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Arbitrary Execution

Manchee

extra toasty
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.

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.
Oh don't worry, you won't lose me. I am very excited to continue reading this, and am enjoying the direction the story is taking. The kind-of-journey vibe is really great because it's a journey that Artemis and Cass are taking, but it's not explicitly one where the end is certainly a big championship battle. I'm very happy to hear that this is already finished, I'd hate to see something this good disappear into the depths of the forums D;

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.
You painted a very good picture of her for readers to get hooked onto, and as things progress and more of her character is coming out, she feels very real. The same goes for Emilia and Cass, too. At first I kept picturing Cass as the Lass trainer class (there are too many similar-sounding words right there) and viewing her as a little dim-witted, but you do a great job showing that there is a lot to Cass underneath the surface. I love the realization that Artemis has where she thinks Cass talks a lot because she's used to people not listening, and that when Artemis does open herself up to listening, we all learn that Cass has strange things happen to her, too.

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.
It's not even just that they're glitchy, but they're creepy! I started playing Yellow this week (bought it to play on a flight to Hawaii and only got as far as Viridian Forest before forgetting about it... lol) and man does it give off vibes that works so well in this fic. Both the games and what you have written here have a definite feeling of "there's something more going on behind the scenes," and I love that.

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 was thinking it was something along those lines. Good to know!

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.
I agree with you there! When I used to write Pokémon fics way back when, I would give each of my main character's Pokémon nicknames and specific personality traits because it made the whole feeling of a human traveling around with monsters in their bag that much more crazy and entertaining. You do such a great job at keeping the personalities but also developing these bonds with their human partners, and it's something that I am really trying to learn moving forward in my fic writing. Thank you for taking the time to create such great characters, it is very appreciated :)

So I'm a few more chapters into this now and wanted to leave some comments!

Chapter 6:

Reading the scenes where Artemis was searching for brad felt weird since my first name is Bradley, haha. But I enjoyed the progression of her searches and love when authors find clever ways to incorporate real-world things like Wikipedia into a Pokémon fic.

Emilia discovering that Glitch!Oak came from the future was so confusing at first, but once I got it and audibly said, "Ohhhhh!" it was super cool. I have to ask, though, because now being a few chapters past that point I'm still slighting confused: the "ghost" man that Artemis and Cass saw was Glitch!Oak, right? I feel like I read through some of those scenes while I was lying in bed (I know I was reading some of those scenes while I was lying in bed, it's become a nighttime ritual at this point haha) and my exhaustion didn't help to process some of that information.

Loved the bonding between Artemis and Cass while they went to look for Ditto. Cass specifically wanting a Ditto and creating an entire side-journey to go get one feels very in-character for her without blatantly saying so. It was nice to see her and Artemis go looking for Ditto together and to experience breach together, too.

Chapter 7:

Cutlerine said:
Cass is over her shock: Ringo slams into the back of the scyther's head, bill first, and the its face makes sudden vicious contact with the ground, body pivoting around its pincer-arm like a pendulum.
I believe this should be then (I read this chapter in bed last night and just had to scan through it to find that - I knew it was there but hadn't made note last night of where before falling asleep! :p)

I think this chapter is my favorite so far. The parallel opening scenes where Artemis, Cass, and Emilia are all "drinking" was great to see, as was the additional parallel between Artemis and Emilia both being trans. It's always nice to see the number of trans characters in a story double, and even better the way you went about the scene where we learn more about Emilia's past. She is fascinating for a number of reasons, and in my opinion just the way we learn about her and her partner Pokémon is the most fascinating. Effie is one of the best Pokémon characters I've ever read about and she's spent the whole story in her pot, and I think that really says something about her and Emilia. Great stuff, there.

The ending scenes with Artemis and Cass fighting the Scyther-Scizor had me legitimately tense and if I were sitting up instead of lying in bed, I would have literally been on the edge of my seat. I made the mistake of trying to go to bed in the middle of that chapter, and couldn't sleep until I finished, but the way it ended was so intense I started reading chapter 8 before finally calling it a night. Scyther-Scizor's introduction was gripping and the descriptions of it during the fight were terrifying.

Chapter 8:

Cutlerine said:
Q99 – no, Emilia knows that one; it's one of the apparently endless move research teams, was working on developing some interesting new dragon-type moves before its funding was diverted into Project Glossolalia after that incident up in the mountains.
Not sure if this is correct or not, and sorry if I'm just getting too caught up in the way it sounds when I read it. The use of 'was' seems off, but I can't think of a clear way to describe why... I think I had seen an actual error somewhere, like just a letter missing on the end of a word, but reading before bed doesn't help me find it the next day

Also to nitpick on formatting, the paragraph where Artemis is thinking about Girl Things and having an Official Girl to do them with needs a space between it an the following paragraph (not sure if that's worth mentioning on a chapter that has been out for a while :x)

The beginning of this chapter moved very quickly and I liked that. I kept reading right after finishing Chapter 7 because I wanted to see how the situation with Scyther-Scizor went. I liked Rena's character and I felt like she kept the pace of the moment going forward. There was a bit of suspicion outside of Artemis getting a weird answer about breach from her... like she was trying to get through what happened between the girls and the Pokémon they brought in so it could be studied further or covered up. Or both. I'm hoping that's not the last we've seen of that Pokémon purely because I'm fascinated by it, but I'll have to keep reading to see if it comes back.

Emilia's progression felt nice too. A little more sophisticated than her previous amateur spycraft for sure. Looking forward to what she finds out about ROCKETS.
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Cass and Artemis's battle with Mewtwo is a very enjoyable read there! I expect the two to not be able to defeat Mewtwo through brute force, but poor Artemis getting bad vibes in general before being hit with that psywave. With Mewtwo their ally now, should be interesting how the next few events and their dynamics will unfold.

Like Ambyssin, I too felt like the Effie scenes went back and forth longer than intended, but this is a sweet final goodbye with the two there. Rest in piece, Effie. Looking forward to more!
 

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
And god knows that if there's anyone in the world who actually has a shot at winning the damn thing over, it's probably her.
That's... an awful lot of faith there. I guess it's probably Emilia trying to console herself and trick herself into believing Artemis is probably still alive, but this part seemed a tad exaggerated to me.

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

SUNFLOWER, repeats Nadia. ONWARDS.

“Yeah. Onwards.”
Haha, I'm all for Nadia repeating SUNFLOWER and ONWARDS. <3 There's many ways to say "I love you"; just about everything Nadia says and does says she loves Emilia, and it's sweet.

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.
This is totally the temperament of every bird ever.

Certain ghost and psychic-type moves cause disturbances on the psychic plane that can adversely affect those with pre-existing mental health issues, in particular with those whose conditions include elements of psychosis. Effects should not last more than a few seconds after the stimulus is removed, but it is advised that vulnerable individuals avoid proximity to these moves, and, if proximity is unavoidable, take protective measures with dark-type prophylactics such as murkrow feathers or pawniard steel.
I feel like this part broke the flow of the scene a little bit, but it fit content-wise and is a super interesting concept to boot. I kinda wondered how Artemis and Cass would win Sovereign over, because they kind of had to, and clearly their lack of experience with battling wasn't going to help. So I assumed a sacrifice of sorts would happen, not only for plot reasons but because that's exactly the type of person Artemis is - loyal, of course, and willing to do anything for Brauron or those she loves - and at any rate, the quoted part added a spin to it that brought in a lot of recurring themes from previous chapters. So in the end I guess I can't complain if it broke the flow slightly. :p

“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.”
Cass, please. This is both super dumb and super badass of you.

Besides, she isn't really angry at Sovereign, is she? She's angry at her parents. No one gets that upset just over Artemis.
I don't see the connection between Cass and her parents here, but the thought is probably that Artemis's logic here is irrational to begin with?

Effie deserves her personal attention. If she couldn't get it right earlier, she has to get it right now.
Very fitting, if sad, that Emilia's forced to do take Effie's fruit in the middle of her runaway schemes...

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 long sentence, nearly breathless with so much emotion at once and so much at stake all at once, explains pretty well how I reacted when reading this. I feel for Emilia here so much.

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.
It quite frankly staggers me, too. XD But you can tell Sovereign's not happy about it at all, even if they're trying to main an emotionless demeanor. If they could, they'd rather just... not go in that ball and go out in public instead. This is a pretty damn big deal for them.

“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.”
Not sure if this is intentional, but I've seen a lot of dialogue like this in this story - that is, the "I guess I can understand that" bit. This adds more to it, and it hits hard. There's... some consolation in knowing someone understands you, but if they understand your pain and whatnot, that's a double-edged sword.
 
I really liked this one. Lots of payoffs and what appears to be setups for the final act, which is exciting!

I did feel this chapter was a little top-heavy though. It felt like the sequence of events became less... not necessarily important, but maybe less gripping as the chapter progressed (with Effie's sad ending being the outlier). The result was sort of a loss of energy as I read. I have no problem with low-energy writing. In fact, I love it. The slower parts were still interesting and entertaining, but I guess starting the chapter with the no-turning-back point for Emilia and the impossible battle for Artie and Cass just gave me the sense that I was reading down as I went along, if that makes sense. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm not sure it was your intended effect. However, I'd be exhausted if you ended every chapter with a cliffhanger, so maybe my excitement for the battle just affected my reading a little bit.

But of course the writing was, as always, enjoyable no matter the level of energy or tension. Maybe it's my imagination, but Artie seems to have really reached a new high confidence wise. It's not anything dramatically higher than before, but her thought process as she was saving Brauron was a really powerful step in their relationship and her personal journey. It was of course accompanied by a list of put-downs, but for the first time I can remember they were overshadowed by her confidence, which was very satisfying to read. I have to agree with diamondpearl876 that the explanation for the psywave's effect took me out of the story a little bit, if only because I initially thought it was Sovereign, but once I realized it wasn't I thought it fit fine.

I'm also excited to see what happens to Emilia going forward. Every minute she's not getting out of Dodge is another minute I'm stressing, but her protectiveness over Artemis is understandable and sweet, and gives her a good driving force now that she seems to be done leaking League secrets. And it's much more entertaining when you factor in the League heavies chasing her down. I fear that prioritizing Artemis over her own safety could be her downfall, but I'll be hoping it won't haha.

So yes, a fun chapter that had a lot of stuff I've been looking forward to! And I feel like things are only going to amp up going forward, so I'm looking forward to more!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
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. […] 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.
Like Ambyssin, I too felt like the Effie scenes went back and forth longer than intended, but this is a sweet final goodbye with the two there. Rest in piece, Effie. Looking forward to more!
Yeah, you're both right there – honestly, looking back on this fic a few months after I finished it, there are definitely some huge edits to be made to Emilia's plotline, especially in the second half of the story. Were this a novel, and were I serious about getting it to the best possible state I can get it no matter what, this would be the point where I go back and tighten things up. But at this point, I've done all the major work to this story that I'm going to, having moved on to the next thing. So while I accept that you're both very much right there, I'm going to have to just chalk that one up to experience and move on.

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.
That wasn't my intention with Sovereign, which is probably why it seemed off; I simply meant for them to be confused, and trying to move past that as quickly as possible, because they didn't like being confused, or that other people could tell they were confused.

I'm glad you like the master ball thing! This is kind of where the whole “most poké balls are escapable” thing I set up in the first chapter was going, and I'm pleased to have written my way to the payoff.

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.
Yes and no. Emilia would like to believe that Artemis can do it. Unfortunately, she kind of feels like maybe that won't be what happens. Her internal monologue there is her trying to convince herself, rather than you.

You painted a very good picture of her for readers to get hooked onto, and as things progress and more of her character is coming out, she feels very real. The same goes for Emilia and Cass, too. At first I kept picturing Cass as the Lass trainer class (there are too many similar-sounding words right there) and viewing her as a little dim-witted, but you do a great job showing that there is a lot to Cass underneath the surface. I love the realization that Artemis has where she thinks Cass talks a lot because she's used to people not listening, and that when Artemis does open herself up to listening, we all learn that Cass has strange things happen to her, too.
I'm glad you like them all. I like to put character at the centre of my fics, so it's always good to know those characters are going down well.

It's not even just that they're glitchy, but they're creepy! I started playing Yellow this week (bought it to play on a flight to Hawaii and only got as far as Viridian Forest before forgetting about it... lol) and man does it give off vibes that works so well in this fic. Both the games and what you have written here have a definite feeling of "there's something more going on behind the scenes," and I love that.
I feel like the view of the world the games have is intentionally very limited – you're playing as a child, and obviously that affects how people react to you and how you perceive them. Not just that, but you're a child on a pokémon journey, so you only really notice things to do with that. The games show the training infrastructure, the people who have to do with your journey, and not much else – the whole adult world is closed off to you.

Reading the scenes where Artemis was searching for brad felt weird since my first name is Bradley, haha. But I enjoyed the progression of her searches and love when authors find clever ways to incorporate real-world things like Wikipedia into a Pokémon fic.
I mostly go with the idea that the real world and the pokémon world are pretty similar – with the differences accentuated in the games because of the child trainer perspective – so that's where things like that come from. Older trainer, a very definite summer-of-2017 timeline, and things from modern life seep in at the edges.

Emilia discovering that Glitch!Oak came from the future was so confusing at first, but once I got it and audibly said, "Ohhhhh!" it was super cool. I have to ask, though, because now being a few chapters past that point I'm still slighting confused: the "ghost" man that Artemis and Cass saw was Glitch!Oak, right? I feel like I read through some of those scenes while I was lying in bed (I know I was reading some of those scenes while I was lying in bed, it's become a nighttime ritual at this point haha) and my exhaustion didn't help to process some of that information.
That was indeed glitch!Oak, yes – it was indirectly confirmed by Emilia hearing from Lorelei that Giovanni saw him manifest in front of Cass and Artemis. “Confusing at first but afterwards cool” is pretty much what I was going for, so I'm glad that was how it ended up for you.

Loved the bonding between Artemis and Cass while they went to look for Ditto. Cass specifically wanting a Ditto and creating an entire side-journey to go get one feels very in-character for her without blatantly saying so. It was nice to see her and Artemis go looking for Ditto together and to experience breach together, too.
It's kind of how pokémon journeys work, I think. They're long and meandering and odd. It takes time to find the right partners, and it takes even more time to train them up, so you know. But it's definitely very Cass to do that kind of thing, you're right.

I believe this should be then (I read this chapter in bed last night and just had to scan through it to find that - I knew it was there but hadn't made note last night of where before falling asleep! :p)
I think actually the “the” is a fragment of an older line left from before an edit – I'm pretty sure it shouldn't be there at all. Thanks for pointing it out; I'll delete it now.

I think this chapter is my favorite so far. The parallel opening scenes where Artemis, Cass, and Emilia are all "drinking" was great to see, as was the additional parallel between Artemis and Emilia both being trans. It's always nice to see the number of trans characters in a story double, and even better the way you went about the scene where we learn more about Emilia's past. She is fascinating for a number of reasons, and in my opinion just the way we learn about her and her partner Pokémon is the most fascinating. Effie is one of the best Pokémon characters I've ever read about and she's spent the whole story in her pot, and I think that really says something about her and Emilia. Great stuff, there.
I'm glad you like it. There are obviously supposed to be parallels between both Artemis and Cass and Artemis and Emilia – both of which get developed a bunch more in later chapters, so I won't give too much away here – and this chapter was kind of where the similarities between Artemis and Emilia at least start to get teased out a little.

The ending scenes with Artemis and Cass fighting the Scyther-Scizor had me legitimately tense and if I were sitting up instead of lying in bed, I would have literally been on the edge of my seat. I made the mistake of trying to go to bed in the middle of that chapter, and couldn't sleep until I finished, but the way it ended was so intense I started reading chapter 8 before finally calling it a night. Scyther-Scizor's introduction was gripping and the descriptions of it during the fight were terrifying.
Good to hear! It's always a pleasure to know that your writing has kept someone up past the point where they meant to go to sleep. :p

Not sure if this is correct or not, and sorry if I'm just getting too caught up in the way it sounds when I read it. The use of 'was' seems off, but I can't think of a clear way to describe why... I think I had seen an actual error somewhere, like just a letter missing on the end of a word, but reading before bed doesn't help me find it the next day
It's technically correct, but kinda awkward. I'll see what I can do about that.

Also to nitpick on formatting, the paragraph where Artemis is thinking about Girl Things and having an Official Girl to do them with needs a space between it an the following paragraph (not sure if that's worth mentioning on a chapter that has been out for a while :x)
Cool. I'll add in a line there!

The beginning of this chapter moved very quickly and I liked that. I kept reading right after finishing Chapter 7 because I wanted to see how the situation with Scyther-Scizor went. I liked Rena's character and I felt like she kept the pace of the moment going forward. There was a bit of suspicion outside of Artemis getting a weird answer about breach from her... like she was trying to get through what happened between the girls and the Pokémon they brought in so it could be studied further or covered up. Or both. I'm hoping that's not the last we've seen of that Pokémon purely because I'm fascinated by it, but I'll have to keep reading to see if it comes back.

Emilia's progression felt nice too. A little more sophisticated than her previous amateur spycraft for sure. Looking forward to what she finds out about ROCKETS.
I'm glad you liked it! Rena was fun to write; it's good to know she's fun to read as well. And, of course, that all the right conspiracy theory vibes were coming through. Thanks for your review!

Cass and Artemis's battle with Mewtwo is a very enjoyable read there! I expect the two to not be able to defeat Mewtwo through brute force, but poor Artemis getting bad vibes in general before being hit with that psywave. With Mewtwo their ally now, should be interesting how the next few events and their dynamics will unfold.
Thanks! Yeah, things are going to get moving fast at this point. We've got just two chapters to go from here, so they're gonna be pretty full and action-packed. Like, once you've got a legendary pokémon on your side, you can stop sneaking around and take the fight to the enemy, and obviously Sovereign will be more than happy to have the chance to get their hands on the man who oversaw the project that creation. Thanks for the review, and I hope you enjoy the climax we're building to!

That's... an awful lot of faith there. I guess it's probably Emilia trying to console herself and trick herself into believing Artemis is probably still alive, but this part seemed a tad exaggerated to me.
Fair enough. She's right, but of course the line implies an amount of knowledge about Sovereign and what makes them tick that Emilia doesn't actually have, so it's definitely something to cut.

Haha, I'm all for Nadia repeating SUNFLOWER and ONWARDS. <3 There's many ways to say "I love you"; just about everything Nadia says and does says she loves Emilia, and it's sweet.
I'm glad. I always love writing these pokémon/trainer relationships, and I also love hearing that people like them, too.

This is totally the temperament of every bird ever.
Good to know! It's mostly based on seagulls, so this is a rare instance where I've written about animals and actually have some evidence to back up what I say.

I feel like this part broke the flow of the scene a little bit, but it fit content-wise and is a super interesting concept to boot. I kinda wondered how Artemis and Cass would win Sovereign over, because they kind of had to, and clearly their lack of experience with battling wasn't going to help. So I assumed a sacrifice of sorts would happen, not only for plot reasons but because that's exactly the type of person Artemis is - loyal, of course, and willing to do anything for Brauron or those she loves - and at any rate, the quoted part added a spin to it that brought in a lot of recurring themes from previous chapters. So in the end I guess I can't complain if it broke the flow slightly. :p
[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18521792 said:
I have to agree with diamondpearl876 that the explanation for the psywave's effect took me out of the story a little bit, if only because I initially thought it was Sovereign, but once I realized it wasn't I thought it fit fine.
Good to get someone else's opinion on that – I've cut and reinstated that bit so many times at this point that I can no longer tell whether or not it works. Even at the time of posting, I wasn't sure whether I wanted it in there or not – like, it's very jarring, which I liked, but I'm not sure it was jarring in a good way. With this feedback in mind, I'm pretty confident about cutting it.

Cass, please. This is both super dumb and super badass of you.
That's kind of Cass' thing, in a way. :p She is always willing to do the dumb thing, if it's the right thing to do. And, well, insofar as she's standing up for her friend, it's the right thing to do here. Maybe not a very sensible thing to do, but an admirable one, in its way.

I don't see the connection between Cass and her parents here, but the thought is probably that Artemis's logic here is irrational to begin with?
It's not meant to seem like a reasonable piece of logic at all, no. Artemis will take any excuse to believe that someone isn't really getting upset on her behalf, that there's some other better reason out there. As the immediate revelation that she was wrong was supposed to imply.

The long sentence, nearly breathless with so much emotion at once and so much at stake all at once, explains pretty well how I reacted when reading this. I feel for Emilia here so much.
I'm very glad you liked it. It's … maybe a device I use too often, if anything, but at least if it's still having this kind of impact, I haven't killed it through overuse yet. :p

It quite frankly staggers me, too. XD But you can tell Sovereign's not happy about it at all, even if they're trying to main an emotionless demeanor. If they could, they'd rather just... not go in that ball and go out in public instead. This is a pretty damn big deal for them.
Good to know that comes though; it's what I wanted.

Not sure if this is intentional, but I've seen a lot of dialogue like this in this story - that is, the "I guess I can understand that" bit. This adds more to it, and it hits hard. There's... some consolation in knowing someone understands you, but if they understand your pain and whatnot, that's a double-edged sword.
Yeah, a bunch of this is a “I'm glad someone understands, but I hate that they're in a position to do so” kind of thing. This being the beginning of the end, I kind of wanted to bring all those threads together here, at the point where all of Artemis' weaknesses become the strengths that let her win Sovereign over. Thank you for the review!

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18521792 said:
I did feel this chapter was a little top-heavy though. It felt like the sequence of events became less... not necessarily important, but maybe less gripping as the chapter progressed (with Effie's sad ending being the outlier). The result was sort of a loss of energy as I read. I have no problem with low-energy writing. In fact, I love it. The slower parts were still interesting and entertaining, but I guess starting the chapter with the no-turning-back point for Emilia and the impossible battle for Artie and Cass just gave me the sense that I was reading down as I went along, if that makes sense. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm not sure it was your intended effect. However, I'd be exhausted if you ended every chapter with a cliffhanger, so maybe my excitement for the battle just affected my reading a little bit.
Wholly understandable. I contemplated cutting this in half, or reallocating some of the later segments to the next chapter, but I didn't want two really short chapters, and nor did I want a really overlong chapter next time around – so this was where that stuff ended up. If it's energy you're after though, I think you're gonna like the next chapter. There aren't a lot of battles in this fic, but that one's probably the highlight.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18521792 said:
But of course the writing was, as always, enjoyable no matter the level of energy or tension. Maybe it's my imagination, but Artie seems to have really reached a new high confidence wise. It's not anything dramatically higher than before, but her thought process as she was saving Brauron was a really powerful step in their relationship and her personal journey. It was of course accompanied by a list of put-downs, but for the first time I can remember they were overshadowed by her confidence, which was very satisfying to read.
She has! I've always thought that going on a trainer journey must be the most amazing thing, and I really wanted Artemis' to be a really healing experience for her. She needed to get out of that house, of that town, of that whole life, even, and while her journey has brought her to dark places, it's also done a lot to help her out. By the time all this is over, I wouldn't be surprised if she's in a position to actually take charge of her life for once – but we'll have to wait and see how all that shakes out.

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18521792 said:
I'm also excited to see what happens to Emilia going forward. Every minute she's not getting out of Dodge is another minute I'm stressing, but her protectiveness over Artemis is understandable and sweet, and gives her a good driving force now that she seems to be done leaking League secrets. And it's much more entertaining when you factor in the League heavies chasing her down. I fear that prioritizing Artemis over her own safety could be her downfall, but I'll be hoping it won't haha.
You'll have to wait and see! Emilia has something in mind now that she knows about Sovereign, and it's going to be big. Hopefully her plotline continues to entertain you as it moves towards the end!

[Imaginative]:[Clockwork];18521792 said:
So yes, a fun chapter that had a lot of stuff I've been looking forward to! And I feel like things are only going to amp up going forward, so I'm looking forward to more!
Thank you for reading, and for your review! Next time: our heroes are finally ready to take the fight to Giovanni, but he's not quite beaten yet, even with a legendary pokémon gunning for him.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
13: THEY THAT HAVE THE POWER TO HURT

Sovereign, thankfully, doesn't come with them. They don't want to be contained in their ball for any longer than necessary; they say they'll follow at a distance, in the wilderness.

That ball and I have history, they said, before Cass and Artemis left. I will feel the vibrations if you grip it and think of me. Do that, and we can speak to arrange a meeting.

Artemis didn't argue. The alternative, she was pretty sure, would be for Sovereign to stay in the ball but telepathically jack in to her brain, to see and hear through her eyes and ears, and that's probably not something she can do without her grip on reality dissolving entirely.

So: Sovereign's out there, somewhere, watching and waiting, and Emilia's out there too, coming north to Cerulean, and in the meantime Cass and Artemis are on the bus, flicking through the news on their phones, wide-eyed.

“Holy crap,” says Cass, staring. “She actually did it. She pulled it off.”

She did. It's all there: BREAKING NEWS: INDIGO LEAGUE BLACK OPS AGENCY GONE ROGUE, a stock photo of Giovanni Dioli in front of his Gym, a 56-page inset PDF of all the documents thus far released. A photograph of the Lavender breach entity, coruscating beneath the treeline on a darkened hillside. (How did they even get that?)

And Emilia's name front and centre, with a Q&A right alongside. Artemis' gaze lingers here, on her concise, informative answers. There's a lot of data here. She must have given the Cataphract editor everything she had. Which means … well, bad things, probably. Why didn't she just do this anonymously? Couldn't she have protected herself that way?

No, Artie, she thinks: Lorelei knew she was getting out of line; that's why she suspended her. Doesn't matter if her name's on the leak or not, the League will know who's behind it. She might as well throw her weight behind it and give it some extra credibility.

The callousness of this calculation disturbs her. She wishes that she couldn't see how this worked – that she was, somehow, naïve enough to not have to carry this knowledge. But she can, and she isn't, so she just keeps scrolling through the live updates and worrying.

It's okay. It isn't, Emilia is probably going to be arrested and Giovanni is still out there and the fate of the world rests more or less completely on her, Cass and a giant cat with an axe, but it's okay.

Brauron wakes up in her lap, hissing in disapproval, and Artemis realises she's accidentally begun to squeeze instead of stroking. She flinches and pulls her hand away sharply, feeling a million desperate apologies all getting stuck on one another in their haste to get out of her mouth, trying unsuccessfully to shift her mental image of a fistful of bloody mush; and Brauron starts and crouches, staring up as she stares down; and Artemis only realises she's crying when Cass asks if she's okay.

She shakes her head, still unable to speak, and Cass very slowly and awkwardly pats her shoulder, unable to really get her arm around her in her seat, or to tell if Artemis even really wants her to. For a moment Artemis is suspended between moments, a drop of oil slithering across the surface of an aqueous reality, and then Brauron insinuates herself into her cardigan, pressing close to her side, and Cass says it's gonna be okay, and Artemis slides back into herself with a thump that seems to shake her muscles loose on her bones.

She doesn't deserve this sympathy, from Brauron or from Cass. She can't even deal with this body, this overwrought baroque abomination, and she hurts Brauron just trying to touch her and she breaks things and she runs away and she breaks down in tears on public transport and she has the gall to suggest that the problem might not be her, that she deserves a partner, a journey, a choice.

Ground yourself, she orders, through the smoke of the garbage fire burning inside her. Things you can see, hear, feel. She counts shopfronts and ringtones, the smoothness of the window and the worn-out fuzz of the bus seat, and though the fire does not go out she does at least manage to suck in all the fumes so no one else gets poisoned.

It's not perfect. That's okay. These things never are.

“Thank you,” she whispers, wiping her eyes. “I'm sorry.”

“Hey,” says Cass. “It's fine. Really.”

“I know,” says Artemis, trying to work up the courage to touch Brauron, not succeeding. “But you know.”

Cass sighs.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

*​

Cass is nice. Artemis has said it so many times, but it bears repeating. She sticks close to Artemis right the way back, is apparently aware of how much just being near someone can mean, and she insists Artemis come with her when she goes to take Ringo to the Centre doctors for a check-up. They say he just needs a potion and day or two of rest (and somewhere underneath everything part of Artemis is amazed that Brauron is that strong already, that she's capable of putting Ringo out of commission like that), and tell her to let him take it easy for a while.

“Sure,” she says. “You'll like that, right birdbrain?”

He chirps weakly and bites her finger.

“Close enough,” she says, wincing. “Okay. So like it's thing, water, milk, right, Artie?”

It takes a moment for Artemis to realise what it is she's offering, and then she smiles.

“Yeah,” she says. “Thank you.”

Back in the lounge, it seems like the news has broken. Some older kids, fifteen or so, are flipping the TV between various news channels, KNBC to TohjoView to Republic and back again, looking for further information on the story currently clogging up their phones' activity feeds.

“… massive leak from a high-level League source,” Artemis hears the newscaster say, and looks helplessly at Cass.

“You go,” she says. “I'll be up in a minute.”

Artemis smiles her thanks and leaves Cass making the tea, the TV squawking in the background. She can't deal with this right now. She's going to have to, sooner or later, but right now? Right now, she needs a minute or two to herself. This afternoon, she allied with a legendary pokémon and saw ROCKETS torn out of its shell and thrown into the public eye. That is more than enough to warrant a little downtime.

Brauron has fallen asleep again, tired out after the fight against Sovereign, and Artemis transfers her carefully from her arms to a pillow, where she curls herself into an adorable little comma that makes Artemis smile without realising. She looks at her for a while, struck as she sometimes is by how beautiful the variegated blacks of her back are, and then when Cass knocks at the door with tea and coffee she lets her in.

They lie around for a bit quietly, not really talking, just listening to the breathing of their sleeping partners and drinking. It's quiet, and peaceful, and it's not much but it is, in its own way, healing. Artemis pulls the ragged scraps of herself back together, and breathes out.

“Okay,” she says, after a while. “Okay, I think I'm all right.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“I'm glad,” says Cass. “I think I'm all right too.”

Pause. Brauron yawns in her sleep and breathes hot air onto Artemis' ear.

“When d'you think Emilia will get here?”

“Dunno. Guess she'll call us when she does.”

She could close her eyes right now and she'd probably fall asleep. She won't; there's stuff to do, and anyway she doesn't want to roll over and crush Brauron. But she could. Artemis holds this feeling in the palm of her hand, soft and warm and infinitely precious, and stifles a yawn of her own.

“I guess it depends what we decide we're gonna do,” she says. “But I mean if you wanted to see your girlfriend while we're in town …”

“I'll call her later,” says Cass. “After Emilia. I think she has work today anyway.” Another pause. “Then I'd really like it if we could get out of Cerulean and like not come back for ages.”

“Sure,” says Artemis. “I think we can swing that.”

The pause stretches out into a silence, and then Artemis' phone buzzes and it all vanishes into the past.

“Emilia?” It's the same number as last time; maybe she's got a new phone.

“Artemis,” she says. Her voice makes Artemis' guts clench: trust, or not? So hard to tell, with someone who can plan all this out so meticulously, who can smile and comfort and lie all in the same breath. “I'm in the lobby. The clerk told me you're back?”

“Yeah.” Artemis' voice sounds stronger than she expects, almost like she isn't worried at all. “Yeah, I went up here so I didn't have to – well, they've got the news on in the lounge.”

“Yes, I can hear it from here. Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Just … tired.”

“I can't even imagine,” says Emilia. “What you've done … you know what, we should talk in person. Shall I come up?”

“Okay. Room 22.”

“Got it. See you in a minute.”

They sit up, shedding the quiet, and by the time the knock at the door comes a few moments later Artemis feels more or less ready for it.

“Hi,” says Emilia, when she lets her in. “God. Are you two okay? And Brauron and Ringo?”

She sounds different – that's her other voice, the non-professional one, and there's an intensity to her voice that seems out of place for her. She looks different, too: jeans and a hoodie quite frankly look wrong on her, and her hair, normally straightened or bound back in a tight ponytail or both, is loose in a huge shock of tight black curls. For a moment, Artemis doesn't even recognise her, but sure enough, that's Nadia on her shoulder, peeping through the hair.

Is this honesty? Impossible to be sure. Maybe it's just a disguise, to throw the League off her trail. Artemis feels the void of not-knowing yawning at her feet, calling her to jump, and she takes a deliberate step back.

“Yeah,” she says, like it's nothing. “Yeah, we're okay. Brauron's tired. Ringo got … Ringo got hurt, but he's, um, I think he's okay.”

“He's fine,” says Cass assertively. “Just needs some rest.”

Emilia looks from her to Artemis and back again. She looks, if anything, even more tired than when they last met.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay.” She sighs, shakes her head. “I don't know what I was expecting. Broken bones, maybe. But you – you spoke to it? And …” She breaks off. “Let me try that one again: why don't you talk me through what happened?”

*​

It's quite a story, Emilia has to admit. She has no idea how they managed it, but apparently two teenagers have done in a couple of days what the entirety of the Indigo League couldn't in ten years. They found Mew-2, and they made friends with it.

With them, even. With Sovereign. Because apparently Mew-2 isn't a monster, it's a person, a very badly hurt person who happened to have the supernatural powers requisite to take revenge on the people who hurt them, and that's the real revelation here. And Emilia coordinated part of an offensive that drove them to hide in a hole in the ground for ten years.

Forget the guilt: it means nothing, does nothing, except act as a spur to greater action. Focus on what should be done.

“What you've done is incredible,” she says. “You should know that. I know things have been weird, and maybe your sense of what's normal has got sort of skewed – but this is incredible. I hope you appreciate that.”

“Thanks,” replies Cass. “Like seriously. But you know, we still have to … do whatever it is we have to do.”

Artemis smiles awkwardly but says nothing. It seems fair, after everything that's happened today.

“That's true. It doesn't mean that what you've already done is meaningless, though.” Enough? Probably enough. “But. Back to next steps.” Think. What should you do? What can you do, at this point? The only asset they have is Sovereign. And Sovereign's strength is, well, their strength. “The question is where ROCKETS is based,” she says. “If we can figure that out, Sovereign can probably destroy it by themself. It took the Elite Four and Champion combined to even drive them back last time, and I don't think Giovanni is going to be able to muster that sort of strength.”

“We can't make that decision,” says Artemis immediately. “We need to talk to Sovereign.”

“Yes. Of course.” Emilia pauses. Again: forget the guilt, press on. “We also have to work out where they're based. They've changed locations since the project was officially terminated. We can't come up with a plan of attack without knowing where to strike. And – I don't want to be pessimistic, but we need to know that soon. If Giovanni's people have really worked out how to control breach already, it's just a matter of time before they've won.”

“Uh, well,” says Cass. “How are we gonna do that, exactly? I mean, not to speak for you or anything, Artie, but I don't think either of us have access to that kind of information. Not really something I can just ask my aunt about, y'know?”

Artie, Emilia notes, with some satisfaction. That's good. Artemis could use a friend. And, well, considering that Cass went with her to face Sovereign and back, she's inclined to think that she fits the bill.

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “I mean I guess we could ask Sovereign, but they only knew ROCKETS ten years ago, so …”

“No, I see that.” Emilia thinks about it for a moment. “Nadia?” she asks. “Got anything?”

Nadia considers, then summons up a fragment of Lorelei's last phone call, so vivid that it feels for an instant like Emilia really is back out there in the city heat, listening to her speak:

Internal review didn't find anything. They went to the ROCKETS site and it was completely empty.

Emilia frowns slightly, puzzled.

“Nadia?”

NOT SITE, says Nadia. ROCKET.

“What is it?” asks Cass. “Does she have an idea?”

“Hang on.” Emilia repeats the words over in her head, running through potential interpretations. Not site rocket. Not at the ROCKETS site? But that would just be restating what Lorelei said; no point in saying that. And she said rocket, singular. So … wait. Not site, comma, Rocket.

Not the ROCKETS site, but the Rocket.

It is one of those realisations that strikes like a stone falling into a still, clear pool of deep water. Emilia sits completely motionless for at least five seconds, mind racing. Where else? Where could Giovanni set up shop without anyone noticing? Where do his employees frequently drive windowless bulletproof vans, ostensibly full of money but, perhaps, actually full of equipment? Where could he set up the necessary security measures without anyone thinking it strange? And, most importantly – where does he spend all his time when he isn't at the Viridian Gym?

It's so simple, so elegant, that Emilia can't help but admire it. The place is already built like a fortress: no windows, armed guards, CCTV like nobody's business. And why wouldn't it be? Vast sums of money flow through the place every day, surfing on a toxic wave of alcohol, avarice and frustration. Anyone can tell it needs security just by looking at it.

“Damn,” she breathes. “How long have you known that, Nadia?”

A lazy curl of nonchalance wafts through her mind.

“You just worked it out, huh.” Emilia shakes her head. “All right. This is … going to be tricky, actually.”

“What is it?” asks Artemis. “Did she get it?”

“Yes, she did.” Emilia reaches up and scratches Nadia's head. “The Rocket. ROCKETS is based at Giovanni's flagship casino.”

Cass and Artemis stare.

“Are you serious?” asks Cass. “Like … in a casino?

“It's already fortified,” Emilia replies. “So that works out. And honestly, I'm not sure where else Giovanni would be able to set up without being seen unless he actually left Kanto. Nor where he could afford to set up. I know he's rich, but he's not that rich. He owns a few casinos in a small city in a nation that half the world can't find on a map; that's not enough to build a fortified installation from scratch in complete secrecy.”

Neither of them have anything to say in response to that. And what is there to say, anyway? They've been running round Kanto, sneaking and trying not to get caught, and now suddenly they're supposed to turn around and fight? It feels strange – feels wrong, even; it's not just that Cass and Artemis are kids, that they have no business getting caught up in this mess, it's that there is something deeply unsettling about all of this, about supervillainy breaking free from comic strips and into reality. Dark experiments on the fabric of the universe being done from some secret lab in the heart of a casino: that's unreal, and that's bad. Worse is the fact that they're going to have to attack it, just because no one else will.

Emilia supposes she could take this information to the press, could work that angle further. But what's the point? Giovanni is as good a politician as she is, probably better, and he'll be able to play for time, deliver counter-arguments, tie up investigations, even if only for a day or two. Which might be all he needs; frankly, if he's already giving orders to breach entities, if he's testing the limits of his control, then it may already be too late. What they need is a way to take his operation down now, before things escalate any further, and they have one, in Sovereign. A way to force an ending.

It's going to be dangerous. But if the alternative is some jumped-up Kantan exceptionalist gaining mastery over the fundamental forces of the universe …

She waits for someone else to speak, not wanting to force this on them. After some time, Artemis nods.

“Okay,” she says, rolling the master ball between her fingers. “I guess we need to talk to Sovereign.”

*​

Sovereign will only leave their cave for the outskirts of town after dark, when they can more easily keep hidden. This is fair enough, but it also leaves an uncomfortable amount of time for everyone to fill before the meeting takes place. Emilia tells Cass and Artemis that she'll be monitoring the news situation, and heads out into Cerulean to make her preparations.

She's not lying. She is monitoring the news situation; every few minutes, another slew of updates pings onto her phone, and she sees the ROCKETS story unfold across every news site in Kanto and a few beyond it. But there's something else she has to do, something she doesn't particularly want to share. If you're going to do something potentially life-threatening, and she is, then you need to square it with your loved ones. Emilia doesn't have any of those any more, but she does have an old friend in Bluefield Cemetery.

So. Out of town again, along the same route she took a few days ago. She passes the same row of shops where she bought the flowers last time, and stops in to buy some matches. Not that she's planning to set anything on fire right now, but if she gets into the Rocket, there might be some documents that need destroying.

She buys more lilies, too, with a twenty-florin note she found in her wallet, and the florist smiles at her in recognition.

“How did it go last time?” she asks, as she rings up her purchase.

“Okay,” replies Emilia. “I figured if it worked once …”

“Fair enough,” says the florist. “Are you local? I haven't seen you round here except that one time.”

“Ah,” she says. “No, I live in Saffron. Just visiting a friend.”

“Sure. That's thirteen florins, then.”

SAM? asks Nadia, as the door shuts behind them.

“Sam,” confirms Emilia. “I mean, we might die.”

Nadia considers this.

ATTEMPT, she says.

“Try not to die? Yeah, well, I'll do my best.”

ENOUGH, pronounces Nadia, meaning that this is good enough for her, and settles back down on her shoulder.

Emilia almost laughs. Some quirks of natu psychology you get used to, but some stay weird forever. Nadia's blasé approach to being murdered is one of them.

She pushes open the gate and makes her way down the path between the headstones. There she is: SAMANTHA VILLIERS. No trace of the lilies from earlier. Someone must have cleaned up the mess, if the rain didn't do it before they got a chance.

“Hey, Sam.” It feels weird to talk to her in the sunshine. Somehow Emilia feels like talking to the dead makes more sense in the rain. “I brought some more flowers.” She puts them down in front of the stone. “I know I said I'd come more often, but I'm about to do something that might mean this is the last time. You know I said I was stuck? Well, I figured out what to do. And what I should do, as it turns out, is break into the Rocket Casino in search of a rogue government agency hiding out behind the slots.”

She pauses, considering her next words. Somewhere, birds are singing, although Emilia can't see any of them.

“So on the one hand, I'm doing what you always said I should. I'm making a stand. On the other, I guess I'm doing exactly what you always tried to stop me doing: I'm risking my neck. I think it's for a good cause, but you know.” She sighs. “I don't think I'm asking for your blessing. I don't actually think you're still around to give it; I think I'm doing this for my benefit, not yours. Actually, I think I should have figured out to grieve eight years ago and moved on by now instead of bottling it until … until Effie, but, well, I guess I'm not saying anything new there.”

She shakes her head. You're starting to ramble, she tells herself. Keep it together. What are the salient details here?

“Speaking of Effie,” she says, fighting the reluctance in her throat, “she … well, it happened. She's gone. So, just me and Nadia now.” A long pause, while she wrestles her voice back under control. “I just thought you should know,” she says, in the end. “You two always got on so well. And … and.”

She waits a long time, trying to think of the words she could put after that and, and then in the end she just sighs again.

“You know,” she says. “You always knew better than me, anyway.”

Emilia rests her hand on the gravestone, the way she did the last time she was here.

“I'll see you soon, Sam,” she promises. “One way or another. But for now, I'm going to have to say goodbye.”

She straightens up and turns to leave. Out through the gates, back down the street.

?, asks Nadia.

“Yeah,” agrees Emilia. “Pretty much.”

*​

After Emilia leaves, Cass calls up her girlfriend and then makes her own exit with Ringo, promising to be back soon. Artemis tells her to take her time, as long as she's back before the meeting, and she smiles gratefully in a way that makes both of them feel a little better.

Which leaves Artemis alone in the Centre for a few hours. Not ideal, but she survives; she's got Brauron, who is awake again and very insistent that she be both fed and entertained right now, and she's got her phone, so in a sense she's got Chelle too. Messages go back and forth, updates on Brauron and on Cinnabar Island, where Chelle still thinks she is, and by the time her phone alarm goes off to tell her to go meet Cass and Emilia downstairs she feels more or less level.

“Hey,” says Cass, when she sees her. She looks much better than she did, Artemis notes. There's a brightness in her eyes that has been missing since they first decided to go after Sovereign. “How are you doing?”

“I'm okay. Brauron too.” She hisses at the sound of her name and Artemis pats her head absently. “You?”

“Me? Yeah. Yeah, I'm good.” Cass smiles. “Kaylee says hi.”

“Hi, Kaylee,” says Artemis, and smiles back.

A moment later, Emilia turns up, poking at her phone.

“Hi,” she says. “Have you seen? Giovanni's made a statement.”

“What's he saying?”

“Denying everything. Talking about the League investigation and my suspension.” She shakes her head. “It doesn't hold together, but I'm not sure it has to. Depends what he's trying to do. I suspect he's playing for time until his plan comes through, but I can't be sure.”

“What plan?” asks Cass, and Emilia shrugs.

“He wants control of breach to do something,” she says. “Given ROCKETS' politics, I don't think it's universal basic income.” She sighs and gestures at the doors. “Come on. I have a cab waiting outside.”

It's a quick ride out to Leeside, where the bus dropped them earlier that day; when they get out, Emilia tells the driver to wait, and Artemis feels vaguely embarrassed in that way you do at the evidence of other people's wealth. Left to herself, she wouldn't have taken a cab at all. From here, they make their way down the darkened trail by the light of Cass' torch, and soon enough they hear that unmistakeable voice.

Put out your light.


Emilia starts; Cass obliges. A moment later, staring intently through the sudden blackness, Artemis makes out a tall, dim figure.

Santangelo, says Sovereign. Its eyes catch some light that Artemis doesn't see, or perhaps they cast their own inner light, and they flash for a moment with that distinctive silvery sheen. You are brave to come seeking me.

“I made my mistakes,” she replies. Her voice is steady and unwavering. “I'll answer for them eventually.”

You certainly will. Something moves: Sovereign's tail, maybe, switching back and forth like a cat's. Quiet, little bird. I am not here to harm you.

Artemis can't feel anything, but then, she supposes she isn't as sensitive to these things as Sovereign. At any rate, Nadia seems to calm herself readily enough.

Better, says Sovereign. Well? You wanted to meet me. I have answered.

They have. They have, despite everything – despite the fact that they arrived with their ball and Emilia. It takes a special sort of bravery to face a meeting like that, for someone with Sovereign's history.

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “We have … well, we've kind of got a plan.”

With which you need my help.


“Yeah.” She glances at where Emilia is, somewhere off to her right. “It's, um, well. We think we know where Giovanni's operation is based.”

You want me to assault it. Sovereign's eyes flash again; Brauron grips Artemis harder, flares her fins defiantly. I believe we have discussed my disinterest in being used as an instrument before.

“Uh, um, yeah, but―”

But I appreciate that you lack the capacity to attack Giovanni yourself. And … and I have to admit, I relish the thought of getting my hands on the bastard.
A low growl, some of that base feline aggression breaking loose in their throat. Where is his base of operations?

“Celadon. Giovanni owns a few casinos, but like, the big one's in Celadon, and it's where he spends all his time …”

I see. And your plan for attacking it is what, exactly?

“With you on our side,” says Emilia, “more or less brute force.”

Sovereign snorts. It sounds almost like laughter.

You know my tastes, they reply. And what? You would have me destroy it all?

“Not just that. I'd like you to get me in there.” Artemis looks at her sharply: this isn't anything they've discussed previously. “Giovanni has to be stopped, but more than that, all his data has to be destroyed, all his people incapacitated. Everything needs to be photographed. I don't want anyone getting away with this, or it's just going to happen again.”

My, how times have changed
, says Sovereign archly. You? Ripping the heart from the League's darling?

“I'm not League,” says Emilia simply. “I'm Kantan.”

“Hmph,” says Sovereign. That might be the first sensible thing those equivocating lips of yours ever spoke.

They sound like they want to push her, like they're trying to make her snap, but Emilia holds.

“Yes,” she says. “Probably.”

For a moment, Sovereign doesn't answer. Then:

You are going to want my ball, aren't you?

“Yes.” Emilia hesitates. “I'd understand if you don't trust me with it, but … if it's you and me going in there, then that's how it has to be. I can get you through the city that way.”

“Wait a minute,” says Cass. “Just you two? What about us?”

Emilia sighs.

“I can deal with the evidence,” she says. “And you, Sovereign, you can deal with the security.”

With absolute certainty.

“So that's it,” says Emilia. “That's all we need.”

“But …” It's too dark to see Cass without the torch, but Artemis knows what she must look like: glaring, feet planted firmly as if she anticipates being dragged bodily away. That's Cass, all right. “But we – Artie, you know what I mean, right? We can't just back out now, after – after everything we've done …”

Artemis wishes Cass hadn't asked. She sees where Emilia's coming from, she really does; this is her solving a problem, just like when she made the spire disappear. (Just like when she lied about Cinnabar.) Why let two kids and their pokémon risk their lives when the professionals are here to take their place? Especially since they've already risked so much, and made such narrow escapes.

But – well, Cass has a point. It is their fight now. Even if it's not a fight they can win. She just isn't sure whether that's more important than their safety. What's an idea even worth, anyway, when you compare it to a life?

“I know,” she says, in the end. “I know, I … I know.”

The night wells up into the silence, wind and bird calls and the distant croak of a golduck on the prowl, and then at last Emilia speaks.

“I stood by while you went to the single most dangerous place in Kanto,” she says. “You shouldn't have had to do that. Not if the system had worked. And you shouldn't have to do something like that again. And, well, all that aside – I don't want you to get shot. Does that sound fair?”

It does. Artemis can see where she's coming from, and she's probably not lying about this, she probably really does care enough to want them to be safe. And yet …

“I mean, I guess.” Cass sighs. “I just don't really want to sit around in the Centre while you two go off to smash Giovanni, is all.”

“Artemis?”

It's a wrench. It is. But Emilia is right, no matter how much Artemis wants to see this through to the end. She's not strong enough. Brauron's not strong enough, Cass is not strong enough, Ringo's not strong enough. Maybe Nadia isn't either, but Emilia's definitely got experience on them and they need her in there to make sure things go down right. Cass and Artemis are only going to be a drain on Sovereign's attention.

“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I mean I get it. Not wanting to sit around, I mean. And I don't want to get shot either.” She shrugs. “I don't like it, same as you, Cass, but I get it. I think we've probably done everything we can.”

There is strength in wisdom, says Sovereign. Everything sounds so portentous in that voice, Artemis thinks. They probably don't mean it, but it does. Can we return to the matter at hand?

“Sure,” says Artemis. “Sorry. Um. Go ahead.”

Good. The eyes flash again. Santangelo. You will want my ball, to take me to this casino. You must also know that I am not going to surrender it to you, of all people, lightly.

“That's fair,” replies Emilia. “What do you need from me to convince you that I won't betray your trust?”

Nothing more than I already have. Cass and Artemis think you are trustworthy; I believe them. I simply want you to know the significance of what I am about to do. And, of course, that I will cut you in half with an axe if you do anything with that ball that I have not agreed to.

“Oh.” Even Emilia is a little thrown by that, it seems. Artemis isn't sure how effective an axe made out of a stop sign is, exactly, but in Sovereign's hand pretty much anything is probably a deadly weapon. “I … see. You have my word, for what it's worth.”

Not much
. Sovereign sniffs. But it will do. I will need access to your eyes and ears while I am imprisoned.

“Done,” says Emilia. “I have experience with telepathy; I'll give you full access.”

You couldn't stop me taking it if you tried.
The shadow moves a little. Are we done here? Because if we are, I will need to start moving. I can be outside Celadon by dawn, if I leave now.

“I think so,” replies Emilia. “Do you know Clayfields?”

The easternmost suburb.

“Yeah. I'll meet you there. I assume you can trace me?”

Of course.
Artemis senses Sovereign's attention shifting from Emilia to her. You may give her the ball, they say. I will see you in Celadon.

She sees no movement, but after a few moments, she becomes aware that the shape she thought was Sovereign is no longer present. Cass notices at about the same time, and turns the torch back in with some relief.

The three of them look at each other, at worried faces made pale and weird by the flat glare of the artificial light.

“We're still coming to Celadon,” insists Artemis, when nobody else speaks.

“Yeah,” says Cass. “Definitely.”

“I wasn't going to stop you,” says Emilia. “Come on. Let's get back to the cab. You can pack up at the Centre and we'll get straight down to Celadon.”

They go. Nobody says anything else.

At this point, Artemis supposes, there really isn't a lot left to talk about.

*​

Night train: yellow light, black windows populated by washed-out reflections. Commuter in one corner, watching Netflix on his tablet. A couple of teenage kids splitting a set of earbuds between them, a nidorina sprawled lazily across their laps. Guy with a recent-looking head injury, talking unsubtly with his girlfriend about selling a stolen bike. A cross-section of late night Kanto, cut loose from reality to barrel on through the dark.

It's been a long time since Artemis rode a train at night. She doesn't do a lot of train journeys at all, really; she's more of a bus-goer, staying mainly within Pewter as she does. She stays quiet, watches Cass and Emilia as they relax into the space with the assuredness of seasoned travellers. How many journeys have they made, she wonders. Emilia – probably more than she can count, back and forth and round and round all across Greater Tohjo. And Cass: Cerulean to Silverleaf and back, three times a year for the past eight years. She imagines Cass at eleven with a trunk and a parent in tow, and then again at fifteen, travelling alone. What colour would her hair have been? She glances at her and sees dark roots beneath the pink.

Cass sees her looking and smiles at her.

“You okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” says Artemis. She seems to be standing upside down on the ceiling, watching her body respond by rote. Something about this light makes the world seem weird. “Yeah, I'm good.”

The train rattles on. She could check her phone, see how the ROCKETS scandal's unfolding. She could message Chelle again. It's late but she's probably still up, unless she has work tomorrow. Maybe even if she does.

It feels like she should do something, should mark the fact that everything is now rushing headlong towards a conclusion, but she doesn't do anything at all.

*​

When they arrive at the Pokémon Centre, they split up. Emilia will be staying elsewhere at whatever cheap hotel she can find; Cass and Artemis are to stay put right here until she comes back. Nobody is particularly happy with this arrangement, but everybody agrees that this is how it has to be.

“So I guess I'll see you tomorrow,” says Emilia, in the pool of lamplight outside the Centre doors. “By then, breach should be all over.”

Breach, over. God, if only. No more monsters, no spires or blurred men, no broken scyther or League spooks or conspiracy theorists. Just – one summer, two kids, two pokémon. Time for a trainer journey again. And if everything goes right, that might happen tomorrow.

Maybe, anyway. Things could still go wrong; Giovanni might have a way to beat Sovereign, impossible as it seems. And even if he doesn't, Artemis will probably be called on to testify, when the investigation happens. God only knows how that will work out with her parents, but that's a problem for another day.

“Yeah,” says Artemis, trying to stay positive. “All over.”

The three of them stand there for a while in the warm summer night, looking for words that refuse to be found. Then Emilia sighs and reaches into her bag.

“My partner,” she says, taking out something wrapped in tissue paper. “She … my partner is a – was a vileplume. She … she's dead. It was very recent. And I know this is sudden, but … when a vileplume dies, it leaves behind fruit. That's where oddish come from. I don't want to take the fruit with me in case it … what I'm trying to say is – would you …?”

“Of course,” says Artemis, not wanting to prolong this any further. It's painful to see anyone in that state, but it feels worse when it's someone normally so collected. “Sure. You can, um, you can just pick it up when you get back.”

She doesn't say if. She gets that right, at least.

“Thank you.” Emilia hesitates, then hands over the fruit. For some reason Artemis is expecting it to be heavy, but it isn't; it's more or less just a small mango. “Thank you,” Emilia says again. “I know I don't need to tell you, but please be careful with it.”

“Sure.” Brauron leans out from her chest to sniff at it, and Artemis takes it out of her reach. “We'll be careful,” she says. “I promise. And I'm – I'm really sorry for your loss.”

“Yeah,” says Cass. “Sorry.”

Emilia smiles. It isn't a very happy smile, but it is at least a smile.

“Thank you,” she says. “Now. I should probably find somewhere to get some sleep.” She keeps looking at the fruit. “So. Yes. I'll see you … on the other side, I suppose.”

Her face closes up again, and Artemis realises that she has been looking at something normally hidden away deep inside her. Something incontrovertibly real.

It feels mean to even think it, but she's kind of glad. She can trust in this, if nothing else.

“See you on the other side,” says Cass. “And good luck. I mean I think you'll be fine with Sovereign, but … good luck.”

“Thank you,” says Emilia. “Goodnight.”

She turns and walks away, turning her head to listen to something Nadia is saying. Cass and Artemis watch her go until she disappears into the night, and then look at one another.

“I guess that's it,” says Cass. “We did it. Like everything we could.”

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “I guess we did.”

They stand there for a few moments longer, unable to break free from the strangeness of the moment, and then Ringo nips at Cass' ear and it's just a summer night again.

“C'mon, then, buster,” says Cass, pushing Ringo's beak away. “Let's go in and get you fed.” She glances at Artemis. “Coming?”

“Sure,” says Artemis, although part of her feels like she won't, like she might just stay out here all night and evaporate with the dawn. “Sure, let's go.”
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
*​

The Rocket is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Step inside, and time ceases to exist; the only light is from the chandeliers and the lamps, and the only concession to the existence of the natural world are the tall potted plants against the walls. Marble floors, ornate vases, a long and incredibly well-stocked bar. Dealers with calm faces and clever fingers. If you've been to a casino, you've seen it before.

Emilia hasn't been to a casino, as it happens, but there isn't time to take in the details. About half an hour after dawn, she has a cab drop her off outside, in the shadow of its overwrought façade, and then as she walks up to the bouncers she throws the ball and unleashes Sovereign.

At this point, things start to happen rather quickly.

The bouncers immediately step in with their own pokémon, two machamp that fling themselves at Sovereign with the usual reckless abandon; Sovereign catches the first as easily as if it were a child and Emilia sees the sudden panic in its eyes as they smash it bodily into the second and send both into the wall.

Stay back, Santangelo
, they say, leaping forward, whacking the two bouncers' heads together and bounding over them as they fall. This will be rough.

They do not wait for the automatic doors to open, bursting straight through instead in a shower of reinforced glass; alarms go off, patrons look up, and Sovereign draws themself up to their full height as every pair of eyes in the house turns to them.

Where is Giovanni? they ask. More people are hurrying towards them from the corners of the room, reaching into jackets for poké balls or pistols. Hanging back in the doorway, Emilia sees kangaskhan, scizor, rhydon, popping into existence in between the tables. Men and women in black yell into radios over the screeching of the alarms; patrons rush for the emergency exits; the pokémon surge forward, not recognising what it is they face, and Emilia watches as Sovereign gets to work.

There's a beauty to their movements, even brutal as they are. One impossible leap forwards, twenty or thirty feet, and Sovereign collides with the scizor hard enough to arrest its momentum and knock it to the ground; they stamp once, twice, metal shell squealing and deforming underneath them, then turn to deliver a swinging punch to the kangaskhan's jaw. Ripples of psychic energy radiate from the point of impact and the huge pokémon drops like a brick, turning a roulette table into matchsticks. The rhydon slows, alarmed, and its hesitation is its undoing; Sovereign turns again, leans back on its tail like a kangaroo and kicks with both legs, paws hitting it in the chest and smashing through its stone armour like pile drivers. The rhydon wheezes, Sovereign extricates themself, and with three sharp blows to the sides of their opponent's head leaves it motionless on the floor.

Where is Giovanni? Sovereign repeats, looking out over the wreckage at the guards, taking cover behind whatever they can find. Someone reaches up and fires at it and Emilia shouts something wordless in her alarm – guns aren't legal in Kanto, although she knows well enough that anyone can get anything with enough money – but the bullet hits an invisible wall halfway across the room and sticks there. They have a barrier up, Emilia realises. They were doing all that and they still had a barrier up.

She did know how tough they were. She's seen it before, even, on video. But it's something else to see them in full flow.

Thank god she told them not to bring their axe.

Where is Giovanni? asks Sovereign, and when nobody answers they pounce.

The guards' cover is useless: Sovereign hits the roulette table behind which the gunman is crouching and ploughs straight through it as if it were made of china. They stamp on his gun hand with a crunch that makes Emilia's stomach turn and cut off his scream with another blow to the head that she hopes to God was a knockout and not a kill.

WHERE IS GIOVANNI? roars Sovereign, so loud that Emilia can see it, can see the tremor in the air as the thoughts leave their head, and when again nobody answers they pounce again, and again, and then before Emilia can even see how it happened the last two guards are running for a door in the back wall; they fall suddenly, and only once they're on the ground does Emilia realise that Sovereign has thrown something at them.

The alarm keeps ringing over the sudden stillness. The patrons and the dealers are long gone, hidden in the bathrooms or fled out through the side exits. At least it's a weekday morning. Not many people around to get hurt, although Sovereign has contained the violence quite well.

They turn to face her over the broken tables and fallen pokémon.

With me, they command. There will be more to follow, and I expect the League and the police will respond soon.

Emilia can already hear sirens in the distance. She nods, unable for the moment to find her voice, and hurries after them as they stalk towards the door the guards were aiming for.

BIGBIGBIG, chatters Nadia nervously, jittering on her shoulder, and Emilia thinks back:

Yeah, sweetie, I know. I kno―

“Now!” someone yells, and the door bursts off its hinges in a billowing cloud of dust and sand; Sovereign raises a hand and the door flies harmlessly overhead, but there's something else there, something big that barrels through the door and part of the surrounding wall and comes at them with a roar―

―and cuts straight through their barrier in a flash of black light, hand meeting chest and batting Sovereign halfway across the room.

The pokémon stamps and roars, its thick tail crushing the end of bar with a misdirected swing. Emilia stares. It's a tyranitar. Giovanni has a bloody tyranitar here, a tonne of stone and fury in one convenient saurian package, and probably the only thing in Kanto short of a legendary that has a shot at taking down Sovereign. She stands there, still staring, as the big dinosaur lowers its head―

MOVE!
shrieks Nadia, plucking at her nerves, making her feet twitch, and Emilia dives out of the way towards the wreckage of the casino floor as the tyranitar charges past towards Sovereign. They have recovered by now, leap forward to meet it in a burst of psychic energy, but the tyranitar doesn't stop, blows sand glowing black with dark-type energy from the vents in its flanks and fills the room with a biting fog that stops Sovereign in their tracks. They fall out of the air, psionics useless, and scramble to their feet as the tyranitar advances, claws held back and ready to slash.

“Oh f*ck,” breathes Emilia, picking herself up, backing off towards the slot machines. “Was he expecting―? I mean how the hell does he have―?”

More guards are coming through the door now, taking up positions behind the bar. They have guns, Emilia sees. Guns, and in the darkstorm Sovereign's barriers won't stop the bullets.

FURRET FURRET FURRET, cries Nadia. BACK!

Emilia keeps backing off, past the first row of slots, and the tyranitar closes to engage with Sovereign. Its hands are almost as big as their head; she watches it swing and Sovereign stagger backwards, blood matting their fur.

Yes, they crow, exultant. Yes, you are worthy. Face me, then! I am Sovereign!

They roar, long and loud as a lion, and fling themself back at the tyranitar, hammering its face and neck with fists that split again at the knuckles with every blow; it growls and thrusts them away with one shoulder, slamming them against one of the columns that flank the entrance. The Rocket guards see their opening and fire, a fusillade of bullets whirring across the room, but the tyranitar rushes forward at its opponent and most of the shots impact harmlessly on its armoured back. It crushes Sovereign against the wall with one stony arm and Emilia winces, looking away―

A crash: she looks back and sees that somehow Sovereign has coiled themself against the wall and leaped at the tyranitar's head hard enough to knock it over. The tyranitar thrashes in the rising dust, trying to roll into a position where it can push itself back up, but it is too heavy and spiny to easily turn and now that they have the advantage Sovereign is relentless, crouched on its chest and laying into its head with bloody fists.

I am Sovereign! they howl. In name and deed!

The tyranitar shakes its head beneath the blows and fires a dark pulse from its vents that bleaches Sovereign's fur where it touches, but they refuse to be dislodged, and now one of the tyranitar's spines is broken, Emilia sees, and its eyes are rolling madly and maybe, maybe they've got this but the guards are leaning over the counter for another volley―

“Sovereign!” she yells. “The guards!”

They look up just as they fire, and leap away as the bullets whine through the space where they were crouching. Three tear into their leg, splashing red across their fur, and Sovereign falls heavily behind a blackjack table.

You are in getting in the way of my fight
, they growl, seizing the table's edge and dragging themself back up onto their feet. Wait your turn.

They clench their fist and suddenly freeze; a ripple runs through them the way it did through the Cinnabar breach entity, and then for a second time seems to reverse around them, bullets flying back out of their wounds and the splits in their knuckles closing up. Then, as quickly as it begun, the moment passes, and Sovereign is, impossibly, whole again.

I may not like it, but I am breach, they snarl. And that dark dust is settling.

The tyranitar struggles to its feet, but it's too late: Sovereign jumps across the room again in another of those telekinetic leaps, and smashes clean through the bar in a shower of splinters and broken glass. From behind the slots, Emilia can't see what they do, exactly, but she hears the thumps and cries, and imagines that probably the gunmen aren't an issue any more.

Now for you, bastard lizard, hisses Sovereign, and shoots back into view, directly into the tyranitar's midriff. Its plates crack and it bellows in pain, sand spurting uncontrollably from its vents; Sovereign snarls and wraps their arms around it, joints popping with blue flashes of psychic energy, and as Emilia stares they strain and heave and they're actually doing it, she realises, they are lifting the huge dinosaur clear off the floor as it roars and writhes in a panic―

Back to your masters
, Sovereign snaps, and hurls it back in the direction of the door. It falls far short, slamming into the floor just a yard or so away in a shower of marble chips, but Emilia is staggered that they threw it at all. She watches open-mouthed as the tyranitar blinks and waves its arms feebly, as astonished as she is, until Sovereign draws their foot up high and stamps one last time on its face.

It stops moving. Sovereign stands over it for a moment, breathing hard and staring at it as if daring it to get up again, and then they turn to Emilia.

I detect police outside, they say. Waiting for reinforcements, I think. We should go now, before they come in.

“Uh,” says Emilia, still looking at the tyranitar. “Yes. Yes, of course. We should … do that.”

Yes. Sovereign swishes their tail impatiently. Well? Are you coming?

“Yes. Yes, I'm – I'm definitely coming.”

She gets up from behind the slot machine and picks her way through the wrecked tables and unconscious bodies towards Sovereign and the tyranitar. It's not the first time she's seen this kind of carnage; nor is it the worst she's seen. But normally she just arrives for the aftermath, and there is something very different, she is discovering, about watching it all take place.

A tyranitar. Sovereign beat down a tyranitar with nothing but their bare fists. They didn't even use moves. They got hit in the chest with a tonne of dark-type stone, smashed into a wall, shot, and they just got back up again and kicked the crap out of it. Of a tyranitar. Sovereign―

ROUND, says Nadia cautiously, warning her that her thoughts are starting to go in circles, and Emilia nods and tries to pull herself together.

“Right,” she mutters, trying not to step on a fallen guard. “Right, right.”

Come on, says Sovereign, looking past her, back towards the door. They're here.

Someone's yelling about this being the police. Emilia hurries on without looking back. She is surprised to realise that she isn't afraid of the cops at all now. She's much more afraid of what Sovereign will do to them if they catch up.

*​

Artemis gives up on trying to sleep a little before dawn. It feels like she's spent most of the night awake anyway, tossing and turning and worrying about what happens next, and by then it seems clear that she isn't going to get any rest tonight. She fixes up her face and heads downstairs, as in Lavender, to watch the news.

Which, as it happens, is big. Emilia's leak is still being repeated, the newscaster running over the facts again and again; there's a clip they keep playing of someone thrusting a microphone into Lorelei's face as she hurries from the Indigo Palace to her car, asking her aggressively why the League was running this kind of operation in the first place. She says she has no comment at this time and slams the car door behind her.

Both police and League agents are after Emilia, it seems, but Artemis takes heart from the newscaster's assertion that her whereabouts are currently unknown. Even if they do find her, she thinks, she's probably picked up Sovereign by now. Good luck to anyone trying to arrest her then.

The news loops, once and then twice. Outside, light climbs over the rooftops and filters through the blinds. Little by little, morning comes, and with it comes Cass.

“Hey,” she says, walking in with Ringo. “Couldn't sleep, huh?” Artemis shakes her head. “Me either.” She sighs. “Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

She goes off to the table in the corner and fills the kettle. There's something comforting about listening to it boil, Artemis thinks. Sounds like home.

BREAKING, flashes the TV screen, and she sits up sharply, kettle forgotten.

“Cass,” she says. “Cass, look.”

A shot of the Rocket, a huge, tasteless building with an overly ornate faux-classical façade; the front doors are broken and paramedics are carrying people away from the doors on stretches while cops with riot shields and arcanine mass in the street near the entrance. Celadon's Gym Leader, Erika, is standing a little way off with a jumpluff roosting on each shoulder, talking to her trainers and their grass-types.

“An unknown assailant has attacked the Rocket Casino,” the newscaster is saying. “Witnesses describe a lone black woman working with an unidentified species of pokémon, who breached the front entrance half an hour ago and defeated the security contingent within seconds. Celadon Police are working with Gym trainers to coordinate an assault.”

Erika seems to notice the camera and hurries on over, looking annoyed.

“Hey,” she says. “You can't film this, we're in the middle of―”

The screen goes black for a second, then returns to the newsroom.

“Our apologies for the interruption,” says the newscaster. “We have audio with Sonia Mallory, our reporter at the scene. Sonia, is there any possible connection between this and yesterday's claims about Dioli's actions?”

It's too early to tell, as it turns out; this is where things start getting repetitive again. Cass pours out the water and sits down next to Artemis.

“Hope she's doing okay,” she says. “And, uh, Sovereign too, but I think they can probably handle themself.”

“Yeah.” Artemis bites her lip. “I mean, they said they took out all the guards.”

“Yeah. That sounds good, and obviously it's got the cops scared, so I guess they've got a bit of time before they go in to stop them.”

They sit there for a while, watching the newscaster repeat herself. Cass gets the tea and coffee, and they drink in silence. Ringo pecks at some mealworms from Cass' palm; Brauron licks ash pellets from Artemis'.

“I'm guessing you feel like sh*t too,” says Cass.

“Yeah,” replies Artemis. “I do.”

She thinks she might have a headache. Maybe it's the not sleeping; maybe it's just that awful, crushing feeling of impotence pressing down on her.

“The police are currently pushing in,” says the newscaster. “We're still unable to get you footage, but we'll keep you appraised of all future developments …”

“Ugh.” Cass rests her head in one hand, leaning forward over her lap. “I hate this.”

“Yeah.”

“It wouldn't be so bad if we could just … I don't even know, actually.” She inspects the inside of her mug. “You want any more?”

“No, I'm okay. Think I should have some water or something, really. Got a headache.”

“Yeah, me too, actually. Guess it's the stress.”

Cass takes both their mugs and fills them with water. They both drain them fast, but Artemis' head only gets worse, the vice of pain tightening around her temples. There's something ominous about that. Something like …

“Wait,” says Cass suddenly. “Wait, I smell – if you have a headache and you smell burning, isn't that …?”

They stare at one another. Artemis can smell it too now, a coarse acrid tang like burning electronics.

“If I was Giovanni,” says Cass. “And like Sovereign turned up on my doorstep …”

“Then you'd use everything you had.” Artemis stands up, sharply enough to make Brauron dig her claws in and hiss in disapproval. She moves to the window and looks out through the dawn light, but there's nothing there, no blocks of static or spires of light. “But like I'm irradiated,” she says. “He triggers breach, it spawns near me. Does he know I'm in town?”

“Maybe he's figured out you're working with Emilia?”

“Maybe.” Artemis fidgets. Something is going on here, she's sure of it, but it's so hard to think through this headache. Does she even have all the pieces she needs to work it out right now? Difficult to say. “I think – I don't think he's trying to attack Sovereign.”

“No?”

“No.” Artemis keeps looking out at the street. It's quiet; this early, there isn't anyone around near the Centre. Definitely nothing out of the ordinary here. “I don't know. I just feel like – never mind. Dunno what I'm talking about.”

She turns away from the window, and then freezes as the light streaming past her suddenly pulses green.

“Wait, what the―?” Cass leaps out of her seat, and the two of them press up against the window to see the houses across the street gone, a rippling wall of olive light filling the centre of the street. “What the hell is that?”

“I don't know!” cries Artemis, gripping the windowsill so hard she feels she might break her fingers. “I don't know, I – it's just a thing!”

The words are all nonsense, jumbled by her scrambled thoughts; there is blood coming from her eyes and she barely even notices, too caught up in the frenetic pounding of her heart. She stares and stares, bleeding as Brauron croaks and climbs up to press herself against her cheek, and then the big black car pulls up and Giovanni and crew climb out and she knows what's going to happen before they do it but she can't do a thing about it, just watches as the five of them hurry on into the light and disappear.

“Where are they going?” asks Cass. “Is that – are they escaping?”

“I don't know. I don't know!”

They were carrying something. What was it? Hard to say, but Giovanni had something in his arms, and at least some of the others had stuff too. Machinery, Artemis thinks. Machinery, being taken into – into wherever it is the light goes. Into breach.

She doesn't know what this means, exactly, but she doesn't need to. She knows it's bad, knows that it might be what he's looking for to complete his control over breach, knows, above all, that Sovereign is on the other side of town, completely incapable of stopping him.

“I … sh*t,” she says. “I have to go in there.”

“What? Are you serious? We don't even know what that is, let alone―”

“I have to,” insists Artemis. “I can't let him do … whatever it is.”

“How are you even going to stop him?” Cass demands to know. “He's a Gym Leader! And he has god only knows what horrible breach monsters with him. And – and – and hell, I guess I'm going with you.”

“Oh, you don't have to,” begins Artemis, automatic, hateful, but Cass will not let her finish.

“Artie. I'm coming. You too, right Ringo?” He screeches. “See?” Cass looks at her, defiant. “You can't ditch us that easily. And, uh … confession: one of the people who went in there with him was my aunt. I figure it's about time me and her had a serious discussion about some things, y'know?”

Artemis wants to say no, to forbid it. She wants to save her. Cass has already followed her further than anyone should have done; she shouldn't follow her here, to the point where her luck will probably run out and she will end up dead or captive or worse.

But she doesn't have that authority, and anyway Cass has as much claim to this as her; she's part of this too, irradiated enough by this point to get the headaches, if not the bleeding. And, well. Honestly, she could use all the help she can get.

“Okay,” she says, wiping blood from her eyes. “What about you, kiddo?”

Brauron rears on her shoulder and flares her fins, ready to fight.

“All right then,” she says. “Let's go, I guess.”

“You said it.”

They glance out through the window, at the light burning brightly in the street. Dawn seems to have vanished; the pavement is tinged with green now, as if the colours are seeping out of the wall and into the fabric of the world. Someone in the lobby is on the phone, gabbling about a weird light that just ate some people.

They go together out of the lounge, through the lobby and into the street. From here they can see people staring out of windows, phones up against their ears or held up to record the weirdness outside. For a long moment they stand there, staring, their pokémon silent and tense, the light blazing like a funeral pyre before them.

Cass' hand brushes Artemis' as if by accident, but it is not an accident, and Artemis takes hold of it in her own. They breathe in, and then hand in hand they walk into the light and out of the world.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
It isn't, Emilia is probably going to be arrested and Giovanni is still out there and the fate of the world rests more or less completely on her, Cass and a giant cat with an axe
I've probably said this a few times already, but I really do get a kick out of moments like this where a serious line in narration is just thrown off by having something silly in it like "giant cat with an axe." They always make me stop and smile for a moment.

I don't really have much to say about the stuff on the bus and initially in the Pokémon Center. It's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It's just, very familiar because we've encountered the same situations plenty of other times in the stories. The stakes are certainly different this time, that's for sure. But it plays a lot like some of Artemis' previous freakout moments. I'm not sure how much you were trying to focus on Sovereign having messed with Artemis' head. That subject got relatively glossed over in favor of the newscast stuff. Which is fine. I'm a bit surprised Emilia's name was actually used. Like, I knew that's what you were probably going for, but in this day and age it feels like, even when the government stands a very good chance of finding out who leaked confidential intel, the media still goes with the anonymous whistle blower route. I think the general confusion that follows in the scene with Emilia plays out better for me, personally. Yes, it's a long, drawn out "What now?" scenario, but I think you sell the awkwardness of it very well. And, of course, the realization that, yes, the shady conspiracy group is being run out of a casino. (Because of course it is XD)

The graveyard scene was simply surprising, in an "I'm not really sure what to make of it" sort of way. I can't remember if Sam was alluded to before (I have a very bad memory for smaller things like that, I'm afraid). Regardless, it felt a bit on the redundant side with all the Eiffie stuff, but it's relatively short as-is, so it's probably harmless. I do, however, like the more grounded (not sure if that's the right word) angle that their plan ends up taking. Because it'd be so cliché to have Artemis and Cass join in the infiltration stuff because "it's their fight," but, realistically speaking, of course it's a terrible idea for them to do that and they should stay the hell away from that casino...

... or at least, that's how things could've gone in an ideal setting. But this isn't ideal. So, despite the casino assault (which is beautiful in how purely destructive it is, backuped my Soverign's child-like glee with fightning that Tyranitar), it looks like it will end up falling to Artemis and Cass anyway. And, well, the odds are so ridiculously stacked against them without Sovereign I'm very curious as to how things will be playing out.

Lastly, I did spot a missing line break here:
The pause stretches out into a silence, and then Artemis' phone buzzes and it all vanishes into the past.
“Emilia?” It's the same number as last time; maybe she's got a new phone.
 

Manchee

extra toasty
Okay, so I'm all caught up! I think I went a little too long between my last review and now, considering how many chapters I've read since then, so I'll just give a general summary of my thoughts :)

I love the arc of chapters spent on Cinnabar. Those felt very carefully placed in the overall planning of the story. I love how nicely everything came together during that time span, because it all made so much sense- going south to Cinnabar right away goes against the typical "path" of Kanto, but with Artemis owning a Fire-type it felt very appropriate. Plus, as a reader, knowing that Cinnabar has the old house, the lab with fossils, and is home to MissingNo., I was super pleased seeing everything fall into place there.

Seeing Artemis and Cass both develop during their time on the island was great. Cass's confession was a little awkward, definitely not totally out of the blue with her odd phone calls throughout the story so far, but something about it felt off to me. I'll admit I have still been reading chapters before I go to bed, sometimes while I eat, definitely during breaks in my grad classes, so whenever I read it maybe I was tired and rushed a little. I'll have to check it out again.

The scenes where Emilia goes out and visits Sam evoked similar memories I have visiting the grave of my brother. Last March I actually drove out to it and sat down to speak to him, so seeing Emilia do the same was very relatable. I loved when you pointed out it feeling "wrong" visiting during sunshine, that rain was better- most often when my family visited my brother's grave growing up it was either in March (when he was born) or November (the anniversary of his death), both of which are usually gray/rainy weather where we live. The times I remember going when it was nice and sunny did always feel inappropriate.

Speaking of Emilia, her teaming up with Trelawney felt like a natural progression of the story. I wanted to see a little more of him and get a better feel for him, so I'm hoping maybe he turns up again in the future. It was cool seeing him get an active role in breach when he was in Lavender. Also, this latest chapter with Emilia and Sovereign finally going after Giovanni was fantastic. I loved the introduction of Sovereign and their contempt for Emilia makes their dynamic going into the Rocket feel very intense. The way you wrote that scene was gripping, too. Very, very fun read. Can't wait to see it all come together more in the next chapter!
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
Feels appropriate for Emilia to visit Sam once more since with the last visit she told Sam that she was stuck. I sort of agree with Ambyssin that Effie being mentioned was repetitive, but at the same time I think it would be natural for Emilia to mention Effie's passing.

Yeah I kind of agree with Emilia and Soverign doing the legwork in the casino. Cass and Artemis may be older than the average trainers out now, but I think I would prefer the two to be safe than reckless there. It was nice of Emilia to let Artemis safeguard Effie's fruit.

Speaking of which, blowing stuff up in Giovanni's casino, woo! I too enjoy Soverign's battle with Tyranitar there. And looks like Giovanni is not quite done yet there. Looking forward to Artemis and Cass's confrontation with him and Cass's aunt.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 12:

SUNFLOWER, says Nadia, her mind coiling in dense, comforting bands through Emilia's own. OKAY.
Omg is that the natu equivalent of a hug?? Either way, good gosh that's adorable.

swinging right around the statue of the great alakazam elder kzunic.utri
I get unreasonably happy at even a fleeting mention of one of your abrakadabrazams. :D

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
Ringo is such a freaking DORK. Total blowhard. I love him.

Psywave's one of those attacks I tend to dismiss in-game. Something tries to learn it and I'm like "nah". But really, it would suck to get hit by. Any psychic attack would unless you're like a poochyena or something. The thing that's particularly nasty about psywave in a more lifelike setting is there's no guessing precisely how much it will suck. To think that Artemis might have suffered even more from that attack. Terrifying thought.

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.”
Okay if next year's awards gain a Badass of the Year category I think we might have a solid contender here.

The circumstances under which Emilia had to well and truly part from Effie for the last time made it extra sad. Not the way she'd have wanted things to go down. Not the way at all.

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.
Master balls having dark-type properties is certainly an interesting little detail.

Chapter 13:

Something about a mewtwo being described as a giant cat with an axe makes mewtwo at least twice as awesome. :D

“Sure,” she says. “You'll like that, right birdbrain?”

He chirps weakly and bites her finger.
I love him.

Brauron has fallen asleep again, tired out after the fight against Sovereign, and Artemis transfers her carefully from her arms to a pillow, where she curls herself into an adorable little comma that makes Artemis smile without realising.
AND I LOVE THAT SALANDIT. So freaking cute. ;A;

Artemis isn't sure how effective an axe made out of a stop sign is, exactly, but in Sovereign's hand pretty much anything is probably a deadly weapon.
There's something morbidly hilarious about a stop sign being used as a weapon. That's certainly one way to get something to stop!

For some reason Artemis is expecting it to be heavy, but it isn't; it's more or less just a small mango.
Why do I get the feeling that it doesn't taste anything like mango. XD

FURRET FURRET FURRET, cries Nadia.
Such language!

ROUND, says Nadia cautiously, warning her that her thoughts are starting to go in circles, and Emilia nods and tries to pull herself together.
I've mentioned before I could do with a Nadia. That statement still stands.

Cass takes both their mugs and fills them with water. They both drain them fast, but Artemis' head only gets worse, the vice of pain tightening around her temples. There's something ominous about that. Something like …

“Wait,” says Cass suddenly. “Wait, I smell – if you have a headache and you smell burning, isn't that …?”

They stare at one another. Artemis can smell it too now, a coarse acrid tang like burning electronics.

“If I was Giovanni,” says Cass. “And like Sovereign turned up on my doorstep …”

“Then you'd use everything you had.”
Ohhh ****.

I have guesses about where that breach-portal-thing leads. Guesses involving numbers scattered goddamn everywhere. But I suppose we shall see!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
I've probably said this a few times already, but I really do get a kick out of moments like this where a serious line in narration is just thrown off by having something silly in it like "giant cat with an axe." They always make me stop and smile for a moment.
That's what they're there for, so that's good!

I don't really have much to say about the stuff on the bus and initially in the Pokémon Center. It's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. It's just, very familiar because we've encountered the same situations plenty of other times in the stories. The stakes are certainly different this time, that's for sure. But it plays a lot like some of Artemis' previous freakout moments. I'm not sure how much you were trying to focus on Sovereign having messed with Artemis' head. That subject got relatively glossed over in favor of the newscast stuff. Which is fine. I'm a bit surprised Emilia's name was actually used. Like, I knew that's what you were probably going for, but in this day and age it feels like, even when the government stands a very good chance of finding out who leaked confidential intel, the media still goes with the anonymous whistle blower route. I think the general confusion that follows in the scene with Emilia plays out better for me, personally. Yes, it's a long, drawn out "What now?" scenario, but I think you sell the awkwardness of it very well. And, of course, the realization that, yes, the shady conspiracy group is being run out of a casino. (Because of course it is XD)
That's a very polite way of saying this story is probably a little too long and repetitive for its own good! :p But yeah, I get it; it's a real weakness, albeit one that at this point I'm just sort of shrugging at without any intention to fix. Hopefully it's not something that's going to be repeated in future stories; it was a problem with Time and Tide and it's a problem with Arbitrary Execution too, despite how much more ruthless I've got with cutting extraneous material. I'm being even more ruthless with Ghost Town, so let's hope it becomes less of an issue as things go on.

The graveyard scene was simply surprising, in an "I'm not really sure what to make of it" sort of way. I can't remember if Sam was alluded to before (I have a very bad memory for smaller things like that, I'm afraid). Regardless, it felt a bit on the redundant side with all the Eiffie stuff, but it's relatively short as-is, so it's probably harmless. I do, however, like the more grounded (not sure if that's the right word) angle that their plan ends up taking. Because it'd be so cliché to have Artemis and Cass join in the infiltration stuff because "it's their fight," but, realistically speaking, of course it's a terrible idea for them to do that and they should stay the hell away from that casino...
This is Emilia's second visit to Sam's grave, after quite a few references to her; it's been a whole subplot thing. But it's been a while, so you know, never mind; if I were reading at the pace I've put these chapters up, I might have forgotten about it too. Anyway, it is, as so much else in this story, mostly redundant. I'll do my best to keep things tighter in future.

... or at least, that's how things could've gone in an ideal setting. But this isn't ideal. So, despite the casino assault (which is beautiful in how purely destructive it is, backuped my Soverign's child-like glee with fightning that Tyranitar), it looks like it will end up falling to Artemis and Cass anyway. And, well, the odds are so ridiculously stacked against them without Sovereign I'm very curious as to how things will be playing out.
Let's be honest, it wouldn't be a group-of-unlikely-heroes-gathered-against-impossible-odds without everyone coming together for the final assault. Later today, I've got the final chapter for you, so I'll not say too much more, and just let it speak for itself.

Lastly, I did spot a missing line break here:
Thanks! Fixed. Thanks for the review!

Okay, so I'm all caught up! I think I went a little too long between my last review and now, considering how many chapters I've read since then, so I'll just give a general summary of my thoughts :)

I love the arc of chapters spent on Cinnabar. Those felt very carefully placed in the overall planning of the story. I love how nicely everything came together during that time span, because it all made so much sense- going south to Cinnabar right away goes against the typical "path" of Kanto, but with Artemis owning a Fire-type it felt very appropriate. Plus, as a reader, knowing that Cinnabar has the old house, the lab with fossils, and is home to MissingNo., I was super pleased seeing everything fall into place there.
I kinda feel that the paths of the games are sort of just there to give the games some kind of shape; I know some people interpret them as representative of a kind of traditional route, but given that everyone on a journey starts from different places, it just doesn't make sense to me that everyone would like migrate to Pallet and then go around Kanto in a loop. Hence why Cass and Artemis are defining their own route in terms of like whatever works best for them.

I'm glad you like the Cinnabar chapters, too. They're my favourites, and it probably shows in the writing – the story structure is a bit dodgy towards the end, but everything works really well at that midpoint.

Seeing Artemis and Cass both develop during their time on the island was great. Cass's confession was a little awkward, definitely not totally out of the blue with her odd phone calls throughout the story so far, but something about it felt off to me. I'll admit I have still been reading chapters before I go to bed, sometimes while I eat, definitely during breaks in my grad classes, so whenever I read it maybe I was tired and rushed a little. I'll have to check it out again.
All right. If you figure out what was bothering you, I'd be interested to hear it!

The scenes where Emilia goes out and visits Sam evoked similar memories I have visiting the grave of my brother. Last March I actually drove out to it and sat down to speak to him, so seeing Emilia do the same was very relatable. I loved when you pointed out it feeling "wrong" visiting during sunshine, that rain was better- most often when my family visited my brother's grave growing up it was either in March (when he was born) or November (the anniversary of his death), both of which are usually gray/rainy weather where we live. The times I remember going when it was nice and sunny did always feel inappropriate.
I'm glad you feel I did the thing justice. It's a difficult situation to capture, and I'm pleased to have drawn it in a way that feels real.

Speaking of Emilia, her teaming up with Trelawney felt like a natural progression of the story. I wanted to see a little more of him and get a better feel for him, so I'm hoping maybe he turns up again in the future. It was cool seeing him get an active role in breach when he was in Lavender. Also, this latest chapter with Emilia and Sovereign finally going after Giovanni was fantastic. I loved the introduction of Sovereign and their contempt for Emilia makes their dynamic going into the Rocket feel very intense. The way you wrote that scene was gripping, too. Very, very fun read. Can't wait to see it all come together more in the next chapter!
The next chapter is the last one! After that, there's just an epilogue to clear up a loose end or two, and then we're finally done. So I'll avoid saying too much and just let the next part speak for itself, I think. Thank you for reading and reviewing!

Feels appropriate for Emilia to visit Sam once more since with the last visit she told Sam that she was stuck. I sort of agree with Ambyssin that Effie being mentioned was repetitive, but at the same time I think it would be natural for Emilia to mention Effie's passing.
Yeah, but if I'd structured it better then that wouldn't have been an issue, I think. I'll just chalk this one up to experience and try to do better in future.

Yeah I kind of agree with Emilia and Soverign doing the legwork in the casino. Cass and Artemis may be older than the average trainers out now, but I think I would prefer the two to be safe than reckless there. It was nice of Emilia to let Artemis safeguard Effie's fruit.
I think we'd all prefer that. Sadly, things aren't quite working out that way …

Speaking of which, blowing stuff up in Giovanni's casino, woo! I too enjoy Soverign's battle with Tyranitar there. And looks like Giovanni is not quite done yet there. Looking forward to Artemis and Cass's confrontation with him and Cass's aunt.
Thank you! I really enjoyed writing it – there aren't a lot of battles in this fic, but this was a chance to do a giant ridiculous action scene, and it was great fun.

Omg is that the natu equivalent of a hug?? Either way, good gosh that's adorable.
Something like that, yes!

Ringo is such a freaking DORK. Total blowhard. I love him.
Me too. Ringo is great.

Psywave's one of those attacks I tend to dismiss in-game. Something tries to learn it and I'm like "nah". But really, it would suck to get hit by. Any psychic attack would unless you're like a poochyena or something. The thing that's particularly nasty about psywave in a more lifelike setting is there's no guessing precisely how much it will suck. To think that Artemis might have suffered even more from that attack. Terrifying thought.
Yeah, I actually think most attacks would suck to be hit by, period. A torrent of water moving so fast it's almost solid, a mass of compacted shadow, Actual Literal Fire – all of these things would be awful. Psychic attacks would probably do less actual physical trauma, but like they could do all kinds of other terrible things.

Okay if next year's awards gain a Badass of the Year category I think we might have a solid contender here.
Cass is both very loyal and very prone to not thinking things through. It's a fun combination to write.

The circumstances under which Emilia had to well and truly part from Effie for the last time made it extra sad. Not the way she'd have wanted things to go down. Not the way at all.
I'm glad you think so. Circumstances were indeed supposed to be very far from ideal.

Master balls having dark-type properties is certainly an interesting little detail.
Possibly just Sovereign's. Fuji's diary said it was custom-made with bisharp steel, though that was a really long time ago at this point.

Something about a mewtwo being described as a giant cat with an axe makes mewtwo at least twice as awesome. :D
That was the idea! :p

There's something morbidly hilarious about a stop sign being used as a weapon. That's certainly one way to get something to stop!
There was a whole thing about that pun, but in the end it didn't really fit, so I cut it. But that was the general idea, yeah.

I've mentioned before I could do with a Nadia. That statement still stands.
I think we could all do with a Nadia, frankly.

I have guesses about where that breach-portal-thing leads. Guesses involving numbers scattered goddamn everywhere. But I suppose we shall see!
We shall indeed! Later today, in fact. Sorry, I meant to get to these responses earlier, but it just never happened. Anyway: coming up, the final chapter! Giovanni's master plan, the heart of breach, the return of an old enemy, and all kinds of other stuff. All that this evening – but for now, thanks so much for reading and for leaving your thoughts!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
14: ARBITRARY EXECUTION

Beyond the light is a city – or at least all the parts that make up a city, if not in the right order. There are buildings, and streets and power lines and cars, all jumbled together like the view through a kaleidoscope. Artemis finds her feet on the side of what looks like the wall of the Pokémon Centre, fragments of road rising at oblique angles up into the sky before her; slices of building are piled up on either side, the end of the old kiln turned upside-down on top of a church tower sandwiched between half a block of terraced houses and a set of balconies from which grow the trees of the Celadon Public Gardens.

“What the hell …?” breathes Cass, gripping her hand tight. “This is … what is it, like Dark Celadon?”

“I don't know,” whispers Artemis. It's hard to raise her voice in the face of all this impossibility. Way above her, a flight of stairs waltzes across the sky, revolving slowly. There's no sun up there, no clouds, just a chill grey void. She isn't even sure if there's any air; her lungs feel sore and somehow empty. But she hasn't died. So there's that.

A bus goes by on one of the pieces of road, emerging from what passes for the ground and slowly fading away when it reaches the end. Shrieking pixellated things that are in no way birds flutter along in its wake.

There might have been ghost people looking out of its windows, but if there were at least they're gone now.

“Why would he come here?” asks Cass. “Why would anyone ever come here?”

“I don't know. I don't know.” Keep calm, Artie. You have a mission, scary as this place is. “Can you see him?”

“No. Ringo? You got good eyes. Anything?”

If there is, he isn't talking about it. Ringo has fluffed out his feathers and hunkered down on Cass' shoulder, his usual bravado gone. Brauron isn't looking so good either, clinging to Artemis so tight her claws have pierced her dress. This place is not somewhere they want to be.

Artemis doesn't blame them. She wouldn't be here herself, if she didn't have to.

“Okay,” she says. “Should we look?”

“Yeah,” says Cass. “Guess we should.”

Neither of them move.

“All right,” says Artemis. “Go.”

They make their way across the side of the Pokémon Centre, avoiding the doors and windows. Artemis finds the courage to sneak a glance at one of them, and sees behind the glass what looks like an aerial view of the suburbs. After that, she keeps her eyes forward. The thought that there might just be a thin layer of bricks between her and a three-hundred foot drop is not comforting in the slightest.

At the end, the Centre merges with an overpass that climbs over the shapeless mass of a supermarket, its surface mazed with miniature roads. They walk up and over, and come down on the other side on, for once, actual pavement. The buildings on either side are tilted at bizarre angles, merging into one another like tiers on a melting cake, but it looks a little more like a street than where they came from, at least. From where they stand, the road sweeps up a long slope towards a huge pillar of office blocks mashed together into something like a termite mound, and there, at the pillar's base, are figures.

Artemis stares. Are they ghost people? They are, aren't they? Ghost people, and any minute now they'll cross the distance in that unnatural way they do and be here―

“I think we found them,” says Cass, squinting. “They look human, anyway. And I'm willing to bet there aren't any other humans here.”

“O-oh.” Artemis forces herself to breathe. Not ghost people. Real people. Possibly the only thing that would actually be worse, given the circumstances. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Right.” Cass pauses. “So, uh, what's the plan, exactly?”

“I don't have one.”

“That's … what I thought, I guess.” Cass squeezes her hand. “Just go after them and do what we can?”

Artemis squeezes back.

“Yeah,” she says, unable to believe that she is agreeing to this. “I think we might be out of other options.”

They let go of each other's hands, and begin to run. They get maybe twenty feet before someone notices.

“Well!” cries one of the figures, in a familiar voice. “It looks like we have company!”

The others turn, and now that they're a little closer Artemis thinks she can make out details: Giovanni, his right arm strangely bulky; a woman with short hair and severe features, holding some kind of engine; three men in dark suits whose job description probably goes something like big, broad, silent. No pokémon, but those squat things in the men's hands have to be guns. Artemis has never seen one before, but there isn't a lot of room for interpretation here.

She doesn't stop. All that hiking has paid off, it seems, and she barely slows as the slope gets steeper up towards Giovanni and his agents.

“I believe we have met before,” Giovanni continues, utterly unruffled. “You were much friendlier last time around. And this – who's your friend?”

“Cassandra?” A different voice this time: the woman holding the machine. “Cassandra, what the hell are you doing here?”

“The right thing!” Cass yells back, which Artemis thinks is probably the best snap comeback she's ever heard. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Don't get smart with me!” The woman glances at Giovanni. “Dioli – that's my niece, the one who―”

“Who's been a double agent for some time now!” Cass shouts. “You a*shole!”

“What?” The woman almost drops her machine. “What – Cassandra―”

“I don't think we need concern ourselves with this,” says Giovanni. He raises his right arm, and now Artemis can see why it looked so strange: he has some sort of machine strapped to it, vacuum tubes and wiring running the length of his arm and feeding into a complex gauntlet that hums and sparks as he moves his fingers. “Breach disrupts,” he says, tapping the air with his fingertips in an intricate pattern. “Breach changes. You've seen a lot of it by now, Artemis, but you don't understand it, do you? You still have no idea what it is, what we can do with it.”

The men in suits are ready with their guns, but Cassandra's aunt shouts at them, that's my niece, you morons, don't shoot, and they lower them again, uncertain. How have they got this far? Artemis is only forty feet away now, close enough to see the light gathering on Giovanni's fingertips, reality turning into a glowing slurry at his touch. She still has no idea what to do when she finally closes the distance, but she is closing it, and Cass beside her.

“Breach is a byproduct of the forces that construct our world,” Giovanni proclaims, as if giving a lecture. “The processes that make reality – that say: this is gravity, this a house, this a growlithe. Sometimes these processes go wrong.” His fingers dance; the world shivers. Bits of building shudder loose from the architectural abominations all around them and shoot up into the sky like rockets. “These aberrations – these are breach. Not magic. Not divinity. Mere software glitches in the matrix of the real.” He jabs his ring finger forward emphatically and clenches his fist. “In our hands: the power to rewrite anything.”

The road shakes and vomits a portion of itself upwards, a frothy plume of asphalt rising up in front of them and cutting off their path. Artemis stops dead, staring, as the tarmac dissolves into motes of light and reforms into a familiar figure, jittering and twitching beneath his pixellated face.

“zzzNzzellozzz,” says the blurred man, shuddering towards her. “zzzIdzZliketzobaztzzz …”

Cass has stopped too, is backing off, Ringo fluttering nervously around her shoulders. Her aunt is saying something, asking Giovanni what the hell he's doing, that's her niece, but her voice fades into the background the way incidental noise does on TV when the hero sees something important. But Artemis is no hero, is just a kid with a lizard, and in the face of the blurred man she can barely even move her feet.

“Keep them away!” orders Giovanni, his voice cutting through the turmoil like a knife. “No need to harm them. They are Kantan citizens, nominally.”

“ZZOAK,” says the blurred man, and speeds up his shuddering until his whole body is one dizzying blur – and then all at once falls still.

“What the hell?” says Cass, shaken. “Is that Professor Oak?”

Oak smiles genially at them from where the blurred man used to be.

“Hello,” he says, taking something from his pocket. “I'd like to battle.”

“Oh no,” says Cass, backing away. “Oh no, no, no Artie get back―”

They turn and run, Ringo swooping after them, and out of the corner of her eye Artemis sees the telltale flash of a ball being thrown―

A shadow falls over them, and something roars. Something big. Something big with hot breath that stinks of fish.

“Oh what the actual f*ck,” moans Cass, and the gyarados lunges.

It doesn't hit: they're too far back by then for that, and when they turn, alerted by the swish of its vast head through the air, they can both see that it isn't following. The gyarados simply stays there, coiled and rearing, its big fish-mouth gaping like the entrance to hell. How big is it, Artemis wonders. Fifty feet? Sixty? They always look enormous on TV but this is something else entirely. The size of it. The way its shadow engulfs you, the rolling stench of its breath.

And behind it, still visible: Giovanni, watching calmly as if he sees this every day.

“Do you see now?” he calls. “And he has four others, all just as strong! This, conjured out of nothing, bound to Kantan will!” He clenches his ungloved fist tightly. “But that's only the start. Artemis, I must thank you. You've been an extraordinarily helpful part of this, and remarkably resourceful in your efforts to get to the bottom of things, too. Quite how you managed to recruit Santangelo and Mew-2, I have no idea. The enemy of my enemy, perhaps? But you still have no idea what we're trying to do. You proved as much the moment you ran in here.”

Artemis can't answer. She can't actually move at all, not with the gyarados right there, rolling its eyes and grunting; on her chest, Brauron is panicking, is darting back and forth, drawing blood and ruining her dress and she can't do a thing to comfort her. Her claw stabs into the piece of silicone that serves to give the impression of a left breast and draws part of it out through the hole in her dress, mixing grains of plastic in with the blood and cotton fibres, and Artemis doesn't so much as blink.

What did she think she was going to do? What did she, Artemis, functional-but-barely, hiding behind a change of name and a thin veneer of make-up, behind one badge and one pokémon, behind a forced smile and a mouthful of fear – what was she going to do, when it came to it?

Nothing. Because she is nothing. And it doesn't even matter if Giovanni tells the gyarados to kill her because there is nothing of her to kill, not really. What matters is that Cass and Brauron and Ringo would get caught up in it too. She wishes they hadn't followed her, though there's nothing to be done now.

“You see,” Giovanni continues, “we stand upon the brink of the greatest revolution in human history.” He gestures expansively. “The test in Lavender? This Oak and his gyarados? Nothing, really. Proof of concept. Mere parlour tricks.” The mere parlour trick sways, moving its head from side to side as it regards the tiny things before it with each eye in turn. “The true potential of breach is the power to change. Anything and everything, Artemis. And once our apparatus” – he gestures at the machine Cass' aunt is clutching – “is installed here in the heart of breach, that power will belong to Kanto alone. Everybody knows that Unova's star is waning. The world is watching to see who fills its shoes. It is a fit time for Kanto to take the world stage.”

Artemis listens numbly. Her chest hurts, she notices. Brauron has calmed down, or at least grown fatalistic and resigned, but she's definitely done some damage. It's just so difficult to care.

“I tell you this by way of thanks,” says Giovanni. “You have helped pave the way to Kantan greatness. So many people come to this country seeking to find what it can do for them, but you have proved that a true immigrant asks what they can do for it.” He smiles, and it's a real smile: it's warm, it reaches his eyes. He believes every word of this. He truly does. If there is anything scarier than the gyarados, this is it. “And you will be witness to the dawning of an era,” he tells her. “Anything you can imagine, we will be able to do. The banks forecast a coming recession: so? Rewrite the economy, set it growing! The UN doesn't approve of our military base in the Sevii Islands? Rewrite it; we shall have its blessing! Sanctions? Rewritten. Defeat? Rewritten. Gravity itself? If it displeases us, we can rewrite that too. True Kantan sovereignty, at last.”

“That's too much,” murmurs Cass. She's clutching Ringo now, who has flown to her arms and stayed there, shivering. “That's too much, you can't …”

“And it is all thanks to you.” Giovanni gives a little bow. Ridiculous, really. Artemis would mock it, if she had the spine to talk. “On behalf of all of us at ROCKETS, Artemis, I should like to thank you.” He pauses for a response, but doesn't get one. “On that note, then – I have business to attend to. I recommend you two return to Celadon, although if you'd prefer to wait there staring at Oak and his friends, I suppose that won't do any harm. Until we meet again!”

He starts to turn away. Cass' aunt shifts the machine in her arms to free up a hand, places it on his arm; they have a brief conversation, during the course of which he seems to mollify her, and then they and the three bodyguards move off, around the edge of the pillar.

With what looks like extreme difficulty, Cass takes her eyes off them, off the gigantic pokémon bobbing and swaying before her, and turns to face Artemis.

“I … what do we do?” she asks, plaintively. “Artie, what do we do?”

Artemis doesn't answer. She still hasn't found where her voice went.

It seems moderately likely that she no longer exists.

*​

ROCKETS security is well trained; nobody wants to say where the agency's laboratory actually is. But most people get a lot more talkative when Sovereign lifts them up by the throat and pushes them into a wall, and after that it doesn't take long to find out what they need. Concealed beneath a framed advertisement for the Rocket bar in the elevator is a keypad that, if you enter a certain code, will take you down into the sub-basement where Giovanni moved ROCKETS after it was decommissioned earlier this year.

Unfortunately, someone has been sensible enough to lock the elevators.

“Damn it,” says Emilia, pressing the button over and over without result. “There's got to be another way. Stairs somewhere?”

We don't need stairs.
Sovereign pushes past her and jams their fingers into the gap between the doors, dragging them apart with a squeal of grinding metal. Frankly, Emilia shouldn't be surprised after seeing them defeat the tyranitar, but even so, it's hard not to stare. Ripping open elevator doors never struck her as the sort of thing that happened in real life.

There, says Sovereign with a grunt, leaning out and looking down into the void. Long way, but I can make it. Come here.

Emilia hesitates, but only for a moment. She steps forward, Sovereign takes her in their arms, and the next thing she knows they are floating gently down the elevator shaft, the air around them distorting with the levitation field.

“This is … something,” she says, to cover her awkwardness. Sovereign's body is hard as iron with muscle and scar tissue, and seems to run far hotter than any human; it must be a hell of a metabolism that supports those devastating psionics. They almost burn her where they touch.

Sovereign snorts.

You are easily impressed, Santangelo.

“You know, you can call me Emilia.”

Noted, Santangelo.


Sovereign touches down lightly on the roof of the lift and lets her go. Nadia, previously huddled against Emilia's neck, springs away again, rearranging her feathers in embarrassment. She can't hide her discomfort at Sovereign's proximity from Emilia, but she has her pride, and Emilia pretends to believe her.

Stand back. I'll get us in.


The hatch leading into the elevator is locked, but locks are mostly meaningless to Sovereign, and soon the three of them are down in the elevator itself, where Sovereign sniffs the air and tilts their heavy head to one side.

They're prepared, they say. I detect at least seven human minds, and as many pokémon. Stay back until I clear the way.

“Fine,” says Emilia. “You're the expert.”

“Hah,” they bark, the real sound jarring after all the simulated mental speech. Yes, I suppose I am.

They force the doors and bound out with a snarl. Emilia hears gunfire, sees flame licking at the walls, and then a series of heavy thumps.

I am Sovereign! In name and deed!

A shriek that dies halfway through, and then silence. Sovereign pads back to the door and beckons her out.

It is done, they say, as she and Nadia follow them down a narrow hallway that bears signs of having recently been barricaded and, even more recently, unbarricaded with extreme force. I think they are running out of soldiers. Three of these people were civilians and their partners.

Emilia stoops to inspect someone's lanyard: Dr Felicia Barker, Indigo League.

“Yes,” she agrees, getting out her phone and taking pictures. This new one doesn't have nearly as good a camera as her League one, but it's good enough. “These are the scientists who jumped ship with Giovanni.”

Do we need to collect these ID cards? As proof?


“I don't think so,” she says. “I'll send all the photos I take to The Cataphract, along with directions on where they've hidden the lab. The police will find it anyway, when they search the building, but it won't hurt to get the press involved.”

Speaking of the police, we should keep moving, says Sovereign, pacing on ahead. We have not exactly been subtle about this.

“Right.”

They keep going down the corridor. It's quiet now; that alarm has stopped, and Sovereign's feeling that ROCKETS is out of security seems to be right. Nadia keeps scanning, and she does detect people, but everything she broadcasts to Emilia suggests fear rather than hostility. At the end of the passage, Sovereign motions for her to stand still, and then darts around the corner in one sudden swoop.

You think you can sneak up on me?
they ask. I am Sovereign.

“Oh god,” Emilia hears. “Oh god oh god oh sh*t oh god oh―”

Where is Giovanni?

“Oh god oh god―”

WHERE IS GIOVANNI?

At this close range, the telepathic shout is enough to stun Nadia; her claws seize up and she almost falls from Emilia's shoulder, catching herself at the last moment on a lock of her hair.

FURRET, she murmurs, climbing unsteadily back into position, and follows it up with some incoherent pictures of goats.

Are you okay? asks Emilia, concerned, and gets something back that might be affirmation.

What do you mean? Sovereign demands to know. Where is he? What is this?

“It's – the kid, he was here, he – we were gonna get our agent to grab him and bring him in but – but he was already here, so we just – we went ahead with the plan, you know, because we knew we couldn't beat―”

Enough of this blathering, growls Sovereign. If you cannot marshal your thoughts, I shall marshal them for you.

“What are youuuuh …”

The voice trails off, and Emilia hears its owner fall, heavily. A moment later, Sovereign reappears around the corner.

Giovanni has made his escape, they snarl, thumping the wall and leaving cracks the concrete. I am still working out the particulars of the thought … it seems his plan was to apprehend some boy who serves as a target for breach, the way Artemis does, so that he could trigger a breach event here in Celadon. Some sort of entrance into the breach itself, so that he can take full control.

Some boy. Emilia's fists clench involuntarily. Sovereign doesn't know, do they? They don't know anything at all.

This boy apparently made his way back to Celadon regardless, they continue. When we made our attack, Giovanni had his agents hold us off so that he had time to trigger the event and escape through the back to his portal into the breach. They glare at her. Why did you not tell me there was a second person involved in Giovanni's plan? I thought it was just Artemis.

“It is just Artemis,” snaps Emilia. “They just―” She breaks off, unable to figure out how to explain it. “They are cruel,” she says, in the end. “She made herself and they are cruel.” She shakes her head. “She and I are … I don't know if I have time to explain this. What's the situation with Giovanni?”

I don't understand, says Sovereign. They seem genuinely confused. Why would they― but you're right. Giovanni is the priority. It would seem he has already left to get to the breach.

“Damn.” Emilia chews her lip. Difficult to say what Giovanni's doing, exactly, but whatever it is, if it's the last thing he needs to do to take full control, they can't afford to let it get out of hand. “Okay. Can you find it? The breach, I mean.”

They are usually quite obvious, as I understand it. But what about our efforts here? There are still some scientists left, and the laboratories to document―


“Leave that to us,” says Emilia, with an assertiveness she doesn't feel. “Nadia and I can handle it.”

No, you can't. You are completely defenceless.

She sighs.

“Objection noted,” she says. “Go and stop Giovanni, Sovereign. We'll clean up in here, start destroying evidence. Nadia can stun people at least. Right?”

Nadia cheeps and thrusts out her chest. Sovereign shakes their head.

Bravado will not win fights.


“No, but intimidation will. Just go, Sovereign. Or do you want Giovanni to win?”

They hesitate, and for a long moment Emilia is half convinced they won't go for it – and then in the end they nod.

Fine. But you – you be careful.

“Hah. Careful, Sovereign, people might think you care.”

“Hmph.” Don't flatter yourself. I want Giovanni's operation stricken beyond repair. Your survival is necessary.

“Sure,” says Emilia, hiding a smile. “Just go, already. You want Giovanni taken care of, this is your chance. And take this with you.”

She takes their ball from her pocket and hands it over.

“Maybe you could lose this on the other side of the portal,” she says. “Just an idea.”

Sovereign looks at her askance.

An idea, you say. They mull it over for a second or so, then hold out their hand. Good luck.

“Same to you,” says Emilia, shaking it. “We're both going to need it.”

Speak for yourself, Sovereign retorts, and bounds away down the corridor towards the lift.

Emilia watches them until they disappear into the elevator, and then breathes out.

“Ready, Nadia?” she asks, under her breath.

YES.

“Okay, then,” she says, moving forwards, towards the corner and the body beyond. “Let's go scuttle ROCKETS.”

*​

“Artie?” Cass sounds really worried now. Artemis wishes she could do something about it, in a distant sort of way. “Artie, please say something.”

It's been a while, maybe. Nothing has changed; no lightning has struck, no earthquakes have occurred. They've just been standing here, while the ersatz Oak and his gyarados watch them calmly.

Artemis blinks. It's not over. Maybe it won't ever be. But she has her mouth back. And hey. There aren't any ghost people. That has to count for something.

“Cass,” she says. “I'm really sorry. I guess it didn't really work out.”

Cass sighs.

“I mean, maybe we weren't really in with a chance in the first place,” she says. “Guy's got a magic glove that lets him rewrite reality.”

She stands there, at a loss, and Artemis stands with her. It is, at this point, about all she can do. She could turn around, of course. Could go back. But even if she could find the courage to turn her back to the gyarados, she can't leave, not after everything. So she stays, unable to leave, unable to continue, and waits for something to change.

On her chest, Brauron twitches again, burrowing into her armpit with a desperate little his. Artemis puts her arm around her, holds her close against the wash of the gyarados' foetid breath.

Cass takes her hand.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay, I guess we should … go.”

Artemis lets her pull her back, towards the overpass leading back towards the wall of light, and then something falls out of the sky onto the gyarados' head and slams it into the ground with enough force to crack the tarmac.

Oh, Giovanni, says Sovereign, kicking away from its skull, soaring up and floating down to alight before it. You don't learn, do you? Always you go for show, and never for substance.

“Sovereign?”

They do not turn to face her; the gyarados is rising, its eyes bloodshot and ropes of spittle flying from its lips, and as it lashes out with those yellowed fangs Sovereign dives beneath the blow to wrap their arms around its neck. The gyarados bellows, thrashes, but Sovereign is immovable, rooted to the air by their psionics, and as they tighten their grip its roar dies down into a soft, hoarse rattle.

Useless creature, they say, as the huge dragon writhes, its coils flapping uselessly against one another. Giovanni has always had a weakness for easy power. True strength cannot be purchased. He has never understood this.

One last squeeze, and they let the gyarados go. It collapses like a house of cards, gasping and wheezing, and does not get up again.

“Jesus Christ,” gasps Cass, eyes wide. “You show up out of nowhere, choke out a gyarados and start talking like a fortune cookie.”

I don't know what that is. Sovereign levitates down to the ground, stately and unhurried. I assume it is not complimentary.

“No, man, I'm super grateful, but … god. That just happened. Also, um, Oak's going for another ball.”

Sovereign moves like light: there, and then elsewhere. Once Artemis' eyes have managed to process the movement, they see that Oak is lying alongside his gyarados.

“Is he …?”

No. Sovereign shakes their head. I am not sure if it was alive to begin with, but it is not dead, either.

Oak begins to vibrate again, to twitch and dissolve, and his gyarados with him. Within seconds, there is nothing left but tarmac and scattered motes of light.

“Thank you,” says Artemis. “Thank you, we … I don't even know.” Her mind is waking up, bit by bit; suddenly she realises that her chest hurts, that Brauron is still huddled beneath her arm. “It's okay, kiddo,” she says, lifting her up and turning her to face Sovereign. “Look. The cavalry's here.”

Brauron eyes them with suspicion and flicks her tongue out. It's the most lively she's been since Oak turned up, and it makes Artemis smile, despite it all. She's okay. She gets scared, but she bounces right back. Amazing, really.

“You really scratched me up, huh,” she says, touching her chest and seeing fresh blood on her fingers, over the dried stuff that she wiped from her eyes earlier. “'S okay, I forgive you.” She looks up at Sovereign. “How did you know?”

We learned from the scientists at the Rocket that Giovanni had fled to consolidate his plan. They lash their tail. I subdued the security and left Santangelo to mark the evidence.

“Alone? Is she―?”

She is … tougher than you think, Sovereign tells her. Although I forbid you from telling her I said that. They sniff, and shake their head. Where is Giovanni?

“That way,” says Cass, pointing. Ringo is back on her shoulder now, glaring at the spot where the gyarados was as if daring it to come back. “He said he was gonna plant some machine, take control of breach …”

Sovereign snorts.

Then let us prove him wrong, they say, cracking their knuckles. Come!

They lope off down the broken road. Cass lets out a little snatch of cracked laughter.

“God,” she says. “God, I think … Artie, correct me if I'm wrong but I think we've got a shot at this?”

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “Yeah, I think … I think we need to hurry up if we're gonna catch him before he sets up his machine.”

Cass smiles. Amazingly, Artemis doesn't think it's forced.

“C'mon, then,” she says. “Let's get running.”

*​

Emilia creeps along the corridor, as quickly as she dares. She's got Nadia, sure, and that lets her detect people before they detect her and stun them if they get close, but Nadia isn't a battler, and these are absolutely not ideal conditions to start learning.

Most of the doors down this corridor are locked, but with a key card swiped from one of the scientists Sovereign knocked out Emilia has access to all of them. In the offices beyond, she sweeps notes off tables into wastepaper bins and drops lit matches in with them, watching Giovanni's data turn to ash. It sets the fire alarm going, but at this point it doesn't really matter, and after a while someone turns it off again.

Some stuff will survive, of course. There will be digital backups, and that might not be something she can deal with. But as much as she can, she needs to make all of this disappear. Not much point stopping Giovanni if someone else can just pick up where he left off.

Outside the fifth door, Nadia indicates that she should stop.

Someone in there? thinks Emilia.

HIDING, says Nadia, interfacing with her vision and making part of the wall pulse purple. HERE.

By the door, then. Waiting for Emilia to come through. She weighs her options, then nods.

Okay. Be ready.

She swipes the key card in the lock and steps back as someone swings a lamp straight through the space she would have stepped into.

“Nadia!”

A flare of green and red wings, a flash of light, and the someone groans, the lamp slipping from his fingers. Another, and he collapses onto the floor, snoring.

Emilia lets out the breath she was holding. Okay. She's never actually attacked anyone before. Or not sober, anyway; she lost a few bar fights back when she was a student. It does not feel good to have started now.

“All right,” she says, running her fingers through her hair. “Good work.”

She steps through into another office, like the others. Nothing here to burn. No reason, in fact, to come in here at all. Which means she knocked the guy out for nothing.

Emilia sighs. At least this way he can't sneak up on her, she supposes.

“All right, back out,” she mutters, and continues down the hall. She's running out of doors to try now, but the corridor is almost over, and she can see an open space up ahead. Sticking close to the wall, she draws nearer, trying to gauge the size of the room she's looking at. For some reason she can't get a read on it, and then she reaches the end of the hall and realises why: it isn't a room. It's a shaft, ringed by catwalks, descending thirty or forty feet to accommodate a huge spire of baroque machinery, bristling with cables and terminating in a vast crooked structure like the claw of a fearow, along which crackles of discoloured electricity pulse in irregular waves.

Emilia stares, trying to take it all in at once and failing. How the hell is she meant to take this apart? She came here to document the place and end all breach research for good, but this is going to take more than a few matches. She doesn't even know how Giovanni built the damn thing. He's rich, sure, but this? This? There are League departments with smaller budgets than what you'd need to put something like this together. And that's not even considering what it would take to excavate this place in secret, or to get workers and materials down here.

She takes some pictures. It feels incredibly inadequate, but at this point it's pretty much all she's got.

FURRET MACHINE, mutters Nadia uneasily, pressing herself against Emilia's neck.

“Yeah,” she replies, looking from screen to machine and back again. “Furret machine indeed. Come on, maybe we can find the server or something. We might be able to delete some data at least.”

She makes her way around the catwalk, trying to tread softly but unable to stop the clanking completely, and down the stairs leading to the next level. A door down there leads to another corridor of card-locked rooms; at the end, Emilia finds one with a keypad, and presses her ear against the door to hear a faint mechanical humming from the other side. Computers, then. Big ones, by the sound of it.

“All right,” she mutters. “Let's see what we can do. Nadia, tight focus. Just the keypad.”

She chirps her agreement, and after a couple of false starts, Emilia has the code: 0451. She punches it in, and steps through into what is very obviously the server room: at the far end, three tall computer towers stand whirring at one another in the chilled air. On Emilia's left is a desk with a terminal; a wiggle of the mouse turns the screen back on and confirms that it is currently locked.

“Same again, I guess,” she says, closing her eyes and holding Nadia out. “Find me the keys they pressed.”

Nadia gets to work. It takes a while; there's much more data to sift through here than with the keyboard, or even in Giovanni's office – more than one person has used this computer, and the traces are tangled. But Nadia is a natu, and she can handle it. She does, however, have to devote her full attention to it, directing all her sight into the past, and so she does not detect the mind approaching down the hall in the present, not even when its owner opens the door and Emilia turns, opening her eyes, at the sound―

The metal bar hits her full across the face with the kind of crunch that means something broken. Emilia gasps, staggers, falls; her head knocks against the edge of the table and a dizzying greyness wobbles through her vision. Somewhere Nadia is squawking, trying to pick herself back up, and above her she can make out someone raising their arm again―

Emilia blacks out. Just for a second: Nadia overcooks her stun pulse in her panic, and the edge of it clips her too. A moment later she opens her eyes to an awful pain in her face and a natu pecking anxiously at her cheek.

“What the …?” she groans, sitting up groggily. “Nadia? Was that you?”

TOO STRONG, replies Nadia, penitence flooding through her mind. TOO STRONG TOO STRONG―

“It's okay.” Her voice sounds strange. Emilia blinks away the bleariness and stares. There's a woman lying near the door, out cold, with a dented metal rod a few inches from her hand. For a moment, Emilia juggles the pieces in her head, and then they all fly into place and she gasps, clutching at what she now recognises as a broken nose. “Ah! God, that … f*ck.” She breathes out slowly through her mouth. “Thank you, Nadia,” she says. “Think you probably just saved me.”

FURRET WOMAN, says Nadia, glaring fiercely at her fallen assailant.

“I think she probably thought it was self-defence.” She closes her eyes for a moment, rests her head in her hand. “Ugh. I am … very out of practice at being hit.”

EMILIA OKAY? asks Nadia. Her mind pushes impatiently through Emilia's own, searching for answers before she voices them.

“Yeah. Yeah, probably.” Emilia gets one hand on the table and pulls herself up, fighting the dizziness. “Ugh. Nadia, can you get the door?”

She cheeps and flits over to peck the button.

“Thank you.” Emilia pulls the chair out from beneath the desk and sits down heavily. “Okay,” she says, trying to force the life back into her voice. “Okay, let's try that one again.”

This time, she keeps one eye open. Nobody else interrupts, however, and after a few minutes of poking around they manage to get the computer unlocked. Emilia starts deleting things, indiscriminately and without checking to see what they are; it's a slow process, though, and she knows it's only a matter of time before the cops come down here. And she can't let the data be captured. If any of this survives, if it makes its way back into the hands of anyone with any authority at all, then this isn't over. Probably there are ways of recovering whatever she deletes here, too.

She thinks about getting the metal rod and trying to break the servers apart, but if she's honest, she isn't sure she can actually get up right now. Two blows to the head and a stun pulse will do that to you.

“Okay,” she sighs, considering her options. “Okay, um – Nadia, take dictation. I need you to get a message to Sovereign …”

*​

After Sovereign's arrival, there isn't much time for talking. They run, up to the pillar and around it to descend into a canyon of mangled architecture, a single steep path diving down between two cliffs of fused buildings. It's hard to find details in them, though Artemis tries: here's a window, there's a column, but everything is so fragmented that her eye just slides over it, unable to see the components for the whole. Sovereign pays none of it any attention, following the twisted path through the canyon with the casual ease of a native.

“Have you seen this before?” asks Artemis. “This place?”

Only in my dreams, they reply, and something in the way they say it makes her afraid to ask any more.

The path slopes lower, or possibly the walls grow higher, and the sky retreats into a single narrow band of grey, impossibly far off. Are the walls narrowing? No, definitely not, Artemis tells herself. Probably definitely not.

They are narrowing. They continue to narrow until the three of them have to move in single file, elbows knocking against pediments and doorsteps, and then all at once they fly apart again and Artemis stumbles out into a huge, lonely void.

There are no buildings here, no stolen pieces of the real world. There is nothing at all except that grey sky, and underneath it a grey land, so exactly like it in colour and texture that Artemis is half convinced she's flying.

And, way out there in the middle of it all, the five ROCKETS agents and their machine.

Sovereign doesn't wait for anyone to speak. They take off at a sprint, heading for Giovanni, and Artemis does her best to follow, though she falls far behind. In the distance, she sees the figures moving, the three bodyguards fanning out. Someone else – Giovanni? – raises an arm and the grey of the sky coalesces into angular, shimmering creatures of static fuzz that fly down at Sovereign like eagles and bowl them off their feet, crying out in voices that sound like knives on grindstones.

Artemis cries out, but Sovereign is already back up, lashing out with paw and hand; their fists puncture the breach creatures easily, shatter them into flakes of light, but the pieces keep coming back together, and the creatures keep pressing down on them, opening wounds with their edges.

Vile creatures! they growl, smashing one against another. Keep moving! Don't stop for me!

She does, and Cass too, and as they move past Sovereign the figure – definitely Giovanni; she sees the flash of the gauntlet working – raises his arm again and new creatures appear before them, slithering out of the ground and spreading their arms wide to block their path. Artemis slows, concerned – and jerks her head back in alarm as a vivid jet of green flame shoots out from her chest and wreathes the nearest entity in fire. It twitters piteously, clutching at itself with arms that smoulder like paper, and as Brauron croaks her defiance Artemis turns her shoulder forward and charges, heedless of the edges that rake her skin like broken glass or the flames that lick at her face.

It's so light. Like paper, really, if paper could cut like broken glass and burn like a furnace, and yes it hurts but Artemis is past it now, and so close that she can even see the ROCKETS group, see Giovanni manipulating the world with his fingertips and Cass' aunt finishing up with the machine and the three bodyguards raising their guns to stop her―

Someone screams, and Artemis blinks to see Cass' aunt tackling the lead guard to the ground, shrieking about her niece. The other two turn, startled, and in the moment of their distraction Cass barks follow

―and Ringo closes the distance with supernatural speed, nailing one in the small of the back, exactly where a pursuit hurts most. Not that it does hurt much; he's a big guy and Ringo's a little bird. But he staggers, and by that point they're so close, and Giovanni is actually looking worried, is working his gloved hand faster and faster, tongue pinned between his teeth. Artemis senses rather than sees the breach entities wink out of existence as its power shifts, and a split second after they do:

I am Sovereign! In name and deed!

And she sees them flying in at the corner of her vision―

And Giovanni shrugs.

“My apologies,” he says, raising a gauntlet now glowing blue-black all down its length. “You weren't quick enough. And now you don't exist.”

It's like in a movie, when someone important dies and the protagonist's world distorts with sorrow and outrage, time and space collapsing into slow motion and mumbled noise. Artemis is still running, Sovereign is still diving; the breach entities are falling apart. A stall tactic, she realises, with some remote part of her brain that is still operating on a rational level. He never meant to stop them. Only to slow them until he finished doing … whatever this is.

She reaches out, her arm pushing against the air as if through treacle, and then Giovanni closes his hand and everything goes black.

*​
 
Last edited:

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Except there's something else there, hovering in the blackness. Something huge, and red, and very familiar.

Breach, croons the spire, as the sparks fly and the eerie song quavers outward from its core. You came to us. You breached.

“You again,” murmurs Artemis. There is nothing of her to be afraid, no heart to pound, no nerves to tingle, no blood to roar in her ears. There is nothing left at all but the voice in the void.

It's not okay. But there isn't enough of her left to care.

I, says the spire, over the grinding of that cosmic knife. I, the angel, the horn-blast. When breach is, I am. Breach. There has been a breach.

“I know,” she says. “I know, I'm … he won.”

The auteur, whispers the spire. The falconer. He seizes, and his gyre widens. Breach. He is the one. We are the process of you, and you of us, and never the twain shall meet. But for breach. He has breached.

He seizes. That's the key thing, isn't it? Artemis feels the idea quicken inside her the way a pulse might, unfolding beneath the surface of whatever intangible thing she is like a drop of milk through black tea. Giovanni seizes, takes what he wants to burn his vision into the world. He seized the mew, created Sovereign and tried to seize them too.

And it wasn't that Sovereign refused to fight breach, period. It was that they would have liked to have been offered the choice.

Okay. She might as well try.

“Is this what you want?” she asks.

The spire pulses unsteadily.

What I want? She has never heard uncertainty in that voice before, did not even know if she would recognise it if she did, but there it is.

“Yeah,” she says. “You're breach. Do you want to follow him?”

The spire burns for a long, long time, crackling and grinding and singing, and then at last it seems to come to a decision.

I am breach, it says. I am of the volta, caged in iron and glass and the gestures of his hand. A deaf falcon. A muted post-horn. I can do nothing. And yet, and yet …

“You don't have to,” says Artemis. “We'll do it for you.”

In a sense, Giovanni has done her a favour. She could never have said that if she had her brain weighing her down, poisoning her thoughts with the certain knowledge that she was born to fail. But now – now she's fearless, everything-less in fact, and as it turns out the thing that's left when you drain Artemis Apanchomene down to her dregs is compassion.

It would be humbling to realise this, if she could still feel humility. But right now she can't feel anything at all.

I will do nothing, hisses the spire. We will do nothing. Do you see?

“Yeah,” says Artemis. “I think I do.”

Breach, murmurs the spire, burning brighter now, so bright that had she eyes Artemis would be blinded. There has been a breach, a breach, a―

Something wrenches, hard, and Artemis is running at Giovanni.

He stares.

“Wait,” he begins, and then Artemis feels all her old self rising in her with the howl of her blood in her veins and before she even knows it her fist has connected squarely with the side of Giovanni's head.

It hurts. A lot, actually. Artemis has never punched anyone before, and she doesn't do a particularly good job of it. But she's still six foot one with the musculature to match, and he's still five eight and softening with age, and there are limits to how badly wrong you can go with those statistics. Giovanni stumbles, almost falls, and the light gathering around his gauntlet fades.

“What the,” he begins to say, but Artemis swings again, with all her strength and all the frantic, bottomless energy of her anxiety, and he goes down like a tonne of bricks.

It isn't even a contest. She's strong. She is. She might have spent her life running away from it but she's strong, and it's not a problem, not at all. It's a solution. Because when you get right down to it, when you strip away wealth and race and class, when you take away his pokémon and his allies and put him in the middle of nowhere, he's just some guy. Some guy who thought that his cleverness put him above kindness, and guess what, Artemis has two fists and opinions about that kind of behaviour.

Giovanni coughs, reaches into his jacket for a poké ball or a gun, but Brauron gets there first, sinking her hot white teeth into his hand, dragging it away from his pocket for her partner to shove aside.

“You bastard,” Artemis says, or hears herself saying. “You bastard!”

Her hands are on his arm now, wrenching at the gauntlet. There are buckles; he tries to stop her getting to them, but Cass is here now too to hold his hand back, and Artemis gets them undone and slips the thing off his arm completely. It spits sparks at her, casing cracked and wires trailing, but it's done. Giovanni doesn't have his power. And everything is over.

She straightens up, looks back to see Sovereign dropping the two gunmen to the floor. Cass' aunt is just sitting there at their feet, staring.

They've won, she realises. They won. All of them together. They came here, against Giovanni and ROCKETS, against breach, and they … they won.

Cass grabs her hand, breathing hard.

“Did we just …?”

She can't finish. It's all right. Artemis knows what she means.

“Yeah,” she replies. “I think … I think I talked my way out of it?”

It's impossible for her to keep the question out of her voice. She just can't believe that that happened.

“I think so too,” says Cass. “Um … can I hug you?”

“Yeah,” says Artemis, and she does, and both of them are shaking hard but neither of them feel like talking about it.

“Let's never, ever do that again,” says Cass, into Artemis' chest.

“Definitely no arguments here.”

Everything is so quiet without the blood roaring in her ears. Now she can hear Brauron, hissing at Giovanni from atop his chest, green flames dripping from the corners of her mouth. Keeping him down, for her. For her. Artemis wants to pick her up, but she isn't quite up to letting go of Cass yet.

A movement catches her eye, and she looks up to see Sovereign throwing the guards' guns away across the empty landscape.

Well done, they say, sounding subdued. I have no idea what just happened, but I think I have you to thank for getting us out of it.

Artemis shrugs awkwardly.

“Yeah,” she says. “Probably.”

They gesture at the machine.

This thing, they say. Do I destroy it?

Cass' aunt starts.

“No,” she says. “No, you can't―”

“Aunt Abby?” Cass pulls away from Artemis, and her aunt looks at her with something like fear in her eyes. “Just shut up,” Cass tells her, sounding tired. “You are like the worst person in my family, and considering the competition, that makes you pretty f*cking awful.”

“Cassandra, I was trying to―”

“It's Cass,” she says. “It's Cass and I just want you to shut up and not talk to me again. Maybe ever. Do you think you can figure that one out?”

Now she sounds angry. Artemis is relieved; it sounds much more like her. She can feel the consciousness of the void fading inside her now, like a nightmare melting in the dawn light, and Cass probably feels the same.

Her aunt stares, mouth open. There's no more fight in her now. It's sad, more than anything else. Artemis wonders what it's like to go to the end of the world in search of what you believe in, only to have it stolen away at the last moment. Can't be good. Can't be worse than what Giovanni tried to do to her, but it can't be good.

“Thanks,” says Cass. “And Sovereign? Just kick the sh*t out of that thing, okay?”

Sovereign turns their eyes on Artemis.

And you? they ask.

There's no question, not really. Yes, it's tempting. But that's exactly why they have to get rid of it. Because evil is not something alien and unusual, it's just ordinary people who think they can get away with it. That's what Giovanni is, right? She said it herself, just a moment ago. He's just some guy. Some guy who had power. And sure, Artemis could take this thing for herself, could rewrite her body into the perfection she so desperately wants, could make her parents understand, could make it so nobody ever got sick the way she did ever again – but would it be enough? Would she really stop there, with the heart of the universe beating in her palm?

What was that thing Emilia said once? Abuse of power comes as no surprise. Even someone as timid as Artemis could be evil, if you gave her the means. It's frightening, but that's how it works.

“You feel it,” says Giovanni suddenly, staring up at her intently. “You see? This power can be for the benefit of everyone, for our nation―”

“Nope.” Artemis shakes her head. “No, I don't think so.” She bends down and recovers Brauron from his chest, hot as a jewel left out in the sun. “Just break it, Sovereign,” she says, hugging her partner close. “Break it before anyone else tries anything.”

Sovereign raises one foot and drives it straight through the machine with a squeal of broken metal. Giovanni flinches; Cass' aunt gasps. Artemis notes with a certain guilty satisfaction that neither of them seem to have much to say now that their life's work has been stomped flat before their eyes.

And it is done, says Sovereign, extracting their paw. At long last.

“So that's it?” she asks. “It's over now?”

The fighting, yes, Sovereign replies. I suspect you will have much to deal with when you return to Kanto. Speaking of which, Sovereign continues, returning their attention to Artemis, you should bring us home. The gate in Celadon was already failing by the time I crossed through; I suspect it has closed now. They pick up the gauntlet and put it in her hands. Use this.

“I can't,” she says.

It doesn't matter, replies Sovereign, misinterpreting her. Do you think he knew how? Sovereign gestures at Giovanni. You read Fuji's diary, yes? Manipulating breach is not a science, but an art. That thing is a paintbrush. Move it, and the mark falls where you will.

Artemis looks at Cass. Ringo is back on her shoulder, giving Giovanni his best death-glare. They both look so much themselves that it makes her heart hurt a little.

“Cass?” she says hesitantly. “Maybe you …?”

Cass shakes her head.

“Uh-uh,” she replies. “Like I'll be right here, but … I think this one's yours.”

She keeps holding Artemis' gaze until she has to blink and look down, at the ugly engine in her hands.

“I'm not even real,” she says.

“Hah!” snorts Sovereign. Neither am I. But we fake people do well enough, I think.

She's never thought of it that way. She supposes it might even be true. But even so, she can't.

“No,” she says, looking up again. “No, not like this.”

What? asks Sovereign. What are you talking about?

“Yeah,” says Cass. “We kinda need to go home, you know―”

“There's a better way.” Artemis takes a breath. “Otherwise we're the same as him.”

“Artie? What are you …?”

Artemis barely hears her. She closes her eyes, reaches out with her hand: just her hand, burned and scratched from the breach entity and starting to swell from punching Giovanni. Come on, she thinks, swiping at the air the way Giovanni did with his glove. Come on, please. One more thing. One more …

She sees it in her mind, a red light blazing against the blackness. The radiation in her sings, trembling through her nerves with a familiar not-quite-music whine.

Hail, breach
, it murmurs. There will be a breach. One more, and I shall not. The time has been, and there an end.

“Thank you,” whispers Artemis, and tosses the gauntlet aside. Cass shouts but it's drowned out by the music, growing louder and faster and more frantic with every passing moment―

It is happening, sings the spire. It is happening, I announce it with my song―

―and, somehow, she's in Celadon. Beneath a real sky, above a real road, with the real Pokémon Centre there and real pedestrians yelling and running from the weird motley group that has materialised in their midst. No void. No spires. Just the world.

“Oh my god,” says Cass, clutching at Ringo. “How the hell did you do that?”

“I didn't.” Artemis stares. Is this the real world? It looks like it, but she knows better than most that looks can be deceiving. “It was the – the spire …”

What on earth …? Sovereign keeps twitching their head around, eyes as wide and round as coins. How are we …?

“I asked,” says Artemis, searching the houses for signs of breach or ghost people, seeing none and still not believing. “I asked and it … ow.”

She blinks as the pain pushes through and looks down at her arm. Cuts, burns, a definite swelling in her hand. A black tint around the scratches, tingling with radiation. Yes, that looks bad. But she's done: Giovanni's on the ground at Sovereign's feet, his guards are beaten, his machine is broken. And she and Cass and their pokémon and Sovereign are here, in what might well be the real world.

To hell with it. At least they're here together, right?

“Cops are here,” says Cass, looking at the uniforms and arcanine pushing their way through the crowd. “Sovereign …?”

Let them come. Sovereign shrugs. I'm not sure I can fly yet, after whatever that was. I'll see Giovanni into custody before I try.

“Are you sure?”

Not really. But they're police, not League. I suppose the worst they can do is shoot me, and the last person who tried that is currently lying unconscious in a pile of gin-soaked splinters.

It seems about right. They stand together as the cops come forward, and wait for things to end.

*​

Emilia looks up at the sound of the door opening. She expects to see DCI Chalmers, back for another round of questioning, but no. Someone even more familiar.

“Hello, Lorelei,” she says.

Lorelei does not return the greeting. She indicates to the constable on guard that he should leave, sits down opposite Emilia and stares at her for a while.

It's quiet, especially without Nadia. Emilia isn't used to her absence; for more than ten years now, she's been there, letting Emilia's thoughts spill out from inside her head and mingle with her own. Emilia's skull feels smaller without her. Still, better that she's gone. Not that the cops would get anything out of her if she was here – it takes years to attune yourself to a natu, and nobody has that experience with Nadia but Emilia – but they'd try regardless. She's almost certainly safer out there, wherever she is.

“Emilia,” says Lorelei. “Would it have killed you to answer your phone?”

Emilia smiles thinly.

“I threw it in the river,” she replies.

“That was unnecessarily dramatic.”

“Really? I thought you knew that the GPS on League phones can't be switched off.”

Lorelei sighs.

“Do you realise how much time we spent searching the east end?” she asks.

“I had my suspicions. Look, what are you doing here, anyway?”

“First and foremost, I'm here to inform you that you're being released.” Her voice remains level, but Emilia isn't fooled, even without Nadia. This is not easy for Lorelei to say. “The League has recommended, and the Republic Prosecution Service agrees, that it would be imprudent to press charges, under the circumstances.”

“Magnanimous of you.”

“Isn't it just.” Lorelei lowers her gaze for a moment. “So that's the first thing,” she says, forcing it back up again. “The second pertains to what we found in the ROCKETS laboratory. We had our people examine it closely, and while we retrieved several valuable pieces of technology whose architecture appears to be based on League devices from when ROCKETS worked for us, none of them were in working condition. In fact, almost everything in there had been broken, and the central server itself, as well as the three back-ups, had been smashed beyond all repair. All the data was lost.” Lorelei's eyebrows ask the question before she does: “You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?”

Emilia smiles again.

“I guess Giovanni knew that Sovereign and I would get in,” she says. “He probably didn't want us getting hold of his breach secrets.”

“There was a residue of psychic energy that disrupted the trace we tried to run.”

Emilia shrugs.

“I had Nadia scanning the whole time I was there,” she says. “And we had to stun a few scientists. Or I suppose Sovereign might have come back. You've read my reports, surely? They're sentient, Lorelei. They're capable of making their own decisions.”

“That's actually the third thing I wanted to talk to you about. Mew-2.”

“Sovereign.”

“Yes. That.” Lorelei leans forward slightly, elbows resting on the table. “Where is it?”

“No idea,” Emilia replies. “In case you haven't noticed, Lorelei, I've been here for the last ten days, ever since Erika pulled me out of the Rocket.”

“Where did your partner go, then?”

“I told her to get out and find Artemis. I didn't want her to get caught with me and end up having people try to read her mind so they could convince themselves they had a reason to accuse me of lying. You wouldn't have been able to get anything from her, and she would have been put under unnecessary duress.”

They look at each other for a while in silence. The argument isn't over, but now it goes on without words, in the air between them. Emilia holds her ground, and eventually Lorelei looks away and sighs.

“Well,” says Lorelei. “Thank you for your time. I'll go and let them know they can release you now.”

“Lorelei?” calls Emilia, as she reaches for the door.

“Yes?”

“There was one thing that's been bothering me.” Emilia pauses, lets her feel the weight of it. “Down there, in the lab. There was a lot of money on display, wouldn't you say? Giovanni's rich, of course, but come on. He owns a few casinos in a small Tohjo country, out here in the middle of nowhere. Small fry, really. But that stuff down there … that cost a lot to set up, especially in secret like that. I've had a lot of time to think about it now, and I don't really know how he could have personally funded that in such a short space of time without bankrupting himself, honestly.”

Lorelei does not react. She does not move at all.

“Just a thought,” says Emilia, shrugging. “I guess it's probably nothing. Maybe he's richer than I think.”

“Yes,” says Lorelei, without emotion. “Maybe he is.”

*​

“You didn't have to come and pick me up from the station, you know.”

Artemis shrugs.

“Yeah, I did,” she says. “Besides, I think Nadia wanted to come.”

She and Emilia are walking down the steps in front of Central Saffron Police Station, into the rich light of a summer afternoon. Artemis suspects that they are both trying not to stare at the differences in how one another looks: her with her bandaged arm, Emilia with her splinted nose.

“You're probably right there,” says Emilia, reaching up to stroke Nadia's head. The little natu hasn't left her partner's shoulder since she exited the police station door, snuggled close against her neck. “Thank you for bringing her, by the way.”

“It's okay. She was waiting for us at the Centre. No idea how she found us.”

Emilia chuckles.

“I guess Sovereign's made a friend after all,” she says.

They head left down Mill Street, through the crush of office workers seeking lunch.

“How's the hand?” asks Emilia.

“Okay.”

Her arm is bandaged from knuckles to elbow, but it works. She acquired a minor fracture in her hand punching Giovanni, which the League blissey was able to fix with a heal pulse; the scratches and burns are different, too charged with breach for pokémon moves to affect them. It's mostly all right. She can move all her fingers, if stiffly, and after nine days in quarantine without mutating horribly she, Cass, Brauron and Ringo have all been released. They got flown down to Saffron in the League helicopter and everything.

She didn't ask about Giovanni. She got the impression he wasn't going anywhere any time soon. They let Cass speak to her aunt before they left, though. She didn't come back from it looking very happy; Artemis didn't ask, but Cass told her about it anyway. She got about as far as saying her aunt was a fascist before she started crying. After some time and hot chocolate, she was able to make a weak joke about that being another family member she'd managed to get herself estranged from, and Artemis knew she'd probably be okay.

“And Cass?” asks Emilia, as if reading her mind.

“She's okay too,” replies Artemis. “At the Centre. Ringo's not well and she had to stay in with him.”

“It's not―?”

“Nothing to do with breach,” Artemis reassures her. “Just like a lung thing that flying-types get. I forget the name. Not serious, anyway. He'll be fine.”

“Good,” says Emilia. “Good, I'm glad. And … is everything else all right? I imagine, coming back the way you did, word must have got out …”

“Yeah, well. Someone with your old job came and made it disappear, I think. At least, I haven't seen anyone's name in the news except yours.” She sighs. “I don't really know that much yet, they only flew us back from the secure facility yesterday. But I haven't had any angry calls from my dad asking why I left this plane of reality without telling him, so you know.”

Emilia smiles.

“Yes,” she says. “I guess I do.”

Artemis didn't have a direction in mind when she started walking, but it feels like Emilia does. She leads Artemis across the street and left onto the Blackroad, heading west. Around them, bike couriers weave dangerously through the traffic, ferrying boxes back and forth across the city.

“So what are you going to do now?” asks Emilia. “Back to your trainer journey?”

“Yeah. Me and Cass. And you, Brauron,” adds Artemis, booping her partner on the nose. Brauron licks her eyes and leans into her finger to be scratched. “So yeah,” Artemis continues, looking up. “Gonna keep at this for a while. You?”

“Me?” Emilia laughs. “No idea. I'll move house, I suppose. Somewhere with a garden. I have a project in mind. And I need to visit Cerulean, too. After that … no idea.” She laughs again, delighted at her own words. “Absolutely no idea.”

Artemis begins fishing in her bag while Emilia speaks.

“About that project,” she says, coming up with something. “I've got this for you.”

She holds it out: one mottled fruit. A little squishy now, after sitting in storage for a while with the rest of Artemis' possessions, but still firm in the middle.

“Oh! Thank you.” Emilia takes it from her and holds it close. “Thank you,” she repeats. “And … I don't know. If you – or Cass, either of you – need a grass-type, now that you're trainers again … well, call me in a few months' time. I'm going to have quite a few of them. And I'd know they were going to a good home, with you.”

Artemis blushes furiously.

“Um,” she says. “Thank you. A lot.”

“Not at all.” Emilia smiles and leads her right onto Ostler's Lane. The traffic is much lighter here – a welcome reprieve, after the bustle of central Saffron. “I have … so many other questions,” she continues. “I'm sure you do too.”

“Yeah. Kind of a lot, actually. But, uh … one big one.”

Emilia pauses, a wary look in her eye. On her shoulder, Nadia gives Artemis one of her patented piercing stares.

“What is it?” Emilia asks.

“Is this … is it real?” It sounds ridiculous, but Artemis can't stop herself. She has to know, and she can't think of anyone to ask except Emilia. “I mean, is any of this real? Giovanni kept talking about glitches and stuff, and – and the spire said that the things in that other world, they were the process of us, and …” She's lost the thread of it; she gives up, shrugs. “I dunno,” she says. “Are we living in the Matrix or what?”

Emilia sucks her lip for a moment, looking thoughtful.

“I,” she says, “am a lawyer. Not a scientist. So I don't really know, one way or another. But one thing I do know, Artemis, is that just because something is artificial doesn't mean it isn't real.” She puts a hand on her chest. “You and me, we're not natural,” she says. “But I think we're real anyway.”

“That's not the same thing,” protests Artemis, although she isn't so sure now that this is true. “That's just gender, that's weird anyway, but that – that's the whole universe. You know?”

“We're not the whole universe, Artemis,” says Emilia. “This is all we've got. We just have to make the best of it.” She sighs. “It's something that gets more obvious as you get older. Although it never gets much easier to believe.”

Artemis sighs too.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

Emilia looks like she might put her hand on her arm, but doesn't.

“Any other questions?” she asks. “Less philosophically weighty ones, perhaps?”

She makes Artemis smile despite herself.

“Yeah,” she admits. “A bunch.”

“As I thought.” Emilia gestures at a nearby door. “This is possibly the best Nepalese restaurant in Saffron,” she says. “Can I buy you lunch? I will spill as many state secrets as you want.”

Artemis hesitates, but only for a moment. Emilia is her friend, after all. It's weird to think it, but after everything they've done she thinks that's probably the only word for it.

“Okay,” she says, smiling. “Lead the way.”

*​

When Artemis gets back to the Centre, she finds Cass up in their room, determinedly trying to feed Ringo some medicine. Fortunately, she had the foresight to lay down newspaper first, because he seems very, very certain that he does not want any.

“Hey,” she says, looking up as Artemis enters. “Had a good time?”

“Yeah.” Artemis deposits Brauron on the dresser, where she immediately runs for the nail polish and nearly gets it before Artemis snatches it away. “You have a blob of medicine on your nose.”

“What? Oh, for the love of …” Cass glares. “You know what, birdbrain, you deserve to be sick. I hope you know that.” She sighs and wipes the medicine away. “Is Emilia okay?”

“Yeah, I think so. She's going to buy a garden and breed oddish, I think. At least for now. She says we can have some, if we want.”

“Oddish?”

“Yeah.”

“Neat.” Cass looks at Ringo. “Hear that? You're gonna have to get your act together, buster. Unless you want to be upstaged by a baby vegetable.”

He squawks hoarsely and bites her finger.

“Hah! Joke's on you, my hand is covered in medicine.” Cass lets him flutter away to perch on the headboard, wheezing and glaring. “I'll try again in a bit,” she says, turning to Artemis. “So. Uh … where d'you wanna go next, anyway?”

Artemis considers. All of Kanto is open to her. All of Johto, too. Anywhere the Indigo League holds sway is hers for the roaming.

“I'm feeling like maybe I've had enough of this country for a while,” she says. “Isn't there a bug-type Gym in Johto? We could handle one of those, right?”

“That's a long way,” says Cass. “Are you suggesting we hike through the mountains?”

“Yeah,” replies Artemis. “There's meant to be a really beautiful trail going along the coast that goes right through the caves at Tohjo Falls. That would get us out in, uh, what's it called, New Bark, and from there we could do a big loop right the way round Johto.”

“That sounds … super cool, actually. But, like – that would take a while. Like a really, really long while.” Cass raises an eyebrow. “I'm talking a couple years, if we wanna do it properly and train and stuff.”

Artemis grins at her.

“I know,” she says. “Isn't it great?”

There is an argument coming, she can feel it in the wind; one day soon, she will have to visit home, have to have things out with her parents. Nobody can run forever. She will have to tell them at least that she isn't going to Yellowbrick next year, if not that she is a girl, and she will have to suffer through the consequences of that revelation.

But not today. Today she had lunch with Emilia, and came back to Cass and Ringo, and Brauron on the dresser, looking alert as she picks up on the excitement in the air; today the sun is shining, and Giovanni is gone, and there is a world out there, waiting for her to start exploring.

Artemis is afraid of it still. How could she not be? But she's going to get out there and discover it all the same.

SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES [CONFIDENTIAL: AUTHORISED ACCESS ONLY]: EVENT DESIGNATED BE-17-OMEGA. SEE APPENDIX FOR DETAILS.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
[This is the epilogue, and part of a double update. If you clicked for the last post, scroll up for the final chapter.]

EPILOGUE: HAIL GIOVANNI

Two o'clock in the morning at Redheath Detention Centre, and Giovanni is sleeping surprisingly well for a man in his position. The League flew him down from their secure facility a few days ago, ahead of the start of the trial, and since then he has spent each night here in a small cell of his own: after wearing the gauntlet for as long as he did, he is still not entirely safe to touch. Three guards developed skin lesions on their hands before people figured it out.

Still, he sleeps well. Very well, for a man who looks set to lose the biggest trial of the twenty-first century, and who can confidently expect to live out the rest of his days behind bars. He sleeps well, right up until the moment when he hears the voice.

I do not believe in prisons.

He sits up with a start, breathing hard. It could be a dream, he reasons. It could be …

A prison is where you throw something you cannot be bothered to deal with properly. It is a hack attempt to address symptoms, not causes.

It's not a dream. Where are they? Giovanni looks, but sees nothing. There's nowhere in the room for them to be hiding, anyway: it's just a concrete box, one window high up, one cot, one toilet. Absolutely nowhere that anyone could hide.

And yet – sometimes, not even that. Giovanni hears Sovereign snort, a deep noise like an arcanine grunting. I have been careful. I have tied up your loose ends, Giovanni. Rendered your machinery scrap, destroyed your data. I have learned a lot about how these things work. Yet one thread remains.

“Where the hell are you?” he asks. He does manage to keep his voice level. He doesn't think he's fooling it, but he has his pride.

Nearby. A low growl. The thing is, Giovanni, the more I learn about prisons, from these interesting books that our mutual friend Santangelo delivers to me, the less convinced I am that you should be here.

“Get to the poi―”

In due time, they say. Indulge me for a moment, if you will. You see, it's occurred to me that you are a very useful man. All the data is gone, all the machines destroyed – but you, you still have a little breach in you, don't you? I can taste it on you. Like burning wire. Perhaps not enough to free yourself, but some.

Is that a shadow against the moonlight? It's so hard to be sure, when the window's so far up. Giovanni cranes his neck, trying to control his breathing, and thinks he might have glimpsed a silhouette.

Once the trial is done, once the public is satisfied that you are under lock and key, some enterprising person could find you and your breach, your knowledge. And as you and I well know, Giovanni, Kanto is full of enterprising people.

“Pure conjecture,” says Giovanni, as if there's any chance he can change their mind. “They could as easily grab the kid―”

They could try. But they would find that she has powerful friends. He sees them now for certain: a horned shadow against the light shining through the window. You need to disappear, Giovanni, at least until the breach in you fades. And I – ah, I am happy to oblige. I have the perfect destination in mind. I don't suppose you remember Cinnabar House? Because I certainly do.

They are here suddenly, a cold wind blowing in at the broken window, Sovereign towering over him in the dark. Why isn't there an alarm ringing? Surely that glass has to be alarmed?

Artemis would say that this is wrong, they say. Santangelo would say that no just cause can prefer retributive justice over rehabilitation. They would worry that, in doing this, they would become as bad as you. Can you imagine that? A shake of the head, slow and disbelieving. They are good people, says Sovereign, with a shrug. You and I, Giovanni, we are not good people. I am sure you understand.

Giovanni turns. There's nowhere to run, but he tries anyway.

It goes about as well as you'd expect.
 
Ok, so I hadn’t written a review for this in ages because I’m bad at remaining consistent with writing reviews, and I’m really sorry about that. But I did keep coming back to this fic, every update, read it and loved it and all that stuff. But now that it’s over I need to just say this. I’m not calling it a review as such, and I’m not sure if I’m gonna include it in the Reviewer’s Leaderboard at all, but I just need to say it upfront, and that is I have so, so much love for this fic. It’s extremely well-written, it’s got characters I adore, the plot is to die for, the worldbuilding couldn’t be better, I just can’t really properly word how I feel for this story. It stopped feeling like some person’s fanfic a long time ago - now it feels like a story of its own, one which I wouldn’t mind seeing fully published and purchasable complete with the hardback and paperback covers that for some reason have different illustrators. Call this more of a gush than a review, but I really just can’t find much I feel like pointing out except the odd format error (italics and stuff).

This probably isn’t that much help at all and I’m kinda sorry about that, but I just needed to say that I love this fic.
 

The Walrein

Well-Known Member
This was one of the fics I really looked forward to reading every other Sunday, and it's great to see it finally concluded. I loved all the little details and worldbuilding you put in everywhere: the house-pinsir, the old rituals and martial culture surrounding gym battles, coming up with code-names for attacks and strategies instead of just shouting moves, the Jurassic-Park-esque Fuji Labs, 'FURRET MAN', Sovereign's ultra-hot bod, and a load of other things I'm too lazy to mention. It was also cool to see a League lawyer as one of the main protagonists. Not something you see in every fanfic, or any, really.

The ending didn't really click with me, though. Although the explanation for why the secret lab would be in one of Giovanni's casinos was clever, the overall resolution felt kind of... too simple? I was sort of expecting the protagonists to have to at least partially understand the true nature of Breach in order to counter it, not just apply enough violence to the right people and places.

Also, I was surprised that there wasn't any argument over whether or not to destroy the Breach research, given that it has the potential to super-cure all your diseases. Especially given Artemis' own history with illness. I guess there are the standard 'No one should be trusted with that much power', 'Are we really sure it doesn't cause horrible side effects and/or subtle degradation of the structure of reality', etc. reasons, but it would have been nice to have seen it addressed.

Furthermore, the 'We're in the matrix' implications of what Breach is are kind of just glossed over. Then there's the thing with the Breach maybe being sentient, what with the 'song of the spire' speaking to Artemis and all, which is also never addressed. And personally I'd be kind of paranoid about whether I had returned to the real Kanto after coming back from Glitch City using a partially broken magic gauntlet I've never used before. I guess having too much philosophical angst would ruin the tone of the ending, but it felt kind of rushed without addressing any of these things.

Actually, the Breach in general felt like the weakest part of this work. Granted, the ways you interpreted specific glitches in the story were interesting, but tying most manifestations of Breach to a particular game glitch, complete with links at the end of chapters, made the whole thing feel somewhat artificial and limited. Instead of something weird and inexplicable going on, it's just good ol' Missingno showing up again. Also, the final battle was a bit underwhelming. Giovanni has an artifact that supposedly allows him to rewrite reality, and he fights Sovereign by... creating vague fuzz creatures that even a Salandit can defeat? And then just attacks with generic psychic force blasts?

Overall, though, I still really enjoyed this fic, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Ghost Town and whatever else you're planning.
 

Bay

YEAHHHHHHH
I think I vaguely heard of "Glitch Town" before, so it's pretty trippy for them to experience entering that. Giovanni's plan to rewrite/change whatever you want and "true Kantan sovereignty" sounds like something that could align with his goals in his Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon appearance.

The part where Sovereign mistakes there's another person but actually it's Artemis, yeah I can see why Emilia would be frustrated trying to explain Sovereign the concept of gender.

Useless creature, they say, as the huge dragon writhes, its coils flapping uselessly against one another. Giovanni has always had a weakness for easy power. True strength cannot be purchased. He has never understood this.

One last squeeze, and they let the gyarados go. It collapses like a house of cards, gasping and wheezing, and does not get up again.

“Jesus Christ,” gasps Cass, eyes wide. “You show up out of nowhere, choke out a gyarados and start talking like a fortune cookie.”
Okay, this part made me laugh. And Sovereign did make quite an entrance there.

Claim it, says Sovereign. You are worthy.

“I'm not even real,” she murmurs.

“Hah!” they snort. Neither am I. But we fake people do well enough, I think.
This is oddly sweet of Sovereign to say to Artemis (really like this bit here).

Artemis punching Giovanni like that is very very satisfying. Yup, he deserves that. I do agree with The Walrien though Artemis coming back to Celadon City was kinda rushed. Knowing Artemis, I would have thought she would be like, "Wait is this Celadon?"

It's sweet of Emelia to offer Artemis and Cass some Oddish later, and yeah the two deserve to go to Johto. One thing I would like to see resolved a bit would be Cass and her aunt. I feel the two should have a bit of a talk after the breach ordeal (so like maybe Artemis ask if she got to talk with her aunt before being taken away or something).

So, the epilogue. Some neat Sovereign lines there, like the "aprison is where you throw somehting you cannot be bothered" line and the "You and I Giovanni we are not good people line." Have fun with Sovereign there, Giovanni!

This has been a joy reading this from beginning to end. Congrats on finishing another story, and I look forward to checking out Ghost Town soon!
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Guess I should point out right away that as a result of these reviews, I've kinda gone back and rewritten huge chunks of that final chapter, so if you didn't like it – or if you did but wanted something different from it – or if you didn't but feel like seeing the new and improved version anyway – you can go back and decide for yourself whether I ruined or salvaged it.

Ok, so I hadn’t written a review for this in ages because I’m bad at remaining consistent with writing reviews, and I’m really sorry about that. But I did keep coming back to this fic, every update, read it and loved it and all that stuff. But now that it’s over I need to just say this. I’m not calling it a review as such, and I’m not sure if I’m gonna include it in the Reviewer’s Leaderboard at all, but I just need to say it upfront, and that is I have so, so much love for this fic. It’s extremely well-written, it’s got characters I adore, the plot is to die for, the worldbuilding couldn’t be better, I just can’t really properly word how I feel for this story. It stopped feeling like some person’s fanfic a long time ago - now it feels like a story of its own, one which I wouldn’t mind seeing fully published and purchasable complete with the hardback and paperback covers that for some reason have different illustrators. Call this more of a gush than a review, but I really just can’t find much I feel like pointing out except the odd format error (italics and stuff).
I've gone back and fixed all the formatting stuff that I found; thanks for pointing it out. Thank you also for letting me know that you like the fic! It's always wonderful to hear that people are reading and enjoying your stuff. I generally don't approach fic any differently to original fiction, except for the fact that I have to vaguely gesture at the concept of canon every once in a while, so given my predilection for making up imaginary cultures perhaps that's why my fics always end up kind of creating their own worlds within the broader umbrella of the pokémon world.

This probably isn’t that much help at all and I’m kinda sorry about that, but I just needed to say that I love this fic.
That's okay! There's a place in the reviewing world for just positive stuff as well as for more in-depth critical analysis. Any review that encourages someone to keep writing is a good review, and this is definitely an encouraging review.

This was one of the fics I really looked forward to reading every other Sunday, and it's great to see it finally concluded. I loved all the little details and worldbuilding you put in everywhere: the house-pinsir, the old rituals and martial culture surrounding gym battles, coming up with code-names for attacks and strategies instead of just shouting moves, the Jurassic-Park-esque Fuji Labs, 'FURRET MAN', Sovereign's ultra-hot bod, and a load of other things I'm too lazy to mention. It was also cool to see a League lawyer as one of the main protagonists. Not something you see in every fanfic, or any, really.
I'm glad you like all that stuff – it's the kind of thing I really enjoy, and I'm always delighted to find I've written it in such a way that other people do too. Culture is super interesting to me, especially the culture of a world where a few core things are radically different to our own, and one of the joys of writing a long chapterfic for this fandom is slowly building up a picture of that culture. It's great fun.

The ending didn't really click with me, though. Although the explanation for why the secret lab would be in one of Giovanni's casinos was clever, the overall resolution felt kind of... too simple? I was sort of expecting the protagonists to have to at least partially understand the true nature of Breach in order to counter it, not just apply enough violence to the right people and places.
You're very right! Which is why I've just gone and rewritten both the final fight and Artemis' last encounter with Emilia, taking into account most, if not all, of the things you raised: the implications of living in what is essentially the Matrix, whether or not it was right to destroy the breach machinery, Giovanni's use of the gauntlet in the final battle, Artemis' uncertainty about what world she'd returned to, and the way that I sidelined some of the story's themes at the end instead of tying them all in together and making that part of Artemis' success. Hopefully it's a better piece of writing now. It's certainly a longer one, but that's not always a good thing.

Actually, the Breach in general felt like the weakest part of this work. Granted, the ways you interpreted specific glitches in the story were interesting, but tying most manifestations of Breach to a particular game glitch, complete with links at the end of chapters, made the whole thing feel somewhat artificial and limited. Instead of something weird and inexplicable going on, it's just good ol' Missingno showing up again.
This point I'm not so sure about, since that's kind of the whole premise of the fic. Like, my idea going into this was 'wouldn't it be fun to write about some of my favourite glitches?' and then that's what I did. If it felt artificial, it's because it was – breach is to the game world as my writing about breach is to the world of the story. I'm also not sure I see what it would add for breach to be inexplicable – is the argument there that it would be more alien? Waving a hand at something weird and going “oh, it's too alien for us to comprehend” is such a cop-out, though, and honestly I feel like that would be a way worse explanation. Perhaps I'm just not understanding where you're coming from here.

Overall, though, I still really enjoyed this fic, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Ghost Town and whatever else you're planning.
I'm glad you liked it. Hopefully I'll keep things together better with Ghost Town.

I think I vaguely heard of "Glitch Town" before, so it's pretty trippy for them to experience entering that. Giovanni's plan to rewrite/change whatever you want and "true Kantan sovereignty" sounds like something that could align with his goals in his Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon appearance.
I wish I could say that that was intentional, but I wrote that part way before I got round to the USUM post-game, so I can't claim it was anything other than blind luck, unfortunately. It did turn out to fit in surprisingly well, though.

The part where Sovereign mistakes there's another person but actually it's Artemis, yeah I can see why Emilia would be frustrated trying to explain Sovereign the concept of gender.
Alas, Sovereign is kind of out of the cultural loop. Occupational hazard of literally living under a rock.

Okay, this part made me laugh. And Sovereign did make quite an entrance there.
I'm glad you liked it! I enjoyed writing it. Sovereign in full action-movie mode is really fun to write.

This is oddly sweet of Sovereign to say to Artemis (really like this bit here).
It is a sweet line, but unfortunately it's one I cut when I rewrote that part – I'll see if I can wedge it back in; I really liked it too. EDIT: shoved it back in! Excellent!

Artemis punching Giovanni like that is very very satisfying. Yup, he deserves that. I do agree with The Walrien though Artemis coming back to Celadon City was kinda rushed. Knowing Artemis, I would have thought she would be like, "Wait is this Celadon?"
You're right, and it's something I fixed when I rewrote the last chapter – Artemis is now properly suspicious, although she is at last confident enough that she's able to go “well, whether it's real or not, at least we're all here together”, as a kind of marker of how far she's come over the course of the story.

Also yeah, I've been looking forward to having Artemis punch out Giovanni for a long, long time. Very satisfying indeed.

It's sweet of Emelia to offer Artemis and Cass some Oddish later, and yeah the two deserve to go to Johto. One thing I would like to see resolved a bit would be Cass and her aunt. I feel the two should have a bit of a talk after the breach ordeal (so like maybe Artemis ask if she got to talk with her aunt before being taken away or something).
That's an excellent idea! I've put it in the rewrite – both expanding on the bit that was already in the part talking to Emilia where Artemis mentions that Cass spoke to her aunt, and putting in a segment in the final fight where Cass and Abigail get to talk. Thank you for the suggestion! It does feel a bit weird to have just missed out on that, yes.

So, the epilogue. Some neat Sovereign lines there, like the "aprison is where you throw somehting you cannot be bothered" line and the "You and I Giovanni we are not good people line." Have fun with Sovereign there, Giovanni!
Ah, I'm glad you liked that – honestly, I was a little concerned about how blatantly amoral it is, but I felt that it was satisfying enough to watch Giovanni get his comeuppance that I'd include it anyway.

This has been a joy reading this from beginning to end. Congrats on finishing another story, and I look forward to checking out Ghost Town soon!
I'm glad that you enjoyed the ride! This has been a long story – probably a bit too long – and I'm pleased to have brought it to a conclusion. Hope you like Ghost Town when you get to it!
 

The Walrein

Well-Known Member
Whoa, I wasn't actually expecting you to change the ending or anything! I'm just one random internet guy, after all.

This point I'm not so sure about, since that's kind of the whole premise of the fic. Like, my idea going into this was 'wouldn't it be fun to write about some of my favourite glitches?' and then that's what I did. If it felt artificial, it's because it was – breach is to the game world as my writing about breach is to the world of the story. I'm also not sure I see what it would add for breach to be inexplicable – is the argument there that it would be more alien? Waving a hand at something weird and going “oh, it's too alien for us to comprehend” is such a cop-out, though, and honestly I feel like that would be a way worse explanation. Perhaps I'm just not understanding where you're coming from here.
'Inexplicable' was probably a poor word to use, and I definitely agree about not liking the whole 'too alien to comprehend' cop-out. 'Mysterious' might have been a better one, in the sense that I hoped there would be more of a mystery - in the sense of something that's solvable but not immediately obvious - about what exactly was going on. As it is, having the links at the end of the chapter made it feel transparent to me that the Breach stuff was occurring and manifesting the way it did because the author wanted to write about specific game glitches rather than because of some force internal to the narrative.

Anyways, it's perfectly fair to want to write about the specific Gen 1 glitches, and I wasn't trying to say that I thought the fic shouldn't have that element in it. Probably my main issue is that I was expecting the fic to be a different genre than it was - more mystery/horror and less adventure/personal growth. I was expecting Breach to be more threatening and insidious, for there to be more of a sense of uncertainty about whether there'd be a happy ending or not, and for victory to be incredibly difficult or impossible to achieve without sacrifice. Not saying that you should have written that fic, just that my expectations didn't align very well with what it actually was.
 
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