for this heat.”

“Really,” says Emilia. “How do you mean?”

“Well.” The man looks a little wary. “Uh, you know, it's not really hoodie weather, and―”

HIDING, suggests Nadia, and Emilia has to agree.

“―you know, it seemed sorta odd.”

“Indeed,” agrees Emilia. “How strange. Well, thank you for your time. If she comes back, could you let her know I was asking after her?”

“Sure,” says the man. “Sure, I can do that.”

“Thanks. Goodnight.”

Out in the street, Emilia starts dialling frantically.

“Hello? Hello, this is Emilia Santangelo, with the League. I'd― yes. Yes, actually, I am calling about that. Where? Okay. Okay, thank you. I'll be with you shortly. Yes, I'm in Cinnabar now. No, that's fine, thank you. I'll be there soon. Goodbye.”

She hangs up and shoves her phone roughly into her bag. Somewhere very deep inside her, underneath the politeness and the reserve, under the calculated fabric of her persona, a fire begins to burn. She was right. She'd hoped she wasn't, that somehow that Artemis would have got away with it, but she was right.

“Okay, Nadia,” she says, in a low voice a hair's breadth away from a growl. “I guess we're going to the police station.”
 
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Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
The practicality of her thinking nauseates her. Some things are supposed to hit you hard, to be beyond your ability to reason with and prepare for. But apparently Emilia is that kind of pragmatic monster who can plan out how to plant Effie's brood while she dies right in front of her eyes.
Actually, Emilia, I’d argue you kind of sped through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. At the very least, we definitely saw flashes of denial, anger, and depression in the earlier chapters. This is probably how she handles acceptance: by rationalizing.

“Someone tripped the sensors at the Oak Foundation earlier today. Talking about breach radiation. A scientist whose name I'm not even going to try to pronounce called it in. Didn't know what breach was, but it's in all their contracts to report it if it comes up.”
Of course a university-affiliated research institute would have the government watching them. How else are they gonna get their government funding, after all? Actually, I’m not sure what contracts for research stipends from feds would look like, but having a clause like that in the contract is creepy.

“It's bad enough that this keeps happening, but it's even worse that it keeps happening to the same person. No one I've spoken to can tell me why. I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't take her in for her own safety, but I don't want to ruin her trainer journey before it's even started.”
I’m pretty sure I said this in an earlier review but it feels like Breach is getting approached almost from the standpoint of certain diseases. Like, once you’re initially exposed, you’re astronomically more likely to get exposed again. Kind of like certain diseases that run in pairs (autoimmunity comes to mind, as does certain cancers).

*center]​

Your tags are missing a piece here.

-And do I spy a little tip of the hat toward thriller novels? Sure, it’s murder mystery, but they kinda fall under the same umbrella.
-Also, I can’t help wondering, does Artemis have some degree of claustrophobia? Or do compressed areas bring up more of her schizoid episodes? I seem to recall people who don’t like cramped spaces having a lot of trouble with boats. And, well, first time and all that… Actually, along those lines, the more I hear the narration from Artemis’ perspective saying “It’s all right,” the less and less I actually believe it. (Probably because it isn’t alright but she’ll be damned if she lets anyone find that out.)
-I like the smaller-town, naturalistic vibes you give off for Cinnabar to make it stand out from Viridian and Pewter. Other than the Pokémon Mansion, I never really give Cinnabar the time of days in the games, so it’s always cool to see fan takes on it.

And that lab where they do that Jurassic Park sh*t with fossils. Don't suppose you got a spare thirty thousand florins, huh?
I love you, Sassy Cassy. In all seriousness, I spent, like, a minute imagining a Pokémon version of Jurassic Park. Including Jeff Goldblum walking around with a Magnemite… because that’s the perfect Pokémon for his character… or something.

-Nooo, Artemis, don’t go toward the danger! It’s called “morbid curiosity” for a reason. And she’s even got Brauron helping her now. I mean, yay for establishing better communication with her, but it’s in pursuit of something that’s gonna end bad. Or, is this “needing to know” and “having no choice” business implying that her paranoia has grown so strong she fears she’ll go crazy if she doesn’t investigate things further? That’s… kind of the impression I’m getting, I think.
-But it looks like Emilia’s one step behind her (might explain the car pulling up, might not) and they’re in for some sort of confrontation. It looks like we might get one of the M glitch Pokémon involved? Probably the sister one to MissingNo or whatever. But I’m wondering if this is somehow going to end up tied into Mew/Mewtwo, given the whole Pokémon Mansion setting. Needless to say, I’m very curious how this’ll turn out!​
 
This got updated yeet

Sooooo, new chapter, new stuff! I'll just skip all the the things I repeat every time and get onto the good stuff.

Firstly, oh my god Artemis you amazing idiot I don't know whether to be telling you off or supporting you every step along the way but knowing me I'm going for the latter. The execution (ayy?) of the whole mansion break-in scene is brilliant, it really fills the reader with suspense! Serious kudos to you on that!

Just saying, the moment a news report was mentioned to be 10 years ago my mind snapped to the M incident Emilia mentioned, and as it turns out, my suspicion has been somewhat confirmed? I have a little theory that M in this fic has a strong connection to Mewtwo - the sharing of the letter M, both going missing, M flying off which Mewtwo could also have done shortly before - and this is making me theorise even more about what a breach really is. If M is connected to Mewtwo and Glitch Oak is a clone of an actual person, does that mean that most breaches are results of experiments on people or Pokemon that have failed? Was Glitch Oak a practice clone using Oak's DNA? If that's the case, what is the spire breach based on? I'm soooo fascinated :D

I've only really been coming to realise this recently, but this story has actually stopped feeling entirely like a fanfiction, and more like its own original story in a way - sure, the Pokemon are still there and the place names are the same, but everything is described so vividly, things that aren't touched on in the main series are being explained in extreme detail, it feels like its own world. And I love it. To pieces.

And that's it! Can't wait for chapter 10!
 

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
Ohhh, suspense galore here, huh? I agree with Nerdy Mcnerdface that the world feels extremely real and not at all like fanfiction - but all the references to pokemon only heightened the suspense for me. This is a world where supernatural things are common, even expected - but the fact that super, uncommon supernatural things are happening and threatening the world kind of brings the stakes to a whole new level. Artemis trying to convey to Brauron what to do to get them past the wired fence was adorable to read, and given how cowardly Artemis is (or claims she is), she could've chosen right there to say, "Welp, this is too hard and impossible, time to go home." But she didn't. There's a lot to be said about that. Like she claims several times in this chapter, the fear of not knowing is a powerful one that drives people to do things they'd never do otherwise. I can only imagine the kind of trouble she's going to get in once she does receive the details. I get the feeling she won't stop until she knows everything 100%, especially since it seems like she'll be affected by breach until the problem's resolved.

I have to say I really liked Emilia's character in this chapter, too. Her thinking about how to plant Effie's new fruit seeds was morbid but fit perfectly with what we know about her. She's a workaholic. She always has to be doing something and that something has to feel productive to distract her from what's really bothering her - in this case, Effie and the fact that her job requires her to do some things that don't quite agree with her conscience.

I meant to say this in my first review, but your portrayal of Brauron is so spot on it's hilarious. When you first wrote about her licking her eyes and just staring at Artemis creepily, I just about died. I have a pet leopard gecko as well as a birb and that's exactly what he does. And salandit had to be my favorite gen 7 pokemon.

All right, character gushing done now. See you for chapter 10. ;)
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Actually, Emilia, I’d argue you kind of sped through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. At the very least, we definitely saw flashes of denial, anger, and depression in the earlier chapters. This is probably how she handles acceptance: by rationalizing.
It was unintentional, but hey, I'll take it. :p I think she's probably experiencing a mixture of these things all at once, still; they're just being jumbled and emerging in flashes because she spends most of her time deliberately overworking in an attempt to not think about things.

Of course a university-affiliated research institute would have the government watching them. How else are they gonna get their government funding, after all? Actually, I’m not sure what contracts for research stipends from feds would look like, but having a clause like that in the contract is creepy.
It is indeed. I may be slightly biased, because frankly I hated university, but I'm the sort of person who is generally suspicious of institutions as big and well-respected as Professor Oak's lab, so I felt I wanted to tie it and its staff into the web of power and corruption that runs through Kanto like the veins in a bloodshot eyeball. And also I wanted to expand on the nuances of those power relations -- how someone like Rena is probably a good person, but her position at the Foundation makes her suspect anyway, in some ways.

I’m pretty sure I said this in an earlier review but it feels like Breach is getting approached almost from the standpoint of certain diseases. Like, once you’re initially exposed, you’re astronomically more likely to get exposed again. Kind of like certain diseases that run in pairs (autoimmunity comes to mind, as does certain cancers).
Yeah, kinda. I have it in my head as something like an autoimmune disease of reality -- the nature of RBY glitches, in which the game attempts to read its own data wrongly and generates unintended content as a result, suggests something self-inflicted to me.

Your tags are missing a piece here.
Fixed! And thanks.

-And do I spy a little tip of the hat toward thriller novels? Sure, it’s murder mystery, but they kinda fall under the same umbrella.
Of course. I've always thought a small boat is just the perfect setting for a murder mystery. I've only read one set on a boat like that, but I thought it was a good setting. Like, you've got the it can only be one of US! thing going on, and there's no cops so a civilian detective can get to work, and it just all works really well. Artemis, as someone who spent her formative years in the early twenty-first century, has a tendency to view the world in terms of TV genre, movie soundtrack and web content.

-Also, I can’t help wondering, does Artemis have some degree of claustrophobia? Or do compressed areas bring up more of her schizoid episodes? I seem to recall people who don’t like cramped spaces having a lot of trouble with boats. And, well, first time and all that… Actually, along those lines, the more I hear the narration from Artemis’ perspective saying “It’s all right,” the less and less I actually believe it. (Probably because it isn’t alright but she’ll be damned if she lets anyone find that out.)
It's definitely meant to have that effect! Repetition can make something more emphatic, or it can make it seem less so; Artemis' self-reassurances that everything is all right are definitely meant to fall into the latter category. As for claustrophobia -- well, I think she probably has issues with both very big open spaces and very confined ones, honestly, and a boat is both of those things at once, which is obviously not great for her. And along side that there's the fact that, y'know, she's actually very tall and broad and small spaces present her with (a) logistical difficulties about how to fit herself into them and (b) an uncomfortable awareness of her own physicality, of the space she occupies, which isn't a fun thing for a level one trans girl. So to speak.

-I like the smaller-town, naturalistic vibes you give off for Cinnabar to make it stand out from Viridian and Pewter. Other than the Pokémon Mansion, I never really give Cinnabar the time of days in the games, so it’s always cool to see fan takes on it.
It's a volcano island! Volcano islands are cool. And it always struck me as a great candidate for expansion in fiction, because it's the most southerly place in Kanto, so it's probably warm and fertile, and it's isolated, so it's probably culturally and historically different to the rest of the region, and if you put all that together you've got the beginnings of something really interesting. You can probably guess that one of my favourite things about Pokémon fic is the chance to give bland game locations a real sense of place and history, and over the next few chapters I get the chance to do that in some depth with Cinnabar -- it's quite a long segment, and probably the part of the story I like best out of all that I've written of it so far.

I love you, Sassy Cassy. In all seriousness, I spent, like, a minute imagining a Pokémon version of Jurassic Park. Including Jeff Goldblum walking around with a Magnemite… because that’s the perfect Pokémon for his character… or something.
There is absolutely a version of Jurassic Park in the pokémon world, yes, because Jurassic Park is life and life, ah, finds a way.

-Nooo, Artemis, don’t go toward the danger! It’s called “morbid curiosity” for a reason. And she’s even got Brauron helping her now. I mean, yay for establishing better communication with her, but it’s in pursuit of something that’s gonna end bad. Or, is this “needing to know” and “having no choice” business implying that her paranoia has grown so strong she fears she’ll go crazy if she doesn’t investigate things further? That’s… kind of the impression I’m getting, I think.
Sort of. I mean ... not knowing, radical scepticism and doubt, is an intensely motivating and potentially intensely destructive force; it's the motor for the plot in XY, for instance -- Lysandre's terrible doubt about the future, which grows so extreme that rather than face uncertainty about whether or not the world he loves can continue he decides he has to ruin it pre-emptively, so that he can at least be certain of the outcome. It's very ... classically tragic, in a sense; I've always thought I'd quite like to write a faux-Greek tragedy about Lysandre, or, if I wanted to expand it a bit, something along the lines of Cymbeline or The Winter's Tale. And while I don't intend Arbitrary Execution to be anything like that bleak, I do want to make use of the power of doubt -- because Artemis is a very doubtful person; it's why she knows so much of what she would call useless trivia, because she tries to bury the fear that uncertainty brings her beneath facts. It's partly to do with her paranoia and her patterns of delusive thinking, but it's also just a reasonable way that I feel a frightened human might react in this situation.

-But it looks like Emilia’s one step behind her (might explain the car pulling up, might not) and they’re in for some sort of confrontation. It looks like we might get one of the M glitch Pokémon involved? Probably the sister one to MissingNo or whatever. But I’m wondering if this is somehow going to end up tied into Mew/Mewtwo, given the whole Pokémon Mansion setting. Needless to say, I’m very curious how this’ll turn out!
The car was the cops! That was the implication I was going for with Emilia saying she needed to go to the police station at the end. But yes, there is definitely Mewtwo content planned. In a story about mutation, with a synthetic protagonist and a terrible secret project on Cinnabar Island, I think I'd be missing a trick if I didn't bring in everyone's favourite overpowered psychic-type. I love Mewtwo, it's a great concept well executed, and while the story surrounding it is sort of flawed, I'm going to do my best to make it, like the rest of Kanto, make some kind of sense in this story. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

Firstly, oh my god Artemis you amazing idiot I don't know whether to be telling you off or supporting you every step along the way but knowing me I'm going for the latter. The execution (ayy?) of the whole mansion break-in scene is brilliant, it really fills the reader with suspense! Serious kudos to you on that!
Cheers! I wanted it to be one long, extended waiting-for-something-to-happen kind of thing, and I'm glad I managed it. Because of course, there isn't really anything there, and there was always the risk that maybe people would notice that, so I kept very closely to Artemis' fearful perspective to try and keep the tension high.

Just saying, the moment a news report was mentioned to be 10 years ago my mind snapped to the M incident Emilia mentioned, and as it turns out, my suspicion has been somewhat confirmed? I have a little theory that M in this fic has a strong connection to Mewtwo - the sharing of the letter M, both going missing, M flying off which Mewtwo could also have done shortly before - and this is making me theorise even more about what a breach really is. If M is connected to Mewtwo and Glitch Oak is a clone of an actual person, does that mean that most breaches are results of experiments on people or Pokemon that have failed? Was Glitch Oak a practice clone using Oak's DNA? If that's the case, what is the spire breach based on? I'm soooo fascinated :D
You'll be getting your answers pretty soon! There's a lot coming in the next chapter about Mewtwo in particular that should clear up a bunch of that; the rest of the details will have to wait a bit longer, but there should be enough to whet your appetite.

I've only really been coming to realise this recently, but this story has actually stopped feeling entirely like a fanfiction, and more like its own original story in a way - sure, the Pokemon are still there and the place names are the same, but everything is described so vividly, things that aren't touched on in the main series are being explained in extreme detail, it feels like its own world. And I love it. To pieces.
Thanks! I mean, I'm not really sure what fanfiction is supposed to feel like; like, this sort of thing is meant to represent what playing a Pokémon game feels like to me, the sense I get of voyaging through a strange, hyperbright world full of mystery and magic, so I'm often slightly surprised when I write that feeling down and people say that it doesn't feel like fanfiction -- because to me, that's what the franchise feels like. I suppose maybe it's because my Kanto goes a bit deeper than the bare-bones outline you get in-game, even though what I'm trying to do is capture how it feels to wander that bare-bones Kanto in the first place? Anyway, I'm glad you're liking it -- especially the world, because there's plenty more of that coming in the next few chapters. Cinnabar Island is the first proper stop on Artemis' trainer journey, and that means tourism and training, and those in turn mean that there's quite a bit of worldbuilding during this segment.

Ohhh, suspense galore here, huh? I agree with Nerdy Mcnerdface that the world feels extremely real and not at all like fanfiction - but all the references to pokemon only heightened the suspense for me. This is a world where supernatural things are common, even expected - but the fact that super, uncommon supernatural things are happening and threatening the world kind of brings the stakes to a whole new level. Artemis trying to convey to Brauron what to do to get them past the wired fence was adorable to read, and given how cowardly Artemis is (or claims she is), she could've chosen right there to say, "Welp, this is too hard and impossible, time to go home." But she didn't. There's a lot to be said about that. Like she claims several times in this chapter, the fear of not knowing is a powerful one that drives people to do things they'd never do otherwise. I can only imagine the kind of trouble she's going to get in once she does receive the details. I get the feeling she won't stop until she knows everything 100%, especially since it seems like she'll be affected by breach until the problem's resolved.
Indeed! She's getting close to the point where she'll be in deep enough that turning back is maybe even harder than pressing on, and she knows it, but she just can't let it lie. She has to know. I think she's probably very brave, but just refuses to acknowledge that bravery is to be found in overcoming fear, not in its absence, because if she did acknowledge that she'd have to admit she was brave and that is something she can't do. So: onwards, to the bitter end, and it is going to be bitter, because going up against the system always is, but it's going to have to happen. At least she has a cute salamander friend to help out.

I have to say I really liked Emilia's character in this chapter, too. Her thinking about how to plant Effie's new fruit seeds was morbid but fit perfectly with what we know about her. She's a workaholic. She always has to be doing something and that something has to feel productive to distract her from what's really bothering her - in this case, Effie and the fact that her job requires her to do some things that don't quite agree with her conscience.
Pretty much, yeah! The interesting thing, of course, will be when she can't distract herself with overwork any more -- how she approaches a situation when forced to face it directly instead of evading it. I guess this is just going to be a thing for this story. The situations are getting extreme, and sooner or later everyone's going to run up against the limits of their usual coping mechanisms.

I meant to say this in my first review, but your portrayal of Brauron is so spot on it's hilarious. When you first wrote about her licking her eyes and just staring at Artemis creepily, I just about died. I have a pet leopard gecko as well as a birb and that's exactly what he does. And salandit had to be my favorite gen 7 pokemon.
I'm glad you like her! Because of the dubious taxonomic status of the mythical salamander, dating as it does to a time before the Enlightenment fetish for precise classification (Pliny does distinguish between salamanders and lizards but most other sources don't), and because salandit itself is clearly meant to be reptilian, I've leaned towards making Brauron more reptilian than amphibian, even as I describe her repeatedly as being an amphibian. It's not a very scientific approach to giving salandit a bit more depth and realism, but it's kinda all I've got. So yes, I'm glad it meets with approval from someone who probably knows a lot more about reptilian mannerisms than I do.

All right, character gushing done now. See you for chapter 10. ;)
Thank you for reading and reviewing! And yeah, see you then. Next time: Artemis finds herself in trouble with the law, and Emilia finds herself finally forced to act.
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
She considers the effects of being caught in a volcanic eruption for a moment, and imagines a future archaeologist pouring plaster into the ash like they did at Pompeii, finding the hollow left in the earth by her corpse. Adult male, they would say, pulling the cast from the earth, examining its size and proportions. And then put it on display in the ruins of the Pokémon Centre for future tourists to see.

The thought makes her skin crawl. When she dies, Artemis is determined, she will be cremated. No bones left to betray her.
Part of me feels volcanic eruptions isn't something you probably don't think too much of unless you're in an area close to it, so I had to pause there for a minute. On the other hand, I get how this subject hits hard for Artemis and why she can think out of proportion sometimes, so her feelings are valid there.

While on the topic of Cinnabar, everyone else already mentioned about the cool worldbuilding, though I think the part with the King of Cinnabar and Jewish community are the most interesting mentions there.

I agree with DP that the scenes with Artemis and Brauron are cute and some interesting angles you took with this break in. There's some uncertainty here and there, but I too get the imrpession she'll want to get to the bottom of this one way or another. There's some mention from the others of possible Mew/Mewtwo connection, and you did say in your replies that will be case soon. Looking forward to more!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Part of me feels volcanic eruptions isn't something you probably don't think too much of unless you're in an area close to it, so I had to pause there for a minute. On the other hand, I get how this subject hits hard for Artemis and why she can think out of proportion sometimes, so her feelings are valid there.
Yeah, that's what I figured. It's certainly not a usual worry, but like, if an anxious person goes to a volcano, chances are they'll think about being caught in a volcanic eruption. It's also not that unfounded, given what ends up happening on Cinnabar in between the events of RBY and GSC.

While on the topic of Cinnabar, everyone else already mentioned about the cool worldbuilding, though I think the part with the King of Cinnabar and Jewish community are the most interesting mentions there.
Thanks! It's based on a real thing -- something very similar happened in Kochi, in India, where there's a really ancient Jewish community that goes back a very long way; there's a brass plaque there with a similar sort of inscription. I wanted Cinnabar to be very distinct from the rest of Kanto, so I looked a lot further afield for inspiration.

I agree with DP that the scenes with Artemis and Brauron are cute and some interesting angles you took with this break in. There's some uncertainty here and there, but I too get the imrpession she'll want to get to the bottom of this one way or another. There's some mention from the others of possible Mew/Mewtwo connection, and you did say in your replies that will be case soon. Looking forward to more!
Oh, she absolutely wants to get to the bottom of this, come what may. She's scared of it, but she'll do it, go down all the way to the end. And it's definitely going to get worse before it gets better. Re. Mewtwo, there should be a bit of interesting lore in that regard coming up next chapter, so I won't say too much more about that, but yeah, thank you for reading and responding! I'm glad you find Artemis and Brauron's interactions cute; I really love writing those little moments. I'm a big fan of putting the life into pokémon, making them something more than game mechanics through fiction, and I'm glad people are enjoying that.
 
Sorry I've been missing for the last several chapters! Since I have missed reviewing so much, I'll probably mostly talk about the most recent chapter, but I will say that I've of course been enjoying this story immensely. The intermingling of the story Artemis is trying to live and the one she's being forced into has been really entertaining and fairly anxiety-inducing, in a way that makes reading this a lot more thrilling. I also love the occasionally tense but always affecting relationship between Artemis and Cass. The fact that the discomfort often arises out of Artemis's own expectations and anxieties regarding social interaction is a nice twist that balances out the characters in a way that I don't think would happen if Cass were just a walking fountain of implicit biases (and, of course, she has plenty of those too).

Regarding this chapter specifically, this only main criticism I have is that it felt very short. It's all relative, I suppose, since it's shorter than the fic's average chapter, but that combined with the fact that it ended on a cliffhanger and most of the plot here was setting up the next event rather than actually detailing a main event just left me feeling that I wanted more. Of course, that would be the intended effect of a cliffhanger, which means you're successful haha, but despite some great narration by Artemis as usual, I do wonder if this chapter could have been a more tightly paced first third of a longer chapter. Ultimately I did enjoy it, though, so I can't complain too much, heh.

In terms of that table-setting, I loved Artie's reluctant turn from passive dread to active dread as she decides she has to investigate this if it's going to keep happening. The entire break-in/search sequence was simultaneously heavily tense and buoyantly comedic (at least for me), mostly because Artemis is ridiculously unsuited for that sort of thing. I can only imagine that the fish-out-of-water elements of this will just keep inflating to more ridiculous and terrifying levels, which I look forward to a whole lot.

I'm also getting curious about how you're going to incorporate the canon-timeline history of the Pokemon world here. Here in particular the fact that no one has heard about the Rockets and Cinnabar is kind of framed as a pre-eruption Pompeii felt very rooted in the past, even if the latter is likely just a detail and not something you plan on addressing. Still, I like the recent history vibe and am excited about the ways you present Kanto as something that will evolve into what we're familiar with as players/watchers/readers.

So yes, as always, I enjoyed this and can't wait for more! Hopefully Artemis gets better at sneaking than she has been haha.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18470659 said:
Sorry I've been missing for the last several chapters! Since I have missed reviewing so much, I'll probably mostly talk about the most recent chapter, but I will say that I've of course been enjoying this story immensely. The intermingling of the story Artemis is trying to live and the one she's being forced into has been really entertaining and fairly anxiety-inducing, in a way that makes reading this a lot more thrilling. I also love the occasionally tense but always affecting relationship between Artemis and Cass. The fact that the discomfort often arises out of Artemis's own expectations and anxieties regarding social interaction is a nice twist that balances out the characters in a way that I don't think would happen if Cass were just a walking fountain of implicit biases (and, of course, she has plenty of those too).
Thank you! That's a big part of what I wanted to do with the story in general and Cass in particular, and something that will get expanded on substantially by the end of the Cinnabar Island segment, in ways that I hope nobody has yet anticipated; she's a nice person, but she's not perfect, and obviously as a white cis girl whose brain and body both function as expected she's bringing a lot of unconscious biases to her friendship with Artemis that make things uneasy – which like react interestingly with Artemis' own expectations and anxieties, as you say.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18470659 said:
Regarding this chapter specifically, this only main criticism I have is that it felt very short. It's all relative, I suppose, since it's shorter than the fic's average chapter, but that combined with the fact that it ended on a cliffhanger and most of the plot here was setting up the next event rather than actually detailing a main event just left me feeling that I wanted more. Of course, that would be the intended effect of a cliffhanger, which means you're successful haha, but despite some great narration by Artemis as usual, I do wonder if this chapter could have been a more tightly paced first third of a longer chapter. Ultimately I did enjoy it, though, so I can't complain too much, heh.
It's actually pretty much the same length as all the other previous chapters – in fact longer than some of them, and that combined with the fact that I really wanted to make the break-in its own thing made me decide to end things where I did. I think perhaps your criticism is still valid, though; a lot of this chapter is clearly building towards something that hasn't happened yet, and that's possibly an indication that there isn't enough substance to it. On balance, I think I still feel that giving the break-in its own massive scene as the centrepiece to one chapter is important enough that I prefer doing things this way, but there's still probably a better way to do it.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18470659 said:
In terms of that table-setting, I loved Artie's reluctant turn from passive dread to active dread as she decides she has to investigate this if it's going to keep happening. The entire break-in/search sequence was simultaneously heavily tense and buoyantly comedic (at least for me), mostly because Artemis is ridiculously unsuited for that sort of thing. I can only imagine that the fish-out-of-water elements of this will just keep inflating to more ridiculous and terrifying levels, which I look forward to a whole lot.
Tense yet comic was pretty much what I wanted, so that's all good to hear! My last fic was pretty grim, so while I wanted this story to come with some discomfort and darkness, I did also want to make sure it was suitably leavened with a good selection of jokes and comic mishaps. And you can definitely look forward to this sort of thing amping up in pitch; I'm currently working on another infiltration, many chapters ahead of where we are now, and Artemis is definitely in even higher over her head by then.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18470659 said:
I'm also getting curious about how you're going to incorporate the canon-timeline history of the Pokemon world here. Here in particular the fact that no one has heard about the Rockets and Cinnabar is kind of framed as a pre-eruption Pompeii felt very rooted in the past, even if the latter is likely just a detail and not something you plan on addressing. Still, I like the recent history vibe and am excited about the ways you present Kanto as something that will evolve into what we're familiar with as players/watchers/readers.
That's the idea. We're like just before the events of RBY – although by the end of this, I think we'll have actually made some of those events impossible, which I don't really consider any great loss since, you know, the story of RBY wasn't really anything to write home about. But in my head, Casey Rigadeau is the champion who your rival unseated just before you came along to unseat him in turn, and the Rockets are still very much skulking in the shadows. My interpretation of Team Rocket is also a bit non-standard in that I'm drawing much more on the fact that they seem to have a million scientists working for them than on their similarities to the mafia; that's one of the things that gave me the idea of making them a rogue research agency rather than just the mob, and it fit really well with my desire to do a conspiracy story, too.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18470659 said:
So yes, as always, I enjoyed this and can't wait for more! Hopefully Artemis gets better at sneaking than she has been haha.
I'm glad you liked it! New chapter up tomorrow; until then, as always, thank you for reading and responding.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
0A: DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS

There was nothing in the police car. Which is to say that there was Artemis and the cops and nothing else, a yawning absence with all the heaviness and weight of a ghost person in the seat next to her, and Artemis remembered what it was like before in the bad old days when the ghost people were in her, were her, when her voice and theirs were intertwined like the innards of an elaborate lock, and she trembled in the emptiness and wished for Brauron. But there was no Brauron. Just a poké ball, in the jacket pocket of the left-hand policeman. And an absence, and the thought: you are functional. Everything else is weakness.

The thought and the absence stayed there for far too long. Artemis sat there in silence as the cops drove her down to the station, on the verge of throwing up, wishing senselessly for sharp objects, pulse thumping dizzyingly in her temples. She sat there, and because she had no other options she made it out the other side, and now here she is, sitting in this windowless little room where the light is yellow and trying hard to hear the questions that she is asked.

She is not good at being interrogated. The cops' eyes unmake her, slice unmercifully through the scraps of womanhood she has gathered around herself. She sees shapes (ghost people?) in the corners, there and then not. She fails to answer questions and is shouted at. At one point someone bangs on the table to get her attention and she cannot help it, she cries.

Then something changes. Then the door bursts open and Artemis looks up to see, of all things, a familiar face: dark skin, perfect lipstick, enviable eyebrows. It is, she realises, that League lawyer, Emilia Santangelo. And Emilia looks back at her, eyes suddenly full of a volcanic fury that to her astonishment Artemis does not think is directed at her, and then she says something and in the next moment all the cops are gone and Emilia is sitting down opposite her, alone.

“Hello, Artemis,” says Emilia.

Artemis doesn't say anything.

“Are you okay?”

Artemis shakes her head.

“I didn't think so.” A silence. Emilia's natu shuffles slightly on her shoulder. “They're going to let you go immediately.”

Artemis still can't find her voice, but her surprise must show, because Emilia smiles without pleasure and nods.

“Oh, they don't know it yet,” she says. “But I'll go back out there in a minute and ask them to do it, and they'll say no, and I'll remind them of how hazardous to their career interfering in League business can be, and then they'll moan and whine about how the League is a meddling old fossil but they'll do it.”

“Why?” asks Artemis. It's just one word. It's not too hard to get out.

There is a short pause, and then something about Emilia seems to shift; she looks tired, human even, as if all her grace and poise has drained away in an instant.

“Okay, I'll level with you,” she says, in a completely different voice, rougher and more casual. Not unlike Artemis' own, albeit with a south Celadon tint. “You've got enough sh*t to deal with already, Artemis. Believe me, I know.”

Artemis wants to say no, you don't, because how can Emilia know this, how can this conventionally attractive cis woman know what this is, but she doesn't have the courage to tell her that and she isn't even sure if it's true and so she just says:

“Do you?”

And Emilia says, “Yes, Artemis. I do.”

Artemis stares. Emilia put a very deliberate emphasis on that. Surely she can't mean …?

“But you …” But you what? But you're beautiful? But you're still alive at the tail end of your thirties? But you're a successful professional? How deep does your hatred go, Artie, that you can think any of that? There is nothing strange about a trans woman being any of these things. And yet, choked by her own self-image, by the hate that she knows is out there waiting for her, Artemis cannot help but be shocked.

Emilia seems to understand. She looks resigned rather than insulted.

“Sorry,” says Artemis, almost whines really, and Emilia shakes her head.

“It's okay,” she replies. “I'm sorry, Artemis. For everything.” She sighs. “Look, now isn't really the time to talk, I get it. We do need to talk about what you did, and what you think you know, but not now. All I'm going to do tonight is go out and get them to release you, then I'll walk you back to the Centre. Is that okay by you?”

It is okay. More than okay, it's kind, and Artemis wasn't expecting that – wasn't expecting any of this, of course, but this least of all. How much does Emilia know about her? Or is her fear really that obvious?

“Yeah,” she replies. “Yeah, that's … that's okay.”

“Good.” Emilia smiles and stands up, and just like that she's back to her usual self, bright and polished as a gemstone. “I'll be back in a minute.”

She leaves the room. Without her, the room is quiet and oppressive, the light buzzing dully in the back of her head, but Artemis does her best to take advantage of the break and get her head together. She wipes her eyes, crushing mascara into the back of her hand, and sniffs deeply, trying to clear her nose. Okay, Artie? No, actually, very not okay. She just got arrested trying to break into a League installation, and maybe the cops knew what happened at Cinnabar House and maybe they didn't, but either way, they knew it was somewhere important, somewhere nobody was ever supposed to get into. Though Artemis has never been the kind of kid who breaks into abandoned houses to explore, she doesn't think they get interrogated like this. The cops suspected her of something, and that was – is – terrifying. So no, she isn't okay. But it seems like Emilia is going to make it disappear, and whatever her real reasons for doing so, that's a good thing.

Just then, Emilia comes back in, holding the diary and Brauron's poké ball.

“They were very accommodating,” she says. “All I had to do was ask and they gave me your stuff back, right away.”

Artemis swallows. She told the cops that the diary was hers, hoping they wouldn't actually look inside it. Presumably, Emilia hasn't checked either.

“Thanks,” she says, taking it and the ball, a little too fast. “I … can I go?”

“Of course. Come with me.”

There is a gauntlet of hostile stares to run – just as she hinted, Emilia has made enemies here tonight – but after that comes the freshness of the night air, and as she breathes it in Artemis feels her heart finally start to slow down. God. It's over. She's out, and she got away with it.

“I expect you're glad to get out,” says Emilia. “I always was. Come on, it's this way back to the Centre.”

Artemis wonders what that means. It's hard to imagine that Emilia has ever been arrested before. She isn't brave enough to ask about it, so instead she releases Brauron and immediately has to focus on calming her down; she climbs up over Artemis' chest, hissing anxiously and staring into her face as if making sure she's still there.

“It's okay,” says Artemis. “It's okay, I'm all right.” She strokes Brauron's neck until she stops wriggling, then hugs her gently to her chest. “We're gonna go back to the Centre now,” she continues. “It's all over.”

Emilia watches with an expression Artemis doesn't recognise. Some strange kind of pain.

“You two have really got on well, haven't you?” she remarks. “It's only been a couple of weeks since you partnered up.”

“Oh,” says Artemis, embarrassed. “Um, thanks.”

Emilia smiles, but her heart clearly isn't in it.

“Come on,” she says. “It's not far. Nothing is, here.”

Silence then, except for the waves and the crickets and the clicking of Emilia's heels on the pavement. Artemis feels a sudden stab of jealousy, wishing she could pass as cis the way Emilia does, and then just as suddenly a rush of guilt. She should like what she is. Be proud of it, even. It's just hard, when nobody ever seems to be anything other than disgusted by it. Even if they're like Cass, even if they accept her, she can tell that underneath it they are fighting their unease.

The lights of the Centre come into view ahead, beneath the shadow of the big revolving sign, and Emilia starts to speak again.

“Well, here we are,” she says. “Now, I'm sorry, but we have to talk about what … well, about everything. So – meet me in the Centre lobby at eleven tomorrow morning? That will give you a chance to get some sleep.”

“Yeah,” says Artemis, not seeing any other way options. “Yeah, I guess that's okay.”

“Don't worry, you're not in any trouble,” Emilia reassures her. “And as far as I can, I'm going to make sure everyone forgets what happens tonight. All right?”

She smiles. Despite herself, Artemis thinks it's genuine.

“Yeah,” she says. “Okay.” Pause. “Well, goodnight.”

“Yes. Goodnight.”

Artemis is about to go inside when Emilia calls after her.

“Oh – one more thing,” she says. “Did you tell anyone where you were going tonight?”

“Huh? No. No, I didn't.”

“That's interesting,” says Emilia. “Because the police only drove out to Cinnabar House because they received a tip-off that someone was breaking in.” She raises her eyebrows significantly. “Be careful,” she says. “Goodnight, Artemis.”

“Um … goodnight.”

Emilia disappears into the night, and Artemis hovers there in the doorway, uncertain and afraid.

Someone tipped off the cops. Someone knew.

Artemis shivers and hurries on inside. The night does not seem so beautiful any more.

*​

Believe me, I know. Emilia said that. She did. She admitted it, for the first time in … god only knows how long. All right, she couldn't bring herself to actually say the word and apply it to herself, and that is not a good thing, but she admitted it, indirectly.

It feels good, in its own way. Sometimes you don't realise how much the constant secrecy hurts until you break it. Emilia still isn't planning to announce what she is to the world at large, but someone knows now, someone who can be trusted with that information, and that's surprisingly comforting.

Not that there's much comfort to be got out of any of this. Emilia isn't sure she's ever seen anyone look quite as scared as Artemis did last night, and she's met with a lot of people who have seen some pretty terrifying things. Possibly Artemis has anxiety, although in this case Emilia can't say it isn't justified. There are bad things gathering around her, and if Emilia's hunch is right she's only just started transitioning, too. That's more than anyone should have to deal with at once.

Still. Hopefully Emilia can help lighten the load a little with this next meeting, and as she heads out from her hotel to the Pokémon Centre that morning she runs over potential ways to do so in her head: information that can safely be divulged, assurances that she could make. Some of this might not strictly be within her job description, or for that matter the bounds of the law, but what the hell, she's in a position of power and she's damned if she's not going to make use of that to help someone who isn't. It's not like the League can fire her. She's too useful for that.

She arrives early, as usual, but Artemis is already waiting for her, sitting in a corner and fiddling with her phone. Shoulders hunched, head down, shame at her size written all over her. Emilia feels depressed and angry to see it.

? asks Nadia, but Emilia can't explain this even to other humans, let alone to a natu, and anyway she doesn't get the chance because Artemis sees her and gets up quickly, apparently eager to be away.

“Good morning,” says Emilia, with perfectly convincing cheerfulness. “How are you doing?”

“I'm okay,” replies Artemis, although she does not look it. Her salandit picks up on this too, and glares at Emilia with vivid purple eyes.

It's to be expected, really. Emilia was probably intimidating before, and now that Artemis knows she's trans she's probably even more so, in some ways.

“Okay, good,” she says. “Have you eaten? No? In which case, let's have brunch. I saw somewhere that looked really quite good on the way here.”

Artemis looks uncertain.

“Um … well, I don't―”

“I'm paying, by the way,” says Emilia, as if her concern were not obvious. “League grants aren't so generous these days, are they? I got fifteen hundred florins, but I can't imagine you got more than half that.”

“Uh. No. No, I didn't.”

Of course she didn't. Emilia hides her irritation at League policy behind a smile and gestures to the door.

“Shall we, then?” she asks. “We've got quite a lot to talk about. Best to make a start right away.”

“Okay,” says Artemis, and off they go.

Cue about thirty seconds of uncomfortable silence, during which Emilia starts to wonder if she really is that scary.

“So how's your trainer journey going?” she asks.

“Okay,” says Artemis. “Except for … well.”

Emilia sighs.

“All right,” she says. “I suppose I should have seen that one coming. But it's what I'm here to talk about. If I can, I want to get this sorted out.”

Artemis' eyes betray a certain wary kind of hope that makes Emilia feel her age.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” confirms Emilia. “You're not alone, Artemis. The League has your back.”

“Okay,” she says. Emilia doesn't think she quite believes her. Under the circumstances, she really can't blame her.

The café Emilia saw earlier is on the corner of an open plaza, and has a few cute wrought-iron tables out in the square itself. Emilia suggests they sit out here, thinking in part about the gorgeous weather and in part that Artemis might feel more comfortable if they were in a public space where Emilia can't try anything (although she isn't entirely sure what it is she's meant to be trying); Artemis, however, hesitates before answering, and so Emilia assures her they can go inside if she wants. This she does agree to, and in they go.

Emilia should have thought of that. Artemis wants to be out of the way, obviously. And sure enough, she goes for the seat in the corner.

“Have whatever you like,” she says, handing her a menu. “The League is paying.”

“Is that okay?”

“Of course. This is business, after all. Technically.” Emilia smiles. “I won't tell Lorelei if you don't.”

Artemis doesn't smile back.

“Is that who you work for?”

“Mostly, yes.”

They order: coffee, croissants, water for Nadia, tea for Artemis. Emilia watches the way she grips the cup tightly between her hands and wishes she wasn't the authority figure that she is.

“So, Artemis,” she says. “I know it must seem like I just pop up wherever there's trouble, but I actually didn't come here because of what happened last night.”

“No?”

“No.” Emilia sips her coffee and sends a thought to Nadia, pay attention. Artemis has her sympathy, but she still has a job to do. “I'm here because you started asking questions in Pallet.”

A tense, ugly moment of fear. Artemis' salandit slithers off her breast onto the table, where she crouches and stares aggressively at Nadia, who hops nervously away from her dish of water towards Emilia.

“I guess that makes sense,” says Artemis, making no move to intervene. “I expected someone to come after me for that.”

“I wouldn't say we're coming after you. We're worried, actually. You've been involved with breach twice” (and Emilia remembers that she is not supposed to say what she is about to say and then thinks screw it) “maybe even three times, we can't tell what that scyther is, and we're starting to get concerned.” She gives Artemis her best I-want-to-help-you look. It's studied, but that's not to say she doesn't mean it. “Under the circumstances, I'm amazed you didn't start asking questions sooner.”

“The scyther was breach?” Artemis leans forward, intent. Emilia has to stop herself from leaning back. “So it was?

“We don't know.” Emilia shrugs. “Breach is disruptive, mutations aren't unknown. But we've had people searching Route 1 and nobody's found any trace of an actual event yet. Could be that the scyther itself is a breach entity, could be that the breach happened inside it, could be that it's just a sick scyther.”

Artemis looks strangely disappointed. Emilia nudges Nadia with her mind, looking for clarification, and the response comes back positive. Why would she be disappointed? Is it certainty she's after?

“Okay,” says Artemis. “So … so what do you want from me?”

A little scared, a little plaintive. Her salandit picks up on it and raises the fins between her shoulder blades, a tiny draconian threat display. Nadia decides to relocate to Emilia's shoulder, just in case.

Artemis sighs.

“Brauron,” she says in exasperation, picking her up and putting her on her shoulder. “Sorry. She just wants to help.”

The salandit wriggles a little, but she stays where she's been put.

“I know,” replies Emilia. “It's fine.” (It is not, really, because Effie would have done the same and every time Brauron moves to defend her partner Emilia cannot help but be reminded that she is dying, but she says it anyway.) “And as for what we want from you – officially, I'm here to ask you what you think you know, and to get you to stop digging for information.”

Artemis pauses with her teacup halfway to her lips.

“And unofficially?”

Emilia has a strange urge to glance over her shoulder to catch any eavesdroppers, as if she's in a movie, but she squashes it.

“Unofficially, Artemis, I think something's wrong with this whole thing. It seems to me like someone is actively triggering breach events, and you don't need me to tell you that that's not a good thing. Unfortunately, people don't like being given bad news, and I don't have any evidence. Which is where you come in,” she adds. “If there's anything you can tell me that might help, I'd be glad to hear it.”

Artemis picks at her food for a while in silence. Busying her fingers, Emilia thinks. Fidgeting rather than hungry. It's okay. She can wait.

“I … don't know,” she says in the end. “I don't know anything.”

LYING, says Nadia, although Emilia does not need to be told.

“We both know that's not true,” she replies, as gently as she can. “Or you wouldn't be looking around in Cinnabar House.”

Another silence. Artemis won't meet her eye, staring down into the tabletop, hands in her lap. On her shoulder, the salandit tenses and coils around the back of her neck, pressing her head against her partner's jaw.

At least she got a good partner, thinks Emilia. That salandit really cares about her.

“I heard that something happened on Cinnabar,” says Artemis. “And then I got here and I thought that abandoned houses don't normally have razor wire around them.”

Clever. Probably mostly true, as well. But it's the first bit that really interests Emilia. Something did happen on Cinnabar: the M entity broke containment and began murdering its way across Kanto before the League counterattack drove it into whatever hiding place it's been in for the past ten years, if it's still alive at all. The thing is, how does Artemis know about that?

“What did you hear about Cinnabar?” asks Emilia. Artemis shrugs.

“Nothing. Just that something happened.”

Nadia is silent. That much at least must be true.

“Okay,” says Emilia. “That's okay. Where did you hear about that?”

Artemis hesitates.

“I …”

Emilia waits, and when it becomes clear she isn't going to continue steps in again.

“I'm on your side,” she says. “I promise, Artemis. I'm not looking to get you in trouble, I just want an end to this. People are getting hurt.”

“They are?”

“Yes. I can't divulge any details, but there have been injuries.” Emilia hopes that doesn't sound too intimidatingly officious. “I know, I know, I'm League, I defend people who at least some of the time don't have your best interests at heart – but I'm human too, Artemis. More than I want the League to contain this, I want whoever's breaching to stop.”

A second passes. The door jingles as someone enters; at another table, cutlery clinks. Artemis stares at her plate for a long time, and then, without looking up, she speaks.

“Giovanni,” she says. “It's Giovanni.” She pauses for a while, for so long in fact that Emilia isn't sure she's going to say anything else, but then she continues. “He was waiting for me in Viridian Forest. Said he was catching starters. Thought I was asleep. But I heard … he scanned me or something, I dunno, looking for breach radiation, and he couldn't get his scanner to work so he called someone for help. Mentioned something that happened on Cinnabar then. I didn't find anything here, though.”

It seems like this time she really is done. Emilia nods gravely.

“Thank you,” she says sincerely. “I suspected as much. Giovanni … I think he used to lead a breach research project, but the Elite Four had it shut down. My suspicion is that he and his team have carried on anyway.”

“Can you stop him?” asks Artemis. “Can you just – can you make it stop?”

She sounds so desperate. Emilia wishes she could say yes.

“I can take it to the Elite Four,” she says. “I can have Giovanni brought in and an investigation launched.”

“But will that stop it?”

Emilia hesitates a moment too long, and Artemis looks away, hurt.

“Okay,” she says. “I guess that's my answer, then.”

“I'm going to do what I can,” says Emilia. “I really will. But Giovanni will be prepared for me. He's been at this a long time, and I don't believe for a second that he doesn't have some kind of contingency plan in place to deal with a situation like this.”

“Okay.” Artemis does not sound disappointed, which is possibly worse than if she did. “So what now?”

“Now I ask you for permission to tell the Elite Four what you just told me about Giovanni,” says Emilia. “And you say yes, or no if you like but I'd appreciate it if you said yes, and then I let you get on with your trainer journey. Like I said, you're not in any trouble, nobody's going to stop you. Just – stay safe, okay?”

Artemis nods.

“I'm trying,” she replies. “I'm trying. And – okay, you can tell the Elite Four. If it will help.”

“It will. Thank you.” Emilia drinks the last of her coffee and reaches for her bag. “Here is my card,” she says, taking one out and scribbling on it. “I'm writing down my personal phone number – you call that if you run into more trouble, all right?”

Artemis looks from it to her and back again.

“All right,” she says. “I'll do that.”

Probably even she doesn't know if she's telling the truth there; no way Nadia will be able to tell. It's all right. She might, and that's what matters.

“Hang in there,” says Emilia. “This won't last forever.”

Artemis turns her cup around on its saucer, watching the dregs of the tea swill around the base. She does not look up at Emilia when she speaks.

“Is it … how do you do this?” she asks, voice cracking. “How – just how?

Emilia does not know what to say. She never really imagined herself having this conversation with anyone. She never really imagined herself having anyone to have it with.

It hurts to think this, a blunt pain like dull teeth pressing into skin. What can she say? That it gets easier? Because all right, it's true, it does, after those first few awkward years you get into the rhythm of it; and yet how can Emilia say that to Artemis, when the truth is that nobody who looks at Emilia will ever know she isn't cis while nobody who looks at Artemis will ever miss it? Emilia has no right, not really. She has no right to look Artemis in the eye and sell her a vision of a future that is not open to her. She shouldn't be championing the path she's taken anyway; she should encourage Artemis to celebrate who she is, not keep it chained up in the attic like a dirty secret. And yet, and yet – what does celebration get you, other than a kick in the teeth? Because the more you like yourself the more they hate you, because you are supposed to be a miserable broken thing striving endlessly for acceptance, and if you aren't then you are to be punished.

What can Emilia say in the face of all that? What can anyone? Some things are too big and too painful to ever be illuminated by words.

“I'm sorry,” she says in the end. “It's hard. In some ways it always will be. But in others it will get better.”

Artemis looks up now, into her eyes, devastatingly hopeful.

“Will it?” she asks.

Emilia holds her gaze, and gives a perfect reassuring smile. It's like the I-want-to-help-you look: just because it isn't real, doesn't mean it isn't true.

“Yes,” she says, hoping she is not lying. “It will.”

*​

While she is still sitting on a low wall by the harbour, looking at the waves and trying to process everything that has happened, Artemis' phone buzzes into life.

hey! back yet?

Cass, then. Artemis told her this morning that she had some errands to run, and she believed her. Something else to feel guilty about, that, but she couldn't think of anything else to say. Worse, when she looked at Cass all she could think was that maybe she was the one who tipped off the cops, even though of course she wasn't, because even if she was awake there's no way she could have known where Artemis was going. And obviously she felt even guiltier about that.

Anyway, she tells herself, she should go back now. She should. They'll go to the Gym and train and because her mind and body will be occupied Artemis will feel better. It's just that right this moment, after being arrested and then rescued and all the rest of it, she really, really doesn't want to.

But.

“Okay, Brauron,” she says, easing herself down off the wall. “Let's go.”

She sends a quick on my way back to Cass and starts heading through town towards the Centre. Things are getting weird now. Can she trust Emilia? No idea. Why did she tell her about Giovanni but not the diary? Also no idea. Artemis' problem is that she can't even seem to understand her own actions right now, let alone anyone else's. What is she trying to achieve here? Hell if she knows. All Artemis is sure of is that she is very tired and very stressed and her meds haven't been doing much to stop her hallucinating recently.

Maybe going to the Gym is what she needs after all. Forget about all of this for a few hours. Let the fear fade from specific back to nebulous. Put some distance between her and last night, and this morning for that matter, and come back to it when she actually has the capacity for some proper analysis.

It's not far back to the Centre, but it's long enough for her to make some attempt at composing herself. By the time she walks in and finds Cass, Artemis looks – not normal, she never looks normal, but as close as she's going to get. Cass asks if she got everything she needed; Artemis squashes the paranoid distrust rising inside her and says yes, and are you ready? And Cass is, so they go.

The walk up to the Cinnabar Gym is much like the trip up the mountainside yesterday – better paved, naturally, and with more signposts, but otherwise it winds through the same stands of olive trees and rocky outcrops, the same fields of clover and butterflies. Above, the Gym juts out into the sky like the prow of a ship, tall and black and ridged with ancient buttresses. As they get closer, its age becomes more apparent – its stones are worn and rounded at the edges, and in places patched with modern mortar – but it doesn't seem any less impressive. Artemis imagines the old Kantan knights advancing across the island in the fourteenth century, armour glittering in the light from their rapidash, and looking up at the castle in its prime. How they cracked it she has no idea. Maybe she should read up on siege warfare sometime.

“Okay, maybe I'm just unfit but this is a ridiculous climb just to get to the Gym,” puffs Cass, as they turn the corner onto the last stretch. “I know this is a site of special historical value or whatever but couldn't they have just made it a museum and put the Gym somewhere else?”

“I think it's because it used to be military,” says Artemis. “And, you know, back then the League was the military. So I guess they had the building and needed something to do with it.”

“That's like the worst excuse for making me climb halfway up a mountain I've ever heard,” says Cass. “Damn it, Ringo, hurry up and evolve so you can fly me up here.”

“Can fearow do that? They don't look big enough.”

Cass shrugs.

“Think so. At least, there's this Vine I saw once of a guy who goes today is the day … that I finally kill the sun and then in the next shot he's being carried away by a fearow while he fires like a water pistol at the sky.”

Artemis snaps her fingers.

“Yeah,” she says. “I think I saw that one.”

The main entrance to the Gym is a pair of massive reinforced gates between two stone pillars as thick as Artemis is tall; a more sensibly-sized door has been cut into the left-hand gate, and this is propped open with what looks like a piece of an old statue.

“Security's not what it used to be, huh?” says Cass, and despite her anxiety Artemis laughs.

“Nope,” she agrees. “It sure isn't.”

Inside, the Gym is cool and dim, despite the searing heat and bright light outside. It isn't as big as Artemis expected, either; the ceiling is maybe twice her height, and the far wall not more than ten metres away. The room is a curious hotchpotch of ancient and modern, twentieth-century posterboards fixed to thirteenth-century stone walls and a computer at the front desk casting a faint light onto time-worn flagstones. No windows, which is a little oppressive, but probably that's just how castles go. There isn't much point building massive walls if you're going to immediately punch them full of holes.

“Hi,” says the woman at the desk, seeing the two of them standing at the door and staring. “Can I help you?”

She can; they're on their trainer journey, have been doing the journeying bit and now would like to stop and do the training part as well; this is fine, there are sessions being run most of the time, sometimes led by Blaine if there are no challengers and by Merle, his second, if there are; there is in fact one on at the moment, if they'd like to go through that door there? They would, and they do, and beyond the door they find a large room carpeted in fireproof crash mats and lit by several small, high windows, in which several trainers and a bewildering variety of pokémon are engaged in creating a series of extraordinary noises.

Merle, a tall man with lank dark hair, sees them entering and comes over with a smile and a welcome that penetrates even Artemis' unease with its warmth. Trainers? Come in, they're just getting started. Ah, a salandit! Marvellous, marvellous; even Blaine will be envious of that. And a spearow? Excellent. It's cliché, of course, but we like hot-tempered pokémon here.

So it goes. Artemis is very nervous, but most of the other people in the room are Gym trainers and they are all much too fascinated by Brauron to care about her partner's appearance. Brauron accepts their praise and attention with her usual air of royal dignity, and Artemis finds herself fielding what feels like dozens of questions: where did she get her? What sort of personality does she have? How far do her powers of corrosion extend? She answers as best she can before Merle steps in and calls for order, slotting Cass and Artemis in among the other trainers, matched against a charmeleon and a ponyta, respectively. He's good at this: the charmeleon can match Ringo's speed and the ponyta refuses to let Brauron stay at a distance.

After that, Artemis doesn't really have the time to worry. There's too much to think about: the ponyta's trainer knows a lot about fire-types, and his directions open up new possibilities she'd never considered before. Okay, now I want an ember with minimum fuel usage, he'll say, and by way of example the ponyta will spit a tiny fireball that's more superheated air than flame; now let's try that again but with more power, he continues, and this time it produces a splashing orb of fire the size of Artemis' fist. Your turn, he says, and Artemis and Brauron do their best to replicate it.

Most water-types, poison-types and fire-types share this one issue of limited ammunition: there's only so much fluid a blastoise can store in its torrent sacs, so much venom in a nidoran's spines, so much powder in a charizard's furnace-gizzard. Unless yours is one of those pokémon who draw their power from more arcane places (and Brauron is not), you have to learn to ration it out, to take calculated gambles. A channelled move like flamethrower uses up more than a single-shot move like ember – but sometimes sweeping a plume of fire across the arena might be the only way to hit an evasive opponent. Can your salandit do flamethrower? No? All right, let's see if we can teach her …

It's hard work, especially with so many fire-types heating up the room with open flames, but after a few hours Artemis is getting somewhere. Brauron doesn't quite have the fuel capacity to sustain a flamethrower yet, but she's starting to get the hang of flame burst, and once, without either Artemis or the other trainer knowing quite how, she spits vivid blue-purple flames shot through with white lightning: some kind of dragon attack, though what move exactly it might be neither of them are sure.

Eventually, Merle calls a break so the pokémon can eat and recover the energy lost in breathing all that fire, and Artemis finds Cass at one end of the room, holding out a handful of mealworms for an unusually tired-looking Ringo.

“How's it going?” she asks, digging in her bag for Brauron's ash pellets.

“Pretty well,” says Cass enthusiastically. “These guys are really good, you know?”

“Well, it is their job.”

“Yeah, I guess. Learned a lot about stamina management. Ringo can't stay in the air that long anyway, but it's gonna be helpful for when he gets bigger. Getting better at nailing those mirror moves, too. You?”

“Similar kinda thing. Fuel stuff. Can't keep relying on that trick where Brauron blows up all her gas at once.”

“Hey, if it ain't broke …”

“Well yeah, but I kinda need more than one tactic.”

Break over, and back to work; the fire flashes, the room heats up, and the cryptic shouts of trainers commanding pokémon fills the air. The training goes on, and then at around six culminates in an impromptu tournament. Artemis makes it to the third round before she has to forfeit, Brauron completely out of venom despite her eagerness to fight. It's impressive, really. She has kind of an advantage, given that nobody here has faced a salandit before, but even so. She'll take three wins when all her opponents are professionals, any day of the week.

And when she and Cass leave, tired but excited, and make their slow way back down the mountainside towards the town spread out below like a child's toy, it occurs to her that she didn't even think of breach at all.

*​

Cass goes to bed early, which is moderately surprising considering how late she got up, though Artemis can't deny that sleep is definitely enticing after their afternoon at the Gym. It's strange how much effort it takes. The Gym Leaders and the professionals on TV are always so relaxed and confident, barely moving a muscle throughout the battle, but apparently there's some way to go before you get to that point. Artemis spent an awful lot of time today shifting from foot to foot, gesturing wildly and hopping around. It feels to her like a rookie trainer kind of thing. At least, she hopes it is. If not, she's going to look kinda ridiculous when it comes to her Gym challenge.

Which is something she's thinking about now, as she bids goodnight to Cass and settles deeper into her chair in the Pokémon Centre's lounge. Brauron is fireproof, in fact splashes around in it as happily as other salamanders do in water, and though that's not perfect protection against a fire-type attack – some of the raw force behind the move will get through – it puts her in a pretty good position to take on Blaine himself, now that she's got some experience under her belt. Maybe not tomorrow; she and Brauron both need a break, maybe another training session. But sometime soon.

Tonight, though … well. Tonight she has something else to do. Something that's probably either going to be very boring or very stressful. One of those all-or-nothing deals.

Okay. Brauron asleep in her lap, kids watching TV across the room. A comforting warmth and pleasant background noise. It's about as good a setting as she's going to get.

Artemis opens up M. Fuji's diary, and begins to read.

9th October 2006

Imagine genetics as watercolour painting: no need to snip and splice, no intricate fine detail work, but the freedom to rewrite as you please, to gesture in the direction of what you are after and watch your material move accordingly. This is what we're doing here. I can't go into the details – I may already have said too much! – but it involves targeted pulses of a specific kind of radiation. The results are simply staggering. Perfectly controlled mutation. You'd think this would simply be a recipe for cancers, but everything so far created is remarkably stable. I've seen examples, though obviously I can't write about any of them.

I think I made the right decision coming here. With the new specimen and its unusual genetic properties, we have a chance to create something with incredible potential.


You don't need to be a geneticist to see where this is going. Artemis thinks about the scyther, about its strange in-between-ness, and is appalled to think that someone might have tried to use that, to make breach into a tool. It also makes her uneasy. If breach radiation causes mutations, what's it going to do to her? She's got at least five rads to her name.

The old fear kicks and snarls inside her like a scared dog, barking and blustering to hide its panic. Artemis feels her hands tighten on the book, her pulse spike and her breath catch, and then she works her way back down again into something resembling calm. It's okay. She hasn't turned into a raging abomination yet. And hell, whatever happens to her body, it can't get any uglier, can it?

She tricks herself into smiling with that, and takes advantage of it to press on with Fuji's diary. There's a lot of incidental detail; Fuji generally does a good job of avoiding writing about their work, especially anything that the League might take issue with, and Artemis finds herself skipping much of it. It's clear, however, that they and their colleagues were trying to create … something. Some kind of artificial breach entity, maybe.

This is an objectively terrible idea, and Artemis is glad that the facility is now abandoned. Whatever they were doing here, they shouldn't have been doing it.

She reads on, and after wading through several pages of Fuji getting excited about chemicals Artemis can't pronounce, finds something else of interest.

6th February 2007

It's awake. Everything we've been working towards has led up to this – and it worked. I have to admit, I wasn't sure it would survive once taken off life support. The projected results were always somewhat up in the air. But it's worked. The creature is awake and appears lucid, even reasonable. I am not sure how intelligent it is, but it follows our movements with its eyes, as if trying to parse them. It is truly remarkable.

Next up are the tests to determine whether or not it is still a pokémon. If not, this will all have been for nothing. If it is – well, remarkably enough, we might actually have got this right first time. This is quite possibly the greatest breakthrough in the field that will occur during my lifetime, and nobody will ever know.

Well, we're not in it for the fame, are we? Enough for now, I think I hear the kettle boiling. Until tomorrow!


Something about this entry seems important. Artemis rereads it, slower this time, and then the penny drops: it was a pokémon. They wanted to make a pokémon. And why did they want to make a pokémon? Because if it's a pokémon you can catch it, in one of those reinforced ones they use for raging gyarados perhaps but you can catch it, and if it has that same old pokémon instinct you can do more than that. You could train it.

An obedient breach entity. What would you even do with something like that? And who would be able to hold a poké ball knowing that something huge and horrifying was within it, ready to explode?

Not Artemis, that's for sure. But then, the kind of person who would do this is probably someone much less afraid than she is.

Artemis flicks through the pages rapidly, towards the point where the writing stops. She knows, kind of, what must have happened. Something went wrong, something that Giovanni at least thinks is Steve's fault, and then whatever it was they made here decided it didn't want to be here any longer. It makes a brutal, horrid kind of sense.

Still. She needs to know. She doesn't want to, but she needs to all the same.

1st September 2007

I don't know what to say or think. It killed them. All of them. They're dead and it is

What have we done? I can't stop thinking about it, those eyes, that voice, like nothing I've ever heard before. “What have you done?” it asked. “Why did you do this?” And none of us had an answer and it killed them all. Except me. Not f*cking me, god knows why but not me.

I

Someone was careless with its ball. I think that's it. We had it made specially, plated with bisharp steel to reflect telekinesis, but someone put it down on the table and it just took the whole desk. Ripped it right out of the floor. Nobody could get to the ball to recall it.

That moment. When it was over there and the next instant it wasn't, it was right there, holding its ball so we couldn't get it.

“What have you done? Why did you do this?”

It was a reckoning, a calling to account, and we were all judged and found wanting.

I have to get away from here. The project will be shut down anyway, after this. There's nothing left here for anyone.

Home. I am going home, and if the League wants to stop me it's welcome to f*cking try.


Artemis is very still for a minute, and then she shuts the book and lays it down on the arm of the chair.

She closes her eyes and concentrates. Brauron on her lap. The babble of the TV. Chatter from the hall.

Breathe in, and out.

Someone died. A bunch of people, even. A bunch of people died and someone made it disappear and this is all that's left, the diary of some poor bastard who was in it for the science and didn't even consider the consequences until it was far too late. And if Artemis hadn't stumbled into this mess and through their room in Cinnabar House, nobody would even know.

Artemis opens her eyes again and sighs.

Okay?

Okay. Or no, not really, something horrific happened and the fact that she's the only one who knows about it is a lot more than she wants or needs, but okay enough for now. Okay enough to ask, what next?

Surprisingly enough, Artemis has an answer. It involves going to bed and forgetting about all this for eight hours. As answers go, it kinda lacks for elegance, but it's all she's got right now. It's going to have to do.

“Right,” she says quietly, lifting Brauron from her lap. “C'mon. We can sleep upstairs, kiddo.”

Sss, goes Brauron, half-opening one eye and sinking luxuriously into her arms.

“Sure,” replies Artemis, picking up Fuji's diary, trying not to think about what lies inside. “Something like that.”

*​

It could have gone better. It could have gone worse, too, but it could have gone better. Emilia has plenty of time to consider this as she suffers through the ferry ride east to Fuchsia, stuck in her cabin with seasickness and no phone reception. She didn't really do what she came to Cinnabar to do; Artemis is probably not going to stop digging. But she does have some eyewitness testimony that Giovanni is up to something, which is some kind of evidence, even if it isn't completely conclusive, and that means she might just have enough to take the case to Lorelei. It's going to be painful, and quite possibly it's going to put more strain on their friendship than it can stand, but after seeing Artemis that morning Emilia honestly can't find it in herself to put it off any longer. Something has to be done, and she's the only one who can do it.

And then there was her disastrous attempt to impart life advice. What was she thinking? In some ways it will get better. What kind of weak prevaricatory nonsense is that? Could she not think of anything more encouraging? Artemis is young and sharp as a tack, and clearly has a knack for training to boot; she has so much going for her, and all Emilia could say was that it would be hard but also it would get easier. Obviously she's been doing too much League work. She can't seem to open her mouth without equivocating.

She sighs. It's fine. Artemis can look after herself, mostly; she's seen several breach events and come away unscathed every time. Emilia should focus on doing the things that Artemis can't: to wit, hammering away at the upper echelons of the League until somebody decides to do something.

This, however, is something she can only do when she arrives back on dry land, where there's enough reception for her phone to actually work. For now, Emilia decides, she needs to focus on not throwing up. With some concentration and a lot of soothing feelings beamed into her head from Nadia, she succeeds, and then when she arrives in Fuchsia, she staggers off the boat and into a taxi to the airport.

She doesn't call Lorelei. Not yet. The conversation is going to get ugly, and Emilia owes it to both of them to have it out face to face.

Up there among the clouds, Emilia finds her misgivings dissipating. Aeroplanes have this effect on her, she's noticed; the boredom seeps in like water and douses whatever anxiety it is that happens to be burning in her gut. Perhaps it's the distance. From thirty thousand feet up, she looks back at her past self in Cinnabar, and shrugs. She did what she could with Artemis. And now, she's going to do the right thing. What happens next, happens. But Emilia will not look back and regret it.

Eyes closed, she leans back in her seat and breathes in the low chaos of the plane: footsteps of stewards, quiet conversation, the creaking of chairs and that dull, all-pervasive mechanical hum. Nadia making small avian noises in her lap.

Seconds pass. Maybe days. Emilia opens her eyes, feeling calm and cold and focused, and walks with measured paces down the now-landed plane, out across the tarmac and through the streets of the Indigo Plateau towards the huge, glittering fortress at its heart.

Emilia spares a moment, as always, to look up at the columned façade of the Indigo Palace, and then she lets the past vanish away inside her and goes inside to ruin everything.
 
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Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Perhaps it's my lack of programming knowledge, but I must ask what the deal is with the chapter number. Is it programming-related or is this a form of interface screw? Since we're dealing with glitches and all, I'm totally down for interface screw! (EDIT: Thanks to Nerdy for telling me it's hexadecimal. Makes a ton of sense now.)

And sorry to bring up a comparison since I think they're frowned upon here, but I really couldn't help it. Because the stuff at the police station reminded me heavily of a similar scenes from Go Home (that I'll keep vague in case someone else reads this). But you differentiate it considerably because of how very different Artemis is as a protagonist. There's not quite as much cynicism and jadedness making it read out as depressing, and instead there's a very real sense of terror and dread.

“I expect you're glad to get out,” says Emilia. “I always was. Come on, it's this way back to the Centre.”
Artemis wonders what that means. It's hard to imagine that Emilia has ever been arrested before. She isn't brave enough to ask about it, so instead she releases Brauron and immediately has to focus on calming her down; she climbs up over Artemis' chest, hissing anxiously and staring into her face as if making sure she's still there.
Missing a space here. Also, is this paragraph confirming that you take the "Pokémon are vaguely aware of their surroundings while in their Poké Balls," approach to things? I'm always curious how folks approach that.

It's just hard, when nobody ever seems to be anything other than disgusted by it. Even if they're like Cass, even if they accept her, she can tell that underneath it they are fighting their unease.
I don't really know how to explain it well in words, but there's something about these lines and how true they ring. Made me stop for a moment just to think.

Someone tipped off the cops. Someone knew.
And know I'm thinking of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron. "Walls have ears. doors have eyes."

“Yeah,” confirms Emilia. “You're not alone, Artemis. The League has your back.”

“Okay,” she says. Emilia doesn't think she quite believes her. Under the circumstances, she really can't blame her.
Maybe because you're lying and "The League" should really be replaced with "I". Admit it Emilia, you're getting too emotionally invested in this case! Sorry, I've always wanted to say that line. ^^;

And their little talk quickly turns into an interrogation. Well, not your typical type of interrogation. But when you have a suit asking for information from a bystander because she's completely run out of leads then it makes your eyebrows raise a bit. I'm surprised Artemis wasn't trying to ask for something in return. Then again, she's frightened out of her skull, so...

This is just my inner crime show-lover talking, but if the Elite Four wanted to launch an investigation, wouldn't that mean Artemis has to get called into testify at some point if charges are brought up? I guess the thought doesn't occur to her, but given her situation I would think that would raise all of the red flags.

Because the more you like yourself the more they hate you, because you are supposed to be a miserable broken thing striving endlessly for acceptance, and if you aren't then you are to be punished.
Like those other two lines I quoted this just sounds true in a haunting, chilling sort of way that makes me pause for a moment.

“Think so. At least, there's this Vine I saw once of a guy who goes today is the day … that I finally kill the sun and then in the next shot he's being carried away by a fearow while he fires like a water pistol at the sky.”
Hello, mood whiplash, good to see ya! Oh man if Artemis is right and Cass called the cops I'm-a be sad. Great, now the story's making me paranoid too. At least, paranoid at fiction.

I like the little training tidbit. And that's an interesting explanation about "limited fuel." Is that analogues to the PP moves have from the games? Cause that's a nifty, biological way to apply it to a story.

The first journal entry brings to mind some perverse form of cyber knife radiation treatments for certain cancers (specifically those in the brain). The second and third ones bring Mewtwo's backstory to mind. Mainly leaning on the games but its lines bring the anime to mind a bit. It does make me curious what happened to Fuji. I get the feeling some of that might get dredged up in the future, and I'm quite frightened that Artemis will inevitably run into Mewtwo and things are going to go badly.
 
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diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
I think my favorite part here was the conversation between Emilia and Artemis, not only for Emilia admitting to someone she's a trans woman as well, but also because of how protective Emilia is of Artemis and how far she's willing to go for her. Artemis's shock and gratefulness is truly genuine, and I think that Emilia's generosity will stick with her for a long time. And Emilia telling Artemis it gets better... Well, that's a common phrase I hear a lot in all kinds of situations, but here, the idea that that might not be true is explored. There's the idea that it's possibly a false promise, and just because it got better for one person doesn't mean it will for another. That was an interesting little bit of depth I didn't expect to see, but was super glad to see because of how realistic it is.

The dynamic of passing as cis versus not passing as cis was interesting, too. Emilia's conflicting feelings are obvious, and I think for good reason, because she's right, how can she preach about other people being themselves when she herself hasn't quite done the same? Her inability to make an outright confession to Artemis, only a heavily implied one, proves that she's still hesitant, along with the fact Artemis is the first she's told. I guess there's always two sides to every coin, that although trans people might try to pass for cis, trans people who consistently pass for cis might not be fully satisfied, either.

So, yeah, the character dynamics in this chapter sold it for me. :D See you for the next one! <3
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Perhaps it's my lack of programming knowledge, but I must ask what the deal is with the chapter number. Is it programming-related or is this a form of interface screw? Since we're dealing with glitches and all, I'm totally down for interface screw! (EDIT: Thanks to Nerdy for telling me it's hexadecimal. Makes a ton of sense now.)
Yeah, it's just hexadecimal, for some good old Game Boy flavouring.

And sorry to bring up a comparison since I think they're frowned upon here, but I really couldn't help it. Because the stuff at the police station reminded me heavily of a similar scenes from Go Home (that I'll keep vague in case someone else reads this). But you differentiate it considerably because of how very different Artemis is as a protagonist. There's not quite as much cynicism and jadedness making it read out as depressing, and instead there's a very real sense of terror and dread.
Are they frowned upon? I dunno, I've been here a while and I'm not sure I've ever heard of anyone taking umbrage at having two of their fics compared before. But yes, you're right. I'm looking at the same sets of power relations in both stories, as I am in most things I write these days; Artemis and Gwyneth are similar people in similar societies, but this is meant to be a much lighter story in a lot of ways, and Artemis is the sort of person whose anger at the way of things manifests as fear rather than as, well, anger. And also she's younger, she's never worked, and she still has hope. She wouldn't have come on this journey if she didn't have hope that she might be able to change her life for the better.

Missing a space here. Also, is this paragraph confirming that you take the "Pokémon are vaguely aware of their surroundings while in their Poké Balls," approach to things? I'm always curious how folks approach that.
Fixed! And I dunno. Could be! I interpret it as referencing the fact that the last time Brauron saw Artemis she was in the process of getting arrested, and so she's worried, but she could be aware of her surroundings. You can take it however you like.

I don't really know how to explain it well in words, but there's something about these lines and how true they ring. Made me stop for a moment just to think.
Always nice when you can turn suffering into art. So often it's just painful, so it's nice to have been able to do something with it.

And know I'm thinking of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron. "Walls have ears. doors have eyes."
Never read it myself, but it sounds cool! I like the fiction of the surveillance state era; it's good stuff. We live in interesting times, and that's made for interesting fiction.

Maybe because you're lying and "The League" should really be replaced with "I". Admit it Emilia, you're getting too emotionally invested in this case! Sorry, I've always wanted to say that line. ^^;
I mean, it's sort of a good thing in this case, almost. It's good to have her on Artemis' side, after all. I'd prefer that to her just working with the League.

And their little talk quickly turns into an interrogation. Well, not your typical type of interrogation. But when you have a suit asking for information from a bystander because she's completely run out of leads then it makes your eyebrows raise a bit. I'm surprised Artemis wasn't trying to ask for something in return. Then again, she's frightened out of her skull, so...
Artemis was definitely not ever going to ask her for anything, yeah. It just wouldn't have occurred to her; she's too scared, and she's not the kind of person who's much good at this kind of thing. And of course – Emilia isn't really asking in her capacity as a government suit, which is maybe why she isn't acting as you expect. She's asking more just as a person who wants to stop Giovanni, disguised as someone working for the League.

This is just my inner crime show-lover talking, but if the Elite Four wanted to launch an investigation, wouldn't that mean Artemis has to get called into testify at some point if charges are brought up? I guess the thought doesn't occur to her, but given her situation I would think that would raise all of the red flags.
She would, if it got that far. Obviously she hasn't thought this through properly – like, at the moment that Emilia came to speak to her, she was really, really desperate; she's been carrying this all by herself for so long now, and she's terrified and alone and had to tell someone. And here's Emilia, saying I know your pain, by the way, and I'm sorry, and so Artemis tells her. I went over to Emilia's perspective here because I wanted to leave some of this unsaid and get into Emilia's thoughts a bit more, but like it's a thing that Emilia is aware of, so hopefully the implication was there.

Like those other two lines I quoted this just sounds true in a haunting, chilling sort of way that makes me pause for a moment.
Pain and art again, I guess. Thanks, anyway.

Hello, mood whiplash, good to see ya! Oh man if Artemis is right and Cass called the cops I'm-a be sad. Great, now the story's making me paranoid too. At least, paranoid at fiction.
Good old Cass! She always lightens the mood. And of course I can comment no further on that, because I don't want to spoil who it was that really did it.

I like the little training tidbit. And that's an interesting explanation about "limited fuel." Is that analogues to the PP moves have from the games? Cause that's a nifty, biological way to apply it to a story.
It wasn't intended that way, but it does kind of work, yeah. I mostly meant it because a big thing about Artemis and Brauron's strategy is going to be managing how much venom she has in her. There are definitely pokémon that don't need fuel – for instance, you can teach fire blast to a clefable, which obviously doesn't have any like fire glands or other means of producing fire except basically magic, so I drew the distinction between them and the pokémon that do have some sort of native capacity to produce fire or whatever.

The first journal entry brings to mind some perverse form of cyber knife radiation treatments for certain cancers (specifically those in the brain). The second and third ones bring Mewtwo's backstory to mind. Mainly leaning on the games but its lines bring the anime to mind a bit. It does make me curious what happened to Fuji. I get the feeling some of that might get dredged up in the future, and I'm quite frightened that Artemis will inevitably run into Mewtwo and things are going to go badly.
I haven't seen any of the anime or movies or anything, so my reference point is solely the journals you find in the games. But yes. Mewtwo is coming, damn it, and I'm really looking forward to the moment when it does. Also coming: Fuji! We'll see more of him later, too. More than that I really can't say without spoilers, but as ever, thank you for reading and responding so promptly!

I think my favorite part here was the conversation between Emilia and Artemis, not only for Emilia admitting to someone she's a trans woman as well, but also because of how protective Emilia is of Artemis and how far she's willing to go for her. Artemis's shock and gratefulness is truly genuine, and I think that Emilia's generosity will stick with her for a long time. And Emilia telling Artemis it gets better... Well, that's a common phrase I hear a lot in all kinds of situations, but here, the idea that that might not be true is explored. There's the idea that it's possibly a false promise, and just because it got better for one person doesn't mean it will for another. That was an interesting little bit of depth I didn't expect to see, but was super glad to see because of how realistic it is.

The dynamic of passing as cis versus not passing as cis was interesting, too. Emilia's conflicting feelings are obvious, and I think for good reason, because she's right, how can she preach about other people being themselves when she herself hasn't quite done the same? Her inability to make an outright confession to Artemis, only a heavily implied one, proves that she's still hesitant, along with the fact Artemis is the first she's told. I guess there's always two sides to every coin, that although trans people might try to pass for cis, trans people who consistently pass for cis might not be fully satisfied, either.

So, yeah, the character dynamics in this chapter sold it for me. :D See you for the next one! <3
Thank you so much! I really wanted to explore how complicated these dynamics are; like, Emilia has been around long enough that she's aware of the politics of passing – how like she doesn't really have a choice about it if she wants to avoid being harassed/raped/murdered, but the very fact that she's so heavily invested in passing means that she perpetuates the system that insists trans people do pass. But obviously that very system is what has burnt that investment into her. It's a horrible, poisonous set of power structures with no way to win – and Emilia knows this, and that knowledge just kills her, so she tries not to think about it and just tries to live instead. All she can do is try to help Artemis – who doesn't know quite how bad things are yet, even if she does know the basics of it all.

That kind of thing is exactly why I wanted to have multiple trans women, at different stages in their lives and with completely different experiences of being trans, in this story. There's so much to be done here that I couldn't do in Go Home because it was important that Gwyneth be alone and which I couldn't do in Time and Tide because (a) my own thinking hadn't developed that far yet and (b) Time and Tide was basically just me testing the waters to see whether or not people would be receptive to my starting to write stories more interesting to me and rooted in experiences I wanted to investigate.

Next time: Emilia has a chat with Lorelei, and Cass and Artemis get to pet a baby dinosaur. Until then – thank you both for taking the time to respond!
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
I have the same thoughts DP has over the interaction Emilia and Artemis had there, glad the two at least had a conversation over that topic with one another. I too like the the fire type training Artemis and Cass had there, Brauron seems to hold well on her own if she was able to win three battles in an impromptu tournament there, heh. Fuji's entries there took a different turn in tone at the end, especially with him challenging the League to stop him. Since you mentioned there will be more of him, looking forward what other plans you have for him.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
I have the same thoughts DP has over the interaction Emilia and Artemis had there, glad the two at least had a conversation over that topic with one another. I too like the the fire type training Artemis and Cass had there, Brauron seems to hold well on her own if she was able to win three battles in an impromptu tournament there, heh. Fuji's entries there took a different turn in tone at the end, especially with him challenging the League to stop him. Since you mentioned there will be more of him, looking forward what other plans you have for him.
I'm glad you liked that conversation! That's part of the reason why I didn't have this chapter and the last together as one -- I wanted the break-in to be its own thing, and I wanted the conversation to be its own thing, too. And yeah, Artemis and Brauron are actually pretty good. Artemis doesn't quite believe it -- or, like, she believes that Brauron's good, but she doesn't really think she herself is any good -- but they're both pretty talented, all things considered. Her careful, thoughtful nature makes her a good fit for the strategy of battle, and we will definitely get to see her do at least one Gym challenge before the conspiracy thickens sufficiently to come between her and her attempts to have a normal trainer journey. As for Fuji, he'll be putting in an appearance too, though not for a while yet. He's going to be mentioned a lot before then, though. This is Cinnabar, after all; most of the in-game landmarks here have some sort of connection to him.

Anyway! Thanks for reading, and for responding! It's always a pleasure.
 
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