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Arbitrary Execution

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Pewter girl that she is, the Lavender quiet strikes her as unnerving, and she's glad to hear it broken.
You know, this might not really have anything to do with the chapter, but this totally made me wonder if folks from big cities actually hate them. Like, I grew up in a small town and finished grade school sequestered in the mountains, and I'm the opposite. I can't stand cities. I've always assumed people like the "peace and quiet."

Also, even though Fuji's house is technically inhabited, you totally nail the "plucky young girls approach a decrepit, possibly haunted building and linger by the door," scene that horror movies use in spades. Bravo! Except from there we have Mr. Fuji, who seems like a genuine nice guy. His Origins incarnation sprang to mind within just a few lines of his introduction. Not sure if that was your inspiration, but that's what I got. Not surprised that the breach experiments were the whole "we undertook this with the best of intentions" kind of mantra. Isn't that how most scientific craziness starts out?

After a fashion. We obtained a specimen and its DNA was … remarkable. So plastic. Unformed, almost; a nudge here and there and it could have developed into any number of other pokémon.
So, forgive me, but I'm going to nitpick for a moment here, since this is the Mew/Mewtwo backstory thing. I get what you're going for with "plastic DNA," but that might not have been the best pick. I seem to recall plasticity is a term that's generally reserved for nerve cells as opposed to DNA (neuroplasticity), or for phenotypes (expressed traits) instead of genotypes (the DNA coding for them). "Fluid" or "manipulable" might sell the point across better... at least to folks like me. XP

Also, Mewtwo's a stalker. Because of course he is. *in before Jax starts talking about murdercats* Jokes aside, the "Mewtwo's just lonely" bit has certainly been done before, I think. But what makes your explanation work so well is the fact that, rather than having Mewtwo be created as a clone or the world's strongest Pokémon or what have you, its instead an attempt to exercise control over an otherworldly phenomenon. And that creates a different set of standards and puts a bit more of a gray shade to the whole "Mewtwo's just a tool" thing that clouded its creation.

“The League won't help you. I wonder if Giovanni really has gone rogue, or if they're just saying that to distance themselves from what he's doing. Wouldn't put it past them.”
I was wondering if he was gonna say that. And frankly I'm inclined to believe it.

And, in the end, and with all due consideration and respect to all parties involved – f*ck the League, right?
You know sh*t's going down when the robotic narration finally gains some color. Also, I'm calling famous last words on the whole "Artemis is safe if Emilia goes public." All of my NOPE sensors are on full tilt for that bit.

It's hard to pick the right words.
Of course it is. Schizophrenia is not something easily diagnosable. The DSM can create whatever guidelines it wants to, but ultimately the biggest problem with psychiatric illnesses is that there's just an arbitrary element to actually diagnosing them. And that's what can make the experience incredibly hard for people who are high-functioning enough to realize there's something wrong but not feel like it's within their power to do anything to change it. Which is a roundabout way of saying, yes, this is totally the right way to go about presenting this stuff and I think you do a very good job with it. If that makes sense. It probably doesn't...

Okay, now I want to know what Kantan is and how it differs from English. Is it a Japanese dialect? This is important, dang it! <.<;

As for the ending, that was pure mind screw and I have no idea what to make of it. I think it was more MissingNo stuff? The spire made me think of MissingNo's stereotypical depiction, and the flat photoshopped think at the end brought the ghost sprite to mind. Otherwise, I'm stumped, but I'm sure it'll get followed up on.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
You know, this might not really have anything to do with the chapter, but this totally made me wonder if folks from big cities actually hate them. Like, I grew up in a small town and finished grade school sequestered in the mountains, and I'm the opposite. I can't stand cities. I've always assumed people like the "peace and quiet."
You're quite right; people from big cities often do find small towns annoyingly parochial (like Emilia) or unsettlingly quiet (like Artemis). I'm a medium-sized town/small city sort of person myself; I like some cities (like Brighton) and not others (like London), and I also grew up in a large village next to a small town, so I can appreciate the quiet of very small places too.

Also, even though Fuji's house is technically inhabited, you totally nail the "plucky young girls approach a decrepit, possibly haunted building and linger by the door," scene that horror movies use in spades. Bravo! Except from there we have Mr. Fuji, who seems like a genuine nice guy. His Origins incarnation sprang to mind within just a few lines of his introduction. Not sure if that was your inspiration, but that's what I got. Not surprised that the breach experiments were the whole "we undertook this with the best of intentions" kind of mantra. Isn't that how most scientific craziness starts out?
I wasn't channelling that intentionally, but you know, I guess the structural similarities are strong enough that I probably did it accidentally. So that's cool. I don't actually know what you're referring to with Fuji's "Origins incarnation", which is one way of saying that I wasn't going for that version of him, just for the version you see in the games. He seems like a nice enough old man to me, but the journal has always implied to me that once upon a time he might not have been so nice. So: nice guy, dark past.

I'm also not clear that they told Fuji the whole story. He might have been working with the best of intentions, but as he says, he never knew much about the details of the project outside his genetics work. Who's to say what the ultimate intent in commissioning this project was?

So, forgive me, but I'm going to nitpick for a moment here, since this is the Mew/Mewtwo backstory thing. I get what you're going for with "plastic DNA," but that might not have been the best pick. I seem to recall plasticity is a term that's generally reserved for nerve cells as opposed to DNA (neuroplasticity), or for phenotypes (expressed traits) instead of genotypes (the DNA coding for them). "Fluid" or "manipulable" might sell the point across better... at least to folks like me. XP
I wasn't actually thinking of neuroplasticity, I was just using the word "plastic" in the original sense of "malleable, flexible" (the material plastic being named for how easy it is to mould), which is something I do maybe too often; I've noticed I have a thing for that word, for whatever reason, the way that you sometimes see authors using and re-using a certain word over and over because they like the sound of it or whatever. But neuroplasticity draws on that sense of "plastic", which is I guess where the confusion lies. If the association is confusing or bothersome, it wouldn't be any trouble to change it.

Also, Mewtwo's a stalker. Because of course he is. *in before Jax starts talking about murdercats* Jokes aside, the "Mewtwo's just lonely" bit has certainly been done before, I think. But what makes your explanation work so well is the fact that, rather than having Mewtwo be created as a clone or the world's strongest Pokémon or what have you, its instead an attempt to exercise control over an otherworldly phenomenon. And that creates a different set of standards and puts a bit more of a gray shade to the whole "Mewtwo's just a tool" thing that clouded its creation.
The thing about Mewtwo is that the story was clichéd even before they wrote it, and then when they did write it, they didn't provide enough context to tell you why it was meant to be interesting. Obviously, rehashing that story in fic means you need to come up with a reason for people do be doing something like this other than some vague desire to create a powerful pokémon; I'm always of the opinion that supernatural or science fictional elements aren't interesting in and of themselves but because they have effects on people, and that's the approach I took here. There were some breach outbreaks a while back; people wanted a way to stop them. And that has had an enormous impact on Mewtwo's own development as a character and indeed as a fighter, as we'll see when we get there.

As for why Mewtwo might be lonely ... well, I figured that there wasn't any way around that. If you'd gone into self-imposed exile to escape the authorities for ten years, without any real interaction with another intelligent creature, I think you might be lonely too -- to say nothing of the fact that Mewtwo must carry a huge trauma around from Cinnabar, and probably has extremely complicated feelings about Fuji that aren't easily resolvable.

I was wondering if he was gonna say that. And frankly I'm inclined to believe it.
Who can say? Well, I can, I guess, but like I'm not going to.

You know sh*t's going down when the robotic narration finally gains some color. Also, I'm calling famous last words on the whole "Artemis is safe if Emilia goes public." All of my NOPE sensors are on full tilt for that bit.
We'll see. The thing is, it's hard to say with any certainty whether or not it's a good move for Giovanni to make her name public. It would definitely drag her into the spotlight, and it would be a good idea for revenge, especially since if her face was made known she'd be outed to her parents, but revenge isn't what he's after; this matter isn't personal for him in the way that it is for Emilia and Artemis. What he wants is to complete his task, as efficiently and effectively as he can. Inviting people to probe deeper into what he's doing by involving a witness who might turn out to be deemed trustworthy upon examination by a medical board might be a bad move.

On the other hand -- if this goes public, he'll need to play for time until he can get his project finished, after which point he won't need to hide any longer, since breach will be under his command. Getting Artemis tangled up in trouble, to slow both her and Emilia down, could well turn out to be a good decision. Both options make sense, if you look at them from the right angle. It's all down to Emilia to make the call about which one Giovanni will take.

Of course it is. Schizophrenia is not something easily diagnosable. The DSM can create whatever guidelines it wants to, but ultimately the biggest problem with psychiatric illnesses is that there's just an arbitrary element to actually diagnosing them. And that's what can make the experience incredibly hard for people who are high-functioning enough to realize there's something wrong but not feel like it's within their power to do anything to change it. Which is a roundabout way of saying, yes, this is totally the right way to go about presenting this stuff and I think you do a very good job with it. If that makes sense. It probably doesn't...
It does make sense, and thank you; that's what I wanted. People suffering from mental illness, especially those with some form of psychosis, often get badly burned by the systems that are supposed to be there for their benefit. Artemis is a light case, but like -- she will for instance have a really, really hard time accessing transition-related medical care, if that's something she wants to do, because her hard-won self-knowledge can and will be dismissed by some medical gatekeepers as an artefact of her psychosis. That's not something I wanted to explore in this fic, particularly, because Artemis isn't at that point yet, but I did want to give some page space to the difficulties of something like schizophrenia in general, especially if you're in that awkward place where you can get by, you can claw out a kind of life, which is not a position that I see explored often enough in stories. There are no clear lines here, just a difficult, uncertain mess.

Okay, now I want to know what Kantan is and how it differs from English. Is it a Japanese dialect? This is important, dang it! <.<;
I've been deliberately vague about it because I don't actually know where Kanto is in this version of the pokémon world. Its politics feel vaguely British, its institutions are a bit more generally western European, its currency is a coinage used as the main anchor currency throughout Europe for a long time throughout the medieval and early modern periods, and its nearest neighbour is heavily Japan-influenced. What does all that add up to? No idea. It's somewhere, but I'm not dedicated enough to the finicky details of trying to shove this mongrel place into the real world to come up with a dedicated response, and that means I don't know what the language is like, either.

Man, I'm glad I'm writing about Kalos next. At least I know where the hell to put that place, even if I do have to come up with a plausible reason for why the south of France is apparently a separate state.

As for the ending, that was pure mind screw and I have no idea what to make of it. I think it was more MissingNo stuff? The spire made me think of MissingNo's stereotypical depiction, and the flat photoshopped think at the end brought the ghost sprite to mind. Otherwise, I'm stumped, but I'm sure it'll get followed up on.
The spire is always just this thing showing up again, but as for the other ... well, let's just say the focus this time around isn't on the entity, but on what it can do. Tomorrow, in the little end note to the chapter, I'll have an explanation; until then, I'll leave you to guess, and with my thanks for reading and responding!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
10: ROCKETS RISING

The thing about hanging around at home, waiting for things to happen, is that it gives Emilia far too much time to think. For instance – about the pot plant in the corner of the room.

It hasn't escaped her that touches of colour are starting to appear in the sides of Effie's fruit. The uncanny energy that made her able to conjure storms of razor-edged leaves and clouds of poison in her prime is now bent to different ends, speeding up the development of the fruit that would in the wild carry her seeds far in the guts of birds and monkeys to a degree impossible in any non-pokémon species. Pokémon are competitive like that. Always one step ahead of their animal and vegetable counterparts.

One of the books Emilia got out of the library was – and she knows this was a bad idea – a guide to cultivating oddish. She sits cross-legged in front of Effie and looks at diagrams of optimal potting solutions that make her want to cry. It doesn't matter, in the end, how many children Effie has. None of them will be her, and she feels childish thinking it but it's the truth. Effie is already gone, really. At this point, she is nothing but a life support device for the unborn oddish incubating above her.

You are meant to pick the fruit, she reads. It decays fast, just as it grows. When it starts to ripen, you need to pick it, as animals would do in the rainforest, and you should cut it up, remove the seeds and push them just beneath the surface of the potting compost, lightly watered.

It is starting to ripen. Emilia does not pick it.

She imagines doing it, imagines feeling the fruit tear away from the stem beneath, imagines a gush of sap like blood that she knows is completely impossible but which she nevertheless is deeply afraid of. She imagines Effie suddenly withering, her life's work complete.

Emilia should end this properly. She never has done before – not with Matt, or Niamh, or Sam. She did get the chance to say goodbye to Niamh, but she was young then, still too afraid of death to speak or do anything but clutch her hand and stare into her eyes. That's three deaths that Emilia has failed to mark with the proper respect. Effie should not be the fourth.

She still does not pick the fruit.

There will be about twenty seeds, of which between seven and ten will turn out to be viable. Emilia imagines between fourteen and twenty tiny feet, hairy with roots, pattering around the apartment, tracking dirt across the carpets.

She wonders suddenly what would happen if she did get arrested, who would end up raising the oddish in her stead. There are provisions for this kind of thing, of course; she has seen many arrests, knows the protocol for dealing with the partners of convicts. They get sent to family (which in her case Emilia would sooner die than see happen) or are fostered by state breeders or charities (better, but not by much) or, if the person in question is never going to leave prison again, they get released.

How long do you get for treason? Because that's what they'll call it, if she goes through with this: they'll want to see her get the maximum sentence possible, and the way to ensure that will be to spin this as treason, to say that in blowing open a League secret of this magnitude Emilia has in a material sense conspired against her nation. Maybe that would fly and maybe it wouldn't; Emilia is a little rusty in court, but she'd like to think she could fight that charge fairly effectively. They'd still get her, of course, with one thing or another, but she might be able to wriggle out of treason at least.

However long it is, and ignoring the complicated, terrifying mess that being trans in prison will be, it will be too long. The oddish won't know her, and the last link will be broken. Effie will really and truly be dead. And by the time Emilia gets out, so too will Nadia.

Emilia holds this thought for a while, the way she might heft a rock before skimming it, feeling the shape and weight of it. Then she throws it away over an imaginary ocean and stands up to go to her room and get ready to meet Mark.

Some prices have to be paid. It's not like Emilia has anything planned for the next twenty years, anyway.

*​

King Nolan's Square: downtown Saffron at its most determinedly old-fashioned. No chrome or glass or skyscrapers here, just old yellowstones, faded from years of sun and rain but still very definitely yellow. The quarries where Saffron's unique stone was mined have long since gone bust – banana-coloured buildings do not suit modern tastes – but the city does its best to keep the historic buildings looking bright.

At the plaza's centre is the bronze statue of Nolan II, a jolly-looking man smiling benevolently at the artisanal bakery across the street. He is possibly Kanto's most famous monarch; he was, unusually for a king, a staunch socialist – the product of a fling with a student activist at university – and on the back of popular support deposed his father in the thirties when it became clear he was about to commit Kanto to supporting Nazi Germany in the Second World War. He abdicated a week later, signing the modern republic into being, and spent the rest of his life helping to set up the first of Kanto's workers' unions. Emilia vaguely remembers doing a project on him in school and learning that he died after being stabbed by a far-right ultranationalist.

She asked Mark to meet her here mostly because it was the first place that came to mind, but it occurs to her now that Nolan is an auspicious kind of man in whose presence to meet. Admittedly, he did get knifed, but in all other respects he did a good job of attacking a corrupt Kantan institution. Emilia could use a little of that luck about now. It's not something she's ever done before, afraid of waste as she is, but she takes a coin from her purse and flips it into the fountain with the others.

“Making wishes?” asks a voice from behind her. “That seems unlike you, Santangelo.”

She turns to see Mark standing there, his hair still ruffled from a flight. He is wearing the thick pads on his shoulders that people wear to stop their pokémon's talons cutting into them while they are carried, and a little way behind him, shuffling its claws on the paving-stones, is a gigantic owl, almost as tall as he is. So he does have flight clearance after all. Strange. Emilia has never seen his partner before.

“It's Emilia,” she says. “Who's your friend?”

Mark turns, runs a hand across the noctowl's fluffy neck. Nadia tenses on Emilia's shoulder, uncomfortable at the presence of such a big predator, and Emilia sends her a calming thought.

“This is Alison,” Mark replies, as she hoots and leans into the contact. “Who you have, by the way, tired out by making her carry me back to Saffron so fast, so I hope whatever this is, is on the level.”

Emilia smiles, although the humour is slightly forced. This is awkward for both of them, meeting like this. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

“Nothing is on the level,” she says. “What's the line? Something about ossified crypto-fascist institutions.”

Mark smiles back. Again, slightly forced.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay. So what now?”

“Have you eaten?” He shakes his head. “So let's eat,” she says. “I know a good place down the King's Road. Let's go there, and I'll tell you everything.”

They walk together, Alison flying up and away to follow in the air, swooping from rooftop to rooftop. Nadia is a little happier with her up there, and Emilia is able to turn her thoughts towards making some idle conversation instead of keeping her calm.

“You've been investigating the skeletons?” she asks.

“Yeah,” replies Mark, a little warily, unused to discussing this with her. “I suppose you're going to say they're ghost-types possessing fossils, right?”

“I could,” says Emilia. “Or I could tell you that they were manifestations of a sentient breach in the fabric of reality.”

He gives her a look.

“Right,” he says. And then, a second later: “Wait, right?”

Emilia sighs.

“More things in heaven and earth, Horatio. Here,” she continues, pushing open the door. “Hi. Table for two?”

They sit down near the window. Across the street, Alison takes up a position on a rooftop, spreading her wings briefly and sending pigeons wheeling madly across the street.

“What kind of place is this?” asks Mark. Casually, as if he isn't thinking about what she just said. He doesn't fool her, but he probably doesn't expect to, either. Honestly, Emilia is a little startled herself. All those years of secrecy and she just blurts it out like that.

“Italian,” she says. “You can tell it's good because all the Italians eat here.”

She indicates herself. It isn't much of a joke, but it does a little bit to ease the tension.

The waiter brings them menus, asks about drinks; Emilia orders lemonade for herself and a dish of water for Nadia. Mark goes for cider.

“Not drinking?” he asks.

“I don't,” she says.

“Probably a good idea. Wouldn't want to give away any state secrets.”

Emilia smiles as if this is all she's worried about.

“Oh, we'll get to the state secrets,” she says. “No need to worry about that.”

A few moments of silence, while they figure out what to order. Emilia has tagliatelle; Mark, ravioli. The waiter brings the drinks and takes away the menus, and then Mark gives her a quizzical look.

“Okay,” he says. “I'm here. What was so important you had to drag me all the way from Cinnabar?”

Emilia takes a breath. She's really going to do this. She really, really is.

ONWARDS, says Nadia, which is what she says when she's trying to encourage people, and Emilia nods.

“All right,” she says. “Here's the thing, Mark. I've spent a lot of time hiding things that maybe shouldn't be hidden. About ten years now, actually. I had a mantra about it: eight out of ten. As long as eighty per cent of the time I could say I was doing the right thing, more or less, I'd stay.”

Mark says nothing. He watches her as if she's a stranger with a knife, something alien and dangerous.

“And maybe you can say that that wasn't the right thing to do,” she continues. Now she's begun she isn't sure if she can stop; the words are coming from somewhere deep within her, rushing up like a spring tide. “I wondered about that, too. All the time, Mark. I mean Christ, I called myself an anarchist when I was younger. And I still believe that, I still think hierarchies are a bad idea. I just somehow ended up doing this too.”

She's starting to say more than she means. Stop, she tells herself, and somehow against all the odds she does, and then after a second she continues.

“I'm going to start with the fact that I've been suspended for investigating this,” she says. Mark's eyes widen, but he still stays silent. “And I'm not going to stop, either, which is probably going to get me arrested. What I'm saying is, however this turns out – I think I'm done with the League.”

There, she said it. And maybe she's doing this because she's mad at Lorelei, maybe she's doing this because she's feeling protective about Artemis, but whatever her real motives, it's the right thing to do; she just can't go on hiding things any more. She takes a sip of her lemonade, and chooses her words.

“So now you know how things stand,” she says, “let me tell you what's going on. Let me tell you about Giovanni Dioli.”

*​

Once Artemis has woken up properly, the fear hits her, hard as a freight train in the small of the back. She stands there at the window, shaking and trying to breathe, and then a little while after the breach entity has slithered off down the street she manages to make herself move and go into the bathroom to wash the blood off her face. There is a ghost person crouched in the shower, glaring above its respirator, vibrating with some powerful suppressed emotion, and Artemis plants her bloody fingers on the sink, grounding herself in the feeling of cold ceramic and the sound of the light buzzing.

“Brauron,” she whispers. “Brauron, where …?”

She can't finish, choking on the words and on her panic, and of course Brauron doesn't come because she can't hear her, and she makes an ugly whimpering noise and then, finally, as she concentrates as hard as she can on the fact that the ghost person is not real, she manages to turn away from it and look into the mirror instead. She sees the red streaks on her cheeks, with clear lines washed in them now by her tears, and then looks past herself into the reflection of the shower.

Hum of electricity. Smooth cool of ceramic. Night bird sounds.

No ghost person. Artemis breathes out, then dips her head and washes her face. They'll be back, she knows; on a night like this, where the world feels unreal and she feels even less so, she'd be surprised if they didn't. But at least she's okay for right now.

In the mirror, her gross unshaven face looks back at her, greyish and scared. She has a sudden powerful urge to smash her forehead into the glass, to fill her head with shards; for a moment she is afraid she'll give in to it, and then she steps back from the thought as she has learned to and lets it drift out of the other side of her mind.

“Okay,” she whispers. “Okay, okay, okay.”

She washes her face again, scraping the clotting blood from the corners of her eyes, and then creeps back into the bedroom to find her phone. There is a shape in the shadow by the wardrobe that she is fairly convinced was not there before, but it isn't as scary as a proper ghost person, so she does her best to believe it it isn't real and sits down on her bed to call Emilia.

“Please pick up,” she whispers, listening to it ringing. “Please. Please pick up.”

Signal here in Lavender isn't great: the call cuts out before it goes through. Artemis tries twice more, and finally she hears a sleepy-sounding voice.

“Hello?”

“Emilia,” she says. She can tell she's about to start babbling wildly but somehow can't do anything to stop herself. “Emilia, I – it happened again, there's – I don't know what it is or where, but―”

“Hold on a second.” More alert now. “Artemis?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it's me. I – I don't know where it went, it just―”

“Okay, Artemis. Okay. Can you take a deep breath for me?”

Breathe. The thing in the corner is definitely a ghost person, or maybe it's her backpack. Breathe. There's something skulking around Lavender at night. Breathe. She remembers now what the dream was about. Breathe.

“Okay?” asks Emilia.

“Okay,” repeats Artemis. “Okay.”

Pause.

“Tell me what happened,” says Emilia.

“I … I had a dream, I think, except I'm not sure it was a dream. The spire again, it spoke to me. Then I woke up and there was … something outside. Like static but alive.”

“A breach entity?”

“Yeah,” says Artemis, relieved beyond measure that Emilia seems to believe her. “Yeah, a breach entity.”

“Where are you?”

“The Pokémon Centre. In Lavender. Sorry, I should have – I mean, we came to speak to Fuji.”

“It's okay,” Emilia reassures her. “It's okay, I'm just asking so I know where to go.”

“You're coming?”

“As soon as I can. I probably won't be able to get there for a few hours, but I'll talk to people. Some of them might get there sooner.” Emilia's moving now; Artemis hears her voice crackling in and out, the scrape of things being moved in the background. “Can you still see the entity now?”

Artemis shakes her head, then remembers that she's on the phone.

“No,” she says. “Hang on, I'll – I'll go to the window.”

“Be careful,” says Emilia, as she gets up. “If you don't think it's safe―”

“It's fine,” replies Artemis, looking through the curtains down at the empty street. “It's not there any m―”

A scream. Deep, slightly hoarse. Artemis can't tell if the person making it is scared or in real physical pain or both.

“What was that?” asks Emilia.

“Someone screamed,” she replies. “Oh god, I think it found someone―”

“Artemis? Artemis, stay with me here. I want you to call the police, report seeing a ghost and hearing a scream. I'll contact the League and get on my way over there. All right?”

“All right,” says Artemis. “All right, I – I think I can do that.”

She hates that she said I think, hates that uncertainty, but when Emilia replies she sounds nothing but understanding.

“Good. Will you be all right if I hang up? Is your friend Cassandra there?”

“No. I mean, yes, I will, but she's – she's in a different room.”

“All right. If you're okay, then.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay.”

“All right. I'll see you soon.”

The idea of calling the police is terrifying, but the scream and the breach entity are more so, and so Artemis manages, more or less. She does at the very least sound convincingly scared – the switchboard operator is very calm and professional, but she senses that he recognises her panic – and she is told to stay where she is, that the police are on their way. After she hangs up she hears something roaring, someone else shouting, and then lights start coming on up and down the street and Artemis is able to tell herself that things are going to turn out okay.

She sits on her bed, trying not to rock or chew her fingernails, and looks at the shape in the corner. Maybe it is her backpack after all. She could turn on the light and make sure but she can't bring herself to do it, because what if it isn't, what if the light reveals not rumpled fabric but oily plastic and grey eyes, and so she sits there and wishes Cass would come in and see if she's okay.

On the bedside table, Brauron opens her eyes and uncurls herself.

“Hey,” whispers Artemis, holding out her hand. “Hey, Brauron. Can you come here, please?”

A purple blink, a flutter of her fins. Brauron takes hold of her outstretched fingers with her tiny hands and tugs gently before climbing up onto her wrist. Artemis holds her close and strokes her, feeling the warmth pulse through her arm in waves, and listens as the sirens begin to blare.

*​

It's delicate work, and it has to be done fast. Emilia throws on her clothes and sprints out to tip off the League via the payphone two blocks away; she uses her old voice, the one no one she works with (used to work with) has heard, and calls the crisis hotline spouting as many classified terms as possible. There's been a breach, she says. In Lavender. BE-17-01, 'Spire', was sighted again, along with something new. The person on the other end of the line says wait, who is this, how do you know that, and then Emilia tells them she's a concerned citizen and hangs up.

Okay. That's the cavalry en route; the police will definitely call the League when they realise what they're up against, but Emilia would rather they get there sooner, to reduce the chances of anyone getting killed. Hopefully Artemis will be okay. Emilia was relieved to hear from her, despite not being able to get through earlier, but she would be lying if she said she wasn't worried by how she sounded. How many breach entities has the poor girl seen now? She just doesn't need this stuff in her life, not now of all times. It makes Emilia angry to think about it, but of course she just has to swallow it. You want to help Artemis, Emilia, you have to stop Giovanni – and if you want to stop Giovanni, you have to make sure this incident plays out the way you want it to. And the next step there is making sure that Mark arrives at least as quickly as the League.

He took what she had to say surprisingly seriously, given that it was more or less unbelievable. Maybe her impassioned speech about how this was the end of her association with the League helped; maybe it was just that it was her saying it – her, the League's terrier, now a rogue element. Emilia has a feeling that, more than anything else, it was the fact that it made sense. The Cinnabar House incident, the way Oak was hustled off air the other week while the gyarados attack was taking place, the skeletons – it all fits, if you know that breach exists, and now Mark does.

So why are you telling me this, he asked warily, not committing to any position on this information, and Emilia sighed. She explained about the suspension, about being out of ways to fight this. She said it was time that people knew. He'll need evidence, he told her. And Emilia said that she was working on it.

Well, now she has it. Or she will in a moment, anyway. If they're lucky, Alison will get Mark to Lavender before the League has a chance to throw together its response. As she hurries back through the electric twilight of Saffron towards her apartment, she calls him over and over until he picks up.

“Mark,” she says, without waiting for his response. “There's been a development. You wanted evidence? It's waiting for you in Lavender.”

“What? Emilia, it's three am―”

“And breach has just occurred in Lavender. I have a contact there who's just reported something like a cloud of TV static running down the street, followed by screams.”

“What?” He does not sound prepared for this conversation in the slightest. “What?”

“Mark. Get to Lavender, now. The League is inbound, but I think you can beat them there if you hurry. Get pictures, recordings, whatever you can. I'm going to try and bluff my way in with the cops, see what I can get from them.” A pause. Someone staggers out of a doorway up the street; Emilia tenses reflexively, but they move away in a different direction. “Did you get that?” she asks.

“Yes. Yeah, I got that.” Mark sounds much more awake now. “I'll prep Alison. See you there.”

“See you there,” she confirms. “Hurry.”

She hangs up and calls the taxi company. The woman on the other end of the line is initially reluctant to send her a cab to Lavender, but there are no trains at this time of night and Emilia persists, makes it clear that she is both rich and desperate and that she will pay literally anything to be taken. After a while – and after Emilia has offered several wildly extravagant rewards – she finally agrees, and shortly after that Emilia and Nadia are installed in the back of a cab whose driver is slightly in awe of the amount of money he stands to make tonight. While Nadia makes herself comfortable on the seat next to her (she struggles to stay awake in the dark, and she is right now very sleepy), Emilia tells the driver she'll pay him even more if he gets her to Lavender before dawn, and the city becomes a series of passing lights that fly past and then fade into the dark either side of the motorway.

The road is quiet. To the south, Emilia sees a cluster of streetlights marking East Saffron's Galkirk Village, silent and humped in the night; other than that, she sees nothing. She does keep one eye on the sky, half expecting to see a noctowl soaring silently overhead, but if Alison is up there she doesn't see.

She thinks about Artemis, waiting in the Pokémon Centre in Lavender for the League lady to come and fix things, and wonders how to tell her that she's failed her.

The thing is, depending on how far Giovanni's research has advanced, a journalistic exposé might not even do too much to stop him. Abigail Grahame wrote in her email that if they found a way to reliably trigger breach, they'd be a matter of months away from achieving their goals – which Emilia takes to mean learning to control it. And, well, they definitely seem to have figured out how to trigger it. It's probably just a matter of time before ROCKETS has access to a power great enough to exempt it from even the laws of physics, let alone of Kanto.

But then, if he gets to that stage, Emilia wouldn't be able to do anything about it even if she still had League support. She just has to keep fighting, no matter how ridiculous the martial metaphor seems or how unassailable Giovanni appears, and hope that between her alliance with Mark and Artemis' interview with Fuji some kind of viable strategy emerges.

She forces herself to lean back in her seat. The cabbie asks if she minds if he has the radio on.

“Go ahead,” says Emilia, trying not to bite her fingernails, and they drive on into the night, towards the forested hills of Route 8 and the thing lurking in the alleys of Lavender.

*​

Long before dawn, Artemis has abandoned her room to make tea in the lounge and watch the twenty-four-hour KNBC news channel. She learns about the Sinnish general election (it looks like the centre-left Social Democrats are going to retain control) and a hostage situation where eco-terrorists have kidnapped a pokémon in Hoenn (resolved by someone the cops refer to as 'an alert civilian contractor' and the newscaster refers to as 'a young pro trainer'); she learns that a small gyarados has been overtaken by the fury and is rampaging near Fuchsia, where it is being monitored by Koga's people and will be relocated if it comes close to the city.

Nothing about the breach entity in Lavender, yet. Artemis supposes it's probably Emilia's job to make sure that she doesn't end up seeing anything about a magic static monster on the news, but still, its absence unnerves her. It's not knowing again, that brutal uncertainty that haunts her like an unredressed sin, and she keeps watching until long after the sun has come up and Brauron has fallen asleep in her lap, when Cass comes in to find her.

“Oh hey, there you are,” she says. “I knocked on your door but you weren't there.”

“I got up early,” says Artemis. She hasn't spoken in hours. Her voice sounds strange in her ears, as if it is seeping up through the floorboards halfway across the room. She wonders idly if she might be dissociating; decides that if she is it's only very slightly.

“That sounds like you,” replies Cass, because of course it does, because Artemis has been very careful always to get up before Cass, so that she is ready to be seen by the time Cass' eyes land on her. “Have you eaten, or …?”

“No.” A pause. Slowly, Artemis realises that she needs to say something else. “Let's have breakfast,” she says.

She doesn't move. Cass hesitates, hovering in the corner of her vision.

“Are you okay?” she asks, and Artemis is on the verge of saying yes when she remembers that she doesn't have to lie about it any more.

“Not really,” she says, settling down back into her body. “I … something happened last night.” She clicks the TV off and stands up, scooping Brauron gently into her arms so as not to wake her. “Let's get breakfast and I'll tell you.”

Cass has already proven herself a good listener, so Artemis shouldn't be surprised, but she is still grateful. She is quiet and attentive, and then at the end she says well sh*t in that particular understated way she does that somehow makes things feel a little more manageable.

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “Sh*t.”

“Have you called Emilia again?” asks Cass.

“No, I think she's probably busy. The League will have sent her to like … deal with things, I guess.”

“Right.” Cass pushes Ringo's beak away from her ear and pours some mealworms into a dish, which he attacks with such gusto that he knocks it over, before glaring at her as if this is her fault. “Quit it, birdbrain, you got nobody to blame but yourself.” Cass sighs. “So … what do we do now?”

“I don't know,” replies Artemis. “Wait, I guess? I mean, she'll probably have something to say when she gets a chance. I just – I don't know, it doesn't feel right. I saw it, and I heard someone screaming, and … and I really hope everything is okay and sitting here feels wrong.”

It's about as honest as she has been since she left home, and it comes out all at once, without a breath. She is used to helplessness, honestly; even if she can lift heavy objects all by herself, she's never been strong, not in any of the ways that really matter. But still, it gnaws at her. Like a rattata nestled among the coils of her intestines, chewing at the walls.

“Yeah,” says Cass. “Yeah, I feel that.” She sighs again. “Do you wanna maybe go out and have a look?”

Artemis shrugs.

“I dunno,” she says. “I kind of get the feeling that that's just a way to get killed.”

“Oh. Yeah, actually, that makes total sense.”

Pause. Ringo hops around, frantically pecking at his spilled mealworms; Brauron wakes up, snatches a mouthful of them, and goes back to sleep again, next to Artemis' empty mug.

“At the risk of like killing the mood,” says Cass, “I saw the cutest f*cking picture of a meowth on Twitter earlier. Wanna see?”

This was absolutely not what Artemis was expecting, but it's very welcome, after the night she's had. She smiles, surprised, and Cass smiles back.

“Yeah,” she says, as Cass reaches for her phone. “Okay.”

*​

Emilia is very aware, as she walks through the swing doors of the tiny building that passes for the Lavender Police Station, that whatever the legality of her actions so far, this one in particular is definitely enough to get her arrested. Impersonating League personnel is bad enough – but impersonating League personnel with the aim of infiltrating a classified investigation? If she's caught, the fight against Giovanni is over already. Mark might have got the material he needs (she has not yet heard back from him, which she hopes means he's busy and not in the back of a police car), but as she was thinking earlier, that's probably not going to be enough. The more people that are around to get in ROCKETS' way, the better.

Still. She's here now. And she's going to make it work.

CRIMES, says Nadia.

“Yes,” mutters Emilia under her breath. “Crimes.”

She approaches the front desk and shows her card to the receptionist, who has the sleepy, startled look of someone whose shift ended a while ago but who has been forced to stay by an unexpected crisis. It's a pretty specific look, but Emilia has seen a lot of it. Lavender has never been very well equipped to deal with things like this. She has in the past pushed for a proper League office to be set up here, with at least a couple of Gym-standard trainer, but Lance's personnel and logistics people have always told her that it's too expensive.

Right now, though, all the look means to her is that the receptionist is nice and open to suggestion. Emilia smiles and hits her with the full force of her title.

“Good morning,” she says. “Emilia Santangelo, legal advisor to the Indigo League with special investigatory powers.”

The receptionist blinks.

“Uh,” she says. “Is this about that … thing?”

“Yes. Can you tell me who's in charge here, please? I came as quickly as I could, but communication has been terrible tonight. I keep telling Lance's people that we need an office here, but you know what the League's like.” A reassuring smile: you and me, we're both cogs in the bureaucratic machine. We know what it's like. The receptionist smiles back.

“Yeah,” she says. “I hear you. The force is the same.” She picks up the phone on her desk. “I'll just let the super know you're here.”

“Thank you,” says Emilia.

GOOD, remarks Nadia admiringly.

Thanks, thinks Emilia, and starts running over the plan again, recalculating how far she can take this. The station superintendent has probably had contact with the League already tonight; she won't be the person they're expecting. A League card and a plausible manner will go some way to fixing that, but honestly, she needs to be in and out as fast as she can, before the real League agent turns up. After that … well, after that Lorelei will know for sure what she's done, but Emilia is hoping her pride is sufficient that she won't want to admit to the cops that she's being outmanoeuvred by a rogue lawyer. And that's the important thing: a League reprisal will be much easier to deal with than an actual police one. She can deal with an angry Lorelei. She can't deal with a couple of cops showing up on her doorstep to arrest her.

Not that the cops won't show up, after the story goes out and it becomes apparent that Emilia has leaked state secrets. But until that time, Emilia has to keep this within the League.

“Okay,” says the receptionist, putting down the phone. “Go through there? He's waiting in the conference room.”

“Thank you,” replies Emilia, and follows her hand to the corridor leading deeper into the building. She has no idea which of the doors leads onto the conference room, but as she approaches one of them opens and disgorges a thickset man in his late thirties. Not the superintendent she's dealt with in the past. Clearly there have been some staff changes.

“You're with the League?” he asks, holding out a hand.

“Yes,” she says, shaking it. “Emilia Santangelo. This is my partner, Nadia.”

“Leon Manley,” he replies. His grip is weaker than she expected. “I'm glad you're here. We're honestly a little out of our depth at the moment.”

“I'm here to help,” Emilia says, following him into the conference room. “Tell me what's going on.”

What's going on, apparently, is a ghost hunt. They got several calls in the small hours reporting seeing ghost-types and hearing screams; they went to the location and found no pokémon, but an unconscious man with both second-degree burns and hypothermia. Since then, police have been combing the area, but so far the creature hasn't been found. Emilia asks about the man – identity, diagnosis – but the answers here are no more enlightening. He is, under the burns and the frost riming his face, somehow extraordinarily healthy; his medical records say he has arthritis and diabetes, but both appear to have been cured, and he also seems to be missing his pacemaker – though his heart is working fine without it.

“That's certainly strange,” says Emilia, and she's good enough that she is able to make it sound sincere and not like an ironic understatement. “Is he awake? Has he been interviewed?”

“I think he is now, but we haven't spoken to him yet,” replies Manley.

“Can you give me the details?”

He can. Emilia writes it down; that's someone else to speak to.

“Anything more on the entity itself?” she asks.

Manley shakes his head.

“Not a whole lot, I'm afraid. We got one report about it being sort of transparent and flickery; we're going to send someone down to talk to them to see if they can get a better description.”

Oh, Artemis is just going to love that. Silently, Emilia asks Nadia to remind her to forewarn her.

“That seems very sensible,” she says. “Anything more you can tell me?”

Manley shrugs. The gesture looks strangely helpless on such a big man.

“That's about it,” he says. “I don't know. Is this – is it a ghost, really?”

“No,” replies Emilia gravely. “No, I don't think it is. But we're equipped to deal with this kind of thing. The crisis response team should arrive soon, and once they're here it's just a matter of time.” Small smile. Calm. Reassuring. “There aren't going to be any more victims,” she says, hoping that it's true. “I can promise you that, sir. If it's still out there, we'll find it.”

He looks like he needed that. He thanks her, asks if there's anything else he can do.

“I think you're responding to the situation as well as we could expect,” says Emilia, which is the truth but which at the same time feels somehow dishonest. “Talk to your caller, get all the data you can, and sit tight. I've got to send this information back to the League, and then I need to manage the press and inspect the scene with my partner here. Have you run a trace, by the way?”

“Yes, but we didn't get much. Just interference.”

Emilia nods.

“I see,” she says. “Yes, that does sometimes happen. Nadia and I have experience with these events, so we'll see what we can get. I'll provide you with a full report once I'm done.”

“I'm actually not sure what I'd do with it,” says Manley. “But thanks. It's good to know the League has our backs.”

“Of course,” says Emilia. Time is running out. It can't be too much longer until the real agent arrives. Need to make sure Manley will be okay until the crisis team gets here. “Can you hold the line until the cavalry arrives?”

“I think so.” He smiles, if weakly. Damn it, Lavender needs that League office. He's clearly even more out of his depth than Colbert in Viridian. “Thanks, Ms Santangelo. If there's anything else we can do …”

“You're already doing all you need to,” she replies. “We'll solve this. You can depend on it.”

A handshake, eye contact, a calm, grave smile. Emilia can do this on autopilot, and though she is a little ashamed of it she does, her mind racing ahead through the next few hours, trying to outpace the League team even before they're here. Thank you, sit tight, we'll be in touch, meaningless platitudes that add up to reassuring white noise; and she's on her way out again – without evidence, sure, but with a witness to speak to and a crime scene to visit.

Stepping out into the dawn light, she checks the time on her phone. 5.49. She tipped the League off at about three ten. Give it some time for the report to work its way through the system, a bit more for the team to get ready at the secure facility, a couple hours longer for them to fly out here. She has time, but not much. Where's Mark? No, worry about that later; for now, just get on the rest of the to-do list.

CALM, says Nadia, following it up with a cool wave of emotion that rolls over her and smooths the cracks in her mind like the tide washing over sand. SCENE.

Yes. She's right. Crime scene first, do the trace; if Nadia memorises the impression, that's admissible in a court of law. That's good evidence. Then – the witness at the hospital. And after that, find Mark and regroup, get the hell out of here before the League arrives.

ARTEMIS, adds Nadia, and Emilia nods, pulling out her phone.

“Okay,” she says, heading down the street towards the crime scene. “Let's get this done.”

*​

Artemis doesn't sound very happy to be warned that the cops are coming to speak to her, but honestly that's completely justified, her being her in a town like this. Emilia tries to reassure her that it will be okay, and asks if she's learned anything from Fuji.

“Um … maybe,” she replies. “I don't really know. I found out about what they were making at Cinnabar House. This Mew-2 thing?”

“Mew-2?” The name is unfamiliar. Emilia assumes it must be the official name of the M entity, but it's best to make sure.

“Some sort of legendary breach pokémon,” explains Artemis. “I think you were right. They wanted to control breach, so they … mutated this pokémon called mew with breach radiation to try and turn it into a breach entity.”

“So that they could capture and train it, right,” says Emilia, seeing the line of reasoning. It's terrible logic, bafflingly cruel, but okay, she sees how it happened. Like sending those people into the zapdos nest. Lorelei's anomalous resources have a lot to answer for. “Did you learn anything else?”

Artemis hesitates.

“Not really,” she says. “I mean, that's all Fuji knows about breach. He only really worked on that one project.”

“You hesitated,” says Emilia, hoping this isn't pushing her too far. “Why?”

She can see the police cordon up ahead, around the corner, so she stops here, leans against a wall for a moment.

“Artemis?” she asks, when she doesn't respond. “What is it?”

Another long pause, so long that Emilia has to take the phone away from her ear for a moment to look at it and check she's still connected.

“We … we might have found out where Mew-2 is,” says Artemis.

It's the kind of news that feels like mechanical trauma, like a blunt object to the gut. Ten years. Ten years since the monster vanished into the wilderness, beyond the ability of the best League tracers to locate – and now a nineteen-year-old kid has found it. Did Fuji know all this time? Could they just have got the information from him? Impossible to say, Emilia supposes, at least until she learns more about how this happened. But for now: stay calm. A conversation has to be had here, and right now Emilia doesn't quite have the time to have it.

“Okay,” she says slowly, trying to hide her shock. “Okay, Artemis, I … I have to confess, that's not what I was expecting.”

“Yeah, me – me either.”

“I can imagine.” Calm. Make an appointment. “I'm in the middle of this right now,” she says. “But this is something we definitely need to talk about. Can I come to the Pokémon Centre afterwards?”

“Yes!” says Artemis, all her desperate need for help massing and breaking through into her voice. “Yes, I – oh god, yeah, I'd … really like that.”

It hurts to hear her like this. Why do these things always happen to the most vulnerable people?Because they're vulnerable, she answers herself, but it's not a very satisfying answer.

“Okay,” she says. “Can you hang on for a little while longer?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I think so. We're okay.”

We. Cassandra is sticking with her, then. Emilia hopes Artemis' trust in her is founded.

“All right,” she says. “I just have a few things to take care of. Will you be okay with the police?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Not the most confident response Emilia has ever heard, but it'll have to do.

“Good. I'll be there soon, okay?”

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “Okay.”

She hangs up and Emilia lowers her phone, glances at Nadia.

M MONSTER, she says, nervously.

“Yeah.” Emilia taps the edge of her phone anxiously against her teeth. “This is … going to be complicated. But – one thing at a time. All right? Crime scene first.”

SCENE, agrees Nadia. SCENE.

They make their way around the corner and past the line of police tape, where several officers are standing around doing their best to hide their confusion from the interested civilians watching from windows and front doors. When she flashes the League card, their eyes light up in a way that makes her heart sink. They really think she might be able to do something. And okay, maybe she can, but not like they think, and for some reason this deception, unlike all the others, really seems to bother her.

“It's Detective Whiting, right?” she asks, of the woman with the severe ponytail who meets her. “I think we met before.”

“That's right,” says Whiting, looking surprised. “When the Ashbury lodge got disintegrated. I didn't think you'd remember.”

Emilia smiles. She always remembers. Sometimes, admittedly, Nadia helps dredge up the relevant memory from the depths of her unconscious (and in fact that is what happened this time), but still. It counts as remembering.

“I try not to forget faces,” she says, which is mostly not a lie. “Talk me through what we've got here.”
Whiting gestures towards a spot up against someone's garden wall that looks no different to any other.

“That's where we found Mr Anderson,” she says. “No sign of any kind of an attack, whatever happened. We don't have our own forensics team out here, but the Saffron force is sending over the Eastside team to help out. They should be here soon.”

Emilia scans the spot: cracked tarmac, mossy brick. Just like everywhere else. No blood, no scorching, no anything at all. The attack was sharply focused, then: it hit the target and nothing else, and in such a way that no blood was drawn or clothing burned. What the hell was it, then? Anderson was covered in both burns and frost, and neither fire- nor ice-type moves are renowned for their accuracy; they tend to move in clouds, leaving a distinct residue of soot or hoarfrost. It's a warm morning, so ice might have already melted – but in which case, where's the water?

Something isn't right – which is honestly normal, given that this is breach, but though some of the breach entities Emilia has encountered so far have used some things that might be recognised as pokémon moves, they have at least stuck to moves that actually exist. She wonders if there are breach moves, multityped or typeless bursts of deadly radiation, and suddenly feels uneasy. Better check with the doctors about Anderson's rad count.

None of this is helpful right this moment, however. Time is wasting, and Emilia has to get her trace done now.

“You have a psy officer?” she asks.

“Yes. Chambers over there.” Whiting indicates a man standing some way off, a slowbro at his feet. “We didn't get anything, just static.”

“That does often happen with these.”

“So you know what it is?” asks Whiting.

“I suspect,” replies Emilia. “I'll have to wait for the League team to arrive to be sure. Do you mind if I run my own trace? Nadia has experience of this pattern of interference. Sometimes she can pick something up.”

“Sure,” says Whiting. “Go ahead. We're really just waiting, anyway.”

Nadia moves to Emilia's hand, and beneath her closed eyelids the past draws itself in lines of silver and purple. Whiting and Manley weren't kidding; there is, as usual, a lot of static. But Nadia is probably the single most experienced breach tracer in the world at this point, and Emilia herself is probably the world champion of interpreting those traces, and after a little tuning Emilia finds some of the static resolving itself into something that looks roughly humanoid. It's recoiling, clearly caught in the moment of falling, arms flailing and head back; there's no face – that would be too much detail to hope for – but it's probably Anderson.

Now she knows where he was, she turns to look in the direction he was facing. There's another something here, another bleached outcropping of ruptured psychic energies, and it … looks surprisingly human. Again, no details, but those are definitely arms and legs, and in all the right places. One hand raised, pointing lazily at the falling man. The other pressed to its head, in a gesture that Emilia knows very, very well. She's made it herself, many times, when listening to someone on her phone or through an earpiece – or, in the early days, when trying to hear what Nadia has to say to her.

It might not be, of course. It might be that this is just part of whatever attack the thing was using; it might even be that this is all an artefact of the trace, a displacement of Anderson's past presence onto the other entity. As soon as Emilia thinks this, Nadia protests, radiating a powerful negativity – and she's right, honestly. Nadia wouldn't make a mistake like that. If there's something wrong with the trace, she would have flagged it.

Emilia opens her eyes to see Whiting looking at her hopefully.

“You were tracing for a while there,” she says. “Does that mean you found something?”

“Yes,” replies Emilia, asking herself what it would mean if a breach entity were receiving orders and not liking the answer she comes up with. “Unfortunately, I think I have.”
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
*​

Next, the hospital, although Emilia's efforts here don't yield much in the way of results. Anderson is lucid, and all things considered is doing rather well, but he doesn't remember much about his attacker. A flickering in the air, a bright light, an impact on his chest that left him feeling breathless and pained and somehow powerful, even as he fell over and blacked out; that's about it. Ordinarily, this would be good news, making as it does her usual obfuscatory work easier, but today it's the opposite of what she wants. Anderson's bizarre injuries – and cures – will have to stand alone as proof, without his supporting testimony about the breach entity that caused them. She gets what she can, including a statement from one of the doctors overseeing his care, and then gets out.

It's a well-timed exit. As she crosses the car park of Lavender's little medical centre, she sees a League togekiss descending towards the town, huge wings flared against the lightening sky. Too far away to tell who it's carrying, either by sight or Nadia's psionics, but clearly someone here to do Emilia's job. If she had to make a guess, she'd say Eleanor – Emilia's pretty sure she has the necessary security clearance – but honestly it doesn't make much difference. Emilia's not planning on sticking around to say hi.

The togekiss lands somewhere near the police station. Emilia watches it with an emotion she cannot readily name. Some envy in there, perhaps. But relief too. After ten years as a League spook, it's nice to be doing something uncomplicatedly right, for once.

She shakes the thought away and keeps walking, away from the hospital to she doesn't know where, phone to her ear.

“Mark?” she asks, when he picks up. “Where are you?”

“Moon's. It's on the high street.”

Leave it to a journalist to find the one chain coffee shop in a small town full of independents. Probably it's the only one open. It's still not even eight o'clock.

“Did you get anything?” she asks.

“I think so. You?”

“Maybe. Hang on, I'll be with you in a few minutes.”

“All right.”

She hangs up and keeps walking. Five minutes later – literally five; this place is even smaller than Cinnabar – she is pushing open the glass door of the Moon's next to the pharmacy, where Mark has the room all to himself, with the exception of a sleepy barista who looks visibly shaken to have not just one but two customers at such an early hour. Where Alison is, Emilia doesn't know. Sleeping outside somewhere, probably. Or resting in her ball.

“Hi,” she says, dumping her bag on a seat at Mark's table.

“Hi,” he says, sounding subdued. His phone and camera lie on the table, either side of the remains of a strong black coffee.

“Are you all right?” she asks.

Mark stares at her. Dark circles under his eyes, reddish stubble around his jaw. He doesn't actually say what do you think? but his face does the talking for him.

“I think I just saw the universe break,” he says.

“Okay, so that's a no,” says Emilia, switching automatically to professional mode. “Let me get a coffee, and you can tell me all about it.”

She places her order (latte for her, a water dish for Nadia) and sits down, arranging her face into something soothing and expectant. Mark takes a breath, and begins.

“I … well, obviously I got here first,” he says. “Found the place pretty quick. It's not big, after all. The cops were already there, they'd cordoned off the area, but I just … there was this smell. Like burning. And this sound.”

SPIRE, says Nadia, conjuring the memory, but it isn't necessary. Emilia knows well enough what he's talking about.

“Like a big knife being sharpened,” she suggests, and Mark nods, unsurprised.

“Yeah, I thought you'd know, San― Emilia.” He sips his coffee. “No one else seemed to notice it. I guess they were too busy, and anyway these are Lavender cops. You know?” Emilia nods; she knows. “So I tried following it, because I think you said something about burning, right, and it's the strangest thing. It was so easy to follow. I'm not a bloodhound or an arbok, I don't have a particularly great nose or anything, but there it is. I steered clear of the cops, went out of town past those houses up by the station, and there …”

He stops. It's very unlike him, this halting, quipless speech. No subversive jokes now. No wit or life at all, just naked fear. It's unsettling to see him like this, after all their years of trading barbs in the face of supernatural disasters. Emilia is forcibly reminded that she is perhaps too good at her job, that Mark has never seen one of these things before, no matter how strongly he suspected.

“Take your time,” she says. “It's not easy, that first encounter. They feel wrong.” She is thinking of the M entity. She saw it once, the way the world bent around it like the model of a gravity well in the National Science Museum. Reality refracting in a broken haze around it, warped by the strength of its psionics. She only saw it for a second before she got pulled back inside the armoured car and League security took over, but it was more than enough to burn the image into her mind forever.

Nadia looks up from her water and chirrups uneasily. She remembers too, although she didn't see it except through Emilia's eyes. Even secondhand, the memory has power.

“You're telling me.” Mark sighs. “I saw it on the edge of the woods, just sort of hovering there. Big blotchy static thing, like you said. I went for my camera, but the f*cking flash was on, wasn't it? So it saw, and it … objected.”

Emilia wants to ask if he got pictures, but she waits. He either has them or he doesn't; rushing things won't achieve anything except upsetting him.

“Go on,” she says. “What next?”

Mark shakes his head.

“I don't know exactly. It paused, sort of shuffled itself around. Did you ever see one of those toy trucks that turn into robots? Like that. Wouldn't say it looked human, but it was human-shaped.”

Like with the attack on Anderson. Emilia almost doesn't want to ask about what it did next, but she really has no choice.

“Did it put a hand to its ear?” she asked. “Or its temple? Like―”

“―someone receiving a message,” finishes Mark. “Yeah. Yeah, it did.”

A pause. The barista brings Emilia her latte; she thanks her, does not touch it.

“Obviously, that was when Alison and I got the hell out of there,” Mark says. “Couldn't fly, whatever it was. And then … then I came here and waited for this place to open.”

Emilia nods thoughtfully.

“Do you have pictures?” she asks, as gently as she can.

Mark laughs, slightly too loud for it to seem like he finds anything funny.

“I'm a reporter,” he says. “Of course I have pictures.”

“Then let's do this, Mark,” says Emilia. “I have pictures of the victim's injuries, a report from the doctor, testimony from Pewter and Nadia's trace. I think we have what we need.” She's uncomfortably aware that she's saying this for her own benefit at least as much as his. “Let's do this,” she says again “Let's hit Giovanni, before he ever summons another of those things again.”

He looks a little pale, but Mark nods every bit as firmly as she speaks.

“All right,” he says, eyes bright. “You're right. That – thing, whatever it is, that has to stop. And hey, I'm not going to turn down the story of the century.” That sounds a bit more like him, Emilia is pleased to note.

“That's what I was hoping for,” she says. In the back of her head, Nadia's approval registers like the memory of a sunrise. “We need to get back to Saffron, and get this out there. My apartment at two? 77 Upper Holme Street. I need time to make copies of my material, and if you want to send me questions I can write up interview responses for you.”

“Sounds good. Only – let's make it Northcote Street.”

Northcote Street: in the heart of Whitford, where the newspapers live. If Emilia remembers correctly, The Cataphract is based out of an office on that same road.

“You want me with you on this?” she asks, and Mark nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “I walk in with a bunch of crazy theories – they might run with it, they might not. You walk in …”

“And they start listening, right.” Emilia nods.

“Yeah. Long enough for me to show them the proof, anyway.” Mark knocks back the last cold dregs of his coffee. “Okay,” he says. He sounds better now, back from the Twilight Zone into his usual world of government intrigue and breaking news. “Okay, I'm going to go on ahead and start drafting this. See you at two?”

“See you at two,” confirms Emilia. “And Mark?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

He hesitates half out of his chair, looking at her like he's trying to work out if she really means it or not. For what it's worth, she does; she isn't sure if any of this will even matter, in the end, but she has to try, and so she is grateful.

“Sure,” he says, eventually. “Thank you. I know I give you all that sh*t about working for the Man and all – but I also know that this can't be easy for you.”

Emilia smiles thinly.

“It's the weirdest thing,” she says. “It's just been getting easier and easier.”

*​

The cops turn up at the Centre pretty soon after Artemis gets the call from Emilia, and take her into a side room where they ask questions and try not to openly stare at her. (She is, she has noticed, possibly the only person in Lavender other than Mr Fuji who isn't white, to say nothing of the other reasons why they might be staring.) They seem kind, inefficient, hopelessly embarrassed by her existence in a way that makes her want to cry, and they busy themselves taking notes on her hesitant description of the thing as a big flat square of moving static. It's less terrifying than her last encounter with the police, but it's quite depressing. She's glad when they're gone, although the feeling does not survive what Cass has to say next.

“So I just called my aunt,” she says, looking up as Artemis comes back into the lobby. “You know, to tell her about the latest weird event, like we discussed? And, uh … she said something kinda ominous.”

Artemis could be scared right now, and if she hadn't been up since three am being scared she probably would be, but she's tired, and instead she just feels like she might cry.

“Yeah?” she asks, sitting down next to Cass and settling Brauron in her lap. “What?”

“She said, um … she kind of asked how I was getting on with you, you know? Because, um … you know.” (Yes, Artemis knows. Because Artemis is a f*cking schizo boy who thinks he's a girl and why would anyone want to hang out with her.) “And I said it was okay, you know, kind of trying to avoid the question, and then she said thanks for doing this and it'll be okay, because it's not going to be for much longer.”

Artemis holds herself very, very still. She is afraid that if she moves she might grab Brauron hard enough to hurt her. And yes, Brauron has shrugged off slash wounds and bites without effect, and probably even Artemis isn't actually strong enough to properly hurt a healthy pokémon, but whatever.

She hears herself making a response from somewhere on the other side of the room.

“Did she expand on that at all?”

“Well, I asked, obviously, but like I didn't get much out of her,” Cass replies, looking nervous. “But she said, like … remember that her cover story was that she was on some national security project, and she needed proof or data or something? Well, she said she almost had all the data she needed. That she and her team were working on a solution, and soon they were going to be able to put a stop to all the weird events for good.”

An end to the outbreak of breach events. What does that mean? It means that Giovanni and his team are nearly there. It means that they've finally managed to do what they set out to over ten years ago, when they made Mew-2 in the lab hidden in Cinnabar House. It means that they've figured out how to control breach.

What do you do, once you've got that kind of power? Once you can sculpt genes like clay, turn day to night, animate skeletons with the power to smash through walls? Fuji said the goal was to fight breach with breach, but when has anyone ever obtained massive power and not abused it? Artemis doesn't know a whole lot, the world remains consistently nonsensical and terrifying to her; but she does know this: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in many cases, when you poke at them a little, those intentions turn out not to have been so pure after all.

She thinks of Chelle, for the first time in several days. It feels like they last spoke a lifetime ago, on that day when she left Pewter – when she really thought she was escaping, instead of fleeing into something just as bad. She'd almost prefer the cold tomb of home to this. (Almost.) But she thinks of Chelle, of her preaching the hermeneutics of suspicion and saying always ask who benefits, and wishes she was here with her. Not like Chelle's self-taught socialism would hold any answers. But it's nice to have someone around to say the right words, especially if she's your oldest friend.

Right now, though? Right now it's just Artemis and Cass. (And can she trust her? Can she?) And Brauron and Ringo too, of course, and they're definitely helpful for keeping spirits up, but honestly there's not much either of them can do against either Dioli's team or breach – let alone Dioli's team with breach.

She breathes in, and out. Cass looks at her, and says something, and a moment later the words reach Artemis' ears:

“Are you okay?”

“Nope,” she says. “No, I'm really not, Cass. But” (another breath, a wish that her Xanax was not up in her room but here, in her hand) “I guess it doesn't change anything.” She sighs. “Emilia will be here soon, I think. Then I guess we can talk about it.”

“All right.” Cass fiddles with her bracelets. “I, um … just so you know, Artemis, I'm like, here and stuff. Even if we end up having to chase down a legendary pokemon. You know?”

Artemis doesn't think Cass knows how hard it is for her to believe that, and so she doesn't think Cass is trying to help her remember it. She's just being nice, without realising how nice she's really being. Or is she? No: stop second-guessing her, she orders herself. Cass is nice, period. That's why she ended up helping Giovanni's people, and it's why she's being nice now.

“Thanks, Cass,” she says. “I … yeah. Thanks.”

“I'm gonna make some coffee in the lounge,” says Cass. “Do you want anything?”

“Tea,” replies Artemis. “Please. If that's okay.”

“Okay. Never made that, but how hard can it be?”

“You just put the thing in the water. And then milk. A tiny little bit.”

“Okay,” repeats Cass. “Thing, water, milk. Gotcha.”

The lounge is empty except for them; Lavender isn't a popular stop on the trainer journey. The historic graveyard here attracts ghosts, but once you've come here and convinced one to partner with you (or failed to) there's not a lot of reason to stay, unless you're big on long walks in the hills. Which some people are, but generally not children, and that's what most trainers are.

So they sit, and drink their drinks, and after a little while Artemis hears a familiar voice through the door to the lobby. She sits up and looks over the back of the sofa, and a moment later sees Emilia coming in, smoothing her hair and talking to her natu.

“… me to prep that later,” she says. And then: “Artemis! I'm sorry to have taken so long.”

“Hey,” says Artemis, standing up so fast she almost knocks Brauron from her perch on her breast. “Hey, I – thank you for coming.”

Emilia smiles, although she looks very far from happy.

“It's the least I could do,” she says. “I was here anyway, because of the breach entity, and there's plenty for us to discuss.” She looks at Cass. “And you're Cassandra Grahame, is that right?”

“Um, I guess technically,” she replies. “It's Cass.”

“Cass, right.” Emilia shakes her hand. “It's a pleasure to finally meet you. Can we speak in here, or …?”

“I think so,” says Artemis. “I haven't seen any other trainers all day.”

“All right.” They sit. Brauron climbs up onto her partner's shoulder and gives Nadia a suspicious look, evidently still harbouring some resentment from their last meeting; Ringo perches on the table and eyes her up, gauging whether he can take her in a fight. Faced with this combined assault, Nadia twitters nervously and relocates to the other side of Emilia's head.

“Ring-o.” Cass beckons him over, points him over to the arm of the sofa. “Stay,” she says. “Uh, can I get you some coffee or something?”

“No, thank you.” Emilia pauses. Something seems off about her, although Artemis can't figure out what. Something she's figured out how to hide, anyway. “So,” she says. “I understand you met Dr Fuji.”

“I think he's just Mr Fuji these days,” says Cass. “But yeah. We did. And, um, well. Artemis told you, right?”

“Yes. You found Mew-2.” Another pause. “I have a confession to make,” says Emilia, and the words crash into Artemis' chest like a sledgehammer. What is it? What now, after Cass, after everything? “I worked on that case,” Emilia tells her, carefully maintaining eye contact. “You know what my job is, don't you? I make sure people don't know things. And that was the very first thing I made sure nobody knew about, way back when. Mew-2, and Cinnabar House.”

Artemis stares. She wants to protest, to say that that can't be right, to ask why Emilia would say something like that, but her throat is sealed, blocked up by the way her heart has thumped its way out of place and into her oesophagus.

“I should have told you immediately,” says Emilia. She does not look pleased with herself. “I needed you to trust me so that you'd let me help you, and I thought that that, after what you went through that night … well, I didn't think that would help.”

Artemis can feel Cass' eyes on her, trying to gauge what sort of response she should be making. She has to say something, she knows, has to take the lead here; she's the one who's been betrayed. (Again.) And she's got to respond, except … except Emilia lied. And she doesn't even know how to begin to answer that.

“But,” she says. “But you …”

Emilia nods.

“Yes. Yes, I know. I made a mistake―”

“Did you?” That's the worst of it. Emilia lied, yes – but honestly, what else could she have done? The awful truth is, there's no way in hell Artemis would have trusted her if she'd known this. Artemis knows this, the way she knows that gravity pulls down. The way her brain works, the way she sees ghost people in shadows and pursuers in passers-by, there's just no chance that she would have taken this news as anything but proof that Emilia was like the rest of them, part of the conspiracy. Emilia looked at her like a problem and found a solution, and sure, it sucks to be looked at as a problem but sometimes that's what people are, especially people like Artemis. Problems. “Did you really?” asks Artemis. “I mean … you're right. I wouldn't have believed you.”

Emilia looks taken aback.

“I'm sorry, that's not the response I was expect―”

“I know.” Artemis sighs and looks away. Brauron curls around the back of her neck, a comforting question mark of warmth. “I … I don't know what to say. I wouldn't have trusted you. And I did need to. But …”

“But I still lied.”

“Yeah.”

A long silence. Cass fidgets with her bracelets. Out in the lobby, the receptionist's computer goes bing.

“I'm sorry, Artemis,” says Emilia. “You deserved better from me. And – and it gets worse, actually.”

“What? What else have you …?”

Emilia closes her eyes, shakes her head.

“I'm sorry,” she says, and now for the first time Artemis can hear the emotion in her voice, straining against her professional calm. “I … the League …” She sighs. “Lorelei has suspended me,” she says. “The investigation is over.”

SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES [CONFIDENTIAL: AUTHORISED ACCESS ONLY]: ENTITY DESIGNATED BE-17-04. SEE APPENDIX FOR DETAILS.
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Ok, time to play catch up!

"Old Wounds" while more of a lull chapter I still enjoyed it quite a bit. With Pokemon evolving in different levels, not hard to believe there are some that can mature faster than others. Artemis only having a year on her journey, and the whole breach incident, makes things more complicated with her enjoying some moments of being a trainer.

Like Sike, oh no poor Effie being excited to see Sam. =< Don't know why, but I've always like scenes where someone talks to another person's grave. Guess it's the intimacy of it as Sike also mentioned there.

I too thought about Origin's version of Fuji when reading his appearance there. You mentioned you weren't sure what Ambyssin meant by that, but from what I can tell Fuji's game and Origin version isn't too different (Origins just added the concept of Mega Evolution, that's probably all you needed to know lol).

Looks like Emilia is able to break that block with her going to talk with Mark there. I thought the part where she tells Nadia she wants to make the most out of her name is cute. Artemis's dream, oh dear sounds like breach is getting more aggressive there.

Speaking of which, oh well welp more breach invasion there. Mark is especially frazzled experiencing it for the first time there. Felt bad Artemis couldn't do anything about that, but even moreso on her reaction to Emilia lying to her. Though Emilia is forced to do so, I can understand Artemis feeling like she kept being betrayed there. Now that Emilia lets Artemis know the investigation is over, wonder how things will play out now.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Emilia should end this properly. She never has done before – not with Matt, or Niamh, or Sam. She did get the chance to say goodbye to Niamh, but she was young then, still too afraid of death to speak or do anything but clutch her hand and stare into her eyes. That's three deaths that Emilia has failed to mark with the proper respect. Effie should not be the fourth.
So, I can't remember if this was teased or not at another point in this story, because it seemed a bit like it came out of left field. I know the other scenes with Effie have involved very brief glimpses in at Emilia's past that are designed to tease, but given how long Effie's decomposition has been happening, I'm surprised (or can't remember) that this was brought up earlier.

Also on the history bit, apparently World War II happened here. Like, I'm trying to think of how a World War would work in a land populated by Pokémon. Were there still atomic bombs, or was a really strong Pokémon move used in its place or something? I mean, Photon Geyser and Light That Burns the Sky are basically nukes, so... And I'm curious if there's any reason you picked Nolan of all names. Because seeing that makes me think of Factory Head Nolan. :V

As best I can tell, there's an arbitrary (heh) time skip of sorts following Emilia meeting Mark? Because suddenly she's on her own and this spire's running around Lavender and that's no good. But this is the most aggressive it feels like Emilia's been the entire story. In the sense that it doesn't seem like she's trying to keep that icy composure. So, it helps sell the scene. And it's also kind of funny in that, given the tone of the story and the directions it's taken, we've somehow ended up in that "small team of young people are facing overwhelming odds against a nebulous criminal organization," scenario that kind of percolates Pokémon stories.

Another interesting contrast is the Lavender police office. I know that your Kanto is a mishmash of different regional stuff and its government tidings as mostly shades of the UK. It's just really interesting to see the how it plays out with how appreciative the police officer is for the help. Because, like, on the one hand you're always happy for support in disaster situations. But, in America at least, a small town like Lavender would probably be rather conservative and pretty anti-federal gov't as a result.

Having the entities take on a human-like shape makes it all the more creepier, too. Just Mark's reaction is pretty on point. We've had Artemis' reaction plenty of times and have seen how she's learned to process it (with brief psychosis episodes), but his is just pure, unadulterated fear. And from there we have the revelation from Cass' aunt that things are definitely going to get worse for them. It's all very ominous and ends off on a very dour note with Emilia confessing to deliberately lying in an attempt to buy Artemis' trust. But it feels like in the process she may have just lost her trust right then. Maybe not quite the cliffhanger we've had in past chapters, but it's setting the stage for bad times.

her heart has thumped its way out of place and into her oesophagus.
I've heard of heartburn, but that's just ridiculous. *rimshot*

... I'll show myself out. :V
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
So, I can't remember if this was teased or not at another point in this story, because it seemed a bit like it came out of left field. I know the other scenes with Effie have involved very brief glimpses in at Emilia's past that are designed to tease, but given how long Effie's decomposition has been happening, I'm surprised (or can't remember) that this was brought up earlier.
It's meant to feel that way, even though I have teased it twice; like you said in a previous review, this is the point where Emilia snaps, and I wanted her personality and history to start flooding out all at once now that we're past the point where she's a job and into the part where she's a person. Sam's sudden entrance into the narrative marks a change, and it's an important one.

Also on the history bit, apparently World War II happened here. Like, I'm trying to think of how a World War would work in a land populated by Pokémon. Were there still atomic bombs, or was a really strong Pokémon move used in its place or something? I mean, Photon Geyser and Light That Burns the Sky are basically nukes, so... And I'm curious if there's any reason you picked Nolan of all names. Because seeing that makes me think of Factory Head Nolan. :V
You can always assume that the world I write about is almost exactly like ours except with pokémon, and a few nations shuffled around to make room for the regions from the game – northern France gone to make way for Kalos, that kind of thing. I would imagine that pokémon were used extensively in war, but that nuclear weaponry was developed anyway; there are a few pokémon capable of that sort of destruction, but their rarity and the fact that they seem only to partner with exceptional individuals means that it would be inefficient to rely on one when you want to commit a war crime.

As for Nolan – I had an art history teacher called Mr Nolan when I was a teenager, I think. That's probably where I got it from, consciously or not.

As best I can tell, there's an arbitrary (heh) time skip of sorts following Emilia meeting Mark? Because suddenly she's on her own and this spire's running around Lavender and that's no good. But this is the most aggressive it feels like Emilia's been the entire story. In the sense that it doesn't seem like she's trying to keep that icy composure. So, it helps sell the scene. And it's also kind of funny in that, given the tone of the story and the directions it's taken, we've somehow ended up in that "small team of young people are facing overwhelming odds against a nebulous criminal organization," scenario that kind of percolates Pokémon stories.
Yeah, I skipped the scene with Mark because you didn't really need to see it and the chapter was already way too long. And, well – honestly, that was always going to be the plot the story was going to end up with; it's about a rookie trainer trying to fight a conspiracy, which, you know, that's pretty much definitionally going to be a young person versus the system.

Another interesting contrast is the Lavender police office. I know that your Kanto is a mishmash of different regional stuff and its government tidings as mostly shades of the UK. It's just really interesting to see the how it plays out with how appreciative the police officer is for the help. Because, like, on the one hand you're always happy for support in disaster situations. But, in America at least, a small town like Lavender would probably be rather conservative and pretty anti-federal gov't as a result.
The UK is a much smaller place, so there isn't really an equivalent to a federal policing body that might intervene in the affairs of local police forces. But really it depends where you go; some places are definitely very much against government intervention, and others would accept it more easily, I guess. But this is Kanto, and the League has been around for literally centuries, doing exactly what it's doing here, and that kind of precedent sticks. And it varies by place, too – Pewter, if you remember, had a reputation for stubborn insularity, and Emilia didn't get on particularly well with the cops there.

And when all's said and done – if you've just run into an eldritch abomination, you probably want back-up. Lavender has no League office, no Gym or anything; there's no one here to make the monsters any less scary than they really are, if that makes sense.

Having the entities take on a human-like shape makes it all the more creepier, too. Just Mark's reaction is pretty on point. We've had Artemis' reaction plenty of times and have seen how she's learned to process it (with brief psychosis episodes), but his is just pure, unadulterated fear. And from there we have the revelation from Cass' aunt that things are definitely going to get worse for them. It's all very ominous and ends off on a very dour note with Emilia confessing to deliberately lying in an attempt to buy Artemis' trust. But it feels like in the process she may have just lost her trust right then. Maybe not quite the cliffhanger we've had in past chapters, but it's setting the stage for bad times.
Artemis does get why Emilia did it, to be fair; I don't think even she knows whether she trusts Emilia or not, right now. But you're right that this is the start of something bad. We're at the beginning of the end now, and things are going to get worse before they get better. Quite a lot worse, actually. Thanks for the review!

"Old Wounds" while more of a lull chapter I still enjoyed it quite a bit. With Pokemon evolving in different levels, not hard to believe there are some that can mature faster than others. Artemis only having a year on her journey, and the whole breach incident, makes things more complicated with her enjoying some moments of being a trainer.
Yeah, I've generally interpreted the length of time it takes to evolve as being related to lifespan, if not always exactly tied to it – like, I've tried to imply that pokémon develop faster if well trained, for instance. As for Artemis, yeah. She always knew this wasn't going to be as much of a journey as she wanted, but now she's losing even more time to the breach stuff. Kind of unfortunate, but there might be a solution out there somewhere, if Artemis keeps going on the way she's going …

Like Sike, oh no poor Effie being excited to see Sam. =< Don't know why, but I've always like scenes where someone talks to another person's grave. Guess it's the intimacy of it as Sike also mentioned there.
Huh. I guess that's more of a thing than I thought! But there's something fun (for, uh, a certain definition of “fun”) about writing a scene like that. I've never done one before – haven't really had the opportunity – but it came out okay, I think.

I too thought about Origin's version of Fuji when reading his appearance there. You mentioned you weren't sure what Ambyssin meant by that, but from what I can tell Fuji's game and Origin version isn't too different (Origins just added the concept of Mega Evolution, that's probably all you needed to know lol).
Oh, okay! That seems fair enough. Thanks for the clarification!

Looks like Emilia is able to break that block with her going to talk with Mark there. I thought the part where she tells Nadia she wants to make the most out of her name is cute. Artemis's dream, oh dear sounds like breach is getting more aggressive there.
Thanks! I really liked that little exchange, too; I'm glad it went down well. As for breach – yeah. Like I said earlier, this is the beginning of the end. In fact, coming up later today, I've got a new chapter in which a certain important individual finally makes an appearance, marking the start of the push towards the final confrontation.

Speaking of which, oh well welp more breach invasion there. Mark is especially frazzled experiencing it for the first time there. Felt bad Artemis couldn't do anything about that, but even moreso on her reaction to Emilia lying to her. Though Emilia is forced to do so, I can understand Artemis feeling like she kept being betrayed there. Now that Emilia lets Artemis know the investigation is over, wonder how things will play out now.
Yeah, we've really hit a point where all the plans are stalling. There's just one way forward left, and it's not one that anyone can take on lightly. But rather than hint about it, I think I'll just post the next chapter instead, so you can see for yourself. Thank you for reading and responding!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
11: THE MONARCH OF THE BREACH

Artemis has had some unpleasant conversations. Coming out to Chelle's mother for the sake of the deed poll was pretty awkward; trying to talk to her parents about her future is always stressful. Or about her past, actually. (You said to us: Roald Dahl died of leukaemia, and it was the scariest thing we ever heard you say.) Or her present, for that matter. (You're okay, aren't you? Yeah. You're okay. Functional, anyway, like they say.)

So she has experience of bad conversations. But this – this is a bad, bad conversation, a conversation that starts off poorly and spirals down to even darker places, and even though Emilia assures her that she's doing all she can, that she's leaking this to the press to try and attack Giovanni from whatever angle she can find, she isn't sure she can drag herself back up into the light.

“I'm sorry,” Emilia says. “I wish I had better news. Giovanni somehow got hold of your mental health record, and he used that to convince Lorelei your testimony was worthless. And since they didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing at the old Rocket site …” She sighs. “I'm repeating myself,” she says. “Sorry. I'm – it's been a rough week.”

It happened, then. Like always: nobody has to believe Artemis if they don't want to, because it's all in her head, because she's delusional and recovering from a psychotic episode and all the rest of it. Because she's crazy.

She's used to it. She is. It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

“Okay,” she says softly. “Okay.”

The silence has an almost physical weight. Artemis can hardly breathe through it, let alone speak, and she is glad when Cass finally speaks for her.

“So what do we do?” she asks. “We can't just let him get away with all this.”

“I know.” Emilia straightens her back, and something about this tiny movement seems to draw all her energy back together. Artemis is impressed, despite herself. She knows well enough how much it takes to recover after this sort of thing, to sit back up and keep on going. Emilia is tougher than she is, by a long way. She might have lied (and what else has she lied about, asks the voice in her head, before Artemis pushes it away again), but she's tough at least. “That's why I'm going to the press. I've got a meeting with the editor of The Cataphract this afternoon; you should check the website later today. I want your permission before I follow through, though. I'll keep your name out of the papers, but if there's an investigation, you might be called on to testify. Is that okay?”

Artemis starts, feels Brauron tighten her grip on her clothes.

“I mean – um – absolutely, if it'll help, but …”

She doesn't finish. Nor does Cass, although she gets a little further:

“But won't the League …?”

“Yes. Probably.” Emilia's eyes give nothing away. “Don't worry about me,” she says. “Whatever happens, the important thing is that Giovanni is stopped.”

Won't the League what? How was Cass planning to finish that sentence? Artemis can't be sure, but she's got an idea. She recalls her own arrest, back on Cinnabar, and imagines what it would be like if they had real proof she was working against the League. What's Lorelei's position on traitors, anyway? She always seems so cold and scary on TV.

She's telling the truth. Artemis is sure of that; it just doesn't make sense for her to lie, not like this, not in a way that Artemis can verify so easily. But truth now doesn't make up for lies earlier, even necessary ones, and though Artemis is humbled by Emilia's courage she still doesn't know how to feel about her.

She believes Artemis. There's that. Obviously she found out about her mental illness, too, and she's been treating her exactly the same regardless. (Unless she's lying, unless she's using her perfect poker face and all her League training to conceal her distrust and her loathing. But she isn't. Probably. Artemis hopes.)

“But,” says Cass, and Emilia shakes her head.

“Don't worry,” she repeats, more firmly. “Nadia and I can look after ourselves. And at this point, we need to attack Giovanni from every angle we have. I don't think an exposé will stop him, necessarily, but I'm hoping it will slow him down.”

“Your job, though,” says Artemis, the first thing she's managed to say and not at all what she wanted to, and Emilia looks at her, her eyes full of understanding. (Or judgement.)

“Artemis,” she says. “I'm tired. I've done a lot of bad things, okay? I wanted to work with the League because my trainer journey helped me at a time when I really needed it, and I believed in its goodness for a long time, really, that everyone deserves that chance to escape” (that word: Emilia knows, Artemis thinks suddenly; she knows exactly what it is to have to run away, and this realisation is crippling in the horrible mixture of relief and sympathy and terror that it brings) “past the point where I should have quit, honestly, and …” She breaks off, turns her palm upward in a what can you say? kind of way. “Look, at this point, it doesn't matter. I'm tired. I don't want to do this any more. I used to hang out in anarchist bookshops, and now … this.”

It feels like her words have run away with her, like she has revealed more than she intended. Artemis and Cass sit there, uncomfortable, until Nadia nudges Emilia's ear and suddenly she seems to recover herself.

“The point is, I'm through,” she says simply. “That's it. I don't want this job any more. Not if it's a choice between that and Giovanni. He goes down, no matter what. You know?”

Artemis thinks of sneaking out of her tent in Viridian Forest, of breaking into Cinnabar House. Of risking arrest, and then its actuality.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I know.”

Emilia sighs.

“I wish you didn't,” she says, with feeling. “I'm sorry. This is more than you should have to deal with – either of you. That it's come to this is frankly criminal. But we're out of options at this point.”

Criminal, is it. She means that, doesn't she? She believes that this should never have happened.

She lied. But.

“So what's the plan, then?” asks Artemis, with an effort. “I mean, there's Mew-2 …”

“Mew-2 is dangerous. I don't think I need to tell you this, but it bears repeating. Under no circumstances should you go anywhere near it.” Emilia pauses. “I can't stop you trying, if that's what you decide. But I have to say that I don't believe you should even consider going after it.”

“We can't sit here and do nothing,” says Artemis. The words hang in the air, coming back to her ears as if spoken by someone else. She can hardly believe she said them. “I … I can't. Cass, your aunt said they were nearly done.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, yeah.” Cass fidgets; Ringo darts up onto her shoulder, lithe and loyal as a terrier. “My aunt,” she says. “She works with Giovanni, we think.”

“Abigail Grahame,” says Emilia. “Yes, I've run into her before. Twice, actually.”

Cass blinks.

“Oh. Yeah, I guess we told you already, back on Cinnabar. So she called me up again earlier, and she kind of said that like she and her team had almost solved everything. Like soon they were gonna be able to stop all this for good.”

Nadia glances at her partner; Emilia nods.

“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I thought … Nadia ran a trace on the site of last night's attack. We thought that the entity looked like it was listening in on an earpiece, or to a telepathic message. And I brought in a reporter too, who tracked it down just outside town. He thought it was listening to something too.”

It's like ice water exploding through her veins. Brauron's warmth seems suddenly a million miles away, the Pokémon Centre walls spiralling off into the void that has opened up around her. He's done it. Giovanni has control.

And if Giovanni has control, then―

“Artemis?” She turns, sees worried eyes. After a second, she fits them into a face, and recognises it as Cass. “Artemis, are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” she says, because it's just two words, right, and it's not so hard to get them out. “I'm fine.” Breathe, Artie. Breathe.

Emilia watches. Her eyes are clouded with sympathy, and Artemis doesn't know (except she does) (except she doesn't) (except) if it's real or if it's fake.

“What will he do?” asks Artemis, and Emilia shrugs helplessly, making her partner flap her wings for balance.

“I don't know,” she admits. “His organisation – it's called ROCKETS, the Research Office for the Consolidation of Kantan Economic and Technological Superiority – and the emails I've seen …” She sighs. “It's some nationalist thing. Pro-Kantan agenda of some kind.”

Which is code, of course: everyone knows what a pro-Kantan agenda is. Everyone except Kantan nationalists, it seems, who think it means that they have the good of the nation in mind. There is a brief, uncomfortable pause, during which the one woman in the room who is white avoids the gaze of the two who are not, and then Artemis shakes her head.

“So I have no choice,” she says. “Do I?”

Emilia waits for as long as she can before answering, but Artemis has seen the response in her eyes long before it comes.

“Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” she says, half to herself. It sounds like a quotation, although Artemis doesn't know where it's from. “I'm sorry, Artemis. I'm sorry.”

Artemis is sorry too, really. But penitence is only going to go so far here.

*​

They don't get anywhere with the conversation. The three of them talk the ideas through a little longer, back and forth, back and forth; and Artemis says she won't go in search of Mew-2 and Emilia pretends to believe her, and both of them know that they are doing something unforgivable even as they know it is the only thing they can do.

When Emilia leaves to catch the train back to Saffron, Cass and Artemis look at each other, and then without saying anything they go to pack their bags. Half an hour later, they are boarding the next train west.

At least Cass is probably on her side after all. No one would come after Mew-2 with her if they didn't really mean it.

Honestly, that doesn't really make her feel that much better.

*​

Cerulean is Cass' town; she spent half her childhood here, before Silverleaf, and after that she spent a good portion of her summers there. She knows it pretty well, has been dragged out on a bunch of family walks in the hills north of town by her parents, and she has a pretty good idea of where it is that Mew-2 might be hiding.

“There's a whole bunch of caves out there,” she explains, on the maglev north to Cerulean. “Most of 'em are meant to be dangerous, y'know, wild pokémon, unstable rocks, all that jazz, but of course people still like go in anyway.”

“I sense an 'except' coming here,” says Artemis, which feels out of character for her as soon as she says it but what the hell, so is actively seeking out the most dangerous single creature in Kanto, and Cass nods.

“Yep,” she says. “Except for one. Devil's Hollow.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, well, it doesn't have a real name, but that's kinda what kids call it. You know what it's like, right? There's this cave that no one can go in because anyone who tries gets overcome with terror, all the teenagers try to go in anyway just to see if they can, boom, you end up with a ridiculous name like that.”

Artemis coughed, startled. In her lap, Brauron stirs at the sudden sound but does not wake.

“I feel like you kinda buried the lead there,” says Artemis. “What the hell?”

Cass shrugs.

“Like I said, you go in, you get scared and leave again. Everyone just assumes there's a really territorial ghost-type in there, and since it never leaves, Misty at the Gym is like okay, I guess if it doesn't bother us we won't bother it and hasn't had it relocated. You know? Anyway, point is, put that up against Fuji's idea that an incredibly powerful psychic-type is hanging out just north of Cerulean …”

“… and you start to see the correlations. Okay.” Artemis shifts in her seat. Brauron sticks her head up out of her lap, awake and irritated about it, and Artemis' hands move automatically to her as she speaks, rubbing her head and neck and the delicate spot in between her fins. “So you know how to get there?”

“I can figure it out. I've, uh, never been.” Cass looks a little embarrassed. Artemis feels for her; she herself would never go, if it weren't for this. For one thing, ghost-types and anxiety don't mix, and ghost-types and whatever it is she has really don't mix; her head is sufficiently messed-up already that if something messes with it further, things could go very badly wrong. For another, she is completely bloody terrified. But it's mostly the health risks, or so she tells herself.

“It's okay,” she says, wanting to put Cass at her ease. “I wouldn't have either.”

“No, it's not like that.” Cass' face begins to redden. “Like … I never went 'cause no one ever invited me. I don't, uh, I don't really have many friends in Cerulean. 'Cause like I only really knew people in Silverleaf.”

“Oh.” Right. Of course. How could Artemis forget? It's all Silverleaf, all the way down; the last eight years of Cass' life have been lived in its ornate, moneyed shadow. She hopes that Cass did at least have friends there. She suspects that she didn't, but she hopes that she did.

“So yeah. No one in town to dare me to go into Devil's Hollow.” Cass shrugs. “'S okay,” she says. “I never particularly wanted to, anyway.”

She is a very bright red now. Both of them choose to ignore it.

“Okay,” says Artemis. Cass isn't telling her everything; she said before that she spent her last few weeks in Cerulean staying with a friend while she waited for the League paperwork to come through. That's at least one person she was reasonably close to in town. But fine: Cass owes her no answers. She'll tell Artemis about this if and when she's ready. “That's okay,” Artemis repeats, and then hesitates. “Are you … are you okay going back to Cerulean so soon? I mean, um, I mean I'm not sure I'd want to go back to Pewter.”

Cass shrugs again. It isn't any more convincingly nonchalant than the last time. On the back of the seat next to her, Ringo chirps and hops closer, eyeing her closely. Artemis doesn't know if birds can be worried, or what it looks like if they can, but if she had to make a guess she'd say this was it.

“Dunno, Artemis. I … like I'd be lying if I said I really wanted to be there, but you know. I'll manage.”

“I promise we won't be long,” says Artemis, hoping that she sounds as sincere as she feels. “Just speak to Mew-2 and be out of there.”

Cass smiles, touched and a little embarrassed by her earnestness.

“Thanks,” she says. “Really, though, I'll be okay. Might even get the chance to visit like the one friend I do have there.”

“All right,” says Artemis. “Just making sure.”

“I know. You're super sweet.”

Artemis blushes, squirming a little as the compliment hits her.

“Thanks,” she mumbles, feeling clumsy and inelegant. “I was just making sure.”

“Well,” says Cass. “Still. You know.”

Artemis does know, even if she's not any better at articulating it than Cass, and so she says okay, and as the train speeds through the city outskirts to its centre the two of them settle into a quiet kind of calm.

*​

Cerulean is small, as cities go. Compact, bright, cheerful; it's a world away from the concrete moonscape of Viridian or the dingy sprawl of Pewter. The city centre is full of all the usual Kantan chains, Moon's, Oleander, a Silph outlet, a Hungry Knight, but they are all housed in what Artemis thinks of as upmarket kind of buildings, nineteenth-century windows looking out from the upper floors at the glass shopfronts below. She kind of likes it. A reassuring mixture of the cheap and the classy, neither as grindingly poor as parts of Pewter nor as intimidatingly wealthy as parts of Viridian.

Still, she's nervous. By this evening, she will either be dead or have a new ally of horrifying strength and savagery, and frankly she isn't sure which is worse – and that thing is still running around in Lavender. She wonders if she should have stayed, if the police will want to speak to her again and be angry at her absence. For half an hour or so, she sees pursuing cops everywhere, in pedestrians walking a little too fast and shadows that look a little too dense, and then they arrive at the Pokémon Centre and she manages to calm herself in the now-familiar ritual of checking in. The thought does strike her that the Lavender police might have asked the staff of the Centre there to to contact their counterparts here, that at any moment the receptionist might ask her to wait here for the police to come and collect her (and then, dizzying, breath-stealing: an interrogation, tears, hallucination, no Emilia this time to save her), but she just about manages to keep it under control. No one's coming for you, Artie, she tells herself. It would be a huge waste of resources when they're already so busy. What's more likely: that the receptionist is looking at an email from Lavender, or she's just seeing what rooms are available? There are always other explanations. There really really are.

“Sorry,” says the receptionist, looking away from her computer and back at Artemis. “It's summer, so you know. Busy time. Are you okay to share a twin room?”

Artemis smiles. Nobody but her can tell how difficult she finds this, she reminds herself.

“Yeah,” she says. “That's fine.”

They dump their stuff, plug their phones in to charge, and go down to the computer room to, as Cass puts it, Google Maps this sh*t up. There's a quiet kid in there whose chansey Ringo immediately singles out as a worthy opponent, and he begins to fly in circles around it, shrieking his head off; the chansey stares, the kid looks on the verge of tears, and then Cass yells at Ringo to cut it out and he flaps back over to her shoulder, looking entirely unapologetic.

“Sorry,” she says on his behalf. “He's, uh, well, I think I need to exercise him after this. Tire him out a bit.”

“I-it's okay,” stammers the kid, and turns resolutely back to the computer, ears red. Cass looks at Artemis, makes an exaggeratedly guilty face.

“Oops,” she whispers. “Hey birdbrain, why can't you be more like Brauron? Look at her. She doesn't go round trying to murder people.”

On her usual perch below Artemis' clavicle, Brauron licks her eyes in what is possibly, for a salandit, a regal kind of way. Ringo squawks and nips at Cass' ear; she sighs, calls him a birdbrain again, and gives him his toy kabuto to shut him up. While he busies himself throwing it on the floor so he can divebomb it like he's hunting caterpie, Artemis logs on to one of the PCs and navigates to Google Maps.

“Okay,” says Cass, resolutely ignoring whatever it is that Ringo is doing at her feet. “So – this is Gadaran National Park, biggest in the riding, right, and like the trails are here and here.” She wiggles the cursor around two lines amidst the sea of green. “Gadaran cave network goes all the way through the hills. This is – oh cool, that one's labelled, that's Big Cave―”

“Big Cave?” asks Artemis.

“We're not very imaginative in Cerulean,” replies Cass. “You wanna hear a good Cerulean joke about it?”

“Um, okay, sure.”

“Sorry, nobody's thought of one yet.” Cass pauses, then smiles at Artemis' lack of a reaction. “See what I mean? Whole city full of people and that's the best we could come up with. Anyway, that's Big Cave, which means I think that that there is Little Cave, so … I guess we take that trail there on the right?”

“All right,” says Artemis. “You're the one who lives here.”

There is a pause, during which they both try to think of something else they can do in order to avoid immediately heading out to Devil's Hollow, and then Cass sighs.

“You, um … wanna get lunch first?” she asks hopefully.

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “Let's do that.”

*​

An hour later, they're out of excuses and walking up the road from the bus stop to the national park. Neither of them feel much like speaking, although Ringo at least is delighted to be on the move again; he flies on ahead, flitting from wall to sign to branch as the road wends its way out of town and through a copse up to the car park.

“Someone's happy,” says Artemis, as he loses steam and crashes down atop a speed limit sign. It's the first thing she's said since they got on the bus out of town.

“Yep,” replies Cass, though even she doesn't sound as cheery as usual. “He really needed to let off steam, I guess. Haven't done any training since – actually since before that storm. Wow. Okay, yeah, that explains it.”

Artemis and Brauron haven't done any either, although Brauron has not displayed any of Ringo's antsiness; Artemis gets the impression that she is, more than anything, worried about her partner. Certainly she's spent a lot of time insinuating herself between Artemis' fingers and coiling around her hands, hissing and emitting occasional bursts of sweet scent even when not ordered to do so. Artemis is touched, and guilty. Her weakness is poisonous, she knows, an insidiously manipulative vulnerability that forces those who care about her to waste time and effort in making her feel better. All Brauron's attention proves is that Artemis has suckered another poor soul into slaking her endless thirst for reassurance.

Or, you know, that Brauron really cares and that Artemis is succeeding as a trainer. One of the two, for sure. Artemis is finding it a bit hard to decide which one exactly.

“I guess it makes sense,” she says. “We've had other stuff on our minds.”

Cass snorts.

“Hah. Yeah, we really kinda have.”

They turn off the road, cross a mostly empty car park, and emerge on the other side into a sparse, open wood of silver birches. The ground here slopes, and Artemis can see the hills beyond the trees, rising and falling all the way to Mt Moon.

“Path forks up there,” says Cass, pointing ahead. “It's the right, I think? That'll take us round to the northeast, where the caves are. The other way sort of loops around towards Route 4.”

Artemis nods. They walk on for a while without speaking, the only sound the clatter of Ringo's wings as he crashes inelegantly from perch to perch.

“Peaceful, huh,” says Artemis.

“Yeah,” replies Cass. “Weird, though. Haven't been here for a long time.”

Artemis glances at her out of the corner of her eye. She looks on edge, and Artemis doesn't think it's just the prospect of meeting Mew-2 that's doing it.

“You used to come with your parents?” she asks.

“Yeah, and my little brother. Family walks. I dunno, we're not a very walky kinda family.” Cass shrugs. “Guess my parents wanted to do something as a family and couldn't think of anything else. There's that Cerulean lack of imagination for you.”

“You don't sound thrilled,” says Artemis, mostly just to let Cass know that if she wants to talk about this Artemis is happy to listen and do her clumsy best at being supportive, and Cass laughs. It is not the kind of laugh that gives the impression that Cass finds anything very funny.

“Yeah, well, I'm not massively into family time. My parents named me after a prophet nobody believed who also got raped, enslaved and murdered with an axe, and then honestly I think things just went downhill from there.”

“Yeah,” says Artemis, falteringly. “You, um … you said.”

A short pause. Ringo crashes through the trees up ahead; Brauron stretches and relocates from Artemis' chest to her shoulder.

“And like Silverleaf was their idea,” Cass continues suddenly, unprompted. She's looking dead ahead now, face expressionless. “They said I was smart and I should try, and then I got the scholarship and they were like that's so good, well done, sweetie, and then I went there and hated it and they ignored me for like seven years till I came home with my crappy results and they decided to fight about it and then―” She breaks off suddenly, wavering, and for a moment Artemis wonders if that's it – but then she presses on. “And like I didn't know what to say, 'cause I wasn't used to them taking any interest, and – and they got mad that I cut my hair short and dyed it, because I guess their idea of Cassandra Grahame wasn't this, was someone smarter, I mean in terms of appearance, and … and …”

A longer pause this time. Artemis can sense the unspoken words, whatever they are, boiling viciously beneath the surface of her reddening cheeks. And then Cass swallows and stops walking and says it.

“And not like me,” she says. “Not someone who got the special scholarship to the best school in Kanto and came back with a sh*tty results card and a girlfriend.”

So that's it. Artemis sees how it was. Something like her own story, except that Cass actually had the nerve to tell her parents about herself, to face that confrontation head-on. Or maybe that wasn't it; maybe there were rumours at school, maybe Cass' parents got called up about their daughter's behaviour and so in their heads her atypical affections were simply part of her failure as a student.

Or maybe her parents are just not nice about that kind of thing. God knows they wouldn't be the only ones.

“I'm sorry,” says Artemis, after a few seconds. “I … that sucks. My parents would kill me if they knew about me.”

She hopes this comes across as here's why I understand rather than I have it worse. She has a horrible feeling that it doesn't, but it's said now, and there's no taking it back.

“I guess you know, then,” says Cass, and Artemis lets out the breath she has been holding. “Yeah. I wanted to say, 'cause … well, 'cause I figured you'd understand. And you told me all your stuff, so― and like 'cause it's … it's been so f*cking bad going around carrying this with me. I just … I don't even know if I can go home again.”

She sounds close to tears. Ringo drifts back to her shoulder from up the trail, tugs on her ear with his beak. Artemis wonders if she should do something, then wonders if wondering about it instead of doing it makes her a bad person, then tells herself screw it, Cass is hurting and you're meant to be her friend, and steps closer to put an arm around her. Cass tenses for a moment, surprised, but she does not pull away, and after a moment she relaxes and leans in against her side.

“I'm sorry,” says Artemis awkwardly. “You probably didn't want to come back here.”

Cass shrugs, and for once Ringo doesn't seem to care. She doesn't say anything. Artemis suspects that she doesn't trust her voice.

“Was it your girlfriend you stayed with before you left?” A little nod, half buried in Artemis' ribs. Cass feels so small, pressed up against her like that. “Maybe you can visit her before we go. If you want to.”

Smile. Small, strained, but a smile.

“Yeah,” says Cass quietly. “Maybe.” She sniffs and pulls back, wiping her eyes quickly with the heel of her hand. “Christ. Ugh. Sorry. About all this. This is like the climax of your heroic journey to stop the secret government conspiracy and save Kanto, and here I am derailing things with my sh*t―”

“Cass.” Artemis catches her eye, and she stops speaking. “Cass, it's okay. It's still important.”

“Compared to like eldritch nasties smashing through the fabric of reality? I dunno, I think―”

“Cass. I mean it. It … it hurt you, right? So it matters.”

Cass blinks. Artemis can see the revelation dawning, the way it did on her, way back in that one therapy session. That what happens to you really matters, no matter how small it seems in the grand scheme of things. Because guess what, you aren't the grand scheme of things, you're just one person, and your life might be small but it's all you've got, and if it's not working out for you then you can't afford not to do something about it.

Probably Cass won't believe it yet. That's okay. It usually takes a while.

“Yeah, maybe,” she says. “Thanks, Artemis. I … like I said. You're cool. I hope you know that.”

Artemis blushes, but manages to not look away, to keep offering Cass a friendly face to see.

“I dunno,” she says. “I'm trying to. But you're pretty cool too.” She'd like to say that she doesn't think she would have got this far without her, but somehow she can't quite manage that.

Cass smiles weakly.

“Thanks,” she says. “I do my best.” A sigh. “Kinda funny, really. I go to school at the other end of the country and still end up meeting a girl from my hometown.”

“Maybe it's that Cerulean lack of imagination again,” suggests Artemis, and is amazed to see Cass actually laugh.

“Yeah,” she agrees. “That's probably it.” Ringo tugs on her ear again, and she reaches up to stroke him with one hand. “You're cool too, birdbrain,” she says. “Dunno what you see in me, 'cept maybe a source of free mealworms, but I'm glad you stuck around.” She breathes out, and looks back up the trail, towards the top of the hill. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, let's forget about what we do after this for a while. We got time, right? Assuming we don't, y'know, get killed by Mew-2 or anything. So. Time to go?”

Artemis smiles.

“Time to go,” she says. “And, uh, Cass?”

“Yeah?”

“My friends, or friend, I guess, they – she – I mean, people call me Artie. You can too. If you like.”

“Okay, Artie,” says Cass, kindly ignoring how pathetic that sounded. “Let's go talk to a big old psychic monster.”

“Let's go do that,” agrees Artemis, and they walk together up the trail, out from the forest into the sunlight on the hill.

*​

Devil's Hollow is some way off the trail, down by the north bank of the Cere, the river that curls around Cerulean's north edge and eastwards up to the sea. Cass points it out from the bridge that takes them out of the woods and over the water into the hills.

“There it is,” she says. “Scariest place in Kanto.”

Artemis stares. It doesn't look like the home of a hybrid breach pokémon. Then again, what would that even look like, anyway?

“Shouldn't there be, like … a sign or something? Maybe a locked gate?”

“There is a sign,” says Cass. “It's … somewhere. Maybe behind that rock, from this angle.”

“But no barrier?”

“Nope. No barrier.” Cass glances at her. “Kind of a good thing really. We do want to go in, after all.”

“Yeah, I know. I just – I mean, you know.”

Cass gives her a strained kind of smile.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

From the other side of the bridge, where they turn off the trail to descend the slope down to the cave, the sign is clearly visible. DANGER, it warns. POWERFUL GHOST AHEAD. There's an emergency phone number for Cerulean Gym (“Who you gonna call?” asks Cass wryly) and an explanation in smaller type that a strong and very territorial ghost-type lives here, and is best not disturbed.

They stand there for a moment, looking at the sign, and then Artemis puts one hand on Brauron and Cass calls Ringo back to her shoulder, and they go down to the riverbank and enter Devil's Hollow.

It's dark here – very dark. The sun is bright today, but all the light does is make the dark darker by contrast, and standing there at the entrance Artemis and Cass both stop to switch on their torches.

“Diving into a cave in search of a rare pokémon,” says Cass. “Checking off the trainer journey clichés, huh?”

Artemis doesn't answer. She'd like to – Cass is making an effort to break the tension and she'd like to encourage it – but somehow she can't. It's all right; Ringo has just realised that they actually intend to enter the cave, and Cass' attention is diverted to him as he squawks uneasily and huddles close against her head.

“I know,” she says, stroking him. “I know, Ringo. I know.”

Artemis keeps her free hand on Brauron. She isn't sure, at this point, if she can take it away again.

“Okay,” says Cass, as Ringo settles down. “I think he's okay. But I might recall him anyway. When he gets scared he flies off, and I don't want him to like get lost when the fear hits.”

Artemis still says nothing, though this time for other reasons; she knows enough to recognise when someone's talking for their own benefit, not that of the person with them. She waits while Cass returns Ringo to his ball, and points her torch ahead, into the dark.

“You ready?” she asks, reaching for her voice and finding it again.

“Um, hell no,” says Cass. “But I guess we don't have much of a choice.”

She makes Artemis smile despite herself. It's a gift, thinks Artemis; whatever Cass' failings as a student, she is a very talented human being. This is something she would like to tell her, but honestly she wouldn't even know where to start.

“Okay,” she says instead. “Let's go, then.”

They walk. In the narrow passage of the cave, the torchlight picks out rocks, walls, nothing of interest.

Six paces in, it hits.

It's bad. Artemis knows fear well, is something of a connoisseur of it, even, has tasted it in forms from mindless panic to the numbing terror of life in the twilight of the fossil fuel era; she knows fear, and she knows bad when she feels it. And this is it: throat-clogging, breath-stealing, gut-wrenching; it's ghost people, breach, the blurred man and the spire. She feels ice-cold, nauseous and shivery and on the verge of passing out – but she doesn't, can't, because it's just fear, Artie, and you've done this so many times before, have survived every encounter and walked away with nothing more than arm scars at the very worst; she's done it before and she can do it again, can reach past the panic and Brauron scratching desperately at her chest and call out:

“What's your name?”

And it's over. Just like that. The fear fades as quickly as it came, and Cass lets go of Artemis' arm with a sheepish look on her face.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, but Artemis isn't listening: there's another voice there, deep and dark as a well in midwinter:

You didn't run.

Cultured. Sexless. It hangs in her mind like icicles off the underside of the railway bridge in winter, before the trains shake them loose and send them stabbing at the frozen earth below. An intelligent voice, and a dangerous one.

“No,” Artemis manages to croak. “We didn't.”

Strong! The voice sounds approving. Strong enough not to run, and to keep your friend from running too. That is strength indeed.

“I've had a lot of practice at being scared,” says Artemis. “And anyway, we want to speak to you.”

While she talks, she hugs Brauron close, ostensibly to comfort her after the fear, but of course Brauron is not the only one who needs comforting.

Do you now. It is not inflected as a question. You asked my name. This suggests to me that you already know it.

“No, we know what they called you,” says Artemis. “But like … we both, all of us here, we know that what they call you isn't always who you are.” She takes a breath. This was as much of a plan as she could come up with, and now she'll know if her hunch was right, if Mew-2 really is close enough to human for her to understand. “So,” she says. “What we'd like to know is your name.”

Silence. For the longest time. Long enough for Artemis to feel the cold sweat of her panic congealing on her brow, for Brauron to retreat nervously into the depths of her arms, for Cass to shrink visibly against the cave wall.

Somewhere very far away, water drips.

And then:

You are serious, says the voice. Well. There is strength too in wisdom. And you have the savour of the self-created about you. I will tell you that when you professed a desire to talk, you had my attention. Now you have my interest. A pause. Artemis isn't sure whether she's meant to say something or not. Very well, human. You may come and learn my name. Or you may leave.

They say it in such a way as leaves no doubt that this is an either/or kind of deal: if they go in, there is no guarantee that Mew-2 will let them out again. Frightening – but honestly, what isn't, at this point? And anyway, Artemis gets it, kind of. She hasn't enjoyed being part of Giovanni's breach experiments any more than Mew-2 has.

A look at Cass. A shared nod.

“Okay,” says Artemis, not knowing why she is their spokeswoman but feeling, somehow, that it is right. “We're coming.”

I will look forward to it.

A sense of something withdrawing, and then at last Artemis knows they are alone.

Cass breathes out.

“Ohhhmygod,” she mutters. “I mean, f*ck.” She looks at Artemis. “Sorry. I mean about grabbing you. I just – that was intense.”

“It's okay,” says Artemis. “It was pretty bad.”

“Yeah. Is that what a panic attack is like?”

“Kind of. Sometimes.” Artemis does not comment on the fact that Cass is assuming she has experience of panic attacks. She does have that experience, but she'd prefer it if Cass didn't assume. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Think so.” Cass swears again, then tosses Ringo's ball up in the air and releases him, the flash blinding in the dark. He settles onto her shoulder, entirely unperturbed. “Heya, buster,” she says, rubbing a knuckle along his neck. “You dodged a bullet there. We wouldn't ever have found you again if you'd been around to feel what we just felt.”

Squawk, he goes, in a fearless sort of way, and Cass smiles.

“Sure,” she says. “Like you'd have stayed. Okay, Artie. Ready to go meet our host?”

“Nope,” replies Artemis. “Let's go.”
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
*​

The cave is not Artemis' idea of a good time. It goes back a long way, getting narrower and darker, twisting back on itself in tight, claustrophobic knots. The further in they go, the more Artemis is aware that she is standing in a thin finger of air in the midst of all that stone, so much of it she thinks she can almost hear it creaking under the strain of its own weight, the pillars of rock and the jagged walls forever on the verge of collapsing inwards. Like being in a bubble underwater and trusting it won't burst. Except, of course, Artemis is no good at trusting anyone or anything, really, and she cannot make herself think that this bubble is not about to be crushed.

Brauron seems okay, clinging motionless to her chest, but Cass and Ringo both seem uneasy too, and Artemis takes a selfish sort of comfort in this. It's not just her, then. She's not being unreasonable and it's okay to be afraid.

(Or, comes the answering thought with chilling certainty and sideways logic, it's okay for them but not for you, because they have so much strength between them and you are a helpless piece of dead weight hanging on their backs, being carried by a salandit whose expertise covers for your own hopeless inadequacy.)

Artemis swallows, and presses on.

They see no wild pokémon. Ordinarily there would be zubat in a place like this, and geodude and possibly a small clan of pale, wiry cave machop, but there's nothing, no life here at all. Everything knows to stay away. Everything except Artemis.

She tries not to think about this, but even if she had that kind of willpower, she doubts she'd get very far. This is the kind of place that inspires regrets.

After a while, Cass speaks.

“Long way,” she whispers, subdued. “Sorry, didn't mean to make you jump. Just, like, did we miss a turning, or …?”

“Dunno,” says Artemis, hoping her voice can actually be heard over the frantic pounding of her heart. “Don't think so.”

“Okay,” says Cass. “Okay, I guess we keep going.”

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “I guess.”

Not long afterwards, they see a different shade of darkness up ahead, a dark that doesn't resolve into a wall when they shine their torches on it, and, with a brief look in each other's direction, they step through into what they can feel is a much bigger space. The air is different, slightly colder and less still, and while their torch beams can't seem to find the far wall they do pick out pieces of junk piled around them on the floor: bits of car and bikes, a small boat, engine blocks, smashed furniture, bones. (They don't look human, but.)

“Do … do you think this is it?” asks Artemis nervously, flicking her torch back and forth, looking for something living among the piles of refuse. “I mean, someone put all this here …”

“I dunno,” says Cass. “I guess we―”

Snarl of a motor, and then with a harsh clunk a floodlight hidden behind a pile of lawn furniture turns on, blindingly bright; Artemis throws up a hand to shield her eyes, wincing in pain, and just as quickly takes it away again, too afraid to look away. Squinting through the glare, she looks down the cavern to its other end, where the floodlight is pointed – and sees it.

Throne of mangled steel. Dead cow hanging from a hook. And, in front of both – Mew-2.

Tall, lithe, brawny; they are something like the pictures of mew Artemis looked up online, like an embryonic cat, but taller and tougher, built with the wiry strength of a human, muscles shifting beneath dull grey skin. They stand upright on two legs, thick tail waving slowly behind them, and on their horned brow they wear a crown of iron barbs.

This would be intimidating enough, but Artemis cannot help but notice that they also hold in one three-fingered hand what looks like it was once a stop sign, but which now has been cut and sharpened until the only word that really fits is battleaxe.

You stand where none have stood before, they say, their face motionless but their voice darkening Artemis' head like the wings of a thunderstorm against the sky. I am Sovereign, synthetic monarch.

Long pause. Even from forty feet away, Mew-2 – Sovereign – feels dangerous. Artemis has no doubt that if they wanted her dead, they could cross the space between them and make her so in less time than it would take to blink.

“Um,” she says. They're not attacking, Artie. They're here to talk. Right? Right. “Hi. I'm … I'm Artemis. And this is Brauron.”

Sss, says Brauron, glaring. Artemis is amazed. She has no idea how it is that Brauron isn't scared out of her wits.

“And, uh, we're Cass and Ringo,” says Cass. “I'm the first part.”

Artemis, Brauron, Cass, Ringo. Sovereign tilts their head slightly to one side. They have two necks, Artemis realises: one that supports their head, and another running like a cable from between their shoulder blades to the back of their skull. Something about the gap between the two makes her skin crawl. Living creatures aren't meant to have holes in them. Well. What is it that you want with me?

This is it, then. The moment when she has to explain herself.

Okay.

“It's Giovanni Dioli,” she says, and sees Sovereign's fingers tighten on the handle of their axe. “He's … he's doing something bad. Triggering breach events. And there are more and more of them, and I think he might have almost figured out how to control them, and―”

You would use me as he would have done
, says Sovereign. A weapon against the breach.

“No!” cries Artemis. “No, I – I know what he did, what he's trying to – I mean, he's trying to use me too. I, I'm not … the kind of person who can do that to someone. I'm asking for alliance, not … not servitude …”

She trails off in the face of Sovereign's overwhelming silence. They maintain it for a moment longer before they reply.

What would you know? they ask coldly. You are free.

Is she? For one long, dizzying second Artemis almost thinks she is, that this is all in her head, that nobody has irradiated her or arranged her life or ground down her will with quiet condescension until she has no more space for dreams left in her; that there is nothing wrong and she isn't a girl and she isn't even here, she's a shade camped out in the husk of a body that belongs to Giovanni, parents, ghost people, League, law, cops with eyes like broken glass and fingers like the leathery tails of subway rats. It boils in her, the old fear, foaming over into dissolution, turning her to ash in her borrowed skin―

Sss.

Brauron is here, climbing up and around her neck like a scarf of living flame, and her touch brings her back. Her name is Artemis Apanchomene. Her injuries are real. Sometimes she imagines that people are trying to hunt her down and kill her but the shackles on her exist as solidly as if they were steel and not ideology.

She touches Brauron briefly with her fingers, scratches gently at her tiny neck, and imagines that the warmth she feels flowing through her is life, resurrecting her like the breath of Ho-oh.

“Can you read minds?” she asks.

Yes. If I must. I consider it distasteful.

“Read mine,” she says. “Read mine and tell me what I know.”

Another of those silences. It's still scary, of course, but Artemis can see through it now. Sovereign is uneasy; they're not used to people finding their way here, let alone people who know about Giovanni's breach project. They aren't sure if they want to kill her or not, and they don't like it, of course, because they are obsessed with strength and this to them can't feel like a position of strength at all. So they're trying to intimidate her. And all right, it's working, but she understands, and that helps.

Very well, says Sovereign, after a moment. Approach me.

“Wait,” says Cass, alarmed. “Are, uh, are you sure about this?”

No, thinks Artemis.

“Yes,” she says. “I've, um, I have a plan.”

She counts to three, and on two she starts walking so that she can't chicken out, down between the piles of junk, towards where Sovereign waits. They're taller than her, she realises as she gets closer. By about half a foot. It feels weird. Kantans tend towards shortness; ordinarily, Artemis is the tallest person in the room. But then, nothing is ordinary about this particular encounter.

Closer. Past some battered circuit breakers, a coil of barbed wire (and an unpleasant memory), a smashed rowing boat with rotten oars. Closer, Sovereign growing clearer, the slitted pupils of their colourless eyes now clearly visible. Closer. And closer. And then―

There.

Sovereign looks down at her, just a few feet away. There are scars on their brow, where the jags and points of their barbed crown have cut into their skin. Something about this feels unbearably sad.

Ready yourself, they say, and without further preamble reach out with their free hand to grasp her skull. Artemis tenses up―

―leukaemia university Dad engineer functional psych ward Yellowbrick Giovanni spire radiation breach breach breach breach breach breach―

Sovereign pulls away, and Artemis stumbles back, gasping. For a long moment, she thinks she might be dead, and then she remembers that usually when she thinks that it isn't true and finds her way back into herself. Sovereign doesn't look any better; they reel, shaking their head as if to dislodge the memories they have shared in, and a strange yarring sound like the cry of a fighting cat bursts involuntarily from their lips. The two of them stare at each other for a moment, each fighting their own inner panic, and then, quite suddenly, it's over.

You have known cages
, Sovereign says, avoiding her eye. Blood trickles down their forehead, from where their crown cut into them as they shook their head. Your mind is … alarming.

Perhaps it's the remnants of the psychic link, but Artemis can just about detect a hint of the emotions beneath their words, consternation roiling in their skull. She's surprised, but then, she's spent nearly twenty years living with her brain now; maybe she's just used to the weirdness.

“I know,” she says.

A silence. Sovereign recovers their composure and watches her for a long moment, ignoring the blood running into their eyes.

Very well, they say at length. And you?

“Me?” asks Cass, startled. “Uh, what about me?”

What are you?


“What am …? Oh. You mean like … like that.” She hesitates. Artemis turns and catches her eye, trying to look encouraging. Cass' mouth pulls up at one corner into a transitory smile. “I guess – I guess I'm here because Artemis is,” she says, after a moment. “I dunno about cages or whatever, nobody's ever tried to experiment on me, but …” She shrugs. Ringo seems to forget to object; he just stares at Sovereign, wide-eyed and rigid. “It's the right thing to do,” Cass says. “And I kinda owe Artemis a bunch anyway.”

It's the right thing to do, repeats Sovereign. And you – you're serious, aren't you?

“Uh … yes?” Cass looks uneasy. “Is that a trick question? I feel like that's a trick question.”

They don't answer. For a moment, they say nothing at all, and then they turn and take several long steps back towards their throne of junk.

Very well, they say, facing them once again. Fight me.

Artemis blinks.

“What?”

Fight me. Sovereign's eyes are unreadable, like chips of lifeless quartz. You are trainers. I am a pokémon. Fight me.

“We're asking for your help …”

Then earn it, says Sovereign. Fight me. They kick gently against the ground and float into the air, legs dangling, the air around them blue and rippling with the vast strength of their psionics. Now.

“But,” says Artemis, meaning to say that this isn't the time, that they're beyond the point where pokémon training has any relevance, that if they don't stop Giovanni soon something unspecific but undoubtedly terrible will happen; Sovereign raises a hand and silences her with a look.

Now, they repeat, and punctuate it with a sharp, downward swing of their axe. Artemis flinches, all too aware of the impact of sharp objects on flesh, and takes a step back – but suddenly Cass is there, not touching but there, a comforting presence at her side, ordering Ringo down into the space between them and Sovereign.

“Okay, dude,” she says, as Ringo flares his wings and screeches. “You wanna do this, we'll show you what we got.” She looks up at Artemis, eyes bright and hard. “C'mon,” she says. “Listen, we're like twice as old as he is. We have totally got this.”

They, says Sovereign, tonelessly. And we shall see.

Artemis looks from them to Cass and back again. She breathes in, and out, and holds up her hand for Brauron to climb onto.

“Okay,” she says, chest tight but voice just about still working. “Okay, Sovereign. Let's do this.”

She bends down and lets Brauron down on the cave floor, next to Ringo. She glances at him for a moment, then hisses and flares her fins – actually flares her fins at Sovereign, at Mew-2, at a legendary pokémon hovering before her like an angel of death. Artemis doesn't know how she does it.

Sovereign looks down at her – at both of them, the two tiny little creatures whose eyes are barely level with their floating feet – and bares their teeth in something that might as easily be a grin as a snarl.

Ready, they say. And: Begin.
 
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Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Okay. I don't really know how to properly respond to that opening scene. Lemme try to words (and fail). It's really well done. I'm not sure if you were intending this chapter to be a wham moment of sorts, but that's the impression this gave me. Because, for one, Emilia finally lets slip that she may be even more like Artemis than the latter imagines. And while I, as the reader, have a kneejerk "aww, how heartwarming," reaction, the narration brutally rips that thought out of my mind, stomps on it a few times, and tosses it into a flaming pile of trash for good measure. Because, well, Artemis is quite clearly panicking. Having a bit of a mental breakdown as it were. And with what's going on, I certainly don't blame her. All of this is pure paranoia fuel. The thing is is that, while they're used sparingly, you weave in the lines of second-guessing and self doubt so well that it doesn't leave any room for a sense of relief or happiness. Especially when it leads to the ultimate revolution that this ROCKETS conspiracy may, in fact, have a strong white supremacy element to it. Which I think you hinted at before, but now it's laid out plain as day and the realizations that come with that are horrifying.

Then we get to the Cerulean Cave stuff, which doesn't start as I thought it would have, with the Cass casually bringing up her lack of friends (despite a relatively friendly demeanor throughout the story). And then it escalates from there into the reveal about Cass' behaviors. I'll admit I was expecting something about her having a girlfriend, possibly because of Go Home's subject matter, or maybe because Electric Sheep is still relatively fresh in my mind. Either way, it makes sense, and connects dots for the better parts of Artemis' and Cass' dynamic. And while there are still doubtful bits in the narration, they're not as frequently as the previous scene and they don't end up completely eliminating what is a very touching moment. Also, it's okay Cass, I got a kick out of your jokes about Cerulean! :V

Likewie, Emilia's bit with Effie is nice and touching, and kind of follows along with the string of things happening so far this chapter. It's just, I know this'll sound strange, and forgive me for saying it, but that bit of backstory sandwiched into the middle felt like it was lifted from earlier in the story and placed here. I'm probably just crazy. But, considering the very tense, Mewtwo-related stakes right now, this part felt a bit like it was a scene that was put in to break things up for the sake of having a breather moment. But it wasn't much of a breather moment since it's got a heavily downer bit to it. Also, since the gist of the flashback is Effie rushing to young!Emilia's defense, I can't help but feel like it might've been the type of memory that could've helped motivate her to turn against the League. Eh, I'm rambling at this point. Like I said, I'm probably just talking crazy here.

“Who you gonna call?” asks Cass wryly
GHOSTBUSTERS! I'm sorry, I had to. It's such a great song. :p

And then, Mewtwo. There's a brief sort of jumpscare horror moment. But then they start speaking, and there's a certain degree of elegance to them.

I will tell you that when you professed a desire to talk, you had my attention. Now you have my interest.
I'm sure this wasn't intentional, but the fact that you have a cultured Mewtwo and here they're basically paraphrasing the "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity... but now you have my attention," meme is hilarious.

Predictably, Mewtwo questions Artemis' motive, but she doesn't end up flinching. Showing quite a bit of courage, which goes to that "she's kind of an expert at dealing with fear and bad conversations" that's percolated throughout the chapter. With it ultimately leading to a need to prove their strength to Mewtwo. Frankly, the odds are overwhelmingly against them so I'm quite curious as to how you're going to have this go.

Now, they repeat, and punctuate it with a sharp,
I think that "Now" is missing itallics?

Anyway, aside from the scene with Emilia, this is hands down the strongest chapter for me in the whole thing. It's equal parts jarring and engaging. Well done! ^^
 
Whew! I've been gone for a little while, but I've finally caught up! Things have obviously gotten a little more intense since my last review, which is exciting. From my perspective, the biggest shakeup is the Cass reveal, but that's probably because their dynamic is one of my favorite parts of the story. It's pretty heartbreaking that someone Artemis has been using as a soft sort of lifeline ends up being a double agent, but I was glad to see them mostly smooth things over. I want for Cass to be good again very badly, but part of me is still screaming for Artie to be just a little more suspicious. Then again, I'm not sure constant paranoia is a healthy way to live, so maybe she deserves to just go with her gut on this one.

I was a little confused at her logic for forgiving Cass though. To me it seems that it's easy to understand why Cass, so disconnected from her family and apparently social life in general, would be so eager to please her aunt, which you touch on. But there are also a few moments where Artie reminds herself that Cass did it because she's nice, which was a little odd to me. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the phone calls felt more like a desire for praise and acceptance than kindness or an instinct to help. But that's just a minor thing, and probably something I'm not connecting the dots on anyway.

It's also killing me that Emilia is on the brink of losing her job and freedom. It's definitely admirable, but it's stressing me out haha. I'm interested in seeing exactly how this goes, since it seems like her only chances of things not going very badly are a) leaving the country, b) proving Giovanni's guilt to the point where the illegality is secondary, or c) Lorelei proving that her loyalty and friendship is just a little stronger than her pride and getting Emilia out of it somehow. All of those are technically possible I guess, but none of them seem super likely right now, so I'll be biting my nails until the end. I'm a little skeptical of her ignoring Lorelei's phone calls, since I would think radio silence would almost be more suspicious (and in general I don't think Emilia should be alienating potential allies), but I get why she would.

The cemetery scene was heartbreaking, as is the continued degradation (or regeneration, maybe) of Effie. You do a great job of showing the helplessness of just waiting for someone to die, and how desperately Emilia wants to put it off even as it soldiers forward. It's really a continual gut punch that's become a constant dread in the back of my mind as I'm reading this story, so great job there.

And finally, the last big shakeup is the stuff with Sovereign. I'm a little mixed on this part. The characters acknowledge that the strategy of fighting the breach by causing controlled breaches was not a great idea, but it seems like they're picking up where the original team left off and continuing with that strategy anyway. It's a little different this time--they're not just fighting breaches anymore, but rather glitch pokemon that are being controlled--but I'm still a little lost. I think part of this is the fact that I'm not 100% sure what the benefit of using a breach Pokemon would be anyway, other than a vague "fight fire with fire" sentiment, because right now it seems to boil down to the idea that you just need something big and strong when I know it must be a little more complex than that. Again, this is probably a lapse on my part, but maybe just a little more insight into the decision-making behind of finding Sovereign would help me out here.

That being said, as always you kill it with the personal-level stuff. The conversation with Sovereign about identity, cages, and morality was really great. It was nice that what is so consistently makes life harder for Artemis becomes something of a strength here, as she's able to connect with Sovereign in a way that most people couldn't. It's a darkly triumphant moment, but I would still call it a triumph. Now we'll just have to see how this battle goes!

So yeah, sorry for being so absent! I can't promise I'll be super consistent moving forward, but I assure you I'll be reading! This is too good not to keep up!
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 0F:

they pass almost no one else except a man walking his pinsir
Is. Is the pinsir on a leash. A little brightly-colored leash... maybe around a horn, since pinsir just has so much face. Somewhat related, I wonder what the pinsir equivalent of a dog sweater would be. It'd have to be cut pretty low, wouldn't it.

I just. really, really like the idea of giant pet beetles ok. :D

Ringo screams. One of the growlithe wakes up, yapping; the other simply rolls over and farts loudly.
How incredibly dog.

Hissy Brauron is cute, meanwhile. Which is to say, even cuter.

It's neat seeing a non-literal approach to the whole "Mew is the forebear of all pokémon" thing, partly since yeah, what about data on other pokémon that seems to suggest otherwise. Always neat to see someone successfully navigate and reconcile the pokédex's inconsistencies and absurdities.

The day plays out weirdly, like a movie of itself.
Holy crap, that is a relatable feeling.

Also I giggled at Columnar Dog Lady. Movies are like games, I suppose: sometimes you just gotta make your own fun.

Giant Red Spire continues to be wonderfully creepy, meanwhile. Creepy, and beautiful in a way I'm not sure how to articulate. Just, dang.

Chapter 10:

I like the protective gear Mark's described as having. After all, talons are effing sharp, and those are bird-of-prey talons. I've seen owl feet. Being on the receiving end of an owl that size would suck.

ONWARDS, says Nadia, which is what she says when she's trying to encourage people, and Emilia nods.
Lord knows I could do with a Nadia.

I wonder if the phone signal's **** in Lavender for Spoopy Ghost Reasons or simply because it's kind of remoteish. Or maybe both.

Somehow I would have never expected a breach that heals. Then I clicked the link at the end and of course. Cool to have seen that one implemented. :D

Chapter 11:

I've said it before, more or less, and I'll say it again: I really like how things like trust and betrayal and uncertainty are handled in this story. Possibly one of my favorite examples of this:

Emilia watches. Her eyes are clouded with sympathy, and Artemis doesn't know (except she does) (except she doesn't) (except) if it's real or if it's fake.
It's just so authentic.

Also I liked the heck out of the leaf stone explanation. That's just frickin' neat right there.

Emilia's guilt re: Effie is stronger than ever, and fittingly enough, it's easier to feel than ever. Cold, heavy, hollowing stuff.

Sss, says Brauron, glaring.
Cute...

She bends down and lets Brauron down on the cave floor, next to Ringo. She glances at him for a moment, then hisses and flares her fins – actually flares her fins at Sovereign, at Mew-2, at a legendary pokémon hovering before her like an angel of death. Artemis doesn't know how she does it.
So adorably sassy. Against that opponent though... hell yes do I ever fear for her. Her and Ringo versus something that could make a flaking bloodstain out of both of them with basically no effort. I guess the question, then, is would they. Would they obliterate the actual **** out of these pokémon, or will they hold back. I can't even guess.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Okay. I don't really know how to properly respond to that opening scene. Lemme try to words (and fail). It's really well done. I'm not sure if you were intending this chapter to be a wham moment of sorts, but that's the impression this gave me. Because, for one, Emilia finally lets slip that she may be even more like Artemis than the latter imagines. And while I, as the reader, have a kneejerk "aww, how heartwarming," reaction, the narration brutally rips that thought out of my mind, stomps on it a few times, and tosses it into a flaming pile of trash for good measure. Because, well, Artemis is quite clearly panicking. Having a bit of a mental breakdown as it were. And with what's going on, I certainly don't blame her. All of this is pure paranoia fuel. The thing is is that, while they're used sparingly, you weave in the lines of second-guessing and self doubt so well that it doesn't leave any room for a sense of relief or happiness.
I'm glad you think they're used sparingly, because sometimes it feels like I've shoved them in so densely that there's no room for anything else. But seriously, thank you. It's an important scene, marking the beginning of the end, and I'm very pleased to hear it had the weight I wanted it to have. Artemis gets some revelations, but doesn't get to enjoy them; Emilia opens up, but doesn't get to reap the benefits. Basically, everything has to get worse before it gets better, is the idea. And, well, given the nature of the system's everybody's fighting here, maybe things never will, in one sense at least.

Especially when it leads to the ultimate revolution that this ROCKETS conspiracy may, in fact, have a strong white supremacy element to it. Which I think you hinted at before, but now it's laid out plain as day and the realizations that come with that are horrifying.
Yeah, this is why I've written this particular Kanto as more European than Japanese, and why most of the major characters are either first- or second-generation immigrants: Artemis, Emilia, Mark, Giovanni. There's also a distinction to be drawn between those immigrants who are white and those who aren't, which I tried to sharpen as much as possible by having both Emilia and Giovanni be Italian, but only one of them white. Nationalist movements are so often tied up with race in a really poisonous sort of way, and given that I wanted to write about power, it felt like the conspiracy was incomplete without incorporating these elements, too.

Then we get to the Cerulean Cave stuff, which doesn't start as I thought it would have, with the Cass casually bringing up her lack of friends (despite a relatively friendly demeanor throughout the story). And then it escalates from there into the reveal about Cass' behaviors. I'll admit I was expecting something about her having a girlfriend, possibly because of Go Home's subject matter, or maybe because Electric Sheep is still relatively fresh in my mind. Either way, it makes sense, and connects dots for the better parts of Artemis' and Cass' dynamic. And while there are still doubtful bits in the narration, they're not as frequently as the previous scene and they don't end up completely eliminating what is a very touching moment. Also, it's okay Cass, I got a kick out of your jokes about Cerulean! :V
Possibly you're sort of expecting that because, not to put too fine a point on it, that's basically my thing? Like, I take the view that if straight and cis people are allowed to go through entire careers as writers without actually thinking to write about anyone who isn't straight or cis, I should have the luxury of going through mine without caring to write about anyone who is. And, apart from that, it's a question of what I'm interested in, the kinds of people I enjoy writing about and the kinds of experience I'm trying to represent with what I write, and I've always been more interested in the abject than in the acceptable.

Back to the scene in question: yeah, it felt like this was about the time when everything would come out and all the hints that something's up with Cass needed to build to a reveal. Like, they go into this knowing full well that it might kill them. They hope it won't, based on what Fuji said about Mew-2 and Artemis' suspicions about what it really means to be a monster, but they know that it might. It's an incredibly stressful situation – the kind that binds people together, and the kind that makes people start confessing – and all the more stressful for making Cass come back here, to this place that she started her journey more or less entirely just to run away from. Besides, the way I see it, Cass has been wanting to tell Artemis this for ages, suspecting she'd understand.

All of that is also an explanation for why Artemis doesn't doubt her as much as she otherwise might. She's been wanting to trust Cass all this time. And given that Cass has now entrusted her with her story, and is going to follow her into probably the most dangerous place in Kanto, that's … kind of compelling evidence that Cass might really be on her side, even for Artemis. I think I mentioned in a review response to diamondpearl876 a while back that the two of them might end up on a dangerous mission that would push them back together again after Cass' deception pulled them apart, and this is what I was talking about.

Likewie, Emilia's bit with Effie is nice and touching, and kind of follows along with the string of things happening so far this chapter. It's just, I know this'll sound strange, and forgive me for saying it, but that bit of backstory sandwiched into the middle felt like it was lifted from earlier in the story and placed here. I'm probably just crazy. But, considering the very tense, Mewtwo-related stakes right now, this part felt a bit like it was a scene that was put in to break things up for the sake of having a breather moment. But it wasn't much of a breather moment since it's got a heavily downer bit to it. Also, since the gist of the flashback is Effie rushing to young!Emilia's defense, I can't help but feel like it might've been the type of memory that could've helped motivate her to turn against the League. Eh, I'm rambling at this point. Like I said, I'm probably just talking crazy here.
No, that seems reasonable to me. These last three chapters have been cut up and rearranged so many times as I tried to keep each of them from getting too ridiculously long that this scene may well be from an earlier chapter, transplanted forwards for the sake of having an Emilia moment in the chapter or to prevent a previous chapter from being overlong. I do read through and do another edit before I post these, but at this point I've read these three chapters so many times that I can't tell what works and what doesn't – which is to say that your input's very much appreciated, and I'd agree with you that this isn't the best place to have this segment. I'm not sure where I'd move it to, exactly, and it's too important a piece of knowledge to cut, but I'll definitely have a look back through the past few chapters and see if there's a better place to stick it.


GHOSTBUSTERS! I'm sorry, I had to. It's such a great song. :p
I feel like that's more or less exactly what Cass herself would say. ;>

And then, Mewtwo. There's a brief sort of jumpscare horror moment. But then they start speaking, and there's a certain degree of elegance to them.

I'm sure this wasn't intentional, but the fact that you have a cultured Mewtwo and here they're basically paraphrasing the "Gentlemen, you had my curiosity... but now you have my attention," meme is hilarious.
I wasn't aware it was a meme, which, uh, possibly makes me unqualified to be writing someone like Cass. But I did want Sovereign to be not quite as elegant as they like to think they are. They're only ten, after all, no matter how developed their mind, and sometimes they lapse into cliché. 'A certain degree of elegance' is an excellent way of putting it.

Predictably, Mewtwo questions Artemis' motive, but she doesn't end up flinching. Showing quite a bit of courage, which goes to that "she's kind of an expert at dealing with fear and bad conversations" that's percolated throughout the chapter. With it ultimately leading to a need to prove their strength to Mewtwo. Frankly, the odds are overwhelmingly against them so I'm quite curious as to how you're going to have this go.
Man, I got too excited there and wrote out a spoiler for the next chapter before deleting it. Anyway, the point is, winning isn't the only way to prove your worth. And that's more or less all I'm going to say about it.

I think that "Now" is missing itallics?
Quite right. I'll fix that.

Anyway, aside from the scene with Emilia, this is hands down the strongest chapter for me in the whole thing. It's equal parts jarring and engaging. Well done! ^^
I'm glad you think so! I've reread it too many times in editing for it to be one of my favourites, but I'm happy that all that chopping and rewriting ended up with a good result. Thank you for reading, and for reviewing!

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
Whew! I've been gone for a little while, but I've finally caught up! Things have obviously gotten a little more intense since my last review, which is exciting. From my perspective, the biggest shakeup is the Cass reveal, but that's probably because their dynamic is one of my favorite parts of the story. It's pretty heartbreaking that someone Artemis has been using as a soft sort of lifeline ends up being a double agent, but I was glad to see them mostly smooth things over. I want for Cass to be good again very badly, but part of me is still screaming for Artie to be just a little more suspicious. Then again, I'm not sure constant paranoia is a healthy way to live, so maybe she deserves to just go with her gut on this one.
I'm glad you like it. I've had a great time charting the changing dynamic between the two of them, as various things get revealed and they get closer, and further apart, and closer again. Constant paranoia is probably not a very healthy way to live, no, and given that it's sort of what characterises Artemis' life, I think the fact that she's trying to move beyond it even after what was revealed about Cass is (mostly) a positive thing. Or like, it's positive for her general life. Less so, perhaps, for dealing with the ROCKETS conspiracy, but that's how things go, unfortunately.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
I was a little confused at her logic for forgiving Cass though. To me it seems that it's easy to understand why Cass, so disconnected from her family and apparently social life in general, would be so eager to please her aunt, which you touch on. But there are also a few moments where Artie reminds herself that Cass did it because she's nice, which was a little odd to me. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the phone calls felt more like a desire for praise and acceptance than kindness or an instinct to help. But that's just a minor thing, and probably something I'm not connecting the dots on anyway.
You're absolutely right about Cass – more right than Artemis. I think your confusion here is down to the fact that you're expecting Artemis' reasoning to be correct, and that isn't always the case; she's human, and pretty young, really, and sometimes she gets things wrong. She reminds herself Cass is nice because she wants to believe that, not because it's necessarily the explanation for why Cass acted the way she did. I'd also point out that her deciding to move past what Cass did and rebuild their friendship is not necessarily the same thing as forgiving her. Forgiveness isn't the only way to move past a mistake, and, as Artemis has mentioned before, you don't have to forgive someone just because they've apologised, or even because they're genuinely contrite.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
It's also killing me that Emilia is on the brink of losing her job and freedom. It's definitely admirable, but it's stressing me out haha. I'm interested in seeing exactly how this goes, since it seems like her only chances of things not going very badly are a) leaving the country, b) proving Giovanni's guilt to the point where the illegality is secondary, or c) Lorelei proving that her loyalty and friendship is just a little stronger than her pride and getting Emilia out of it somehow. All of those are technically possible I guess, but none of them seem super likely right now, so I'll be biting my nails until the end. I'm a little skeptical of her ignoring Lorelei's phone calls, since I would think radio silence would almost be more suspicious (and in general I don't think Emilia should be alienating potential allies), but I get why she would.
You're right that it's not the most sensible course of action, but like, if Emilia's story's got you stressed out then think how much it's stressing her out – like Artemis, she's only human, and while she's older and in many ways wiser she still makes mistakes. But, speaking of being stressed out, I'm glad that it's got the kind of weight I wanted it to have.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
The cemetery scene was heartbreaking, as is the continued degradation (or regeneration, maybe) of Effie. You do a great job of showing the helplessness of just waiting for someone to die, and how desperately Emilia wants to put it off even as it soldiers forward. It's really a continual gut punch that's become a constant dread in the back of my mind as I'm reading this story, so great job there.
Thank you! Always a pleasure when something you write stabs someone in the heart.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
And finally, the last big shakeup is the stuff with Sovereign. I'm a little mixed on this part. The characters acknowledge that the strategy of fighting the breach by causing controlled breaches was not a great idea, but it seems like they're picking up where the original team left off and continuing with that strategy anyway. It's a little different this time--they're not just fighting breaches anymore, but rather glitch pokemon that are being controlled--but I'm still a little lost. I think part of this is the fact that I'm not 100% sure what the benefit of using a breach Pokemon would be anyway, other than a vague "fight fire with fire" sentiment, because right now it seems to boil down to the idea that you just need something big and strong when I know it must be a little more complex than that. Again, this is probably a lapse on my part, but maybe just a little more insight into the decision-making behind of finding Sovereign would help me out here.
Right, I might clarify this: the difference between their seeking out Sovereign and the original idea of the Mew-2 project begins with Fuji revealing that Mew-2 is a person rather than a monster, or rather that they are a person and a monster, and with Artemis and Cass seeking them out in that capacity. As Artemis says to Sovereign, she's asking, not taking, and Sovereign is allying with them rather than coming under their control.

As for why Cass and Artemis go after them in the first place … well, they actually don't have a plan yet, which is why you can't see what their plan is. They don't know what to do, but they suspect they know someone else who hates Giovanni and ROCKETS, someone who could probably single-handedly destroy the organisation if pointed in the right direction, and so all they can think of to do is go after them and say, hey, something awful is happening, can you help at all? Which admittedly isn't much of a plan, but it's all they've got.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
That being said, as always you kill it with the personal-level stuff. The conversation with Sovereign about identity, cages, and morality was really great. It was nice that what is so consistently makes life harder for Artemis becomes something of a strength here, as she's able to connect with Sovereign in a way that most people couldn't. It's a darkly triumphant moment, but I would still call it a triumph. Now we'll just have to see how this battle goes!
Thanks. It is indeed a triumph, and that's exactly what I wanted. I like a good story about the monsters on the margins banding together against whatever banal evil happens to be hegemonic, and especially when the very thing that condemns them to the margins becomes their greatest strength. It's not the last time we'll see one of what Artemis sees as her weaknesses be integral to her success.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18514013 said:
So yeah, sorry for being so absent! I can't promise I'll be super consistent moving forward, but I assure you I'll be reading! This is too good not to keep up!
Not at all! Read at your own pace; I update relatively quickly and with rather long chapters, so I know I tend to get ahead of people a bit. Anyway, thank you for reading, and for your comments!

Is. Is the pinsir on a leash. A little brightly-colored leash... maybe around a horn, since pinsir just has so much face. Somewhat related, I wonder what the pinsir equivalent of a dog sweater would be. It'd have to be cut pretty low, wouldn't it.

I just. really, really like the idea of giant pet beetles ok. :D
Yeah, I thought you might. :p I love the idea too, which is why I decided that since I have total creative control over my version of the pokémon world, that general Western phobia of insects isn't a thing there and everyone is open to the idea of giant pet beetles.

As for a pinsir sweater, I think the important thing would be for it to be properly ventilated. As (nominal) insects, pinsir probably breathe through holes in their carapace, so you'd want to avoid potentially blocking those up.

How incredibly dog.
Thank you! I like fictional dogs much more than real ones, and I like writing them a lot, for some reason. I guess it gives me that sense of satisfaction I get from writing an animal in an animal-y sort of way.

It's neat seeing a non-literal approach to the whole "Mew is the forebear of all pokémon" thing, partly since yeah, what about data on other pokémon that seems to suggest otherwise. Always neat to see someone successfully navigate and reconcile the pokédex's inconsistencies and absurdities.
Thanks! I feel like so many pokémon are so obviously representative of things in the real world that people in the pokémon world would have noticed at some point. They live in a world that's incredibly dense with natural symbolism, to the extent that there's no way to explain it in line with the rules of our reality. So, given that I'm already saying “yeah, elemental energy is totally a thing”, I felt justified in saying “by the way, the pokémon world runs on myth-logic” too, and to characterise the inhabitants of that world as understanding that and having ways of studying it.

Holy crap, that is a relatable feeling.
The coldest comfort: knowing that someone else feels the way you do too. At any rate, I'm glad it's relatable.

Also I giggled at Columnar Dog Lady. Movies are like games, I suppose: sometimes you just gotta make your own fun.
You absolutely do.

Giant Red Spire continues to be wonderfully creepy, meanwhile. Creepy, and beautiful in a way I'm not sure how to articulate. Just, dang.
Oh good, I'm glad that came across. It's meant to be beautiful in an eerie kind of way, as well as creepy.

I like the protective gear Mark's described as having. After all, talons are effing sharp, and those are bird-of-prey talons. I've seen owl feet. Being on the receiving end of an owl that size would suck.
Yeah, I had to come up with a way that people could ride on flying pokémon that aren't actually big enough for you to sit on. Like, I can buy that they can carry you with their supernatural pokémon strength, but I'm not sure that there's physically room to lie on a noctowl's back – they're about five feet tall, but it looks like at least eighteen inches of that is head and crest. So I had to figure out a way of making it work, and that way was shoulderpads. Inelegant, but it works.

Lord knows I could do with a Nadia.
We could all do with a Nadia.

I wonder if the phone signal's **** in Lavender for Spoopy Ghost Reasons or simply because it's kind of remoteish. Or maybe both.
In my head it was just remoteness, but both is good!

Somehow I would have never expected a breach that heals. Then I clicked the link at the end and of course. Cool to have seen that one implemented. :D
Well, there are only so many glitch pokémon you can introduce before you start repeating yourself – most are really pretty similar, in terms of how they'd play out as narrative elements. So I cast my net a bit wider. Anyway, I'm glad you liked it!

I've said it before, more or less, and I'll say it again: I really like how things like trust and betrayal and uncertainty are handled in this story. Possibly one of my favorite examples of this:

It's just so authentic.
Good to know. I thought that line might be taking things a bit too far; it's nice to have that reassurance.

Also I liked the heck out of the leaf stone explanation. That's just frickin' neat right there.
I just like explaining things, you guys, everything needs an associated headcanon.

So adorably sassy. Against that opponent though... hell yes do I ever fear for her. Her and Ringo versus something that could make a flaking bloodstain out of both of them with basically no effort. I guess the question, then, is would they. Would they obliterate the actual **** out of these pokémon, or will they hold back. I can't even guess.
Well! One week from now, you'll find out, I guess. As I said to Ambyssin above, winning isn't the only way to prove your worth – but more than that, I'll not say. Thank you for reading and responding! Next time: Artemis and Cass face off against Sovereign, while Emilia runs into a spot of trouble with the powers that be.
 

Manchee

extra toasty
Hello! I am a bit late to the party and only just read the first chapter last night, but I hope I'm still invited! :p

So, this is the first fic I've read in... years, honestly. I really fell out of it and focused on college and other things, and it was really hard to come back to it, but I'm very pleased I came back to this one. I'm a sucker for fics set in Kanto, and I don't think I've ever read something that wasn't a journey fic at its core (which this might be, I have no idea, lol). From just reading the first chapter, I'm really hoping this story is seen to the end because you've got a great writing style and this story is bound to be a good one.

I'm fascinated by Artemis. Not just for her being trans, but her introduction and the somewhat subtlety of what she's going through was very well-written. Your pacing is fantastic, and I love your breaks in sequences to give us an insight into what's going through her mind. She thinks and acts similarly to a lot of people I know, and I appreciate being able to see that kind of person here in your story. It's refreshing, honestly, to see someone so different and relatable at the same time. I'm itching to get back into writing a fic, and your portrayal of an older trainer starting out a journey is great inspiration!

Also, your descriptions of the Pokémon world are really captivating, too. I've never seen someone include Pokémon descriptions so well (i.e. giving varying types of Pokémon, like a mossy Geodude, etc.), and I think it gave your first chapter a lot more richness, especially to an area of the games that almost all Pokémon fans are familiar with. And the way you introduced that glitch/monster/huge beam of light! I had never heard of it before, and while reading I'm thinking, "Uh huh, okay, this is weird but I'm intrigued," but then when I clicked onthe link you provided at the end- it genuinely crept me tf out! I look forward to reading more :)

edit, because I am now through chapter five:

This story is something else. Honestly. I'm literally captivated by how much emotion and feeling you've put into this! I stay up late just to finish more reading, and I don't even feel bad about it. And then I want to keep reading more! Your Kanto feels so incredibly real, and it's the minor details and nuances that you give to the setting and characters that make it so, i.e. things like your variations in Spearow/Rattata, or your characterizations of Brock and Giovanni. It's hard to pull off making canon characters feel real and like many others have said, I really like what you've done here.

One part that I was confused on, and feel stupid for not being able to figure out, was this bit of dialogue:

Cutlerine said:
“Miss Santangelo?” he asks. “Detective Inspector Albert Harkness. The chief said someone would be coming.”

He sounds unhappy about it, but then, he looks like the kind of guy who's unhappy about most things. Emilia decides to give him one chance.

Ms Santangelo,” she corrects. “I'm here representing the League's interest.”

“That's what I said, isn't it?” asks Harkness, and Emilia watches his one chance go up in flames. Okay. She's been visibly non-Kantan in this country for long enough to know an a*shole when she sees one. Fortunately, her League position means she doesn't have to be nice.
What is the differentiation between 'Miss' and 'Ms?' I'm not sure if it's because I live in the U.S. or if I'm not aware of something, but I've been pronouncing 'Ms' as 'Miss' this whole time :eek:

I'm really enjoying Artemis's character development. It was starting to feel a little slow while she traveled to Viridian (I think that's because I was really enjoying the scenes with Emilia more at the time), but now that she is with Cass, I like what's happening with her. It feels really... good. And natural, which I appreciate. Too often with journey fics (not sure if this will continue to progress in typical journey fic fashion, but I'm excited) it feels like travelling partners are forced together. Her relationship with Salandit is awesome, too.

Which brings me to a point I wanted to make- my favorite part of this entire fic so far is how you set up the bonds between trainer and Pokémon. That is something I'm going to be working on for myself as I try to get back into fic writing because I'm in love with how much personality you are putting into each Pokémon just by setting up these wonderful relationships with their trainers. I expected Effie to die/be dying when Emilia returned home, but it didn't take away from the sadness I felt when it actually happened, and you did that perfectly with Emilia's response and description of their time spent together. It really says something about your writing skills here to be able to give so much emotion between a main character and one that we know of as dying more than being alive. I'm really excited to see how this trend continues!

That's about it for now! :)
 
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Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
I do agree with the others that the opening chapter with Artemis's feelings of betrayal and uncertainty works well there. The "nobody has to believe Artemis if they don't want to" line sums up what she has been through her whole life in more ways than one.

Artemis and Cass's conversation while they were in Cerulean goes more indepth Cass's backstory. I thought Artemis telling Cass that the stuff she's going though matters is touching and sweet. And woo, finally Mewtwo's appearance. I'm liking your version of them here, the few fics I've read with Mewtwo tend to have them more angsty and/or rampaging mad, so this is a nice change. I also can't wait to find out how this battle will go.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Review for Chapter 2

After reading this chapter, I kind of kicked myself for not continuing this story. I must say, this story is indeed pretty darn good. If I recall correctly, you're incorporating glitch Pokémon from the original gen 1-2 games into the plot, right? Well, I can say that u really dig the mystery and suspenseful atmosphere. I also liked Emilia's character a lot, and Artemis too has grown on me. Well, I'll be hopping in from time to time till I eventually catch up. Until then, keep writing this great tale of yours! b)^^)b
 

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
0D: HUMAN ERROR

Maybe all that was a lie too.

She sighs and unbends from over the sink. She can't do it, she just can't. Perhaps she isn't cut out for hate.

Either way, she's going to have to talk to her eventually. So. Time to get her head together and go back out there.
Artemis's pain and suspicion after finding out the truth about Cass's motives stings just as much as I thought it'd would. She does handle it slightly better than I expected, though, in that she gets back on good terms with Cass relatively quickly. That's not really a complaint, more an observation in that perhaps this just attests to how close these two are, how far Artemis has come throughout the story, how sincere Cass is, or some mix of those things.

Nothing is ever generous enough to mean just one thing.
This line hit hard because it's true. There seems to be an ulterior motive in everything said or done, I think, no matter how sincere someone's trying to be.

“God, she is just super cute, huh,” observes Cass. “Ringo, are you taking notes? This is how you endear yourself to people.”

He squawks and nips at her ear.

“Yeah, okay buster, I love you too.”
This is adorable. <3 Birbs! Their interactions always make me smile, haha.

No, Artemis has never had a pet. They are expensive, for one thing. And for another, she has been too ill for too long: while she had leukaemia, nobody in her family had the time or inclination to take on even more responsibility, and then after that terrible night and the intervention of the mental health crisis team, nobody trusted her to look after anything anyway, not even herself. But this is a long and tedious story that will just alienate Cass and force her to feel sorry for her, so instead Artemis just shakes her head.
That feeling when even the most mundane, innocent questions have such a sad story behind them... Sigh.

“Yes, of course. I didn't know that it was breach until I started digging a few weeks ago, but I knew some entity had broken containment there.” Emilia stops there: Artemis doesn't need to know any more than that, for now at least. She'd like to be totally honest with her, but if this is going to work then Artemis has to have some faith in her, and telling her that she's the one who led that cover-up is not the way to earn that faith. She'll tell her later, she promises herself. Just … not now. “It was quite a big deal back then. A lot of League personnel died. We had to respond.”
I... predicted this conversation wouldn't go over well, either, and it didn't. It's interesting, comparing and contrasting Artemis's reaction to Cass's betrayal and then Emilia's. Cass's is more on a personal level yet Artemis is able to hold herself together regardless, yet in Emilia's case, the panic comes through in the writing far more and Artemis's thoughts don't really focus on Emilia in the aftermath as much as with Cass's situation. Then again, I guess she's got a lot more to worry about when she's preparing to go meet Mewtwo...

But the thing is (because of course, there's always something else), Fuji does not exactly care for the League these days. He was extremely uncooperative in the aftermath of the M entity incident, and frankly Emilia does not blame him. If League lawyers knock on his door asking questions, he's going to clam up tighter than an anxious shellder.
You weave the backstories like this into the story so naturally. XD It never feels like an infodump or something that breaks the flow of what's happening, so kudos there.

It does sting. She can't deny it. Artemis has given up a lot of things because of the concerns of others: she likes history and art, but studies sciences; she is a daughter, but plays the son. Her trainer journey is the one thing she refused to give up, no matter what her parents thought of it, and now she's going to shelve that too, because once again there's something more important to think about than what would make her happy.
I hope Artemis comes to learn that you can't please everyone and that her happiness is just as important as anyone else's...

0E: OLD WOUNDS

At this point, even if she quit the League entirely, they probably wouldn't ask for Nadia back. Not only is she too attuned to Emilia to work with anyone else, but after all this time she's as much her partner as Effie ever was, and the taboo about separating human and pokémon partners would apply. Nadia isn't like a regular animal; with the uncomfortable exception of the Fuji Labs' copyrighted clones (and that is something the League is getting close to being able to overturn), pokémon cannot legally be owned, in Kanto at least. Technically she is an employee of the Indigo League, not its property, and if she decided one day that she'd had enough there would be nothing anyone could do to stop her leaving.
Ohh, love the worldbuilding here. It brings into play not only pokemon sentience but how society and the government treat pokemon based on said sentience. I wonder if this is foreshadowing, too, in that Emilia's leaving the League (this is obvious after I've caught up, but yeah, I guess you never know what twists could happen) and so the League might try to eventually take Nadia away from her.

SUNFLOWER EMILIA, replies Nadia, hopping closer.

Emilia stares, touched. Sunflower seeds are her favourite; just as what she hates is furret, so what she likes is sunflower.

“Yeah?” she asks. It's ridiculous, but she almost feels like she might cry again.

Nadia broadcasts confirmation. Emilia smiles a wobbly kind of smile.

All right, she thinks. Maybe she can work with this after all.
This scene made me feel fuzzy in the best kind of way. <3 I love these two.

It is time. Emilia turns and leaves, feeling – she isn't sure what; some kind of sorrow, sure, but something light and buoyant, too. Like a debt has been discharged. Like a failing connection has been restored. She tells herself that this is silly, that it's been eight years and that that's longer than she and Sam even knew each other; still, the feeling lingers.
Emilia's grief shines through well in this scene. Everyone grieves differently, and Emilia's was to... not act on said grief for a very long time, but since she's the type of person who always feels like she has to be productive and doing something, it makes sense she'd beat herself up over this anyway.

0F: THE LINES ARE NOW OPEN

“Simple,” she says again. “Mark Trelawney.”
I kinda saw this coming, but it's the only sensical choice, so. XD Mark's skepticism of all of this is written well. I don't get a solid grasp on his character overall as much as the others, but he serves the story's plot well enough and is/was an obstacle for Emilia in a lot of ways, so I'd still say he's effective in that regard.

“Nadia, you're the best.” Emilia gets up, mind suddenly buzzing with potential actions. “Right. Phone calls. I should arrange a meeting with Mark, and then―”

HOLD, says Nadia, hopping closer. EAT.
I'm glad Emilia's at least trying to take care of herself, even if it is a struggle still right now.

“I only wish I could do more,” he replies. “Goodbye, then …”

The way he trails off makes him sound almost as if he doesn't want them to leave. It must be a relief, being able to talk about it at last, after all this time. Artemis feels for him, although (she is ashamed to admit) not enough to want to stay any longer.

“Goodbye,” she says, finding her voice again. “Thank you.”
Cass trying to help Artemis when Mr. Fuji closes in physically is a sweet part. There's something bittersweet, too, in how lonely Mr. Fuji is but how there's only so much of that Artemis can really stand. When you're miserable, there's really only so much of another person's misery you can take, too, before you really should focus on self-care.

10: ROCKETS RISING

“I think I just saw the universe break,” he says.
I don't think I could describe what happened any better myself, to be honest.

It feels like the story's coming to a close at this point. What with Cass's ominous message from her aunt about her role in this being over soon to the proof that Giovanni has control over breach events to Mewtwo's involvement to Emilia's leaving the League and acting on final, desperate measures... It's all coming to gether very nicely.

11: THE MONARCH OF THE BREACH

Artemis is touched, and guilty. Her weakness is poisonous, she knows, an insidiously manipulative vulnerability that forces those who care about her to waste time and effort in making her feel better. All Brauron's attention proves is that Artemis has suckered another poor soul into slaking her endless thirst for reassurance.
I want to give Artemis a hug. Brauron's shown nothing but loyalty and love yet she still doubts herself.

Cass blinks. Artemis can see the revelation dawning, the way it did on her, way back in that one therapy session. That what happens to you really matters, no matter how small it seems in the grand scheme of things. Because guess what, you aren't the grand scheme of things, you're just one person, and your life might be small but it's all you've got, and if it's not working out for you then you can't afford not to do something about it.

Probably Cass won't believe it yet. That's okay. It usually takes a while.
Yes, yes it does.

I'm glad I caught up on this. Finally. Sometimes falling behind on fics you love like this is great because then you can read a ton in one go and just get lost in it. So. I'll be back for more. 8D
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Hello! I am a bit late to the party and only just read the first chapter last night, but I hope I'm still invited! :p
Hello! And of course. The more the merrier.

So, this is the first fic I've read in... years, honestly. I really fell out of it and focused on college and other things, and it was really hard to come back to it, but I'm very pleased I came back to this one. I'm a sucker for fics set in Kanto, and I don't think I've ever read something that wasn't a journey fic at its core (which this might be, I have no idea, lol).
Well, I'm flattered you chose this one to come back to! Hopefully we hang onto you. This is kind of a journey fic, but also kind of not really, because while Artemis is trying to go on a trainer journey, other things keep getting in the way.

From just reading the first chapter, I'm really hoping this story is seen to the end because you've got a great writing style and this story is bound to be a good one.
You'll be pleased to know that this story is already complete, then! I finished it a few months ago; I'm just pacing the chapters out so as not to overwhelm people. And I'm really not the type to abandon stories once I've got going, unless I really have no other choice. It feels like such a waste of effort to have done, say, fifty thousand words and then to just let that go; I like to see projects through to completion.

I'm fascinated by Artemis. Not just for her being trans, but her introduction and the somewhat subtlety of what she's going through was very well-written. Your pacing is fantastic, and I love your breaks in sequences to give us an insight into what's going through her mind. She thinks and acts similarly to a lot of people I know, and I appreciate being able to see that kind of person here in your story. It's refreshing, honestly, to see someone so different and relatable at the same time. I'm itching to get back into writing a fic, and your portrayal of an older trainer starting out a journey is great inspiration!
I'm very glad to hear it. I'm always glad to get someone else inspired to get writing. And I'm also pleased that you like the way I introduced Artemis. She's a complicated person, and with complicated people there's always a temptation to rush in and give all the details right away. I try to hold back, but I did give a lot of detail in that first chapter alone, and it's good to hear that that felt welcome rather than leaden.

Also, your descriptions of the Pokémon world are really captivating, too. I've never seen someone include Pokémon descriptions so well (i.e. giving varying types of Pokémon, like a mossy Geodude, etc.), and I think it gave your first chapter a lot more richness, especially to an area of the games that almost all Pokémon fans are familiar with. And the way you introduced that glitch/monster/huge beam of light! I had never heard of it before, and while reading I'm thinking, "Uh huh, okay, this is weird but I'm intrigued," but then when I clicked onthe link you provided at the end- it genuinely crept me tf out! I look forward to reading more :)
Thank you! I love pokémon subspecies, and padding out the pokédex to help it better reflect the richness of real ecosystems is something I can happily spend hours of my free time on. Actually, I kind of love the whole worldbuilding thing in general, which is where I guess all that description comes from; I wanted to come up with a lively Kanto full of culture, politics and wildlife, all the things that make a place real. I'm pleased to hear you liked it.

Also that you like the glitches. RBY are glitchy games, in the best of ways – they're so economically designed that, faced with unexpected data, they read it as an encounter or a trainer or whatever instead of just crashing, and that's not really something you get any more. So this is my celebration of that, in a sense.

This story is something else. Honestly. I'm literally captivated by how much emotion and feeling you've put into this! I stay up late just to finish more reading, and I don't even feel bad about it. And then I want to keep reading more! Your Kanto feels so incredibly real, and it's the minor details and nuances that you give to the setting and characters that make it so, i.e. things like your variations in Spearow/Rattata, or your characterizations of Brock and Giovanni. It's hard to pull off making canon characters feel real and like many others have said, I really like what you've done here.
Thank you! The games don't give you much to go on if you want to write about characters like Brock or Giovanni, so I had to make up most of what I wrote, and it's always a pleasure to hear that the stuff you invent about canon characters goes down well. And like I said, I love worldbuilding, in particular the sort of worldbuilding where a big picture emerges out of a thousand tiny details, and this fic has given me ample opportunity to indulge that interest.

What is the differentiation between 'Miss' and 'Ms?' I'm not sure if it's because I live in the U.S. or if I'm not aware of something, but I've been pronouncing 'Ms' as 'Miss' this whole time :eek:
Interesting! Maybe it's a regional thing. I pronounce Ms as 'Miz', which is pretty standard where I'm from, and that's how I've written it here.

I'm really enjoying Artemis's character development. It was starting to feel a little slow while she traveled to Viridian (I think that's because I was really enjoying the scenes with Emilia more at the time), but now that she is with Cass, I like what's happening with her. It feels really... good. And natural, which I appreciate. Too often with journey fics (not sure if this will continue to progress in typical journey fic fashion, but I'm excited) it feels like travelling partners are forced together. Her relationship with Salandit is awesome, too.
Emilia was up to some interesting stuff at the time, it's true. But thank you. The things that really make stories for me are characters and the drama they create, so while I love playing around with setting and stuff, I usually think of all my stuff as drama first and foremost, and I spend a lot of time arranging the characters so that their interactions both feel natural and serve the demands of the story. So it means a lot when people compliment that aspect specifically.

Which brings me to a point I wanted to make- my favorite part of this entire fic so far is how you set up the bonds between trainer and Pokémon. That is something I'm going to be working on for myself as I try to get back into fic writing because I'm in love with how much personality you are putting into each Pokémon just by setting up these wonderful relationships with their trainers. I expected Effie to die/be dying when Emilia returned home, but it didn't take away from the sadness I felt when it actually happened, and you did that perfectly with Emilia's response and description of their time spent together. It really says something about your writing skills here to be able to give so much emotion between a main character and one that we know of as dying more than being alive. I'm really excited to see how this trend continues!

That's about it for now! :)
Thanks! The biggest draw of the pokémon world for me is the monsters, and I feel like concentrating on just my human characters goes against the spirit of what I like most about the franchise – so I always try to put in some effort towards making the pokémon as present and characterful as the humans. The games have this weird tension in them where thematically they encourage you to think of pokémon as partners, as allies and friends, but mechanically they encourage you to think of them as collections of stats, as tools, and there are several different ways you can respond to this, but the way I always go for is to say okay, I don't have to think about mechanics here, I can focus on the themes and make the pokémon the characters that the games would like them to be.

Anyway, thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful and considered response! Hopefully the story continues to live up to your expectations, and I also hope that that inspiration you're cultivating develops into a full fic sometime; I'd love to see it!

I do agree with the others that the opening chapter with Artemis's feelings of betrayal and uncertainty works well there. The "nobody has to believe Artemis if they don't want to" line sums up what she has been through her whole life in more ways than one.
Thanks. It's something that was first brought up in the first chapter, and it's very satisfying to have got to the stage where it all comes back around again to feed into the set-up for the dénouement.

Artemis and Cass's conversation while they were in Cerulean goes more indepth Cass's backstory. I thought Artemis telling Cass that the stuff she's going though matters is touching and sweet. And woo, finally Mewtwo's appearance. I'm liking your version of them here, the few fics I've read with Mewtwo tend to have them more angsty and/or rampaging mad, so this is a nice change. I also can't wait to find out how this battle will go.
Glad you like them! I feel like the interesting thing with mewtwo is really what it feels like to have been created for someone else's benefit, and how someone might react to that. And like Artemis is worried that she's artificial, of course; mewtwo felt like a very appropriate pokémon to cast alongside her.

Review for Chapter 2

After reading this chapter, I kind of kicked myself for not continuing this story. I must say, this story is indeed pretty darn good. If I recall correctly, you're incorporating glitch Pokémon from the original gen 1-2 games into the plot, right? Well, I can say that u really dig the mystery and suspenseful atmosphere. I also liked Emilia's character a lot, and Artemis too has grown on me. Well, I'll be hopping in from time to time till I eventually catch up. Until then, keep writing this great tale of yours! b)^^)b
Thank you for reading! I'm pleased to hear you're enjoying this weird story about weird stuff happening to not-so-weird people. And yes, it's all about RBY glitches; this fic is, among other things, my love letter to those games, which I adore for all kinds of reasons. It's also about conspiracy theories and stuff, I guess. Take your time catching up; the story's not going anywhere, and soon enough the whole thing will be up for you to browse through at your leisure.

Artemis's pain and suspicion after finding out the truth about Cass's motives stings just as much as I thought it'd would. She does handle it slightly better than I expected, though, in that she gets back on good terms with Cass relatively quickly. That's not really a complaint, more an observation in that perhaps this just attests to how close these two are, how far Artemis has come throughout the story, how sincere Cass is, or some mix of those things.
All of the above, I guess. This journey has been really good for Artemis – like, I haven't dwelt on it because it's not where I want to take the story, but in the background, you've probably noticed that many of her interactions with the Kantan public have gone better than she might have expected. People are okay with her existing, for the most part. That, combined with the fact that she has a partner for whom she's taken responsibility even though nobody believed she could (not even herself), to say nothing of how good a trainer she's turned out to be, has really done a lot for her.

Then there's Cass, of course. Artemis doesn't always quite judge her correctly, even now but she's getting better at it all the time, and the two of them have been through a whole bunch of weird stuff together. She's probably closer to Cass than she has been to anyone but Chelle for … well, years, at this point; it's hard to give that up, even if she feels a little uncertain at times about how exactly to feel about her.

And then also there's the fact that I should probably let the story speak for itself. >.> Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying it.

This line hit hard because it's true. There seems to be an ulterior motive in everything said or done, I think, no matter how sincere someone's trying to be.
This wasn't the meaning I had in mind when I wrote the line, but it's as valid an interpretation as any; it would be sort of hypocritical to say that the line “Nothing is ever generous enough to mean just one thing” means only one thing. :p So yes, that's true. No matter what they're trying to be, no one can be anything other than human, with all that entails. Except Sovereign, I guess, but I've made them pretty human too.

This is adorable. <3 Birbs! Their interactions always make me smile, haha.
I'm glad to have got the approval of a certified Bird Interacter! I'll be honest, the last time I actually interacted with a bird was … probably well over a decade ago, so you know, I'm always just kind of winging it when it comes to how they act. (Pun unintended, but gladly embraced once noticed.)

That feeling when even the most mundane, innocent questions have such a sad story behind them... Sigh.
Nothing is ever generous enough to mean just one thing, after all.

I... predicted this conversation wouldn't go over well, either, and it didn't. It's interesting, comparing and contrasting Artemis's reaction to Cass's betrayal and then Emilia's. Cass's is more on a personal level yet Artemis is able to hold herself together regardless, yet in Emilia's case, the panic comes through in the writing far more and Artemis's thoughts don't really focus on Emilia in the aftermath as much as with Cass's situation. Then again, I guess she's got a lot more to worry about when she's preparing to go meet Mewtwo...
Yeah, with Cass we saw the conversation mostly from outside Artemis' head; with Emilia, we see it mostly from inside her head, and accordingly there's a big difference. I made the change because I knew there wasn't going to be so much of an opportunity to see Artemis' thoughts about Emilia afterwards for exactly the reason you mention, that she's absolutely terrified about going in search of mewtwo, so I figured I might as well go all in on that one conversation to really show how much it hurts her.

You weave the backstories like this into the story so naturally. XD It never feels like an infodump or something that breaks the flow of what's happening, so kudos there.
I'm glad you think so! There's a lot of like information in a story like this, a lot of bits and pieces that I have to get across, and sometimes when I read chapters back to myself they feel sort of heavy with data. It's good to know other people don't feel that way.

I hope Artemis comes to learn that you can't please everyone and that her happiness is just as important as anyone else's...
I'm sure someone has already tried to teach her; she's had a lot of therapy, after all. I'm also sure that by the end of this story, she won't be the person she was at the beginning, and that might well mean that she isn't the person hiding in her room and nodding at everything her parents say any more. We'll have to wait and see.

Ohh, love the worldbuilding here. It brings into play not only pokemon sentience but how society and the government treat pokemon based on said sentience. I wonder if this is foreshadowing, too, in that Emilia's leaving the League (this is obvious after I've caught up, but yeah, I guess you never know what twists could happen) and so the League might try to eventually take Nadia away from her.
I sort of take the view that pokémon are somewhere in between humans and animals in terms of consciousness, and they have a really long history of having a very particular and special relationship with humans, too – so these two things together mean that generally people are uneasy about treating them as property. Since I gave this version of Kanto in particular an especially strongly pokémon-focused culture, I wanted these old cultural ideas to be enshrined in their system of law.

This scene made me feel fuzzy in the best kind of way. <3 I love these two.
Nadia has been the surprise break-out character, it seems! I didn't really expect that, but apparently she's more adorable than I knew when I wrote her.

I kinda saw this coming, but it's the only sensical choice, so. XD Mark's skepticism of all of this is written well. I don't get a solid grasp on his character overall as much as the others, but he serves the story's plot well enough and is/was an obstacle for Emilia in a lot of ways, so I'd still say he's effective in that regard.
Yeah, it wasn't really meant as a surprise; I wouldn't have made such a point of introducing Mark early on and then referencing him repeatedly if I didn't plan on using him. You're right that he's a less concrete character than Cass, Artemis and Emilia, but, uh, I guess that's what you get for being a minor supporting character who pretty much only exists to get Emilia's story into the papers.

I'm glad Emilia's at least trying to take care of herself, even if it is a struggle still right now.
She's got Nadia to watch out for her, if all else fails. And sometimes it does.

Cass trying to help Artemis when Mr. Fuji closes in physically is a sweet part. There's something bittersweet, too, in how lonely Mr. Fuji is but how there's only so much of that Artemis can really stand. When you're miserable, there's really only so much of another person's misery you can take, too, before you really should focus on self-care.
Yes, of course. The only problem being that Artemis is almost pathologically determined to take everyone else's problems onto herself.

I don't think I could describe what happened any better myself, to be honest.

It feels like the story's coming to a close at this point. What with Cass's ominous message from her aunt about her role in this being over soon to the proof that Giovanni has control over breach events to Mewtwo's involvement to Emilia's leaving the League and acting on final, desperate measures... It's all coming to gether very nicely.
Yes, we're definitely in the home stretch now. There are … twenty chapters in all, I think, though I've sort of lost track because I've been numbering them in hexadecimal. So not long to go now at all.

I want to give Artemis a hug. Brauron's shown nothing but loyalty and love yet she still doubts herself.
It's always great to know that one of your characters has ended up making someone want to hug them. That's a good compliment, right there. :>

Yes, yes it does.
It does indeed. But give them a little time, and they'll get there, both of them.

I'm glad I caught up on this. Finally. Sometimes falling behind on fics you love like this is great because then you can read a ton in one go and just get lost in it. So. I'll be back for more. 8D
It's always flattering to know that your fic is, for someone out there, the one that they've enjoyed binging and getting lost in. So thank you for that, and I hope you enjoy the last three chapters as much as you've enjoyed the ride so far!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
12: INTERVIEW

On the way to Northcote Street, in the cab, Emilia runs over her material in her head, sifting through the documents in her lap while Nadia keys each one to a set of thoughts. It only takes a few minutes to clothe the bones with flesh, to build a story out of all these bits of paper, and after she's run over it twice there's nothing left to do but sit there in the traffic and worry.

What if the editor won't take this? It's not like it will cripple ROCKETS all by itself, but it's the only plan Emilia has, and it will at least force some kind of response from Giovanni. He can give the League investigators the slip all he wants, but it won't matter if the whole country's against him. Government lives and dies on the back of public opinion, and the League is no different; just because it's older than Parliament doesn't mean people trust it any further. If enough people believe that Giovanni's up to no good, then the League has to respond somehow, no matter what the internal review team found. Maybe it won't stop him, but it should, at least, annoy him.

There is of course the question of whether or not annoying him is a good idea. Emilia is acutely aware that she doesn't have much in the way of allies at this point. Refusing to return Lorelei's calls is petty and has probably alienated her from whatever remaining allies she might have had at the League; that leaves Mark and Artemis, and frankly neither of them are going to be able to shield her from whatever Giovanni decides to do when he sees her name attached to a damning exposé in this evening's Cataphract.

ARTEMIS, says Nadia, by which she means speaking of her …, and Emilia sighs. Yes. She needs to check in with her. There's probably time now, she reflects, and tries to call her up, but the line can't seem to connect. She hopes this is because she's out of signal range, and not because she's dead.

Christ. Why did she let her go like that? She knew what Artemis was planning. She should have … she couldn't have stopped her. Artemis knows the risks, and she knows the stakes, and she's old enough to make this decision for herself.

Emilia clicks her phone screen on and off, on and off. It's not like she has the right to stop her, anyway. But there are a lot of dead trans women out there, a lot of dead women of colour, and Emilia is desperately afraid that Artemis might by this point number among them. And what about Cass? She'll follow Artemis anywhere; Emilia saw it in her eyes. Maybe it's guilt at having spied on her, maybe she just believes, but she'll follow her to Mew-2 and she'll die there, too. And with them will go Ringo and Brauron, two more lives that Emilia should have saved.

On and off, on and off. She fiddles with her phone and does not manage to dispel her thoughts.

A minute later, as the cab comes around the corner of Longbarrow Street towards the tawny buildings of Whitford, someone tries in turn to call her: Lorelei. Emilia looks at her ringing phone for a moment, knowing that this is about what she did in Lavender, and swipes to decline.

After all, Lorelei's going to want to call her again after this article goes out, and Emilia is nothing if not efficient. It only makes sense to consolidate.

She switches her phone to silent and jams it down at the bottom of her bag, then takes it out again and turns it off completely. Then she thinks that perhaps Mark will need to call or text her, so she turns it back on, puts the volume back up and returns it to its usual place, all her efforts undone.

SUNFLOWER, says Nadia, her mind coiling in dense, comforting bands through Emilia's own. OKAY.

Emilia forces a smile and reaches up, runs her fingertips through the soft fluff around Nadia's neck.

“Thank you,” she says. “I love you too.”

SUNFLOWER, repeats Nadia. ONWARDS.

“Yeah. Onwards.”

Past the Gardner Building, past the spire of the Carlacke Media Tower. Late lunchers scurrying back to their offices, suit jackets flapping at the edges in the autumn breeze. Pigeons flapping away from crumbs as the pidgey swoop down, wings stirring the air in ways that suggest the beginnings of a gust or whirlwind. Saying: I'm a pokémon, sod off.

She should have picked the fruit, she thinks. The more promptly she does this, the more oddish will sprout. Does she want all Effie's work to be in vain? No. No, that would be the worst possible outcome; that would mean that there really was no reason for her to die. Effie has to live on. Emilia promises herself that she'll do it when she gets back, and knows in her heart that she probably won't.

They're at Rademaeker Circus now, swinging right around the statue of the great alakazam elder kzunic.utri; past the turning you'd take to head northeast towards Battleside Park, where the Gym and League offices and trainers' markets are; down Red Way Street and turning at last onto Northcote. Emilia clenches her fists to stop herself biting her nails and keeps her face as calm and blank as she can as the cab coasts to a halt outside number 132, beneath the electric sign spewing Cataphract headlines at anyone who cares to read them.

“Okay,” says Emilia, handing a twenty-florin note to the driver. “Thanks very much.”

“All right, love,” he replies, which is annoying but what can you do, and then Emilia gets out and he drives away and she catches sight of Mark coming towards her from the entrance, clean-shaven now and hair slicked back into place.

“Hey,” he says. “Ready?”

A breath. A heartbeat. A sense of history in the making.

“Yeah,” says Emilia, switching her phone back to silent again. “I am.”

*​

Sovereign doesn't immediately attack: they just hang there, watching and waiting. Artemis doesn't stop to consider why; she calls out and Brauron spits an unstable, coruscating bolt of flame towards them that should, if she's got this right, explode on contact―

Sovereign's finger moves slightly, and the flame burst impacts harmlessly on air that has suddenly turned blue and crooked, distorting the pokémon behind it like a pane of warped glass.

Obvious, they say, as Brauron hisses and takes a step back, unnerved by her failure. Try again.

Artemis swallows. She hadn't even thought of that – had been too worried about Sovereign's incredible offensive power to consider their equally impressive defences. How do you get past something that can raise a barrier that strong so quickly, and with so little effort? And they're still levitating, too, like that's nothing; they want to show her she can't win, that they're so much stronger that this is totally hopeless―

“Follow!” cries Cass, and Ringo springs forward into a shadowy blur; Sovereign twitches again and the air thickens, but Ringo flies straight through, shielded by the dark-type move – only for Sovereign to reach up and swat him away lazily with the back of one hand. The darkness evaporates from his feathers, he squawks loudly in surprise, and a moment later Ringo is struggling back up onto his feet, fluffing his feathers and trying hard to look like he meant for that to happen.

Better, says Sovereign, as he and Brauron back off towards their trainers, wanting further instructions. Not good enough.

“Crap,” says Cass. “I kinda thought …”

“It was a good thought.” Think, Artie. You beat Blaine, right? Even when it seemed impossible. And Sovereign knows you can't beat them; that's not what they're looking for. Difficult to say what they are looking for, but it isn't that. They're not attacking, anyway. This isn't that kind of fight. So take your time, think things through, and just try to land a hit.

“Together,” says Artemis, mind alive with anxious, predictive energy. “Either side, ready to mirror.”

“Okay,” replies Cass, either getting it or just rolling with it, hard to say. “Ringo! Ten o'clock, buster! And flect!”

“Brauron, three, turn, splode!”

Ringo breaks left, Brauron right; his feathers begin to gleam with an odd, flat light, and when Brauron's flame burst explodes harmlessly on Sovereign's barrier, he catches one of the stray sparks on his glowing chest – a spark that, a split second later, blooms into a second fireball that screams up at Sovereign from the other side―

―and flies harmlessly over their shoulder as they float sedately backwards, reality rippling with their passage.

Good, says Sovereign, drifting back into position. But insufficient.

“What are you even trying to prove?” cries Cass. “Like you can't seriously expect―”

They raise their hand and something barely visible snakes through the air towards them, making for one terrible moment a ghost person appear in Sovereign's throne, before Brauron croaks fiercely and belches a dark smog up into the psywave's path. Elements clash, something cracks sharply, and drops of water spray out in all directions as the psychic move burns the poison straight out of the gas.

Good block. Sovereign flares their nostrils. I don't know if you can take credit for it.

“I,” mumbles Artemis, trying to get over the ghost person. “I, um …”

“Did you just try to psywave us?” asks Cass, wiping water from her face. “What the hell? That's not okay! Artemis has – I dunno what, exactly, but―”

You said you'd fight me, says Sovereign coolly. So fight me.

“That's not what―”

Fight me, they repeat, and Artemis touches Cass' arm, still not able to talk properly but able at least to do that.

“Cass,” she whispers. “Cass, no.”

“Being strong doesn't give you licence to be an a*shole,” says Cass, ignoring her. “You have to―”

Strength is, begins Sovereign, and then suddenly swings around as Cass makes a movement with her hand and Ringo launches himself at them from the side; this time he almost gets them, shrouded blackly in his pursuit, but at the last moment Sovereign manages to get their axe up and smacks him away with the flat of the blade.

I like that
, they announce, as Ringo flaps furiously and just about manages to right himself. Give no quarter. If words are all you have, then use them.

Ringo shrieks and dives at them again; Artemis stammers something and Brauron spits a rolling cloud of sparking blue-purple dragonfire that sticks to Sovereign's barrier like napalm. With a grunt of annoyance, they cancel the shield, letting the fire drop harmlessly to the floor, and in the same movement swing their arm around to catch Ringo as he approaches, knocking him back towards Cass.

You begin to show your worth, they say. But I am not yet impressed.

And why would they be? All they're doing – even the two of them together – is keeping them busy, and barely even that. Artemis has to come up with something else, something better, and she doesn't have something better, has only got one badge and even then Blaine basically gifted it to her, she's just a crazy kid with a headful of ghosts and―

No. Calm. Breathe, and think. Sovereign's too strong for any attacks to really hurt them, but there has to be a way. There has to be.

Artemis watches them for a moment, watches Brauron and Ringo circling warily on the damp stone floor, and then it comes to her.

“Okay,” she says suddenly, keeping her voice low. “Okay, Cass, pursuit on my word.”

“You got something?”

“Dunno. Brauron! Back over here, now. Two o'clock.”

Sovereign hangs there, waiting. Their face is unreadable; Artemis can't tell if they overheard her or not. She tries not to let it get to her, focuses on keeping track of where everything is: Brauron, moving into position, Ringo, just a little off to one side. Almost. Almost. And―

Now,” she hisses, and just like that Cass snaps follow!, and Ringo goes dark again, hurling himself at Sovereign's barrier―

“Cloud on Ringo!” cries Artemis. “Everything you've got!”

And Brauron's mouth fills with poison – and Ringo's beak shears through the barrier – and Sovereign moves to swat him away – and there it is, all the timings working out, the poison cloud gusting straight through the hole in the barrier that Ringo has made, spilling out around him over Sovereign's face―

―and fizzling out harmlessly in a wash of pale light.

Safeguard. Artemis recognises it from TV. Sovereign can use safeguard, and they're a psychic-type, and they were never in any bloody danger of being poisoned from the start.

They swat Ringo away, and this time he doesn't hop back up immediately; he staggers, looking groggy, and stays where he is, swaying. The sight of him is like a punch to the gut. Look what you did, Artemis tells herself, staring. Look what you did, you tried to be smart and all you managed to do was get Ringo hurt. This is the problem with people like you. You try to be clever and you forget to be kind―

We are nearly done here, I think, says Sovereign, looking at Ringo without interest. Your move again.

Brauron hisses and slithers forward to place herself between them and Ringo, fins flared in a tiny pointless display of bravado. Her mouth looks dry, and when she croaks without spitting so much as a spark Artemis knows it's over. She put everything she had into that poison gas, just like Artemis said. And now what? Now she's out of fuel, now Ringo's poisoned. Now they're going to fail and Sovereign will abandon them to the tender mercies of Giovanni and his schemes. All because of her. Because she isn't even worthy of the badge she claims to have earned.

“I,” she says, struggling to find her voice. “I – I'm sorry, Cass, I …”

Cass doesn't say anything. She's staring, Artemis thinks, although she isn't sure if it's at Sovereign or at Ringo; she can't make herself look to make sure.

“Claw,” mutters Artemis. “I … claw, Brauron.”

Loyal to the end, Brauron pounces and rakes her stubby nails across Sovereign's barrier, with absolutely no result. Sovereign shakes their head and raises their free hand.

So it ends, they say, blue light gathering around their fingers. How unfortunate. I thought you were strong.

They pull their hand back―

Artemis is a lot of things, is a coward and a failure and a fraud; she's defective, she's just functional, she's a bad son and a worse daughter. But she's loyal, to the bloody end, and before she even knows what she's doing she's grabbed something from the junk pile and she's moving and it's a weak attack, just a psywave, meant to incapacitate Brauron and not to kill, but it's like the bones of her skull have fractured and there are stars and the world is strange colours and somewhere inside her bad things rise up from the cracks and Artemis disintegrates and instead the ghost people rush forwards with their bleeding fingers raised high―

A sound. Loud. Voices. Sovereign pulls back sharply, staring at their barrier, cracked where Artemis smashed the oar from the old boat across it with all the massive strength she has spent the last four years denying that she has.

It fades.

Yes, says Sovereign, indicating the crack in their barrier. Trust no strength but that of your arm.

“Oh f*ck you,” says Artemis, in a thin, mean voice that doesn't seem like hers, and she picks up Brauron and holds her close as Cass puts her arm around her.

Sovereign tilts their head slightly to one side, confused.

I do not, they begin, but Cass interrupts.

“Save it,” she says, sounding tired. “You win, okay? You're strong and we're not. Are you happy?”

Sovereign looks at her, then back at Artemis. Through the remnants of the psychic link, Artemis can sense their bewilderment – and their guilt. She holds Brauron close, feels her all scratchy and warm against her chest, and says nothing.

I don't understand, they say.

“Of course you don't,” mutters Cass. “Look, this was a mistake, I guess. For some reason we sort of thought you might have an interest in stopping Giovanni Dioli acquiring superhuman powers for evil purposes? But whatever, you don't, so we'll just go. You can stay here in your hole and hide out till the end of time, whatever.”

Sovereign's pale eyes flash with anger.

How dare you, they begin, but Cass won't let them finish, keeps talking in a hard kind of way that seems to cut straight through the voice rippling in their heads.

“How dare you,” she retorts. “You're a runaway kid holed up in a cave. You think that making a sh*tty crown out of tinfoil gives you the right to treat people like this? Get over yourself, a*shole. In the meantime, Artie and I are gonna go save Kanto. Because apparently you just don't give a sh*t.”

It's like she's forgotten what Sovereign is, what they can do. Artemis is spent now, frozen in the aftermath of her actions and the certain knowledge that if pushed too far Sovereign will not hesitate to kill, but Cass seems unstoppable. Her arm where it touches Artemis is hot, as if her anger is a real physical thing, boiling over inside her; wedged between the two heats, between Cass and Brauron, Artemis feels herself slowly thawing, the ice on her mind melting bit by bit.

You have proven yourself, says Sovereign. You are strong, both of you, in arms and spirit. And I will come with you.

“Too little too late,” snaps Cass. “Ringo. Ball.”

He disappears without complaint, eager to rest off the poison, and Cass is about to steer Artemis away when she pulls back and shakes her head.

“No,” she says. “Cass – wait. I – I know you're angry, but we came here to get help, and …”

“They're being a hell of a lot less than helpful―”

“They've been through a lot―”

“Okay, right, but that's not an excuse. Right?”

Artemis sighs.

“Right,” she says. “Right.”

Sovereign watches the two of them argue without comprehension, their eyes flicking back and forth between their faces.

“Just … chill for a second,” says Artemis. “Okay? I'm – I'm okay.”

Cass hesitates, and in that moment Artemis knows she's won. Cass isn't unreasonable, after all. She'll come around, if she gives herself a moment to think. Besides, she isn't really angry at Sovereign, is she? She's angry at her parents. No one gets that upset just over Artemis.

“Well, you coulda fooled me,” she says, and then winces as she hears what she's saying. “Ouch. Okay, I'm sorry. I just – I dunno what happened, but that looked like it did bad things to you.”

Or maybe she is angry at Sovereign after all. Fine, whatever; Artemis has been wrong before and she'll probably keep being wrong till the day she dies.

“It … it did.” Artemis has to pause then, has to swallow the fear as it surges back up like bile in her throat. “It did real bad things, but … I'm okay. And we need Sovereign's help.”

She and Cass both turn to look at them, standing there before the throne. They aren't floating any more; the axe dangles loosely, unready. There's still something dangerous about them – probably there always is, just by virtue of them being what they are – but it's muted now, veiled by their unease.

Yes? they ask. Artemis has a feeling they aren't anywhere near as certain as they sound.

“We're cool,” she says. “I wish you hadn't psywaved me but we're cool, I think.”

I wasn't aiming for you.


“I know. But I wasn't going to let you hit Brauron.”

Yes. I see that now. You are … honestly, I don't know what to call you. A good person, perhaps.


Artemis can't help but laugh a little at that. It comes out a bit wonky, a bit hysterical, but it is at least laughter.

“Okay,” she says. “If you say so.” Inward breath. Clear head. Brauron nosing at her elbow; Cass right there next to her. “So,” she says. “You'll help us, then?”

Yes. Sovereign's eyes are like old-fashioned silver florins, bright and lifeless. I will.

*​

It's anticlimactic, in a way. Emilia was expecting resistance – and sure, there is some; the editor of The Cataphract reacts to Mark's initial claim that Giovanni Dioli is heading a rogue black ops project to create fractures in the fabric of reality with polite disbelief. But then he shows her the photograph – and it's a good one, with the bright quivering mass of the breach entity front and centre – and Emilia gives her a Leaguely look and a frank confession that she's abandoning the League to expose this, and she starts to waver pretty quickly. She tosses in Artemis' testimony (names removed) and the medical reports, Mark piles on his own account – with the bright, terrified eyes of someone who has seen something terrible in the very recent past – and the battle is pretty much won. Emilia can see it in her eyes.

Scenting blood, she leans across the editor's desk with a grave expression and one hand planted firmly on the sheaf of papers.

“I have a duty to the Kantan people,” she says. “I can't let that slide just because Giovanni has convinced the League otherwise.”

The editor is a veteran of the industry. She has crossed swords with politicians and tycoons, broken down doors to cast daylight into the shady back rooms where deals are made; she's older than Emilia, and probably, in some ways, sharper. But she's not Emilia, not frozen forever in the moment of conjuring herself out of nothing, not steeped in over a decade of the weirdest of weird sh*t, and when it's her mind against Emilia's, hers is the one to yield.

She nods slowly, not really noticing what she's doing, and she agrees, and Emilia leaves the room knowing that she's just bullied her way into making this work.

“Well, that went pretty well,” says Mark quietly, walking her back out through the office to the elevator. “I'd almost forgotten how scary you are.”

Emilia smiles, as if this is a compliment. After all this is over, if she hasn't been arrested – after all that, she's going to have to find a new line of work. At least she's being vicious for the sake of the moral good, she thinks, and then immediately wishes she hadn't thought it. That's probably exactly how Giovanni justifies all of this to himself.

“Well,” she says. “I think the facts spoke for themselves.”

“I'm not so sure,” says Mark, as they approach the lift. “The photo was good, but that line about your duty to the Kantan people was better. Can I quote that for the article?”

Emilia laughs dutifully.

“Sure,” she says. “Knock yourself out.”

“Right.” They stop; Mark presses the button. “Anyway, thanks,” he goes on. “I don't know if I'd have got her on side working by myself.”

She shrugs.

“Don't sell yourself short, Mark,” she says. “Can you handle it from here?”

“The office is about thirty seconds away from exploding with the biggest news since the war,” he replies. “Yeah, I think I can handle that.”

“You're actually enjoying this, aren't you?”

He grins. It's refreshing, after the way he was this morning; this is the Mark Emilia knows.

“I've been chasing this for ten years,” he tells her. “Ever since Cinnabar. I knew there was something you were hiding. And now …”

“Now you know.”

The elevator dings, and the doors slide open.

“Yes,” he says. “Now I know.”

A short pause, full of unspoken words. Emilia vaguely considers asking how this works, how the office turns a report into the front page of the evening edition and a notification on a million and one smartphones; she suspects Mark is considering asking things too, although she does not intend to answer him if he does.

“Well,” she says. “The lift's here.”

“Yeah,” he says. “It is.”

Another short pause, and then the doors begin to close so Emilia steps in and waves goodbye.

“See you around, Mark,” she says. “You get an exclusive interview when I get arrested.”

“Uh, maybe don't joke about that,” he says, and she thinks for a moment about telling him that she's serious before deciding that perhaps it's best if he doesn't know that.

“All right, then,” she says. “I look forward to the headlines later tonight.”

“Are you sure you're all right?” he asks, stepping forward suddenly to block the doors. “The League―”

“Forget the League,” says Emilia. “Let me handle this, Mark. Like we agreed.”

She pushes the button to close the doors and lets the lift take her away from his response, keeping her eyes closed all the way down, and then on the ground floor she takes out her phone again and sees the eight missed calls. Lorelei, Yasmin, a private number. Multiple private numbers.

In her mind's eye Emilia sees the lines converging, like murkrow descending towards a carcass, and she sighs.

“Right,” she says, and walks out into the street to find a cab.

*​

Emilia is lucky: she lives in an old building, in a once-shabby part of town gentrified way back during the Clairmont administration. And like so many Saffron apartment buildings of its era, it has a fire escape at the back. She has the driver drop her off on the street the other side of the block, slips down the passage and unlocks the rusty gate into what the landlord optimistically calls the courtyard, where she nods at Nadia and watches her make her way up the fire escape in a series of long, fluttering hops. A minute or so later, she sees the fifth-floor window unlatch itself and a speck of green pass through. Emilia waits a little longer, and a few minutes later catches sight of Nadia again, coming into view a few flights above her.

“Well?” she asks.

MIND WOMAN, says Nadia, and Emilia swears softly under her breath. It's like she thought, then.

“Anyone else?” she asks.

ONE. MIND MAN.

Probably Sabrina and her second, Jared. Two psychics, with psychic-types to back them up. Not that they'll be violent, but they will want Emilia to come with them, and they're going to be firm about it.

“All right,” she says. “Can you hide me?”

Nadia puffs out her chest feathers proudly.

WE DISAPPEAR, she answers, taking up her usual position on Emilia's shoulder. ONWARDS.

“Onwards,” she agrees, and, kicking off her heels to tread softer, starts to climb.

Up and up, the metal sun-warm against the soles of her feet. She's reminded of the last time she did this, on a different fire escape in a different city, too drunk to remember where her keys were and determined to get back into her apartment regardless. Someone called the cops on her then, after her alcohol-induced conviction that the window could be forced led her to accidentally smash it, and then they didn't believe she lived there and took her away in the back of the car.

This time, she tells herself, don't get caught. Or the results will be a hell of a lot worse than a night spent at the police station.

CRIMES, says Nadia, and Emilia almost laughs.

“Yeah,” she says, the old anger seething beneath the surface. “Crimes.”

She keeps climbing, ignoring the occasional look from the windows she passes, and around the second floor feels a pressure behind her eyes, like the first sign of a headache: Nadia's gone to work. Emilia isn't sure how completely she can mask the traces of their minds, or indeed how long she can keep it up, but then, there isn't anything she can do about it. She'll just have to keep going, and hope.

There is of course the option of just climbing back down and clearing out of here. She's got her purse, her phone, her bank card. Buy a different outfit, change up her hair, and Emilia could pretty easily evade the League, for a while at least. And she will, as best she can; she needs to speak to Artemis again, for one thing, to fight Giovanni for as long as she can before they come for her.

But she didn't pick the fruit. And so now, at last, in the worst circumstances possible, she finally has to do it.

Your own damn fault, Em
, Sam would say. And honestly, she'd be right. She could fix this, even now – could send Nadia up there to get Effie's fruit herself; her telekinesis isn't that strong, but Emilia has always insisted she practise, and she could do it – but she won't. Effie deserves her personal attention. If she couldn't get it right earlier, she has to get it right now.

Fourth floor. Fifth. Moving very slowly now, head aching, eyeballs dry. Careful. Quiet. She hasn't done this since she was a kid, sneaking up and down the stairs when her parents were watching TV, but her body remembers, shifts its weight in all the old familiar ways. Up, and up, and here's the apartment, the open window.

Lightly, easily, as if she were fifteen, Emilia climbs through and drops down onto the floor of her kitchen.

Listen: anything? No. No, she doesn't think so. Nobody knows she's here.

She breathes out, and pads noiselessly past the counter and along into the living-room, where Effie stands in the corner. She kneels, reaches out―

―I love you, sweetie, and I'll love all your babies, and I'm sorry that this has all turned out so weird―

―and picks the fruit.

It comes away very easily in her hand – too easily, almost obscenely easily, like a scab falling away at a touch. Emilia breathes in sharply to suppress a little cry, and as she lifts the fruit away with shaky fingers she sees Effie's stem slump with the unmistakeable listlessness of something dead.

Silent tears. Nadia breathing hard with the effort of containing all this emotion, of keeping it undetected by the psychics outside. She can't keep this up much longer, Emilia knows, but it's so hard to move, so hard to do anything but stare and weep for her beautiful dead friend. Still. She is a professional, even if she is mourning, and she has a duty to the Kantan people, and there is an unimaginably brave and desperate young woman out there who needs her help, and also, hell, she might as well admit that she really doesn't want to be arrested; she is all of these things, all of these obligations and all of these fears, and though even combining the lot together doesn't match even half of what she had with Effie, she cannot deny the claims they have on her, and so she kisses the dead thing that is no longer her partner and turns and makes her way back out through the kitchen and back down the fire escape.

The headache fades. Her eyes stop hurting. She sits down on the last step of the fire escape, head in one hand and Effie's fruit in the other, and Nadia presses up against her cheek, cheeping and broadcasting her concern in deep, wordless waves of affection.

“I love you too,” says Emilia, wiping her eyes, crushing her mascara into her face. “I … I miss Effie.”

EFFIE, says Nadia, a hundred hundred memories dancing just beneath the surface of the word, and Emilia sniffs and wipes away fresh tears.

“Yeah,” she says, staring at the vivid fruit in her hand. “Yeah, me too.”

*​

It takes a while for everyone to get over their awkwardness, but it has to happen sooner or later. Eventually, Sovereign puts down their axe and sits down in their throne, and the three of them start to talk through what to do next.

“Okay,” says Artemis. “So I don't know how much of our plan you saw in my head, but um, we'll need to call up Emilia and ask her about what we should do. You know? From my memory?”

Yes. The League woman. Sovereign does not sound pleased. I have seen her before, after my escape.

“Yeah, she said.” Artemis hesitates. “Is this going to be a problem?”

You tell me, says Sovereign. Your thoughts were unclear. Is she still affiliated with the League?

“No. No, she's sort of … well, she's taking the story about Giovanni to the press,” says Artemis, guilt rising within her. “I think probably the League will want her arrested after that.”

Sovereign's nostrils flare with some inscrutable emotion.

“Hmph,” they grunt. So she grew a conscience. How convenient.

“I trust her,” says Artemis, although she isn't sure that she does, and knows that Sovereign can probably tell.

Do you? they ask. Do you really?

“I … think so?”

A long pause. Sovereign's eyes bore into hers, unblinking.

All right, they say. But you are responsible for her conduct. If she betrays me …

“Could you just quit threatening us?” asks Cass, sounding tired. “Seriously. We know you're dangerous, okay?”

I am being careful, says Sovereign curtly. If you were being hunted, you would understand.

“Okay,” says Cass. “Okay. But we're not going to betray you. And we'll take responsibility for Emilia, too. Is that enough?”

Sovereign sniffs and looks away.

I suppose.

“Great,” says Artemis. “Great, so that's … that.”

Yes. Sovereign hesitates. One moment. They step behind their throne and bend to pick something up – and then, strangely, hold back; Artemis can see the indecision in the slope of their shoulders, the twitching of their muscular tail. This, they begin, turning towards her again, and then break off to fiddle with the thing in their hand. This is …

They stop again, pick up and put down the axe, run their fingers across their bloody brow.

If you abuse the trust I am about to place in you, they say, and then shake their head. No. No, I think … I mean, I will kill you, but – but I do not think you will. A sigh – voiced, like their earlier harrumph; it seems a strangely human sound to issue from those leonine jaws. Just take it, they say, thrusting the object at Artemis. Before I have a chance to change my mind.

She takes it quickly, afraid to disobey, and only once she has it in her hands does she see what it is: a poké ball of some kind, deep purple with raised pink panels that have the telltale chill of dark-type material, and a little M engraved in the front.

“I've never seen one like that before,” says Cass, staring.

They are not common. Sovereign's eyes are locked on the ball, as if they don't trust it not to suddenly devour them now that it is out of their possession. It is what they call a master ball. Catches any pokémon, without fail.

Cass looks up sharply.

“You mean―?”

Yes. I cannot break loose from it. Sovereign's voice is so low as to almost be a growl, making Artemis' mind tremble and Brauron burrow deeper into her arms. I cannot destroy it, either. And believe me, I have tried.

“This – I was gonna say that isn't ethical at all, but like, I guess none of this stuff is.” Cass sighs. “I guess they're made for―”

Monsters, says Sovereign curtly. Rampaging gyarados. Stray tyranitar. And―

“Breach pokémon,” says Artemis softly. “Why are you giving this to me?”

Because although I am strong, I cannot take the combined power of the League
, replies Sovereign. Something that will be proven to you soon enough if I am spotted walking the streets of Kanto. So if I need to enter a town, I must go … incognito.

Artemis hesitates. This is a big thing; Sovereign doesn't have to say it for her to know. The master ball is a chain binding them to Cinnabar House, to human mastery, to the whims of those who would use them like they tried to back in 2007. To go back inside it after ten years, voluntarily … well, that's a kind of bravery that frankly staggers her.

“Are you sure?” she asks, and Sovereign flares their nostrils.

“Hmph,” they say aloud, a harsh noise like a tauros snorting. Then: No, of course not. But I don't see any alternative. Giovanni must be stopped. I do not think I could do it alone; I do not think you could, either. And if I am to travel with you, I must go unseen.

“Wait,” says Cass. “So you agree he has to be stopped?”

Yes.

“Then what the hell was that fight all about?”

Sovereign fixes her with a stare. To her credit – and Artemis' frank amazement – she doesn't back down.

I am a pokémon, they say simply. You are trainers. There is a shape to these things. And … I was not sure, until then. You are the first to find me, and that was … startling.

An uncomfortable pause. Sovereign's face is impossible to read, but by the way their tail is lashing, Artemis can't imagine they feel very much at their ease. It's hard to believe, in a way – how can someone as powerful as Sovereign fear anything? – but she understands. She's strong too, in one way. And that kind of strength has been less than no help at all when it comes to the biggest challenges of her life. Some things will always be frightening.

“Yeah,” she says slowly. “Yeah, I guess I can understand that.”

Sovereign gives her a long, unsettling look.

You really do, don't you? they say, in the end. How infinitely depressing.

“Yeah,” says Artemis again. “I guess it really kinda is.”

*​

Emilia has daydreamed about this sometimes, in particularly tedious meetings. She supposes everyone must do, or at least everyone who has a difficult relationship with their job. In her imagination, she walks out of whatever office she's in, buys a set of clothes she'd never normally consider wearing, something so not Emilia that nobody would ever recognise her in it, then throws her phone into the river and catches the express train out to the airport, where she takes the first seat on any international flight available and disappears into the sky.

It's comforting to think about this now, to relate what she's doing to that dream. It makes her awareness that the state of Kanto is currently after her slightly less terrifying.

In Galkirk Village, in Saffron's east end, she buys herself some nondescript clothing and a pair of aviator shades that her younger self would have thought were the coolest thing. She changes, takes the tie out of her hair, and feels it begin to spring back again into the coiled mass she has spent her professional life trying to suppress. A little further along, on Montgomery Street, she buys a cheap phone and a SIM card, copies across the few numbers she needs to keep, and drops the old one over the railing on the Castle Bridge. It falls a long, long way, and disappears with a satisfying splash.

Emilia breathes out. Okay, she thinks: what now? She's going through the motions, but she's not going to pretend that she's any good at this kind of thing; she's seen enough of the League and the police to know that a good psy officer will have found her in a day or two. How can she make best use of that time?

Artemis, she replies. She needs to get hold of Artemis. Either she's dead or she has a legendary pokémon with her. Whichever it is, Emilia has to know.

North of Galkirk, in Sere Fields, Emilia stops to buy a latte in a faux-French café on the Old East Road. She has no appetite for it, not with the day she's having, but she can't face making this call standing up, she just can't, and this is the easiest way to get herself somewhere to sit. Ignoring her cooling coffee, she brings up Artemis' number, and listens to the phone ringing in her ear.

“Pick up,” she mutters, crossing her fingers. “Come on. Pick up. Pick up and don't be dead …”

“Um, hello?” asks Artemis, confused by the unfamiliar number, and every knotted muscle in Emilia's body unclenches at once.

“Hi,” she replies. “It's Emilia. I'm – I'm on a different … Artemis, where are you?”

“Cerulean.” Pause. “On the bus back into town. I was gonna call you when I was back at the Centre.”

“Back into …? So you went …?”

No answer, for what feels like an age. Nadia tenses, locks eyes nervously with Emilia as she listens in through her ears.

“Their name is Sovereign,” says Artemis, in the end. “And … and they're gonna help us.”

Emilia exhales.

“Jesus Christ,” she says, unable for once to control herself. “Sorry. I – I've been thinking all day that I might have sent you to your deaths.”

“You didn't send us …”

“I didn't stop you.”

“You couldn't have stopped us,” says Artemis. “I was gonna go anyway.”

“Well, I guess that's probably true.” Emilia could argue, but doesn't; she's too relieved to spoil things now. “We should talk about what to do next,” she says instead. “I'll come up to Cerulean.”

“Are you sure? What about your appointment with the editor?”

“Over and done with,” she says. “Check the website. If the story isn't up, it will be soon enough. And now that that's done, I should probably leave Saffron for a while anyway.”

“Oh. Yeah. Um … well, we'll be in the Centre.”

“I'll be there soon. The maglev doesn't take long.”

“Right,” says Artemis. “Um, Emilia?”

“Yes?”

“Good luck.”

She sounds like she means it. Nadia twitters, touched; Emilia smiles sadly and scratches her feathery head.

“Thank you, Artemis,” she says. “Take care. I'll be there soon, and we can talk about this properly.”

“Okay. Okay, bye.”

“Bye.”

She hangs up, and lifts Nadia back up onto her shoulder.

“I guess it's time to go,” she says, putting her phone back into her bag and briefly touching Effie's fruit, safely wrapped in tissues down at the bottom. She stares hard at the table for a moment, concentrating on holding back tears, and then takes her hand away and straightens up.

There will be time to mourn later, she thinks. Artemis has come back alive, miraculously, and more than that she's just given them a fighting chance. And Emilia definitely cannot afford to waste it.
 
Last edited:

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I don't really have much to say about the opening scene, here. It is, in a sense, familiar, because so many of Emilia's scenes involve a lot of thinking as she's either moving from one place to another or in her apartment. And that pretty much rings true here. Not to say it's a bad thing. Yes, she should be worried that two women are walking toward their deaths and yes, she should feel guilty for not trying harder to stop them. I'm not sure if you're trying to give me the impression that Emilia has some hope that Artemis can win over Sovereign or not. There was that one line ("if anyone can, it's her") that leads me to think that way, but most of her thoughts are skewed toward, "Artemis is probably dead," that I couldn't really be sure.

Onto the battle. And it's more or less like two newbie trainers trying to fight a Mewtwo and getting toyed around with. There's just enough done with Sovereign's movements and minimalistic dialogue to make you think they might warm up to Cass and Artemis, but that's not what ends up happening. Instead, Artemis takes the proverbial bullet for Brauron (d'aww), which clearly gives her an episode of psychosis, and then Cass launches into one of those "reason you suck" speeches. I'll give you props for initially having Sovereign act like a little kid who's getting scolded by their parents and just goes into shut down mode. Since, y'know, they're technially a young'un. They slip a little bit too quickly back into stoic "I was just testing you, and you passed," mode for my liking, personally. But I get the feeling, based on Cass' actions that maybe there's still going to be a bit of a tense atmosphere between them. With that said, I like your interpretation of handling the whole Master Ball situation. I was about to wonder how that was going to work but, well, it's kind of neat that it's almost a framing device of sorts for Artemis and Sovereign and all the confusion that is now shared between their minds.

The Effie scene was touching. Nice little tearjerking moment. Again, it's just me, but that thread got dragged out a bit too long, so it maybe didn't quite have the oomph you were intending it to have. But that's more of a personal taste thing, I think. Overall, looks like we're heading for the climax pretty soon. Should be an exciting time.
 
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