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Flying in the Dark

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by diamondpearl876, Mar 22, 2015.

  1. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    The bit with the lombre was funny (though also relatable--how many "animals" have i seen in the street that turned out to be discarded clothes?). I bet the lombre gave Kenneth such a look. Possibly wanted to give him a water gun to the face. :p

    Whenever the hatchery was mentioned, I got to wondering something. Namely, whether or not that place smells funny. If it does, those characters are braver than I am, hanging around it too much. :p

    Also when they found the krabby pincers sticking out of the rocks, part of me expected the rest of the krabby to come out after. (I almost said something about the purely hypothetical krabby ALSO possibly water gunning Kenneth in the face, but then remembered krabby don't naturally learn that.)
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.
  2. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Replied to Amby elsewhere. Thanks again, Amby! <3

    I'm glad to hear it! I was unsure what to make of this letter after writing it. To me, it wouldn't even read half as well if it were close to the beginning of the story, since there's lots of implications of Haley jumping around from topic to topic and being vulnerably scatterbrained as usual, and they would only be recognizable to someone who knows Haley as an established character already. To someone who doesn't know her, then yeah, it's just overwriting and aimless happenings. Basically, I think the time I've spent building up their characters has allowed me to do some stuff like this and have it make total sense. And your comment about the Lost Hotel description makes sense, don't worry. :) Seems I'm striking good balances all over the place, which is nice to hear.

    No, I don't think she could've managed it at the beginning. She was pretty set on her own pre-established views and beliefs, and a lot of what she reflects on now is a direct result of Markus, Kenneth, and things that have happened on the journey. As for her optimism, well, I guess hope's closely intertwined with optimism in general, and that's a dangerous thing for her to lose. She's been there, and she wouldn't want to be again. :V Stay tuned for the next letter...

    Related, it's kinda awkward for me to write her blatantly saying she's changing, since that feels like I'm rubbing the character development in the reader's face, but I guess in the first person it makes sense and it seems to work for her specific type of character, from what you're saying here.

    That's definitely a good point about self-reflection, and it's... generally a hard thing to do for people, especially someone Haley's age where they're confused about everything in life ever. And yeah, for all his dissociation issues, Markus is observant enough and motivated enough to learn about Haley and her tics, to read between the lines, etc. I think it has indeed been over a full year real time since I realized a Markus letter, which is a huge shame for many reasons, lol, but I hope to not have the wait be too long again. I appreciate the patience. xD

    Lol, I couldn't resist adding something about that aspect of Hoenn with a recurring supporting character who's from there.

    Yikes, nope, this is a result of me never realizing that "free reign" was not quite the right phrasing at all, lmao. I've been lied to all my life. :'(

    Glad you liked it, heh. I had fun writing it. :3 And now that you mention it, I should've added a water gun to the face... it's nevertoo late to edit it in

    Probably. But traveling trainers who haven't seen a shower in a couple days probably also smell. :V And I bet wild 'mon in general also smell, haha.

    I could totally see Kenneth trying to be all smug with the krabby pincers and then not realizing he's about to pick up a live one. Ouch. xD
     
  3. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter fifteen]

    *

    August 11


    Forgive me, Haley, but before I venture into the crux of this letter… I’m curious as to your opinion on the sight I described? The sight regarding sunset outside of my cell window? I ask additionally that my request is not thought to be overwrought with hidden pleas. By no means does each minute detail need a response, but of this, might an exception be made? I am enduringly open to feedback, if you believe we can elevate our friendship somehow, or if I can attempt to expand upon the content of my letters as an act of gratitude for your showing me your world. Simply put, my first attempt at reporting my own present to you… Well, I’m not sure how I fared.

    I do suppose that’s not all. Did you mention Enmity in the letter to your grandmother, by any chances? If so, what of his upbringing, if anything? The information I related to you was scarce, at best, what with the strain in my hands tightening as a result of summoning memories of him. It felt like even an insignificant fountain pen wanted to jump away from me. Perhaps, though, your grandmother could disclose some knowledge as to why he became mute. And why my efforts to extract just one articulated sound out of him failed staggeringly.

    Right, one last thing. I apologize sincerely for being such a bother, Haley, but should I or should I not expect your lucky coin to arrive? It is not like to you to forgo explanations when our letters speak of calls to action. I am not entitled to an explanation, per se, and I’ve discussed myself the various reasons why keeping your coin would be an understandable choice—a smart one, even—but you are undeserving of mere assumptions made on your behalf.

    There is the matter of me overthinking, of course. My ambivalent mindscape—which continues to shape itself into a new prison cell, one more akin to solitary confinement with the ghost of yourself as an unwanted cellmate—wishes to adopt your optimistic reasoning for its own. The consequences of your coin remaining unsent, or suspended within the grasp of the justice system, may mean that I am missing words from you, a postcard, a picture, something, any of which would admittedly send me into an unreasonable fit of guilt.

    Logically, fairies won the coin toss whether or not I can gaze upon the victor side’s embossed clefairy, yes? And as we agreed together, I must persevere despite the multiple faces of adversity looking down on me. Therefore, I must hold up my end of the bargain. I consider this rational line of thought a first step. In reality it may be my second, or third, or fourth, but I fear I have been too preoccupied with self-pity to notice. I will not make such a destructive mistake again.

    I concluded one reason as to why you might refrain from mentioning the coin again, and other aspects of your journey. Sometimes, words simply crumble under the weight of their speaker’s expectations. Translating cherished memories and images into words risks tearing straight through the initial spell they bore into you. Selfishness is entirely warranted in that case.

    What I’m trying to get at also is the forthcoming narrative about your family life. For a man whose face you have not seen or voice you have not heard, it is a tall order to expect the more gritty details of what is a very private matter for most. Still, my ears are always open, or, more accurately, my eyes are always glued to your handwriting, your gushing verbiage and encompassing anger, shame, sadness, glee, any and all of it. The daily distractions of prison life hover around me as mere white noise. Here, you must choose what matters. And I chose a long time ago.

    Now, for an interesting predicament of my own, I have a new cellmate of sorts—but not of the inmate kind, or even the human kind. Valerie, with the Brun Way Correctional Center’s blessing, assigned Rowe the granbull to as a… service pokémon, I guess is the appropriate title. It’s unclear to me how a mutt was approved for such a monumental task. He dons a mean face and two protruding, knifelike teeth, combined with what looks to be a tattooed collar on his neck but, I’m told, is a natural part of his skin. Even as a former breeder, the evolutionary purpose for this escapes me. Five seconds of guesswork led me to ponder this mock collar as an allusion to being a trained pokémon. I shook my head at the notion.

    Valerie, who had made an appearance herself to introduce us, frowned with an intensity unbecoming of a fairytale devotee. She squeezed Rowe’s plain pokéball in her hand, her slim fingers streaking the metal. I stood up from my bunk. Rowe’s ears balked at the sound of the mattress grating, and as if the granbull reminded her of the protocol, Valerie then announced an imminent cell search.

    “To ensure there’s no dangerous objects with which you can break Rowe’s pokéball,” she said, “or strike him physically.”

    The guards check our cells daily. I could use my fists and my legs, conditioned to avoid atrophy through the daily drills required of all prisoners. Surely she knew this? From his corner, Bouncer sneered audibly, indicating that he had similar thoughts, perhaps with a bit more obscenity to them.

    Only after the cell search did Valerie interview me personally, implying that her job description involves being suspicious of the same people she claims should trust her. A sour taste coagulated in my mouth as she requested intimate details of my past for her notes, what I hope to achieve in life once my sentence is over, and irrelevant questions which allowed her to observe my demeanor. She might as well have shown me Rorschach blobs drawn from octillery ink, what with how ambiguous and open ended her questions were. If she ascertained that I lied to her, or withheld information from her, she didn’t let on. Her jet black eyes pierced right through me, reminding me of the legendary Deoxys—Kenneth might welcome this analogy, by the by—especially when she shifted and the sleeves of her pixie getup wiggled as if she possessed more than two arms. I’m shivering now after having written that…

    As a foreigner, I don’t suppose Kenneth is the type to consider old superstitions? I admit to not asking, despite the opportunity to do so during our interview, but Valerie strikes me as faithful to the modern view of fairy-type lore constructed by the Kaloseux. Either way, fairy-type lore overlaps and contradicts itself an incredible amount to the point where, like a religion, the basis for two people’s faith might never match exactly. Pit Kenneth and Valerie together, both of them experienced chiefly with culled words, and I daresay the ensuing debate would involve contradictions at every turnabout. Yet each contradictory fact would be supported, anecdotally or empirically or otherwise, leaving the debaters to start questioning a part of their worldview anew.

    Indeed, I’ve been doing my homework—on fairy-types, I mean. Isn’t it puzzling, how the League hesitated to classify fairies in their own unique category type as long as they did? What’s worse is the lack of research available for the majority of fairy species, not for a lack of interested professors, but rather because of the League refusing to fund experiments and discouraging the academic field from taking initiatives on the issue themselves. Normal-types no longer designated as such reference the core ancestral belief that fairies are humans capable of shapeshifting. All evidence to the contrary floated in the ether, adamantly ignored by society’s pervasive zeitgeist.

    For example, did multiple shapeshifting humans conspire to take on the appearance of a granbull to lead real humans to the false conclusion that they are justifiable as a species? Theorists swept this issue under the rug, blinded. As long as reality countered their personal philosophy, never mind the fact that not a single fairy-type species was discovered in isolation, only in groups.

    There existed, too, the issue of the fairies’ role in death. The first fairy detected was a togepi, burrowed in the legendary Ho-Oh’s nest and close to hatching. Residents of Johto, and Ecruteak City in particular, built the nest for when Ho-Oh finished its journey in the skies and returned home. Because several thousand years had passed without a sighting of Ho-Oh, however, and because of Ho-Oh’s fabled ability to revive the dead, it is unsurprising that one Johtonian grew desperate in their faith. The togepi’s finder found it fruitful to try to eliminate the togepi before it hatched in the hopes that Ho-Oh would rush to its rescue. Then, as the legends claim, residents recently felled by an unknown disease—transmitted through migrating gligars’ ejected poison seeping into the city’s water source—could maybe live again.

    Alas, the togepi’s finder could not prevent its birth—at least, not entirely. The togepi took its first breath halfway out of the egg and could not break free any further. Deemed an undead demon whose presence implied faithless trickery, the togepi earned more scorn with its cheerful demeanor and healing abilities. Johtonians refused to elevate its status to that of a pokémon. A man, his name lost to the ages and called Mr. Pokémon today, vouched for acknowledging the togepi species, at which point the fairy-type, overcome with love and affection, evolved to take flight in the skies alongside Ho-Oh.

    Others who acknowledged the togepi, and new fairy-types identified afterward, pondered their connection with legendary pokémon. Whether they accepted the shapeshifting human or ability to defy death theory, only legendary pokémon could account for such phenomena. Scripture centered around Dialga and Celebi told of how they required the help of fairy-types to manage the flow of time so that their massive powers didn’t intersect. The gloomier view of fairies did not dissipate, however; folklore set in the Distortion World featured Giratina with fairy-type cronies.

    Once fairies were cast from the legendaries’ godly world because fairy-type legendaries sufficed alone, their memories were erased. Thus, neither the existence of legendaries, nor their role in the wonders of the world could be confirmed by communicating with fairies. What cemented the fairy-type’s classification as pokémon was the collective belief of the Kaloseux that humanity would disgrace itself if it continued to show disdain for creatures that contributed to the world’s balance alongside the legendaries. After all, Xerneas and Yveltal had taught them that all things were united through their capacity to both live and die; what existed at any given moment, existed for a reason, and had to be subsequently endured.

    According to more cynical skeptics, the legendaries smote fairies, rather than handed them off to paltry humans to be useful elsewhere. In that case, the legendaries might have praised us slighting the fairies further, thankful that we realized the importance of their divine decisions. A book published long ago—lost in the rubble of Geosenge after a forest of trevenant declared the town their home—proposed that Arceus locked away fairies in one of its plates in anticipation of them abusing their powers to revolt against humans out of anger. But humans did not have the power to tame pokémon just yet. They could do little but compile charms that would protect them against death.

    You relayed Kaloseux war history to me early on in our letter exchange, Haley. I suppose it’s relevant here. Xerneas, with his fairy typing and legendary status, possessed the power to sway society’s groupthink in a positive direction. A widely accepted reason for its slumber in the aftermath involves its overuse of fairy-type energy to distribute it evenly among all of its children so that they could lead meaningful, contributory lives. Yveltal performed its duties as the god of death and gladly suffered the brunt of any true evilness rooted in the fairies’ hearts. Then the king’s floette perished in battle, and fury erupted throughout Kalos once more.

    I… digress. The fairies’ curative abilities, whether innate or borne of Xerneas’s sacrifice or something else entirely, ushered in the situation I find myself in now. In the middle of one of Valerie’s educational lectures, I learned that fairies naturally speed up the evolution process for other pokémon. The scientific background surrounding this claim is unclear to me, but an image of Enmity flashed in my mind. He didn’t quite tower over me yet, but he was stronger, more cunning, and suddenly he showed off a toothy grin instead of his usual stony stare. Valerie nodded to me. An atypical surge of rage pushed up past my throat, congesting me with the irrational betrayal of her pretending to understand an intimate facet of my life.

    When calmness rendered me logical once more, a theory occurred to me. Emotions like anger, should one ruminate and roll around in it, dirtying themselves with the pang of perpetual victimhood… Well, in layman’s terms, if such antagonism curbs a human’s growth, I fail to see why that couldn’t be the case for pokémon, too.

    Now I struggle to see Rowe, and the other fairies parading around the ward, as more than just another trickster. That their full history remains unresolved, much like Enmity’s, emphasizes how if the world cannot have answers then neither can I. That the world turns its head away with outright indifference snatches from me any reassurance in the prospect of locating Enmity someday. The connection is hard to grasp, let alone bear.

    And yet. I haven’t interacted with Rowe much. Isn’t it only fair to give him a chance, as I did with you?

    Admittedly, I fear it will be a burden. Based off of the data in Valerie’s report, she plans to teach him specific attacks that will assist in shaping my rehabilitation. There’s a silver lining here, in that she does not lump all of us prisoners together, jeering at the insufficient use of the death penalty. She views us as unique people with remarkably different histories, desires and beliefs. Nevertheless, her scrutiny left me on edge. I envisioned you staring at me in earnest, listening to me the same way you always do—with tenderness, and without a hidden agenda.

    The League’s designated attack names, as it turns out, are as misleading as I suspect Valerie is. Despite sponsoring a primarily youthful sport, attack names come across as threatening. What I have revealed to you about genetically modified berries and crafted elixirs, all of that came later, several millennia after we claimed pokémon as our captive partners. It astonishes me how well the League’s subtle precedent for prioritizing strength over companionship has withstood the test of time.

    “Play rough” utilizes fairy-type energy, and context means everything. In battle, said energy condenses itself and is best wielded offensively. The lack of an arena causes the pokémon to turn defensive instinctively, primed by fighting more than interacting with its trainer in a lighthearted manner. But Valerie concluded—wrongly, mind—that I would acquiesce to engaging in brief sparring sessions with Rowe. Because I trained pokémon in the past, she reasoned, I inevitably immersed myself in hands on coaching. While the majority of trainers resort to such a tactic to gain perspective on the sport they’ve dedicated a good portion of their lives to, or to force their pokémon to control the intensity of their attacks, I did not.

    Chespin, as you might remember, often challenged me of his own accord, to the point where I had no interest in initiating combat myself. Besides, common sense asserts that dislocated joints and bruises which inhibit my movement are impractical aspects of a journey… unless you prepare in anticipation of injuries for yourself alongside your pokémon. But most youth don’t.

    This is not to mention the plethora of mental pain I obsessed over. To risk adding physical pain to the pile was unfathomable.

    I didn’t correct Valerie’s assumption. I didn’t want to explain my aversion to even the most innocent of interactions with pokémon, or my accumulation of hapless experiences on the road. Other attacks—a new may be required here so as to not insinuate the rehabilitation program’s intentions—seem fitting and appropriate, if only in limited instances. What the League deems as a “headbutt” is, for Valerie’s purposes, meant for deep pressure therapy. A technique devised for inmates prone to anxiety, pressure applied to certain body parts relieves muscle tension and enough calmness for the inmate to hopefully formulate solutions to problems.

    “Frustration” and “return” exist in the context of rehabilitation to build empathy and rapport. The former teaches Rowe body language to express if I relate to him negative feelings. Conversely, the latter teaches Rowe to mirror my positive feelings. It is hard not to chuckle when you imagine me as a granbull, isn’t it? If anything, I exhibit more foxlike mannerisms than doglike ones.

    Alas, is this recount of attacks you’re already familiar with on some level boring you? I’ll wrap this up. “Outrage” and “payback”—attacks which a trained granbull is likely to know, Valerie explained with that alien voice of hers—will be untaught. It is best to reserve his memory capacity for other, rehabilitation-focused concepts, according to her.

    Those, however, are powerhouse attacks, with no defensive components to them. Rowe’s attack known as “roar” is not so useful offensively, only defensively in the case of calling out for help if anyone is in danger. Similarly, all rehabilitation pokémon learn “protect” as another security blanket for emergencies. I’ll forgo another rant on the perceived risks of being in the presence of criminals, most of which are not violent or no longer have the means to engage in brash behavior. I’d considered, perhaps, that Rowe will accompany me post-rehabilitation, but that demands too far a look into the future I am not ready for.

    If your lucky coin were in my possession after all, Haley, it occurs to me that Valerie could have mistaken it for a fairy warding charm. Of course, I would’ve hidden it the moment I retrieved it for safekeeping—thievery is commonplace here, not violence—but with my small cell, Valerie would have inevitably come across it… and confiscated it. Whistles now replace Brun Way’s dinner and role call bells for the sake of avoiding a fairy’s wrath. Part of role call itself, too, is embarrassing due to the same logic. Valerie instructed the guards to ensure no inmate’s clothes are inside out. I could go on. Bread and better—these staples are forbidden for their lurid association with fay superstition, so there goes my number one breakfast choice. All of this, Valerie pressed, needed to start the day a rehabilitation fairy step foot into the prison. And so it did.

    Is this the power of a gym leader? What an inane question. It has to be, or her decree would not stand. Mix her status with the incessant mysteries surrounding pokémon, and no one wants to risk the repercussions of confrontation. Like as not, too, the warden is a close acquaintance of Valerie’s, or at least someone adequately studious so as to realize the benefits fairies can contribute to in this place. I do not see her regularly, and so, I am not the best judge of her character.

    In general, I know I still am not giving the rehabilitation program’s vision a fair shake. My gripes concerning society’s willful blindness toward us is blatantly repudiated with the implementation of Valerie’s services, are they not? This fact is moot to me. Stigma runs rampant anyway, and the League is not a formal body of government which possesses the agency to sway a thoroughly rooted public opinion. The Kalos republic does have the influence, the authority, the power to create and carry out productive projects, while simultaneously sending a message to the region at large. Yet it chooses to turn a blind eye just as well.

    Honestly, I am equally unimpressed with the lack of imagination with respect to Valerie’s tactics. In the midst of one particular visit, she gathered us inmates in the common area, where Eyeball insists on watching judo matches between gallade every Thursday evening. A sylveon trailed beside her, its ribbons coruscating in spite of the dim lighting. Instead of speaking, Valerie motioned for her sylveon to display what they likely rehearsed beforehand. So, the sylveon formed a clouded sphere of energy from its mouth, causing a fair amount of the inmates to assume a protective stance—as if they could fend off a pokémon with their bare hands.

    The shadow ball, Valerie said, represented the darkness in all of us, the same darkness she hopes to overcome with us. On cue, the sylveon emitted its natural fairy-type energy, overbearing the previous attack with crackling flashes of dramatic light. If all goes well, that light will reside within us by the program’s conclusion, figuratively speaking.

    When Valerie opened up the floor for questions, I wanted to inquire about move tutors, because she undoubtedly has connections with an army of League workers. So, how are they selected? How motivated are they to spend time on a prisoner’s future welfare? Have you, by chance, come across a middle-aged move tutor specialized in starter techniques, whose name and current whereabouts I don’t know but I know he did have quite the curly mustache?

    For a moment, I imagined him here, that lofty voice of his spouting a grand vision of the future when in the shadows, he is free to distribute drugs to men as vulnerable as I was. And, for a moment, I imagined sliding backward, any semblance of progress I might’ve made so far receding to locate a more worthy vessel.

    I promise I shook away the doubts, Haley. Not fast enough, but eventually, I reclaimed what is mine. And naturally, I’ll let you know how things play out when I meet Rowe. Our initial greeting indicates he will adjust to a new setting, then struggle to stave off boredom. Anxiety attacks are not an issue with me, and I make every effort to outwardly suppress my gloomy disposition. On the rare occasion my shoulders are slumped noticeably low, Bouncer and Eyeball glancing at me serves as nothing but an annoyance.

    Even worse is when they call attention to my misery but decline to offer consolation beyond that. Now they know, now they’ve exposed me, and now they can hold my weakness hostage and use it against me later. A second option is to empathize, although in a prison, rife with inescapable suffering, it behooves us to deflect anyone else’s lest it crushes us.

    Eyeball’s been sleeping less since Valerie first stepped foot in his cell. I don’t know his story still—his cell interview consisted of hushed, inaudible whispers—but something tells me he can’t live a moment without it haunting him. He groans throughout the night, scratching at the prison walls, then the floors and the bars when he gives up on the comfort his cot should offer him. His eyebrows, once alert and sharp and skeptical of the world, have lost their edge; half his time is spent with eyes closed, to bask in blissful blackness. His service pokémon, a jigglypuff, will sing lullabies to him and hopefully restore some peace to him.

    If he weren’t my cellmate, Bouncer’s rehabilitation situation would have me laughing myself to tears. He’s in here for gang activity, if I’ve not mentioned it before. Trampling across Camphrier with full graffiti cans at their fingertips, they showed no respect for the town’s high rock walls or ancient, timber frame buildings. His gang attempted to recruit vulnerable, poor kids at every opportunity, even going so far as to show up at their schools to taunt and threaten them with bodily harm. Bouncer claims that a few members were exceedingly serious and followed kids into foreign regions once their pokémon journey began if they refused to join the gang.

    Rowe would be perfect for Bouncer, what with that gruesome expression eternally plastered on his face. Alas, Valerie instead assigned him a swirlix, a fluffy cotton ball with its dopey tongue always sticking out. I hope for its sake that it masters Protect sooner rather than later, just in case, given Bouncer’s escalating impatience about this whole rehabilitation ordeal. A soft body like that could withstand a punch, no doubt. It’s just that to be dropped in the middle of an environment as miserable as this makes it easy to absorb more misery, as I said.

    …But then, don’t I revel in society’s fear of us with this sort of logic?

    No, the real question is, would you have written to me if I’d turned out to be a murderer? An abuser? …Anything or anyone I’ve said I am when it’s not the truth?

    I’m sorry to end this letter right where it started, but it’s an honest question, Haley. If you didn’t know, but found out later down the road, around now, would you cease our correspondence? I… suppose it’s a tall order, asking you for an honest answer. But I’d take one, and I promise I’ll react in kind. That is to say, I won’t overreact, as I am so wont to do.

    Let me know. No answer would suffice, too, or rather, no answer would say it all, and yet… please, let me know.

    Sincerely, and desperately,
    Mark
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2019
  4. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter sixteen]

    *

    August 15

    Uh, Mark? Are you sure you’re feeling all right over there? I was gonna comment not on how I feel pressured to respond to every detail of your letter but how it’s hard to remember everything that warrants a response… until I realized, well, everything does! Everything you say matters, you know, even if you don’t believe it yourself. Sounds cliché, you say? Good! A motto like that, when it’s been around forever, speaks to how true it is, because if it’s not true, a lot of the world must be full of terrible liars.

    With my own faulty memory, it’s hard to picture your sunset in my head anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to pull out your last letter and reread it. I’ve done just that a few times now, I’ve reached some crazy conclusions about

    Well, see, I don’t want to dredge up those issues, or those spats, whatever you want to call them. That’s not what we need or want. Probably. Who am I to say? You know, the gossips back in Anistar always brought up the kids that seemed to attract drama everywhere they went and bothered everyone they made eye contact with. If I’d gone to public school, no doubt they’d have shaken their heads at me, too!

    But yeah, I feel like one of those kids right now. There’s so many cops in Lumiose strolling down one street after another, glaring daggers at people who aren’t suspicious at all! A cop with a quick ball at the ready looked at me from the other side of a gogoat crossing. I flinched; his gaze hardened. But he didn’t give Kenneth a moment of his time, just me. Did he know about my confrontation with the police in Anistar all those years ago? Is it legal to stick an incident like that on a kid’s record? Okay, I doubt that’s the case. Hmm… Maybe it’s a common trait of criminals, them starting out with petty dramas, then graduating to bigger and better ones…

    So, from what I do remember, your sunset was pretty. It made me realize that I’m not quite the greatest at visualizing in my head sights I haven’t seen, but you made it easier than normal. I think it’d be a good exercise for both of us if you wrote more descriptions like that.

    I guess I shouldn’t have brought up not talking about my journey anymore, huh? In hindsight, that was hypocritical of me, like we just reversed roles instead of reciprocating as friends should. Words really fail us sometimes, don’t they? Sometimes words aren’t even close to being enough. It both scares me and fascinates me to know there are times that my friends and family wanted to tell me something important, didn’t know how, and kept it to themselves. Sometimes that means stomaching a burden. Alone. It means keeping a secret that wasn’t ever meant to be hush-hush!

    Maybe I’ll send you pictures of my goofball birds or of whatever city I’m in at the time, if I see a sight worth conveying. Sometimes we’re forced to be alone because sometimes it’s good for us. Still, I think it’s worth fighting back where we can.

    I could even dig up my old photographs and send you pictures of Anistar’s sundial. Or other places Dad took us to for field trips, like the Manger Café with kids’ coloring pages plastered all over the walls, basically in place of the walls, where me and Joey put together a bunch of shapes to design our own pokémon species.

    Dad convinced Mom to let us work in her office—for us to gain life experience, apparently, or so he said when really he wanted a vacation day. Mom surprisingly let us visit again after Joey spilled apple juice all over her favorite swivel chair. It was the only chair that she could get to sit at the right height, she said, and luckily for Joey, her happiny sidekick assigned to her by the hospital director poured the yolk from one of her eggs to remove the stain. The happiny was like… a nurse in training, I guess, until Mom helped it evolve into a chansey, then a blissey. Then Mom said we had to listen to the blissey because she was bigger than us and definitely qualified to be the pokémon equivalent of a boss. I warned Joey not to, but he hid important documents from Mom’s file system to test her theory. She grounded him for two months when the blissey tattled, of course.

    Family… Right, family, I’m talking about them but not in the way I promised you I would. Not everything about Anistar was bad, though I hate admitting that because what if that means the reasons I stormed off on a journey aren’t good enough? What if I’m just ungrateful? My grandmother, she understands. I don’t doubt she loves me; I doubt the ethics of her job now, thanks to you enlightening me about the League and its shady affairs. If that reads as snippy, uh, sorry? Mostly I’m unsure of how to handle two important people in my life being as intertwined with the League as they are. It’s not like it’s my place to steer them down a morally acceptable career path, and I mean, what are the chances my purchases at each Pokémon Center hasn’t gone straight to their funding pool? We’re all guilty, even you. And yet only one of us is behind bars. Next time a policeman approaches me, I should hold out my hands for them to cuff me, no questions asked.

    So, I did bring up Enmity to my grandmother, yeah. Seems I forgot to mention that, too. The topic of Enmity allowed me to explain your past work as a breeder, which in turn allowed me to show you off and double the chances of her offering you a job at her side someday. Mark, she didn’t offer you a job, but that doesn’t mean she never will, and she kind of skirted past your issues in favor of voicing her knowledge about the zorua line.

    She knows my tastes pretty well, ‘cause she told me a story featuring both a zorua and a flying-type, murkrow! Murkrow are small birds with witch-like hats, sleek black feathers, a sharp beak reminiscent of a hook, and a love for shiny objects it can store and collect obsessively as if they were preparing for the winter… I know a lot about them myself because it’s a murkrow that scouts me out and drops your letters from its talons to my hands. Oh, uh, I may or may not have brought this up before.

    What’s a murkrow got to do with anything else, you ask? My grandmother teamed up with a couple of Johtonian professors to do a case study on a zorua named Sharo from the time he was born until he was the human equivalent of middle-aged. Zorua are rare in the wild, as you know, so they specifically observed Sharo’s behavior in the wild to see if he’d resort to physical altercations or stick to the mind tricks his species is known for. They wanted to know if breeders played a hand in their deceitful nature or if, as dark-types, it’s just an innate trait. I guess I’d call their hypothesis a challenge against the infamous nature versus nurture debate?

    My grandmother and her team observed Sharo in Johto, to “control for environmental factors”... as if something about Sinnoh as a region could cause a dark-type to act so dubiously. Well, they’re experts and I’m not, so I’m not in a position to criticize them. My new found disgust of the League is showing too much, isn’t it? Anyway, Sharo lived in Ilex Forest, where at night murkrow would search in fishponds for food. When they managed to snatch a meal, they’d land on the fir tree branches settled really close to the ground.

    Sharo ate fish, too, but avoided submerging himself in water. Instead, he watched the murkrow nightly to absorb and reflect on their habits. My grandmother couldn’t guess as to what his thought process was, obviously, but after a few weeks of borderline stalking the murkrow, she noticed that Sharo would attempt to steal the fish from the murkrow right after their first bite. She and her team took this to mean that Sharo, the daring predator that he was, had the best chance of succeeding because the murkrow were letting their guards down. And Sharo was able to succeed after spending the time to watch and discern what exactly he should do in a given situation.

    When the murkrow learned that low branches were no longer guaranteed safe during their fishing expeditions, they resolved to eat their meals while perched on the higher branches. Still Sharo didn’t use physical attacks on the murkrow. The zorua straight up flattered them, calling the murkrows pretty birds, complimenting their collection of shiny objects, asserting that he, as a lowly zorua, would never be as good at catching fish as they would. Then he’d claim he was too hungry to even try hunting and sulk off. Then the murkrow gave Sharo a fish out of pity! This tactic prevailed more than three quarters of the time, my grandmother said.

    Her study sounded fascinating to me. The details I just recited to you were from my memory, that’s how much they stuck with me. I might hunt down the journal her team published it in. The idea reminds me of the conversation we had about trainers releasing pokémon back into the wild, and the pokémon needing to adapt to survival despite being domesticated—even if they traveled. I wonder, how would Enmity himself have fared? Or, no, a more sensitive question, I think, if there’s one to be asked here at all, is how he’s faring as I write this. If what my grandmother found is anything to go by, he’s finding his way just fine. She told me as much, a comment in her letter which I understood to be directed at you rather than me.

    I was overall happy with her letter until she called zorua… selfish creatures. That hit me in the gut, Mark, because I was selfish when I left Anistar, right? Right. No one can convince me otherwise, so don’t even try.

    My parents’ favorite word to describe me was that, too. Selfish, I mean. And I don’t mean they implied it, like the other townspeople, or Joey, or my friends, or even Olympia, if that’s what she indeed was trying to teach me. Patterns usually have a lot of merit to them, so I’m struggling to believe otherwise. My parents, on the other hand… They blatantly said the word “selfish,” a lot. There’s no room for doubt on that point.

    It’s not like I left with the sole goal of hurting them all. In fact, that’s the opposite of what I wanted to do! And just for that I’d felt sad in their presence for years beforehand. I’d felt sad and unseen unless I had something more to offer, unless I could be good enough to pull the family back together and sew the gaps between us permanently.

    I couldn’t even sew them for a single minute! All I had to do was ask Joey on his birthday for the last piece of boudin sausage—his favorite food he’d ask Dad to cook—and the seams would unravel all over again, that’s how obnoxious things were after a while. My Dad oozed with rage particularly when I commented aloud about why home-schooling was an option for kids and why we couldn’t go to a public school to meet friends our age? To him, I obviously was ungrateful for all he’d done for us, all he’d continue to do for us, and all he’d sacrificed on behalf of his children—all just to be forced to follow the legal curriculum full of useless subjects we didn’t care for.

    Then Mom complained nonstop the winter of my sophomore year (re: “sophomore year”) because my grandmother invited me to her cabin in Dendemille for the entire break. I’m not sure where it’s located, or how I’d unlock the doors to get inside, or else me and Kenneth could’ve stayed there. Free, old-fashioned lodging where you can walk barefoot with beartic skin rugs under your feet and sit by the fireplace, hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate and just talking about whatever with your company as a male deerling’s tusks hangs up like a plaque on the wall… Well, it beats frantically searching for someplace with an open room any day.

    My grandmother had so many fun activities planned back then, too! She bought me a pair of skis—the resort’s are sub par, according to reviews—and a couple pails to collect chesto berries with. She whipped up her own candy recipe using them, and she was ready to teach me the recipe until Mom said no, I wasn’t ready to venture into a town known to have strange weather patterns.

    But it didn’t matter where in the world I’d go. She’d have an excuse on hand for any proposed trip that’d last longer than a day, as if she felt uncomfortable coming home from work without being able to confirm we were all there, safe from the dangers she witnesses daily. Sorry, Mom, but that’s hypocritical when you sometimes don’t come home for days or don’t tell us beforehand if you’re going to be home to, you know, eat dinner with us or whatever. We can’t be locked in the house 24/7 to put you at ease forever.

    Okay, this is a letter to you, Mark, not my mom, and I appreciate you reminding me that the option to bail out of exposing more about my family. But. It’s okay. Kenneth was a life saver here! I wrote a list of memories and facts about my family I might want to mention to you, then I did something I never saw myself doing until I was already in the middle of doing it: I read the entire list to Kenneth… out loud! And his eyes, one dilated and one, uh, not, goggled right into my own, unwavering. In any other situation, I’d be a tad creeped out, but by the end of the list, he just nodded and hugged me. He said he didn’t know what to say, and I told him that listening was more than enough, because if people ever have something to say right away, chances are that they weren’t listening but instead were tossing responses in their head to avoid the weight of someone else’s pain lingering in the inevitable awkwardness of silence.

    So, I’ll relay to you part of the list I read to Kenneth. There’s not much reason to expand on every single bullet point; not all of the pains on there are equal. And it’s not like the contents of those bullet points is, well, the whole point. You, Kenneth, Seybs, Ribbons, Kai, my grandmother… You all hold an exclusive spot in my heart, and my pains do, too, whether I like it or not. But it’s best if these spots aren’t exclusive for my entire life, you know? Forget permanent reservations. Being friends means running the risk of letting any or all of those spots melt into each other, usually as they trickle drip by drip, and that’s how you help both yourself and your friend feel complete.

    To start with, my parents sleep in separate bedrooms. Immediately you’ll notice a trend here. We don’t want to be near each other, none of us. That extra bedroom could’ve been an office for Dad to do work he enjoyed instead of just home schooling us, a playroom when me and Joey were younger, or a greenhouse-esque kind of room for my mom, who loves plants but can’t seem to keep them alive because she’s never home and Dad didn’t approve of being responsible for them in her stead. Once, seemingly to spite him, Mom brought home a bonsly, fresh out of its infant stage, six months old or maybe seven.

    But most days my dad didn’t so much as glance at it. Mom begged him to give the bonsly sips of water every hour, that was all, and he agreed. For a week. Then he ignored the bonsly again, and because I felt sorry that it got caught up in the middle of a petty war, I volunteered for the responsibility until Mom opted to rehome it.

    I’d blame them both for not acting their age if I actually knew enough about them to know if that blame would be justified. The best I know is that they both thought they wanted something—multiple somethings, even—and then realized they’d been lying to themselves. I can understand that much. Dad studied to earn his audiology degree yet struggles to listen to anybody. Mom wanted a place to call home but home for her is a different address than the one her mail goes to. They didn’t want each other after all, nor me, nor Joey. Unfortunately for them, choosing us couldn’t be reversed. No doubt that pretending has hurt them, never mind me and Joey for a second. And no doubt that, when both options lead to pain, pretending is easier than leaving your family in the dust to start fresh.

    So, you’d think me and Joey would’ve banded together in the face of adversity, right? He loves battling, I love pokémon, and we were both born to bitter parents who haven’t done much to teach us that the world is safe or that it expands much beyond Anistar. Nothing between us ever clicked. Whenever I opened my mouth, he rolled his eyes at me! In the afternoons I’d follow him out to the inverse training house on Route 18, close to where I caught Kai, and there he’d train with his talonflame… which back then was a wee fletchling. Joey enjoyed coordinating onomatopoeia sounds like WHAP and POW as he shouted attack names for his fletchling, which seemed super silly to me at the time because outward expressions of joy were so out of character for my usually serious, detached brother. I let out a too loud giggle once, and he held a fist to my face and demanded I never follow him again.

    If I could prove to him that I was more than just his annoying big sister, that he could count on me to be useful, or fun, or cool, or anything that I honestly wasn’t in his eyes, then he’d accept me. We’d be okay, and not totally alone in shrinking away from Anistar, and Kalos, and the rest of the world.

    I suggested that he entirely replace the League’s predetermined attack names with his sound effects. That way, he’d confuse his opponents! By the time the other trainer figured out his command patterns, the battle would already be over. And what did Joey do? He told me to shut up because he needed to concentrate.

    …Okay, that sounds 100 percent bad, but a month later, with Seybs on my shoulder and as still as a marble statue, I climbed a tree that’d let me glimpse the inside of the inverse training house. The window, wide open, let me hear that Joey had adopted my suggestion after all! His fletchling faced down a blitzle, the latter stomping its hooves against the concrete floor in frustration. The electric-type couldn’t land a single strike, although I wondered why it didn’t try to use thunder to its advantage. Fletchling was at a clear disadvantage, wasn’t he? Nope. That’s the secret of the inverse training house—a surrounding force field, held by a psychic-type, essentially turns all type effects upside down. Once I learned that, I understood why it appealed to Joey, and why his actions never coincided with his words. There was nothing I could do but accept that he didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved, but at least he did. Love me, I mean.

    This seems unrelated, but bear with me: haven’t you been suspicious of how Seybs evolved into a pidgeotto? You know, because of how indifferent he is to battling? At some point he had to train and grow enough that his body took on a brand new form. It happened when Joey’s one and only friend, Shawn, spent a summer vacation in Kanto with his parents. Joey then chose Seybs to be his fletchinder’s temporary sparring partner.

    Seybs… was outclassed. Seriously! I hate to admit it, but he embarrassed me, his owner, someone whose disinterest in battles couldn’t be outclassed. How had he not picked up some skill from watching Joey all those times? Learning vicariously—that’s a tried and true thing, you know. I think. The League’s probably right on that, at least.

    Seybs did a typical Seybs thing and exploited every defensive maneuver the battlefield—a forest clearing with black pine trees chopped clean in half, toppled over and smothering the bushes protecting its roots—allowed him. He flew in unpredictable zigzag patterns, ducked in between tree branches, high and low, whatever he could find, and he landed on the forest floor to retreat into the undergrowth until a pine needle poked his feathers too hard for his liking.

    When his fletchinder collapsed from exhaustion, Joey ran up to me with the nastiest grimace on his face—the “get out of my way or I’ll strike you” kind—and Seybs was tired too, albeit for different reasons, and yet he wasn’t gonna stand by and watch my brother start a nonsensical battle of his own with me. He pecked at Joey’s face, then Joey swatted his hands at Seybs, so Seybs pecked at Joey’s hands instead. Then Joey did something I still haven’t forgiven him for: he punched Seybs. Horrified and powerless, I turned away, and after a flash enveloped the clearing for a solid minute, in Seybs’s place stood a majestic pidgeotto with feathers so clean it was like he’d just preened or hadn’t dirtied himself flying during the battle. His first action as a pidgeotto was to blow a whirlwind in Joey’s direction.

    Needless to say, Joey conceded as he lay sprawling on the grass, and that event’s not come up in conversation since.

    If only it were so easy. It’s not just a matter of me forgiving Joey. Seybs also could hold a grudge against me for putting him in that situation in the first place, knowing his personality, and for letting Joey get away with punching him. I didn’t tattle to my grandmother, and especially not my parents. And if I ask Seybs about it, I can see myself unconsciously misreading his body language, his answer.

    I dared to confide in my grandmother about all these things and more, once upon a time, though she always resorted to a positive spin our sad family dynamic. No family is functional, she said, her heart in the right place, and her loyalties in the right place because she’d be no better than them if she scolded her own son and his life choices right in his daughter’s face.

    She didn’t wait for me to answer. She said that when parents decide to have a kid, they understand their kid will hurt sometimes and that others will hurt them. It sucks to think about, but pain to a certain degree is inevitable. Pain beyond that is the result of numerous factors, the accumulation of which usually spins out of control. Parents use that knowledge to better themselves… and it was at this point in her lecture my eyes bulged, my lips pressed together lest I accidentally screamed at her. To me, that logic embodied a guise my parents used, on purpose or not, to not take responsibility for their own part in mine and Joey’s pain.

    My parents often claimed they’d love me no matter what happened in our shared lifetimes, which made my stomach churn because that statement was a lie and just another guise, like then we owed them forgiveness, and gratefulness, and live, despite Joey turning to drugs because he trusted them more than a live person, despite me running to strangers for an unreliable semblance of stability.

    To sum everything up, the very concept of family feels like a giant guilt trip to me. And I’ve decided now: I can forgive Joey because his violence toward me and Seybs was a projection of his anger at our parents. Because he was angry at me by association, rather than anything I’d done or said to him myself.

    And I’ve decided that I’m going to face the Lumiose City gym after all. I want to understand what Joey sees in battling, and the Olympia battle, looking back on it, was a biased sham. There’s a million other, more fun activities in Lumiose I could indulge in… but there’s no use ruminating on a part of my past when I can take action. When Joey’s older, I hope he finds the strength to take control of his own happiness like this, too.

    Until then, I guess you get to read rants like these, although I didn’t come across quite as flustered in this letter compared to my list experience with Kenneth. I didn’t even cover the overflowing complexity of that list; I lost the need to about halfway through. The walls in our house were so thin, and I was tired of whispering and hiding and muffling my crying so often. I’ve wanted to scream for as long as I can remember, and now that I’ve been given the chance, it’s like I wound you up in anticipation of a tragic play only for the catastrophes I’ve alluded to over and over to subtly die out and ruin the climax.

    Thank you for the chance to talk about it, Mark, and your patience with it. I guess screaming, reaching for an audience wasn’t what I needed all this time, just a guarantee of a single person on the other end willing to listen.

    Thanks again,
    Haley
     
  5. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Hmm, why do granbull have the collar? If I had to guess, I'd say... sheer coincidence, probably. At any rate, the idea of it being a natural marking rather than something literally worn is neat. I like it when pokémon "clothes" are depicted as just being part of them--markings or bony protrusions or weird flappy flesh bits or what have you. It makes them weirder, and that makes them cooler.

    For some reason this made me think of how, in the Battle Chateau, Valerie is always just... plastered to the back wall in any room where she appears. Most of the other gym leaders walk around. She (along with Wulfric, iirc) does not. All she can do is just stand there with her arms held out at her sides. Frozen stiff. Like she's just a cardboard cutout or something. The real Valerie couldn't make it today; here's some rando behind a standee instead. :p

    Thank heck that got rehomed. Maybe Haley's actually off target in guessing that getting the poor thing in the first place was an act of spite, but if the bonsly was acquired for that reason... yeah. Using a living thing as a pawn in one's mind games is an incredibly shitty thing to do. That bonsly's better off away from that environment if that sort of crap took place there.

    Makes me wonder if psychis of that sort might use that ability to help defend themselves in the wild. Or for more nefarious purposes, of their own accord or possibly at a trainer's command. I wonder what the official stance on that sort of thing would be. Allowed, the way things like trick room and the like are, or grounds for disqualification? Maybe only the latter if the ability to do that isn't declared before the match. Hmm...
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.
  6. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Thanks! Though I have to admit, if I'd tried depicting, like, a machoke and its belt, I would've had a tougher time. I think I woulda gone with it being natural still, and the marking inspired the creation of wrestling champion belts? idkk.

    Yeah, for a fairy-type leader, she's just. Creepy. lmao. Maybe Markus's prison should have a cutout of her put somewhere as a reminder that she's Always Watching and Knows All. :v

    Spite indeed. Out of moral obligation Haley's father should've taken care of it because it's not just a plain plant, or at least, Haley/Joey might've stepped up to the plate because they love Pokémon.

    Ohh, I could definitely see psychics using it in the wild, maybe weaker ones that don't have the skills to use more subtle psychic techniques yet. As for tournaments, good idea. I tend to think an opponent's roster, and moveset (which is the only time I inflict a 4 move restriction, chosen by the trainer for an element of strategy), would be revealed beforehand. Ability would be included in there.
     
  7. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter seventeen]

    *

    August 20

    Again, I have no qualms with you forgoing parts of my letter in your own. A handful of topics I consider a priority, however, including that disclosed sunrise. My mind attaches itself to the moon, as a rule, to nighttime and darkness and the unknown, which is eschewed by the concept of artificial lighting that humanity created. In other words, my mind attaches itself to its own thoughts when the material world cannot serve as a distraction unless I allow it to. Sight, humanity’s preferred sense alongside hearing, is prominent precisely because it illuminates the material world and produces a comfortable retreat from our personal haunts. So, my sunrise was an exercise in finding a balance among the dichotomy.

    I’d like to open this letter with another sight... not one from the present, nor the recent past… but rather, one from the distant past. Recall the ridiculous claim I projected onto you about my mother bearing me in a seat of quadruplets. By ridiculous, I don’t refer to the content of my claim, per se, only the speed at which I divulged such information to you, with terribly personal details expressed with terrible wording to boot. To rectify that inane mistake of mine now is my intention here.

    Quadruplets: four living, breathing children with barely enough mental faculties to realize they possess thumbs, yet conspired to enter the world almost simultaneously. For my group, I was the lone survivor. Why? Certainly I did not conspire for that level of tragedy. To intentionally deprive the world of a soul, living or dead, is a crime deserving of the highest punishment. Who knows what kinds of people would my siblings have grown into during their lifetimes, had they been given the chance? A life lived even halfway, disrupted by a sudden disease, or an accident, cannot declare that it accomplished nothing of significance. Anything better would have sufficed, anything besides exposure to the true miracle of a heartbeat, then rendering it still before its owner could appreciate the ramifications of living.

    My parents, they brought me to a magic show once, except I could not focus my attention on the illusionist’s top hat on stage as he claimed it to be the home of one hundred taillow. While the crowd roared at the promise of seeing foreign birds—perhaps Kenneth would buy a ticket or two to his shows?—my siblings occupied my headspace, swimming free in my brain matter as they did in my mother’s womb after my mother whispered to my father rather theatrically that the children three seats away from us needed discipline. Their mother wore a rhinestone necklace, which her infant, strapped in a carrier fastened around her chest, was capable of reaching, grabbing, and tugging while her five-year-old threw his popcorn into the air. The kid was particularly proud when a piece bounced off of another spectator’s face; his laugh was obnoxious to the point where it drowned out the illusionist’s announcements.

    But, as if two children weren’t enough to handle, another little girl sat on the opposite side of her mother, arms crossed as if she’d been scolded not long ago. When a fourth and final child returned from the bathroom with his father, I felt an acute yearning for my siblings that, in hindsight, I’d always felt, just under the surface of my skin.

    A fair amount of people I confessed this experience to in the past, doubted me. To miss what you never knew appears to be the same as setting yourself up for a letdown, to imagine them walking alongside you with their own identity the same as harvesting your own misery. One could, I suppose, assert the same about the dead. Grief involving escape after escape into memories, and fantasy, but with more information about the late individual at your disposal… Is that healing, or is that perpetuating a spiral that initially began out of your control?

    I was of a high school age at that time. A teenage boy shouldn’t have been expressing his concerns outwardly, according to society. But insistence of that caliber stems from viewing empathy as a curse, and selfishness. Silencing populations susceptible to suffering is a way of saying, “I do not want to be responsible for seeing for myself how deep your pain runs, nor do I want the burden of trying to help you, and I don’t want to know these truths.” So they answer with a lie, that all emotion can and should be suppressed or confronted alone. I kept quiet, because I had not the energy to replace myths with facts, as most people in my position don’t. I’m unsure if my parents were aware that I remembered my siblings at all; that’s how defunct our household was.

    Once the illusionist’s show came to an end, I ducked away from the auditorium, away from my parents. My parents had discovered a new target for their gossip and didn’t notice my departure. So be it, if they needed to engage in arrogant behavior to boost the low self-esteem my failures afflicted them with.

    There was no choice but for me to prove to them that living a lie was futile. I had to become worse than a failure and give myself no room for self-deceit; no pretense of goodness in me could prevail. In reality, I was only a dejected son with no friends to his name, no interests or hobbies of value, and no traits to brag about to passers-by on the streets. But I was thoroughly convinced that my role as a son was all or nothing.

    At the far end of the theatre’s side wing, I shoved the restroom doors open with my shoulder and darted inside. I launched myself at the sink, indifferent as to whether or not I rammed my head through the leather captain’s mirror. Its sole purpose seemed to be to taunt me with my own reflection. I kept my head low in shame as I turned the faucet on. The cold water surged past my fingertips, slowly transforming until I could splash my face and scald it. When I dared to look up again, my face was flushed. But I’d hardly made a dent in portraying the embarrassment gurgling inside of me.

    From my peripheral vision, a bald man I hadn’t noticed before dried his hands with a towel dispenser. He’d forgotten this menial task in favor of staring at me, it seemed. His eyebrows rose so high in response to my frenzy that at once I envisioned them detached from his body and flying over his head.

    Droplets drip drip dripped from my fingertips. He continued to stare, as if he’d caught me washing away blood. I stared back.

    Eventually, he asked if I was okay, and I said I didn’t know, was I? It didn’t look like it, the man said. All right, he’d caught me after all. My mind was bleeding intrusive thoughts and he’d caught me. So damaged did I look to this man that he spewed forth the bold allegation of me needing something to take off the edge. Like I’d just witnessed a ghastly trauma that required a remedy as soon as possible. How could I explain a sixteen-year-old trauma to him, the experiences of which culminated to form each and every existential piece of me? How could I explain that nothing of me wasn’t consumed by the committed crime of simply being alive?

    Let me repeat this, Haley: I never met my siblings. My lack of memories has no bearing on the brain fog which permeates my mind on a consistent basis so much as the fact that there are no memories to recall in which they laughed, play wrestled with me, tattled on me… I had no right to be as upset as I was. But on that day during my second year of high school, the time in my life where my body had, without my permission, signed a contract with puberty, I could not conjure up a reason as to why I should have survived and been given the opportunity of seeing a magic show with my parents.

    The ironic thing is, I used my survivor’s guilt as an excuse to say yes to the man’s cocaine. One white line was enough. One second is all it takes for anything to change. I returned to my parents afterward, a slip of paper with an address on it. Just in case that one white line wasn’t enough after all, the man said.

    My parents refrained from commenting on my disappearing act. In the car, I remembered too much. I remembered a fabricated reality, so vivid indeed that “reality” is the only apt word for it. My body reeked of overstimulation as my siblings’ individual essences seeped into my organs, like the divine energies said to be bestowed on pokémon by Arceus. Fire, water, grass, all the elements, each of them multiplying the intensity of my senses as if I could experience them, truly, through the eyes of four people simultaneously. Their deaths engulfed me and flooded into me because where else would they go? You may be aware of the strong genetic ties between twins. Although less research focused on quadruplets has been conducted, I assume the tie is only made stronger for them.

    The man had, in hindsight, presented four white lines to me—one for each of us, though he couldn’t have known the facts of my birth. Snorting the powder that I did enhanced my life in an indescribable way, albeit temporarily, that once the effects began to fade, it felt as if the inherent foulness of life was fading as well. I didn’t want that foulness back. Still, I was too young to decide for myself whether drugs were a path I wanted to follow; my classroom teachers presented their evidence, and I obeyed their vehement warnings. As such, my addiction did not fester until I honed my personal dissent alongside Laverre’s move tutor.

    Being a teenager yourself, you might point out that the opposite mindset is normal of high school students, what with their—supposedly inevitable—rebellious phases. And, being an adult myself, I would point out my lack of unsolicited advice, constructing an argument against you following in my footsteps. This is a core value of mine which I’ve violated before, a feat I convinced myself was done on your behalf. Only a man who is willingly blind, panicked by the idea of knowing himself, is capable of falling for self-deceit at the expense of anyone else.

    The same logic especially applies to druggies. They understand the consequences of addiction, and the severity of its halfway status between a physical and mental illness. Yet dealers like the man in the theatre’s bathroom offer you more anyway, and yet addicts who have lost more than they can bear say yes time and time again.

    Well, I’d lost more than I could bear. In the car, my parents discussed preparing quiche for dinner, ever oblivious to my plight and what they, too, had lost. Immediately I opened my mouth to say the money spent on quiche ingredients would be wasted, the bathroom man’s offer more enticing as a delicacy. Dealers deal out of malice, greed, and/or the firm belief that suffering should consume the earth. He knew, and I knew, that if I returned, I should have an adequate amount of dough bulging from my wallet. It would not be a deal not for drugs but for milking every remaining ounce of dignity I owned, and every remaining pokédollar. Because he had a business to run—not the respectable kind registered with the Kaloseux government but the kind behind closed doors, where the customers are shedinja in disguise.

    We passed a golf course, its grasses greener than an adult oddish’s leaves. A fog churned slow about us, blotching out the nuances of our surroundings along with the evening chill. The world continued to fall away from me until the car vaulted over the driveway curb and we arrived at the place my parents deemed home.

    I’d considered it, on the drive home. How my mother, a humanitarians worker in the field of epidemiology, would understand a craving that scratched at my insides. There was no chance she’d say no to me if I asked for two weeks’ worth of allowance early. Combined with my earnings from a part-time job as a receptionist at the local wildlife center, I could return to the bathroom man and undergo the initiation required to officially refer to him as my dealer. It hurt me somewhere to acquiesce and take full advantage of her empathy, but like your mother, Haley, her warmth was scarcely reserved for me. Only strangers and acquaintances, and friends on occasion, seemed to deserve her unconditional compassion.

    So, I took the plunge. And she asked me straightaway, what did I need the money for, her eyebrows raised not with skepticism but more with… surprise. I hardly asked my parents for anything. Clothes and shelter and the like were easy work for my parents, and a given for any child, while learning emotional intelligence was an unspoken responsibility of mine.

    A smile tugged at her lips as I stood there, dumbfounded and unable to follow through yet with what I’d set out to do. I shifted, putting more weight on my right knee and tearing further the loose threads in the wool carpet with the heel of my shoe. Motioning for me to enter the living room with her, my mother seated herself in one of the two chairs adjacent to the couch. Their wingback style, and the way they tilted more toward each other than the centerpiece television, reminded me of a therapist’s office. The room smelt vaguely of soot from my father’s ashtray nearby. My fight or flight response kicked in, urgent as a fire alarm.

    I sputtered out jumbled words expressing that I had a craving for La Fable, a café popular in Lumiose for its late night hours and perfect outdoor view of the moon. Once a month, local trainers brought their clefairy and clefable to entertain the guests with tribal dances and background humming. For good measure, I added how I would ask a friend if they wanted to join me. Her eyes lit up, unaware of the fact that my social choices were limited to the nightmarish influences parents warn their kids about.

    My chest locked up at the sight of my mother enamored by the falsest of hopes. The next few moments passed as a blur. Soon my mother stood crouched at my side, one hand on my knee because I had unwittingly fallen to my knees.

    She asked if I was okay, the tenderness in her voice gone, when in a situation like this is when I needed the softness of a heart the most. Surely this sounds familiar, Haley? My mother, perhaps, thought of my weakness as an unwanted intrusion because she dealt with pain enough at work. If the misery followed in her shadow after hours, then home and work must have become inseparable to her.

    I had a knack for maintaining my composure, usually. Cocaine’s downward spiral cracked that barrier, and my mother realizing the source of the manic look in my eyes shattered it.

    My goal of retrieving money discarded, I said she was right, that I should’ve eaten lunch before the magic show. Now I felt dizzy because the rebellious side of me thought he was cool.

    My mother asked again, “What do you need the money for?” Her words this time rang fierce, and damning. She squeezed my shoulder and I knew I couldn’t run anymore. As if I’d flitted far to begin with.

    But so frozen was I that she asked three more times before I screamed NEVER MIND and found solitude in the bathroom, where I puked my guts out. Not even my organs could stand me anymore; they’d served me well enough and deserved a freedom I could not offer without the so-called crime of suicide.

    The greatest surprise that day was not how the illusionist locked himself in a box and commanded his scyther to x-scissor it a total of 50 times. (He came out unscathed, for the record.) No, the greatest surprise was calming my breathing so I could leave the bathroom, then finding my mother just outside with her back against the wall.

    I wished my siblings had survived without me instead, or that I could switch places with them. They were stillborn, Haley. I used hyperbole to disguise that and more. As for me… still born, stillborn. No difference, as far as I can see.

    But that’s how strong my mother’s benevolence toward me was. To this day I haven’t touched cocaine. My drugs of choice on the streets were

    Never mind. It’s… unbecoming of me to disclose details about my past cravings to someone like you. I substituted one drug category for another, that much should be obvious by now. Otherwise, just know that two living creatures, at two separate points in time, pulled me out of my flight on the wings of despair: my mother, whom I unforgivably betrayed by victimizing myself a second time, and Enmity. Enmity, he withstood my disappearing acts where I drifted in and out of reality. He shrugged them off as another part of our performance, just one specially designed for him. My mother, I can’t risk facing her for fear of relapsing—yes, behind bars, even.

    Which brings us back to the present. It’s funny, how I can blur the lines of a disappearing act without the influence of drugs. How could this happen? With my distant past rushing to me like flowing water, a specter must be lurking nearby, exploiting us prisoners when a wink of vulnerability shows itself. Perhaps the specter is a conglomeration of all our insecurities; the above memories do not feel as if they’re mine, at any rate, despite the details. No, it feels as if I am intensely empathizing with an isolated being that happens to be attached to me. My siblings and I, we could be taking turns sharing this body, too, I suppose…

    I can’t maintain this circular thought process. Please give me the opportunity to reread your letter and witness your pleasant, soothing handwriting once more…

    Ah. Well. You broke a barrier of your own, as my mother did with me, although you managed the strength of it alone, and gracefully. Your reactions to your family history are valid, if you don’t mind me stating so. Any doubts I begrudged against Seybs for his apparent lack of loyalty have been dispelled. I also found myself wanting to console Joey more so than I thought possible. That is the bond between recovering addicts, I suppose, one he may have felt when recounting to you his scarce but vivid recollections of me.

    But how strange it is, and how natural still, to know I could read between the lines, or analyze one’s silences, then get no closer to the truth of what you wanted or needed to say. That marvel popped into my head when reading your confessions. (Is that the right word to describe them? It is not my place to say, here.) I could have guessed the whole picture of your home life and been wrong because I projected my own biased experiences onto yours, or for another inane reason a psychologist would happily rave about. Pieces are missing even now, but they do not belong to me, or even to Kenneth, whom is at least lucky to have heard from your lips the distress that has plagued you for years.

    Thank Kenneth for me, would you? “Alone” was an inadequate choice of words; I foresee a rebuttal if I do not correct myself. Thank him for listening in a way, and for offering physical comfort which a con like me cannot extend. Were I not behind bars, I might be in his place, traveling by your side with no particular need to write. I might’ve helped you where he has and then some. Quite presumptuous of me, I know. Jealousy is atrociously ugly… if that’s what this is at all. I haven’t the fortitude to dig through my skull and pry an answer from it.

    Your parents and your grandmother, I feel less tender toward. Absolutely, the latter has done her fair share of helping you cope. It’s unfortunate that her ranking in the family places unspoken boundaries which she feels compelled to respect—even at your expense. From the way you speak of your father, he is unaware of the favor his mother continues to afford him, adding insult to injury. He reminds me of an audino who has the means to pay attention to wonders others would miss, yet chooses to join the masses in missing them. As for your mother? Frankly, she worries me because of her profession and her history of toying with another’s wellbeing. The breeding industry would exile her without hesitation, knowing full well how pokémon which resemble ordinary plant or animal life inadvertently trigger in non-trainers an egregious amount of carelessness.

    I would comment more if my hands weren’t shaking. My longhand’s not quite as readable this time around, and I apologize for any difficulty you experience in reading my words. Inform me of my blindness if this isn’t the case, but I cannot find an answer to the question I posed at the end of my last letter. Repeating it might send me over the edge, so I must refrain, and I must use my remaining willpower to ignore the guilt suddenly rioting in my head, claiming I only reciprocated on the family theme to vie for your attention. Single line questions may quickly be forgotten; an entire letter, however, cannot—unless it is not read from the start.

    I need to send these pages before I crumple them and throw them in the trash bin. Those pictures you mentioned sound nice, as do adjectives which bring the views before you to life, but what I need right now is your words.

    Mark
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2019
  8. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter eighteen]

    *

    August 26

    Well, first I just wanted to echo the good old “thanks for listening” song and dance. Thanks mostly for not judging me too hard. Admittedly I had to force myself not to skim your letter because for a while it was like maybe I didn’t write about my family after all, or you didn’t read. Pausing to close my eyes and keep them fixated in one place, I reminded myself that you reciprocating was an answer by itself, probably, and if not, silence is sometimes the best answer anyway. Interpreting silence is… hit and miss, in my experience. I only know for sure that nothing good’s come of assuming the worst, so! I’ve always seen the best in you, and why stop now?

    That goes for the murderer question, Mark, or the abuser question, or whatever high-profile-crime-you-think-you’re-most-capable-of question. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t believe you sent me such a demanding question, but if I look closer, there’s a pattern of you trying to plant a seed of doubt in me. Maybe purposely, maybe not. If a prisoner wanted to lie about his sentence, addiction would be a convenient go-to, I guess. My silence should’ve made my argument clear enough, yet it appeared to make you feel invalidated instead. Interpretation, like I said. Nasty subjective stuff.

    But yeah, I know the guilt of what happened to your starters trails you like a shadow. A shadow you’ve befriended and held hands with, because who else in that prison is going to bother? I’m… disgusted at your perception of yourself, how it reflects a bone deep sadness lodged so deep it seems to need to be surgically removed. Oh, er, let me fix that. I’m not disgusted at you, just at the ways a human body enjoys deceiving itself. There’s no need to compete for my attention, Mark. There’s no one even to compete with; yourself doesn’t count.

    Honestly, the worst I’d expect from you—did expect from you, when I finally translated my family issues onto paper—is a lecture. You know, because you’re an adult, and the other adults in my life felt obligated to save me from the world they’ve even birthed their own kids into! Oh, you’ve given me some talks? rants? speeches? about culture and whatnot, sure. But not in a tone that implies you’d resent me if I didn’t follow your advice, or in a way that you don’t trust me to learn on my own along the way. That’s different! That’s a reciprocal exchange! …Is that the right term?

    Anyway. Don’t forget you chose fairies for the coin tossup, and you won! I, uh, couldn’t have predicted you’d score literal fairy-types. Funny how that works out, though. You promised to keep your chin up if you won, and with Rowe actually at your side to help, I’d say you have the means to try twice as hard.

    So I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not, but the night I read your letter I dreamed of chains. There was a silhouette of a mannequin, surrounded by blackness save for a red carpet below their feet with glittering gold trim. A chain was secured to their chest and back, evenly measured in either direction, lined up perfectly. (When I woke up, in my grogginess I tried to envision what procedure could ram a chain through a person’s bones, plus what tools could be so precise.) Occasionally a shadow pulled at the chains. The carpet below scrunched up until the abyss eventually devoured it, sharpedo-like teeth and all. Then there was nowhere else for the silhouette to go except where the chains wanted it to. The chest chain rocketed the silhouette into their future; the back chain hauled it into the past. That’s the symbolism my dream self thought of, anyway.

    Thankfully my dream self is nothing like my real self. She was an apathetic bystander watching from, uh, wherever, as if the silhouette were really a mere mannequin. But I spent that morning thinking of your three lost siblings, the image of you flashing through my mind in replacement of the silhouette in my dream. Yeah, that’s right—and I don’t know what you look like! And although I couldn’t make out the shadow tugging you this way and that, it had to be your siblings.

    It’s nice to know your mom did care, once. If she doesn’t now, I mean. Something tells me your parents care(d) in their own way, like mine, but they were blind to the way you wanted to be loved. And the impression I get is that they’re not around now because of that neglect. That you absolved yourself of the initiative needed to stay in touch with them. I could be off base, and I won’t pry. I just… Well, either way I get where you’re coming from is all.

    Once upon a time my parents did care, I think. Then they agreed on an unspoken pact to act like they didn’t care, a charade that persisted so long that their callousness became the truth. Proof of that is all over the house. The wall where my dad used to mark our heights as we got older was painted over with a sickly green, a shade or two lighter than the rest of the living room. The color reminds me of my mom’s plants on the brink of decay.

    By the way, my grandmother compared Seybs’s own aloofness to my family situation. Like, he lost his predatory and battling instincts because of being domesticated from birth. I don’t know why that disappoints me. Because Seybs is missing out on a sport most pokémon are eager to engage in? Or a more selfish reason—because I lost out on the chance to bond with Joey through battling? Regardless, I’m his parent, kind of, and I accept him anyway, and I do my best to give him a decent life.

    It’s just as well, honestly. Joey would’ve been the better trainer for Seybs if he set his heart on battling. I’ve battled Clemont at the Lumiose City gym now, and… I don’t think I understand Joey any more than I did before, but seeing through his eyes, metaphorically speaking, giving me something grand to talk about the next time I see him! Or write to him or phone him, which I should get around to doing. Soon.

    I’ll tell you first, of course! I’ve already got pen to paper with you in mind, so! I see no reason not to. Shuffling through the jam-packed streets to reach the center of the city, I stopped to notice a couple spectacles. Me and Kenneth have been here a while, but I’ve spent too much time with my head down low while he got bored of waiting for me to perk up and dropped by tourist areas without me. He could’ve just been giving me space, too, I guess, but even I was bored of my own misery. Anyway, so I wanted a turn to explore more of Lumiose, now that my head felt lighter.

    You grew up in Lumiose, so describing the city from top to bottom seems like overkill. Not to mention that I’d need to spend months booking tours and preparing for field trips, to see the full picture. About all these overpoweringly tall buildings, though—is the air of importance they give off justified? And then, the more ordinary scenery: ice cream vendors singing in the hopes of attracting customers, kids jumping hopscotch, a soccer team of toddlers in green uniforms practicing with a sandshrew… Who knows what the sandshrew’s role was—I’m just glad it probably isn’t getting hurt thanks to its tough skin—but I caught a glimpse of it rolling without a toddler’s feet making contact with it. I suppose that’s one way to teach kids the game and direct muscle memory.

    At some point, mine and Kenneth’s bags were overflowing with newspapers. Paperboys were stationed at each corner and insisted on handing us each a copy no matter how hard we shook our heads. It turned out all right in the end because my pokémon bonded over shredding the paper to bits. Ribbons was strangely meticulous, only chewing the parts without print on them, and Kai spit occasionally as if he despised the taste of his “snack”.

    Out of boredom, and as a distraction from my imminent gym challenge, I did check out the headlines to see what was going on elsewhere in the world. Yeah, I’m one of those people who ignore the actual articles. Guilty as charged. “Greninja and Staryu Shuriken Duo Wipe the Floor” inspired some hope in me. If water-types can beat Clemont, why not flying-types! A picture of the Prism Tower’s reception desk separated the article into two blocks, displaying a painting of the battle’s climax. You bet I scanned the place when I was there—no spoilers on the outcome! While I can’t say I’m thrilled about the gym circuit as a whole still, I’d love to impress my parents with a memorialized achievement like that.

    This headline reminded me of Olympia: “Local Meowstic Uses Psychic Powers to Rearrange Furniture in the Middle of the Night to Confuse Trainer in the Morning.” I cringed on instinct, but it amused me nonetheless. Is it petty of me to want Olympia’s meowstic to annoy her like that? (Rhetorical question—yes, yes it is.) Besides, we can assume that Olympia’s own psychic powers, if they’re real, make her immune to pranks. Just like the one she played on me. Darn.

    Kenneth overheard a rumor about how Olympia and Clemont often team up as part of the League’s innovation department. Olympia and/or her pokémon can scan blueprints and outlines of Clemont’s inventions, then construct an elaborate simulation to examine how the design would plan out. Doing this, she saves Kalos a ton of money and resources every year. It’d have been too easy to screw up the complicated latticework on the Prism Tower, so… Makes sense, but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that Olympia’s been following me during my journey. Or not following me, just, I don’t know, knowing. And judging and gossiping to everyone in Anistar who will listen, which is everybody, because Arceus forbid people find things worth talking about.

    So, the rumor only multiplied my determination. I’d defeated half of the League duo, against the odds. Strutting up to the Prism Tower, though—don’t laugh at me—I forgot my resolve for a second in favor of the childish urge to touch its steel frame and see if it’d shock me. Kenneth rolled my eyes as my facial expression apparently did a 180. He knew what I didn’t, as usual. That is, he knew how the Prism Tower was tempered with ground-type energy, to protect it from damage. A gym leader can’t possibly battle so much the building would in danger! …That’s what I would have said if I didn’t know the true destructive power of pokémon that people whisper about.

    Clemont himself looked harmless. I don’t know his age exactly, but I’d pin him for a young adult, mid-20s at best. Yet he sports a blue jumpsuit like a public school janitor would. (Yeah, I didn’t attend public school, but I snuck into Anistar’s backdoors one rebellious Monday night. It was unlocked, as I expected, because I eavesdropped on a couple claiming that the best hiding spot for runaways was the school auditorium. The janitor scheduled for then apparently “lost” the keys on purpose, every shift of his. But when I showed up, no one was there and in my shame I never went again. On my way out I saw a janitor’s uniform lying haphazardly on the floor outside the storage room.)

    Clemont was tough! The statistics on his battles must be insane! But I got to see the kid in him. Once I caught the upper hand, his face turned stern, and he pouted with a stiff lip the rest of the time. His commands tumbled out of his mouth in sputters. Fiddling with Olympia’s badge dangling from my ears, I showed my insecurity in a subtler way. My rising confidence means, I think, that I can stop modeling and cleaning the famous proof of my victory. The last thing I want to do is advertise her gym, anyway. The less traffic the League circuit gets, and the less trainers exposed to her façade, the better. Kenneth agrees, knowing the power of exposure for brand names.

    I hope that last paragraph didn’t spoil the battle’s ending. If not, that last sentence definitely did. All right, I’ll spit it out. I won! Clemont made a big mistake, see, because he didn’t know I’m an expert on flying-types (or at least, I have more knowledge of them than the average person). He opened with his emolga in our two-on-two battle. As if a half-bird flaunting its advantage over my own would intimidate me.

    On impulse, my fingers clutched Seybs’s pokéball, what with him being my only teammate who’s faced Joey’s temper with me. I swear I could feel his pokéball shrink, too. Ribbons’s ball could inform me when he was sick or healthy, remember? So to me, Seybs was communicating to me by recoiling instinctively. Disobeying me outright wasn’t an option for him. My selfishness vanished, and I sent Ribbons to the battlefield instead.

    Hmm, I gave up the secret of us winning too easily. But winning Clemont’s gym badge wasn’t the main accomplishment of the battle! I can’t hold that excitement in, either. There’s not enough time in the day to ever share everything I want to with you, Mark. I’ll just have to focus on the best parts. Let’s see… Ribbons is almost as tall as me now! He won’t fit on my shoulder anymore. In fact, if he undergoes another growth spurt—not the evolution kind, but similar to a kid’s—he’ll loom over my shoulder. Honestly? I’m not sure I’ve processed his xatu self yet. That’s right! HE’S A XATU NOW! Is there anything else a natu can evolve into? That’s Professor Sycamore’s job to figure out. But yeah, I don’t know. I forced myself to focus on the battle itself as best I could, but I kept noticing how his body shape’s so different from before, he could be mistaken for a human participating in a costume contest.

    Compared to Ribbons, Clemont’s emolga zipped through the air, maneuvering within the battlefield’s boundary lines with a finesse a natu could only dream of. The emolga taunted him by poking the underside of his feathers. It could’ve sniped Ribbons’s ability to fly in a flash! So I chose Ribbons... why, exactly? For his psychic powers, of course, which emit energy that can spread as far as Ribbons wants. You could pick up the quietest of sound waves from the sidelines, that’s how much effort he put into catching the emolga. Still, the emolga seemed to see Ribbons’s psychic attacks floating about and tried to dodge them haphazardly. Or maybe that’s just how confused it was?

    Anyway, it took a whopping ten minutes for the emolga to shoot off an electric-type attack. Clemont looked on, silent. His pokémon must’ve grown tired of waiting and playing games. I can admire a creature that takes matters into its own hands, but, uh, the electricity hurt Ribbons. A lot. Scorched a fair bit of his left wing, even, and then flying was out of the question. Stuck on the ground—or, if you want to view it in an optimistic way, Ribbons was stuck several hundred feet up in the air—it was all he could do to hop on his tiny feet to fend off the emolga.

    I needed a new tactic. Something that wasn’t just psychic, psychic, psychic. Clemont and his emolga didn’t see the ominous wind coming. The gusts cast a great shadow on the battlefield from above while Clemont yelled about closing in on Ribbons for a quick attack—you know, to rub in how he didn’t need the typing advantage to win. Ribbons rivaled Seybs’s stoicism as he feigned a painful expression, just until the emolga plummeted to the ground from his ghostly downward winds. The eerie air spinning around the emolga, sapping its strength, seemed straight out of a horror movie.

    Ribbons huffed in triumph, which made the emolga seethe once the ominous wind finally dissipated. And that’s when it delivered the strongest thunderbolt attack it could muster before passing out. Ribbons, though? Ribbons refused to pass out, too, despite the direct hit. The electricity’s radiance lasted so long, I thought for a split second he had to be done for. In reality, his body expanded, and his wings spread further than my arms would outstretched, fingertip to fingertip. Fresh white feathers replaced his electric burns—he could fly again during the battle! And he can fly longer distances now, I bet, so I don’t have to worry about him anymore!

    Ribbons’s pride prevented him from calling the round a draw. I, as his trainer, chose to recall him for the next one anyway. Pokémon evolution’s a mystery to me, but it can’t be too farfetched to assume there’s a learning curve that comes with controlling a new form. Not to mention he’d be up against a healthy foe! His injuries were minor but enough for me to hesitate. With Clemont’s gym rules, I could send him out again later, and after I explained that to Ribbons, he quit sulking. I did him another favor by letting him stand by my side during Kai’s match, where he preened leftover pin feathers and explored the audience area by walking instead of his usual hopping.

    The battle referee requested for me to choose my next fighter before Clemont. Ribbons, Seybs, Kai… A pidgeotto, a natu-turned-xatu, and a noibat… That’s my team. That’s who I’ve got to work with, usually. Not so for battles. Kai was my next—and only—choice. And in hindsight, it would’ve been smarter to recall Ribbons after Clemont revealed his dedenne. Can you believe it? A double type disadvantage! I glanced at Seybs, saw his face scrunched up. He understood the consequences of our unspoken contract at that moment, I think.

    Right, so… Dragon/flying versus fairy/electric. Okay, Kai’s dragon genes cancel out any vulnerability to electricity, actually. I forget that a lot. Clemont, of course, had a plan in mind. Judging by my performance with Ribbons, I wasn’t the quickest at thinking on my feet and responding to battles of speed. And dedenne are small, agile creatures—like emolga, just on their feet instead of with wings.

    Kai’s air cutter slowed the dedenne down, at least. Touching a ripple wouldn’t have hurt by much, but still, its own attacks would dwindle in power. Clemont smirked when I ordered Kai to use dragon pulse while the dedenne, as I’d hoped, missed the memo and froze in the middle of a parabolic charge out of confusion. That’s exactly when Kai made his move! He dove past the dedenne, brushing past its whispers to gauge whether the electric-typed had stored up energy in them. His paw twitching proved that we should be careful with a close range strategy.

    I gave the order for Kai to go with the tail instead, and he turned with a level of dexterity that made my chest balloon with the drive I carried with me as I stormed out of Anistar. I caught myself standing on my tippy toes, wanting to fly high with my pokémon when all I could do was cheer from the trainer’s box.

    From behind the dedenne, Kai fanned out his wings, reaching forward with his paws as far as he could. When the time came, he grabbed the dedenne’s tail and bit down on it with his fangs. The dedenne, already under duress from the spontaneity of its opponent, let out a yelp. The electricity in its cheek pouches bolted forward, colliding with the ground and achieving nothing but depleting its energy reserves. Kai got a chuckle out of me when he spit a piece of the dedenne’s tail fur out of his mouth.

    Surprisingly, Clemont called for another parabolic charge. The dedenne didn’t, well, charge this time around. An electrical dome surrounded the battlefield within seconds, and unless Kai lay low on the ground, a barrage of low level currents threatened to wear him down. His acrobatics move, aptly named by the League, served for him to sidestep several shots. I chewed my nails out of nervousness. The chances of Kai getting paralyzed were pretty high… We had to end it, and quick!

    But the dedenne caught him in a play rough attack, halting his flight, wrestling him. Completely in control, the dedenne hauled Kai to the edge of the dome, where its intensity was the most extreme. Kai pulled through because of the dedenne’s tail… again. Its wire-like thinness was foolproof for Kai’s teeny claws! I didn’t even order Kai around; all the credit goes to him, here. He waited for an opening, and then, clutching the dedenne’s tail, he threw it straight off of the battlefield. Now, out of bounds regulations aren’t that strict, or else fat and tall pokémon would rarely be practical choices. It’s based on timing, so I warned Kai about that, to be safe, to not have the victory snatched from him over small print. Still, he concocted his next strategy without me: bombarding the dedenne with air cutter after air cutter, thrusting the dedenne back as it tried to scramble back into the arena.

    Clemont said nothing, resigned. Either he didn’t think of a counterattack or he didn’t think that continuing the battle was worth it. At least his frustrated demeanor turned cool and sober, hinting to me that he deemed me worthy of a gym badge. And he crossed the battlefield and handed it to me without hesitation, unperturbed by the stray parabolic charges. Who knows, Mark? Maybe he was grateful I inspired an idea for him to invent or something. All I know is that the atmosphere was way different from when I first walked in and formally announced how I wanted to challenge him to a gym battle.

    Clemont hinted at another thing, too, that the “information in his system” about me impressed him. Being the fifth leader in the gym circuit, smack dab in the middle, he’s probably used to battling amateurs and professionals alike—just not newbies like me. He didn’t elaborate, but he had to mean the fact that I only had Olympia’s badge to my name.

    …When did he have time to learn that? The referee must have informed him. Whatever. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to be strong enough, or experienced enough, to defeat him. But it wasn’t about me. I simply kept an eye on things and had a wider view of the battlefield that Kai didn’t. Therefore, I could warn him and cover for his blind sides, and we could work together to overcome a foe we ultimately knew little about. Because I didn’t do my research before barging my way up the Prism Tower, didn’t go to the library and look up Clemont’s roster, then each of my potential opponent’s encyclopedia pages.

    My pokémon getting to exercise their wings was a bonus. I mostly wanted to see from Joey’s point of view, like I said. And I think I discovered what appeals to him about battling: the helping aspect. Too often we watch on as friends and family are struggling, and we feel useless. We don’t know what to do, or firmly believe that whatever we do, it won’t be nearly enough. Never mind the destructive habit of taking on the responsibility of other people’s burdens at the expense of yourself. During a battle, at least, there is something you can do. Always.

    I bet Joey felt useless in our family situation. I know I did. Our parents projected their mistakes and issues onto us, and though they never outright said anything was our fault, they implied it so hard that we wanted to compensate for the shortcomings we believed we had but really didn’t. I’ve wondered a lot, what is it that’s so wrong with me that things turned out the way they did? That I haven’t found an answer yet means it’s possible an answer doesn’t exist.

    Despite winning, despite my help, Kai seemed upset after we left the Prism Tower. I bent down to his level, at which point Kai pointed a wing at Ribbons. He was jealous that Ribbons had evolved and not him! I daresay Kai’s my star battler, and yeah, he has more experience than Ribbons because of that. How could I explain to him that dragons grow much, much slower? Psychic-types, they might grow too fast in comparison. Must be the insane combination of physical and mental strength, when dragons thrive on muscle alone.

    I wanted to cheer Kai up and reward Ribbons, so as a celebration I treated everyone to a restaurant we already knew we loved: the Restaurant Le Nah! It’s an ovation dinner theater sort of place, where you watch battles. There’s a movie screen at the far end of the wall for special events (AKA, real movies) and a glass screen between the seating area and the battlefield… to ensure no one’s steak is made extra well done thanks to a flamethrower shooting by. And that’d be the least of anyone’s worries!

    Anyway, me and Kenneth found seats near an open area for my pokémon to relax and eat. Seybs, of course, chose my shoulder, and Ribbons prepared to join him until he realized he’d crush me with his evolved size. Ribbons and Kai got to bond over witnessing a double battle for the first time. Gesturing with his claws, Kai helped Ribbons forget all about my shoulder, ousting an old comforting quirk with a new one. Ribbons murmured to Kai in response, unmoving for the most part. I imagined him as a storyteller, narrating what the once—or twice!—in a lifetime experience of evolution was like, so that Kai can look forward to it.

    In my hands I fiddled with my new badge, wondering where in Lumiose I could buy the materials to transform it into an earring like I did with Olympia’s. Clemont’s and Olympia’s badges… don’t match. Different shapes, different colors. I’m sure I’ll look goofy, especially to Kenneth, as conscious of appearances as he is. He shrunk back when he heard my plan to wear them both simultaneously, but it’s okay. I’m happy.

    ~ Haley
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019
  9. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter nineteen]

    *

    September 1

    Hmm… No answer is an answer all by itself? I see. An abstract reasoning, but hardly comparable in difficulty to the ultimate wonders of the universe. Yet I’m filled with doubt regardless. The implications are greater if your shame does not extend to a pen pal of true scum status. Then I’d be inclined to agree with your acquaintances back in Anistar, you understand… if I had the conscience for it.

    There’d be the additional matter of the tangible companionship you’d attract on your journey. Kenneth swiftly comes to mind, but not for my distrust in him, for now I realize how misplaced it was. His career with Devon Corporation involves money, and where money factors in, so does greed which exacerbates one’s capabilities to commit crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies and consideration of the death penalty. I suspect Kenneth has, without knowing, worked beside guilty co-workers. Perhaps all they accomplished was stealing cheap office supplies, or conducting personal business on company hours. But even petty transgressions prompt society to equate the perpetrators with hardened offenders. You yourself would be judged for traveling alongside someone of that “low” caliber.

    It is the same for the legal injustices committed. Break a promise, breach a confidant’s trust, lie through your teeth… Then you will evoke in the victim a deluge of anger rivaling that of a territorial rhyhorn’s. And it would be an anger no different from which a victim feels when staring at their perpetrator behind bars. The anger breeds in the same part of the brain. Secretes the same neurotransmitters. Elicits the same desire for a support group, a cycling through the stages of grief, and so on.

    Humans are a judgmental species overall, and a fickle one. I daresay that the multiple selves they’re comprised of are to blame. Several millennia’s worth of evolution and a human’s brain has yet to reach full synchrony with the body and mind, whereas a pokémon’s innards are disassembled and reconstructed in the blink of an eye without them losing their very identity.

    Take Ribbons, as an obvious example. The changes he underwent mid-battle are self-evident, yet you indicated nothing as to beholding an unrecognizable xatu. By instinct, you knew him to be the same Ribbons you met on the day your grandmother gifted him to you. His overt behavior, with all his new found limbs and high-lift wings to explore, declared that what mattered most to him was his trainer, his team—as has always been the case. And indeed, Ribbons has used his evolution as an avenue for building a steadier rapport with Kai. This is proof enough for me, albeit from a third party perspective.

    With you and Seybs and Kai always in his sight, I’m curious as to what he sees. I mean what exactly he sees, given the xatu species is infamous for their role as oracles. Notice I write infamous, not famous, and not as an accident. This is in part why I cannot fully share your celebratory disposition, although I am proud of your continued headstrong approach to life. There seems to be neither person nor struggle which can hope to tame you. Flying-types, your bread and butter, befit you perfectly with the freedom you make sure to take advantage of. And likewise, the depths of your psyche and the sheer fervor you exude entitle you to the badges you have secured.

    But yes, if you were not aware, codices which were unearthed, compiled, and deciphered by Tohjoic historians characterize xatu with the ability to peer into one’s past and future. Look at Ribbons head on when you get the chance. His right eye, it knows your past, and his left eye, your future—depending on who you ask, I suppose. Some entries portrayed the opposite. Most entries call the ability a sham capable of brainwashing, given how intrusive a xatu’s readings can be.

    I’ll note quickly that it sounds as if Ribbons respects you too much to invade your private thoughts. It is not necessary to gain your permission, however, or even your knowledge of his ability having permeated your mind.

    In any event, I lean toward escapism, and I tilt my head dubiously at humanity’s role in progressing society as far as it has. So, legends as they relate to xatu are not preposterous through my eyes. I’ll provide to you an example, potentially altered as I recite it from my memories.

    Kanto’s Emperor Touso, back in a time period where trainers honed their skills in dojos rather than gyms, owned a xatu. The xatu technically was wild, for the modern pokéball had not been invented just yet. Apricorn balls failed to contain a psychic’s prowess, but occasionally one would acquiesce to being caught due to the balls’ resistance to cold and healing properties. It all depended on traveling conditions and the amount of exposure to battle.

    Five years after his enthronement, Emperor Touso and his xatu departed the Indigo Plateau to take up residence in Saffron City. Ancestors of Saffron’s current gym leader, Sabrina, had offered to observe the xatu’s sacred powers and figure out how to transfer them to Emperor Touso himself. Emperor Touso, see, wished to learn the exact date of his death, or the date his title was relinquished, which he counted on being the same. Plus, no doubt would his divination bolster the public’s view of Kanto and fracture Johto’s.

    In return, Emperor Touso delivered heartening speeches, especially in times of distress and war. He signed papers and organized the funds necessary to rebuild Saffron’s dojo, whose protective barriers often shattered in the face of exceptional psychic-types. Collaborating with ghost-type trainers, he performed séances to communicate with the dead. This earned him a reputation unmatched by true government officials.

    But to some people’s great dismay, he studied the infusion of deceased pokémon’s remains as they seeped into nature, thus granting them supernatural properties. (Think of a cheri berry’s ability to restore paralysis in an instant.) I am hesitant to disclose an opinion on such an enterprise. Because it is a tenable theory, I am prone to envisioning my starters survive through nature. The trainers you pass on the stuffed streets of Lumiose may hold in their backpacks a sliver of my heart and soul, negligent of their responsibility to continually nourish them…

    I digress. The xatu was well aware of how authority had given Emperor Touso an appetite for corruption. So Emperor Touso could not, in fact, acquire even a fraction of his xatu’s clairvoyance. Stumped, the psychic-type masters of Saffron suggested he name someone trustworthy and dear to him, so they could serve him in that way. The wife of Emperor Touso, unrecognized by a reverent title as decreed by Tohjoic legislation, stepped up to the task with intention.

    The xatu was more curious in Emperor Touso’s wife, it turned out. Once she began cultivating the xatu’s psychic abilities, the xatu pried into her past to detect any hidden depravity. Unlike her husband, she was kindhearted and virtuous, prone to tearing up at the smallest of injustices committed against others. She was not without fault, as no perfect being is allowed to walk the earth. She replayed the wrongdoings she witnessed in her head, choosing again and again to reinforce her addiction to sadness. But because she aspired to protect where others acted in self-interest, the xatu allowed Saffron’s psychic masters to transfer half of his abilities to her.

    The legends offer a happy ending, of sorts. Emperor Touso aimed to influence his wife where he could, and she struggled with wanting to avoid arousing the ire of society. Still, with her authority she pushed for proper recognition of women in positions like hers and, knowing the date of her death, not a day went by that she did not continue her work in suffrage and bringing comfort to the dispirited.

    Will of the Elite Four sparked a fair bit of controversy, claiming at first that Emperor Touso’s wife faked her psychic abilities and did not deserve the adoration she’d garnered. He changed his story down the road to say that her psychic abilities were, in fact, brainwashing the masses. Nothing was accomplished in uncovering the truth. Reputations crumbled, and the next calamity overshadowed it swiftly.

    “Calamity” is not my personal choice of words, I must say. It was during this time period that pokémon began encompassing divine energies different from those which they were born with. Humanity once more feared pokémon, as it had become clear that no one understood all that they’re capable of.

    What do I mean when I mention this calamity, you ask? Well, now the practice has been honed and is commonplace. As Ribbons used the ghost-type ominous wind in battle for you, xatu of olde played with fire. Sunny day and heat wave—attacks undesignated by the League as of yet, naturally—could apply an immense amount of hotness to bones dug out of graves or left by freshly eaten prey. Most often, these bones belonged to mandibuzz, tirtouga, tauros, bouffalant… Such rare species were prized by nobility, like xatu, and thought to possess magic which the gods wanted as sacrificial offerings.

    Modern accounts of xatu reserved for the pokédex—a toy full of legends but passed off as the work of academics so as to inspire children to take their studies seriously—involve switching places with trainers. Xatu hypnotize their trainers, compelling them to pretend to be in charge for the sake of appearances. Or, after retreating into isolation, xatu are thought to command humans themselves in battle. These legends do not explain very well how humans manage to survive against stronger foes, or how they heal without the assistance of healthcare. Surely, xatu cannot be so calculated or resourceful as to gather teammates with healing capacities. And I fail to see their motivation for devising an elaborate simulation, other than hunger for the authority their species was exposed to in the past.

    Part of me admits I may scare you to an unforgivable degree with this letter. I justify my words with the hope that you will appreciate learning about the history of a pokémon you now own. Because I cannot tell you specifics about Ribbons himself that you have not already perceived and wrote about, this is the best I can offer.

    Ribbons pulled his weight in the battle against Clemont, certainly. I am thankful that he delights you in a way that seeps into your letters, makes them radiate and glow in a way that could delay a sunset. My sentiments double when you compare the tone in your recent letters to the sad ones before, although sadness is not to be feared nor suppressed, or else it would not affect us all at one time or another… That is another reason why, as I felt a pang of sadness over Ribbons’s evolution, I resolved not to hide it from you. If I should come upon the cause for my odd reaction, I shall transcribe it for you.

    Rowe himself has evolved—in the way I perceive his character, that is. Valerie is our acting supervisor as we become accustomed to each other. She is impossible to read, unlike Rowe. I may sound a fool for insisting on this, but Rowe has adopted, sometime in his life, human society’s values. He treats me as a criminal, no different than the majority of guards parading the halls. Silently he measures the distance between us in units of steps. When I take two steps forward, he takes two back. I corner him in my small cell and he growls, grumbles threats he thinks I can’t understand. Playing make believe is the safest option as it stands, just until Valerie finishes her program’s groundwork and lets the rest run its course. Otherwise, Rowe performs his job as he should, albeit with noticeable resistance in his movements. It is all I can do to not simply melt myself into the concrete and fade away from their view, and their memories. Bouncer, at least, would treasure a solitary cell…

    You know, criminology among pokémon would be a fascinating subject to broach. What percentage of caught pokémon abandon or stick it out upon discovering how despicable their trainer is? When members of the same species hardly differ in appearance, how might identity theft be accomplished? In Rowe’s case, canine length might suffice. He must make quite the scene whenever he turns up on the street; for him, aspiring to be less menacing is futile. As you can imagine, Enmity is at the forefront of my contemplation again. Place him and another mute zorua side by side, then expect me to pinpoint my Enmity! As if our bond was so stable, I would know in an instant. No, we were two strangers, running into each other repeatedly by choice, but only for lack of a better direction to travel. Quiz me on the most basic of preferences—his favorite berry, the point where the thickness of his fur meant it needed a cut—and I would fail.

    Back to Rowe. He reminds me of how Enmity should have—would have, given a less passive demeanor—treated me. I’d have had no right to criticize him, despite my inevitable dejection. Excuse my ignorance, but it is unknown to me whether a mute would scream in an emergency. Rowe’s stare is striking, his mouth slightly ajar, as if prepared to call for backup without the need for any. I’m not violent, Haley. Akin to Seybs, I take the present for what it is. Oh, my past is a complicated affair, but the way Rowe behaves is just as though a dark-type’s divine energy lurks within me.

    Bouncer and Eyeball fare better than me thus far. Their true names are unknown to me. With my last name late in the alphabet, they likely had the advantage of meeting their rehabilitators before me.

    Perhaps I could reap some benefits from Bouncer’s pokémon. His swirlix appeals to his love of food. As a kid, Bouncer’s goal was to apply to culinary school and bake professionally for weddings, conferences, et cetera. Wherever sweets are needed is where he wants to be. Mealtimes are when they can separate and enjoy the camaraderie of inmates who aren’t me, but they choose not to. A reward for their “good behavior” and “progress” is the opportunity to bake various delicatessens for the entire ward. Their cotton candy recipe had a punch to it like none I have tasted before… and it was this dessert, maybe, which triggered the memory of the magic show from a lifetime ago…

    A stunning, silent, and enviable chasm stretches between Eyeball and his jigglypuff—just the opposite of what Valerie planned for. This shows the jigglypuff grasped and understood Eyeball on the spot and attuned its role in a way Eyeball would respond positively to. Only once did the jigglypuff sing, a soft lullaby barely audible as the ward began winding down at nighttime. Eyeball’s… well, his eyeballs widened, and in a split second he covered his ears, tight. In Valerie’s position, I would focus his rehabilitation on socializing with humans and pokémon alike. Except that might mean expecting me, his pseudo cellmate, to cooperate, when my patience for Valerie’s experiment comes in limited doses. Can Eyeball and Bouncer even recall the sound of my voice at will? I doubt so.

    Try as I might, the sparse facts of Eyeball’s past that Bouncer wrested from him are murky. An orphanage in Vaniville comes to mind, understaffed and inadequately funded. The real tragedy of being an orphan, Eyeball said, was winding up as one too late. Why? Because parents-to-be preferred infants and toddlers. (He refused to delve into the topic of his biological parents, I believe.) So, he was forced to become a man at a tender age. He learned to nurture himself in all areas of life, to recognize and celebrate his own milestones—all because he could not be raised from the ground up, shaped or molded to fit another’s ideal.

    Surrounded by babies wailing nonstop, he also learned to despise noise drowning out his own thoughts. No one realized his gift of quiet resilience, nor the comfort of nameless understanding. Someday I promise to inform him of his legacy in my life, however insignificant I may be. And however contradictory the need is to speak of his placidness, I fear that his imprisonment has inspired him to brood relentlessly these past few years.

    His adoption of the jigglypuff—done informally, with Valerie forsaken—is starting to assuage this fear, a little. And might I not be able to relay my own stories of adoption? No, no, not of my starters, for the sudden cutoff of their place in my lives reveals too much. The same applies to Enmity. I’m referring to my background as a breeder, my duties of locating qualified, dependable trainers for the pokémon to spend time with, day in and day out… Or how I would purchase unused and underused gym pokémon from all regions… Mostly, I could speak of the inspiration that accompanies a baby’s first breath, and the nursing they require for six months before it is legal to trade, sell, or adopt them officially.

    I do not know to what degree Eyeball would care to listen. That I have the influence to instill a speckle of confidence in him... It is but a pipedream. Besides, I have had every opportunity to take a deep breath and plunge into a bold conversation with him. I write letters instead, and I read the same lines from books again and again, until my eyesight strains or I am absolutely sure my comprehension is up to par. I stare at the moon. I follow the prison’s stale daily routine and interact with nobody. Capable of plenty, I stand motionless, like I am a fossil belonging deep underground.

    I envision Eyeball as my cellmate on occasion. Our compatibility exceeds mine and Bouncer’s, a fact which Valerie would do well to heed. It is not a pokémon’s companionship I want; I botched my chances for those. Yet no plain human will suffice, either. I need transparency, sensitivity, all that pleasantness I have been denied, and thus unable to form an authentic impression of. To be blunt, Haley, I need it proven to me that there are other humans who parallel your graciousness. Rest assured that this revolution would not dispel my fondness for you.

    And, with a miracle in tow, perhaps I can rouse the sleeping courage in me to convince others that my true self is to be revered, too. Then we could restore a portion of the world’s lost luster together. We are small, yes, but those who complement each other are magnified. As things stand now, I overheard Rowe say to Valerie that I remind him of a fox and that he doesn’t trust me one damn bit… Is it any wonder why?

    At the close of this letter, I want to thank your grandmother for her recount of the zorua study. The interplay between flying- and dark-types, our two specialties, interested me considerably. How might they have done that same case study with a mute zorua? Would they observe his behavior alone, see if he’d scare the murkrow from the shadows and force it to drop its food? Or, closer to home, will researchers a thousand years from now glance at old publications and find that the zorua species evolved to be mute as a means of survival? Silence, deemed one of the basics of life alongside food and water… Now there’s a thought.

    Sincerely,
    Mark
     
  10. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    It's also a way of saying "I want to make a profit and I don't want to care who I have to step on to do so." Love of money isn't the root of literally all evil, but it sure does inspire a lot of it.

    Bad news for magikarp, to be sure. D:

    Boy howdy is it ever. @_@

    Welp, there's a comparison I'll never unsee now! XD

    Now there's an interesting thought. The notion that berries, as in berries, aren't exactly natural might explain a bit (e.g. those Alolan trees that drop several different kinds apiece).


    I enjoyed the account of the gym battle. On a related note, congrats to Ribbons. Xatu are awesome. :D
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.
  11. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Indeed. : ' ) Your quoting that passage also helped me realize a typo, oops!

    Nooo! D: Maybe feebas, too, though milotic might be too appealing as an evolution...

    You're welcome. xD His outfit always struck me as... weird, so I had to include something about it to portray that weirdness.

    Glad you think so. A lot of types of fruit&&berries are associated with legends and folklore in real life, so I figured that in pokémon, it isn't so farfetched to make those stories come true, so to speak.

    Thanks! I agree that xatu are awesome. No bias there. ;)
     
  12. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty]

    *

    September 6

    Down Vernal Avenue yesterday, Kenneth went on shopping sprees that I couldn’t dream of affording as a fledgling trainer. Disinterested in all the boutiques, I daydreamed in them. My little fantasy session led to people reaching in between the clothes racks to exchange money for drugs… They’d move on with their lives, no one else the wiser of what happened—like a magic trick, in a way. A meowth found its way into one of the deals. It snatched extra money from the druggie’s pocket while the dealer gestured wildly as a distraction. Then Kenneth led us back to our hotel, bragging about how much he spent, and I remembered something! I never confirmed the status of my lucky coin for you, did I?

    My update is: it’s no good for magic tricks, you know? I flipped heads, but I bet the progress you’re making feels slow, or nonexistent in the face of anxiety. The toss was no cure, is what I’m trying to say. I’d compare it to a promise, a first step before the inevitable backwards two. So I’d like to stack another magic trick on top of that one, if you’ll let me, Mark. What I have in mind loses its allure, kind of, when you read our letters and notice the hints that inspired it. I hope you’ll be excited anyway!

    Basically, we’ve been “talking” for a few months—nearly five now, to be exact—and I’m just under 40 miles away from Laverre. Kenneth’s shopping again, this time to restock his supplies—our supplies?—before we decide our next plan of attack. We’ve agreed on having explored Lumiose thoroughly by now. It’s been so long, we could move here permanently and navigate the city like a veteran resident!

    Kenneth listened to a sermon held outside the church on Estival Avenue, which is dedicated to Zygarde, a legendary believed to restore order. The speaker, he said, emphasized Lumiose’s centrality in Kalos and how the city’s rise to power was in part thanks to Zygarde protecting it from a widespread mudsdale earthquake. But he didn’t mention his opinion of the theory.

    Meanwhile, I sifted through all the potted plants at the local florist’s. I’d had enough of the faint cigarette smoke smell in our hotel, which was the perfect excuse to splurge on a clematis and engulf the room with a nice vanilla scent. When we leave Lumiose, I’ll hand it over at the receptionist’s desk as a donation… if Kai hasn’t chewed through the petals, which he’s tried twice already.

    Do these things sound familiar to you, Mark? Remind you of the Lumiose you know? Not that I’ve drawn even the outline of a sketch for you, but still.

    Oh, there was the drive-in theater, too, conveniently located between a galette stand and farmers market. Droves of people lined up at each booth, peering over their shoulders to see the projection screen. A porygon swooped about as it monitored the theater equipment, its body traced with the faint glow of its lock-on so it could maintain the projection simultaneously. Kenneth did criticize the movie for fizzling out a couple of times. But because the plot adopted a first person view, the main character clutching a camera as he and his friends ran from a savage rampardos, the temporary blackouts could have been intentional!

    At a futuristic-looking museum dedicated to pokémon evolution—the name of it escapes me now, ugh—I learned plenty. Flying-types evolve naturally, so leaf stones and water stones and the like… I may never have seen them up close and personal without our drawn-out Lumiose holiday!

    Rumors leaking out of Professor Sycamore’s lab and to the museum tell of how pidgeot can evolve past its final form when exposed to a mega stone, and a deep trainer bond. Not that Seybs is interested in making history with me, proving these rumors true… But I’m here and willing if one day the restraint in him is reversed.

    Anyway, the tour guide who introduced us to the rumors realized that the rest of the group was splitting up. At the same time, a man in an expensive business suit and chin tilted up too high entered the exhibit. Her arms flailed. Desperate, she began ranting about how the power of evolution stones shows how pokémon are closer to nature than humans are. And how we’ve had no right to replace nature with civilization, which is really just a word to hide the barbarianism in us. She caught everyone’s attention again, a mix of stark glares and pressed lips. Who knows what her next paycheck review will look like?

    …We’ve done a lot of stuff I haven’t mentioned in my last letters. Huh. We won a gift card by betting on racing ponyta. Bolero, whose neighs are said to mimic the finest of music, was our choice. There wasn’t a moment in the race we doubted him. And now we’ve got money to blow. If there’s anything you can think of, anything at all that you might want as a gift, do let me know!

    Another non-letter in the mail, you ask? Or it’d be the first one, since the coin didn’t make it. “But Haley, all those regulations I laid out for you…” Now hold on a second, Mark. Let me spell out my magic trick first. It involves ordinary plans made by ordinary people, really. It’s just that, you know, if I’d asked myself a year ago what risks I’d be willing to take, this wouldn’t be one of them. And yeah, fine, I admit it’s a risk, because visiting prisons in the flesh isn’t a popular pastime, and I’m nervous because it’s you, you who’s proved to me that there’s no need to associate vulnerability with feeling fretful, tense, pressured. But there’s always the danger of our ideals catching fire. The effort that goes into preventing the worst, well, isn’t likely to be genuine—just a shadow of what someone can offer.

    Right, I stopped here to show Kenneth my letter to you, which I wouldn’t do normally, oh, no, don’t worry. You know the feeling—thoughts mixed with nerves mixed with too much stimulation outside of your space. Kenneth replied just the way I was hoping, no hinting necessary: “You gotta spit it out already. You don’t want to frighten him.”

    My magic trick is… showing up to Laverre to see you! But I’m not gonna march up to the secretary and ask to be led to your cell without your permission, of course. There’s no pressure, either! I’ve just gotten the impression you’d be on board with it. Then again, my assumption requires that we say what we mean, and it’s been painfully obvious recently how that’s a struggle for us. We’ve got to dive in, get to the point quick this time, ‘cause I don’t know how much more enthusiasm Kenneth has for Lumiose. He hinted at moving on last week, and I doubt he wants to swing by Dendemille again for the sake of hovering near Laverre. Heck, I’d love to relax on the beaches at Coumarine myself before summer’s over!

    I’ve procrastinated long enough, so… what do you think? I can actually hear your answer now, and I refuse to go further than admitting the risk of visiting, which is small, Mark. I’m not suggesting I wander into a cursed forest, full of cursed dragon-types, or mysterious demons no one’s lived to tell about. A proper analogy would be… Uh, let’s see. Drug addicts You are sick. Their Your cravings, your jumbling of brain chemicals with foreign ones, they’re unwanted. They’re not medals of honor someone awarded you for a job well done, so there’s no obligation, no use in immortalizing them by tying them to your identity.

    I’ll fill my time waiting for your response by checking out Route 14. All I know is that it’s a swamp area. If poison-types flood the paths, I’d be smart to prepare for the worst, right? I can’t rely on nearby grass-types to maybe have healing abilities, and also the tolerance for treating human invaders. My gym prize is enough to buy tight jeans, tall socks, antidotes, bug spray… On second thought, I should write this list on a post-it note for me to reference later, not a letter that won’t be with me tomorrow.

    Thankfully, my pokémon are healed and eager to see what I might surprise them with next—especially Ribbons! The Nurse Joy on duty set the Center machines to work and unpacked boxes of supplies. She noticed me eyeballing the different labels and taught me that they were all from Celadon, Kanto, where the headquarters of League-sponsored medicine and health development is. It makes a lot of sense now, why my mom considered attending university there, and my grandmother too.

    By the way, Kenneth hasn’t tried to talk me out of visiting you yet, for all the grief he’s given me about our friendship in general. “You’re serious about this,” he said after silently counting the pages of my letter scattered about our hotel room floor. And then the most detached expression overtook his face, and he went to finish piling up our laundry to bring to the basement. I’m afraid he’ll ditch me here in Lumiose anyway, before you write back to me, or if you agree. But don’t let that influence anything! Really, he has every right to travel where and when he wants. I’m lucky he’s dealt with me this far, and there’s no rule that dictates we have to cut each other off forever.

    Traveling alone would mean having no one to spark up random conversation with, or the kind of small talk where you leave things unsaid but know exactly what the other person’s thinking. For me, it might mean not even running into a single soul, because it’ll be dusk and they’ll all have been smart enough to plan for shelter beforehand. I could, uh… get a kick out of listening to my pokémon talk instead! I could study them, learn their language without being interrupted.

    Kenneth has a knack for teaching me things, like you do. I guess I could pick up a book now and then, though—small enough to fit in my pack with the high priority stuff.

    Oh, well. I shouldn’t coddle my M.O. so carelessly. Friendship is synonymous with cycles for someone like me, whose love of life can’t be matched. When people notice my intensity, they shy away, like a kid who touches a hot stove for the first time. For me, people come… people go… and in due time, someone else swaps places with them. None of this happens with my consent, no signed paperwork, just the unspoken expectation of my understanding—not even forgiveness, because that would imply wrongdoing on someone else’s part. And I’m the only one who can make mistakes, right? My fondness of experiencing the world as it is, from all angles, must get me into so much trouble! Meanwhile, everyone else sits and waits for something better. I bet this is why pokémon evolve faster, and to a greater extent: because they don’t wait. From the time they’re born, they’re ready to fight for what they want, and they act!

    I’ll be quiet about it now, Mark. I know you wouldn’t want me to be so anxious, or go back to the little hole I’d fallen into, as you noticed. Ribbons could use his new and improved psychic powers to lift me out if I fell again, though!

    I’m not sure if I believe those xatu legends, by the way. I see him try to perch on thin telephone wires with his new form, and he just flops forward, perplexed by how evolution can make you lose skills, too. He tries again, flops again. Rinse and repeat. A silly bird like that couldn’t possibly have such a powerful sixth sense!

    But—bear with me here—if they were true, you could have a reason not to hate psychics! Like… Ribbons could learn about Enmity’s past for you, offer some insight into why he’s mute, or other information you’ve racked your brain over. Exposing Enmity like that could end up as a hindrance or a comfort, I don’t know. For sure, though, Ribbons has a soft heart, and a strong resolve. If I explained the situation to him, he’d stretch his psychic muscles every day until he unlocked the energy needed to help you.

    I’m a tad disappointed that you can’t celebrate for both of us, only me, who earned no wounds. I gaped from the trainer’s box, battling the fight or flight response, frozen and useless. But I mean, I get it. We all have our biases like that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say your distrust of psychic-types isn’t stupid nonsense, but you’ve implied that you know it’s irrational. Finally, something we agree on!

    Ribbons would be proud of you for remembering all that about the magic show. (No, I don’t talk to my pokémon about you. Where I would even begin, let alone end, that kind of conversation?) But yeah, thanks for sharing that, Mark, seriously. The heaviness of it came though in your words, and I was glad for that anchor to reality.

    I’ve been ignoring the fact that parents can do good for us, too. Your own mom contradicts what I’ve always believed about unconditional love. It might be real when you’re born, but by the time you get to my age… With every disappointment and mistake you make, a little bit of their love slips away, maybe into the walls of the house you grow up in, and maybe that’s why we travel and why we move, to distract us from those small hurts and lost bits of love that keep trying to cling on in their own way, but can’t seem to stick permanently. Like you and Joey—oh… and me—were predisposed to drug addiction, we were predisposed to whatever makes our hearts spell “unlovable” to everyone around us, and to whatever makes us worth lying to.

    Writing this now, I want to ask Kenneth why he decided to travel with me. Why does he stay? Doesn’t he have his own goals to worry about without me lagging behind and needing reassurance at every turn? The mamoswine trip together was an accident. We could have split afterward, with no regrets or second thoughts as to what would miss out in each other, as most strangers do.

    …Well, my stupid mouth blurted out a question about drugs instead—nothing wild, just what he knew about them, if anything. His nurturing side spilled out of him, overflowing like usual. The contrast between his shaking my shoulders and his other mode, where he acts with a cool head always, startled me even more! I assured him that everything was okay, and no one was pressuring or influencing me. He let go. Both of us dazed, I prepared to bear another deep story of his and not overrun it with my selfishness.

    But all Kenneth said was that his family hosted the “normal” kegs of alcohol at birthday parties, holidays, whatever. My family failed at being normal there, too! He was in charge of dumping all the melted ice onto the grass, and recycling the crumpled cans lying about the next day. He adjusted his shirt nervously as he talked. From my point of view, it would’ve been the perfect time to ask my original question. I’m sure he already thought me stupid and annoying for making him overreact. Once he started to stutter, though, I figured I’d riled him up enough.

    He wanted his poise back, his confidence, so he planned the rest of the evening for us. Naturally, I was curious, but nope! No details, no hints, nothing. He convinced me that “it’d all go off without a hitch” and to “trust” him, like I accepted the company of a suspicious guy back then!

    He insisted on paying, too. The North Boulevard park entrance fee, a half dozen peach galettes that Kai mistook for flattened oranges, a blanket large enough to sit both of our teams, all of it. For our picnic, we sat on the second freshly mowed section of the grass we found. (Ribbons tripped over a hole near the first, and I didn’t want to hear him complain about it or watch him avoid walking on his new feet.) It was a nice change of pace from eating in loud, stuffy restaurants, especially with another round of tourists rushing in this weekend.

    Kenneth was too quiet during the meal. My head burst with all the possible ways I upset him, but I let him be. Eventually, he mentioned a friend that had gone down the drug route, and he wondered how they were doing, where they were, what led him that way…

    Donmel (Kenneth’s numel starter, remember) broke the awkwardness with a sneeze. Kenneth jumped to his feet like his own pokémon just accidentally set our surroundings on fire and there was zero chance of preventing it from spreading. Actually, Kenneth was safeguarding his clothes from getting dirty. How easily Kenneth’s story of his father and his burn scar changed my view of Donmel… I hesitate around him, unconvinced of where he stands among the rest of us. So far, he’s been in the backdrop, the forgotten choice and his name on the tip of my tongue. I associate him with bad memories, too—and not one of them is mine.

    Donmel’s bland expression confessed nothing to me. He only succeeded in making himself more of a mystery. In case he was suffering from Kenneth’s tension, and now mine, I went out of my way to hand him a slice of my galette. His teammates had devoured the rest of their portion, too impatient to wait for Donmel to finish his current piece and decide on another. Donmel shook his head no. At least I’d tried. Kenneth claimed that Donmel’s a picky eater and I nodded, even though it wasn’t very enlightening information.

    My team, on the other hand, needed twice as much food as Kenneth’s. Ribbons and Kai make a deadly duo. Deadly to my budget, that is. I’ll have to factor in their appetites better during future shopping sprees, but this time, I didn’t want Kenneth to suspect that his picnic was inadequate and that he should’ve dropped more money on us.

    It turned out fine, anyway, when my birds flew off to exercise their wings and foraged for berries and insects along the way. From my peripheral vision I saw Kenneth’s team shifting in place. Could they wander off and play, too? Kenneth waved them off, surprising me with his callousness. At least his team seemed to understand him, and relied on each other.

    Yamirami melted into the shadows and caused the park’s bushes to sway, the friction between thorny leaves creating a creaking sound belonging to a horror movie. Kinococo seed bombed him away, the grass-type move powered up by Heigani’s bubble beam. Watching them, I experienced my own kind of loneliness. I love my birds, Mark, but I can’t see them interact in their element, when they’re likely to be happiest… North Boulevard’s not unique in its thick, forest-like canopies, or its massive stone monuments erected in honor of whatever legend.

    Still contemplative, still feeling like he had something to prove, Kenneth released his mom’s volbeat from its pokéball. I’d not see the bug in person before, believe it or not! Its pompous attitude struck me immediately. The volbeat quickly darted off into the sky, but not before scowling at Kenneth first.

    “Dusk will set in soon,” Kenneth said. “Give it five minutes.”

    “Exactly five minutes? How do you know?”

    His non-answer: “This volbeat’s been with my mom for plenty of years.” But there was a new found admiration in his voice, just the kind you’d hear from a concert spectator in awe of a stranger’s music. The detachment between him and his pokémon, him and his family, was more apparent to me than ever. Appreciating others but struggling to connect with them… I think I got it, then. We’ve kept each other close, and traveled this far together, because we’re the same. We were never strangers.

    I don’t think we were ever strangers, either, Mark. I’ve definitely said that before, and I meant it, I mean it. How lucky I am, so lucky, to have found two people like that on my journey, and so soon after leaving home! I’d be content even if I meet no one else, now…

    No rush, of course, but please write back to me as soon as you’ve decided, Mark. I’ll be okay with a yes or a no.

    ~ Haley
     
  13. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-one]

    *

    September 20

    Haley,

    I send to you my sincerest apologies for not responding sooner. I realize a full two weeks is not long for people to go without speaking to each other. Indeed, across my cell Eyeball is now speaking enough to recount the tales of him and a Galarian friend he lost contact with. His friend, smitten with rumors of overgrown pokémon in the region, traveled there to expand his team and, eventually, dropped all his Kaloseux ties. It’s just as well, Eyeball says. One less person to witness how abhorrent he’s become.

    Meanwhile, you may be trudging along in swamp water as I write this, unsure if your efforts are worthwhile. Perhaps you and Kenneth have been lying in wait, wasting more hotel money on my behalf. And Lumiose’s rates are nothing to scoff at. Again, I apologize, but for me, this is not a decision to be made rashly. Our letter exchange has taken on a certain informality overshadowed by the possibility of actual flesh, moving lips, voices and laughter. Outside of prison, even, these luxuries were not available to me. The luxury of your presence would be temporary as well. What do I want? Are these choices imagined? In my head, as you have felt to me for these past months? Dear reality, this appears to be a trick of the meanest kind.

    Here is an image for you, should you deem the extra effort worthwhile. My hair, largely a matted heap and deep brown in color—like the mud you’d traverse en route to Laverre—has gray strands peppered throughout. My beard is the same, usually neat and trimmed. It only becomes out of control when I lose sense of time and forget to ask the guards to watch me with an electric razor.

    Now, combine me, a… rather suspect human being, and you, a young girl of lean stature, blond hair in a ponytail. A solid colored sports t-shirt and polyester pants, with wool socks pulled up to protect you from miniscule bugs crawling in. In other words, the comfortable but practical traveling attire. (I cannot guess Kenneth’s choice of wardrobe on any given day.) Nothing fancy or impressive would be necessary. There has been one thoughtful act and one soothing word after enough as it is… I do not wish to discover the limit of your goodness, do not want to test it when I have but remains to give in return.

    Your voice—high-pitched, maybe due to nervousness, a shyness learned from past interactions with personalities disparate to yours. But full of exuberance and enthusiasm for life nonetheless. Your pokémon, I imagine them competing for your attention. Kai would argue to forget about the man before you and go fetch some fruit, damnit. Seybs would prefer your shoulder, watching warily but feigning disinterest. Ribbons… Well, three pokémon escorting a casual visitor might be too intimidating for the inmates, more so for the fairy-type rehabilitators. Best to leave him in his pokéball. Besides, if xatu can indeed peer into one’s past and present, inmates are not the sort of folk to inspire others, don’t you agree?

    I cannot maintain a moving image of us sitting, conversing, embracing, anything. In my head your face is blurry, the contours of your eyes and nose twisted into pixels and static. Seybs’s feathers, they’re dull, and distinguishing him from a pidgeot feels like a mountainous task. The form of a mega pidgeot appears, then Professor Sycamore’s terrified face, and I’d give up, except the bars before me might be liquid, might sizzle and burn on my fingers if I test this possible escape route.

    Predicting the future, visualizing it, fails for me. And I still do not trust my mind to hold my past. All I have is the present moment, and barely. I would make for a poor addition to the xatu species.

    Your chain pulling in either direction is a relatable one, by all means. Before Valerie’s program, you know, we were required to wear leg shackles, small but heavy metal balls we could carry or drag through the prison grounds. Most inmates, including me, chose to forgo desecrating the landscape we were tasked with preserving at the same time. Planting flowers and watering them, installing pavement, trimming bushes into shapes of our choice—the allure of our creations, ruined if we left irreparable tracks behind us. The extra care we took was worth it. It helped me especially to stay grounded, to exert energy and liven up my body, encourage me to experience it. I’ve seen too many inmates intentionally give way to emaciation, malnourishment, a blatant refusal to latch on to basic functioning…

    In a strange turn of events, Rowe has requested to wear the leg shackles in my place. His expression is reminiscent of a masked villain so that I cannot gauge the motivation behind his actions. Did Valerie suggest this? I ask Rowe, and he deliberately stilled his head to avoid nodding one way or the other. He must be faking it, the way he limps alongside me, panting. It must be an excuse to not talk, or a façade he was commanded to take on for my sake. Any evolved pokémon has, or should have, the power to attach three sets of ball and chain before their muscles strain.

    A trick like this is not necessarily harmful. From another person’s perspective, it may even be entertaining, like the magic show was meant to be, and the flip of the coin you possess(ed). I do not appreciate Rowe’s trick, but then, the problem is that of mindset, uncontrollable by Rowe and Valerie until my mindset allows outside help to shape me. This is the core fault of Valerie’s program. She lunged straight into healing without first addressing the underlying mechanisms in our brains that pushes it away, convinces us we’re unworthy of such treatment.

    Valerie is, I feel, devising her own magic show lineup, breeding illusions which will beget a deeper mistrust between inmates and normal citizens. She wishes for us to acknowledge the possibilities beyond those we see consciously, which only scares people into wanting to isolate if there is no proper foundation laid beforehand. What would that foundation be, you ask? The willingness to be flexible, open to challenging communication, having your lifelong beliefs contradicted and trampled.

    There is but one illusion that I would welcome, and that is Enmity. He did not need words to make his mark on my life, no he did not. For years I waited patiently for the lone morning spent between the two of us—who else could grasp the dismantling of his eccentricities—in which he’d perk up from his dirty denim bed we’d pulled from a dumpster and say hello. Like it was our normal routine, established the moment his pokéball clicked and registered him to me.

    I’d stare stupidly, confused but elated and unsure how those emotions could be expressed in tandem. Enmity, he’d laugh, a hearty hoarse laugh, yelling, “I got you!” And then we’d live our lives… not happily ever after… but like everyone else seems to. If I pitched forth a question about his illusion, the origin of it, the logic surrounding it, he would clam up and smile. The familiarity of such a reply would stun me back into the sweetness of ignorance. A story to pass on to pass on to future generations of trainers, to be sure…

    At this point, I’d accept his existence as an illusion. To have him switch the prison’s coffee creamer with toothpaste, salad dressing with sour milk… Oh, the floor would lighten up, I know it.

    Well, why not go all the way? Chesnaught and Delphox and Greninja, they could’ve—should’ve—known Enmity. Who would the zorua have been comfortable exposing himself to? All of them? Delphox and Greninja, with their more subdued nature, in contrast with Chesnaught’s haughtiness? And then I could ask myself, “Why not me, Enmity? What is it that is so wrong with me?”

    If you’re wondering, Haley, I had attempted to wiggle answers out of Nurse Joys during our travels. Did Enmity utter anything to them—just a couple words, a sentence, a squeak when the cold, cold metal of a stethoscope hit under his fur? He never did, as far as I know. Perhaps an unspoken pact had been relayed between them.

    I made my way to Geosenge once, for the sole purpose of researching mutism. Neurogenic mutism was not an option. Enmity’s breeder would’ve been required, by law, to alert me of any defects he was aware of, mental or physical.

    Elective mutism… If that were the case, Enmity chose not to speak in most circumstances, in front of most people. An invisible structure in his body would asphyxiate him, clog his throat whenever he opened his mouth to make a sound. Total mutism would’ve embodied his lack of willpower and ability to speak, no matter what. In either case, he likely formed a defense mechanism borne of psychological issues. I have a few guesses as to where such issues may have stemmed from (hint: breeder).

    A breeder cares for multiple pokémon at once. As with humans, some babies are more demanding than others. Enmity’s quietness may not have aroused his breeder’s suspicion because others eclipsed him. Or he may have been perceived as having a slight speech delay that would be a problem only if it persisted beyond the date I received him. Enmity fell through the cracks because I, a former breeder, failed to audit his breeder, notice the prognosis of his condition, or bring him to a nurse for a second opinion. You can argue that his breeder followed improper protocol, too, yes. Whether he followed incubation procedures or kept the egg in a stimulating environment for it to absorb the outside world, or whether it was a genetic fault passed on to Enmity… I cease to care for the specifics at this point. Ultimately, Enmity was my responsibility. I must face the facts, must face reality, which is to say that I know neither and never will.

    It is with reluctance that I admit this, Haley: I would be humbly grateful for Ribbons’s potential power in this convoluted situation of mine. The point is moot. But for your benefit and satisfaction, I will concede so on paper. I am honored to provide to you this microscopic luxury to you, if my offensive remarks toward Ribbons has caused you any stress.

    Obviously, things for me have careened downhill since I separated from Enmity during my arrest. There’s been some semblance of an uphill climb. You’ve taken my hand and, from the top, have been pulling as hard as you can. …If only zorua could learn to write as well. If only a zoroark would. Then I’d enjoy you as an addition to the most important part of my life rather than a replacement.

    What happened that day is this: Vert Plaza was holding a mini-festival celebrating the anniversary of Clemont earning his gym leader’s certificate. Elementary school children sat around a stage, watching a mock battle between a gengar and a nidorino. I thought about how Enmity could pull off the kind of stunts that’d secure the children’s future as pokémon trainers, unlike those amateurs with their hammy performance. But me and Enmity were poor influences, on our way to meet our dealer. We swerved past guffawing families and costumed mascots with our heads angled down in shame.

    A dealer doesn’t rat out his customers unless coerced by the police. With how cautious the business is, hearing about a fellow user being duped is rare. But it is possible that my dealer fell into trouble and needed to sacrifice me. For five minutes he stood there, shifting in place and dragging his sneakers along the alleyway pavement. His eyes darted between the main street and his missing soles. He’d replace his sneakers, he said, if he didn’t need to spend his money elsewhere. I walked away fingering my pockets, idealizing the anticipated high. I just had to reach a couple blocks further, and then—

    Enmity caught on to their presence first. The policemen in casual clothing, tailing us and randomly conversing to perpetuate the charade. They had all the manpower and, apparently, all the suspicion in the world to corner us, tackle us. Yet they didn’t, so we had time to think and plan. More accurately, I had time to realize Enmity stunned beside me, then behind me. He ignored my cajoling. He refused to budge when I experimented with scooping him up in my arms. I bombarded my catatonic zorua with questions, as if luck was on my side and he’d finally spill his guts. Too focused on nullifying the statue in him, I didn’t detect the policemen. I ran the second I did.

    Yes, I left Enmity behind, shamefully, with intention. The last I saw him, his eyes a cold and lifeless blue. He’d only wanted to warn me and, not knowing how, he froze. Or perhaps he guessed that our trainer-pokémon “bond” could be over, and he took advantage of it. I kept my head straight—not in a sane manner, just long enough to know Enmity’s haunting self would be gone if I dared to turn.

    Alas, the policemen caught up to me. Escaping them somehow wasn’t my priority. After the cuffs were slammed on my wrists, I lifted my head. Enmity was nowhere to be found. His pokéball must have slipped out of my pocket during the chase but not the drugs, of course, not the drugs that sealed my sentence in court… Police are trained to retrieve and home pokémon belonging to people pending trial, and criminals. And yet. I got a glimpse of what it was like to be him when I parted my lips to scold the policemen and I couldn’t so much as sob.

    But let me get to the real point here, Haley. I won’t freeze before you. I won’t be afraid to look you in the eye, won’t be afraid to speak and tell you anything you want to know and hear. That is to say, yes, yes, we can meet.

    See you soon,
    Mark
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  14. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-two]

    *

    September 23

    Oh, I can’t tell you how relieved I am for that single word in your letter: yes! Don’t worry about the delay. I mean, I expected it. I’d be more worried if you weren’t nervous and your normal tangent-prone self, you know? I’m nervous myself, have been since I started spinning the idea in my head a couple weeks before writing to you. Unconsciously, I may have planned my route a long time ago to bring me close to Laverre, and once I was close, well, doubts inched in. What about the risks, what about us, what about Kenneth? His opinion of you definitely meant his opinion of me would change if I went through with asking you… but worrying about his opinion is pointless.

    Er, his opinion matters, of course. He’s my friend! It’s just… tiptoeing around people so as to not hurt them, avoiding confrontation even if it means adding to the resentment that built up in me for years, putting my life on hold for people who will disapprove either way… I can’t do it, any of it, not anymore.

    I sound melodramatic, don’t I? I want to clarify something, though. I’m grateful for Kenneth because he’s safe to disagree with. He’s honest and transparent but non-threatening. I don’t feel the need to look over my shoulder or fear him judging me. See, he would’ve warned me or disappeared early on if my letter exchange with you was a dealbreaker. The truth is where it belongs—uncontaminated by fakeness, and not hanging in suspension like with most people I’ve known

    So! Let’s coordinate this thing. Your rehabilitation program might hold meetings on a certain day of the week. Or does your warden strictly dictate visitor versus non-visitor hours? I can’t remember for the life of me if you’ve explained any relevant rules. Sifting through our letters would be like reading gibberish, that’s how many rereads I’ve sat down for.

    Well, I realize now that I should’ve requested more than a yes or no, to save time. I could be all the way in Shalour right now, if we’d been traveling like normal trainers! Nah, I don’t actually mind. It’s all the same to me, but Kenneth, he’s officially given up on sightseeing in Lumiose after perusing the Pokéball Boutique’s stock. Too small a building to hold workers and shoppers simultaneously, the store had closed temporarily for renovations and reopened just in time for us.

    I didn’t buy anything. Three pokémon is all I can handle, personally. Plus, I find myself worrying about Kenneth’s team so much I have to remind myself that they’re not my responsibility. Point is, there’s enough traveling companions to go around.

    Kenneth was primarily interested in spotting Devon Corporation products out here. He hung his head when he found a prototype Magma Ball invented by an upstart company instead. He was explaining to me warily that they’re geared toward fire-types—I could’ve guessed that, come on—when the store manager passed by and harrumphed about how he didn’t want the Hoennese radicalism trampling all over his business, they should stay on the land they wanted to expand so bad and the Aquas should’ve made the water impassable to trap them where they belong, and, uh, so on.

    On the way out, he pulled me by the arm so hard I thought my shoulder sockets might pop. We hitched the nearest gogoat ride service with no destination in mind. (Laverre didn’t count.) The city suddenly was painted a rougher texture for me. I couldn’t trust the friendly waves and the gogoat’s owner making small talk with us, wanting to know about our pokémon, our travels… They had—have—the power to hurt Kenneth, too, with a quick, thoughtless swish of their lips.

    Forgive me for bringing this up, but, well, I think you can handle it now, Mark. I shouldn’t underestimate you, or justify your worries when I’ve told you exactly not to fret about a ton of stuff. The gogoat’s owner eventually got the hint that we preferred silence, and as I glanced around, lightly brushing my fingers through our ride’s leaves, I saw a delivery supply truck. With Professor Sycamore’s name plastered on the side. No workers around, and no drivers. Naturally, the mischievous part of me perked up, and I wanted to sneak away to go check it out. Who knows if batches of starters were locked inside, in the dark? Who knows if I could have one, or two of them, all three, to show you in person, to offer them as an incentive for once your sentence is over and you’re free, free, free…

    Alternatively, I contemplated spying on the truck to see if any starters were locked inside in the dark. The sun’s too scorching for them! And Professor Sycamore’s too famous not to get backlash for mistreating pokémon, if that was the case. Ashamed, I pried my eyes away and kept them away. I’m nothing like that store manager, so I shouldn’t have been proud of wanting to hurt another person, even if he hurt you. And I’m not sure I could forgive myself if my impulsive actions hurt a pokémon.

    I daydreamed of better things, ignoring the nagging question of where on earth the gogoat intended to take us. My pokémon, me, you, Rowe, Kenneth and his team, all of us, in the courtyard, the wind so strong that it threatens to hurtle my fliers away. A leg shackle wouldn’t hold them down. The chain couldn’t possibly wrap tight around their little talons. But, not wanting to separate from us, they’d ground themselves all the same. We’d see what you see when you peek out your window, maybe a flower that was in danger of wilting before you set out to babysit it until it revived. We could talk. Or not. It’s your turf, you know. Our friendship, but your rules. I don’t need to be treated like I might break anymore.

    What do you think the difference between a trick and an illusion is when it comes to hurting others, Mark? I ask because I couldn’t take Kenneth’s silence on the gogoat anymore, after an hour of paying to roam the streets aimlessly and a random misdreavus startling me with a shriek in my ear. Now irritated and bored, I once again found myself making his problem my problem. So I wanted to console myself, and I do that by badgering myself into talking, expressing what I can’t repress lest I explode. But consoling Kenneth means doing the opposite, by letting him just think his way out of things. I fought the urge to fix his rotten mood. Told myself that just because I can’t help in this moment, just because I don’t know the right words, it doesn’t mean that our friendship will die. It won’t, it won’t. Trying might’ve meant tricking myself into thinking I was useful when in reality I’d be hurting him more. And I’d become the person he gave little nuggets of information about himself to, only to want them back, safe as a secret again.

    I forced myself to wait another good ten minutes. Above us, dark clouds rolled in, promising rain. A nearby windmill moaned under the strain of the new, harsh gusts. I cleared my throat and chose to pass on your knowledge of xatu to him before claiming we should head to our hotel. That seemed reasonable, right? After all, educating others makes him feel important, and with so many psychic legendaries living in Hoenn, maybe he’d know a thing or two. He didn’t look up at me at first; his eyes had seemed half-closed the entire ride, like he was dozing on and off to convince himself that the store manager who discriminated against him was just a dumb dream.

    As I expected—hoped—Kenneth was eager to go on about Deoxys, about Jirachi, the extraterrestrial life forms that can warp reality. Apparently. There’s the sibling duo Latios and Latias, too, though I tuned him out around here because I got jealous that me and Joey can’t be like that, inseparable and not barely tolerant of each other’s presence. I guess I know what I’d wish for if Jirachi appeared before me, huh?

    I learned that there’s famous psychic-types in Hoenn, too, not just legendaries. Martial artists copy a medicham’s ruthless exercise regime to keep their minds and bodies in tiptop shape! They’re the ones suited to travel on a journey, not us. I don’t think I’ve earned so many bruises in my life, scrambling from route to route and tripping over tree roots, rubbing my skin against rough, overgrown plants when I wasn’t paying attention. Makes it harder to climb steep hills and rocky terrain without wondering if we’ll reach a decent rest spot before dark because I slow us down that much.

    Kenneth noticed my mind wandering and said, “You don’t believe those rumors about xatu, do you?” The scorn in his voice was obvious, like he was holding back a laugh.

    “Well, what does the pokédex say?”

    Then Kenneth really did laugh. Those entries are folklore, with the real data reserved for academics, League employees, and designated libraries you need a subscription to access. Even if Ribbons’s powers were a thing, I wouldn’t be looking to activate them, or use them. I admit it’d be nice to prepare for disasters in advance—I’m gonna get hurt on the road someday, I’m sure of it—but I’m content enough with understanding his speech now.

    Yeah, you read that right, Mark. I can understand him! And Seybs and Kai, too! …Well, almost. It’s close enough to where I’m not the solo conversation starter anymore. So forget about telling fables of their species when they can tell me all the nonsense they’ve thought of humans instead! Like how Kai’s always been confused about the concept of preparing and eating breakfast because he thought toothpaste was my breakfast, it being one of the first things I reach for and put in my mouth in the morning.

    I have to admit that the contrast between understanding humans and pokémon is… startling? Weird? Puzzling? Yeah, all of the above. I’m afraid my pokémon’s words will start to conflict with what they mean, like a human’s does. I don’t want them to hide or lie for my sake. I want the barebones them, want to see them for who and what they are, as I always have. I hope that makes sense. I don’t know how else to put it. See? That’s exactly the kind of human blundering that I mean. It’s smeared all over my letters, disguised as sensible thoughts, enlightenment, sanity…

    Maybe I should work harder at understanding the people I’ve already been talking to, like you, Kenneth, and my grandmother. Me and my grandmother are still writing back and forth, and I’m not sure what her endgame is. Honestly, it’s kind of sad to assume there is one. This League stuff’s made me suspicious. And I don’t know her enough to assume she talks me up when I’m not around. I can hope, but when she calls my dad, doesn’t she have to show him some loyalty? Not that being family automatically means you’ve gotta disregard your own values or anything. But when his disapproval of me reaches her ears, does she nod and agree with him, or does she stick up for me? That’s not something I can ask her blatantly, is it?

    You know, Mark, she asked for my address on behalf of my parents. I don’t have a permanent address, obviously, so I improvised. Me and Kenneth researched where we should stay in Laverre, and I gave her the mailbox number for the Westbury Hotel there. If we wind up renting rooms elsewhere, then oops.

    I mean, what do they want with me now? Can’t they accept that I’m surviving just fine and that I’m happy? They used to tell me my anger was a phase. I wish it had been. “Phase” doesn’t seem to be the terrible word teenagers think it is. A phase is a promise that your problems will dissipate on their own, maybe overnight. They’re no less valid, I think, but the hardest part is—for me, anyway—wondering how long and how far these thoughts are going to trail behind.

    I shouldn’t continue musing endlessly like I usually do. I’d much rather hear from you on what’s important at the moment: our visit. Just let me know, okay? I’ll make whatever work, I promise.

    ~ Haley
     
  15. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-three]

    *

    September 26

    Haley,

    You’ll have to forgive me for taking delight in your nervousness, which assures me that mine is not unfounded. I can overlook your fear of the risks involved because you are the inconvenienced party here. Assuming that Route 14 is how I remember it, it is no walk in the park, although you’ll pass a literal one before the marshy humidity assaults your sinuses and the lopsided reeds tickle your skin as you walk. I’m sure the money you earned from your gym battle victory will cover any and all supplies necessary. If not, be cautious. Hoard even what you only might need, and I will see to it that I cover your extra expenses somehow. Should you sustain any injuries on your hike up to me… I am not a superstitious man, but I cannot tempt fate by transferring the rest of that sentence through ink.

    And please, should Kenneth threaten to part ways with you after all, choose your physical traveling companion over me. It is clear to me that your appreciation of him has soared. I can relax in spite of my initial doubts about him. Someday you can backtrack to Laverre, when your journey concludes and you return to Anistar. Understandably, you may avoid Anistar for years to come, but there are flights, railways, pokémon-powered transports…

    It escapes me, whether or not Laverre was on your original itinerary. I would’ve—should’ve—commented on such an idea, back when it was especially ill-advised. My primary concern now is not exposing to you my embarrassing self, my shameful world, but that you reach me safely, and absorb the bare facts of my reality.

    If I could, I’d conspire with Kenneth to use his League associations and convince developers that trainer routes should be acceptably tended to, and monitored, in all regions. (Then foreigners could not claim that the Hoennese handle their land recklessly.) It helps that conservation efforts can go a long way in strengthening the bond between pokémon and humans, a goal that few resist. Also, children, the target population for training advertisements, are the most prone to danger due to their lack of foresight and experience in the wilderness.

    That is no slight against you, Haley, just a piece of an old man’s worries. Besides, plenty of younger trainers are traveling alongside you—not physically, but in Kalos, other regions, parallel trails… I say again that Valerie’s intentions are misplaced, particularly as a gym leader. She should hand out gym badges and promises of safety to trainers. What is her interest in inmates? But perhaps my bias is too forced. For me, the world has failed to feel safe from birth.

    On the topic of tricks doubled with illusions, and the struggle of separating them… It is obvious that all of us, all of us will hurt someone during the course of our lifetimes. This is impossible to avoid. What may be less obvious is that we will hurt several someones, maybe several times over each—and in several locations, thereby reducing the number of havens the world has to offer for these someones. We don’t think of it this way because then we’d develop the habit of wallowing in fear, guilt, self-pity, and other counterintuitive emotions. Constantly anticipating a phrase we utter thoughtlessly, or an action of ours unearthing a sensitivity they will dwell on for hours, days, weeks… Frankly, it’d cripple us. The knowledge resides in our unconscious regardless. So we hide ourselves, just in case, to shift the blame onto our faux roles when they cause hurt.

    The flip side of this is that you waste other people’s kindnesses when you don a mask. What should be a positive encounter becomes affiliated with a veiled darkness. Say someone does a double take on the streets of Lumiose, unbelieving at first that they’re seeing you smile the most beautiful smile. They compliment you on it. But you only smiled because social conventions required you to. You say thank you, again out of obligation. But. “That smile wasn’t me. I’m sorry you thought it was, sorry you saw what wasn’t there to begin with, sorry you saw what could never be.” How do you discard such guilt—for deceiving someone, for deceiving yourself, for not embodying what others want to see in you? How do you skillfully peel all the layers of each conversation, each expression of body language, to perceive the authenticity of what takes place? Where does the real you go when it’s stifled so adamantly?

    To answer you, illusion encapsulates the self as a longstanding disguise which fears the light and relishes the night. What we create with ourselves, what we put into the world, those are the tricks. We secretly delight in them. We’re proud of winning our game of hide-and-seek over and over. Sometimes we grapple with loneliness, but our self-hatred is stronger, as is our belief that we cannot be loved as we are lest we are abandoned. To want connections with others but ultimately resort to the destruction of others to protect our private selves, all the while self-destructing anyway—that’s the dance between illusions and tricks.

    It’s time to digress toward your first and foremost question: when we should meet. You’re right in that my schedule is predictable, up to a point. I am not warned beforehand, for example, when Rowe will make his appearance. I prefer that he not hover over us. His role in rehabilitation may be a noble one, but his overall character has a habit of dampening the atmosphere.

    I suppose that’s irrelevant, still. There’s no chance we’ll be needing a restaurant’s reservation, or to buy tickets to a festival or concert before they’re sold out. Visitation hours were specified to me my first week here but ceased to be enforced once the statistics revealed how seldom they were used. As long as you arrive before lights out, the guards will lead you straight to me. And you must depart before lights out.

    This is a most unsatisfactory answer so far, I know. Shall we meet in mid-October, then? When the leaves will begin to decide on a new look, it’s a tad cooler, and no tourists should remain. It’ll be when one season ends and another begins, when fall hints at wanting to visit and play once more.

    Why wait so long, when I’ve already prolonged your journey an improper amount? But you said you don’t mind, so I request this of you: I want you to see Laverre in its natural state. The common expressions on the faces of those who reside here, year round, pretending not to notice the prison; the pokémon fan club, where you may meet bird enthusiasts like yourself; the rumors of Dana, thought to have collected every gym badge across every region and now lives in Laverre among the marsh’s treetops; the stump stools all around and remnants of old bonfires; the wind curling around the trees and the smell of perfume wafting to cover the pungent marsh stench. Won’t you see it all and report back to me? There’s only so much I can spot from my window. The bars obscure a full picture, anyway.

    What I am most nervous about is… not talking. Not having much to talk about. A silly notion, that, when my letters indicate the necessity of nonstop speech. Sound must make up for the deprivation of other senses available to us. Indeed, there’s the courtyard we may explore with precautions in place, but otherwise, what you will experience is exactly my inability to see the full picture because of the cell bars between us. Should we be bold enough to pass objects through—our letters, perhaps, for tangible proof of our closeness—the guards will scrutinize us and eavesdrop with the intensity of an exploud. Let’s avoid this.

    All right, here’s a date picked at random for us to meet: October 15. To eliminate any hardship a grumpy guard might inflict upon you, I will notify them in advance of your arrival. Your last name is Zamor, I believe… I’ll double check. Knowing that will simplify matters.

    I ask as politely as possible that you do not reply to me until our meeting. Until then, I want to focus, and practice focusing, rather than fretting over returning your letters in short bursts of time. Physical preparations are futile; shaving days are random, supervised, and my wardrobe blends in with the rest of the inmates. But mentally, I can prepare. As I said, I want to know what to say to you, how to react to you. It has been so long since anyone fond of me looked me in the eye, and I cannot allow myself to falter and watch you turn away from me by reflex. Nor can I allow the following scenario: you seeing too much of me and changing your mind about me, after all these months of building the impossible between us. And it is ironic, now that I think about it, how my cell bars have been what’s perpetually closed the gap between us…

    The final, most prominent reason I ask that we not correspond until October—unless it is of dire necessity—is because I want us to be absolutely sure of this. I hope I am inventing my worries, fabricating them with imagined evidence that a judge at trial would overturn. I hope before me is a fog which, once dissipated, will reveal to me with clarity the ideals I expected were there all along. Ideals that will stay rooted in our very beings, unable to be pried away by outside forces.

    If I come across as clingy here, forgive me. Holding on to long-term prospects is a unique experience for me. My skills must be dug up from their graves, their corpses brushed off. I hope you understand.

    I may or may not speak to you again before October 15. I hope not. I hope I’ve made all my intentions and thoughts clear. Do not hesitate to write if things go awry. I will keep an eye out for a letter from you and question the guards about my mail, to be sure.

    Sincerely,
    Markus
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2019
  16. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-four]

    *

    October 10

    Haley,

    Here’s to hoping that this letter reaches you before you reach Laverre. The labyrinth of trees, meadows, and dry lakes may make it a difficult endeavor for the prison flying-type to find you. But no doubt you are close, perhaps past the heart of Route 14 at this point. Are your pokémon sifting through the mud tracks left behind by the local quagsire and stunfisk to scavenge for worms, bugs? I chuckle when I think of Seybs flying to your shoulder, dirtying your clothes, then you rushing to ensure there’s nothing crawling on you.

    Now, trust me, I write to you for a reason unrelated to sheer old man loneliness or boredom. Yes, I know how my mind rejects all except the subjective whenever possible. It claims that time has slowed considerably, stretching each second and prolonging the arrival of October 15, while the calendar clearly informs me of the microscopic nature of the last two weeks. If only the world would slow and enable us to savor our togetherness. That was another fear of mine, you coming and going in the blink of an eye.

    But… I cannot reject an objective truth I’ve come to know. As a result of it, all of my fears have been rendered irrelevant, replaced entirely by one matter.

    Recently, activity for Valerie’s rehabilitation program has dwindled. Rowe’s number of visits was reduced without warning, and the guards weren’t aware of when, or if, things would resume as planned. “Great news!” you might say, given my past abhorrence toward this whole charade, and I’d have agreed with you up until Valerie and the prison warden made a pressing announcement.

    As it turns out, the charade is taking on a new form. It is their wish to relocate some prisoners to another city in Kalos. Which prisoners exactly were randomly selected to ensure an unbiased transference of the research data being collected from this program. I hate this, Haley, I hate this, but I was chosen.

    Rowe will not follow me, unsurprisingly. A new partner, since I must have one against my will, is for the best. Your fate is your own, however. I cannot expect you to follow me in his stead, not after all you’ve done for me as is, not after you’ve come so far, figuratively and literally, only to meet disappointment instead of a friend. I foretold too much when I depicted myself as a concept to you, it seems.

    Why? Why, why, why, though I know why, I know it’s not an impulsive whim which Valerie controlled from behind the scenes, and I’ve known for a while that we’re short on guards. Job postings for the Brun Way Correctional Center have gone unnoticed. The prison warden has fruitlessly pleaded for the guards work longer hours but with no pay raise. And so, because leaving us deviant creatures unguarded is an inconceivable notion, even though we have no energy to so much as lift a finger most days, something had to be decided. Nothing was decided, as usual, about preventing citizens from devolving into prisoners to begin with. No, just that the guard to prisoner ratio must be rebalanced.

    I do not know where I will be yet, or when I shall move to this unknown location. It was my right to know that the move is happening, that’s all. An inmate I’ve scarcely interacted with, Simon, is the only inmate who knows more. He volunteered to organize the switch, with technology being a forte of his. He can ensure proper scheduling and organization about who goes where, and he can gather the contact information of our new homes for Valerie to send our personal data there. This way, he gets points with the prison warden should there be a possibility of parole.

    Understandably, he wished to savor this advantage. All he was willing to leak to those of us left out of the loop was that this process will happen quickly. “Quickly,” yes, to prevent deterioration of the progress us inmates might have made thus far and to resume the program with less difficulty. “Quickly,” likely meaning before October 15. So please, turn away from Laverre and continue your journey the way you would otherwise. Or explore the city to your heart’s content while forgoing expectations of a meeting.

    This does not—I repeat, this does not signal the death of our friendship. At worst, I have wasted further weeks of your journey. And I can count on a few months of adapting to a new prison’s schedule, its surroundings, its cafeteria food and cooks, a new cellmate and new neighbors… None of it will be insurmountable, a promise I can already attest to thanks to you. I must not regress toward naiveté, however. Prepare for slower response times on my part once more, because these changes will drain me.

    While I am eager to finish this letter and demand for an expedited sendoff, I wanted to thank you for your lucky coin. I received it after all. Belatedly was better than never, I must admit, mainly because you went through the trouble of sharing a nightmare with me and it deserved to be heard. I’ll add that I’ve read about it not once, but twice, to fully absorb the nightmare’s implications. In a sense, I tried to experience it for myself, awake, in an attempt to understand it (and you, by extension).

    Your stress seems to have abated since your victory against Clemont, thankfully. In the event that this letter whorls you in that direction again, I am sorry. Throw your grief my way, and I will add it to my repertoire of memories about you, and we can lament together, side by side, spiritually rather than physically. It’s the best we can do.

    I have been turning your lucky coin in my hand over and over since it arrived here. I inspected both sides, first the dratini/dragon side, then the clefairy/fairy one. Incidentally, Rowe was nearby, ignoring his duties by refusing to communicate with me as long as no guard looked our way. I must have whispered the word fairy, because his ears perked up. He flattened them out of embarrassment. Ashamed of showing interest in me, of what I possessed. Could we not find a common ground and make our assignment work? It is too late to ponder this question. I’ve lost my chance at having him as a constant once I transfer prisons. Alas, I couldn’t have guessed being transferred, uprooted once more, but I feel regret regardless.

    Mostly I have been fingering your coin out of a growing, growing, growing sense of dread. My eyes. My ears. My chest. Everywhere it’s there, all the different reasons for it colliding and fighting to dominate, resulting in a melodramatic caricature of anxiety that I’d laugh at if it wasn’t inside of me.

    Before I was arrested, I would react to distress like this by sleeping until nighttime and then prodding the local dealers to sell me whatever they had on hand. Your coin is no replacement for drugs, but it may curb my cravings as I travel. Whether we go by truck or airplane, there will be opportunities to seek reprieve, just as there has been opportunities within these prisons walls. I must avoid relapse as I have been. Depending on where I end up, too, I may know exactly where to look. Exactly who to talk to. I have not taken a single step out of my cell since I heard the news, yet I shudder at the belief that I am not being shipped to a new life but a past one full of sensational highs and lows…

    Valerie’s program aims to teach me how to look inward and trust myself to make appreciable decisions in life. Others can help me but not all the way, barely even halfway, rehab tells me. You taught me that I can mostly rely on others and to expect great things from others. Who am I supposed to believe? Hallucinogens, depressants, dissociatives… I cannot blame drugs for my differing perceptions of reality when such differences are ingrained in all creatures. I am not alone and never have been.
    Take care, Haley. Tell Kenneth I said hello and thank him on my behalf, for taking care of you where and when I cannot. Which is everywhere and always, or close enough to it. I am sorry I can no longer change that, if just for a day. This is a constant I can anticipate, I suppose, though it is an unwanted one. What I want is for you to write back to me, as always. Which I know you will.

    Thoughtfully yours,
    Markus
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2019
  17. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-five]

    *

    October 12

    Markus…

    Ugh. Okay, so Kenneth’s been all about the non-Lumiose scenery, but I’ve convinced him that we’ve got to hurry, we can come back later if he wants to that bad! He wants to take pictures and search for items that travelers dropped, then sell them. Goomy slime, he says, is in high demand because it’s a core ingredient in glue, and artists combine it with minerals to make clay. Even if we could stay, his hands are getting full, literally…

    I did tell him you said thank you. He was speechless. I went right on to explain why you’d finally conceded to our friendship, and, true to character, he promptly informed me that maybe it wasn’t wise to have planned our trip so that we’d arrive at the last possible moment. Yeah, I know. I know. Whenever I see a flying-type overhead, I stare at it until it’s out of sight, wondering if it’s looking for me, if you’re looking for me to say it’s too late. I don’t want it to be too late. So I feel stupid, but it’s not too late until you’re officially gone. And as far as know, you’re still at Brun Way, waiting for me or waiting to be corralled to your new home, whichever comes first.

    Why am I writing, you ask, when I could be closing in on Laverre, step by step by step? Well, everyone wanted to stop to eat. I’m not hungry. I feel sick, because you were right, the stench here is awful. How their appetites are intact here is strange to me!

    Anyway, I have to do something, and writing to you in the interim feels as productive as anything else. I think I’ll feed my pokémon by hand next time and promise Kenneth that I’ll buy him a gift or something if he agrees to walk and eat at the same time.

    Kenneth’s packing up his goodies now. What he’s found is valuable, right? Maybe I could convince him to donate it all to the prison. Then your warden could sell it all and use that money to advertise better, or temporarily increase the current guards’ paycheck. Would that be enough? Brun Way must already have the funds to shift prisoners from one city to another, so who knows what they could do with just a bit more money? Or what about Valerie’s gym? If she really wants to help her program stay on track, she could use the popularity of gym leaders to raise awareness and money!

    I’ll talk to the Brun Way warden and Valerie myself. Hopefully you, too. I know you can’t control what happens from here, but… please don’t go. I’ll respect your wish for me not to respond for now. No point risking this letter getting lost in the mail, too. Oh, but I’m grateful that my coin made its way to you. I figured you’d simply forgotten to say that you received it a while back. Hold on tight to it. It’s a lucky coin, you know, and luck is what we need right now!

    October 15

    Never mind, we don’t need luck. We need the truth, all of it, unraveled and flattened out with not a kink to be seen.

    …What can I write here? What role can words serve anymore? I guess I’m going to attach the first part of this letter, because I mean, I don’t want you to think I abandoned you, or considered it, like you predicted. Look, I don’t blame you for your anxiety, your weak memory, your self-loathing. What do they all have in common? They’re irrational. You insisted that was the case, over and over, like an unwanted encore from your performing days. I believed you the first time, Markus! Now it’s crushing me, how you characterized me as a friend who could write you off after all.

    Kenneth’s torn on whether he wants to lecture or pity me. But you knew, too, how I stopped needing his approval about you forever ago. Our writing back and forth was enough. You chose to share yourself bit by bit with me, and that was okay. More than that, I appreciated it. I knew how difficult your own journey was. The images and words that slowly compiled in my brain and made you, you… were enough. I feel guilty, like I failed to make that clear. Did I need to be louder? YOU WERE ENOUGH!

    I hope this reaches you, wherever you are. Yeah, read that again: wherever you are. Because guess what? Me and Kenneth checked in at the Laverre Pokémon Center this morning, then rushed to Brun Way. And you were not there.

    Oh, you warned me that you might be relocated by October 15. But that’s the thing. You located, just of your own volition.

    The prison’s gates, and the fence extending from it to form a huge rectangle, were taller than I’d expected. Five of me could’ve created a ladder that still wouldn’t permit anyone to look or jump inside. The surrounding branchless trees, I thought, must be that way because the space they needed to grow was snatched away.

    I no longer felt confident in my plan of marching through the courtyard and straight to the guards. I rang the gate’s bell and moved forward anyway, with your very first letter folded and tucked it into my pants pocket. I found myself gripping it with my hand, unconsciously. Your last name, I was scared to forget it, shy as I am and prone to choking up in confrontations with strangers.

    Inside, I could see what you meant about visitors. The waiting/visitor room was fit for, like, two people at most, and the chair seats, cheap but plush, weren’t broken in but layered with dust despite the disinfectant smell in the air.

    I stared too long. The guard on duty at the desk asked what a young girl like me could possibly need, which made me red in the face. I rehearsed your last name in my head and, confident that I wasn’t at risk for stuttering because I remembered, I told him the reason for my visit. The guard didn’t hesitate, either, in widening his eyes and coughing. He had a birthmark on his neck—it reminded me of the shape of a foreign country—that darkened to purple as he sputtered gibberish. He fled through the office’s back door for a minute to compose himself, only to return and admit that you weren’t there.

    I didn’t have to put on a surprise act. Without his genuine uneasiness, I would’ve suspected that me and Kenneth were too late, and I’d have reacted appropriately. With disappointment, and with questions about your whereabouts. But the guard was too nervous, his movements too theatrical. Something was wrong. So I told him your story about a guard shortage, relocating a list of prisoners, and all that. His face looked rumpled as he explained that none of that was even close to true.

    I briefly wondered, hoped, that he was forbidden to admit private information like that, or that he was deceiving me because of my age and situation. If that were the case, though, finding your information wouldn’t have been so easy, Markus…

    I was on the right track, I knew, when Kenneth nodded to me, his mouth set in the deepest frown I’d ever seen from him.

    I pressed the guard. Was I at the right address? Yes, I was. And you weren’t. Still, the man knew your name, your cell number, Eyeball and Bouncer’s nicknames, and other basic trivia I threw at him. Silence hung over us afterward until he offered to show me your cell, which was the invitation I wanted but didn’t have the courage to demand.

    The prisoners, slouched and withdrawn, perked up as we passed by. The lights were on, but the black tiled walls offset the brightness and enhanced the whiteness of each cell’s bare bed, toilet, and tiny desk. I couldn’t tear my gaze away, not until I found Eyeball and Bouncer. Two halls later, I recognized them based off of your descriptions. So there are at least two stories you told me that were honest.

    When the guard opened your cell, I kept my eyes on your side, your belongings. Kenneth stood behind me, blocking the invasive stares that urged me to bolt and purge the memory of coming here. I focused on finding my lucky coin to see if you’d taken it with you. There was nothing, though. Just cleanliness, bareness, as if you wanted to convince everyone you were an imaginary person.

    Who leaves letters and personal items out in the open, though? I wasn’t allowed to open your desk drawers to see. I choose to believe that there are signs of you and me in there. Or would you take my letters with you, too?

    On the way out, I lowered my head, unsure and ashamed. I spotted a granbull in the visitor’s room, mumbling about how he’d been dropped off for his shift and could do nothing but wait, and he’d always sensed a dark type of energy from “that pointless man,” so Rowe is true, too. I didn’t dare approach him. My skills communicating with pokémon could use some work, for one thing, and I didn’t want more reasons to be angry with you.

    Kenneth said he’d head back to the Pokémon Center. Would I join him? No, I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t say so, I was that pathetically close to tears, but he understood.

    Wandering the quiet streets of Laverre, I stumbled onto a road undergoing construction. The workers were resurfacing it. I had to turn around. What I wanted was to disturb the workers, have them yell at me because I deserved it. I did not deserve to be lied to and abandoned, but I would deserve to be yelled at for preventing people from improving the city.

    When Kenneth and me parted ways, I overlooked the fact that my pokémon were with me. One of the pokéballs in my backpack’s outer pocket vibrated, advising me to quit standing there, gawking and awkward. A few blocks later, the vibrating hadn’t stopped. Had it always felt that violent? “Okay, okay, I’ll let you out,” I said, not sure which of my birds I was referring to yet. Then out popped Ribbons, on his own. It was just like him to wait for my permission when he felt like exploding inside. I stroked the feathers protruding from the back of his head and assured him I was fine.

    This didn’t calm him down. He pointed his wing in the direction of Brun Way, exclaiming something about it being too close… can we leave… wrongness… I sensed that he’d been calling for my attention ever since we arrived in Laverre, and I’d neglected him in my excitement to meet you, then again in my stupor upon realizing you’d escaped from prison.

    Did he sense a kind of darkness, like Rowe did? Even from all the way inside his pokéball? His disadvantage to dark-types couldn’t possibly extend to human immorality, could it? One thing’s for sure: I missed your memo. “Danger, danger, DANGER!” you said, and like the stupid kid I am, I ignored you and plowed ahead anyway.

    There's posters everywhere, you know, with your picture and status as an escaped convict plastered underneath in bold, capital letters. It's a drawing of you, more accurately. The sketch artist portrayed you as a fierce looking man. To him you are sullen and bitter and liable to act on it. Well, you've acted on something, just on more tender emotions. Fear. Guilt. Attachment to me.

    But you've overcome all of that plenty of times. Why not this time? Why would you avoid me at the last minute? You could've written me, called off the meeting. You know I'd have respected that. Since when was there something we could never, never tell each other? Sure, we couldn't predict when we'd be ready, but...

    Whatever. You probably won't even see this letter. I don't know where to send it. Brun Way is a moot destination now. Still, I have so many other questions. How did you escape? Please don't tell me you pulled a stunt from your Enmity and Markus stage days. The other inmates had no part in it, I think. They looked too bewildered, not mischievous at all. And if you come back, won't your sentence be extended? Is solitary confinement a punishment at Brun Way? If so, I doubt you're allowed to receive letters in there, hold a pencil, anything.

    And... why fabricate such a longwinded story about relocating and stuff? You sounded so real and convincing. Now I wonder what else you've lied about. Was it to have something to say, to hide just how bad your memory is? Or something else?

    I don't know what else to say, myself. It's a good thing the guard who showed me to your cell didn't hear my name. He didn't get to recognize me as the girl writing to you and feel sorry for me, or ask questions. I feel horrible for writing that, even thinking it. But I'm sorry, I can't hide my shame this time.

    Wherever you are, I hope you’re okay, Markus. My worry is stronger than my anger. Please understand that I can't help either of those things. But more importantly, please, please be okay. And of course, I hope to hear from you… although I don’t know what hearing from you means anymore. Please don't retreat into total silence. You didn't like when Enmity did that, did you? You don't have to do this. You don't have to run away. We can work it out, and you can be who you want to be still!

    Always,
    Haley
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
  18. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    * Warning for a vague mention of suicide in this letter.
    * I had to change the dates of the letters so that the date of their meeting was scheduled to be October 15, not August 15. I got mixed up with old drafts and new ones, accidentally going from September back to August, derp.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-six]

    *
    November 23

    Markus?

    Where are you? What are you doing? Are you okay?

    ...Markus?

    I’m still waiting for a letter from you, over a month later. I look for you everywhere I go, using the escaped convict posters as a guide so I’ll recognize you.

    Kenneth was kind, agreeing to forgo a Pokémon Center room and alternating campsites each night in case you ran into us or vice versa. For a couple weeks we hung around the south part of Laverre, near Brun Way. Then the police thought that using their energy to send us to a designated camping spot for trainers was more important than finding you. We settled north, a mile or so from a pokéball factory.

    The close placement between the two was no coincidence, Kenneth said. It was an advertising ploy. Under normal circumstances we’d have fallen for it, especially him. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to care or renew our interests in pure sightseeing.

    Kenneth didn’t mutter a word about you. His silence might’ve meant that he’d given up on you but felt obligated to indulge in my foolish assumption about you loitering in Laverre. I was afraid to ask. Maybe he was afraid of what I intended to do next. It’s not like I even knew! And I still don’t know! Do I want to find you, meet you face-to-face after all, without glass or bars getting in the way?

    To be clear, the idea of meeting you outside of Brun Way doesn’t scare me. I’m scared for you, your future. I’m confused, too, and writing to you nobody to deal with it.

    Why not continue using Kenneth as a crutch? If only I could. You see, I rambled to Kenneth, on and on, so much that he got sick of me, I think. He ditched me like he should’ve after that mamoswine ride and now there’s no one to process my thoughts with. ...Okay, logically I’m aware of the real reason why we finally had to part ways. The timing was extra unfavorable, that’s all, which keeps exaggerating my reactions.

    Do you remember his purpose in coming to Kalos? He’s searching for his father, right, and his mom back in Aquacorde got a promising lead he has to follow up on. Only he’s gotta physically be there in Aquacorde to do that.

    My legs threatened to buckle immediately after he told me. The stress had gotten to be too overwhelming. I forced myself to stand strong anyway, because when had I ever offered or made an effort to keep an eye out for clues on his behalf? How had I contributed to the case of his long lost father? All I’d accomplished there was the pretense of being a companion. In reality I held him back from his main goals. Ugh, Markus, I couldn’t even tell you what the lead was that he left me for, that’s how preoccupied I was about myself…

    Sweet as ever, more considerate than anyone I’ve known—not counting my grandmother, of course—Kenneth offered me his volbeat again before he set off. Oh, technically the volbeat’s registered in his mom’s name, she’s just been aiming to rehome it and figured Kenneth had a likely shot of finding someone qualified during his travels. See, I paid attention to some of his problems! Anyway, the point is, I’m flattered Kenneth thinks of me as a good enough trainer, but again I refused to take the volbeat.

    Sure, it would’ve been like getting to keep a part of him for myself, but it seemed to me that Kenneth was just trying to avoid inflicting on his mom the relationship he has with Donmel: avoiding eye contact with each other, becoming accustomed to silence, tension thicker than dust hanging in the air… Well, all of them together remind me of you and Enmity. I sincerely hope they reconcile while they still have the chance. Accepting the volbeat would’ve meant depriving them of that chance.

    All I could gift to him on his way out was my thanks, said in a thousand different ways but all equal in sincerity. He waved me off, unaware of the specifics he’d done. I recited them for him, as many as I could remember: reassuring me that Ribbons would be okay from overexertion, listening without judgment, listening while judging me but kind enough to be honest about it and willing to change his opinion if he had a reason to, the soft look in his eyes whenever he worried about me, which was often, and so much more!

    When I was done with my speech, I was thoroughly out of breath. His first response was to whistle, then he shook his head and frowned. I added that I learned a thing or two about being ambivalent and accepting it, whereas most people cling to one side of themselves and repress the other.

    “I didn’t know you were that observant, or I’d have felt more self-conscious all this time,” he said, laughing. “I’m kidding, really. I’m grateful to have someone who cares so much. Let’s meet up again soon, yeah? Write me in the meantime. I’ll write you back, I swear it.”

    I couldn’t help but want to hug him after he opened up another avenue of communication between us, so I did. I admit I cried a little, too. He didn’t comment on the wet marks on his clothes.

    He went on, “Whatever you do from here, I support it.” A pause. “And, to be honest, I would’ve written Markus a letter myself, thanking him for being a rock in your life. Now he’s lost the opportunity for a privilege like that.”

    Still, not once did Kenneth contemplate abandoning the lead on his father to stay with me. I admired his confidence and felt my own strengthened, because that’s what’s gotten me this far. It’s what got me out of Anistar in the first place, even!

    So I’ve been alone now for two weeks. I’m lonely, but not completely lonely. My pokémon have been coddling me and ecstatic about having less competition over me. And it makes no sense that I still feel you’re near somehow, too, but I do.

    I’d make bets on what you’re thinking these days. You’re thinking I should follow Kenneth’s method and give up on you for sure. You’re thinking I should get back to my journey, leave Laverre and push you out of my mind forever. Oh, and that I should focus on my friendship with Kenneth… you know, because you haven’t a clue about his leaving me yet.

    It hurts, Markus. I don’t have to blame you and demand that you come to your senses for all this to hurt. I understand yet want to cry at the same time because reason isn’t helping and my mind keeps pulling tricks to make sure I stay sad.

    We’ve conquered a lot of tricks and illusions together, you know! Past ones like the hypno and the claydol in Frost Cavern and anticipated ones like Ribbons’s supposed power. Do you think you can conquer another and write to me...?

    I should’ve grasped how seriously you felt about the “dance” between tricks and illusions. No way could you have described it so elegantly and deeply without personal experience attached. I’m sorry. Maybe I could’ve prevented this, convinced you that meeting me would’ve benefited you more than escaping...

    You planned on escaping long before October 15, didn’t you? Why else would you analyze Ribbons’s mythical power and ponder its existence when you hate psychic-types? Because Ribbons would’ve warned me if he foresaw you wrecking our chance of meeting that day. And it’s curious that Olympia never mentioned this power when she was dead set on teaching me a lesson or two before I left Anistar. Ribbons was just a natu then, but evolutions are common during journeys.

    Mostly I’m avoiding the main thing on my mind, that is, where could you have gone after escaping? To Professor Sycamore’s lab, a punishment and a reminder of how much you loved your starters? To your old move tutor, if he’s still around, for a score? Or would you stomp up to him and yell over what he did to you?

    There’s a possibility you went to search for Enmity. You know how I wanted you to meet my pokémon, too? Maybe you wanted the same, and the thought of it not happening drove you crazy. Your mourning over Enmity’s grown a lot lately, and I don’t think that because you’ve grown comfortable in sharing secrets with me. Your pain’s seemed starker somehow, really pronounced. Like you saw Enmity physically next to you but knew he was an apparition and you hurt tenfold over it.

    I wish this were a trick of yours, I do. Or an illusion, whatever. I don’t know what to do with the knowledge that this happened, and worse, that it happened to me and you. Kenneth doesn’t count.

    Every burnt leaf that crunches under my feet, I’m reminded of where I am. In Laverre. Supposed to meet the friend I’ve adamantly defended from everyone. Maybe… I’m ready to admit this is precisely why writing a prisoner appealed to me. Short of dying, how could you leave and abandon me? Why would you? I’m so sorry, I took advantage of that. I deserved showing up to no one.

    For the first time ever, I’m jealous of my mom. She handles drugs all day, safe drugs and addictive drugs both. In her shoes I’d stare at the bottles and vials, empathetic for the people who say they don’t want to be here anymore, don’t want their pain to go on. I want to be here in Laverre and yet I don’t. So where do I want to be instead? Nowhere, absolutely nowhere. (I don’t have the resoluteness needed to do anything about it, don’t worry.)

    For how long, I don’t know, but I’ll stay here. There’s no deadline for my trainer journey, no pressure to return home and make pretend peace with everyone. My pokémon, especially Ribbons, are tuning in to their wild selves to act as lookouts. They take turns napping throughout the day because their fear of danger skyrockets at night, naturally.

    I haven’t the energy to find even short-term housing for us in a safe building, but once in a while I’ve bought a Center room to shower and do laundry and whatnot. My pokémon's schedules stay the same even then. I hear Ribbons mumbling the word “dark” a lot for some reason, but when I tell him that there’s no need to worry too much just because Kenneth’s not here, he shakes his head. It’d be the same with Kenneth, he says. He can’t find the words to explain otherwise. Or is there something he won’t say, as a way of protecting me?

    Their paranoia’s got me on edge, I think. Half the time it feels like I’m being watched and followed. When I round a block, sometimes I sense someone right behind me, someone not bothering to put any distance between us to hide their presence better. They feel so close that they could be riding on my shoulders, like Seybs would.

    I turn and hope it’s you, always. And always it’s nothing. I’d wing it once I found you, I decided, because what’s most important is knowing you’re okay.

    It bears repeating. Please be okay, Markus.

    Please.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
  19. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    FLYING IN THE DARK
    [letter twenty-seven]

    *

    November 29

    Haley,

    I leave this letter in your bag, mixed with all the others. How long will it take you to notice? Two, three days at most, I suspect. You’ve been rereading our correspondence an unreasonable amount these days. Ignoring the winter weather creeping up on you.

    I’d hoped to sustain a normal letter exchange with you. I hadn’t counted on you arriving at the prison regardless. The posters across Laverre were an oversight on my part. It can’t be helped. Neither can we.

    I write this last letter to you solely because I have but one request. Yes, after all this. After all of everything. I must abandon my dignity and take the risk. Anything is of value to me at this point. Anything to differentiate me from the illusions I forged and festered until they colored my entire world. Then a part of yours.

    My request? Never call me human again. Mark is dead.

    I’m sorry to tattle on myself like this, but it’s the truth, exactly what you have been itching for. Mark arguably wasn’t human, either. I know for sure that I’m not. Whatever I am, I need to find out. I am going to find out. That is why I escaped. An easy feat, that. The details are irrelevant. Only the why matters, and now you know. Why.

    That courtesy should still be part of my repertoire is shameful. For you it must be torture in disguise. Rest assured that I deliberated for many hours in my mind whether to write and say goodbye to you. I turned the idea over like eggs on a spatula, into a sizzling frying pan. Like the ones at Brun Way’s cafeteria. I did not like those eggs. Consuming them, I mean. I never grew accustomed to such foods. But I liked the sound, its familiarity. The sound of things changing. Forever. Until it is just gone. Something in me is just gone. Has been gone a long, long time.

    Like I said, I must find it, what’s gone. I must find me alone. When I find me I will be alone, with only my mistakes trailing behind me, literal skeletons.

    Do not write to me again. Do not try to follow me, find me, convince me, change me. Yes, leave Laverre, do that, please! You’re concerning yourself over nobody. I know, that’s what you do, concern yourself over others. Over me. Over Kenneth. Over your pokémon, like that goddamn xatu. Won’t you take care of yourself for once, please?

    Especially don’t concern yourself over someone you barely know. Case in point: Is it Markus or Mark? Do you remember his real name, not what you call him on a whim? What you read goes in your brain and out again an hour later. It happens for every human. Biases seep into your collective image of another person. Then social interactions become controlled by expectations of who you and the other person should be. If a human changes… actualizes themself into someone praise-worthy... it is done quietly, over years and years and years. Because humans don’t evolve the way pokémon do, quick and striking. How are humans the superior beings?

    I’m not subject to such nonsense. Because I’m not human, and I’m not sure I ever was. Not in the sense you think I am or want me to be, anyway. But how I dreamed… To be what you needed, so that you would be what I needed, it was a dream. Unfortunately, I’ve awakened. Iit no longer feels as if I’m walking in my sleep.

    Don’t argue me on this point, Haley. I know you want to. Your voice rings in my ears now, replacing the curves and ink of handwriting. I hear your argument, the futility of it. Don’t you see? The multiplicity of my illusions, terrible, cascading and taunting and sitting right outside my cell door?

    Well, not anymore, re: the cell door part. Now they can touch my skin. The dark fails to serve as a cloak. The moon rises right where I left her the previous night, staring. Unperturbed. Her concern is for the sun, to count the minutes until it is time to trade places in the sky and watch over us puzzle pieces. They have what we wanted. The perfect mutual relationship. The ability to read each other’s thoughts and provide what the other needs, nonverbally.

    If I were a flying-type, I think I’d go on up to the moon. Or the sun, if fire energy lay within me as well. A talonflame, like Joey’s… It’s not impossible.

    Alas, I’d humbly sacrifice anything to switch places with the moon or the sun. Preferably the moon. I could stare down and bask in silence, my home. Without words we would all understand that this is a time for humans to sleep and a time for wild pokémon to hunt. Complement and carry the other forever as a comrade.

    It’s not impossible. Well, some of it is. I cannot replace the moon. But a talonflame, hmm... I must die again anyway. Not permanently, just enough to live a different life...

    Do you see yet, Haley? Do you? At the very least, Ribbons has.

    I’ve spun and spewed so many lies. Truly, though, I am grateful for all you’ve done for me… for Mark… for both of us. Out of all the prisoners Joey could’ve identified to inspire you to action, it had to be the one trapped by choice. Mark himself is at no fault for this choice, that is, how I stole his personality, identity, appearing, speaking style. Warped it all to my liking and for convenience’s sake. Easy, when your only conversations are with strangers who have, at most, read about you in bullet list form.

    You know what? There’s little to lose, so I can be more specific now. Thank you for the opportunity to use my voice. My voice, that forgotten thing which wilted from disuse over the years. How could I not take someone else’s when the chance emerged?

    But no longer, not with this guilt ripping at me. You know me—no, Mark—who now?—so well that I couldn’t stand the thought of you arriving at the correctional center, watching me, sensing something wrong. There was no need to additionally measure my physical movements until that meeting arrangement, and, trying, memories of me and him flooded back. I was unprepared. Too much, too much!

    Even if you hadn’t noticed something amiss, Ribbons would have. He’s right: I mean danger to him. To anyone. Me, a dark-type cowering from a psychic, flipping the advantage around to avoid being exposed… In that respect my disappearing act was, in fact, a performance designed for a target audience. As you feared.

    You asked once about who flies your letters to you. A bird belonging to the warden, perhaps? An inmate’s flying-type, designated to serving Brun Way until his incarceration ends? No. It’s been me, disguised as different species. This way, you’d not feel compelled to grow attached to any one bird.

    Before departing, I’d create an illusion of my Mark form and send him into bed for a nap. Careful not to overlap with parts of his schedule which required him to change locations. And when no one was looking, off I’d go, slipping through the bars to freedom. To a brief moment with you, over and over. When you mentioned meeting in person, I thought, We already have, what could you mean? Like a fool.

    By the way, Haley, following the rules was rough. Your lucky coin, your letters, none of it should’ve been in danger of inspection by the guards. All of it should’ve been all mine to sneak in and hoard. A treasure chest of goods in plain sight, and no one would suspect a thing. But I could not predict when Ribbons would arrive, where I’d be… I have limits to my illusions, you know. Luckily, the guards’ baseline is the belief that all inmates are ungrateful. Markus Samaras, he receives a lot of mail, but he never sends anything back! Typical inmate behavior, that.

    So on that level I was safe. Sure, it would’ve been safe to have Brun Way send my letters to you their way, but I wanted so little in life that when I wanted to mingle with you and your team and Kenneth, if just for a moment, I made it happen. Those moments accumulated and suddenly I was asking for the world when I deserved none of it.

    You might not believe me. But you missed my slip up a few letters back! How I mentioned your hair’s blondness. How else could I have known? And ask Ribbons, ask him! Ribbons, noble Ribbons, has continually sacrificed himself to fly your letters to me. The sickness he suffered as a natu was not due to a lack of physical prowess, Haley, but of extensive anxiety. Knowing he was headed to a place with a dark-type in the vicinity, unable to retreat to the safety of his trainer, his team, his pokéball if attacked… But he was unable to refuse you such an important favor.

    Oh, I can’t blame him for loving you so much.

    More confessions. The real Markus Samaras, born on July 10 during a year where the drug use statistics skyrocketed, probably. Quadruplets: Delphox, Greninja, Chesnaught, and him, all faking aliveness in their respective ways. They wore death on their bodies at all hours of the day. Still, because Mark spoke highly of the others, I wish I could have met them. I wondered if he’d talk highly of me if I were gone, too. I dreamed often about going anywhere else.

    Honestly, Mark came from an okay home. Sad, but not unbearable. He was left to fend for himself, in locating, identifying, describing his emotions. They were tumultuous. His parents could glance at him as a tornado ripped through his insides, his brain circuits. And they did not notice. Perhaps this knack led him down the acting route? There remain big gaps like this that I will never be able to fill for you, let me say now. It’s abhorrent as it is, the way I twisted the truths I did know into something unrecognizable to me but recognizable for you.

    Cue again winded descriptions of Mark at high school, then breeder school, then training and the move tutor, buying my egg and trying to “start over”… Or not. What you’re dying to know, assuming you’ve processed who I really am by this point, is how the switch happened. So I shall jump to that and

    Wait. No, allow me this last indulgence, will you? Allow me to tell you about my time together with Mark, from my point of view. My early days with him were unremarkable, thus eschewed from my memory once we established a routine and revealed deeper aspects of ourselves. Cue a skip to your commonly asked questions, then.

    I didn’t exaggerate his worries about my muteness. Under the influence, he thought demons possessed my vocal cords. He loathed psychic-types, yes, but for my sake was willing to collaborate with psychic-types to communicate with the demons and exorcise them.

    There was no need. Mark made silence comfortable. He fostered an environment for silence to be used the way it should be. Silence allows you to give others the precious gift of time, and attention. Mark spun tales all the time. I listened. He wasn’t deliberately trying to entertain me. Just enjoyed the sound of his own voice, and the sight of eyes on him rather than past him. The latter reminded him bitterly of his parents.

    Why not use my voice once, once, to convince him I was okay? Not sick? Mark himself was sick, as you know. His starters became sick. Died by his hands, in a way. His parents were sick, deprived of the ability to provide emotional support for their only son. Died of old age, unaware of the damage they’d wrought. To reveal I was a normal zorua, free of the concerns that plagued all areas of his life, was to wholly desert him and shatter the worldview he’d built for decades. I was afraid that I’d be the one to send him over the edge, closer to drugs, those inanimate destructive things, into full death.

    What else was true? Hmm… We did perform a lot of shows. In Lumiose, to earn money. The streets there were overcrowded always. So much so that one week I didn’t spot someone lurking nearby to steal our tip bucket, also overcrowded as a strategic way to get people to watch us. Unable to score, Mark suffered from withdrawal symptoms. Worse than he ever had before. He hallucinated voices, sights, smells, even tastes… Unable to undo the illusions bombarding him, I could only empathize in horror and suffer, too. And not once did he ask me to create new illusions for his sake, break the existing ones. Was it polite consideration for my sake or a way of avoiding my assumed nature, my deviousness? The evidence supported either conclusion: his treating me like a fragile object and the frequent training sessions he held in the hopes of me evolving.

    That is not to say that I was not true to my devious zorua nature, ever. My favorite stage performance involved a daring illusion I concocted alone. Obviously, Mark was unaware beforehand. How would he react? I had to know. I had to break the predictability of his life once. To catch a glimpse of himself should he tried to fix his life. He’d forgive me by the end of it, he who accepted the majority of my shortcomings simply because I was not a stranger to him.

    Mark claimed to the crowd before us—bustling, chafing each other’s shoulders, taunting anyone who could hear with the belief that we’d flop—that I’d breathe fire hotter and brighter than any real fire-type. Part of the trick was the assumption that our audience possessed little to no experience with fire-types. In overcrowded Lumiose, after all, residents cannot own fire-types. Trainers must contain theirs, even the dual types, in a pokéball. Wild ones that stray within the city limits are chased away.

    I’d been practicing my flamethrower, right, so I was ready. I inhaled greatly. Felt the smoke fill up my lungs and surely cut five years off my lifespan. And when I exhaled, the flames blanketed the stage. Faltering, a few sparks licked and melted the wood beneath our feet a tad. Not that anyone could see. The audience was blinded, shielding their eyes. Which stirred the slumbering adrenaline in them. I had until the brightness dissipated to prepare to strike.

    I couldn’t cry out. So I faked several alarming facial expressions to convey to those who opened their eyes that, ah, I couldn’t control the fire after all. I jerked the flames this way and that, a feat I had fled from Mark in the night to perfect. I could control the shape of the flames as well now. I made them flicker and hiss and bounce up and down. Threatening to scatter anywhere, on anyone.

    The charade had to end, of course. All charades do. I summoned my rain dance technique, which we’d also practiced for emergencies. The fire, doused, made swirling smoke patterns. Like translucent fireworks. Then people knew this was indeed the performance, everything up till the blackened sky lit up again with its various shades of blue.

    Mark was stressed. He held a forced smile while half the crowd stomped away in dismay, the other half congratulating us with cash. Afterward he coddled me, dubbed me a genius, the best and most ruthless partner he’d been dreaming of...

    And now Mark is dead. Dead dead dead.

    Balancing the facts and fictions of his life, my life, heavied my mind greatly. Some missteps were purposeful, to see if you’d catch on. I brought myself up in conversation so many times. Grieving for myself. But from the point of view of Mark, how he’d grieve for me, if he would. Emotionally distant sums him up well. And for a friendship which relies on a pure emotional connection, I had to improvise and improvise and improvise…

    Cognitive overload. I’d felt it a long while, my body wanting to evolve. The daringness of the performance I described above was the first sign to tell me I was nearing the inevitable. Mark hoped for it, longed for it, but missed it. I only let myself change when I received your first letter. Before then I’d just grit my teeth past the physical pain.

    Logic. I was never in danger of losing you, of you leaving. No matter how this played out. I am like you. My parent, Mark, told me that flaws were abundant in everyone but they could improve. And he wouldn’t go as long as I was actively working on the ones that affected my performances. But he has gone.

    When your letter arrived, I’d hoped that it was him. My trainer, my friend, my Mark, had he come to say hello to me again? From the dead! How? Would he outline this trick of his for me, please?

    But the real trick lies with me. He died when I was breathing through a body just like his own. Down to the tiniest group of molecules in his body. I thought that I must help him live on literally. No one else would remember him. His parents, his starters? Impossible. Other friends, other family? None.

    Therefore, I was Mark, I had to be be Mark. Enmity, he was the dead one, I thought. By convincing you that he’d be gone for good, I’d hoped to convince myself.

    To no avail now. You see, we did not have enough resources to expand our names outside of Lumiose. No known connections to drugs except in Laverre, and not enough time to get there before withdrawal would set in. Our performances grew stale in Lumiose’s eyes. Famous, international actors started traveling through and were the priority of people’s time and attention. Mark would promise dealers he’d pay them back eventually, but for now, desperation had a hold on him, wouldn’t they spare him a night of the desire to die? Those who said no, he stole from.

    Someone, unknown, caught on and reported him. The cops stalked after him. Also disguised and at night, to blend in with our natural habitat. Mark was sleeping blissfully between two empty garbage bins in the alleyway separating the local press and a battle restaurant. I sensed an off presence and woke him up, signaled for him to run. In his drugged state, running was a colossal struggle. The police would’ve caught up to him in no time, and that’d be it for him, for us! He always told me the city would separate us if given the chance…

    He did not look back to see where I was. So I did not get his permission or see the disapproval creep on his face, whichever would’ve happened. I stayed behind, transformed into him, summoning the zoroark energy I felt lurking in me to ensure the police would be fooled. Yes, they arrested me instead, unaware of the truth. I thought only about how a human’s skin is cold, and the handcuffs on my wrists, Mark’s wrists, was even colder, and how I’d saved him from that.

    Mark adopted a pseudonym, for a while. He wrote to me. Much like you. Too afraid to approach anywhere near Lumiose, then Laverre once I transferred there. And I? I was incapable of leaving the prison freely like I can now, thanks to my unevolved form. So I waited for Mark to bail me out, because he promised he would. He’d devised a plan to save money, he wrote. The right way this time, a surefire way. I had hope until my competency hearing came and weight (I was struggling to act human and aroused suspicion), then my trial came and went, then sentencing, then several quiet months...

    I assume that he overdosed in hiding, no one to search for him or identify him. I’d have heard about it if anyone stumbled into his corpse and reported it. My illusion would’ve been shattered by his fingerprints, by science.

    So no, to be clear, I don’t know his fate for sure. But if he’s not dead, why hasn’t he come for me or written to me? Why has he abandoned me to live out the full extent of my sacrifice? I could leave and search for him, yes, I’m aware. My assumption is safer. Keeps my heart intact, cracked as it’s gotten.

    My life was predictable until you wrote to me. No hello from Mark, but hello from a stranger instead? When my schedule, my decisions, my clothes, everything was decided for me, and I could say what I’d be doing years from today’s date and time? I could’ve ignored you. Indeed I’d forgotten how to read and write by that point. They were skills I developed solely to communicate with Mark until...

    So I tried to learn how again, and it was taking too long, too long, because my body ached and all my energy was sunk into maintaining Mark’s appearance. The more I tried, the more I was suddenly desperate to have you as a companion, however distant, so I evolved in the night. My capacities expanded, I wrote to you successfully and apologized for my apparent rudeness. You know the rest.

    Now officially, our letters end here. It’s nothing personal. My life supposedly ended when Mark disappeared/died. Yet my heart keeps beating, and my mind sharpens with each word of yours I read. The whole of me wants more life. Which I will find, as I said, alone. I do not deserve your supposedly unconditional company, least of all yours. Too kind, too genuine, too trusting.

    I thank you for leading me as far as you have. For inspiring me to seek sights and sounds, tastes and smells that otherwise would pass me by. That was a goal you succeeded in tenfold. And thank you for being my first experience back into the life of Enmity, albeit through Mark’s name and signature. It only happened because I initially failed at scaring you off. Were you sure? Were you sure? You were sure about a criminal, about Mark. Not me, right? So we should have a chance, you think? Yet I am a criminal in my own right. Not a drug addict, but filled with pathological deceptions and tales long enough to write a dedicated law book about.

    I’d say sorry for leaving you alone, but you’re not. You have your flying-types. As for Kenneth, I’m curious to know if he suspected, well, this. How could he have? He was full of surprises, though. Perhaps he would not have wanted to accept the truth, even if he’d put the pieces together. A pokémon, capable of so much language and intelligence he could thoroughly fool numerous humans? Prison workers who reduce a human’s status to that of a monster is not the best example, actually. Still, it would mean that Donmel is capable of the same, and that he’s failed to help his pokémon reach that potential in favor of neglect.

    We talked about this plenty, Haley. You will be amazed as you learn how complex your pokémon truly are, now that the language barrier is diminishing. Ribbons will confirm my story. That my letters, for the first time, consist of no illusions or tricks.

    In the end I have confessed to you after my request. Why? Out of guilt, no other reason. Use my story as you will. Sell it to the prison, or some tabloid looking for a great headline. You could earn money for handing over my letters and taking part in such an unbelievable experience. Who knows, Mark may come out of hiding then, like I’ve dreamed. Either way, I give you permission to take advantage of me in this way. The downsides and their accompanying burdens are mine to bear.

    Thank you again, Haley. I’ll miss you, but this—is—the—space—between—us. No, not wide enough. Let me try again. Drive the point home, wherever that is.



    This



    is



    the



    space



    between



    us.


    Goodbye,
    En
     

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