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Destiny

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Dizzy Beacon, Jul 22, 2018.

  1. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    (Po-faced warning: this fic contains mature language, uncensored.)

    DESTINY

    Kanto Saga – Chapter 1 – Home at First
    And that’s a heavy blow to the Weavile! He really had bad luck on the draw here, didn’t he?

    There’s no denying that. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Lazlo Levitt, is it’s not over ‘til it’s over.

    This is a critical moment. We really are a few moves away from history. Can this trainer be the first in almost a thousand years of history to win the Blackthorn Tournament twice?

    ‘Torment,’ said Lazlo, with authority and without looking up.

    Torment! An interesting choice, and yes—the Hariyama has stalled! He’s bought himself another turn, but what can he possibly be hoping to do with it?

    Hariyama’s got to be three or four attacks away from being beaten. Remember, Hariyama resists both of Weavile’s strongest attacks, and can take an absolute pile of physical attacks regardless. Even with that Snatched Bulk Up, I’d be amazed if that Weavile could take more than one or two more blows. I’m not sure what Levitt hopes to gain with this play.

    ‘Nasty Plot,’ said Lazlo. He looked up this time. Was he smiling?

    Did he say Nasty Plot?

    He did, and sure enough, that’s what it’s done.

    Well one things for sure, he thinks he can take another—and yep, there we are, Weavile is hanging on for dear life, but he took that Cross Chop with barely strength to spare.

    I think I know what—Hyper Beam! An unusual move in first class play, but in this —

    I’ll be damned, he’s got him!

    He has. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a sight to behold. Lazlo Levitt is the first ever two-time winner here at Blackthorn, and what a win that was.

    It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. When all the odds are against him, he pulls out these creative plays and catches his opponents—catches everyone—by surprise. What a day, here in the Meadows Stadium, and one which will live in the memory of this university, of Pokémon training as an institution, for years to come.

    ---

    Lazlo left the podium almost at a run, glancing at his watch. The fans hadn’t started leaving yet, so he was safe, but he still needed to get out of there fast.

    Examination Schools were just five minutes away, a short walk from the meadows back into the city. But there would be a massive horde of undergrads by the entrance, and he needed to find Donnie before it was too late.

    He caught sight of him at the near corner, waved, and dashed toward him.

    ‘I got mud all over me,’ said Lazlo, ‘I’m going to need everything. Thanks, by the way.’

    ‘Did you win?’ asked Donnie.

    ‘Yeah,’ said Lazlo, pulling down his trousers, and replacing them with his suit pair. The crowd of exam students seemed too distracted to notice, though a couple of them (with a shrug) did.

    ‘Nice,’ said Donnie, referring to the victory. He’d been told not to congratulate him yet.

    ‘Have you got everything?’

    ‘I have. Your mortarboard, your notes, your suit, your gown. And a bottle of champagne for after.’

    ‘Have you got a mirror?’

    ‘What?’

    ‘For the bow tie—have you got a mirror?’

    ‘Have I—no? Do you not use a clip on?’

    ‘It’s classier.’

    ‘Not if it’s wonky it’s not. Hang on…’ Donnie rooted around in his pockets for his phone. ‘This’ll have to do. Your gown’s on backwards.’

    ‘Crap,’ said Lazlo, pulling his arms out, and spinning it round. He stuck his bow tie under his collar, and tied it quickly with the camera reflection. Finally, he grabbed the mortarboard and slammed it on, making sure the tassel dangled on the right.

    ‘Okay, here we go,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Good luck!’ said Donnie, but Lazlo had already darted off.

    Exam Schools was a bit of a maze, and Lazlo hadn’t been to this exact room before, but he found it fairly quickly. Dashing around, he was red-faced and sweating by the time he reached the door, with not thirty seconds to spare. He knocked, and his own PhD supervisor answered with ‘Come in.’

    It was one of the smaller exam halls, though no less ornate, with twenty-or-so desks lined up facing a projector screen. His supervisor, and the external examiner—Professor Nanakamado of Sinnoh, the leading scholar in Lazlo’s field, though representing a very different viewpoint—were sitting behind the proctor’s desk at the front.

    They each offered him a hand to shake. Wiping the sweat from his palm onto his gown, Lazlo took them up, before wiping his forehead.

    ‘Are you alright?’ asked Professor Nanakamado, watching Lazlo pant.

    ‘I ran here very fast,’ explained Lazlo.

    Professor Nanakamado frowned. His supervisor leaned in to the professor, and explained, ‘Lazlo has come here directly from the final of the Blackthorn Tournament. He was competing to be the first student to win the tournament in two consecutive years in the university’s history.’

    Professor Nanakamado’s expression of grim disapproval barely flickered.

    ‘I won, by the way,’ offered Lazlo, sitting down.

    ‘Congratulations,’ said his supervisor.

    ‘Shall we begin?’ said Professor Nanakamado, disinterestedly.

    His supervisor nodded—not entirely without deference to the Professor himself—and looked down at his notes. ‘Very well. To formally introduce proceedings—this is Lazlo Levitt, applying for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of Applied Philosophy and Archaeology. His thesis, which is by publication, is titled “Aristotelian Awareness in Late Second Age Mythical Pokémon Sculpture and Relief—a Cross-Regional Evaluation”. I’ll let Lazlo introduce the subject matter in more detail…’

    Lazlo, who hadn’t really got his breath back yet, but, wide-eyed, began, ‘Okay, sure. Well, first of all, thank you for coming all this way, Professor.’

    Professor Nanakamado said nothing.

    ‘Right, so this is a collection of papers I’ve written on the subject of evidence for the Aristotelian theory of Pokémon origination across… well, that part is in the title. By the Aristotelian theory I’m essentially using the conventional definition, which I would state simply as that Pokémon originate from our ideas about the world, rather than our ideas about the world originating from Pokémon. I know that this is a view, Professor, that you yourself vehemently disagree with, but there is striking evidence among late second age sculpture—a time, of course, in which mythical Pokémon were a subject of intense study in the visual arts—for an awareness of and a belief in this view, far more than has typically been attributed to the period. I begin with a study of various artefacts from the Cave of Origin in Sootopolis…’

    ‘Can I interrupt you there?’ said Nanakamado. ‘At the top of this viva, I just want to say I’ve been extremely impressed on reading your thesis with the quality of work you’ve done in this area. You’ve given me a great deal of food for thought, and I don’t immediately know how to answer many of the points you have raised in your various papers. I do have various questions about some of the specific studies, but I wanted to let you know immediately that the overall effect of your work has been extremely impressive, and I look forward to working with you one day…’

    ---

    Back in college, Lazlo knocked on Donnie’s door, trying to keep a straight face.

    ‘Can I say congratulations yet?’ he asked.

    Lazlo immediately broke into a grin, unable to contain it any longer. ‘You can. No corrections, it went great.’

    ’Yes!’ exclaimed Donnie. ‘Congratulations, Doctor Levitt! Am I the first one to call you that?’

    Professor Nanakamado had at the end. ‘Yep,’ said Lazlo anyway. ‘It sounds great! Thank you, Doctor Fuji.’ Donnie had passed his viva the week before.

    ‘Where’s the champagne?’ said Donnie. ‘I’ve got it somewhere, there we go.’ He grabbed a couple of glasses, and had a go at opening it.

    ‘We should make a proper night of this,’ said Lazlo. ‘Our last big chance.’

    ‘Yeah, alright.’ said Donnie, pouring out the drinks. ‘I dunno which to ask about first, the battle or the viva.’

    ‘The battle was great. Hell of a challenge, actually. I got screwed on the random Pokémon draw. I had a Weavile, he had a Hariyama.’

    ‘That’s bad, right?’

    Lazlo snorted. ‘Yeah, that’s bad. I still don’t know how you’ve got to 25 with a PhD in Pocket physics and know so little about this.’

    ‘If I needed to know it, I’d know it.’

    ‘I suppose. Yes, it’s bad. Hariyama resists both Dark and Ice type attacks by virtue of its type and its ability, and is doubly super effective with its own Fighting type attacks. Plus the particular one they have in the rental pool is ridiculously highly trained in physical defense, and it knows Bulk Up to boost it. So Weavile didn’t have a hope in hell of winning with a conventional strategy. So I Snatched his Bulk Up so I could ride it out a bit better, and in the end hit him with special attacks instead. Weavile is terrible on the special side, but I boosted up and caught him off guard.’

    ‘Is that clever?’ Lazlo hated these sorts of questions, and Donnie knew it.

    ‘It’s… I dunno, I guess. People always say I’m a very creative player; these things always strike me as obvious…’

    ‘I just wanted to see you squirm.’ He raised his glass. ‘Well, you made history. Here’s to the first Pokémon trainer to win the Blackthorn Tournament twice.’

    ‘I’m still not technically a trainer,’ said Lazlo, clinking. ‘I don’t have my own Pokémon.’

    ‘You have two badges already,’ said Donnie. ‘Oh, yeah, it’s still on your shirt from before.’ He tossed Lazlo his clothes back. ‘Let’s see ‘em.’

    ‘The other one’s in my room,’ said Lazlo, fixing the new one to his lapel. ‘And anyway, I checked the rules. It’s quite an unusual situation but I’m pretty sure it only counts as one. Two of the same badge doesn’t count, even this one. And anyway, I’m going to do all the Kanto gyms regardless. I want to do the proper Pokémon journey, like everyone else.’

    The Blackthorn Tournament badge—an open book on a maroon shield, like the University’s coat of arms—counted towards any Pokémon League Challenge in the world, giving the holder the opportunity to skip a gym. As a process for getting a badge it was virtually unique in the world, and wasn’t even the only badge available in town. (Blackthorn had a conventional Pokémon gym attached to the Dragon Clan; Lazlo was fairly sure he’d seen the leader, Claire, in the audience today.) The Blackthorn University tournament was, unsurprisingly, the most academic Pokémon competition in the world, with participants using a different, random rental Pokémon in each round. The winner needed an extraordinary depth of knowledge about Pokémon battling, and the ability to improvise with that knowledge in battle. Most holders of the badge went on to be Masters, and more than a few alumni had served as a Champion over the centuries.

    ‘Did you tell Nanakamado or your supervisor you’re not continuing in academia?’ asked Donnie.

    ‘No, I didn’t. Anyway, I might be, after I’ve done the trainer thing. It’s not like nobody ever takes a year out for the League Challenge. Oh, yeah, the viva. It went great, no corrections. Nanakamado grilled me pretty hard but in the end everything went okay. He said he would like to work with me someday, which is cool. His excavations in Celestic Town are the stuff dreams are made of for an archaeologist… But it’ll have to wait. I’ve wanted to be a Pokémon Master since I was two.’

    Donnie smiled.

    ‘You start at Silph next week, right?’ asked Lazlo.

    ‘Yeah, I’m heading back home tomorrow. I’ll get my own place in Saffron eventually, but the commute from Lavender’s not too bad for a while.’

    ‘Well, I’ll let you know when I’m in the neighbourhood,’ said Lazlo, sadly. ‘It’s all happened so fast at the end, I dunno what to say. I will miss you.’

    ‘We’ll keep in touch!’ insisted Donnie.

    ---

    The ferry from New Bark Town to Cinnabar only travelled once a week, and was seldom used. Lazlo had nearly missed it. It was six hours long, and the company wasn’t great: he had been hoping, given it was graduation season, he might see a familiar face on the journey, but there was noone he knew growing up around. Every time he came back to Cinnabar, there were fewer and fewer familiar faces…

    In the end, with nobody to talk to on the ferry, he’d settled in on the bow of the ship, overlooking the view in front. The familiar peak of the volcano had appeared over the horizon and was now clearly visible.

    Cinnabar was a place on the map, to be sure, but even as a centre of scientific work in Kanto it had been eclipsed by Saffron in recent years, as Silph centralised more of its operations in the city. Increasingly it felt like the sort of place younger people moved away from. It was a shame, he liked Cinnabar a lot. The beauty of the place, so familiar to him growing up, had started striking him more and more now he spent most of his time away from home.

    Even he wasn’t planning to stay long. A week or so to catch up with his grandmother, before ferrying back to Pallet and registering as an official trainer with Professor Oak, who would help him catch his first Pokémon.

    He wanted a Slowpoke. An unusual choice, of course, but Slowking had been his favourite Pokémon since he was a boy. It was one of the few Pokémon that could talk, and in the traditional Pokédex had always represented wisdom, which was the virtue he most admired. As he learned more about Pokémon battling as he got older, he’d also been impressed by its versatility: defensively robust, able to boost a wide range of stats, attack both physically and specially with a wide range of attacks, heal itself, as well as inflict sleep, poison and paralysis. Having a lot of type weaknesses was the tradeoff, but he knew how to handle that. It was the perfect Pokémon partner for his style: emphasising creativity and adaptability over raw power.

    As the ferry drew into port, he’d sunk deep into fantasies from his childhood about how it would feel when he took this step, and all the ways his journey could go. The Pokémon League fanfare was stuck in his head.

    This was going to be a good day…

    His grandmother waved for him enthusiastically as he exited the terminal.

    ‘Lazlo!’ she said, ‘Over here!’

    He waved back, casually, and with a glint in his eye and a small smile, they hugged.

    ‘Congratulations!’ she said. ‘Doctor Levitt. You’ll have to forgive me if I accidentally open some of your mail.’ Lazlo’s grandmother, also called Doctor Levitt, was a research geneticist working in a laboratory on the island. Their work focused on reviving extinct Pokémon from fossils, and, amazingly, was looking very promising.

    ‘How’ve you been?’ asked Lazlo.

    ‘Keeping busy,’ she said. In the Levitt family, this meant ‘happy’.

    ‘Yeah, me too,’ said Lazlo, smiling. ‘I feel like I could sleep for a week.’

    ‘Nonsense,’ said his grandmother. ‘I have too many surprises to give you! Let’s get back and have a cup of tea, and I’ll show you the first one.’

    ---

    The family home was too big and had too many rooms. Built in a very archaic Kanto style, half-clad and stone on the ground level, on the first floor you could almost shake hands with someone in the house opposite by reaching out the window. It extended a long way back from the street, and the entrance was by way of a flagstone courtyard accessed by a carriage-wide alleyway under the upper level.

    Unexpectedly, Lazlo’s grandmother shouted, ‘we’re back!’ when she opened the door.

    Turning to Lazlo, she added, ‘This is your first surprise,’ with a glint in her eye.

    Dropping his bags on the scullery floor, Lazlo looked up, curiously. A familiar, kindly, old face bounded into the room. Like most of the important people in Lazlo’s life he wore a lab coat. His grandmother called him Sam, but to the rest of the world, he was known as Professor Oak.

    ‘Welcome home, Lazlo,’ said Oak, extending his hand. ‘I hear double congratulations are in order.’

    ‘Thanks,’ said Lazlo, blushing. ‘And thanks for being here, I mean, wow.’

    ‘Not at all,’ said Oak.

    ‘Tea, Sam? Lazlo?’ asked Lazlo’s grandmother, boiling the kettle. She always had a glint in her eye with Oak that Lazlo had never dared investigate too closely. They both agreed to tea—a dash of milk, no sugar, in both cases—and were implored to take a seat in the drawing room while Lazlo’s grandmother did her customary bustle in the scullery.

    Oak, despite his formidable academic standing, couldn’t resist asking about the Blackthorn tournament first. Lazlo was flattered to discover Oak had been watching on TV, but still wanted a blow-by-blow account of the final battle. Embarrassed at first, Lazlo quickly got caught up in the description, and for a while they were just two seasoned battlers telling war stories. The fact that Lazlo was talking Pokémon with a former Champion wasn’t something he could quite put out of his mind, but Lazlo, with some pride, felt he was able to hold his own, in conversation at least.

    ‘Thank you, Laura,’ said Oak eventually, when Lazlo’s grandmother returned with the tea.

    ‘Have you told him why you’re here, or have you both been caught up in your tales?’ she asked

    ‘Not yet,’ said Oak, smiling. ‘Your grandmother invited me here so I could set you off on catching your first Pokémon. Not strictly necessary for someone like you, I know, but I’m told you enjoy traditions, and I brought an Abra, so I can at least help out with the travel.’

    Lazlo beamed. ‘That’s awesome, thanks so much! There’s not much need to travel, though. I have my heart set on a Cinnabar Pokémon to start with. Slowpoke.’

    ‘Really?’ said Oak. Lazlo nodded, then Oak replied, ‘Huh. Interesting.’

    ‘They’re quite rare here—a few drift over from the Seafoam Islands, but you definitely do see them.’ said Lazlo, flushing slightly to be telling this to the world’s leading zoologist, who certainly already knew, ‘so maybe a fishing trip tomorrow, if you have the time? I dunno if you have the gear with you?’

    ‘I do, as a matter of fact,’ said Oak. ‘I came prepared! A fishing trip tomorrow it is.’

    Over the course of the evening, the conversation drifted in a more academic direction, with each of them talking through the latest developments in their research. Since both his grandmother and Oak were biologists, Lazlo had a hard time keeping up in places, but he’d picked up enough over the years to be able to ask pertinent questions, and both of the older researchers were kind enough to explain, and to accept challenges to their theories graciously. As usually happens when a bunch of academics get in a room together, conversation drifted away from their actual area of study very quickly, and soon all three were venturing into wild (but informed) speculation on broader matters. Even in such august company, Lazlo had a way of centralising conversation on his field of interest. He’d never had the opportunity to discuss Origination with Oak, and he was honestly fascinated to get his views.

    ‘Well, really I’m just a descriptive biologist,’ said Oak, ‘and it’s difficult to get a handle on these questions purely from a biological point of view. I’ll be honest. I know you’re a fan of the folk tales on origination, Lazlo, but as a scientist I find myself too sceptical to lend them much credence, even in the face of the evidence for a distinct origin of Pokémon and other life, which I don’t necessarily challenge. But there are innumerable ways in which Pokémon could have come into this world without any relationship to human concepts. So I’m with Nanakamado on this, I’m afraid…’

    They argued the point late into the night…

    ---

    When Oak said he had fishing gear with him, he wasn’t kidding. He came down to breakfast the next morning in a floppy hat and a khaki gillet, with the latest Silph ‘Super Rod’ carried in one arm, resting it on the scullery wall to eat. Lazlo, feeling it apt, had dressed in what he intended to be his travelling clothes for his Pokémon journey: an off-white Mareep wool cable-knit jumper in the traditional Johto style, and a pair of navy blue cargo trousers. They headed down to the pier as soon as they had finished eating; Lazlo’s grandmother had already left for work.

    All morning they saw nothing but Staryu and Krabby on the end of the rod, which Oak dispatched easily with his famous Venusaur. The conversation had a much more personal flavour than their fireside academic discussion from the previous evening. By the time they were tucking into their lunch sandwiches, they had got as far as talking about Oak’s grandchildren.

    ‘Blue seems to be doing well at the Viridian gym,’ he said, ‘though honestly, he hasn’t been the same since Red went off on his travels. I don’t think Red even told him where exactly it was he was going. He’s inscrutable, that one, but he and Blue were very close, once Blue had made his peace with what happened with the Championship. Lately, Blue had almost been as quiet as Red used to be. He’s done a lot of growing up, but… well, I was going to say, if you get the chance to see much of him on your journey, I think he could do with a friend like you. I know you weren’t exactly close as kids—I suppose the age gap was just too big—but as men I think you would get along well. If he’s at the gym, pop in to see him, would you?’

    ‘Sure,’ said Lazlo, not entirely un-starstruck by finding one former Champion imploring him to be friends with another, even if he did know the family. With the Oaks living in Pallet Town, they hadn’t exactly seen each other frequently, and Blue was almost ten years older than him, so they hadn’t exactly bonded as children.

    Oak had stared into the middle distance for a while after that admission, but then obviously decided to change the subject.

    ‘So what about you?’ he asked. ‘What’s the long term plan? Pokémon or academia?’

    Lazlo smiled, but gave the diplomatic answer. ‘I’m just going to see how it all…’

    Oak stopped him. ‘Now come on, you’ve had an incredible career for your age in both fields. I don’t believe you could have done everything you have without some serious hubris. What’s the real plan?’

    Lazlo frowned, looking Oak straight in the face, trying to figure out how he would react.

    ‘Alright. Honestly, both. You did it, after all. Champion then Pokémon Professor. Quite a career. I wouldn’t mind that one myself.’

    Oak chuckled. ‘I knew it. I was exactly the same at your age. The trick, I suppose, is being ready for it to go wrong. There were probably thousands of others just like me when I started out, just as there will be thousands now. The same ambitions, the same drive and determination. Of course, my ability to cope with failure was never really tested. Hehehe… But honestly, it was probably just luck that I succeeded where others failed. To think any other way would just be vanity. A very common sin among the young, Lazlo; I’m sure you have a touch of it yourself. But remember, the scale of your ambition will not always match the scale of your success. The world is just not that neatly arranged.’

    Lazlo sat silently, looking at his feet. He took the words of the old man very seriously. Seeing this, Oak immediately tried to cheer him up.

    ‘Oh, don’t listen to me! These are just the smug reflections of an old man. You’re not supposed to think like that when you’re young.’ He thought for a moment. ‘You know, formally speaking, there’s an oath I’m supposed to get you to recite when you set off on your journey. Nowadays it’s more honoured in the breach than the observance, but…’

    Lazlo knew it well, and began: ‘I want to be the very best: like noone ever was. To catch them is my real test; to train them is my cause. I will travel across the land, searching far and wide: each Pokémon to understand the power that’s inside. This I swear by my Pokémon and all Pokémon to come.’

    Oak smiled. ‘There it is. I never thought much of the poetry of it, but it probably sounded good back in time immemorial. But I guess what it’s saying is trainers aren’t supposed to be realistic. Dreaming big is how everyone starts. That’s the journey. And tradition blesses you to try.’

    Looking up at the horizon, Oak frowned. ‘Goodness, what time have we got to?’

    Lazlo checked his phone. ‘It’s only 1pm, why?’

    ‘Can you not see that there on the horizon?’ asked Oak. ‘I could have sworn it was the evening star, but…’

    ‘I see it,’ said Lazlo. ‘It’s getting brighter.’

    As the light approached, it took on a pinkish tint. It looked almost like a soap bubble, but it was moving at an incredible pace. And when it got very near, there was certainly something inside.

    ‘My God,’ said Oak. ‘It can’t be…’

    ‘Mew!’ it said, by way of confirmation.

    It passed by them for just a fleeting moment, but long enough for neither to be in any doubt about what they were seeing.

    Stunned into silence, they were almost too late to notice they had a bite on the fishing rod. Too shocked to process what had happened immediately, Lazlo reeled it in.

    It was a Slowpoke. Oak regained his wits for a moment, then hit it with a Sleep Powder and a gentle attack to weaken it for capture. Lazlo caught it on the first try. All this happened in total silence, save for Oak’s commands to his Venusaur.

    Mew had, until that moment, had been accepted by an enormous consensus of scholars as a purely mythical Pokémon. Lazlo, the expert in legendary Pokémon, and Oak, who literally wrote the book on Pokémon taxonomy, were lost for minutes in silent contemplation, both having had their worlds turned totally upside down.

    Eventually Oak looked at Lazlo, then his new Pokéball, and became the first to speak.

    ‘Forget everything I just said,’ he said. ‘I think there might be such a thing as destiny after all…’
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Well, this is certainly an impressive start! There's a lot about this that I really like, right from the opening. You capture the sports commentator tone very well, I think; it's exactly the right mixture of excitement and pointless obviousness. And the tournament itself is so … studenty. Like, it's exactly the kind of cerebral, theory-heavy cleverness-above-all stuff that I'd expect of people whose chief leisure activity consists of debating the precise relationship of pokémon to the concepts they embody (of which more in a moment). More than that, the whole thing – rushing out of the tournament, climbing into his clothes halfway across, the mazelike hall and the debate that rewards a certain kind of appraoch – feels very real; it's a great university setting.

    Which is a sentiment that you can extrapolate to cover your Kanto in general, I think. It's a good one, with a strong sense of history; there are architectural traditions here, and ideological ones, too. Speaking of, the idea that pokémon are some kind of living allegorical function of the universe is one of my favourite things to have come out of the series, and one that I really don't see developed in fic as often as I'd like; it's great to see it fleshed out here and placed in the context of the major currents in philosophy as it has developed in this world. Because, you know, in a world as dramatically different to ours as this one, where partnership with pokémon seems to be a core part of society, people are going to have come up with ways of conceptualising this stuff.

    Lazlo is an interesting character to follow, too. His approach to battling is very technical and theory-heavy; the strategies we see him employ are things you could come up with in isolation based solely on datasets without ever actually working with a real pokémon, you know? And his approach to picking his partner very much comes from that mindset. I don't doubt that he'll make an excellent trainer, but I think that it'll definitely be interesting to see him adapt to the practicalities involved. Especially since he appears to be very focused on what his partner will eventually evolve into, without thinking much about the fact that before it evolves into a potential conversation partner, it's probably not going not be the sharpest tool in the shed, and might well be somewhat difficult to actually teach to do the things he wants to do.

    Or maybe it won't, actually – it's hard to tell, and I think that's my only real point of critique here: that the pokémon themselves feel a bit … disconnected from the world. Oak's venusaur, for instance, is meant to be there in the boat with them while they fish (unless he's sending it out every single time, which seems like it would be a great way of getting the boat to overturn), but it's only mentioned twice, and only really in its capacity as an instrument wielded by Oak – you even write that Oak hits the slowpoke with Sleep Powder, which pushes the venusaur still further into the background. And the way that the fishing process is represented pretty much as it is in the games kind of furthers this – an endless string of one-punch battles in which neither combatant emerges as like a credible presence. With the characters and settings as vivid as they are, that the pokémon themselves aren't so vivid kinda strikes me as odd.

    Finally, here's a couple of typos and minor weirdnesses:

    That's not quite grammatical; that 'is' should be 'it's', except of course that would leave you with 'it's it's', which would be kind of bad, so maybe 'it's that it's' would be best.

    That should be 'centring' rather than 'centralising', I think.

    Two instances of this same 'they hadn't exactly' structure in the same sentence reads a bit weirdly.

    'Hubris' usually comes with fairly strong negative connotations; it seems like an odd choice of word for Oak in this situation, given that he means this positively.

    Anyway, that aside, this is an excellent start. I'll definitely have to check out where you take this from here – it's a great foundation, and it'll be cool to see what exactly you plan to build on it. Nice work!
     
    Dizzy Beacon likes this.
  3. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    Thanks, Cutlerine! It had been such a while before someone replied I was worried this had fallen on deaf ears. Great to have such positive feedback too. Next chapter is below; I'm hoping to drop them fortnightly, and I've written a few in advance so I should be able to hold myself to that!

    Chapter 2 – The Top Percentage

    For lack of any other course of action, the two of them had proceeded immediately to Laura’s lab. Situated prominently on a clifftop at the mouth of the river bisecting Cinnabar village, the lab had an excellent view across the whole bay, and an aspect on the whole island, with a view to the still-active Cinnabar volcano, where the local Leader Blaine maintained his gym.

    The lab itself was a gleaming white oddity in such a traditional village. Of medium size, it was a joint venture between Silph and the University of Pewter: a respectable institution and the best regarded in Kanto, if not quite enjoying the global preeminence of Blackthorn. Being an igneous island, Cinnabar was not an obvious place to locate a facility dedicated to the study of Pokémon fossils, but by historical accident here it was. Laura did not direct the lab, preferring to avoid the administrative burdens of leading a department. But she was a well-respected member of the team and responsible for a number of key breakthroughs on the cloning project.

    With word having got around that Professor Oak was visiting, by the time they had settled in the break room, almost the whole staff had turned up to listen to the story. Had Lazlo not been so caught up in the day’s events himself, he might have noticed a certain discomfort among the research staff; a level of surprise not quite apt to the astonishing nature of this news among some members of the team, including the Director. His name, in an awkward coincidence for this story, was Doctor Fuji: he was no relation of Lazlo’s friend Donnie, who hailed from Lavender Town.

    ‘And there it was, clear as day,’ Oak had finished. ‘Mew. I couldn’t believe my eyes.’

    It was Laura who spoke up. ‘And if it were anyone else saying so, I wouldn’t believe it. It’s a shame you didn’t get a photo, but there could scarcely be better witnesses in the whole world than the two of you.’

    ‘That doesn’t seem like a coincidence,’ said Doctor Fuji. ‘It seems Mew is keen to make her presence known to the trainers of the world…’

    Laura addressed her grandson directly. ‘Lazlo, is there anything in the legends about this? I don’t suppose we have anything better to go on about such an ancient Pokémon’s behaviour.’

    Lazlo knew the material well. ‘Well, in the traditional histories, Mew is the original Pokémon. The very first, from which all others emerged, except for the four transcendentals. It’s said that she represents the human spirit in some holistic sense, whereas other legendary Pokémon associated with the First Age tend to be connected to specific pairs of fundamental human drives, like change and preservation, truth and beauty, or freedom and order. She appears as a sort of last line of defence in the myths, almost as a deus ex machina when all other options have been explored. Typically, she will reveal herself to a particular hero. This is usually some mythic heroic archetype of a young man or woman, who ends up being the main protagonist of the particular legend.’

    The implications of this last statement hit Lazlo significantly later than they did anyone else.

    ‘Huh,’ was all he could manage, after everyone started staring at him. ‘I didn’t think of that…’ he added, feebly.

    This left the room quiet for a good long time.

    Eventually, Laura spoke up again. ‘You didn’t catch your first Pokémon then, I take it?’

    ‘Oh, no, I did,’ said Lazlo. ‘As a matter of fact, a Slowpoke caught on the line almost exactly when…’ at this point, all he could manage was a weak gurgle.

    Oak finished for him. ‘Almost exactly when Mew passed overhead.’ Thinking for a second, he added, ‘I don’t suppose you have an IV Calculator somewhere in the building?’

    Doctor Fuji nodded. ‘In lab three. Laura, Lazlo, James, come with us?’

    They headed upstairs to lab three. James, who presumably was the specialist in this particular piece of equipment, took Lazlo’s Pokéball and placed it what looked like a standard computer interface.

    Lazlo knew what an IV Calculator was, but Doctor Fuji, pompously, explained anyway. ‘This machine assesses the inherent potential of a particular Pokémon relative to other members of its species. Offensive capabilities in and endurance of both physical and special attacks, as well as speed and overall health. We haven’t had much use out of it yet, but when our cloning experiments start succeeding we hope to use it as one measure of success.’

    ‘The results will take a few minutes,’ added James.

    Nobody said anything. Lazlo, with some time to think, suddenly found himself terrified. He was expecting this day to be exciting: the beginning of his Pokémon journey; something he had been looking forward to all his life. But now it was like he’d found himself inside one of the legends he’d spent a sizeable fraction of his life to date studying. People talk about living double lives, but Lazlo lived at least three: his academic work, his Pokémon battling, and then everything else. He sort of compartmentalised them, and felt he was a slightly different person in each case. Now it felt they had all been slammed together into one big everything-Lazlo. It felt like he’d had his identity sucked out, and what was being poured in instead he didn’t quite recognise, with words like ‘hero’ and ‘destiny’ being big parts of it. These were words from books, and suddenly they were a part of his everyday life. It felt extremely oppressive, and he found himself needing to sit down.

    ‘The results are in,’ said James. ‘Oh, wow…’

    ‘What is it?’ asked Oak.

    ‘This thing is off the charts in absolutely every respect,’ replied James. ‘Top percentage in each specific metric. All told, the analysis predicts that only one Pokémon in every eight-hundred-and-eighty-seven-million, five-hundred-and-three-thousand, six-hundred-and-eighty-one would be this good. We shouldn’t take that number too seriously because there’s simply not the data at such a high extreme, but if someone described this as a billion-to-one Pokémon, I would not accuse them of hyperbole. Definitely no Pokémon anything like this good has ever been put in an IV Calculator before.’

    The others were now looking at Lazlo like he had spontaneously learned to walk through walls. Lazlo wished he had.

    ‘Are you sure that thing is working?’ asked Doctor Fuji, which deflated the tension a little.

    ‘Quite sure,’ said James. ‘It’s been working fine in all our previous tests. All the same, with an anomaly like this you obviously want to try to replicate the results.’

    ‘I have one back at my lab,’ said Oak. Turning to Lazlo, he added, ‘Presumably Pallet Town is your first stop anyway? It would be great if you could swing by, so we could get some additional data.’

    Lazlo shrugged affirmatively, not present enough to speak.

    ‘So let me get this straight,’ said Laura. ‘Here we are, in a laboratory I might add, and our working theory of today’s events is that a Pokémon previously thought to be a myth has suddenly popped back into existence, designated my grandson as a predestined legendary hero, and shown that to us by—of all things—giving him a Slowpoke with superpowers?’

    ‘Seems to be…’ said Oak, quite as dumbfounded.

    Laura sighed. ‘Well, if I’m going to update my entire picture of the universe this afternoon, I’m not doing it in the office. How does everyone feel about a trip to the pub?’

    ---

    Although he’d planned to stay a full week, the events of the last couple of days had spurred Lazlo into action, so the very next morning—with a bit of a sore head—he resolved to leave immediately to begin his journey. With a sweet farewell to his grandmother, he boarded the ferry for Pallet Town alone, Oak having returned by Teleport the previous evening.

    Once on deck, it occurred to him that he hadn’t even properly met his new super-Slowpoke yet. Finding a quiet spot, he released him from his Pokéball.

    The pink, little Pokémon appeared in a flash of red light on the deck, and immediately yawned.

    Feeling a little silly, Lazlo said, ‘Hi Slowpoke, I’m Lazlo. I’m your trainer, so we’re going to get to know each other very well. We’ll be spending our lives together. So, um, nice to meet you.’

    The Slowpoke cocked its head, and blinked. And then yawned again.

    Lazlo smiled. ‘They tell me you’re very special. Personally, I just want to say that I don’t give a damn. You’re my first Pokémon, and I’ve wanted to meet you all my life. So I just want to say, you hear things nowadays about the way some people treat their Pokémon. Like they’re just tools of war or something. I did something called the Blackthorn tournament… don’t get me wrong, it’s the best way to learn about how to be a good battler that anyone could imagine. But I don’t think we treated those Pokémon well. But you and I, we’re going to be the best of friends. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.’

    After this little speech, Slowpoke rested his head on the deck and immediately fell asleep.

    Lazlo sighed. ‘Well, when you learn to talk, hopefully you’ll be able to tell me how much you appreciate that…’

    ---

    Pallet Town was a beautiful little village set on a gigantic cliff-edge hill. The architecture was not dissimilar to what he knew from Cinnabar, but somehow Cinnabar looked like a lived-in place, whereas Pallet looked like the cover of a chocolate box. Most of the people in Cinnabar were locals; in Pallet most of them seemed to be tourists.

    For Pokémon training, though, Pallet had a reputation of astonishing gravity. In the last ten years, this tiny village had produced two Champions of the Kanto region, as well as being the permanent home of another, who also happened to be the world’s most prominent Pokémon researcher. Looking around, he saw very little sign of it: somehow, he had expected the atmosphere of the place to be filled with energy, crackling with some kind of electricity…

    ‘PI-KAA-CHUUU!!!’ screamed a Pikachu. The beach was suddenly alight with bright bolts of lightning. Lazlo’s thick black hair, normally hanging just below his ears, was suddenly standing straight on end. One of the bolts had barely missed him.

    ‘Sorry! I’m so sorry! Pikachu, aren’t you ever going to listen to me?’ The speaker was a boy, 10 years old if he was a day, clearly having trouble with a brand-new Pokémon. Sniffing at the kid, Lazlo wandered off, wondering what irresponsible parent would let someone that age have a Pokémon of his own.

    Despite being on friendly terms with a number of Pallet residents, Lazlo hadn’t actually visited very often, and it took him a while to get his bearings and remember where Oak’s lab actually was. After having climbed the hill up from the beach once, he realised it was in fact at the bottom, but set back from the main road. Grumbling, he trudged down the cobbled path again, cursing himself for not having asked someone for help first.

    Oak welcomed him with a cup of tea, and ushered him immediately into his main lab to use the IV Calculator. It replicated the results of the Cinnabar lab precisely, which didn’t particularly shock either of them. Lazlo didn’t plan to stay long—he was eager to get on the road—but Oak had other plans.

    ‘In terms of announcing our discovery,’ Oak said, ‘you’ll obviously be a named co-author of the paper, but I’m happy to do the heavy lifting on that. I’ve arranged for Professor Kukui from Alola to take independent witness statements from each of us, for the sake of injecting a little objectivity.

    ‘I imagine you’ve been giving a lot of thought to the implications of this discovery to origination theory,’ he continued. In fact, Lazlo was slightly ashamed to say it hadn’t even crossed his mind. Oak went on, ‘but my view would be the original paper should be very factual and straightforward. Probably quite short, actually. You can certainly give thought to following up with an implications paper of your own. I realise you don’t have an institutional affiliation right now, but I’m sure I can pull some strings at a relevant journal. I could even notionally put you on the payroll as an assistant here.’

    Lazlo was mostly nodding his way through this. He certainly didn’t want to abandon his academic career, but he hadn’t at all expected it to follow him around on his Pokémon journey. Actually, after having just completed his PhD, he had been looking forward to a good long break. But he supposed Professor Oak was right, and he had a responsibility not just to himself, but also to his subject, to make the most of something like this. Making a mental note to buy a pen and paper before he left town, he resolved to begin work in the evenings, when he was done walking for the day.

    ‘So if it’s alright, it would be great if you could stay in Pallet at least another day, so Professor Kukui can conduct his interviews. He’s teleporting over as soon as he can find a chain.’

    Most people had teleporting or at least flying Pokémon of their own, but the normal way to traverse long distances was a teleport chain. Pokémon could only teleport to places they had already been, so for an awkward journey like Iki Town to Pallet Town, it was usually necessary to track down a chain of good-spirited strangers who could complete the whole journey between them. Recently, a series of mobile apps had sprung up which simplified this process dramatically.

    Lazlo agreed to stay for the interview, and booked a guest room at the Pokémon Centre for the night. Free to Pokémon trainers, these facilities were respite in every major town, and maintained by the Pokémon League. Pokéballs and Potions didn’t come free, to say nothing of food and camping equipment, but the system was set up so that any trainer moving at a half-decent pace could expect to get by on prize money from the Pokémon Gyms long enough to complete their journey. A year to make the whole journey was considered respectable; most people didn’t make it all the way. The whole thing, nowadays, was financed by ticket sales and broadcast rights for the Gyms and the League itself, with a small government grant to support the state functions of the Champion.

    He had decided not to cart a laptop around with him to every corner of the Kanto region, but he did have a projecting keyboard for his phone, which he got out on the desk in his room. He set about reading, reminding himself of a few key papers on the Mew legend and any work that had been done on it in relation to origination. Although Mew was thought to be apocryphal, the consensus seemed to be that if true, the Mew legend would strongly support Aristotelian origination, as it implied that Pokémon had come into being gradually alongside human society, rather than before it. If that were true, then it would imply that new Pokémon emerged as human beings created more and more ideas about the world they lived in. Previously unknown Pokémon still appeared occasionally—Porygon, Trubbish and Charjabug were notable recent discoveries in support of the Aristotelian view—but there were just as many new finds which had nothing to do with modern technology. Platonists held that the similarities with modern technology were largely coincidental, in what were after all just a few isolated cases.

    And of course, just because Mew turned out to be real didn’t mean all the legends were true. Though, he thought, biting his lip, she did pick herself a hero…

    Shaking his head, and holding back a wave of feeling, he decided he wasn’t going to accept that.

    Sighing, he realised he was unlikely to be able to maintain academic distance from this one. He’d keep reading, and maybe his feelings would settle down after a while, but there was no way he could put pen to paper on a paper just yet.

    It was early yet. He wondered if Pallet was big enough to have a Trainer Bar. A quick search online revealed it wasn’t. Probably a bit too much for even a super-Slowpoke in a first battle, anyway.

    A first battle?! How had he not thought of that before?

    Quickly tying on his boots, he headed straight to the beach.

    The cove which housed Pallet faced south, and in July, the sun set behind one of the promontories, so it was not particularly warm by this time of the evening. Thankfully, the kid with the Pikachu had gone. Glancing around, he wondered if he would be able to find something suitably portentous.

    Instead, a Krabby crawled out from behind a rock. Actually shrugging, he shouted with as much gusto as he could muster, ‘Go! Slowpoke!’

    Seeing an opponent, Slowpoke was more lively than he had been before. His tail was curled over his body, scorpion-like, and he scratched at the sand with his hind legs. Lazlo himself was scarcely less poised. Summoning all of his strategic knowledge of Pokémon battling, he swiftly determined the best way to utilise his juvenile Slowpoke’s meagre techniques.

    ‘Curse!’ shouted Lazlo, as the Krabby lunged in for a Vice Grip.

    Having bolstered its defences, Slowpoke seemed hardly fazed by the attack.

    ‘Okay, now Yawn!’ he shouted, tempting the Krabby into sleep. It succeeded in one more Vice Grip, before dropping off to sleep.

    ‘Now we have him! Let’s start with a Headbutt!’ shouted Lazlo.

    Slowpoke obliged, with some gusto. The blow hit the Krabby very hard, and it flew some distance across the beach. In one hit, it was too dazed to continue battling.

    ‘Huh,’ said Lazlo, very disappointed. ‘That was much too easy.’

    Not one for giving up so easily, he kept combing the beach, and Slowpoke made short work of more Krabby, a few Staryu, and one or two Rattata. He even spotted a Tangela in a patch of long grass on the side of the cliff. That one was almost a challenge—it managed to get a Stun Spore in—but was swiftly dispatched by a couple of Confusions. At that point, Lazlo decided to turn in, before the Pidgeys turned to Hoothoots.

    Healing Slowpoke in the Centre downstairs, Lazlo headed back to his room, and fell swiftly to sleep.

    ---

    Professor Kukui was an overtly friendly man—too friendly, really, to endear himself to native Kantones—but Lazlo had met all sorts in his time at Blackthorn and had reciprocated as best he could manage. When it came down to the formal interviews, he used at least as much rigour as Lazlo would have himself, and he was very impressed. Having heard the whole story and concluded his procedures, he was most eager to see Slowpoke, and wanted it run through the IV calculator again, just so he could see it for himself. Having seen the readings, he speculated that Slowpoke may over time learn moves which could normally only be accessed by the species after selective breeding, and he asked Lazlo to try a few commands, just in case. But, apart from exceptional Krabby-tossing, it seemed Slowpoke hadn’t demonstrated any particularly unusual abilities yet.

    With a not-too-final goodbye to Professor Oak, Lazlo set off on his way. Reaching the top of the Pallet cliffs, he tried not to think about the fact that Viridian City was a good fifty miles away, and more than that to Pewter afterwards. Only then would he be getting his first badge.

    The Pallet to Viridian journey, while the indisputable beginning of the traditional Kanto trainer’s path, was quite inauspicious. Lazlo found himself craving a little pomp and ceremony, then remembered the business with Mew, and decided he’d had quite enough of that already. With the exception of a few pleasant valleys and the occasional intervening village, the trek was almost entirely across exposed moorland. July had been pleasant so far, but there was a stiff wind on the moor top, and Lazlo was glad of his jumper. Route 1, as the path was known, scarcely showed any more exciting Pokémon than a Pidgey or Rattata, which Slowpoke didn’t struggle with. All the battling was slowing them down, and Lazlo already began to understand why the journey took so long—hiking around Blackthorn, as he had from time to time, he had managed thirty miles in a day sometimes over rough ground—but with wild Pidgey stopping you every ten minutes, it was hard to make that kind of progress. He wasn’t looking forward to Mount Moon; the Zubat were notoriously bothersome.

    Perhaps five miles in and it was already heading towards evening. In all that time Lazlo hadn’t seen another soul. He still had plenty of energy, but he knew you should never walk yourself to exhaustion on a multi-day journey, and started looking for a place to make camp and cook up a quick mushroom risotto.

    He found a sheltered spot under a small overhang, which seemed to have been used as a camp not too long before. He set about making a fire—the wood was wet, and for a good ten minutes he wished he had picked Charmander—but he eventually got it going.

    About an hour later, just as he’d got his onions frying on a good bit of charcoal, some guy jumped out at him unannounced. Lazlo jumped a mile, but all the kid had to say for himself was, ‘You look weak! C’mon, let’s battle!’
     
  4. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I've enjoyed reading this! It seems relatively rare for us to get straight-up trainerfics these days, but they've always been some of my favorites. It's also interesting to be working with a more academically-minded protagonist; for a story dealing with myths and legends, that would seem like a real advantage, but it's very rare to actually see someone write it.

    I also like that you're able to show how smart Lazlo is, and how good at battling, rather than having those things be informed attributes. Overall he has a kind of quiet, level-headed personality--nothing flashy--but you do a good job of getting it across in the first couple chapters and having him own his achievements. His strategy in the weavile vs hariyama battle was legit clever and an interesting approach, which makes me hopeful for some cool battles later on in the story!

    It took me a little while to pick up on when this story is set. When Lazlo addressed Donnie as "Dr. Fuji," I definitely thought it was foreshadowing that the story would have something to do with Mewtwo, and Lazlo coming from Cinnabar Island himself only tilted things more in that direction, but if we're around a decade after Red/Blue we at least won't be talking about the clone's creation, eh? If Mew is still unknown to science, though, that implies that either Mewtwo never happened at all, or at least that it hasn't been discovered yet... which could either be super relevant to the plot or not even a little important! It'll be interesting to see how things have changed in your version of Kanto, and of course what the threat Mew's presence implies turns out to be.

    I appreciate the effort you've put into the worldbuilding here, especially in terms of how the characters in the story understand pokémon and their relationship with humans. It's neat to see things done with areas of the pokémon world we don't see in most journeys that start out with preteen protagonists: the concerns of actual scientists and philosphers in the pokémon world. The little asides about apps to help people find teleporters and how the badge system work add nice color and depth to the world, too.

    There was maybe a little too much worldbuilding for me in the second chapter, though, or exposition in general. It definitely makes sense that people would be super curious about Mew and the slowpoke and researchers besides Oak would want to get in on and try to confirm those findings, but ~70% percent of the chapter being fallout from that scene plus stuff like how IV's work was a little much for me. Overall this story has a more sedate pace than most trainer fics, which I think is fine for what you're going for, but the second chapter in particular dragged a little for me. Probably this will be less of an issue now that Lazlo's on the road, though!

    All in all your prose and mechanics are pretty good, but you do have a small tendency to put commas where they don't belong:

    There should be no comma before the "and" here. A comma together with a conjunction should join two complete sentences, and since "spinning it round" doesn't stand on its own as a sentence, you want just the "and" here, no comma.

    Same deal here. "Blinked" can't stand alone as a sentence, so you don't want to be using a comma.

    Here you want no comma before "and" for the same reason as the above, but you also don't want the comma between "pink" and "little." When commas are used to separate adjectives (as in, "the cold, biting wind"), they're standing in for the word "and." Since you'd normally say "pink little pokémon" and not "pink and little pokémon," you don't want a comma there.

    Unrelated to everything above, I'm just confused about how you're using "aspect" in this sentence. What's "an aspect on the whole island?"

    Overall, though, these are small things. This is definitely a solid start, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Welcome to the forums! If you're interested in checking out some of the other fics here, you might enjoy Love and Other Nightmares or The Child of Thorns, both of which are trainer fics. There's also a recently-announced writing contest with a Kanto theme, if you'd enjoy a little competition!
     
    Dizzy Beacon likes this.
  5. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    Thanks for the feedback, guys! I swore I wasn't going to be one of those fanfic writers who replied to every review, but you guys' generosity makes that feel rude now I'm faced with it.

    I'm glad you like Lazlo - I was worried that (in the early chapters, at least) he might come off a bit Mary Sue, as his biggest flaws only start to cause him serious problems when the stakes get high, but I'm trying to gently sow the seeds of them here, and keep his positive attributes three-dimensional as well. What you guys think of him so far is more-or-less exactly what I think of who he is at the start, so that's a good sign I guess.

    Negrek, the Fuji coincidence is not something I realised until quite late in planning the story, unfortunately! Donnie, if I haven't lampshaded this enough yet, is a relative of Mr. Fuji in Lavender Town, and that's obviously not just for the hell of it. Neither is the Mewtwo stuff, though the precise way I'm doing that isn't really following either the games or the anime canon. As it happens, the fact that Slowking can talk and the name Dr. Fuji are about the sum total of the anime borrowings in this story, except for a connection between two characters which becomes relevant much later in Kanto, and which I don't want to spoil.

    I will say now, as I think this will enhance enjoyment of the fic rather than detract from it, that the personal histories of Red, Blue and other game-derived characters are quite different to game canon, and Lazlo has more of the role of the Gen 1 protagonist than they did. But most of the plot is nowhere near any established canon, and departs more and more from canon the further Lazlo gets through his journey.

    Thanks for the tips on the balance of plot and worldbuilding content as well. I'm trying to stay around two chapters ahead of what I'm publishing so I can comfortably post regularly, and I'll bear that in mind when I inevitably redraft what I've done already. Chapter 3 is very character-driven, anyway, so this is less of an issue - there's a new guy coming in I hope you will like!

    [Oh, by the way, being new here I want to check this. The new character in chapter 3, in the end he just didn't feel authentic if I didn't let him swear. As I understand the rules, that's fine as long as I put a warning at the top of the chapter post, right?]
     
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Ah, I did notice the part where Lazlo made reference to his starter learning to talk but completely forgot to comment on it. I guess that answers my question about whether that's something all pokémon can do in this story, or if it's just some of them (just slowking, I guess). Poor Lazlo, being all excited to finally have the chance to talk with his first companion, only to have Slowking complain about his lack of pants...

    I think you'd only need a warning if you want to include the cursing uncensored. The board has an automatic censor that will asterisk out most curse words. If you'd rather have the word appear uncensored, then yeah, you should be fine with a note at the beginning of any relevant chapter (or a blanket warning at the start of the story). You can get around the board censor by wrapping one of the letters in the word in "size=4" tags, like so: f[size=4]u[/size]ck

    It'll show up normally in the final post.

    Anyway, it definitely sounds like you've got interesting plans for where you'll be taking this story! I look forward to seeing where you take things as you start to move away from the usual canon plot.

    Unrelated, but Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is pretty much my favorite painting, so I'm happy to see it there in your sig.
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    I love that app for facilitating chain teleportation! That's some superb meshing of the real and pokémon worlds, right there. It's details like that which really give some solidity to a story's world, I think. I also like how excited all these academics get about IVs, to the extent where they completely neglect to, y'know, actually take the slowpoke out of his ball, acclimate him to his new situation, that kind of thing. Even Lazlo only seems to remember that he's actually now responsible for a living, breathing creature as an afterthought, en route to Pallet, which has the effect of undercutting his speech about liking the slowpoke as a partner rather nicely; fortunately, it seems his new partner is pretty easygoing about that kind of thing. And everything else.

    I have to say, I'm a little surprised that Lazlo doesn't try a little harder to deny the fact that he's been chosen as a hero; of course, the fact that he saw Mew and then immediately caught a special slowpoke is suggestive, sure, but hardly conclusive, and people who don't want to believe things are really good at denying them. I'd sort of expect him to go “no, it's just a legend, it doesn't mean this” a bit more than he does. Perhaps there's a part of him that's drawn to this idea, even as he rejects it.

    It's interesting that the slowpoke seems to immediately and intuitively know how to interpret Lazlo's commands; I'm always intrigued to see how people handle the trainer/pokémon relationship, and how far pokémon actually need to learn what people mean when they say things like curse! or confusion! This is clearly one of those settings where there's some intrinsic connection that allows meaning to be conveyed, perhaps as a consequence of the way that pokémon seem to issue from the conceptual forces that make up the human world.

    Less interesting is the battle itself. While it's a great example of Lazlo over-egging the pudding, so to speak – bringing his technical battle game to a match against a small crab – it's rather minimal, and quite hard to visualise; sure, I know that the krabby and the slowpoke perform moves at each other, but like, just saying that the krabby lunged forward to use vice grip, or the slowpoke boosted his defences using curse doesn't give the reader's imagination much fodder. What does curse even look like in a fictional setting? In-game, it looks like glowing, but that's just a representational device; what's actually happening here? Is there a sound, a smell, a force of some kind that kicks up sand from the beach? What about the impact of the slowpoke's head on the krabby's shell? Where does the pincer close on his body – head? Tail? A limb? I know Lazlo sees battles as a set of interlocking moves and abilities, but like, what they actually are, in a setting like this, is two bodies in an arena, physically colliding with and reacting to one another. That doesn't come across here at all.

    Finally, here are a few small nitpicks:

    'Apt' reads a bit oddly here; 'appropriate' seems more, well, appropriate.

    This narratorial aside is a bit weird, I think, particularly as up till this point you haven't really given any indication that the narrator is a character. To go from that to this just for this one sentence is just distracting, honestly.

    You'd want 'might' rather than 'may' here, I think – 'may' would only be appropriate in the present tense.

    You've been consistently referring to the slowpoke as 'he' up till now, but here you call him 'it'.

    And that's that! Nice chapter, all things considered. I look forward to more!
     
  8. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    We're definitely kindred spirits in terms of focus; you've definitely strong on the details and general ideas of the world. I feel like I can really understand your interests in philosophy, mythology, and academia through how you frame the story.

    This block of text is exemplary of your interest as I can feel your enthusiasm for the subject spill forth. I hope you write more these, and tie them into the plot, because they're definitely the most stand-out parts of your work.

    However, I think that the story and character are relatively lacking compared to your world building. The heroes' journey element definitely works, but this chapter in particular lacks plot momentum, as not much really happens in it, or at least not much feels like it's happened. Not every chapter needs to be a plot heavy, but this one felt quite slow. Perhaps tying the your world building/philosophy more directly into the plot would be a good idea?

    Furthermore, I'm interested in seeing Lazlo interact with people outside of the academic-types. Seeing other aspects of his personality and how his book-ish personality clashes with other people would be a welcome addition. Having him gush over his interests to others could work as a good world/character building setup that wouldn't feel forced.
     
  9. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    Thanks so much for the feedback guys! I'm glad you're enjoying it. I haven't replied to a lot of your comments just because I knew that a lot of it was going to be addressed in this fortnight's addition, and a lot of what remains in the one after. But it's nice that the community has responded so well.

    Anyway, I've decided this will hardly be the only chapter with mature language, so I'll pop a po-faced disclaimer in the first post by edit, but for people following the story I will highlight here that this chapter, and the story from here on in, contain mature language.

    And Negrek, particular shout out for spotting the painting I'm using for the banner! I've seen it in person, in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, and it leapt out in my memory as being right for the mood of this fic. At least once it gets going properly. Chapter 4 is relatively long compared to what's come so far as I want to pick up the pace a bit for those of you hungry for plot. But for now, enjoy the introduction of Lazlo's new friend, Youngster Joey...

    Chapter 3 – Campfire Stories

    Lazlo stared at him. The guy looked about eighteen or nineteen. He was wearing a baseball cap, a yellow t-shirt and blue shorts. They looked comfy and easy to wear.

    ‘Have you seriously been waiting there all this time just to jump out at me when I’ve got my food on?’

    The kid looked taken aback. ‘I… no? You have fire, I came to the fire.’

    ‘Do you not know how to set a fire?’ asked Lazlo.

    Recovering himself, the kid said, ‘You trying to get out of battling, trainer?’

    ‘The name’s Lazlo, and no, but can we do it after dinner?’

    The boy looked confused. ‘I thought when two trainers locked eyes, they immediately have to battle.’

    Lazlo wrinkled his nose. ‘Do people really do that? I thought it was poetic imagery.’

    The boy considered this deeply for a moment. ‘I dunno,’ he said finally. ‘It’s only my second go.’

    ‘Well, it would be my first. Sort of. So why don’t we just have a bit of food first? I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.’

    The boy sniffed at the onions hungrily, and said ‘Alright mate, not a bad idea.’ He took a seat.

    Rummaging in his bag for garlic, Lazlo asked, ‘Did you not learn how to cook before you set off? What’s your name, by the way?’

    ‘Joey,’ said Joey, pausing for Lazlo to respond. When he didn’t, Joey added, ‘I did yeah, but I couldn’t get it to work.’

    ‘What went wrong?’

    ‘I dunno.’

    ‘Well, watch me, and you’ll pick it up, I’m sure.’

    Joey did watch. ‘Aren’t you a bit old to be just starting?’

    Lazlo looked at him. ‘I was thinking you looked a bit young. I finished studying first. Are you not going away to uni?’

    ‘Naa, I wanted to get straight on with it,’ he said, pridefully.

    Not wanting to deflate him, Lazlo replied, ‘Fair enough.’ At this point he worried a little he wouldn’t have much to talk to the kid about. In his experience, most people were quite put off when they realised their interlocutor had a Blackthorn education. To say nothing of ‘Doctor’ in front of their name. Lazlo didn’t like to lie when it could involve him in a complicated deception, and he was bracing himself for the direct question he would be forced to answer, and then spoil the mood.

    ‘Whaddid you start with?’ asked Joey.

    ‘If we’re going to battle, I probably shouldn’t tell you,’ said Lazlo, smiling.

    ‘I started with Rattata,’ Joey said proudly. ‘They’re survivors, just like me. And this guy—’ he gestured to his Pokéball ‘— is in the top percentage of all Rattata.’

    Lazlo suppressed a chuckle. He didn’t mean it meanly, but he felt it would come off that way. ‘That’s cool,’ he said. ‘Who told you that?’

    ‘Professor Oak,’ said Joey, ‘He put it in his machine for me.’

    ‘The IV calculator?’

    ‘Yeah.’

    Lazlo nodded. ‘I actually meant that bit about being a survivor. Someone said that to you, right?’

    Joey was suddenly quite defensive. ‘None of your business, mate.’

    Lazlo held his hands up. ‘Sorry! As you say, of course. I was just making conversation.’

    The rice went in.

    Joey looked at him. ‘You’re quite posh mate, aren’t you?’

    ‘Do you think?’ said Lazlo, wincing. ‘I’ve lost my accent over the years, I guess. I’m from Cinnabar originally, I’ve lived away for eight years now, though.’ He paused. ‘I guess I started talking like the people around me. That’s a shame.’

    ‘Where were you living?’

    Here we go. ‘Blackthorn.’

    ‘They don’t talk like that in Blackthorn, mate!’ Joey did a terrible impression of a Johto accent. ‘You’d be all, och aye mate!’

    ‘I was at the university.’

    ‘What, Blackthorn? Actual Blackthorn?’

    ‘Yeah.’

    ‘Fuck mate, you must be really smart.’

    Lazlo shrugged, and stirred the rice.

    ‘Where are you from?’ Lazlo asked, trying to change the subject.

    ‘Pewter,’ he said.

    ‘What, and you came all the way down here? Brock’s gym is right there. It’s not like you had to travel to catch your first Pokémon.’

    ‘I wanted to do it properly.’

    Lazlo smiled. ‘I like that. Me too.’ He paused. ‘How come?’

    ‘I dunno, I just… why are you asking me so many questions?’

    ‘Actually, I think you’ve asked quite a lot more than I have.’

    ‘Yeah, well maybe I don’t want to talk about it.’

    Lazlo frowned. ‘You won’t get far like that. The whole point of this is to meet new people. That’s why it’s a Pokémon journey. You travel round, see the world, get to know what all sorts of different people are like. That’s the tradition. They won’t open up to you if you don’t open up to them.’

    Joey said nothing for a while. Lazlo threw in the mushrooms.

    ‘Nearly done now,’ he said.

    Another long pause.

    ‘Me,’ said Lazlo, ‘I’ve wanted to be a trainer as long as I can remember. Pokémon trainers are smart, kind, and have a spirit of adventure. I never wanted to be anything else. I wanted to be like the heroes I read about in stories.’

    Joey still said nothing.

    Lazlo tried opening up a little more. ‘Plus, you know, I’ve always had this feeling that I was meant for something big. When you’re born able to do the things I’m able to do, you’ve got to make the world a better place. Otherwise everything that happens is your fault.’

    It seemed to be working a bit. Joey’s posture had loosened; he was looking directly at Lazlo.

    ‘To me,’ Lazlo went on, ‘It sort of looks like you’re running away from something. That’s fine. As long as you’re moving fast, that’s the best way to live life. But I’m curious to know what it is that’s got you running away.’

    Joey looked at the fire. ‘My dad,’ he said, finally. ‘He’s a prick, I wanted to get out soon as I could. I barely knew him, but they put me with him after Mum died. He didn’t want me there.’

    Lazlo looked down. ‘I’m sorry, that must have been hard.’ He paused. ‘I lost my parents, too. They drowned. I was nine. I lived with my grandma after that.’

    Joey just looked at him, and Lazlo looked back. Neither of them smiled, but they appreciated the contact.

    ‘Risotto’s done,’ said Lazlo. ‘Have you got a bowl?’

    This, at least, Joey had thought to bring with him. Joey looked like he was enjoying it a lot; Lazlo thought it was too smoky, and decided risotto maybe wasn’t the best campfire food.

    They didn’t talk much while they were eating. When he was done, Lazlo threw more wood on the fire and stoked it back into a proper blaze.

    ‘Battle, then?’ said Lazlo, standing up.

    ‘Yes! Now we’re talking,’ said Joey. ‘Go Rattata!’

    Lazlo just tossed out Slowpoke, having decided a long time ago he wasn’t going to go in for that sort of flamboyant display. At least when anybody could see him.

    The battle was fairly easy. Not that there’s much strategic play to be done with a young Rattata, but Joey didn’t even try a Tail Whip. Lazlo didn’t use Yawn out of pity, but with a Curse boost he easily overpowered the Rattata with Headbutt.

    Joey, for his part, took the loss very well. ‘Mate, that thing kicks arse!’ was what he said, without the slightest wound in his voice. Lazlo was pleasantly surprised by this.

    ‘Thanks,’ said Lazlo, blushing slightly, and found himself going so far as to brush his dark hair out of his face. He returned Slowpoke to his Pokéball, shooting the jet of red light from the hip.

    Joey didn’t return his Ratatta to its Pokéball immediately, and instead sat down by the fire, allowing the Pokémon to crawl onto his lap. He stroked it gently.

    This caught Lazlo in a moment of shame, noticing his bad habits from his Blackthorn days. It wasn’t that you actively avoided a relationship with the Pokémon you used in that context; it was that it didn’t even occur to you to think of building one. You rented them in practice sessions and in tournament matches, then you handed them back to the grooms, who presumably took care of that sort of thing…

    Shame almost compelled him to stick to his guns and keep Slowpoke locked up, but he realised that would be an idiot way to behave. So he released Slowpoke again, and adopted a similar posture.

    Joey, he decided, had more to him than met the eye. He had initially struck Lazlo as impetuous and, if he was honest, a bit thick, but actually there wasn’t much youth in his eyes, sitting here now, with them reflecting in the fire.

    Lazlo, on the other hand, was feeling like a fish-out-of-water that had got back in the water and forgotten how to swim. Cinnabar is a small place, and you didn’t have the luxury of a clique growing up. Everyone mixed with everyone, and on going to Blackthorn, he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his relatively humble origins, taking pride in being able to talk comfortably with a wide range of people. After eight years of academia, he found he was struggling for common ground with Joey. His usual topics of conversation wouldn’t really wash.

    Joey, luckily, came to the rescue, with another ‘I’m an idiot’ moment for Lazlo. ‘So,’ Joey said, ‘who do you think would win in a battle: Lance Blackthorn or Stuart Hobbs?’

    ---

    After that, they were talking fantasy trainer matchups all night.

    When morning came, Lazlo grilled a few leftover mushrooms for the pair of them, and they set off together. They made much better ground that day, sharing the wild Pokémon between them, and keeping each other going with light conversation. By the end of it, Lewis reckoned they had managed a little over ten miles. The moorland let up occasionally, and they stopped briefly in a picturesque village for lunch, reprovisioning and a quick recharge of battery packs. However monotonous the moor top was, leaving it usually meant a sharp descent followed by an equally sharp incline. Lazlo was a practised hiker and managed well; Joey, while obviously in great shape, was clearly not familiar with this particular exercise, and made some very first-grade observations like ‘going downhill is almost worse…’, and seemed to be almost perpetually adjusting his rucksack.

    In one of the valleys, they were walking along a narrow path among some trees, and came across a very tall, narrow waterfall with a deep plunge pool, home to a few slightly more interesting species like Poliwag and Goldeen. They decided to train there for a while. Lazlo gave Joey a few tips, along the lines of ‘attack is not always the best form of attack’. Joey, while taking the point, was by now getting a bit deflated by Lazlo’s expertise.

    ‘How come you know so much about all this?’ he asked. ‘You got your Pokémon the same day I did.’

    At this, Lazlo begrudgingly explained that he had participated in the Blackthorn tournament while he was at the University. Mercifully, Joey didn’t ask how well he had done.

    ‘I thought you said that was your first battle?’

    ‘It was my first battle as a trainer… technically, the other ones didn’t count.’

    ‘Whatever, Obi-Wan Kenobi,’ sassed Joey.

    ‘What?’

    ‘You know… “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”?’ Joey looked incredulous at him.

    Lazlo frowned; the philosopher in him bristling at the rejection of a technical distinction, ‘It was true!’

    ‘Fuck that, mate, have you not seen Star Wars?’

    ‘I… yes! Years ago. I don’t remember it that well.’ Lazlo understood now. ‘Oh, wait, Luke I am your father—that bit, right?’

    ‘No! That’s like… a completely different famous bit. What were you doing when everyone else was watching Star Wars?’

    ‘My homework,’ retorted Lazlo.

    Joey snorted. ‘We are watching Star Wars tonight. I don’t care if we have to walk an extra ten miles to get phone signal for it.’

    ---

    In the end, after Lazlo had taught Joey how to set a fire, that was just what they did.

    When asked what he thought of it, Lazlo shrugged.

    ‘It was alright,’ he said. ‘I liked the music.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Yeah, okay, it was pretty good.’

    ‘Whatever. You were loving it.’

    Lazlo laughed incredulously, but, looking at the earnest expression on Joey’s face, admitted with a smile, ‘Yeah, okay, I guess I did.’

    ‘Yes!’ said Joey, punching the air. ‘I taught you something!’

    ‘It was all a bit close to home, I guess,’ said Lazlo, ‘That’s all.’

    ‘It was literally set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’

    ‘Yeah, but…’ Lazlo really didn’t want to tell Joey why he was feeling what he was feeling. An orphan kid whisked away on an adventure, who learns he has this grand destiny he suddenly has to live up to…

    Joey looked at him. ‘But what?’

    Lazlo shook his head. ‘Never mind, I loved it.’ He tried to steer the conversation away. ‘Is this your favourite film?’

    ‘Naa mate. I love it, but that’s got to be James Bond.’

    ‘Your favourite film is a whole franchise?’

    ‘Yeah! It’s got everything. Incredible action, great hero, sick spy gadgets…’

    ‘I’ll have to watch it,’ said Lazlo, not imaging for a minute he would like it.

    Joey seemed to notice his doubts. ‘Why, what’s your favourite film, Citizen Kane?’

    Lazlo laughed, ‘Did you just go for ‘posh film’ and that was the only thing that came to mind?’

    ‘Fuck you,’ said Joey, playfully.

    ‘Well, I like Indiana Jones, because archaeology, obviously, though I’m like a world-leading expert on legendary Pokémon, and I can tell you that in no legend I’ve read does the Azure Flute melt people’s faces. But my absolute favourite—you’d hate this film—is Man of la Mancha. Don Quixote is my idol.’

    ‘Donphan who?’

    Lazlo chuckled. ‘Never mind.’

    ---

    The following afternoon, in a moment of awestruck surprise for Lazlo he was at once desperate and terrified to tell Joey about, Oak sent a group text to him and his grandson Blue, encouraging them to meet up when Lazlo got to Viridian. Lazlo was trying (and failing, but still) to appear normal in front of his new friend, and he felt slipping off to have a few pints with a former Champion might be a bridge too far. Feeling it was the simplest course of action, Lazlo settled on an easy lie.

    ‘So when we get to Viridian, I might slip away for an evening, if that’s alright.’

    ‘No problem. How come?’ Joey was just making conversation.

    ‘There’s someone I want to meet up with… an old flame,’ lied Lazlo, effortlessly. ‘So it would be kind of a one-on-one thing, if you catch my meaning.’

    ‘Gotcha,’ said Joey, smirking. ‘Give her my best.’

    Oh, shit, have we not covered that yet? thought Lazlo. ‘Um, it’s a he, actually. That being, you know, what I go in for.’

    ‘Oh, cool, yeah no problem dude,’ said Joey, in the usual determinedly casual tone of voice people reserved for this conversation.

    At least that’s stopped any awkward questions, thought Lazlo.

    Blue texted a little later, in a tone that suggested he wasn’t quite sure why his grandfather was forcing this stranger on him—or at least, that was how Lazlo was unable to avoid interpreting it—but agreeing to meet in a few days at a Trainer Bar by the river.

    ---

    The rest of the journey to Viridian passed relatively uneventfully. Lazlo got a bit more work done on his paper, and Slowpoke got as far as learning Water Gun: very useful for putting out camp fires. Just as the city had appeared on the horizon, Joey’s Rattata figured out how to Bite a Pidgey.

    Viridian was a notably historic town, having been Kanto’s second city in the days of its Second Age empire, when everything from the north shores of Kalos to the southernmost of the Sevii islands had been under the dominion of its Champions. Very few buildings remained standing from those days, unlike in Saffron, where modern skyscrapers jostled for space with ancient colosseums and ruined temples. But Viridian had never been a major industrial centre, so it had remained a relatively small city of around 200,000 residents, to this day. But there were walls around the city centre, a portion of which was retained from ancient times. There were museums dedicated to the Seviilaw, the time a thousand years past when Sevii pirates had captured and ruled part of Kanto for a few hundred years, and the skyline was still dominated by a huge gothic cathedral of Arceus, which nowadays sat opposite the main Pokémon centre: a very modern building, which reflected the main façade of the cathedral back on itself like a great angular mirror. Having walked a long way that day, pushing themselves knowing they were close, Lazlo and Joey got beds immediately, and rested for the night.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2018
  10. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    This was a fun chapter to read! Not too much plot stuff, but I really liked the chemistry between Lazlo and Joey. It seemed really natural and worked as a contrast Lazlo with the games' epitome of normality, Joey. Having Joey take care of his Pokemon after battle was definitely a good touch which, in contrast, makes Lazlo's rent-a-pokemon experience seem sufficiently alien to the concept of actual Pokemon training.

    One critique I'd make of the conversation is that they're both willing to talk openly about their dead relatives to a total stranger. It felt a bit out of place for their first conversation, and seems like it's the kind of plot detail that can wait for a more appropriate moment.

    Also, the last paragraph felt like really out of place info dump that'd work better as an introduction in the following chapter than as basically a side note to this one.

    Overall, this chapter was enjoyable to read and does a good job of making Lazlo seem more like a human being, for lack of a better phrase.
     
  11. Namohysip

    Namohysip Well-Known Member

    Read everything up to this point! Below are some quotes regarding some key moments, which is where basically all of my thoughts on the work have been derived. I like your prose overall, and it's quite easy to follow without much for me to say in the realm of worthwhile nitpicks, so most of these quotes have to do with the content of the story, rather than the quality that it's written.

    "had had bad luck" feels awkward, and I think perhaps one of those 'had's should be there? That being said, I thought this was a very strong opening, in terms of the narrative. It took me a few lines to realize that this was an announcer speaking, but once I caught on, the tone really fit. I could practically hear the announcer's voice.

    So, he's an accomplished trainer who won a tournament twice, something that was unprecedented for generations, and a doctor?

    I'm not sure what dissertation panels you've been to, but I find it hard to believe that one of the panel judges would interrupt a presentation to praise the presenter, no matter how accomplished or talented their work is to the panel.

    I'm not totally clear why Lazlo would be doing this tournament twice in the first place, if this is the case. Perhaps that's why nobody ever won it twice--because there's no real point to doing it a second time?

    This is an example of telling, and not actually showing, what happened. As far as I had been aware until now, Lazlo got nothing but praise during his dissertation defense, but apparently he got grilled quite badly after, yet we never saw it. This is actually something that I noticed a lot in these three chapters -- struggle. There isn't enough struggle going on yet, and Lazlo has, so far, been breezing through nearly every challenge that he'd encountered. Most troubles are flashes in a pan, evaporating in a matter of sentences. He's too strong, too elite, and it makes it hard to believe future struggles will come, and still feel realistic. He's so elite already!

    See above about having the whole table stacked in his favor for three chapters, now.

    See above.

    Okay hold up, I actually really liked this moment. There's just something really touching about it, Joey being able to show Lazlo, essentially an elite and seasoned trainer, something that he lost sight of. It actually helps to show that Lazlo isn't totally perfect, and I do hope you capitalize on this further instead of having Lazlo be this ultimate trainer right off the bat. Again, struggles. We need 'em. And if Lazlo is already super strong, he has to struggle in other ways to make up for it so he's actually interesting to read about--and this flash of Joey being compassionate, and Lazlo realizing that he should do the same? This was something that gives me hope for what character development our main protagonist will be getting.
     
  12. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    Thanks again for the reviews guys! I've made a lot of progress on the story over the holiday weekend, so I thought I would drop the next chapter a little early. This is the first one written wholly after I started posting, rather than just revised, so it's very much got all you guys's feedback baked into it from the ground up. I'm aware a lot of you wanted more plot, so I've decided to pick up the pace a bit. This is therefore an extra-long chapter, almost as long as one through three put together. It was originally envisioned as two - no points for guessing where the divide was supposed to be - but I wanted to give you guys more plot and character development than the first half offered by itself. I've also brought a moment of reckoning for Lazlo forward a few chapters so you can get to see a few more sides to his character.

    Pewter will be a bit of a respite after this emotionally-heavy instalment, but the plot gets going in earnest from Mount Moon, which is where we also get to see the beginnings of how this story will diverge from the games, just to give you a sense of where we're heading from here on in.

    Namohysip, to your feedback I can only say that the tallest have the furthest to fall, which is what I'm interested in exploring here. All the references to hubris are not for nothing. I expect you will particularly like this chapter.

    In case some of you baulk, this story is not going to turn into a romance! It just has some romance in it ;)


    Chapter 4 – Blue and Green

    Some ideas, when they come around, everyone with enough presence of mind to see a metre in front of their face can tell they’re a fad that will come and go. Gin joints, Johtone pubs, that sort of thing. But the good ideas stick around, and one of them, which had hung on for about fifty years now, was the idea of a trainer bar.

    Every town large enough to have a Pokémon gym, and a few more besides, now had one or two of them somewhere in town. Although they served drinks, you couldn’t mistake the interior for a pub, because everything was just that bit more spread out. You couldn’t quite call them cosy, although some of them had a go, with gentle music, soft lighting and a (guarded) fire. What they all did have in common was the tables and chairs were made of robust, durable materials, and were often bolted to the floor. In addition to booze for people, they typically had a few berry-based concoctions that Pokémon might enjoy, as well as Pokéblocks, lava cookies, and other treats intended for Pokémon from around the world. They also, and this was the best bit, all had a big garden out the back, large enough to hold a League-standard battlefield.

    These were places where travelling trainers, resting for a few days or waiting for their turn at the Gym, came to let off some steam. Unless you had a Steelix or a Wailord or something, usually you would let your Pokémon out so they could enjoy it with you.

    The one in Viridian City was particularly attractive, situated in a disused brick church, a couple of centuries old, off the main shopping district. It had a battlefield out back adjoining the river, lit by Sinnohese lanterns, with tables on a raised patio for spectators to watch the fun.

    Lazlo had left Joey behind at the Pokémon Centre, with him saying he might pop out by himself that night later on, though not wishing Lazlo ill for going on his ‘date’. Lazlo had set off a little early: generally he took the view that if someone were to be left waiting, he’d prefer it was him. In this case the bar was slightly closer to the Centre than he had anticipated, and he was by himself (with Slowpoke) for almost half an hour before Blue showed up, sensibly fashionably late. He was already two-thirds of the way through his pint, and Slowpoke had made friends with a nearby Munchlax, which seemed to share a similar attitude to life.

    Lazlo, not needing help to recognise the former Champion, waved at him from the corner he’d picked out, though Blue did seem to recognise him.

    With his messy hair, mod-ish dress sense, and default sneer, Blue still looked every inch the ‘Rebel Champion’, as the tabloids had famously declared him. Though he was about seven years older than Lazlo, he didn’t look like he carried them with him, and his look still suited him. He had a pair of designer sunglasses on his forehead, and he wore two Pokéballs on a long chain around his neck.

    ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘you’re Lazlo?’

    ‘I am,’ said Lazlo, standing up to shake his hand. ‘Mister Champion.’

    The look Blue gave Lazlo for addressing him correctly could have soured milk. But he did shake his hand.

    ‘You’re not keen on the title?’ asked Lazlo, by way of an apology.

    ‘Shall I get us some drinks in?’ said Blue, looking over his shoulder at the bar. ‘You’re an ale?’

    Lazlo raised his glass as an affirmative.

    ‘I’ll be back,’ said Blue. ‘Do you want to grab a table outside? It’s better.’

    Before Lazlo had a chance to answer, Blue had headed to the bar. Frowning, Lazlo gathered his bags, picked up Slowpoke and headed to the garden.

    The view was quite good. Light from the lanterns reflected from the ladder, and if there wasn’t quite all the city’s history on the other river bank, there was definitely about five hundred years of it. Lazlo looked at Slowpoke, who was sitting on the table.

    ‘He seems nice,’ Lazlo said, sarcastically.

    Slowpoke cocked its head.

    ‘Don’t look at me like that!’ teased Lazlo.

    Slowpoke sat down, resting its head on its forefeet, still looking at Lazlo.

    ‘And Oak wonders why he doesn’t have any friends…’ Lazlo added.

    Blue joined them shortly, though thankfully not quite soon enough to have heard that last remark. Unclipping his Pokéballs, he let Blastoise and Scizor out to play. Slowpoke glanced at the much larger, stronger and famous Pokémon and seemed to decide against engaging. He yawned, and settled down for a nap. Lazlo transferred him onto the ground, so they had a space to put their drinks down.

    Blue seemed to have warmed up slightly, with a pint of what looked like a godawful Unovan lager in his hand. ‘No, I don’t like the title,’ was the first thing he said. ‘I was Champion less than 24 hours, and gramps doesn’t go by it either.’

    ‘Fair enough.’

    ‘Call me Blue,’ he added.

    ‘Lazlo,’ repeated Lazlo, glad he hadn’t been born in Pallet town, with their… unique… tradition of colour names. It was alright for girls, with Violet, Jade and Scarlett all featuring as popular choices. The boys got the raw end of that deal.

    ‘You’re just starting out?’ asked Blue.

    ‘Yeah,’ said Lazlo. For some reason not feeling his usual reluctance to boast in this situation, he added, ‘I did well in the Blackthorn tournament though, so I’m not a complete amateur.’

    ‘I know who you are,’ said Blue. ‘I’m not so out of the loop that I don’t watch the Blackthorn tournament anymore.’

    Lazlo blushed slightly. ‘We’ve met before, of course, though not since I was a kid. Professor Oak and my grandmother are good friends. She’s Doctor Levitt too. I mean, that’s also her name, as well as mine.’

    Blue looked at him. ‘Oh, god, yeah! Sorry mate, I completely forgot. It was a while back.’

    ‘No problem,’ said Lazlo, smiling. ‘Though now I’m wondering why you agreed to come out for a beer with a complete stranger.’

    ‘Can I be honest?’ said Blue.

    Lazlo frowned. ‘Sure.’

    ‘Gramps sets me up on these things every now and again. I go along just so he’ll get off my back. So no offence mate, but I’m not interested.’

    ‘What?’ said Lazlo, quite sure he’d understood the meaning, and yet quite unable to believe it at the same time.

    ‘You don’t know what this is?’

    ‘Professor… that is, your grandfather, just said we should meet up, and that he thought we might make good friends. I mostly came as a favour to him. I had no idea you were… believe me, that was the furthest thing from my mind when I agreed to come.’

    ‘But you are gay?’

    ‘I… yes. How did you know?’

    Blue sighed. ‘Like I say, this isn’t the first time this has happened.’

    Lazlo was quite surprised, and then surprised at himself for finding it such a big deal. ‘You’ve done well to keep it out of the papers,’ was all he could think to say.

    ‘I keep myself to myself. I’ve not tried to hide it, but they wouldn’t have much of a chance to find out. I don’t give interviews, or at least not to people who would ask about that sort of thing.’

    Lazlo found he had a hundred questions, but felt it would be best to change the subject. ‘God, I’ve just realised. I’ve been travelling from Pallet with this kid who’s just starting out as well. I didn’t want him to be intimidated, so I left him at the Pokémon Centre saying I was going on a date. I thought I was lying.’

    Blue frowned. ‘Well, you’re in luck, because you were lying.’

    Lazlo panicked. ‘I know! I was just… remarking on the coincidence.’

    Blue laughed a little. It wasn’t a particularly friendly laugh. He took a sip of his drink. Lazlo would almost expect him to be making a move to leave, but in spite of his…spite, he actually seemed quite comfortable.

    ‘What do you mean, out of the loop?’ Lazlo asked. ‘Forgive me, but it seems an odd thing for the most senior Gym Leader to say.’

    ‘I don’t exactly participate in the running of the League. There’s various monthly meetings and so on we’re supposed to show up at, and I haven’t exactly been a model of dedication. Plus they’re always on at me for being out of town so often…’

    Lazlo thought it would be useful to pause.

    ‘Don’t get me wrong, I run a tight ship at the Gym, and I try to play my traditional role in the community, but I’m not a fan of the bureaucracy of it all. And between you and me, I think the Champion’s a complete wanker.’

    ‘Between you and me?’ Lazlo replied lightly: Blue had been quite outspoken in the press about his opposition to Giovanni’s conduct in the role.

    ‘Well, alright, between you, me and the Daily Post.’ This time, the smile was genuine.

    ‘I can’t say I follow the news too closely,’ said Lazlo. ‘But as far as I understand it I agree with you. The Champion has been a politically impartial figure for three hundred years; for him to be even hinting at his politics would be constitutionally problematic.’

    ‘That’s it exactly,’ said Blue.

    ‘You were at Blackthorn as well, weren’t you?’ asked Lazlo. ‘What did you read?’

    ‘As little as possible,’ replied Blue, with a laugh. ‘But politics. I assume that’s why you’re asking?’

    Lazlo nodded.

    ‘I scraped a two-one,’ added Blue. ‘But I never took it that seriously. I wish I had now. Gramps certainly wishes I did. That’s probably why I didn’t, but he was right in the end. Especially with my job now. They don’t tell you that bit when you take the trainer’s oath. I want to be the very best local administrator, like no-one ever was…’

    Lazlo laughed. ‘Is it really as bad as that? I must admit I thought battling was still most of a Gym Leader’s job.’

    ‘I’m sure it is for Brock, but I’m the last one on the route, so not that many of them get to me. They get you involved with all sorts of stuff with the running of the League, and then there’s managing the accounts of the Gym and so on. Working with the broadcasters… It’s a full-time job even without the battling. And that’s to say nothing of cutting ribbons and generally being the traditional leader of the local community… The Elite Four’s the best job in the League nowadays. There’s some business stuff for sure, but Champions want to make their mark, so they generally take all the big strategic decisions and use their staff to implement them, so if you’re an Elite Four and you don’t want to take much of an interest, they won’t push it. And Giovanni’s stuffed it full of his allies, so there’s no chance of a spot for me.’

    Lazlo looked Blue up and down. He still dressed the rebel, for sure, but listening to him speak like this, he sounded quite beaten-down and world-weary. He wondered when it had begun. Everyone knew the story about his shot at the Championship. He and his best friend Red had travelled round together, pushing each other to be the two best trainers of their day. When it finally became time for them to challenge the Champion, they got there at the same time. Blue went first because they’d decided he had the better shot at Lance, and Red, facing a type disadvantage, was unlikely to beat Blue. In fact, Red had pulled off an ingenious play based on the moves Sunny Day and Dragon Dance, and had beaten his friend and rival, the day after Blue had taken the indigo jacket. Red had served as Champion for three years, before losing to Giovanni, who had served for the last seven. After that, Red had never been seen again, though close friends of his said they knew he was fine, even if not where he was. Usually Champions served a good proportion of their lifetime, so it had been an exciting period for Pokémon as a sport. But Blue, in all this excitement, had lost everything: his shot at the Championship, his best friend…

    Summing all this up, Lazlo decided the best strategy would be to talk about the things Blue loved. There was a battle going on the field before them. The trainers looked experienced; perhaps here to challenge the Gym at the end of their journey. The girl on their left had a Machamp and the one on the right had a Golduck. Golduck had already got in a Rain Dance; a small black cloud had appeared over the battlefield, and the spectators were putting up the parasols on their tables. The girl on the left had just instructed Machamp to bulk up. Wincing and flexing, the four-armed giant seemed to bulge.

    ‘Bad move,’ said Lazlo.

    Blue chuckled. ‘Right. Psych Up then Clear Smog?’

    ‘If she has time,’ said Lazlo. ‘I’d get a Worry Seed in first. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a Dynamic Punch from that thing.’

    ‘Then Encore, maybe,’ added Blue.

    ‘Shit, yeah, that’s a good idea. Machamp could alternate Dynamic Punch and Stomping Tantrum otherwise…’

    ‘Oh, good point, I was just looking to tie down the accuracy. You could get a Flash off to support that…’ added Blue.

    ‘Not worth it, do the maths,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘No, you’re not accounting for the risk you’re already confused…’

    ‘Oh well, sure, but if that’s already happened it’s already happened, and you’ll have Encored a Cross Chop,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Then you’d still need Flash! But you could get confused on the Encore turn…’

    While this discussion was going on, the actual battle in front of them in no way resembled what they were discussing. The Golduck trainer just went straight to Calm Mind, got punished with a couple of Dynamic Punches, and while it was Resting off the status and the damage, got unlucky with Sleep Talk and was beaten with a few Bulked-Up blows. Lazlo went to the bar to get another couple of drinks.

    When he returned Slowpoke had woken up, and rubbed himself against Lazlo’s leg. Lazlo picked him up again and stroked his fur.

    ‘Is that your starter?’ asked Blue.

    ‘The one and only,’ replied Lazlo, ruffling the fur on its head. Slowpoke replied with a gentle nibble.

    ‘Bro or King?’

    ‘King is the plan,’ said Lazlo. ‘The defence difference isn’t too bad with Curse, and I want Nasty Plot. Also, and forgive me if this sounds sentimental, but it’s my favourite Pokémon.’

    Blue looked at him with a genuine and surprised smile. ‘That’s not sentimental. Okay, maybe I would have made fun of you when I was younger, but why do you think I picked Squirtle? The versatility?’

    Lazlo smiled. ‘That’s encouraging.’

    Blue paused for a moment. ‘You’ve obviously seriously good at this. You could go all the way.’

    Lazlo looked at him and smiled. ‘You really think?’

    ‘I really do. You know, I really want Giovanni to get what’s coming to him. I can’t forgive him for what he did to Red.’

    Lazlo now ventured one of his hundred questions. ‘The two of you, you weren’t…’

    ‘What? Oh, god, no. Red’s as straight as an arrow. And he’s like a brother to me, anyway. We grew up together.’

    ‘Do you really not know where he is?’ asked Lazlo.

    ‘I wouldn’t tell you if I did.’ Blue smiled sadly. ‘But no, I don’t. He emails me and gramps every now and again, just so we know he’s safe. I think his Mum might know, but she’s not telling.’

    ‘What’s he doing?’

    ‘Training and brooding,’ said Blue. ‘He was never much of a talker, and he gets these ideas in his head. It’s not good for him—he was never a particularly happy guy. But then again, neither am I.’

    ‘That’s quite an admission.’

    ‘Well, I was a bit of a bully back then. I still am quite often. You seem to have found a way to being an exception.’

    ‘I don’t know, I can get pretty annoying over time.’

    ‘We’ll see what happens I guess,’ said Blue. He seemed to catch himself in a thought he regretted, and went a bit quiet. ‘I’m going to grab another couple of pints. I’ll get something for the Pokémon too. Keep an eye on Blastoise and Scizor.’

    Blastoise and Scizor were roughhousing with the Machamp from earlier, seemingly quite happy left to their own devices. Two novice trainers had taken the field now, and Lazlo watched casually as an Oddish tried to successfully land a Stun Spore on a Mareep. The Mareep had successfully hit it with a Cotton Spore and the Oddish looked very sluggish, but Mareep didn’t have much offensive recourse but to use Tackle, which the Oddish was enduring quite easily.

    Blue came back with two more pints, and a large berry juice for the three Pokémon. He whistled his two to come back.

    ‘You know, you’ve reminded me of old times tonight,’ said Blue. ‘I don’t know why, but I’m actually having quite a good time.’

    ‘Lazlo!’ came a shout from the riverbank.

    ‘Oh, shit! It’s Joey!’ said Lazlo. ‘Quick, hide me!’

    He ducked under the table.

    Blue laughed. ‘This is your friend? I think he might have seen you already.’

    ‘You never know, it could be some other Lazlo he knows.’

    ‘How many Lazlos do you think there are?’

    ‘Because Blue’s such an ordinary name.’

    ‘He’s coming over.’ Blue gave him a gentle kick. ‘He’s got the table in his sights, you’re not getting away.’

    ‘What are you doing under the table?’ asked Joey, with all the innuendo he could summon.

    Then he clocked Blue. ‘What… you’re…’

    Sighing, Lazlo climbed out and sat back on his chair. Turning to Blue, he said, ‘Ah, this is Joey, who I’ve told you about. But Joey, I don’t think you know… former Champion Blue Oak.’

    Joey was so stunned he let the movie reference go completely. Opening and closing his mouth a few times, he eventually managed, ‘This is your date?’

    ‘Yes,’ said Lazlo. ‘Well, no. Well, yes. Sort of. It’s complicated.’

    ‘You said “old flame”! You two used to go out?’ gasped Joey.

    ‘No, that part was a lie,’ said Lazlo, completely out of his comfort zone by being caught in it. ‘I didn’t want you to feel jealous or intimidated I was meeting a former Champion for drinks. So I made up a date. Except it turns out this was supposed to be a date. But then it wasn’t. So there,’ he finished proudly.

    ‘What the fuck is going on?’ insisted Joey.

    Blue could barely contain his laughter, but he managed. ‘My gramps set us up, but Lazlo didn’t know it was a set up. He told you it was a date with an old flame so you wouldn’t be jealous he was getting a drink with a Champion.’

    ‘So is this a date or isn’t it? I’ll leave you to it if it is.’

    ‘No.’ said Lazlo and Blue simultaneously. ‘No? No. No.’

    ‘It sounds like it is,’ said Joey.

    ‘No, grab yourself a drink,’ said Blue. Lazlo was actually a bit disappointed, and glancing at Blue, he thought he saw a flicker of the same on his face.

    They kept talking late into the night, for at least a few more pints. Joey didn’t get much of a look into the conversation, and Blue and Lazlo didn’t much notice. They talked at length about Lazlo’s work—he didn’t mention the incident with Mew, though—and Blue seemed sincerely interested. By the end of it, Blue and Lazlo had resolved to definitely keep in touch, and Joey felt he shouldn’t have bothered to sit down.

    ---

    The next morning both Joey and Lazlo felt pretty rough, but Joey had got them tickets to a battle at the gym, and at midday they levered themselves out of bed and wandered down.

    Although it was the least often used—very few trainers got this far—the Viridian gym was in sheer architectural terms the grandest in Kanto, though Blaine’s use of real volcano smoke gave it a run for its money. Rebuilt about a hundred and fifty years before, the neo-gothic exterior resembled the Kanto parliament, and had in fact been designed by the same architect. Spectators watched from a raised gallery surrounding the battlefield, which sat on beautiful obsidian tile, though that was a little worse for wear. Arched windows around the gallery made magnificent use of light, and if it wasn’t for what you were watching you could almost believe you were in a church. Television cameras were hung from the bottom of the gallery and controlled remotely, and a commentator watching in this way would have their observations piped into the room for the spectators to hear. This was a matinee battle on a weekday, so even in Viridian the attendance was poor and very likely few people would be watching on TV, but for the trainer in the ring it was—as each successive gym battle is—the most important battle of their career to date.

    Blue came out first. He knew how to work the crowd, striking a signature angsty pose leaning on his water table. The challenger, as it turned out, was the girl from last night with the Machamp, who it turned out was called Mary, and looked considerably less at ease than the leader.

    Mary sent out her Machamp with a broad spin. Blue, not unlike Lazlo, opted for tossing it as casually as possible, underarm. It was his Scizor: each gym leader and elite four member, of course, had at least one Pokémon far stronger than the one they kept at the appropriate strength for the particular battle in the sequence of the trainer journey. But at this late stage, the Scizor was supposed to be a real challenge even for an advanced trainer.

    ‘We saw this Machamp last night,’ Lazlo explained to Joey. ‘This won’t be easy for Blue, because Machamp has an ability we call No Guard, which means it’s absolutely accurate, and can never miss an attack. This means it can use an attack called Dynamic Punch, which is normally extremely inaccurate, but hits really hard and always confuses the opponent. Normally you want to try to get rid of that advantage as soon as possible, but there’s no easy way for Scizor to do that. I think we’ll see…’

    ‘Iron Defense!’ shouted Blue. The Scizor stood tall and straight, and seemed to shine more vividly in the light. Having reinforced its metal body, it could now take far greater hits.

    ‘…that.’ Finished Lazlo. ‘So he’s going to take the first hit and get confused, because with the Iron Defense…’

    ‘Dynamic Punch!’ shouted Mary. The Machamp charged fast at Scizor, its fists flying around at such speed they could hardly be seen. Scizor tried to dodge, but sure enough Machamp hit its mark. Scizor flew backward fast, and looked very dazed when it stood.

    ‘Substitute!’ said Blue. The Scizor attempted to execute an intricate dance Lazlo had seen many times before, which, as he explained to Joey, ‘summons a sort of proxy Pokémon to the battle. You sacrifice some of your Pokémon’s ability to take hits, but in exchange you get a guardian which will shield you from opponents’ attacks. So Machamp will only be able to hit the Substitute until it can be destroyed, which means it won’t be able to confuse Scizor.’

    As it turned out, the confused Scizor fumbled the dance, and tripped, hurting itself. Fortunately Mary had resolved to call ‘Bulk Up’, so it didn’t take any further damage that turn.

    Blue tried for the Substitute again, and this time succeeded: a vaguely reptilian, doll-like creature appeared on the battlefield in front of Scizor.

    ‘The Substitute inherits Scizor’s stat boosts, so with the Iron Defense it should be able to take a couple of Dynamic Punches before it breaks. That should protect Scizor from confusion from now on, once it snaps out of it.’

    Mary called Dynamic Punch again, and sure enough the Substitute leapt up, through no obvious means of propulsion, and fully intercepted the attack.

    Scizor was still confused, and unable to launch another attack. Blue had called Swords Dance.

    ‘Swords Dance boosts Scizor’s attack.’ Said Lazlo. ‘It’s probably unnecessary in this case, but it will finish the battle faster. Blue’s already got this sewn up, unless he’s very unlucky with confusion. He can recover with Roost, and Machamp doesn’t have a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Mary’s a bit of a one-trick pony. It’s got her this far, but she’ll have to train that Machamp much more for the raw power to get through this.’

    Scizor escaped its confusion the next turn and succeeded in Swords Dance: another intricate series of dance steps which enhanced its attack power. Machamp broke the substitute, switching to Fire Punch, hitting the substitute with a flaming fist.

    ‘Oh, yeah, interesting,’ said Lazlo. ‘I’m sure Blue will try, but I’m not sure Scizor can make a substitute which can take more than one of those. Scizor hates fire. Now it’s a game of counterprediction. If Blue expects a Dynamic Punch he has to counter with a Substitute, but if it’s a Fire Punch he should try to attack, because otherwise he won’t get anywhere. Maybe that’s what he was thinking when he did the Swords Dance; I forgot for a moment Machamp could do that.’

    Sure enough, the second Substitute failed immediately to a Fire Punch from Machamp.

    The next turn Blue called Acrobatics, and Scizor hit Machamp with a heavy body-blow from above, launched from a rolling somersault.

    ‘Ouch, that’ll hit hard,’ said Lazlo. ‘Scizor has this ability we call Technician, which boosts the power of weaker attacks sky-high. And that’s super-effective as well.’

    ‘I know…’ hissed Joey, resenting Lazlo thinking he didn’t know type advantages.

    Machamp did in fact counter with Fire Punch. It was a heavy blow to Scizor, but with Iron Defense up didn’t seem to hit quite as hard as the Machamp had suffered from Acrobatics.

    ‘I think Mary’s thinking she’s on to a winner now,’ said Lazlo. ‘I’m not sure she’ll try anything else.’

    Blue, cautiously, instructed Scizor to Roost that turn. It sat cross-legged on the ground, recovering its strength. It took a square hit from Fire Punch, but still looked considerably stronger than it had.

    Following that, it got another couple of Acrobatics in, and, to Lazlo’s surprise, the battle was already over.

    ‘Huh,’ said Lazlo, ‘she needs to work on that thing’s defence.’

    The applause in the room was muted: traditionally gym audiences side with the challenger. But there was still an appreciative round for a job well done.

    ‘That was awesome,’ said Joey. ‘It’s amazing to see a top-level battle up close. You don’t get anything like that at Pewter.’

    ‘It was pretty good,’ said Lazlo, ‘but if you think that’s top level, you should get to see a Master challenge the Champion some time. It’s a whole new ball game.’

    They gathered up their things. ‘Do you want to catch up with Blue before we go?’ asked Joey, with a look on his face that he was hoping the answer was no.

    ‘Naa,’ said Lazlo. ‘I texted him we were here. He was sweet, but apparently he has to race straight off to some department store opening. And I’ll not see him tonight, I realise we were pretty rude to you, so let’s have a quiet one. Catch a film maybe?’

    ---

    In the end, they settled on watching a film which had caused quite a controversy on its release, with lots of religious groups—especially in Unova—objecting to it, and it had been banned entirely in Orre. But it was a historical epic set in the early First Age, which was enough for it to appeal to Lazlo, and Joey seemed to be attracted to the edginess of it.

    The film concerned the creation of what was generally referred to, if it was ever referred to at all, as The Taboo. The subject had been treated before in film, but never before had a film dared to portray Pokémon attacking people. It was all staged, of course, but it was enough for people to be outright disgusted. Lazlo suffered through it by maintaining an intellectual distance, but by the end Joey actually looked queasy.

    ‘It’s a historical reality,’ said Lazlo, sadly, when they got back to their room. ‘Violence between people was common before Pokémon came into the world. There’s archaeology to prove it, and some texts that have come down to us from oral traditions. When Pokémon came, people used them as tools to carry on that violence. God knows what really happened, but tradition says it took the final battle of Arceus and the titans before The Taboo settled in. People learned to treat the loss of a Pokémon battle as a total surrender, and so violence like that disappeared from the world. And now, you have your drunken brawls and violent passions and so on, but people have learned on the whole not even to use violence against one another, and to have Pokémon battles instead. So it’s a happy story in the end. But it’s important to know where that progress came from and what it cost to get to where we are…’

    Joey still looked a bit shaken up, and said nothing.

    Lazlo sighed, and laid down. ‘I’m going to try to get to sleep. Let me know if you want to talk about it some more.’

    ---

    They were due to leave the next morning, and packed up their stuff quickly to get back on the road. The journey from Viridian to Pewter was dominated by Viridian Forest: a vast expanse of woodland home to a wide range of predominantly bug Pokémon. It was a long journey and easy to get lost.

    Moorland had given way to farmland shortly before they arrived at Viridian City, and there was a half-day’s journey in similar country before they reached the forest. Such country could be traversed fairly quickly, as wild Pokémon were rarely found in farmed land.

    Though it had been threatened several times over the centuries, first with the encroachment of enclosed farming two centuries before, and then again in the Industrial Revolution, of which Pewter had been a major centre, by-and-large early and now modern conservation efforts had kept the vast woodland of Viridian Forest broadly within its original borders, and had since been restored significantly. Famous as a haven for bug Pokémon, there was a well-trod and ancient path leading more-or-less directly from Viridian to Pewter, which would take a novice trainer perhaps a week to traverse. Careful management of the forest had meant most of the stronger bug Pokémon stayed clear of this path, though the route was not without its dangers.

    ‘So you and Blue, huh?’ said Joey, shortly after they left the city, climbing the first stile into a field of wheat.

    ‘Now, now,’ said Lazlo, climbing the stile himself as Joey’s Rattata darted under it. Lazlo had tried walking with Slowpoke towards the end of their journey to Viridian, but found it slowed them down dramatically. In the end, they’d settled on him sitting on the top of Lazlo’s rucksack: occasionally he nibbled at Lazlo’s hair, but spent most of the time sleeping.

    ‘We just had a fun evening, that was all,’ finished Lazlo.

    ‘Pfft, yeah whatever dude,’ said Joey.

    ‘He’s a former Champion, I’m sure he doesn’t struggle for dates.’

    ‘Then why’s his grandad fixing him up all the time? That’s so weird.’

    ‘I dunno. He seemed kinda lonely,’ said Lazlo. ‘He maybe doesn’t get to meet a lot of people he has much in common with. And he was a proper dickhead at the start; it took us ages to get talking properly.’

    ‘Is that supposed to mean he wouldn’t like you?’ Joey looked proud at that observation.

    ‘Oh, shush,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Why are you fighting this?’ asked Joey.

    ‘I’m not, I’m just…’ Lazlo sighed. ‘I don’t like to get my hopes up.’

    ‘Ahh…’ said Joey. ‘Now I get to be the smart one. You been loving someone who doesn’t love you back?’

    Lazlo stopped. ‘I…’

    He walked on. ‘I’m not sure I want to talk about that.’

    Joey grinned. ‘You won’t get far like that. People won’t open up to you if you won’t open up to them! That’s the whole point of a…’

    ‘Alright, alright!’ said Lazlo, grumpy as anyone would be having their own words used against them.

    ‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ said Lazlo. He was avoiding eye contact. ‘I’ve had one or two dalliances in my time…’

    Dalliances…’ repeated Joey, chuckling.

    ‘What?’ shot Lazlo.

    ‘Nothing, just, do you know you talk like someone from a hundred years ago?’

    Lazlo said nothing.

    ‘Just joking, mate,’ said Joey, holding up his hands.

    ‘I wish you wouldn’t,’ said Lazlo, ‘This isn’t easy to talk about.’

    ‘Sorry.’

    ‘Well you know, growing up gay in somewhere as small and isolated as Cinnabar isn’t the easiest thing. There’s no-one there who can even empathise with you, never mind…’

    ‘Sure.’

    ‘So that was rough, and I got burned a couple of times trying. Blackthorn was much better, but, you know, I do this thing where I fixate on things. It’s good, in some ways, I guess. I wouldn’t have set records at the Blackthorn tournament, or did as well as I did at undergrad, or got my PhD, without all that. But when it comes to love, sometimes I do get ideas stuck in my head that really aren’t good for me.’

    ‘I know how that feels,’ said Joey.

    ‘Do you?’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Everybody does, mate,’ said Joey, kindly.

    Lazlo snorted. ‘Not this bad, I bet.’

    Joey paused.

    ‘I’m a dreamer,’ said Lazlo. ‘That’s my problem. I spent too much time in dreams. Like Don Quixote. It’s got me far enough, but it hurts underneath, never quite being comfortable in the real world…’ he trailed off, before finishing with, ‘It’ll get me in the end one day, I bet. I know I don’t seem like it, but it sometimes I feel like I’m running as fast as I can just to stay in one place.’

    Joey looked over at him with a half-smile. ‘That doesn’t sound much like you to me.’

    ‘Doesn’t it?’

    Lazlo fell into thought, and didn’t say anything for a while. Slowpoke shifted on his rucksack, and Lazlo could have sworn the Pokémon was trying to give him a hug.

    ---

    Sure enough, they crossed the open country quickly and were at the borders of the forest shortly after lunchtime. Lazlo, of course, was carrying around with him the Wainwright’s Guide to the Kanto Pokémon Journey, and had read that Kalosian brioche kept longer than normal bread. Given the length of this stage of the journey with no villages inbetween, he’d bought some from a bakery in Viridian that morning. It didn’t go well with the peanut butter they’d brought for sandwiches—to his taste, anyway; Joey said it was delicious—but it was enough to give them a kick of energy for the road ahead.

    Less dense at first, the forest was predominantly oak, elm and birch: a veritable conference of Pokémon professors. As the trail progressed the forest got denser, and eventually had a solid canopy. The broad direction of travel was upward, onto the large plateau of Pewter City. Eventually the deciduous trees gave way to pines in the slightly higher altitudes.

    The remainder of the first day, though, was spent in the gentle, airy woodland on the edges of the forest. The wild Pokémon were still relatively few in this part, still mostly Rattata and Pidgey, though with the occasional Caterpie mixed in. Joey swore he saw a Pikachu, but Lazlo didn’t believe him: they were relatively rare in the forest, and (as he understood from his Guide) largely confined to the denser areas.

    They settled down for the evening in a clearing where it looked like trainers had set fires before. Since Lazlo had done the majority of the work on the way to Viridian, Joey was determined to give him a night off, and set about gathering wood for the fire. Lazlo had suggested macaroni cheese for dinner, believing it relatively simple, though he still had to help Joey with actually setting the fire, and reducing the sauce.

    ‘So what else do you do,’ Lazlo had asked as they sat down to eat, ‘besides watch movies and Pokémon battles?’

    ‘God, has my chat got that bad you’re asking me what my hobbies are?’

    ‘No, it’s just I was thinking that tempers can get a bit frayed on long stretches like this. Close quarters, you know, it’s inevitable. I thought it might help if we knew a couple of other things we had in common.’

    ‘Have you ever got angry in your life?’

    ‘Yes,’ said Lazlo, robustly, before tailing of with, ‘I can’t think of any particular time, but…’

    ‘Well, girls are out,’ said Joey, grinning.

    ‘I can talk about girls!’ said Lazlo. ‘Um, who’s the hottest famous Pokémon trainer, in your view? Gym leader or above.’

    Joey laughed hard at the phrasing of the question. ‘Yeah, you don’t do this very often, do you?’ He thought about it a bit. ‘Well, Whitney is obviously close to the top of anyone’s list…’

    ‘I’m not surprised at all by that answer,’ said Lazlo, understanding that was a bit of a cliché.

    ‘But if I had to say a number one, it would be Shirona: the Sinnoh Champion?’

    ‘Really? That does surprise me. I wouldn’t have thought she’d be your type.’

    ‘Well, there you are. I’ll not ask you the same question; I think I know the answer already…’

    ‘Ha, ha.’ Though Lazlo was actually struggling for a different answer. ‘Um, do you know Denji? The eighth gym leader in Sinnoh?’

    ‘No.’

    ‘Oh, well, he’s hot.’

    ‘And in Kanto?’

    Lazlo paused. ‘Well, what can I say…’

    ‘It’s Blue, right?’

    ‘I guess so.’

    ‘I knew it!’ said Joey, punching the air.

    ‘Oh come on, it’s not like there’s a lot to choose from in Kanto. He’s about the only male Master under fifty. What, am I supposed to say Blaine?’

    ‘Brock? Or Surge?’

    ‘Not my type,’ said Lazlo, sticking his tongue out.

    They went quiet again for a while.

    ‘Well, I think that’s all we’re going to get out of that subject,’ said Lazlo. ‘What else do you like? Music?’

    ‘Yeah, I like music. Hip-hop, mostly, a bit of grime. Not sure we have that in common.’

    ‘Yeah, I’m not sure we even have a definition of music in common.’

    ‘Look, we haven’t been struggling to chat, have we?’ said Joey. ‘I don’t think we need to go through all this crap. It’ll be fine.’

    As ever when someone tries to force conversation, they went a bit quiet after that.

    ‘So what is it you did at uni?’ asked Joey. ‘You and Blue were going great guns on that. ‘Bout time I asked.’

    ‘Did you not follow any of it?’

    ‘I got that it was something to do with history, not much more than that.’

    ‘Well, my PhD was in what they decided to call Applied Philosophy and Archaeology. I doubt you know what that means; I barely do…’

    ‘Archaeology is digging up old stuff, isn’t it?’

    ‘Yes… and, deciding how we should interpret the old stuff we dig up. What it is, and what it tells us about the people who made it and used it. You spend a lot more time in libraries than you do in the field, though I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time on an excavation in Sootopolis during my PhD.’

    ‘And what’s applied philosophy?’

    ‘Well, philosophy is the study of fundamental questions of life, like “what is knowledge?”, “do we have free will?” and “what distinguishes good from evil?”. Basically it’s any area of knowledge where you could expect there to be a right and wrong answer but which science can’t access. The “applied” bit is unusual, but it essentially means any study which uses concepts generated by philosophy to understand more about why Pokémon exist, why they look the way they do, and so on. It’s a controversial field, there’s plenty of scientists who don’t think it’s a worthwhile area of inquiry at all.’

    Joey looked like he’d lost the thread a bit, but then asked quite a sensible question: ‘Okay, so what does that have to do with archaeology?’

    ‘Okay, so my main area of study was legendary Pokémon. Pokémon, usually very powerful Pokémon, of which there’s only supposed to be one individual, which lives forever. We definitely know a few of these do exist, like the legendary birds of Kanto…’

    And Mew, he thought, not wanting to get into that story.

    ‘…but there are far more talked about in ancient sources, and depicted in ancient art, than are known to science. So through applied philosophy, we work to discover what ideas these Pokémon embody, or at the very least represented to the ancient people who believed in them. And the main part of my work was to study the relationship between the ideas of applied philosophy and the archaeological record, especially around origination. Origination means the question of how Pokémon came to exist in the first place.’

    ‘So it’s like religion?’

    Lazlo sighed inwardly, having heard that question before. ‘We deal with a lot of the same subject matter as religion, but we try to apply modern rational methods to it. Science has a hopeless track record of explaining how Pokémon came to exist. We shouldn’t expect it to, because Pokémon are completely unlike anything else we’ve discovered in the universe. They’re not even made out of ordinary matter, they’re made of Pocket, right? If there’s ever a final solution to the question of origination it will be a scientific one, but for now people like me just work to generate new ideas, and try to interpret ancient wisdom in case there are any clues which would benefit modern inquiry.’

    ‘Right, I see.’ Joey shifted uncomfortably on the ground.

    ‘I’m boring you,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘No, no, I asked,’ said Joey.

    ‘That doesn’t mean I’m not boring you.’

    ‘No, it doesn’t,’ said Joey, laughing.

    ---

    By mid-morning of the next day, the forest around them had grown very dense. It wasn’t exactly dark at ground level—the trees simply weren’t tall enough for that—but there were certainly very few patches of direct sunlight getting through to the ground. There weren’t any flowers or grasses under the trees now, just soil and mulch, and if you strayed far from the path there started to be a lot of thorn bushes.

    The Pokémon were now almost exclusively of the bug type, with Weedles, Caterpies, Kakunas and Metapods dominating. The wild Pokémon were hardly Elite Four material, but they were certainly a notable step-up in difficulty from the Pidgeys and Rattatas they had faced on the road to Viridian City. It wasn’t so much the strength as the quantity which made it difficult, though. Both Pokémon were getting poisoned often enough to worry Lazlo about their supply of Antidotes, and even their supply of Potions. Rattata in particular was struggling, as Slowpoke could make shorter work of the poison-types with Confusion. Lazlo decided some rationing was in order, and they agreed Slowpoke would exclusively fight the poison-types, and Rattata the rest.

    Nonetheless, by day four in the forest, just as the trees were turning to pines, they were forced to use their last Antidote to rescue Slowpoke. They had made short work of the climb compared to typical trainers, which had left them almost as tired as their Pokémon, but Lazlo (and his phone) estimated they were still two days’ walk from Pewter City.

    ‘We could walk overnight?’ suggested Joey.

    Lazlo shook his head. ‘Then the Weedles will just be replaced by Spiniraks, or worse. And I don’t like the idea of facing Hoothoots with Hypnosis, either: we’re not even that well supplied with Potions anymore. It’s not time, it’s the quantity and quality of Pokémon battles.’

    ‘The forest is thinning out now. We might do better for that?’

    ‘All it takes is one Poison Sting, and we’re screwed.’

    ‘There could be Pecha bushes now the canopy is clearer,’ Joey ventured.

    ‘Then we’ll be fine, but I doubt there will be in this terrain. That can’t be Plan A.’

    Lazlo put his bag down, and sat on it, with his head in his hands. ‘Ah, damn…’

    Joey walked over. ‘You okay?’

    Lazlo waved him away with his hand. ‘Just… I’m thinking! Just give me a minute!’

    ‘Look, you’re pissed off, alright, just calm down…’

    ‘Oh SHUT THE FUCK UP, JOEY!’

    ‘It’s…’ Joey was taken aback. ‘Fine, I’ll give you a minute. I need to take a piss. Let me know when you’ve calmed the fuck down.’

    Lazlo was fuming at himself, for not having packed enough Antidotes. The book said… But the book wasn’t gospel. If there was one thing every Pokémon trainer should do, it was overplan and overpack. You should always have far more than you think you’ll need of absolutely everything. It was just the way it was done. He’d made a rookie error, and he was ashamed he’d been caught in such a foolish mistake.

    But what to do? They could try to struggle on, as Joey said, and hope for unexpected salvation. What other course was there?

    The last resort of every Pokémon trainer was an emergency telephone call to a Pokémon Centre. They kept flying and teleporting Pokémon on standby to rescue trainers whose Pokémon had fainted, or who could see no hope of progressing further without injuring their Pokémon. But Viridian forest was in the purview of the Viridian Pokémon Centre, so if they resorted to that, they would have to cover the entire journey again.

    There had to be some other way.

    He wasn’t thinking straight through his rage. Sitting back, he cradled his arms in his lap, and tried breathing deeply to calm himself down. He closed his eyes.

    Slowpoke came over to him and rubbed himself against Lazlo’s shin. Climbing up onto its rear legs, it gently licked at Lazlo’s open hands. Lazlo opened his eyes, and smiled down at the little Pokémon.

    ‘Aw, pfft.’ He said, sadly. ‘I don’t deserve you, you know?’

    He picked up the Pokémon and hugged it close to his chest. It licked the bottom of his chin. Small tears formed in the corners of Lazlo’s eyes. He hugged Slowpoke even tighter.

    Joey came back to where Lazlo had sat down. Lazlo shielded his eyes, and tried to discreetly wipe away the tears.

    Lazlo sighed, trying to sound normal, though his voice wavered slightly. ‘I’m sorry Joey, that was… misdirected rage.’

    ‘Really.’ Replied Joey, sarcastically.

    ‘Look, if you think we should…’ Lazlo began. ‘Hang on, no, I’ve just thought of something.’ He reached for his phone, and called up the map.

    He studied it for a little while, and eventually said, ‘Yeah, this is a thing! Come and have a look here.’

    Joey sat down on the bag next to Lazlo, and peered over at his phone.

    ‘The trail is the fastest way from Pewter to Viridian,’ said Lazlo, but Pewter City doesn’t cover the whole plateau. If you go far enough west up here you get to the Pokémon League at Indigo.’

    ‘Across a massive mountain range, yeah,’ said Joey. ‘I’m from Pewter, remember?’

    ‘Right, sorry. But anyway, the mountains reach further south in some places than they do on the approach to Pewter. If we go more-or-less due west from here, it’s maybe a half days’ walk to the mountains. It’ll be rougher hiking when we get there, but we’ll be out of the forest much earlier. And if there’s a few stronger Mankeys and Sandshrews in those parts, better stronger mountain Pokémon than weaker poison-types in our current dilemma.’

    ‘But we’ll have to go off the path,’ said Joey. ‘Didn’t the book say the Pokémon away from the forest path are much stronger?’

    ‘It did. But that’s not our problem, our problem is the concentration of poison types. It’s a risk for sure, but I think it’s the safer path.’ Lazlo paused. ‘Are you up for this?’

    ‘Lemme think,’ said Joey, ‘I’m trying to remember the ground from when I was growing up.’

    Lazlo, ashamed of his earlier outburst, gave him all the time he wanted.

    ‘Okay, fine,’ said Joey. ‘It sounds alright. I don’t remember much about those parts, but it might add a couple of days to the journey covering that ground. Do we have enough food?’

    Lazlo nodded.

    ‘Then I’m up for it,’ finished Joey. ‘Sounds like a plan.’

    ---

    They started out on their new course shortly afterwards, eating their sandwiches where they had stopped. From where they had started they could see the mountain range they were aiming for, but what the map hadn’t been able to tell Lazlo was that the forest grew considerably denser again on their approach to them, and they lost sight of their target in the end. The incline was also noticeably steeper, and made for much harder going. More than once they got caught up in thorns, and on one occasion they had no recourse but to cross a patch of nettles. They tried to think of a Pokémon-based solution to the problem, but the best they could come up with was for Slowpoke to douse them with Water Gun. This didn’t do much to stop the stings but it did at least make it easier to walk over them. Lazlo, in trousers, had a much easier time of it than Joey, who was wearing shorts.

    The book was right: the Pokémon they were facing did get notably stronger. There was a Pidgeotto or two, several Butterfree—fortunately, the forest had not exhausted their supply of Paralyze Heals—and even a Scyther, which Lazlo left to Joey, fearing a super effective Fury Cutter on his exhausted Slowpoke.

    By the time the edge was again in sight, Lazlo was also fearing for their supply of Potions for the mountain crossing.

    Just as they thought they were nearly in the clear, they heard a loud buzzing sound approaching them from the south.

    Lazlo’s heart sank. It was a Beedrill.

    ‘We need to fight this together,’ said Lazlo, quickly. ‘Try to draw its attacks. Slowpoke can do more damage, but Rattata can withstand Beedrill better.’

    ‘Quick Attack!’ called Joey in response. Ratatta darted at the Beedrill, leaping up at it with tremendous speed. The Beedrill was knocked back, but quickly responded by jabbing Ratatta with one of its needles. Fortunately Ratatta seemed not to be poisoned, and it ran back to Joey.

    ‘Curse!’ called Lazlo, cautiously. Slowpoke made an eerie howling sound, and glowed faintly, becoming bulkier.

    ‘Quick Attack!’ called Joey again—this time, the Beedrill ignored Ratatta, and charged forward to attack Slowpoke. Lazlo recognised the repeated blows from its stingers as the Pokémon’s signature move, Twineedle.

    Slowpoke looked badly hurt by it, though was clearly able to keep going. Lazlo called Confusion, and watched as rainbow-distortions in the air radiated from Slowpoke’s head toward the wild Pokémon. It too was obviously badly hurt—though not as bad as Slowpoke—except…

    ‘I think it’s confused!’ exclaimed Lazlo. The Beedrill was flying around oddly, landing on the ground and taking off again.

    ‘Yes!’ said Lazlo. ‘Joey, go for power now.’

    ‘Hyper Fang!’ called Joey, and Ratatta raced up to the Beedrill to give it a ferocious bite.

    Recovering itself slightly, the Beedrill again lunged for Slowpoke, and hit it hard with another Twineedle.

    ‘Oh God,’ said Lazlo. Slowpoke looked very weak, and seemed to suddenly go very pale. They’d seen that look on their Pokémon many times on the journey here… Slowpoke was poisoned.

    ‘Confusion!’ called Lazlo again. This was enough for the Beedrill. It barely endured the hit, and then fled the battle.

    Lazlo raced up to Slowpoke, and picked him up, cradling the Pokémon in his arms.

    ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no!’ Lazlo wailed. ‘This can’t… we can’t… it can’t be…’

    Purring softly, the Slowpoke closed its eyes.

    Joey grimaced. ‘That’s it. We’ve got to call the Pokémon Centre.’

    ‘No!’ shouted Lazlo. ‘There has to be some other way. We haven’t failed! We haven’t…’

    Joey said nothing, glancing around nervously. He looked back at Lazlo, kneeling on the ground, holding back tears.

    ‘Blue, then.’ He said. ‘Give Blue a ring. He’s the gym leader, he can probably get here very quickly. He can bring a Revive and some extra Potions and Antidotes.’

    ‘No!’ said Lazlo. ‘I don’t want him to…’

    ‘To what? To see!’ said Joey angrily. ‘Look, I don’t know what the hell this is, but I’m not going to put whatever the fuck your problem is in front of Slowpoke’s welfare. Give me your phone, I’m making the call.’

    Lazlo had tears running down his cheeks now, and was gaping at Joey, open-mouthed, at what he had just said. From shock more than anything, he handed Joey his phone.

    Finding Blue in the contacts, Joey dialled.

    ‘Eww, gross. That’s Blue, right? It’s Joey here, not Lazlo. We’re in trouble. We’re five days into Viridian Forest, about a half day west of the path, and Lazlo’s Slowpoke’s fainted. He’s in a bit of a state about it to be honest—’ Lazlo looked up at Joey in horror ‘—and since we’re so close to the other side, we don’t want to go all the way back to the Pokémon Centre. Is there any chance you might be able to help us out?’

    A pause.

    ‘Alright, cool. Sorry to bother you, mate.’

    Another pause.

    ‘Cheers. Yeah, a Revive, plus some Potions and Antidotes for the rest of the way.’

    Joey put the phone down, and started tapping out a message.

    ‘He’s flying up here. I’ve sent him our GPS location. He should be a couple of hours.’

    Lazlo said nothing.

    ‘Slowpoke’ll be fine until then, right?’ asked Joey.

    Lazlo nodded.

    ‘Look, you come out here with me acting all high and mighty, Mister Blackthorn Tournament. Sorry, Doctor Blackthorn Tournament. Are you really this much of a sore loser? Have you really won that much?’

    ‘I… I…’ said Lazlo, not quite getting as far as words.

    Joey threw his bag on the ground, facing away from him. Shortly after, he turned around.

    ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t mean all that. You’re right, these woods give you a temper…’

    Lazlo forced a smile of forgiveness.

    ‘Look,’ said Joey, ‘Maybe we should just sit quietly for a while, yeah? ‘Til Blue gets here. I think we could both do with a bit of thinking.’

    ‘Sure,’ said Lazlo.

    ---

    By the time Blue arrived, on a Pidgeot, both of them had calmed down considerably, though with neither sure of what to say, they had exchanged very few words. Joey had borrowed Lazlo’s Guide, and was reading ahead. Lazlo was looking at his phone, though Slowpoke was still in his arms.

    When Blue landed, he gestured for Joey to come over to him.

    ‘What’s happened?’ he asked.

    ‘We ran out of Antidotes, so Lazlo thought the best thing would be to get out of the forest as fast as possible. But a Beedrill got us—’ Blue puffed out his cheeks and exhaled. ‘—we beat it, but Slowpoke got poisoned.’

    ‘Keeping to the path would have been better,’ said Blue. ‘There’s not many Weedles on the outskirts of the forest.’

    ‘Well, whatever,’ said Joey. ‘The point is, he got really upset and totally shut down. It’s been a rough climb, we’re both tired. But I don’t think he had losing in mind, if you know what I mean.’

    Blue nodded, and made to go over. Joey grabbed his arm.

    ‘Talk to him, yeah?’ said Joey. ‘He’s ashamed of himself. He needs to not be.’

    Blue nodded again and headed toward Lazlo. Joey, feeling it would be wise to hang back, stayed with the Pidgeot, stroking its plumes.

    ‘Okay, here we go,’ said Blue, retrieving a Revive from his bag. Forcing open Slowpoke’s mouth, he slipped the diamond-shaped pill onto its tongue. Slowpoke quickly returned to consciousness.

    Lazlo exhaled in relief, and held the Pokémon close to his chest. Blue reached over and ruffled the hair on its head.

    ‘There we are,’ Blue said. ‘Nothing to it.’

    He sat down on the log next to Lazlo.

    ‘How are you doing?’ he asked.

    ‘I’m okay,’ said Lazlo, drawing himself up into composure.

    Blue smiled. ‘There’s no shame in losing, you know. I’m sure you’ve lost before at Blackthorn?’

    Lazlo nodded.

    ‘But this is different. This is the real thing. What you’ve been hoping to do all your life. And with all your success so far, I’m sure there’s been some hubris in there: there’s certainly no shame in that. It happens to us all. God knows it happened to me.’

    Lazlo was looking at the ground.

    ‘Lazlo, the honest to God truth is, I’ve never seen a trainer starting out with as much potential as you have. And remember who I grew up with; I really mean that.’

    This was enough to make Lazlo look up and smile.

    ‘And I don’t mean to sound patronising,’ said Blue. ‘I’m sorry if I do. I’m trying to talk as if to an equal, even if I’ve been round the block a few more times.’

    ‘You don’t,’ said Lazlo. ‘I get what you’re saying.’

    ‘I think everyone needs a shock some point in their lives to snap them back to reality. You know, when I lost to Red that time… that was rough. I thought awful things about him. You see, we’d gone around with each other, battling each other constantly. And even though I had a type advantage over his Charmander, he found a way to win more than half the time. He was always better than me, to be honest, and when he did what he did at Indigo Plateau, letting me go first… There was a part of me that interpreted that very cynically, thinking he knew he would win out in the end. But in the end, I honestly think he was trying to be generous, even if he was a bit naïve in the way he handled it.

    ‘But losing there, then. That felt awful. The truth is, I’d been a dick to Red the whole time we were growing up together. I was a bully for sure, and I never let him feel superior. And when I lost, I always found some excuse, and most of the time I told him. “You got lucky.” “I was going easy on you.” That sort of thing. And I even believed it. But there was no denying what happened at the Pokémon League. He beat me fair and square on the biggest stage there was. I got very low.

    ‘So I suppose what I’m saying is, well done to you for your honesty. You looked defeat square in the face less than a month into your journey, and you accepted it for what it was. Accepting loss is painful for everyone the first time. So don’t be ashamed. This is your strength of character, not a weakness. This is you seeing the world as it really is. Not everyone has the strength to do that. Not everyone has the ability to do that.’

    Lazlo managed a chuckle. ‘So this is my Knight of the Mirrors? Some random wild Beedrill?’

    Blue laughed. ‘Yep. Better that than the Champion, trust me. You had further to fall I guess. But there isn’t a trainer you admire in the entire world who hasn’t felt like this. Least of all me.’

    Lazlo laughed through a genuine, broad, sad smile. ‘Thanks,’ was all he could think to say. He leaned in for a hug, without thinking, but Blue accepted it warmly.

    ‘And besides,’ finished Blue. ‘You’ve been training that Slowpoke less than a month. Of course you would lose to a high level Beedrill, are you kidding me? That wasn’t even a fair fight.’

    Lazlo laughed again, breaking the hug.

    ‘Are you two lovebirds done?’ said Joey, ‘Can I come over now?’

    ‘Yes,’ they both said, in the same exasperated tone.

    ‘Have you got the Potions and Antidotes?’ Joey asked.

    ‘Oh, yeah,’ said Blue, grabbing them out of his bag. ‘This should be plenty. Head northeast from here now, yeah? Get back to the path, and stay on it.’

    ‘Gotcha,’ said Joey.

    ‘Right, if that’s all, I should be getting back,’ said Blue. ‘I’ll be late for a battle. The TV people will be furious.’

    ‘Seeya around,’ said Joey.

    ‘Thanks again,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘No problem, bye!’ Blue said.

    He mounted the Pidgeot again, and headed south.

    ---

    Lazlo and Joey apologised to each other for the way they had spoken to each other, and chalked it up to close quarters on a long journey. It was a little while before conversation started flowing naturally again, and they were almost at the path before they were talking normally, but they did get there. By the time they reached the path it was nearly dark, and they settled down for the night at the first clearing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018
  13. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Wow, this chapter's definitely got a lot more content than your last one. And there's certainly some good interactions in it! The interactions between Blue & Lazlo make them seem like kindred spirits and I definitely enjoy Lazlo hanging out with someone who's more experienced and doesn't bring out Lazlo's usual arrogance, for lack of a better word. For this reason, I also thought that the scene in viridian forest worked well because he really messes up in a way he's clearly not used to and that results in a good character moment.

    With the exception of the viridian forest scene, I feel like the character-focused scenes with Joey have run their course at this point. Perhaps, it's the fact that they interact a great deal without any real plot happenings, but the scenes where it's just the two of them are loosing their charm because they rely on the same opposing personality traits each time. The gym scene sticks out to me the most in this way, as the most egregious because little happens that we haven't seen before. I think you definitely have more to say with the two, but be cautious about going overboard.

    Also, another thing to be mindful of: Lazlo's riding a narrow line between being an intentionally arrogant protagonist and being an unintentionally arrogant one. Lazlo definitely has a habit of lecturing (especially joey) and you generally are good about calling out his more egregious behavior, but it's something think about.

    Eagerly awaiting the next chapter!
     
  14. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Well, I'm now all caught up! And things have certainly started to move a little, haven't they? I like that Lazlo has that wait crap my partner's a living creature moment there with Joey. It speaks to a kind of thoughtless confidence ('presumably the grooms took care of that sort of thing') that feeds really nicely into the kind of awkward class dynamic playing out between the two of them. Because Lazlo is both incredibly condescending – that whole Gym battle, where he just commentates everything? I mean seriously, if I were Joey I'd probably have ditched him at that point, because that was supremely rude, and I think in moments like those I really found myself asking why Joey is still hanging out with this jerk – and just awkward enough about it that I don't mind too much. Lazlo's own lack of ease at his recent and rather rapid ascent through the class system is rather interesting, I think. And I like how even after he recognises that he's doing it, it keeps coming back in his narration, without him noticing.

    That said, I do think that at times he really does go a bit too far – like okay, he's meant to be hubristic, but at the same time, some of what he does is not only ruder than Joey would reasonably put up with but also kind of unconvincing writing. For instance, that part where you build on the way battling is treated in-game to come up with a culture in which ritual combat is so central that a defeated opponent submits entirely? Great lore, and fascinating information, but I seriously doubt Lazlo needs to explain it to Joey. Like, Joey lives in this world too! He may not be as well up on the historical details as Lazlo, but surely as someone resident in this world, he doesn't need to have the rules on which his society operates explained to him. There are a few moments like this, as in that big block of information when they first arrive in Viridian, where the story kind of puts itself on hold to deliver a large quantity of data to the reader, and while the data itself is fascinating, the delivery leaves something to be desired. Broadly, it's telling rather than showing; it would work better to show the rules of this world in action as Lazlo makes his way through Kanto and interacts with people, and to guide your readers towards inferring these things rather than just lecturing them about them.

    However, as I mentioned, a lot of this information is really interesting – for example, I like your Gaelic Johto, Anglo-Saxon Kanto take on the Tohjo area; I've never seen an interpretation quite like that before, but it's definitely interesting, and I think you make it work very well. It's also an example of a point that you deliver in a much more subtle and effective way than a big infodump: there's that moment when Joey and Lazlo first meet where Joey does a Blackthorn accent (possibly implying that the university is based on St. Andrews? Anyway, that's just a fun aside), and from there you kinda fill out the rest of the picture with similar clues. More of that kind of thing, rather than long paragraphs of exposition, would be great!

    I'm also pleased to see that your battles have got a bit easier to visualise; there are a few more cues now for the reader's information to pick up on, and that works very much to your advantage. It's quite nice to have the action going on in counterpoint to Lazlo's explanation, too, even if he is being monumentally rude.

    Anyway, to round things off, here's the usual list of nitpicks and things:

    I'm not sure the second half of that sentence is entirely grammatical. It makes it seem like the eyes are what's sitting, and then that last part doesn't quite attach correctly, although I can't at this moment think of how to explain why, sorry.

    That should be 'he had had' rather than 'he had'.

    That should be 'more' famous.

    That should be a comma, not a semicolon.

    That's Joey speaking, right? It doesn't sound like him at all – this is a decidedly Lazlo turn of phrase.

    'Spinarak' is spelled with an A.

    That should be a comma rather than a full stop, and 'he' shouldn't be capitalised.
     
  15. The Walrein

    The Walrein Well-Known Member

    Okay, so this is pretty cool! It's nice to see a journey-fic (or so it seems?) featuring an analytical, experienced adult protagonist with an academic background (and also with some more rival-ish tendencies,too). There's also a fair amount of interesting background detail and worldbuilding, even if it isn't always explored in as much depth as I'd wish. The battles have some room for improvement, which I'll get into in the chapter-by-chapter analysis, but the level of tactical reasoning and analysis applied to them is promising. Well, on to the random comments!

    Chapter 1

    Hmm, it strikes me that a battling using rental pokémon could have a somewhat different skillset than battling with pokemon you've raised yourself. Might be interesting to see if that comes up later. I'm not sure if the tournament would be realistically be as prestigious as it's presented given that it has such a high level of random chance involved. In addition to the possibility of getting an unusually good or bad matchup, and the natural swinginess of a one-on-one match, there must be a certain level of variance in the specific rental pokemon - if yours dislikes you personally, or is simply having an off day for some reason, you can be disadvantaged through no fault of your own, unlike when using pokemon trained by the contestants.

    The idea of pokemon being created from human thoughts is pretty intriguing. If true, does it imply that you can intentionally cause new species to come into existence by controlling human thought? It does seem like the theory has some significant hurdles to jump in the standard pokemon world - for instance, how do you explain fossil pokemon that lived before there were humans to think them into existence? I'm assuming that in this world pokemon clearly based off of human artifacts like trubbish or vanilluxe didn't exist before the invention of said artifacts, as otherwise they'd seem to be a solid argument against the theory.

    To be honest, I'd have preferred to see more detail about the Aristotelian theory instead of just getting a paragraph of Nanakamado praising Lazlo, especially if it winds up being important to the plot later (which I'm assuming it will). It's especially annoying since later in the chapter the subject of pokemon origination gets brought up again during the discussion with Oak, and it looks like more detail might be given then, only to once more have the narrative change focus before getting into any specifics.

    Stat-boosting moves like bulk-up are often overlooked in fanfic pokemon battles, despite the obvious utility of them, so it's cool to see them getting used here. I guess snatch must be pretty useful when it can be called as a reaction instead of having to predict the opponent's move, too.

    Should just be 'gilet', I think, unless it's different in British English.

    Chapter 2

    Hmm, are you sure the number isn't one in 1073741824, James? To be more serious though, I feel that the whole IV calculator scene is a fairly weak way of showing off Slowpoke's special nature. After reading it, I still really have no idea of how strong Slowpoke really is or what he can do. We're told that he's exceptional relative to other members of his species, but given that the baseline slowpoke is fairly weak, that leaves a lot of uncertainty. A turtle can be the fastest turtle in the world and still be really slow in absolute terms.


    Huh, so I guess trubbish and the like have only appeared recently. I guess porygon isn't an artificial pokemon in this world? Seems weird to imagine stumbling across one in the wild.

    I have to agree with Cutlerine about this battle, it's pretty dry as written. Also, I was hoping to see how Lazlo would deal with the slowpoke species' famed slow reaction times, which I'd think would be a major impediment in battle. It never seems to come up, though. I guess that might be because of Lazlo's slowpoke's high speed IV, but it seems like a missed opportunity for adding some challenge and complexity to Lazlo's battles.

    Chapter 3

    I thought this was a fairly clever way for Joey and Lazlo to bond here. It definitely makes sense that fantasy trainer matches would be a thing in this world.

    So I guess Youngster Joey is going to be the foil for Lazlo on this journey. I've seen versions of this character before, but this is the first I've seen with a rattata scientifically proven to be top percentage. It seems like he opened up about his family situation rather quickly considering they just met, but maybe Joey's just not the sort to keep secrets? Assuming he's telling the truth, of course.

    Chapter 4

    'Successfully' feels redundant both times it's used here. Just 'tried to land' and 'had hit it' would have better flow, I think.

    Normally I don't bat an eye at abilities and other inclusion of pure game mechanic elements, but No Guard is one of the more awkward abilities to translate from the video game into written battles, I think. How exactly does 'never miss an attack' work? Can Machamp detect the position of enemies even in pitch darkness? If they're using a ranged attack like fling, is it simply impossible for the target to avoid the projectile once thrown, no matter how fast they are relative to the speed of the missile? I guess the details don't really need to be explained for this fight, but it still bothers me a little.

    I think the title of Master has been mentioned before, but I'm not sure it's ever been defined. Is it just someone who collected 8 gym badges, or is it the term for a former champion?

    As for the battle, while it was a bit more engaging then the previous ones, it felt too much like a standard video-game battle to be interesting to me. Having explicit turn taking seems strange in a more realistic context, and doesn't tend towards exciting reading, while things like Scizor just sitting down in the middle of fighting to use roost feels silly to me. One of the things that's interesting about fanfiction fight scenes to me is the chance to get creative and use tactics that aren't possible in the video games - for instance, Machamp could have grabbed the substitute and thrown it into Scizor to damage both at once, or Scizor could have pretended to have been confused longer than they really were to fool Mary/Machamp.

    This is definitely an interesting worldbuilding element, but I have to agree with Cutlerine that Lazlo lecturing about it to Joey is a pretty clunky way of handling its exposition. Also, Lazlo doesn't bring up simply keeping Slowpoke and Rattata withdrawn in their pokeballs later in the chapter as a potential solution to avoiding fights with venomous pokemon, so I assume that the wild pokemon would simply attack Lazlo and Joey directly if they didn't have any pokemon out. Given that Joey gets queasy just watching a movie about pokemon on human violence, actually facing the threat of such in person should probably have a strong effect on him, but it's never really brought up.

    I love how a lone beedrill is treated as a dangerous opponent, but a scyther is trivial enough that it can be taken out by a rattata without need of further explanation. Not being sarcastic here, it's just a refreshing change of pace.

    The fight against the beedrill is the best in the fic so far, mostly because there's actual stakes involved this time. However, it still suffers from being mostly just an exchange of attacks one after the other. I think one thing that might have helped here would be getting the terrain involved in the battle - e.g. Slowpoke could try to take cover from the beedrill's attacks under a bush or bramble, or the party could've hidden behind trees in the hopes that beedrill would ram into one while confused. Also, I never had a sense of where the combatants were relative to one another - it seemed like anyone could attack anyone else at any time.

    I feel like Lazlo is getting let off rather lightly here. Both Joey and Blue say that he shouldn't feel ashamed of himself, but not wanting to call help for your poisoned and seriously injured pokemon just to avoid looking bad is really kind of terrible and probably worthy of at least some shame. Also, I'm not sure if this was supposed to be Lazlo's 'fall from pride' moment or if that's going to happen later. I don't think this scene works very well as one. The whole incident seemed more due to inexperience with preparing for a journey and a misinformed decision to try going off the path than any hubris on Lazlo's part, and there really weren't any consequences suffered in the end. It even concludes with Blue lathering praise onto Lazlo!


    Well, that's it for the chapter by chapter comments, back to general stuff! On the whole the prose was well written, albeit somewhat lacking in descriptive detail during battles. Joey is probably my favorite character so far, with his distinctive voice and underdog relatability. I also liked the scene where he took action to call Blue while Lazlo was freaking out. Lazlo on the other hand, receives a lot of praise in-narrative, but I'm not yet convinced that he deserves most of it. I think the best thing that could be done to sell his battling ability would be to show how he performs in a match against an intelligent and skilled opponent. There might be a gym battle coming up, so hopefully there'll be a chance to see that happen.
     
  16. Dizzy Beacon

    Dizzy Beacon [redacted]

    Hey guys! Thanks for the extensive feedback, I'm really overwhelmed by how positive you guys have been. I'm sorry it's been a slightly longer break this time. Work has been crazy... I suppose I can justify a three week gap since I dropped the last chapter a week early, heh. But chapter 5 is here now, and it's a good long one.

    There's a few things about the world I'm working in here that I wanted to address based on the feedback above which don't feel like natural things to clarify in the story: the sorts of things which if you're familiar with the various Pokémon canons are a bit unusual in this iteration, but don't make this world any more dissimilar to reality than the others, if you see what I mean?

    The main thing is the way I'm doing battling here. I wanted to construct it in such a way that it would be best able to showcase the talents of an intelligent, strategic player, in a way which an audience familiar with competitive battling would appreciate, but at the same time would feel reasonably real. As you've probably noticed, there's quite a bit of ritual and tradition associated with battling in this universe, so that's my justification for keeping the turn-based structure. What I am doing differently to the games is Pokémon aren't limited to four moves, and remember everything they learn, so depth of knowledge and creativity becomes extremely important to battling. Also, just to stop things from getting boring, status moves only work once per battle. Calm Mind wars do not make for interesting reading.

    Apart from that, I'm trying to follow the game's content in terms of moves, abilities and so on as closely as possible, even if that means writing challenges. I don't want Lazlo to win by setting off the sprinklers with Slowking's Flamethrower - I want the strategy in this story to be of the sort a competitive player can appreciate, potentially anticipate, and assess critically.

    This hasn't really come up yet, but nearly all Pokémon battles in this universe are pure 1v1, and its extremely unusual for anyone to train more than one Pokémon in this world: only professional trainers like gym leaders and the elite four would bother, for professional reasons. Occasionally someone might have two if their main Pokémon couldn't either Fly or Teleport, but that's really the only reason anyone would want to. (Unless they're playing what is called in this universe 'Orre rules': i.e. double battling; that will come up later.) Because of this 1v1 thing, while type advantages certainly exist, they're of a much lesser magnitude than in the games. Pokémon also can take many more hits, just to make the battles longer and more interesting. In game terms, I guess I would think of type advantages as being on the order of 1.2x, and Pokémon maybe have seven- or eight-times as much HP than they would in-game, but I'm not obeying that rigourously, and I'm certainly not doing the maths - a good battle scene takes priority over that!

    On spelling mistakes, Cutlerine, I can't believe I got Spinarak wrong! You know, every single time I've written Rattata, which is a lot, I've put the double 't' in the wrong place, and I've just now realised about half of those have slipped through my proofreading net as well. Same with 'gillet': that's not a British thing, that's a Dizzy being dumb thing lol.

    Anyway, on with the story...

    Chapter 5 – Bind, Bide and Bite

    The remaining journey in Viridian Forest was relatively uneventful: as it turned out, they hardly needed the new supplies Blue had brought for them. The trees started thinning out, and the wild Pokémon became fewer and weaker. Lazlo and Joey talked fairly well most of the way, though Lazlo felt a pall of shame hanging over him throughout. It felt like Joey had seen him naked and laughed at the sight. The sinking feeling of shame and anxiety in his stomach didn’t leave at any point. He wanted to run away and crawl into a hole.

    Joey, on the other hand, appeared at least to have taken the incident in his stride, and had hardly changed the way he spoke to Lazlo at all. They kept strolling along, small-talking about people they knew, the sights they were seeing, their lives to date, their hopes and dreams for the future.

    They did stumble a bit at one point, about a half-day out of Pewter:

    ‘It’ll be late by the time we get there now,’ said Joey, by now very familiar with the country. ‘It’d be a long walk to the centre as well. To be honest, I think we should just take an omnibus to the Pokémon Centre. I know you want to do it all traditional, but it’s that or camping in the street like a tramp.’

    Lazlo replied, ‘Oh, I thought maybe we could stay with your family?’

    Joey made a sound that was almost like a growl. ‘I don’t want to see my Dad. And he doesn’t want to see me.’

    ‘I… oh. I didn’t realise things were that bad between you.’

    ‘I said I ran away, mate! You even noticed.’

    ‘Yeah, but I meant metaphorically…’ said Lazlo, trying to keep things a bit lighter. ‘Like you were escaping a difficult situation, but not that you’d literally run out of the house.’

    ‘Well I did,’ said Joey.

    ‘God,’ said Lazlo, not sure how to react to this. ‘Did you really go without telling anyone? I mean, the police could be looking for you…’

    Joey laughed. ‘No chance mate, he was glad to see the back of me, trust me.’

    ‘All the same, he is your Dad…’

    ‘He’s not.’

    ‘You called him that.’

    ‘What the fuck else am I going to call him?’ Joey was angry now. ‘I didn’t want him and he didn’t want me. But Mum died so we got stuck together. That’s it. He doesn’t care about me at all.’

    ‘I can’t believe that…’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Believe it. Trust me. It’s all very well for you, with your scientist Gran, and knowing professors, and Blackthorn, and fucking dates with champions. I’ve got no-one! I’ve got a few good mates, and that’s it.’

    ‘You’ve got me,’ said Lazlo, carefully.

    Joey made a dismissive gesture.

    ‘Do you think I’ve had it easy?’ said Lazlo. ‘Mum and Dad dying when I was a kid. Yeah, Grandma’s great, but she’s old, and she’s got a hard job. It wasn’t easy, just the two of us. When you lose your parents, you don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself. So I throw myself into this super-Lazlo guy. I’ve got to get into Blackthorn. I’ve got to ace my degree. I’ve got to win the tournament and then do it again, and then get my PhD. I can’t ever fall down, because there’s no-one to pick me up if I do… But you know how much I’m hurting inside. You’ve seen it now.’

    Joey was quiet for a while. ‘You know what mate, you’re right. I’m sorry…’

    ‘That’s not the point,’ said Lazlo. ‘The point is, do you know how much I would give for a Dad who was alive, even if he was a dickhead?’

    Joey sighed. ‘I…’ He changed tack. ‘It’s not that easy.’

    Lazlo almost smiled. ‘I know. But there is a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.’

    Joey snorted. ‘Did you just Dumbledore me?’

    Lazlo laughed. ‘I did. I did Dumbledore you. I thought I could get it past you, but I couldn’t.’

    ‘I’m still not gonna stay with him.’

    Lazlo nodded. ‘Sure. But maybe you could pop round for a bit? Let him know you’re okay. I’ll come with you.’

    ‘We’ll see,’ said Joey.

    ---

    When Pewter appears, it’s big enough that all you can see to the horizon is rows and rows of redbrick terraced houses. The centre of the Industrial Revolution in Kanto, and arguably the world, Pewter had exploded in size the century before last. Tiny workers’ houses still made up the majority of the stock of the town. Surrounded on all sides by mountains with rich deposits of coal and iron, in most parts of the city old factories and warehouses still gave the skyline its character. Thirty years prior, a much-despised Optimate Prime Minister—the first woman to hold the post—had cut away decades of life support which had kept the town’s ageing and archaic industries afloat well beyond their time. (Or at least that was how Lazlo saw it.) And now, buildings like that had been converted into offices, shops, and trendy flats. By-and-large people’s lives had improved since then, but there were still areas of the city which suffered from significant poverty, and Lazlo gathered that it was in one such area that Joey had grown up.

    By the time they were well and truly in urban surroundings it was already evening. Lazlo, having never lived in a city of any significant size didn’t fully appreciate how much the trams, omnibuses and mass of people could slow your pace when trying to cover a long distance in a city, and once Joey had made him grasp this fact, he consented to their buying omnibus tickets and getting to the Pokémon Centre quickly.

    After healing their Pokémon and arranging the room. The nurse volunteered. ‘So you two are new Pokémon trainers? Will you be wanting to sign up for the gym?’

    ‘Oh yeah, how do we do that?’ asked Lazlo.

    ‘You do it here,’ said the nurse, turning to a computer on her desk. ‘As soon as possible for both of you?’

    ‘Yeah, why not?’ said Joey, rubbing his hands together.

    ‘Okay, can I have your trainer cards, please?’ They duly handed them over.

    He scanned Joey’s into the computer first. ‘Okay, it looks like we’ve had someone drop out tomorrow afternoon, so you can have that slot if you want? Unless you’d rather have more time to prepare…’

    ‘Have you got two together at any point?’ asked Lazlo.

    ‘Not until Friday,’ said the nurse.

    Lazlo and Joey looked at each other.

    ‘Um, what day is it now?’ asked Lazlo, sheepishly.

    The nurse smiled. ‘It’s Monday. Don’t worry, you’re not the first ones I’ve seen who’ve lost track of time in the forest!’

    ‘Huh, okay,’ said Lazlo. ‘Do you want tomorrow Joey, or should I have it?’

    ‘No, I’m good,’ said Joey. ‘Sign me up!’

    ‘Okay. So head to the gym at 1pm, they’ll scan your card and show you where to go. The battle’s at two. And you, sir?’

    Lazlo nodded.

    ‘Alright, we’ve… huh, that’s unusual.’ Dropping his professional pretence, the nurse said, ‘Oh my God, are you famous?’

    ‘What?’ said Lazlo, honestly confused by this.

    ‘You must be, we never get prime time notices here!’ said the nurse.

    ‘What?’ said both Joey and Lazlo.

    The nurse at this point seemed to grasp that they had no idea what was going on. ‘Oh, right. So we have this system that the league puts out, and it flags notable trainers so they can get a prime time slot at the gym. It’s better for the TV people ‘cos more people will be watching, you see. Normally it’s trainers who have done particularly well on the journey, had some impressive gym battles already or are moving very quickly. So it hardly ever happens in Pewter. Only times I’ve seen it is when there’s been a celebrity. So you must be famous, right?’ He studied Lazlo’s face intently, trying to recognise him.

    ‘I’m not famous,’ said Lazlo. ‘But I guess I know what this is. I… uh, I set a new record at the Blackthorn tournament earlier this year. So I suppose the system has me flagged for that.’

    The nurse looked disappointed. ‘Oh, yes. That’ll be it, I’m sure. Anyway, you don’t get a choice on the timeslot, and you actually bump whoever else is scheduled. So it’s 7pm Saturday for you. Be at the gym at 4pm: they’ll want to do hair and makeup, and a couple of other things.’

    ‘Hair and makeup?’ laughed Joey.

    ‘Saturday?’ Exclaimed Lazlo. ‘That’s ages!’

    ‘I’m afraid it’s not up to me, sir,’ said the nurse, affecting his professional posture as soon as he had a whiff of a customer complaint. ‘And I think you’d better expect this all the way around your journey. Maybe try to arrive for the weekend next time?’

    Lazlo sighed. ‘Yes, alright. Well, thanks very much.’

    ---

    Having had a long journey the previous day, both Lazlo and Joey slept deeply that night, and woke late. Lazlo was looking at his phone while Joey was in the shower.

    When he emerged, Lazlo said, ‘I’ve been looking at things to do, since we’re going to be here all week. The museum’s supposed to be good—it’s more natural history than archaeology, but I don’t mind that for a change. And there’s a pretty trainer bar, might be worth a trip or two. What do you think?’

    ‘Yeah, I mean, I live here, so I’ve done all that.’

    ‘Oh, yeah, of course,’ said Lazlo. ‘Well, what do you fancy doing?’

    ‘I’ve texted a few mates, they’ve said we could go out tomorrow. Come along if you want.’

    ‘Oh, okay sure.’

    ‘And I will go and see my Dad,’ said Joey. ‘Maybe tomorrow during the day. Would be nice if I had a badge to show off.’

    Lazlo grinned. ‘I’m sure.’ He paused. ‘You sure you’re ready for this? Brock’s not going to be easy with a Rattata.’

    ‘I’ll be fine,’ said Joey, pulling on his t-shirt. ‘I’ll just Bite him to death. Get a Tail Whip in, it’ll be fine.’

    Lazlo grin slipped into a grimace briefly, but he recovered himself. ‘Sure,’ he said, politely.

    ---

    The Pewter gym had recently moved to a new location; as might be expected, they had chosen an old steelworks near the centre of town. Lazlo didn’t have much of an eye for industrial architecture, but even he admitted on entering the building that the effect of the scale of the place was absolutely mind-bogglingly brilliant. Most of the original machinery had been left in place: gigantic smelting-bowls, with pipes and cranes and steel-latticed cages everywhere, gently lit from within by orange lights to create an authentic feel. The roof was so high above it descended into darkness, though the ground level and viewing platforms had spotlights on them so you could see where you were going.

    The experience of challenging a gym was new to Lazlo as well, and he was pleased to discover that as a friend of Joey’s he could stay with him until the last minute, when he would be ushered into preferential (though not free) seating. You were accompanied by a steward until the start of your battle, who made sure you had everything you needed. He gave Joey a look at the stadium (the floor was hard concrete, and the arena was brightly floodlit such that you couldn’t see the spectators in the steel-caged galleries on either side). And, in what the steward seemed to think was a gesture of unusual kindness, they were told that Brock would pop in to meet the challenger prior to the battle, and put them at their ease. In the meantime, they were told to wait somewhere that looked like a changing room at a swimming pool.

    When Brock arrived, he immediately noticed Joey, and made straight for him. ‘Hello! You’re Joey?’ he said, extending a hand. ‘I’m Brock, nice to meet you!’

    ‘Hey,’ said Joey. Despite Brock’s friendly demeanour, Joey actually looked quite nervous. Lazlo supposed that he must have been aware of Brock all his life as the traditional leader of the city, which put him on quite a pedestal in a place of over 3 million people. (Growing up, it was not unusual to bump into Blaine in the pub: Cinnabar only had about 10,000 residents and was by far the smallest place with a gym in Kanto.)

    ‘You’re a local lad, is that right?’ asked Brock.

    ‘That’s right,’ said Joey. ‘Ashby. Goodman Street.’

    ‘Good man,’ said Brock. ‘How’ve you been practicing? I hear there’s a lively street battle scene in Ashby nowadays.’

    Lazlo winced slightly at the description—this was a progressive euphemism for gang culture, and he didn’t care for flummery of that sort—but Brock seemed to be honest in his generosity.

    ‘Aye, that’s right,’ said Joey. ‘But I’m doing it traditional. Went down to Professor Oak and everything.’

    ‘How is the professor these days?’

    ‘He was alright,’ said Joey. ‘A bit distracted about some major discovery when I saw him.’

    Lazlo chuckled at that.

    ‘That sounds just like him,’ said Brock. ‘How are you feeling about the battle?’

    ‘Okay, I think,’ said Joey. ‘Bit nervous it’s my first time, but I feel ready.’

    ‘Good to hear,’ said Brock. ‘Show me your best! I don’t go easy. But don’t be too nervous, there’s not much of a crowd on a Tuesday afternoon.’

    Joey nodded.

    ‘Who’s your friend?’ Brock asked, conversationally.

    ‘Lazlo,’ said Lazlo, extending his hand to shake it.

    ‘Have we met before?’ asked Brock.

    ‘No,’ said Lazlo, ‘But I’m your Saturday evening.’

    ‘Right! The Blackthorn tournament, right?’

    ‘That’s it,’ said Lazlo.

    Brock seemed to want to talk further, but he was being careful to keep Joey the centre of attention. ‘Well with friends like this guy, I’m sure you’ll give me a run for my money,’ Brock said to Joey.

    Joey laughed nervously.

    ‘Right, well I best go get ready!’ said Brock. ‘I’ll see you on the field.’

    With that, he left.

    ‘He seems nice,’ said Lazlo.

    Joey said nothing.

    ‘You’ll be fine, mate,’ said Lazlo. ‘Watch out for Bide. Only use status moves for two turns after he uses that, or it’ll be game over. Save your status options for then, in fact. Tail Whip then Focus Energy. And you’re right to say that Bite is your best offensive…’

    ‘It’s okay,’ said Joey, ‘I know what I’m doing. I just need to get in the zone now.’

    ‘I’ll be right here cheering for you,’ said Lazlo.

    The steward cleared his throat. ‘Actually, if you don’t mind, it’s time for you to take your seat. If you’d come with me…’

    ‘Oh okay,’ said Lazlo. ‘Good luck!’

    The steward escorted him up a square-spiral steel staircase to the gallery above the arena, to a spot in the centre fenced off for VIP spectators. Lazlo was alone in the booth, but there were perhaps fifty people scattered around the metal stands. His view was the best available, but he almost wished he was among the crowd, modest though it was. Directly opposite him was the media box, which seemed to be staffed only by a single operator.

    When Brock and Joey walked out, they drew a polite round of applause.

    ‘Go Onix!’ shouted Brock, throwing his Pokéball with a flourish.

    ‘Rattata!’ mumbled Joey. It didn’t look as nervous as he did, despite the size of its opponent. Its teeth were bared, and its posture suggested it was ready to pounce.

    They each declared their first attacks: Joey called Tail Whip, and Brock called Bind. Rattata was fast, and leapt up to slam its tail square on the Onix’s nose. It recoiled slightly, but the Rattata’s proximity only made its attack easier. It grabbed Rattata in its mouth, and tossed it into a coil of its tail. The Onix squeezed; Rattata struggled to break loose, but couldn’t manage it.

    They declared for the next round. ‘Bite!’ called Joey, his voice wobbling.

    ‘Bide,’ declared Brock, calmly.

    Despite its position, Rattata was able to act faster than the Onix. A glint shining in the Rattata’s eye for a moment made its purple fur look deepest black by comparison, and it grabbed what it could reach of the Onix’s body, clamping down hard with its teeth.

    After that, the Onix did nothing but close its eyes, waiting patiently.

    Lazlo sighed. Joey had very little hope now, and he was nervous for his friend.

    Glancing up at Lazlo, Joey called Focus Energy. The Rattata tensed, fixing its gaze on the Onix’s closed eyes, preparing for a damaging strike.

    The Onix did nothing, and Brock didn’t call another attack. It was poised to absorb the damage from any attack by the Rattata. Lazlo palmed his face in frustration, realising Joey had misunderstood his advice. In chess, Joey’s position now would be called zugzwang. Having no further non-damaging moves available, Joey’s only option was to call an offensive move, only for it to be flung back at it with double strength. His best hope was to call Tackle—his weakest offensive option—and minimise the damage from the resulting blow.

    Sure enough, that was Joey’s next call. Breaking free of the Onix’s bind, Rattata ran up the length of its tail, leapt up, and slammed directly into the Onix’s eye. Lazlo recognised the precision, critical strike as a result of Focus Energy: even as a not-very-effective attack, this would have done significant damage.

    Jerking awake, the Onix released the energy from its Bide, flinging its tail hard at the Rattata, and slamming it into the gym wall. ‘No!’ shouted Joey. Losing his sense of etiquette completely, Joey left the trainer box and ran over to where his Pokémon had landed. Lazlo stood to get a better look, but there were no spotlights on where the Rattata had landed; he couldn’t make it out.

    Brock folded his arms. With Joey having directly intervened in the battle, he was entitled to claim victory at this point by the ancient rules, but his compassion seemed to be getting the better of him, and he allowed Joey his space.

    Out of the darkness at the side of the stadium, Joey called ‘Bite!’ Suddenly Rattata was darting out of the shadows, racing towards the Onix for another…

    ‘Wait!’ called Brock, also leaving the box, and leaping over Onix’s tale to stand in front of Rattata. He stretched out his arms, making sure the little Pokémon couldn’t miss him. Seeing a human in the way of her target, Rattata stopped, twitching its nose.

    With a confused and hurt look on his face, Joey came out of the shadows at the side of the arena.

    ‘I claim victory by intervention,’ said Brock, observing the proper form.

    Caught by surprise, it took Joey a moment before he realised what was happening. Everyone knew the traditional forms, but they were only observed strictly now in formal battles. He bowed to Brock, and took two backward steps, before rising again.

    ‘I’m sorry, Joey,’ said Brock. ‘I thought your Rattata was knocked out, so I wanted to give you some space to care for it. But you lost the battle when you left the box; you know that.’

    Joey lowered his head, and said nothing.

    ‘Your friend’s waiting for you,’ said Brock. ‘I’m sure he’ll look after you. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t say I think you need some more training before you try challenging my gym again.’

    ---

    As soon as they found each other again, Lazlo’s first instinct was to give Joey a big, friendly hug, which he accepted warmly. It didn’t take long before they had found their way to a trainer bar. A city the size of Pewter, which was also home to the first Pokémon gym naturally had several, but there was one near the gym they could hop into quite quickly. It was in an old warehouse, and didn’t have a garden: the tables surrounded an arena. The place was quite quiet on a Tuesday afternoon, and nobody was using the battle facilities when they arrived.

    Lazlo grabbed them and their Pokémon a couple of drinks, and sat down.

    ‘There’s no shame in it,’ said Lazlo. ‘Really.’

    ‘Easy for you to say,’ spat Joey. ‘Not as easy for you to do.’

    ‘That’s dif…’ began Lazlo, but caught himself. ‘No, you’re right, I’m sorry.’

    Joey looked away, and took a long swig of his lager.

    ‘You can train some more,’ said Lazlo. ‘We can stick around here for a bit, get your Rattata stronger. You can teach it Taunt, maybe a couple of other status moves; that ought to be enough to beat that strategy.’

    ‘You told me what to do and I didn’t listen to you,’ said Joey.

    ‘I’m not sure you could have won anyway, to be honest.’

    ‘Is that supposed to be comforting?’ said Joey.

    Lazlo paused. ‘No, it was supposed to be honest. I’m sorry if I threw you off your game.’

    ‘No, you’re right, I was never going to beat him.’ Joey sighed. There was rage in his eyes; a feeling Lazlo knew only too well. He expected Joey was thinking of his father.

    ‘All it takes is a bit more training,’ said Lazlo. ‘We could head back out into the forest for a bit, or into the mountains. Get you stronger.’

    ‘I’m not going to hold you back,’ said Joey. ‘And anyway, I can’t stay here. That was the whole point.’

    ‘So we’ll keep going round! Trainers skip difficult gyms all the time. I know you wanted to do the traditional journey, but—’

    ‘And where’s next, Mount Moon? All the rock Pokémon in there. Do you think that will be any easier for me? Rattata’s just not cut out for the journey.’

    ‘She’s a survivor,’ said Lazlo. ‘Just like you.’

    Joey looked up at Lazlo. His lips were pursed slightly, and his eyes were hopeful, but it looked like he was about to cry.

    ‘We’ll go see your mates tonight,’ said Lazlo, ‘and then your father tomorrow. And then train you up for another try. Maybe we could get in on those street battles Brock was telling us about?’

    Joey laughed. ‘Trust me mate, you don’t want to get anywhere near that. That shit’s rough.’

    ‘Fine then, we can…’

    ‘I think I need to go on my own,’ interrupted Joey.

    Lazlo stopped. His stomach was sinking; every wrong step he knew he’d made with Joey came flooding back into his brain, especially the incident with Beedrill. This was absolutely his fault. He was the one who had pushed away this friend he had made.

    ‘Oh.’ He said. ‘Okay, I understand.’

    There was a flicker of anger in Joey’s eyes, which Lazlo misinterpreted in the context of his shame.

    ‘That’s it?’ said Joey.

    Lazlo couldn’t meet his eyes. ‘I mean, if that’s what you want, what you think is best…’

    ‘You’re not going to fight with me? Tell me it’s the wrong thing to do?’

    ‘No,’ said Lazlo, still looking away. ‘I think I’ve fucked this up badly enough.’

    ‘That’s… what? Seriously?’ asked Joey.

    ‘It’s up to you, mate. I’d like to keep hanging out, but whatever.’

    Joey stood up. ‘Fine, then! I’ll leave you to it!’

    ‘If that’s what you think is best,’ said Lazlo, as neutrally as he could manage.

    Joey waited for a second for Lazlo to say something more, but then ran out of the bar.

    Lazlo sighed, trying to keep his composure, and keep the tears from welling up. Taking a long sip of his drink, he picked Slowpoke up and put him on the table. He’d noticed Slowpoke liked it when he scratched the back of his neck: it leaned into it, and closed its eyes. Lazlo did this now.

    He decided he would stay in the bar for a few pints; he had nothing better to do. He tried to move on to thinking about different things, but he couldn’t get Joey out of his mind. It’s not like this is a surprise, he thought. This is what you always thought would happen if people got to see the real you…

    Slowpoke licked his hand.

    ‘Lazlo, isn’t it?’ said someone. ‘Where’s your friend?’

    It was Brock.

    ‘Oh, hey,’ said Lazlo. ‘He, uh, we had a fight.’

    ‘Oh,’ said Brock. ‘Well, I was planning to ask to join you, but if you’d rather be alone?’

    ‘No, it’s okay,’ said Joey. ‘Pull up a chair.’

    Brock did.

    ‘I’m surprised you’re out of the gym,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘I try to give myself Tuesday afternoons off,’ said Brock. ‘For some reason they’re always the quietest for battles. I know the manager here, so I usually stop for lunch and a beer before my wife gets back from work.’

    ‘Ah, sure,’ said Lazlo. ‘Drinks with the gym leader seems to becoming a bit of a tradition for me now, anyway.’

    ‘Is this not your first?’ asked Brock.

    ‘This’d be my first badge, yeah,’ said Joey. ‘But we came through Viridian. Me and Blue know each other a bit. Our grandparents are friends.’

    ‘I see,’ said Brock, curiously. ‘He’s a difficult guy to warm up, isn’t he?’

    ‘I guess,’ said Lazlo. ‘We got on quite well in the end.’

    ‘Really?’ said Brock. ‘That’s interesting. No-one in the League has ever quite managed to get through to him. Oh, thanks,’ he added, as a waitress arrived with his sandwich.

    ‘It just seemed like we saw the world in quite a similar way I guess,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Are you going to see more of each other?’ asked Brock. ‘Forgive me for prying, but I know him a bit, as a fellow gym leader. He’s an unhappy guy, I’d be glad to hear there was something for him to be happy about.’

    ‘I hope so,’ said Lazlo. ‘If I haven’t fucked up with him as well.’

    ‘This is Joey?’ asked Brock; Lazlo nodded. ‘What happened?’

    ‘He just announced he wanted to go his own way, didn’t want to travel with me anymore.’

    ‘Oh. That’s a surprise. It seemed to me like he really looked up to you.’

    ‘Tch,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘I’m serious,’ said Brock. ‘How long have you guys known each other?’

    ‘Just a few weeks,’ said Lazlo. ‘We met on Route 1, got to talking. We were going the same way, of course, so we stuck together.’

    ‘Huh,’ said Brock. ‘I wouldn’t have thought that.’

    ‘We have a lot in common,’ said Lazlo. ‘He ran away from home to go on his Pokémon journey, you know? And I… actually, I have no idea why I relate to that, but I do.’

    ‘By the way you talk, I guess you came from different worlds,’ said Brock.

    Lazlo grinned to cover the fact that this hit him right in the chip on his shoulder. ‘This damn Blackthorn accent again,’ is what he ended up saying. ‘I’m from Cinnabar, I’m not some posh kid, I just lived away from home for the last eight years.’

    ‘All the same,’ said Brock.

    ‘I suppose,’ said Lazlo. ‘I’d like to think that place didn’t change me much, but I guess it did.’

    ‘Plus Cinnabar and Pewter are two very different places to grow up anyway.’

    ‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s just…’ Lazlo trailed off, aware he was speaking to a complete stranger.

    ‘Never mind, there’s no point dwelling,’ said Brock, ‘But whatever you fought about, I’m sure you can fix it.’ He gestured to Slowpoke. ‘So is this little guy who I’ll be fighting on Saturday night?’

    ‘Yep,’ said Lazlo, scratching Slowpoke’s neck again. ‘Actually, I’m glad I had a chance to chat to you. Aren’t you a bit of a geologist?’

    ‘Because I train rock-types?’ grinned Brock.

    ‘Well, not exactly, but I’d heard…’

    ‘No, no, you’re right. Very amateur though.’

    ‘Well, all the same you might know. At some point I want to get hold of a King’s Rock for this guy. Any ideas where I might be able to get one?’

    ‘Oh,’ said Brock. ‘Well, that I can help you with. You should be able to find one in Mount Moon, that place is littered with evolution stones. Your Slowpoke will have to be a lot stronger before you can use it, though.’

    ‘Really? Just on the ground?’

    ‘Well, no,’ said Brock. ‘You might have to go digging around a bit, and get quite far away from the main path. I wouldn’t worry about the Pokémon—there’s not much in there to trouble a Slowpoke. But it will be a bit difficult to find.’

    ‘No problem,’ grinned Lazlo, reaching into his bag. ‘I came prepared.’

    Finding what he was looking for at the bottom of his bag, he pulled out a trowel.

    ‘I’m an archaeologist,’ he explained. ‘I wouldn’t be seen dead without one of these. Where should I be digging?’

    ‘Near water, if I remember right,’ said Brock. ‘There’s lots of underground streams in the Mount Moon caves. Most of the evolution stones tend to show up near those.’

    ‘Gotcha,’ said Lazlo, putting his trowel away.

    ---

    They didn’t talk for much longer; Brock finished his pint, and then said he had to get on. But before he left, he strongly urged Lazlo to give Joey a call and try to make up, which he did. He suggested they go for a quick pint before Joey went out with his friends, and maybe Lazlo would come along to that.

    The pub Joey chose was quite far out of the centre of town, in his home neighbourhood of Ashby. Lazlo, independent-minded as he was, decided to walk. At least at first, but as Joey had told him, walking long distances in a city takes far longer than it does in the countryside, and Lazlo gave up after walking for an hour, and flagged down an omnibus. Given the state of the neighbourhood the bus took him through, he was glad. Lazlo hadn’t spent much time, or really any time, around urban poverty, and while you got a bit of an idea what it looked like from films and TV, you always imagined it was exaggerated for the cameras. He didn’t see anything bad, but he certainly noted that the streets were very untidy, the shops looked very run down, and the young people he saw—while he knew you should never judge a book by its cover—at least dressed in quite a thuggish way.

    The pub Joey had picked had a flat roof, and stood slightly back from the road. Slightly wary he would be immediately recognised as an outsider, Lazlo was very relived when he saw Joey already propping up the bar when he arrived.

    ‘Hey,’ said Lazlo. ‘Sorry about earlier, mate.’

    ‘Me too,’ said Joey. ‘I was in a bad mood ‘cos I lost at the gym. Still am, to be honest.’

    ‘Well, we’ll have to do our best to cheer you up tonight,’ said Lazlo. ‘When do you have to go?’

    ‘Go? Oh, wait, no, my mates are coming here, I just came round a bit early to meet you. This is where we go out, the college we went to’s just over the road.’

    ‘Is that right?’ said Lazlo, craning his head to look out the window. Sure enough, the building opposite did look like a school.

    ‘Yeah,’ said Joey.

    Lazlo took advantage of the pause. ‘Look, I know I’ve made a massive arse of myself, but I really would like to keep travelling with you.’

    Joey smiled briefly, but then said, ‘Yeah, about that mate. I shouldn’t of said it like that, but I’ve been thinking about it since the forest. Not ‘cos of anything… I mean, I’ve lived a pretty fucked up life. I’ve seen people do lots of shit. It’s just ‘cos… I mean, its what I said. I’m not going to beat Brock yet. I hoped I would, but that Onix is too hard for a young Rattata, and I was worried about Mount Moon the whole time, with all the rock types. So I was looking at your guidebook thing, and I was thinking, if I head through Diglett’s Cave down to Vermillion, that shouldn’t be too hard a journey. And there’s supposed to be great training east of Vermillion. Lots of trainers, lots of wild Pokémon. People from Saffron come down for the beach and the battling. I’ll get her up to a Raticate, then try Surge, Misty, and circle back to Brock. After that I’ll go over the hills to Cerulean. It just seems like it’s the best way for me to try. But no hard feelings, yeah?’

    Lazlo was surprised, but said, ‘Yeah, no hard feelings. If that’s really what you want to do.’

    ‘So I think I’ll just head off tomorrow. Not waste any time. I know you wanted me to see my Dad, but there’s really no point. Honestly. But I have texted him to let him know I’m alright, if that makes you feel better.’

    ‘It does,’ said Lazlo. ‘You know, I’m actually really impressed by this. You’re taking ownership of your journey; that’s great to see.’

    ‘Yeah,’ said Joey, ‘I wasn’t sure I had it in me.’

    ‘Obviously you do,’ said Lazlo. ‘You’re strong. I think that’s why I like having you around, ‘cos I’m really not. Sure I’ve got brains, and they get me through most stuff, but if that lets me down I’ve got nothing. You’re solid as a rock, that’s how I see it.’

    ‘I reckon you’re stronger than you think,’ said Joey. ‘So maybe this’ll be good for you too. A bit of time on your own.’

    ‘Yeah, maybe you’re right,’ said Lazlo. ‘But let’s keep in touch, yeah? Maybe we’ll meet on the road again.’

    Shortly after this, Joey’s mates started arriving. While he was at the dig in the Cave of Origin, Lazlo had briefly dated a Sinnohese student at the university there. He had spoken very good Kantone, but apart from Lazlo he mostly stuck with a group of Sinnohese student friends. Once he had asked Lazlo to come out for drinks with them, assuring him they would speak Kantone for his benefit. Since Lazlo’s Sinnohese didn’t extend much beyond ‘konnichiwa’, this was a necessary condition and he agreed. In the end, hardly a word of Kantone was spoken all night, and Lazlo spend most of his evening on his phone. This story came to mind because it was the only night Lazlo could remember when he felt more out of place and less able to contribute anything to the conversation. Sitting in a flat-roofed pub in a poor Pewter neighbourhood with a bunch of sixth-form dropouts just wasn’t his natural environment. He tried his best, but in the end he had about six pints out of sheer awkwardness and boredom and didn’t end up saying much to anyone.

    ---

    The next morning, Lazlo and Joey said goodbye, and that was that. For now.

    ---

    Lazlo’s hangover that morning was enough for him to need a long lie in, and having just said goodbye to Joey, he didn’t feel much of a pull to get him out of bed. He mentally went through his address book, trying to remember if he knew anyone who lived in Pewter, but he couldn’t come up with anyone he felt he was sufficiently close to to randomly ask them to go for a drink or something. Shortly before midday, he dragged himself out of bed and found somewhere to have a coffee and work on his paper. He whiled away most of that afternoon in that way, and in the evening decided to watch a play. The rest of his extended stay in Pewter mostly went like that, though he did have a look in the museum, which was actually quite illuminating, as he didn’t know much natural history. The extinct Pokémon in the exhibits were familiar to him, of course—although his work had focused on Second Age approaches to origination, Blackthorn was keen for all its students to be generalists, and he knew a lot about First Age history as well—and it was certainly interesting to him to see in person the bones of Pokémon which hadn’t been around for the last 10,000 years.

    In one exhibit, there was even a reference to Doctor Levitt. (His grandmother, rather than him, of course.) The museum devoted an entire room to the efforts of modern scientists to revive extinct Pokémon, with examples of their equipment, and a description of their techniques. It made Lazlo feel quite proud.

    Also interesting were the exhibits on more ancient natural history. Scientists and natural philosophers had for centuries been digging up remains of unusual-looking creatures which didn’t resemble anything around in the modern day. Until around 50 years ago they were all assumed to be extinct species of Pokémon, though their physiology was very different, and instead of pocket they were clearly made of ordinary matter, like people. With the discovery of DNA, it became clear that these creatures—by now called ‘animals’, in reference to the fact that unlike Pokémon but like humans, they needed to breathe—were in fact close relatives of human beings, and were now assumed to have been wiped out when Pokémon appeared in the world.

    In the last 20 years, a biological theory had emerged called ‘evolution’—by analogy to the process Pokémon go through, though in fact the mechanism was very different, leading some to propose the alternative term ‘metamorphosis’—which held that these ‘animals’ and human beings had a common ancestry, and that the human species in fact arose through a natural biological process, entirely explicable through natural and terrestrial means. This idea was now broadly accepted in the scientific community, though religious communities were still struggling with how to accept it and integrate it into their theology.

    For many, the discovery of this theory of evolution had dramatically strengthened the case for Platonic origination, because since it could now be proved that human beings had arisen through natural means, it seemed far more likely that Pokémon could have, too. For Lazlo it only threw the differentness of Pokémon and the rest of the natural world into sharp relief. After visiting the museum, he threw himself into his paper with renewed vigour.

    In the end, Saturday came around quite quickly, and he duly showed up at the gym three hours early, as instructed. There was far more activity there at that time than there had been for Joey’s battle. He arrived at the contestant’s entrance, and was immediately ushered into a hair-and-makeup room, where he was seated next to Brock.

    ‘Nice to see you again,’ said Brock.

    Lazlo, who was being covered by a barbers’ gown, was a little agitated. ‘Am I really going to have to do this every time?’

    ‘Most likely,’ said Brock. ‘You could always lose today, then the TV people might lose interest.’

    Lazlo laughed. ‘That’s not going to happen.’

    ‘How do you feel about your wardrobe, sir?’ one of the TV people asked him. She was Unovan.

    Lazlo looked down at his travelling clothes: the off-white cable-knit Johtone sweater and the navy-blue cargo trousers. ‘Is there something wrong with what I’m wearing?’

    ‘It just doesn’t exactly scream hot-shot troubled genius rising star in the way you want it to. I mean, the hair is just great, but somehow it doesn’t all fit together, you know?’ Lazlo had always kept his black hair fairly long—more Kit Harrington than Ozzy Osborne—but it had got a bit wild on his travels, he would admit.

    Brock chuckled, and raised his eyebrow at Lazlo. Lazlo took this as a sign that he was free to have a bit of fun at their expense.

    ‘Well, I don’t know, what were you thinking?’ Lazlo asked.

    ‘Maybe like a Robert Downey Jr look. A loose tie, unbuttoned shirt, thick glasses, a bit of a beard, maybe an earring… you know what I’m going for here!’

    ‘I can’t grow a beard,’ said Lazlo, ‘and unless you have a needle handy, I’m not sure we could get my ear pierced in time.’

    The woman looked round. ‘Does anyone here know how to pierce an ear?’

    ‘Seriously?’ said Lazlo to Brock, who shrugged.

    ‘Look miss,’ said Lazlo, ‘I’m sure you’re very good at your job, but if you try to stick a needle in me, you’ll find out exactly how troubled this genius can be. Understood?’

    ‘Yes sir,’ she said.

    ‘My travelling clothes will be fine. It’s what trainers wear. But let’s get back to the makeup—I feel like we could be doing more with my cheekbones…’

    ---

    By the time he left, Lazlo was quite unhappy with his hair; it kept getting in his face.

    They also had Lazlo record a VT to be shown before the battle. Lazlo had done these before for the Blackthorn tournament finals, and knew the drill. Before he’d just talked to the camera for thirty seconds from a script, but this time there was a producer next to the camera—another Unovan—who said it was her job to ask him some questions.

    ‘Nice to meet you, Mister Levitt,’ she said.

    ‘It’s Doctor Levitt,’ said Lazlo, ‘but call me Lazlo.’

    ‘Alright, Lazlo. This’ll just be a few quick questions about you and how you’re feeling. It’ll be easy.’

    ‘That’s fine.’

    ‘So how are you feeling?’

    ‘I guess it’s natural to be a bit nervous before these things,’ said Lazlo, ‘But I’m going to get out there and do the best I can, I hope.’

    ‘Did they say you went to college here in Pewter?’

    ‘No, I was at Blackthorn University,’ said Lazlo.

    ‘Oh, yes, I see that here,’ she said, looking at her notes. ‘You’ve been a trainer quite a while already, haven’t you?’

    ‘Actually, I got my first Pokémon just a few weeks ago.’

    ‘But this is your third gym badge, isn’t it?

    ‘Well, that’s actually a complicated question. Technically you can use the Blackthorn Tournament badge in any Pokémon League in the world, so I suppose it counts as a badge, I was the first student to win the Blackthorn tournament twice so there isn’t really a precedent for this, but looking at the bylaws I think it’s pretty clear that two of the same badge don’t count. So technically it’s my second gym badge, but I plan to do every single Kanto gym like everyone else. As far as I’m concerned, this is my first gym battle.’

    ‘I see. What was your major in college?’

    ‘Well, we don’t do majors in Tohjo, that’s not how it works. I did Philosophy and Archaeology for both my degree and my PhD.’

    ‘How did you do?’

    Lazlo was quite uncomfortable, ‘Is that question necessary?’

    ‘Don’t be modest!’ said the producer.

    ‘Well, I was top of my class at undergrad, and I got a decent number of publications during my PhD.’

    ‘So you must care a lot about your studies. Was it hard to give it up to be a Pokémon trainer?’

    ‘Well, I hope I haven’t given it up entirely, I’ve been working on a paper while I’ve been travelling as a matter of fact. I’ve wanted to be a Pokémon trainer all my life, but I really enjoy my academic work as well. There’s a lot I want to achieve, but that’s why I work so hard. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’

    ‘So you’ve spent your academic career reading history books, and now you want to get into them as a trainer?’

    Lazlo chuckled lightly. ‘Well, I would say I want to read history books more than I want to get into history books.’

    ‘Do you live in Blackthorn now?’

    ‘I had a place there, but now I’m living on the road. I’ve lived away for a long time, but when I’m in Cinnabar I live with my grandmother, so I suppose that’s home again for now.’

    ‘You live with your grandmother? Do you have any other family?’

    Lazlo bit his lip. ‘No.’

    ‘What happened to them?’

    Lazlo paused, very uncomfortable with this line of questioning. ‘My parents died when I was nine.’

    ‘How do you think they’d feel seeing you now?’

    ‘Look, I don’t want to talk about this, if that’s alright.’

    ‘It will go down really well with our viewers, Lazlo.’

    ‘Look, what do you want me to say?’ said Lazlo, getting angry now. ‘I’ve always wanted to make them proud? That I hope somewhere they’re looking down on me, and I’ll make them happy? I’m not here to serve up some cheap manufactured emotional garbage for your salivating audience, alright?’

    The producer nodded, and stood. ‘I’m sorry Lazlo, I didn’t mean to offend you. I think I have everything I need.’

    ‘No problem. Have a good day.’

    ---

    He was left to wait in the same changing room as Joey had been, though as he’d already met Brock, he didn’t come down to say hello. Because of all the preparation the TV people had had to do, he wasn’t left waiting long. When he stepped out into the arena, he was told to wait for his cue to step out by someone wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard.

    Two big screens had been put up at either end of the stadium, which seemed to be showing the TV coverage of the match. Brock was already in his box, and a commentator was talking over footage of the stadium on the screen. ‘But first, it’s time to meet our challenger.’

    The screens now cut to something else: it was the VT from before. Lazlo groaned; he didn’t want to watch this.

    The music changed to Land of Hope and Glory, and the same commentator kept talking. ‘From Cinnabar Island, Lazlo,’

    ‘It’s Doctor Levitt,’ said the Lazlo on the screen.

    ‘Whoops, sorry… Doctor Levitt,’ the commentator’s tone suggested Lazlo was being prissy about his title. ‘Has come to Pewter to earn his first gym badge.’

    ‘Technically it’s my second gym badge,’ said the on-screen Lazlo.

    ‘Blimey, this one’s a stickler for accuracy folks. But he would be…’

    ‘I was at Blackthorn University,’ said the on-screen Lazlo. ‘I was top of my class.’

    ‘And not just that…’ said the commentator.

    ‘I was the first student to win the Blackthorn tournament twice,’ said the on-screen Lazlo. ‘I want to get into history books.’

    The real Lazlo groaned, and the crowd booed.

    The music changed to some standard sappy reality show sad music. ‘But it’s not all trophies for Doctor Levitt,’ said the commentator.

    ‘I got my first Pokémon just a few weeks ago,’ said the on-screen Lazlo. ‘I’ve lived away for a long time, but when I’m in Cinnabar I live with my grandmother. My parents died when I was nine. I’ve always wanted to make them proud. That’s why I work so hard. I’m going to get out there and do the best I can. I’ve wanted to be a Pokémon trainer all my life. I hope somewhere they’re looking down on me, and I’ll make them happy.’

    ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Lazlo Levitt!’ shouted the announcer. Lazlo was fuming at the VT, but understood this was his cue to step out. But the crowd gave him a huge cheer after that manufactured sappy ending. He brushed the stupid new TV hair out of his face, and waved at them, but his face was still a little sour.

    ‘He looks every inch the troubled genius, doesn’t he folks?’ said the commentator.

    It took every gram of strength Lazlo had not to throw something at the box.

    ‘So let’s begin!’ said the commentator. ‘Trainers, release your Pokémon!’

    ‘Go Onix!’ shouted Brock, throwing with the same flourish as before. Per his usual habit, Lazlo tossed his Pokéball underarm, and said nothing.

    ‘So it’s a Slowpoke our challenger has decided to bring to the arena today!’ said the commentator. ‘A water and psychic Pokémon, of course. Its special attacks should have the potential to give Brock a lot of trouble.’

    Lazlo, now he was in the arena, felt energised, like this was where he was meant to be. His brain was firing at a thousand klicks an hour, and he knew exactly what he needed to do.

    He called Curse as his first move; Brock called Bind.

    The Onix was faster even before Slowpoke used Curse. By the time Slowpoke had bulked out, he was already caught in the grip of Onix’s tail.

    ‘Doctor Levitt obviously trying to boost his defence there,’ said the commentator, ‘But as fans of this gym will know, it’s often a mistake to use up your status options too early against Brock! Let’s see what happens next!’

    ‘Water Gun!’ called Lazlo, just as Brock shouted ‘Bide!’

    A large jet of water hit the Onix square in the face, but it had already closed its eyes. Bide was active.

    ‘A heavy blow to the Onix there for sure,’ said the commentator, ‘But with Bide active, Slowpoke can expect to be hit twice as hard in just two turns. Surely Doctor Levitt can’t be thinking he can take out the Onix that fast?’

    ‘Water Gun!’ Lazlo called again, with the same effect.

    ‘Just what is he playing at?’ shouted the commentator, clearly troubled that this prime-time challenger was about to throw away the game in the first few minutes.

    Lazlo breathed, and smiled. ‘Disable!’ he called.

    Slowpoke glowed faintly, indicating the use of its psychic powers. It stared at the eyes of the Onix, and successfully executed the attack.

    ‘What the…?’ said the commentator. ‘Yes, Onix has frozen! Bide failed to execute at the end! Did you know Disable worked like that? Because I sure didn’t, folks!’

    All the while, Slowpoke had been wriggling to break free of the Onix, and succeeded in getting out of his trap. He couldn’t get far, but managed to climb down and stand facing his opponent, with what Lazlo was sure looked like a grin.

    Brock was smiling, wide-eyed: Lazlo had clearly caught him off guard with that play.

    ‘Dragon Breath!’ was Brock’s next call. Lazlo opted for Water Gun again. The two attacks met in mid-air, and both Pokémon were blown backwards; Slowpoke more than Onix, but it looked the less damaged by the attack.

    ‘Unusual to see Brock use Dragon Breath,’ said the commentator. ‘Slowpoke of course has relatively weak special defence, and with the Curse boost he clearly thinks this is his better option, despite the relative strength of Onix’s physical attacks.’

    They both called the same attack again, and that was that. Onix had suffered one too many Water Guns, and collapsed in front of its trainer. Slowpoke, at the end, still looked relatively unfazed.

    ‘And that’s that, folks!’ said the commentator. ‘A very interesting battle, and a clear sign of how we’re going to see this rising star play. Pure knowledge and pure creativity. Quite a sight.’

    ---

    Just as Lazlo had settled into bed back at the Pokémon Centre—he wiped the makeup off first—he got a phone call.

    ‘Hey there,’ said Blue.

    ‘Oh, hey,’ said Lazlo. ‘How’re you doing?’

    ‘I’m good. I saw you on TV.’

    ‘You were watching?’

    ‘Yeah. I didn’t realise Disable could stop multi-turn attacks after they’d already begun,’ said Blue.

    ‘You didn’t? I guess it’s kinda obscure…’

    ‘They’re gonna take notice of you after that for sure.’

    ‘It seems like they’ve taken notice of me already,’ said Lazlo, sighing. ‘I had to go through hair and makeup.’

    ‘I do that nearly every week in prime time. You get used to it. Congrats on stealing my timeslot by the way. Most of the time the biggest gym battle of the week is mine.’

    ‘I thought you’d be glad of someone taking away the spotlight.’

    ‘Are you kidding? Best Saturday night in years.’

    ‘Really? I think I can do a little better than that,’ said Lazlo, feeling it was safe by now raise the temperature a little.

    Blue chuckled, but changed the subject. ‘How are you doing? I bet that battle cheered you up.’

    ‘Yeah,’ said Lazlo, ‘And I’m fine with that; Viridian Forest feels like ages ago. But Joey’s decided he wants to travel round separately. He says it’s nothing to do with that, but…’

    ‘How’d he do against Brock?’ asked Blue.

    ‘He lost. Badly. He was annoyed at first, but he seemed okay in the end. He’s heading down Diglett’s Cave, going to do the gyms in a different order.’

    ‘That’s a good idea for him,’ said Blue. ‘It’s probably just that.’

    ‘That’s what he says,’ said Lazlo, doubtfully.

    ‘It will be. And you know, losing in front of your friends is never easy. It’s not just you. Or me. You’ll see him again, I’m sure.’

    ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’ Lazlo yawned audibly.

    ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have called this late,’ said Blue.

    ‘No, it’s fine,’ said Lazlo, ‘But I’m on the road again tomorrow. I would like to get some sleep if that’s alright.’

    ‘No problem.’

    ‘Bye!’

    ‘Smell ya later!’ said Blue, putting the phone down.

    Lazlo looked over to Slowpoke, who was nonchalantly chewing on a treat on his nightstand. ‘Did he just say…?’
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    I've let this one get away from me a little! Sorry about that. This is a long, interesting chapter; much of the criticism I would offer is stuff I've said before – namely, that there's a lot of cool information that's rather inelegantly introduced, undercutting its effect – so I'll skip over that stuff and talk about some cool things I like instead. Chiefly, I think the battles are certainly continuing to improve; there's much more of a sense of weight to them, and we're always left with a clear idea of what we'd be able to see if we were there and looking at the match. For something that's clearly intended to be a spectator sport, that's really important, I think – I'm definitely getting more of an idea of what the people who come to these matches get out of them!

    I do think that sometimes the physics of the battle seem a bit wonky, though; the pokémon – partly as a result of the taking up of terms like 'special attack' from the games, and partly because they still don't get much of a mention except in battles and so don't feel like characters or companions – sometimes feel a little abstract and gamey. For instance, when Onix and Slowpoke blow each other back with their dragonbreath and water gun, this makes sense in terms of their stats (slowpoke are good at taking and dealing non-physical hits, onix are not), but not so much in terms of their relative masses, and I feel like in a fic setting, that kind of thing is quite important. So I think the weakness here is not that you've taken a very technical approach to battle – there's room for all kinds of interpretations of the core concept, and I think yours is strong and interesting – but rather that the pokémon themselves often feel like statblocks rather than living creatures. And given how strongly your human characters and the society they live in come across, that constitutes a weaker part in an otherwise strong story.

    I'm liking the characters, though, particularly how far Lazlo's whole 'paternalistic and condescending' thing is going. Sure, he sometimes gets his ego pricked a little, but the way he wades into Joey's life dispensing advice and all that based on his own half-formed ideas of what that life must be is not the action of a man who's learned from these mistakes. Even at the end, when Joey finally takes control of this thing and settles on a sensible course of action, he's right there to condescend and tell him how great it is that he's taking ownership of his journey. And sure, he's been lucky so far and things have mostly worked out, but I'm kind of waiting for his good fortune to run out; you can't act towards people the way Lazlo does forever and expect to get away with it. Presumably the fact that he's quite a bit older than Joey is the reason why Joey hasn't really objected to this? Although I don't know, when I was Joey's age I'd probably have blown up at some postgrad who talked to me the way Lazlo does.

    I do find the complete and utter lack of animals to be a little weird, though; this seems like a very grounded world, which makes me wonder how ecosystems function with such a sorely limited selection of animal-analogues – very few of which seem to occupy critical niches like parasites, decomposers and pollinators. Like, if all animals went extinct suddenly, you'd be looking at massive ecological collapse and probably extinction of literally everything else, too. I guess I feel like the theory on which Lazlo's world depends seems a bit simplistic – the more so considering that that the rest of the fic is so sophisticated. It also seems a bit of a stretch to say that the theory of evolution proves that humans have a distinct origin to pokémon; it certainly suggests it, especially since they appear to be made of a completely different type of matter, but it's not really proof.

    Moving back in the direction of the battles, I like the cut-together battle video that Lazlo ends up with! Kind of shows him to himself as he can quite easily appear to others – like, he is a bit superior, but not as superior as the video makes him out to be. It all fits together really nicely, and it's a good way to keep the pressure on him even as his slightly excessive skill keeps him coasting through the League. (I'm sort of surprised that the gym leaders aren't capable of matching his tactical acumen, actually – these are people who make a career of this thing! Surely people like Brock have a few tricks up their sleeve to make battles against people of Lazlo's skill level a bit less one-sided.) And it's a good way of bringing to the fore those two strands that have made up his journey so far, the extreme competence and the startling clumsiness, into this one striking scene. I like it a lot!

    And finally, I can't really let it go unremarked-upon that Pokémon Margaret Thatcher was a thing in this Kanto. I don't have any comment to make here, I just … think that the inclusion of that thing should be recognised.

    Finally finally, here are some typos and stylistic nitpicks:

    I'm curious: is there a reason that 'omnibus' is consistently not shortened to 'bus' in this chapter? It seems rather weird, especially in dialogue; Joey in particular doesn't seem like an 'omnibus' kind of guy.

    I think I see what you're doing here, but the fact that this sentence is in the present tense when the rest of the paragraph is in the past tense is jarring enough that it doesn't feel like it works to me.

    That first full stop should be a comma, and 'He' shouldn't be capitalised.

    Missing an E in 'relieved' here.

    This sentence is really long and kind of difficult to get through; I'd break it in half by replacing this comma with a full stop.

    So yeah! Nicely done. A long chapter, but a very interesting one, and I'll be interested to see exactly where Lazlo's road will take him next.
     

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