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Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Negrek, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Just got caught up! I've been busy the past six months or so and it's only recently that my life has cooled down enough for me to get back into this. Since I went through a few chapters, I didn't do the bit-by-bit usual review that I do, so I'll just let you know my main thoughts.

    Overall, I thought this was really good! The battles were gripping and kept me entertained the whole while, and I usually have a hard time staying attentive for battle scenes. I know that the last battle wasn't fair and they really didn't deserve the win, but I was VERY impressed and pleased with Mightyena beating Salamence (as you can probably imagine =P). Also, I was pretty intrigued by that Blastoise. If she's 700-800 years old, how would an "academy brat" like Aanya get her? And what would her life have been like? She would have lived through such interesting parts of human history--although she might have been far removed from where any of the action was. I feel like a cool little side-story could be made out of that. Also, do you have any inspiration for the name Aanya Singh? Sorry, I just get really interested in names and their ethnic origins.

    And the scene where they capture Leonard Kerrigan is gold. I love Benny's "I'm a bruiser!" and then needing to be told that he wasn't being complimented XD Little character quirks like that are great. I'm finding myself more sympathetic with Absol and more fustrated with the child, whom you've reminded us really IS a child in terms of temperament. I keep worrying about Nate and his physical condition; he really isn't doing anything to improve it and i feel like his body is just a fleshy bag filled with broken bones. And the last conversation with Eskar makes me wonder what her "higher rates" refer to...

    All in all, it was good, and it's good to be back! I'm looking forward to the great Nathaniel Morgan's next battle, and to see where the plot will head afterwards :)
  2. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey, great to see you again! Hope you've been having a great time with whatever's been keeping you busy. It's always fantastic to see a familiar face pop up after an absence.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the recent chapters, especially the battles; I always worry about them getting tedious, especially because they're so long! So it's very reassuring for you to say they kept you entertained.

    I think Aanya and/or the Blastoise's stories would be worth telling in their own right, although I don't have any plans to do so at the moment. Aanya is a serious trainer and quite ambitious, and she came to the tournament intending to win it--not just win against the other newbie trainers, but actually unseat Red and become the Champion. She knew that if she was going to do that, she'd need more than just her normal team in order to take Red down; he's throwing around Mewtwo, after all, which is simply unfair compared to what most trainers can field.

    So Aanya tackled the issue as an academy brat might, by researching well-known battling pokémon who might be open to taking on a new trainer. Like the announcer metions, Blastoise has appeared in the Indigo League tournament twice before, and a bit on the competitive battling circuit as well. That means she's in the League's records where any enterprising trainer can look her up, and she has an impressive win-loss record, which definitely caught Aanya's eye. Since she didn't currently have a trainer, she was one of the pokémon Aanya sought out to ask for help in the tournament. They trained together for a few months before heading to the Plateau, and Aanya was careful to keep her out of the spotlight so people didn't recognize the signifiance of the blastoise that showed up in her trainer profile. Blastoise was set up to be her secret weapon for the championship (and possibly not her only one--we didn't get to see her entire team in that battle, after all!).

    As for Blastoise, you're right, she's lived through a lot of huge changes in the way the League is structured and pokémon training in general is carried out. She's always been a battling pokémon, though, and as such she wasn't personally there to witness a lot of your major historic events. As she's gotten older she's spent more of her time way out in the deepwilds, looking after a clan of wild squirtle and wartortle. Obviously she still enjoys battling, though, or at least Aanya was able to offer her some incentive to come out of the wilds and take part in the tournament.

    "Aanya" was the name I'd picked for an RP character I'd sketched out but never ended up using. I thought it was a pretty name, so I figured I'd recycle it for use in my fanfic. Can't recall what drew me to the name in the first place; maybe only that I liked the sound of it.

    With "Singh" I just looked for common Indian surnames and picked one I thought sounded nice with Aanya, then Googled a bit to make sure "Aanya Singh" was actually a valid combination and not something that would sound super weird.

    Thanks! I had a lot of fun writing the nidoking bros; they're some of my favorite bit characters so far.

    Interesting! Most people seem to be getting more frustrated with Absol than with the protagonist. The protagonist certainly is a child, though, and a rather bratty one at that.

    Well, you're definitely not wrong. :p Nate's physical condition is pretty terrible, and I'm sure stress isn't doing him any favors, either.

    Thanks a lot for leaving a review! It's always cool to see you pop up. Hope your own writing's going well and we'll see a new chapter of Drowning sometime soon!

    The next chapter is on its last draft, so posting is, finally, imminent. It'll be out in a week or so, and hopefully sooner.
  3. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: And it's done! This was a very tricky chapter to nail down, but I hope you enjoy the end result!

    Chapter 31

    "What's got you all worked up?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks during your training session the next day. "I mean holy shit, ain't like those rocks did nothing to you."

    In a perfect world they wouldn't be rocks, they'd be the great Nathaniel Morgan's face, same as they are in your imagination. Trying to make you like him. Making you forget about all the bad things he's done. Being all confusing.

    Your eyes itch. You rub at them, hard, and aim another kick at the boulder in front of you. It lands with a crunch, cracks jagging across the rock, and that makes you feel better even though it isn't who you really want to be kicking. Maybe after the tournament you'll beat the great Nathaniel Morgan up for real. Eskar didn't say the boss wanted him in one piece.

    "I am just practicing," you say. "We have to fight the Champion next. We have to get ready."

    "Don't worry about it, Freak. We're awesome, right?" The great Nathaniel Morgan holds one of Mightyena's tennis balls over his head, and she dances around on her hind legs trying to reach it.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan mimes throwing the ball, then hides it behind his back while Mightyena spins and charges after the phantom throw. "What? What? Where'd it go?" he asks when she comes trotting back a second later, ears perked and tail wagging expectantly.

    "The last battle was not awesome," you say. "You would have lost if I did not take things into my own hands. And the Champion will be harder."

    "We don't even gotta beat the guy," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "We just gotta make him send Mewtwo out. And anyway I got a plan. Ain't no big deal. Lighten the fuck up, Freak."

    Oh, a plan? Of course he's got a plan. He's always scheming away at something. Probably he's got another plan to get revenge on you once he's got his steelix back. Well, the joke's on him, isn't it? He's going to be waiting an awfully long time for that.

    Mightyena tugs at the arm the great Nathaniel Morgan's holding behind his back, and he pretends not to know what she's getting at while he transfers the ball to his other hand. "What's this?" he asks, holding it out of Mightyena's reach again. "How'd it get over--" Raticate jumps and grabs the ball out of his hand. "Hey, what the fuck?"

    Raticate dashes off, and Mightyena gives chase, barking like mad. The great Nathaniel Morgan starts to follow, but only makes it about a dozen steps before he has to stop and sit down hard, coughing and wheezing for breath. "Oh God. Nope. Still dying," he chokes. The pokémon circle back around to smother him with praise for failing at something even a baby pokémon would have no trouble with.

    You kick another boulder into gravel, then turn flame over the remains, letting it burn hotter and hotter so the rock glows red, then orange, then white. You shouldn't really blame them. After all, he almost had you fooled, just for a second, and he's had much longer to work on them. Pokémon can be weird about their trainers anyway. Not that it stopped yours from criticizing you all the time. Maybe if you bribed them like the great Nathaniel Morgan does they'd be nicer to you.

    The rock chips char to blackened, crumbling dust. Your feet ache, your whole body aches, and you aren't even angry anymore, just tired and empty and somehow nauseous.

    It doesn't matter. Even if the great Nathaniel Morgan can be kind of nice sometimes, he has to go back to Team Rocket. That's what he gets for joining them in the first place, and anyway, it's what you have to do. To get Mewtwo back. To save Mew. You'll do whatever it takes, and you shouldn't feel bad about it. You don't.

    Your eyes itch, and you rub at them, scrubbing until they're watering so bad you can barely see. They still itch. Stupid. They're brand new. There's no reason they should give you trouble.

    Somehow the nonsense around the great Nathaniel Morgan has evolved into something like an actual training session. The great Nathaniel Morgan sits cross-legged on the ground with Mightyena lying next to him, pushing the tennis ball around with her nose. "Okay, that's not bad," the great Nathaniel Morgan says as Raticate makes a huge leap, one that would take him nearly to his trainer's shoulders if the great Nathaniel Morgan were standing up. "You could probably learn swords dance if you wanted. Well, and if..." He turns to look at you.

    "What?" you ask.

    "Forget about it. It's not worth the hassle," Raticate says.

    "Are you done?" Mightyena asks you. "Can you help me ask Nate a question?"

    "No. I was just resting," you say, and after that you more or less have to go back to blasting things. It's probably just as well. Watching the great Nathaniel Morgan and his pokémon was starting to make you angry again, and it's better to be doing something.

    Not that anybody else does. You crack stone until your knuckles start bleeding, then heal them and keep going. And what are the great Nathaniel Morgan and his pokémon up to? Sitting around playing stupid games. The great Nathaniel Morgan keeps trying to get you to translate things for him, but you pretend like you don't hear, stomping around and blowing fire at nothing in particular, too tired to think of something more productive to do. The great Nathaniel Morgan's so terrible he's even making you useless.

    It feels like hours before he and his pokémon finally get bored. "All right, good work, guys," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, rummaging in his pocket. "Let's see what we have h--Raticate, get off!" He shoves at the rat, who clings on with all claws and tries to push his entire head into his trainer's pocket. "You're gonna get the same amount either way. Just wait, okay?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan pulls out a crumpled pack of pokéblocks and fends Raticate off with an elbow while he tears it open. "You're just lucky Steelix ain't here. More for you, huh?" He rubs between Raticate's ears while the normal-type gobbles treats out of his other hand. "Enjoy it while you still can, greedy-ass."

    "Oh yeah, Steelix and his pokéblocks," Raticate says mushily. He watches the great Nathaniel Morgan feed Mightyena pokéblocks one by one, tossing them high so she rears up to snap them out of the air. "Remember that time he knocked Nate over he was so excited to get at them?"

    "Yeah, he's all about honor and restraint and everything until it comes to the good stuff," Mightyena says. "Then it's all, 'I'm the biggest, I get to be first,' the shiny metal hypocrite."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you an expectant look as he passes Graveler her share.

    Can't they shut up about that stupid steelix for one second? Your fire seethes restlessly inside you, and you can't keep quiet any longer. "I do not understand you," you say.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan glances between Raticate and Mightyena, then looks back to you. "Huh?"

    "I thought you must have joined Team Rocket because you hated pokémon. Or maybe you only liked them because they were useful."

    "Where the fuck is this coming from?"

    The air ripples around you as your flames heat up. He acts like he doesn't know what you mean, but he does. He's pretending. "But that is not true. You obviously love your pokémon. But you are still a member of Team Rocket."

    The pokémon exchange glances, and Raticate makes a whisker-twitch shrug like Rats always does. Fissures crinkle across Graveler's forehead like she's actually mildly interested. And it's them, too. They know. They're at least as bad as their trainer. Their trainer who says, "Are you pissed 'cause you didn't get no pokéblocks? Because, like..."

    "No! I am mad because it is wrong! You know what Team Rocket does to pokémon. You know. But you help them anyway because as long as it does not happen to your pokémon, you do not care. And you hurt pokémon, like that guy's beedrill. You were mad at the trainer, but instead of hurting him, you hurt one of his pokémon so bad even the Pokémon Center could not fix it."

    "Okay, first of all, I didn't even touch--"

    "I know you did not!" Of course he'd say that, of course he would. It's another trick. "It was you, wasn't it?" Raticate stares at you like you've grown an extra head. "Or you?" Mightyena's ears are up, and she lies with paws out in front, ready to jump up any second and defend her trainer. Of course she is. Because she sides with him even though she knows he's bad, and it's not right and it doesn't make sense.

    "It could have been any of you. It does not matter because none of you care. And you." Back to the great Nathaniel Morgan. "You bragged about the beedrill. You acted like you thought it was funny. It is not funny. It is horrible, and all of you are horrible, too. You keep pretending to be nice, but you cannot fool me. I do not forget that easy."

    You're breathing hard now, but it feels good. Your fire warms you, flames crackling in your ears, and it's good because you saw through his lies. Now let him try to deny it. There's no way--none. He can't keep pretending.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan scrunches up his face like he's about to sneeze, and when he glances down to find Raticate and Mightyena looking up at him, he bursts out laughing. The pokémon join in, and the three of them collapse against each other. The great Nathaniel Morgan hangs onto Graveler as if for dear life, breathless with giggling.

    For a moment surprise holds you suspended. Then your eyes are itching again, hot tears washing out your vision so you can't even see. You can still hear laughing at you. "Shut up!" you yell, and fire roars behind your words, the rocks around your feet warmed to glowing. "Shut up, all of you! I hate you!"

    That only makes them laugh harder. The fire builds up and for a second you're ready to torch all of them, send everything you've got their way and see who's laughing then. But they don't stop. They see you flaring up and act like it's the most hilarious thing ever. You hesitate, confused, and then ashamed that you hesitated, and their laughter goes on and on, like you're hilarious, like you said the most stupid thing in the whole world. Standing there, listening to them, you start to feel stupid. There's something here you don't understand at all. So instead of charring them all to dust, you turn and run, down on all fours going as fast as you can. Their laughter follows you long after they're out of sight.


    Absol finds you perched on a fence surrounding a scraggly little park that's crowded with battling trainers. You're watching a roserade beat up a primeape, who screeches and flails as his anger escalates, but who only ends up hurting himself on his opponent's thorns.

    Something about the quality of the silence behind you grates on your subconscious. You'd never know it was Absol if you hadn't lived with her for ages. As usual, she doesn't say anything. As usual, you resolve to ignore her and not give her the satisfaction of making you ask what she wants. As usual, you don't manage.

    "What do you want, Absol?"

    "Are you all right?"


    Absol lets that sit awhile, long enough for the primeape to be recalled and his trainer to wander off. They leave a tempting patch of open grass, and not two minutes later another trainer's tromped over to claim it, pulling out a Frisbee to throw for her sylveon.

    You twine your tail between the fence's bars, in and out and in and out, and hunch your shoulders against a sudden breeze. It gets dark earlier on the plateau than on your island, and the air is already golden with the end of afternoon.

    "I thought I was going on an adventure, Absol. It was supposed to be fun. But somehow it keeps turning out to be terrible."

    "All adventures are hard." You wonder what she's looking at: you or the park or maybe just up at the sky.

    "Well, I knew it would be hard sometimes, but shouldn't it be fun sometimes, too? It's been bad the whole way. I miss Togetic and Titan and Rats and everybody. They would make me feel better."

    You watch the sylveon make a huge, drifting leap for the Frisbee, then glide up and out of his trainer's reach. He swoops playfully above while his trainer runs after him, waving her arms over her head. "Except I wouldn't be able to keep Togetic with me, not with that Rocket around. He tried to poison her once. I can't believe I almost forgot about that." You grip the iron spikes on top of the fence so hard the edges dig into your palms. "He's horrible, Absol. He deserves everything he's going to get."

    "I could not say what he does or does not deserve. What makes you think you can?"

    You twist around to look at Absol. She has to tip her head all the way back to return your gaze. "He did bad things, Absol. Of course he deserves bad things to happen to him."

    "So you will be the one to do those bad things?" Absol asks. She must know how badly that too-calm stare gets under your skin. "Perhaps then you would deserve the same."

    "Knock if off, Absol. It doesn't count if you do it to someone who deserves it. It's what's supposed to happen. You know all about that, don't you? About doing what Fate says has to happen?"

    "This is not Fate," Absol says firmly.

    "Okay, fine. The point is he deserves it. I'm sure." You focus back on the park, but you know Absol's still there. She rears up on her hind legs, claws rasping on metal as she rests them against the side of the fence. You can feel the vibrations up through the soles of your feet. "You are still young."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "You are confused."

    "Not about that."

    Absol starts pacing down below, turning tight circles, around and around. "But there is something that is troubling you. Something you don't understand."

    You sigh and hug your knees close to your chest. "Maybe. I... It's not fair, Absol. I'm a kid. Maybe, maybe better than a kid, but it's different. If I were a grown-up it would be easier. Grown-ups understand everything."

    "Not everything. But you come to understand some things."

    "I wish I would grow up already so I didn't mess up so much."

    "I thought you told me grown-ups are boring."

    "Well they are." You resent the teasing in Absol's voice. She is a grown-up, and you hate it when she reminds you. "But I won't be when I grow up. If I grow up."


    The sylveon leads his trainer on a merry chase, the two of them meandering over to the far end of the park. A big group of trainers walks off together, talking about dinner and ice cream. The sun hangs in the perfect spot to sear out your eyeballs.

    "Are you going to come down?" Absol asks eventually.

    You almost blurt out "no," just because, but you're hungry and cramped from spending so long scrunched up. "Fine." You untwist your tail and drop down to the sidewalk. Absol keeps pace with you as you set off down the street, even when you speed up, almost all the way to a run. She doesn't even comment on how fast you're going, and you slow down again with an exasperated sigh. Same old Absol.

    "It's almost over," you say at last.

    Absol nods. A couple streets go by.

    "I'm only trying to do the right thing, Absol."

    "I know," she says. "Most people are."

    You wonder what she means by that.


    When the great Nathaniel Morgan and his team get back to the apartment you're lying on the couch, watching a nature documentary about feral totodile in an Australian river. They don't pay you any attention, talking loudly and laughing and banging around in the kitchen.

    After a few minutes the pokémon filter off towards the bedroom, but the great Nathaniel Morgan leans his arms on the counter and watches you. You pretend not to notice until he speaks up. "So what the fuck was that all about, huh?" he asks.

    "You heard what I said."

    "Yeah, yeah, you fucking hate me, old news. But I don't get what the fuck set you off all of a sudden."

    You watch a feraligatr cruising through a marsh, only her eyes and nostrils visible above the water.

    "Oh what the fuck ever. Just turn the TV down, would you? I'm gonna want to sleep soon."

    "I do not get it," you mutter, and the great Nathaniel Morgan hears you, for all the TV's supposedly on too loud.

    "Get what?"

    "It doesn't make any sense. You love your pokémon, don't you? So why are you such a jerk?"

    "We work together okay, I guess." Raticate pokes his head out of the bedroom, and the great Nathaniel Morgan glances his way. The rat sniffs the air, then scurries over and flattens himself under your chair. "But not everybody who likes pokémon is good, and not everybody who don't is bad. Ain't that fucking simple."

    "It should be," you say. Raticate emerges dragging a long piece of string, which he drops at the great Nathaniel Morgan's feet before dashing back into hiding. "That is what I do not understand. If you like pokémon, why are you on Team Rocket?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts. "Money, dumbass? Get a fucking clue." He braces one hand on the counter while he bends down to grab the string.

    "But there are a lot of things you could do for money. And you said you did not even make that much from Team Rocket."

    "Where did you even get this?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks Raticate as he wraps the string around one hand, but all he gets in response is the excited rattle of chattering teeth. Raticate's nose pokes out a second, then disappears. "Well, what the fuck do you think I should be doing, then, if you're the fucking job expert?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan flicks the end of the string out across the floor and twitches it side to side in irregular bursts. Raticate explodes from under the chair and jumps on the wiggling string, pouncing again and again as the great Nathaniel Morgan slides it out from under his claws and drags it across the tiles.

    "I do not know, anything. You could work at a store or a bank or a library or you could be a baker or a builder or a professional trainer or--"

    Raticate gets the string between his teeth and pulls so hard the great Nathaniel Morgan has to grab the edge of the sink to stop himself from getting dragged to the floor. "Holy shit, Raticate! I ain't got no fucking muscles left, I can't pull that hard!" Raticate leaps like he's had an electric shock and scampers back under the chair.

    "Yeah, I could be the Prime Minister of all motherfucking Kanto, but I ain't," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, righting himself. He flicks the string a couple times, and in moments Raticate's back out on the tiles, hopping around and squeaking and snatching at it.

    "But you are in Team Rocket even though you could do other things. If you could be good, then the only reason you do bad things is because you want to. So that means you must be evil."

    "I think you got to stop thinking life is like those shitty TV shows you watch, Freak." The great Nathaniel Morgan slides the string off his hand and drops the free end on Raticate, who rolls around getting tangled in it.

    "They are not shitty. You are just too stupid to understand them. And I think you must be extra evil because you pretend to be good."

    "What, ain't I fucking mean enough for you, Freak? Holy shit, I must be slipping. Maybe it's the whole basically dying thing." He has to grab the counter for support as Raticate climbs up his side all the way to his shoulder. "Look, I don't get the issue here. Of course I'm a fucking bad guy, moron. Why the hell are you acting like it's a huge fucking surprise all of a sudden?"

    "I just want to know why."

    "There ain't no 'why,' Freak. Some people are just born to be bad, you know?" The great Nathaniel Morgan plucks Raticate off his shoulder and grunts, "Since when are you so fucking heavy?" He cradles the rat in his arms, tickling Raticate's creamy belly fur while the normal-type nips at his fingers. "Goddamn but you are hyper tonight. No more soda for you, buddy."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan tosses Raticate into the living room, and the normal-type jumps up to the back of your chair, where he sits combing through his fur with his claws, licking and twitching and fussing it back into place.

    "Bother the freak if you want to play more, okay? I've got to get to bed 'cause it's..." The great Nathaniel Morgan squints at the microwave clock. "Goddamn, nine thirty? Christ, it's like I'm a fucking old man. Anyway, yeah, I'm tired as shit, so I'm gonna hit the hay."

    Raticate flicks an ear, which might be an okay or might mean nothing at all. He's gnawing at the base of a claw like nothing else in the world matters.

    "Anyhow, Freak, the whole point of that was: you still good to fight? Or are you gonna be facing the fucking Champion and decide you'd rather roast my ass or something? Speak now or forever hold your motherfucking peace, get me?"

    "Of course I will still fight. That is the entire point of being here. But when the battle is over, we will be enemies again. Do not think I have changed my mind."

    "Damn straight." The great Nathaniel Morgan regards you a moment, leaning against the counter with arms crossed over chest. "You get something to eat, or have you been lying there pissed all evening?"

    You curl your lip. "Stop that. I told you, I am not going to be fooled by you pretending to be nice to me."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan smiles. "Damn, you're good. I just can't get nothing past you, can I, Freak?"

    "No you cannot." You turn your attention back to the TV.

    "Well, we bought grub. If you're gonna help yourself, you better do it before Raticate cleans it all out. I'm gone."

    He drags himself off to the bedroom, leaving you alone with the sound of Raticate sucking on his fur. "What about you?" you ask him. "I suppose you hang around with your trainer because he feeds you."

    Raticate lets out a disdainful "tch," then scuttles off towards the bedroom himself. You scowl and curl tighter on the couch and try to pay attention to the TV, which has moved on to a show about the Indigo Tournament's history. You already know this stuff, though, and it seems like all the other channels are battles and more battles or news you don't care about. You try to watch the shopping channel for a while, but you can't buy anything right now anyway. In the end you turn the TV off and stare at the ceiling instead, waiting for sleep to take you.

    ( Continued in next post. )
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  4. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    ( Continued from previous post. )

    The morning finds the great Nathaniel Morgan asleep at the kitchen table, one arm stretched out in front of him and a take-away coffee cup next to his face. You give him a wide berth and climb up on the counter to see what kind of food he bought yesterday. There's a box of Canalave Crunchies, which you consider barely acceptable. You sit eating them by the handful and watching the great Nathaniel Morgan drooling onto the tabletop. Boring.

    You reach over and prod him with a toe. "Wake up."

    The human twitches and raises his head, squinting at you as you shove another handful of cereal into your mouth.

    "The fuck d'you want?" he grumbles.

    "It is time for you to get up. We have a lot of work to do today."

    "Yes!" Eskar's head pops up over the edge of the table, and your mane flares up so high it endangers overhead cabinets. "Open those lazurite eyes wide, Backstabby! It is a big day for us all!" She climbs up and sits next to you, and you scoot away so fast you nearly fall off the counter, scattering cereal in all directions.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan regards Eskar with sleepy disinterest, then stretches his arms up over his head with a squeaky kind of grunt. He settles back into a comfortable slouch, scratching at his stubble while he considers you. "Gonna eat that whole box, ain't you? Asshole."

    He investigates the coffee cup and finds it empty, tosses it at the trash can and misses. Eskar claps her hands and snickers. "Oh, very good, Lazurite-eyes. It's a wonder you manage to stab anyone in the back with aim like that."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at her. "What'd she say?"

    You groan and rub your face. "It was a joke. She said it must be hard for you to stab people in the back with such bad aim."

    "Stab people in the back?" The great Nathaniel Morgan sits up straight. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

    "I think she is talking about how you betrayed Team Rocket. I do not think she likes that."

    "Betrayed? 'S'not... ugh." The great Nathaniel Morgan rubs his face, then pauses, looking at Eskar from the corner of one eye. She smiles back, glitteringly innocent. "And how the fuck would she know about Team Rocket? You been gossiping? Don't bullshit me, the only other people who know are... are..." He slowly draws back from the table, his face going slack with dismay. Eskar's grin widens, and she waggles her fingers at him in a teasing wave.

    "No," the great Nathaniel Morgan breathes. "Oh fuck me, no. Mightyena, get in here!"

    Mightyena charges into the kitchen, claws skittering on the tile.

    "Get the sableye! Get it! Get!" The great Nathaniel Morgan jabs a finger at the ghost, who rolls on the table, cackling laughter and kicking her feet in the air. Mightyena glances at her, then back at the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    "Why? She's cool."


    "What is your problem?" you ask.

    "That's the boss' sableye, ain't it? You recruited the boss' own fucking pokémon for your insane little plan!"

    "So what?"

    "So what? So fucking--you--I can't even--she wanted to eat my fucking eyes!"

    "Eat them?" Eskar sits up, suddenly frowning. "Eat eyes? Oh no, Lazurite-eyes, no! They would be so squishy! And all soft and liquid and yeeerch. Food isn't supposed to squish!"

    "You are completely overreacting," you say to the great Nathaniel Morgan. "Eskar has been very helpful, and she never even tried to do anything to you."

    "You're fucking insane. Mightyena!"

    Mightyena huffs a sigh and turns to Eskar. "Look, could you give us a couple minutes? I need to talk to my trainer."

    "Yes." Eskar relaxes from a disgusted cringe and frowns at the great Nathaniel Morgan. "And perhaps I won't come back." She drops down from the table and fades out into shadow.

    Mightyena goes over and rests her chin on the great Nathaniel Morgan's leg. "There. The scary sableye's gone. You can calm down now."

    "Mightyena, this is serious," he says, shoving her away.

    "She agrees with me. You need to calm down."

    "She ain't got the first fucking clue what's going on, and I'll calm down when I'm goddamn well ready to. Like maybe after you explain in what universe you thought it was a good idea to bring the boss' own psychotic flunky in on this."

    "I do not see any reason to discuss this with you. Eskar has been helpful. I do not need to justify--"

    "You serious? Look, you working with Rocket now, or what? I swear, even though you will not get off my ass about--"

    "What? Of course I am not helping Team Rocket! How dare you--"

    "How fucking dare I? When you're all bro-ing around with the boss' goddamn right-hand--"

    "She is not helping Team Rocket! We made a deal!"

    Raticate comes up next to Mightyena, who's sitting on her haunches, turning her head back and forth to watch the argument ping-pong between the two of you. The pokémon mutter to each other while the great Nathaniel Morgan fires back. "Oh, a deal? A fucking deal? This is gonna be fucking great, I can just feel it. The fuck kind of deal you talking about, Freak?"

    "Eskar said she wanted to help me. She likes my eyes. She likes me. So I told her she could battle with us in the tournament if she did not tell the boss about us. And if something goes wrong after that, who cares? I will have Mewtwo again. Team Rocket will not be able to do anything then. I am not afraid of them."

    "Not afraid--not afraid of..." The great Nathaniel Morgan bites a knuckle, shoulders shaking in a desperate chuckle. "Dunno if you noticed, Freak, but they kinda kicked your ass every goddamned time you went up against them."

    "That only happened twice, and the first time was your fault. The second was not even Team Rocket, it was Sabrina. Mewtwo completely destroyed the Rockets in Viridian."

    "Okay, fine. You can go on not being scared, whatever. But you know who's scared of Team Rocket? Me. I am fucking terrified of that shit. And I say we're getting the fuck out of here now. Mightyena!"

    You'd hoped she might see sense. But no, she looks up with ears forward, all alert and eager to please, and when the great Nathaniel Morgan tells her to watch from the shadows to be sure Eskar doesn't come back, she whirls and is gone without hesitation.

    "Raticate, go help Graveler pack up. We're leaving."

    "Leaving? What are you talking about? Where do you think you are going?"

    "Gonna keep that one a surprise, Freak, since as far as I know they got bugs all over this goddamned place. I'd ask you to help, but the best I can hope for is for you to stay out of the way for a bit, ain't it?"

    You follow him along the counter while he opens cupboards and throws things into shopping bags resurrected from the trash.

    "We cannot leave! We have work to do. And Team Rocket would already have come after us if they were going to."

    "No, they would wait until we did all the hard work and jacked Mewtwo, and then they would come after us and see how much they could get for our fucking organs."

    "They will not. They have no idea we are going after Mewtwo. Eskar agreed not to say anything to the boss."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts. "Yeah, and what'd she do to sell you on that load of bullshit? She smile real pretty with those pointy pointy teeth that can chew through fucking bone?"

    "No. We made a deal. I gave her my eyes."

    "What?" The great Nathaniel Morgan peers into your face.

    "They grow back," you say, exasperated.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's mouth hangs open in a dismayed frown. "Oh my God that is so fucked up. You gave her your eyes? That is so fucked up."

    "I said they grow back. It is no big deal."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head and goes for the fridge, leaning on the open door while he considers his options. Apparently he decides the most convenient place to store the food is his own stomach, since he grabs a box of old pizza and starts stuffing his face. "What in the hell were you even thinking?" he asks thickly after managing to cram almost an entire slice in his mouth in one go. "The boss sends her creepy-ass ghost pal to follow you, so you decide the best thing to do would be to give her exactly what she wants? What the fuck?"

    "The boss does not get what she wants. I already said Eskar will not tell her anything."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan makes a face like he has a sudden stomachache, then chugs a half-empty bottle of soda, belches explosively, chucks the bottle at the trash and misses. "God-fucking-dammit. Look, the whole problem with this picture is you thinking you can outsmart the boss. You don't get to be her age and in charge of Team fucking Rocket without being one scary motherfucker, you get me? She's smarter than you and me, I fucking guarantee it, and somehow I don't want to risk my motherfucking life on whether you managed to put one over on her."

    "She is only human. She is not that scary."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan starts downing a carton of orange juice rather than answer, then chokes on it when he glances over at the bedroom. "Oh my God, Graveler," he sputters, orange juice dribbling down his chin, "what the fuck?"

    You follow him as he dashes into the bedroom and find him considering a bunch of rocks scattered across the bedspread. "What the fuck did you even do to--what is this, a shirt?"

    "Made it smaller," Graveler says. She demonstrates with the towel draped across her lower arms, gathering and crushing it in one decisive motion. When she opens her hands again, it's been reduced to a small bundle about the size of a hamburger patty, compressed by incredible pressure.

    "We are not leaving," you say. "We have work to do, and in case you do not remember, we need Eskar. We need six pokémon. You are going to apologize to her, and then we are going to stay here and train."

    "No, we ain't."

    "Yes, we are." You take a step forward, and the great Nathaniel Morgan rounds on you.

    "No, we ain't. Or at least I ain't. You can stay if you want, and good fucking riddance. I'll meet you at the stadium tomorrow."

    "I think you are going to do what I say." Graveler turns towards you as you clench your fists, your flames leaping higher.

    "You think you're gonna make me, Freak?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks. His tone is sharp, but he sags where he stands, looking every inch someone who woke up five minutes ago and already deeply regrets it. "So, what, you fight the team, and maybe you lose. Then we do what I want."

    "I will not lose."

    "Okay, so maybe you win. Then what? You beat on me until I agree to whatever? Fine, so now I'm all fucked up. How the hell am I supposed to battle tomorrow then, huh? You fuck me up, you ain't got no game anyway." He turns back to his packing. "Face it, Freak. I'm more important to you right now than that fucking sableye."

    "That is not right," you say, and fortunately Raticate saves you from having to think up why.

    He emerges from the bathroom with toiletries clutched in his paws and his cheeks bulging. "Fink I got everyfing," he says and jumps heavily onto the bed. He drops what he's carrying, then reaches into his mouth and paws out a pile of now-slimy accessories. "Say, what's this thing?" he asks, picking up one of the clothing briquettes.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan sighs as he considers his spit-covered pokédex, then starts sweeping everything haphazardly into a backpack. "Honest to God, Kid, how do you not know when you're getting fucking played? You start bargaining off your fucking eyes and you don't think maybe you're in over your head?"

    He doesn't seem like he's really talking to you, but you don't care. "I am not stupid. I would not have done this if I thought it was too risky."

    "It's Team-fucking-Rocket you're dealing with!" The great Nathaniel Morgan slams the backpack onto the bed and stuffs the contents down as he tries to wrestle the zipper closed. "How the fuck is it not too risky? You know what the fuck's gonna happen if they catch us? If they catch you?"

    "Of course I know," you snarl. "And I remember that you were ready to turn me over to them anyway."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan forces the zipper shut at last and stands there looking down at the bag until Raticate nudges his arm, peering anxiously into his trainer's face. The great Nathaniel Morgan runs his hand over the top of the backpack once, then turns and crouches down in front of you. He puts a hand on your shoulder and asks, "Did the sableye give you anything? Or ask you to bring her anything?"

    You jerk away from his hand, the gemstone concealed under your fur cold against your skin. "No!" you snap.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan stares into your face for a moment, then nods and stands again. "Mightyena!" he says to empty air. She appears right next to him, and he reaches down and ruffles her ears. "You heard all that, right?" A nod. "Okay. We're going to move. Stay with us and keep an eye out for that sableye."

    She nods again and slurps at his fingers. The great Nathaniel Morgan smiles and pats her side. "Off you go."

    Mightyena turns back on herself and is gone. The great Nathaniel Morgan slings the backpack over his shoulder and grimaces as its weight settles on him. "We're leaving," he says, already stomping towards the door. "Graveler, get the food."

    You stay where you are while Raticate leaps past you and skirts around his trainer at a run. Graveler lumbers along behind. The great Nathaniel Morgan glances at you over his shoulder. "Coming, Freak? Last fucking chance."

    You look around the room, seething with anger. You want nothing more to do with him.

    But on the other hand, can you afford to let him out of your sight?

    "I am coming," you hiss.

    "Whatever." The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't even look back as you knuckle along behind, out of the apartment and on to whatever stupid place he wants you to go.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan leads you towards the edge of town, past crowds of tourists drifting around in search of breakfast and a battle between an arbok and a tauros, the bull gouging at the snake with her horns as she disappears into his coils. The great Nathaniel Morgan keeps up a brisk pace, but you can hear his rasping breath even following a couple yards behind. Raticate mills around the great Nathaniel Morgan's feet saying he should stop, he should let Graveler carry him. The human trots along without even looking at Raticate, face set in a grimace.

    Now and again someone in the crowd recognizes the great Nathaniel Morgan as the Indigo finalist, and Graveler plants herself between him and any too-interested parties. Even so the great Nathaniel Morgan speeds up whenever one gets close, until he's bent over and gasping but still moving forward.

    Streets go by. You pass a couple of kids egging on a pichu and a bidoof. The pokémon seem much more interested in growling at each other than fighting, but at last the bidoof headbutts the pichu in the stomach, and she falls over. Then she starts crying.

    The youngsters' shrill argument over whether this counts as a knock-out or not follows you down the street until the great Nathaniel Morgan finally collapses against the side of a building, wheezing and coughing like he's going to choke up a lung. His fingers tighten into claws on the bricks beside him, but he can't stop himself from slipping down to sit at the base of the wall, nose running and sweat pouring down his face.

    Raticate and Graveler huddle up against him, and Mightyena reappears, growling at the great Nathaniel Morgan when he makes an attempt to stand. "Stay there," she says to him. "You need to rest."

    "You sure, Mightyena?" Raticate asks. He's chewing a claw, gaze roaming the people walking past. "If Team Rocket's coming, we need to move. Listen, Graveler can--"

    "Nobody's going to jump us in the next few minutes," Mightyena says firmly.

    "I'm fine," the great Nathaniel Morgan wheezes. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I just--" He tries to get up again but doesn't even make it halfway before he falls back. He closes his eyes and rests his head against the brickwork, shivering.

    "Rest, Nate," Mightyena says. "If you push yourself like this you're going to end up hurting yourself. Is there anything we can do? What do you need?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan clenches his jaw and shakes his head. He tenses up, rocking forward like he wants to make another bid at standing, but then falls back in a slump, breathing hard through his open mouth, almost whining. After long minutes of labored breathing, he abruptly balls one hand into a fist and slams it against the wall. He stays like that a second more, leaning into the bricks, then gasps, "Get a tent." The pokémon exchange confused looks while he works up to saying more. "Small one. Take... the pokédex. Buy it. However much it costs."

    You've been holding your tongue, content to let the great Nathaniel Morgan's stupid excursion fall apart, but this is beyond ridiculous. "A tent? How is that supposed to help?"

    "We can't leave him here with that guy," Raticate says.

    "I'll stay. You two go," Mightyena says, like she'd be able to stop you doing anything.

    "I said, how is a tent supposed to help?"

    "Are you sure?" Raticate says. "If something happened, you really think you'd be able to handle it? All by yourself? If the Team shows up and--"

    "Raticate, just go."

    "I have had enough," you say, stepping forward so you stand between the two of them. "This is stupid. It has been stupid from the start. We are going to go back to the apartment and get ready for the next battle, if I have to knock all of you out and drag your trainer there myself."

    Mightyena snarls and leaps at you, and you duck aside, fire leaping around your fist as you swing a punch that cuts the air just above her skull.

    "Stop," the great Nathaniel Morgan says in a whisper, almost lost in Mightyena's growling. "Stop, stop, Mightyena." He breaks off with a choking cough.

    She hears him somehow, and she does stop, crouched low with fur bristling, yellow eyes wide and wild. You kick her in the side, and then Raticate jumps on you, sinking his teeth into your thigh.

    "No! No fighting, no... Raticate, go. Get a tent." The great Nathaniel Morgan's struggling with the pokédex in his pocket, and your retaliatory punch hits empty air because Raticate's already over there next to him, gently taking the pokédex himself when the great Nathaniel Morgan gives up on it. The rat holds the device against his chest, whiskers quivering and looking beseechingly at Mightyena, who's positioned herself between you and her trainer.

    "Take Graveler. You can't carry..."

    Raticate glances helplessly at the great Nathaniel Morgan, then back to Mightyena. "We'll be back fast," he says, and races off on all fours, the pokédex in his mouth, with Graveler lumbering behind.

    "You are going to explain now," you say. "Where are we going? Why do you want a tent? If you do not answer, there will be more fighting, and this time I will not stop." Mightyena growls at that, deep and fierce.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan waves a hand towards something, and you turn to look. Street, people on the street, shops, the edge of town and the forest of tents and campers that surrounds it. "We are going out there?" you ask. The great Nathaniel Morgan nods. He's coughing fitfully, mouth closed like he's trying to hold it in. He wrestles with his backpack, fingers fumbling at the zipper but losing it over and over.

    "Need to be by people," he says. "So. Out there."

    You stand scowling while he tears the backpack open, sticking his hands through a gap in the zipper and forcing it the rest of the way. After that he moves on to struggling with a hyper potion. Mightyena sidles closer to him, facing you the whole while with lip curled up to show teeth. Only after the great Nathaniel Morgan mists her with the potion--or around half of it, he has some trouble with the nozzle--does she turn aside to lick the sweat from his face. She's still watching you from the corner of her eye.

    Irritated, you heal away your own wounds. "I am waiting," you say. "I will not wait much longer."

    Mightyena growls again, and the great Nathaniel Morgan reaches up to stroke her neck. It takes him a couple tries to get started, but once he does he manages to keep the words coming well enough. "Look, Freak. If Rocket's gonna come for us, it's better to have people around. It won't stop them, but it'll be harder for them to send a ton of guys our way. Too many witnesses, get me? Messy. Way harder than just popping a force into that apartment and taking us quiet-like."

    "That is stupid. If you are really so worried, I can just teleport us somewhere far away where they will not find us."

    "No! No." The vehemence of his response sends him into a coughing fit, and you lash your tail impatiently while he struggles to get his breath back. "If they follow us, we'll be... alone. Worse. Worst. Not that."

    "There is no way to track a teleport."

    "There is if they got a tracker on you."

    "That is just paranoid. When would they even have put one on?"

    "Better paranoid than dead, Freak."

    "You will be dead if you keep making me angry."

    "And then you really will be fucked tomorrow, won't you? It keeps coming back around, Freak. You can leave if you want. Don't care. But if you fuck me up, you ain't got no game tomorrow." He shifts his weight a little, a tight frown flashing across his face. "Fuck me up worse, I mean."

    You snort hot air out of your nostrils and cross your arms, tail worming fitfully across the asphalt. What can you do? Nothing good. There's no good choices anymore.

    "Well?" The great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Stay or go, Freak? Don't leave me to die in fucking suspense, here."

    "I will stay," you say. "So that we can prepare for the battle tomorrow. Do you understand?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan nearly smiles. "Sure, freak. We'll have ourselves a fucking awesome camping trip. Roast marshmallows over your head. All that good shit."

    "We will work."

    "Yeah, yeah." He slouches against the wall, eyes half-closed, dragging his fingers idly through Mightyena's fur. You pace, listening to the angry crackle of your fire and trying to put your thoughts in order, to salvage something from this idiocy.

    It isn't long before Raticate comes hurrying back, Graveler following with a large box held over her head. "They didn't have much," Raticate pants as he passes back the pokédex. "Everything's sold out. All those other people, I guess they bought up most of the stuff. Anyway, it's kind of big... And kind of expensive... I don't know."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan accepts the news with equanimity, and doesn't even complain when Graveler has to lift him and seat him on her head herself. After that comes a long search for a place to pitch the tent, one crowded enough for the great Nathaniel Morgan's tastes but with room to accommodate you, and then there's the matter of getting the thing put up. The great Nathaniel Morgan turns out to be just as useless as his pokémon at that, so it's mostly you wrestling with the poles, relying on the frayed memories of family trips from another life. All the while you could swear you actually feel each minute ticking by, marking another minute closer to the Championship that you're doing nothing to get ready for.

    Finally the tent's up and the team's crammed inside. Graveler and Mightyena take up nearly half the floor, but the great Nathaniel Morgan could stand up if he wanted. If he was able to--he's huddled against one wall of the tent, resting his head on his arms on his knees. You bounce impatiently on the balls of your feet, as close to the center of the tent as you can get, where there's enough overhead space that your flames won't burn it up. Just how long is the great Nathaniel Morgan going to mope around playing sick?

    Mightyena ends up speaking up before you, though. "Nate, can I ask you a question?"

    "No. Your trainer said he would go over the plan for tomorrow. If he is going to talk to anyone, it will be me." You give him a pointed look.

    "Don't be a dick, Freak," the great Nathaniel Morgan says wearily. "You can go after her, for fuck's sake. What does she want?"

    "You cannot make me translate for her." You cross your arms over your chest. "Training first. Then talking."

    "Mightyena, what is it?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says, turning towards her. "You need something?"

    Mightyena shoots you a glare, then turns to the great Nathaniel Morgan and barks twice.

    "Okay, then. But it's important? Right. Is it about the battle tomorrow? No. Is it about you? Is it about the team?"

    You're going to be standing there for hours with them playing twenty questions at each other. "Fine, fine," you snarl. "She wanted to ask you a question. Which was...?" You give Mightyena a look like she'd better make this quick.

    "Nate, what are we going to do after the tournament? After you get Steelix back?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan wilts, even more than he was before, and wearily rubs his face. "Oh, God. That's the fucking question, ain't it? I dunno, Mightyena, all right? Already got fucking Rocket after me, and the police ain't gonna be too pleased, neither, not after I rip Red off in front of half the fucking world. Gonna have to find somewhere to lie low, I guess. Real goddamned low."

    Mightyena nods slowly. "And then what?"

    "Look, Mightyena, this ain't exactly a good time, okay?"

    "I know. But there isn't much time left. There's the battle tomorrow, and then"--she glances over at you--"you're splitting up with Infernape, aren't you?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you a dark look and says, "Damn straight."

    "Right. And I was thinking... I mean, all of us were thinking..." She looks pleadingly at the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    "Fine," he says, spreading his hands and then slapping them down on his knees. "Go on. You wanna talk? Then get talking."

    Mightyena must hear the bite of frustration in his voice. She goes over to rest her chin on the great Nathaniel Morgan's leg. He doesn't say anything more, just scratches her neck, and this goes on long enough that you're about to remind them that you have actual important things that need discussing when Mightyena says, "Nate, you weren't thinking of joining up with another gang, were you?"

    "No, I was thinking of doing what the freak there said and becoming a motherfucking professor. Where the fuck is this coming from?"

    "I never said you should be a professor," you say, confused. "That is a dumb idea."

    "Nate, why can't you just be a trainer?" Mightyena blurts out.

    "Because beating up little kids ain't worth shit for cash. The money's in tournaments and the gym circuit, and you can't play in no fucking tournaments if going on TV means fucking Rocket's gonna see it and send a squad to wipe you out. Can't play the gym circuit if you ain't got no license. And for some fucking reason they ain't keen on giving those out to fucking wanted criminals!"

    "We could make it work, Nate. We're strong, we can win whatever battles we need to. Or... it doesn't have to be training. There's lots of jobs for humans with strong pokémon. You could be a security guard, or a wilderness guide, or--"

    "You're right, landing those is way easier than being a fucking trainer. It's like background checks don't even fucking exist." The great Nathaniel Morgan takes a long, shaky breath. "Ain't that simple, Pooch. I mean, look, I ain't saying we gotta do nothing shady. I'm definitely gonna try--"

    Mightyena pulls away from him. "You'll try? You mean like you were 'trying' to get out of Team Rocket, which is how you ended up working for for them for--how long was it?"

    "Hey, fuck you." The great Nathaniel Morgan scowls. "I was fucking trying, but in case you ain't noticed, it ain't exactly easy to quit Rocket, at least if you don't want to go out in a body bag."

    "I'm just saying, Nate, none of us wants to go back to that. You don't either. You know you hate it. And it is hard to get away from. So this time, let's not start in the first place."

    "I'll do what I can, Pooch, but I can't promise nothing. That's all I got, hear? You happy?"

    Mightyena rests her head on her paws, looking off into the far corner of the tent. "Okay, Nate."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan crosses his arms and frowns at her back. "Look, this is human shit, okay? It ain't like for pokémon, I can't spend my life running around in the fucking woods or some shit. I gotta make money somehow, and ain't nobody wants what I got except a bunch of fucking crooks. I'll do my best, but if it comes down to ripping something off or fucking starving, you damn well better believe I'm gonna steal what I need."

    "I understand that, Nate," Mightyena says in a carefully measured tone. "I just wanted to make sure you were thinking about all our options."

    "Oh, sure, options, we got a fuckton of those now," the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls. "But I ain't sure why I'm the one to look at them, since you obviously think you got a better handle on this shit than me. You want to be the trainer now, huh? Go on, what's your brilliant plan for how everybody's gonna get fed without ripping nobody off?"

    Mightyena rumbles out a growl. "No, I was letting you know that I don't want to have to fight for someone like Team Rocket anymore. You don't have to be an ass about it."

    "That's just how I am. Deal with it, Pooch."

    "You know, Nate, maybe if you weren't so much like how you are you wouldn't have such a hard time of it," Mightyena says. "I don't get it. Why do you have to be so difficult? If you would just--"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan barks a nasty spasm of laughter. "Because fuck you, that's why. And if you want to start with that shit you'd better be ready to see exactly how much like I am I can get."

    "Oh, you are impossible!" Mightyena snarls.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gives her a long look, lips pressed together in a thin line. Then he says, "I liked you better when you couldn't talk."

    Mightyena's mouth hangs open uselessly while she stares at the great Nathaniel Morgan. He stares back, one of his nasty smiles stretching across his face. Then Mightyena surges to her feet and blurs into shadow before she's even taken two steps.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan bares his teeth at the space she left behind, then turns to Raticate, who's huddled in the opposite corner. "Well? What about you? You got anything you want to say, huh?"

    Raticate stays frozen, as though the great Nathaniel Morgan might not notice him if he doesn't move. The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts and turns to Graveler. "And you?" The rock-type regards him placidly. "Yeah, like you even give a shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters. He stands, grabbing at the central tent pole for support, and stumbles towards the exit.

    You come unstuck, only then realizing that you'd been as still as Raticate. "Stop! Where are you going? We need to--"

    "No!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars, then pauses a moment, swaying and gulping down air. "We ain't gotta do no-fucking-thing! I got to hope to God I can fix your fucking mess, and you are going to stay here and try not to fuck everything up for once in your fucking life!"

    "I did not fuck everything up! You are the one who just ran your own pokémon--"

    "Stay here!" the great Nathaniel Morgan bellows, red in the face and shaking as he clings to the tent pole. "If you don't park your ass right there and stay until I get back, so help me God--"

    He can't come up with anything. And really, what could he ever threaten you with? All he can do is make a strangled scream-noise at the back of his throat and duck out of the tent.

    You let him. Eskar's gone. Mightyena's gone. And so is your supposed trainer, after doing his best to ruin everything. For a moment you're as weak as he is. You can't even stand. Instead you sit staring at the half-open tent flap. Then you squeeze your eyes shut, clench your hands into fists, and tighten them until heat wells up from your straining muscles. Fire, and fire, and then you sit back, open your eyes, and let it all go. You don't even have the energy to be mad. Instead you find yourself wishing Absol would show up, but of course she's never there when you really need her.

    Raticate takes a box of cereal and tears it into little cardboard shreds, ignoring the multicolored rings that spill out of it. Then he takes another box and starts over. Ugly ripping noises punctuate the sounds filtering through the thin tent walls: a group of people walking by, chatting; children playing, shrieking laughter and calling to one another; a chatot alternately babbling in human speech and arguing with a glameow about whether it's going to rain.

    Graveler stands quietly off to one side, where she's torn a hole through the floor of the tent. Now and again she picks a rock off the ground below and stuffs it in her mouth. You listen to the faint grinding of her teeth and watch the sunlight shining into the tent like you're in a trance.

    It's cold that finally rouses you, cold even though the lowering sun now falls directly on your face. It's actually painful, concentrated in a spot dangerously close to your heart. You put your hand up to your chest only to feel smooth stone under your fingers. And with that touch a whisper in your ear: "Cordierite-eyes."

    You snap to attention, turning left and right and then thinking of Raticate's eyes on you and forcing yourself to slow down, to look without seeming to look. No sign of Eskar, but even after you jerk your hand away from the Boss' mark, you can still hear her murmuring her name for you, over and over in her hissing, whispery voice. In a panic you scramble out of the tent, blinking in the sudden light and once again turning, turning, searching.

    "Cordierite-eyes." Eskar's in front of you, and you have to change your next step into a wide, exaggerated arc to stop yourself from putting your foot right through her. "We have much to discuss."

    "Eskar!" How did she find you so fast? You shoo her away from your tent and lower your voice, mindful of who might be listening. "Don't worry, you'll get the great Nathaniel Morgan. Just like I said. That hasn't changed, everything's fine." Nothing's fine. What are you going to do tomorrow? You have to find the great Nathaniel Morgan. What have you been doing, sitting around moping all this time? You have to find him.

    "Is that so?" Eskar asks, head tilted to one side. "You must understand I have concerns, Cordierite-eyes. Grave concerns."

    "I know. I get it. Don't worry. I'll get it under control. The human--he's just an idiot. I'll handle it." You will find him, and if he tries to run off again you'll break one of his legs and see how far he wants to hobble on that. He doesn't need both to give commands.

    "Mmmm." Ekar's head tilts farther, so far her neck looks grotesquely broken. "Mmmmmmm." She stays like that for long seconds, making a weird humming noise. It's so long you start to sweat, wondering whether she's preparing an attack or about to call all of Team Rocket down on you right then and there. Then the sableye's head snaps up straight again, teeth gleaming in a broad, triangular grin. "Very good! Very good, Cordierite-eyes. I was worried, yes, but you say you will do it, and so I believe you will. I trust you, Cordierite-eyes, yes. We are such good friends."

    You nod, almost frantically, up and down and up and down as she talks. "I had to make sure, Cordierite-eyes. I had to remind you. Old Eskar's watching, she is! But you never forgot, did you, Cordierite-eyes?"

    Your skin itches as fear-sweat dries into your fur, and you scratch while nodding mechanically. You half turn back towards the tent, worrying again that one of the other pokémon might be watching. Still Eskar chatters on. "Now, tomorrow, Cordierite-eyes--pay attention! This is oh so important. Tomorrow after your battle you will meet me at black glass place. The place of training, yes? Bring the backstabby human, and then you can leave. Unless perhaps you would like to come with Eskar, too? Team Rocket could use one so powerful as you. There are rewards, Cordierite-eyes, so many rewards. More than just one favor, yes? And we could be friends forever. Wouldn't you like that?"

    You can't hide your cringe, stomach lurching queasily at the thought. You working with Rocket now, or what? "No. No, I can't. I'll bring you the human, it's no problem, but I can't join Team Rocket. I'm sorry, Eskar, I can't."

    Eskar sighs and shakes her head like a weary parent who's come home to find their child's made another mess. "As you say, Cordierite-eyes. Tragic! But there's time yet, yes? Time for you to change your mind." Her serious look evaporates, and she's back to her usual smile. "There is nothing to fear, Cordierite-eyes. You are such a good friend. So very good, yes." She drops her voice to a raspy whisper, leaning towards you. "Perhaps a friend might spare a little present for Eskar? Just a tiny small gift?" She reaches towards your face, and you recoil, tripping over your tail and sitting down hard.

    Eskar howls with laughter, head tipped back with mouth open wide, wide, wide. "No? No? Nothing for Eskar?" She recovers from her laughing fit while you spring back to your feet, tripping over yourself to apologize and schooling yourself not to rub your burning eyes. "Very well, Cordierite-eyes, very well. I only came to talk. A little check-in, yes? Remember, Cordierite-eyes! Remember your one favor!"

    With that, she's gone. You think you see the glint of gemstones in the shadow of clothing on a line, but after one solitary dazzle that's gone, too. You keep watch for a few more seconds, heart worked up to a gallop, but you can't linger here. You have to find the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    You bend down, searching with eyes and nose for a trail, but in your head all you can see is Eskar's gleaming smile. What was she even doing, showing up like that? Pulling a prank? You don't think so. 'Remember, Cordierite-eyes.' She wanted you to know she's watching, and if you can't get the great Nathaniel Morgan back, if he's gone and run off for good, you have a feeling Eskar's not going to think you're such a good friend anymore.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's scent is strong around here, but as you go farther from your tent it gets tangled up, buried under layers of humans and pokémon passing along the busy makeshift thoroughfare. You alternate between tearing down tent-lined avenues, dodging pedestrians with flames streaming out behind you, and crouching with face centimeters from the ground, taking huge snorting breaths and trying to filter the great Nathaniel Morgan's thread from the myriad stories sprawled across the earth. You shouldn't have left it so long. You don't have much time. You have to find him, and soon.

    The scent grows ever more confused as narrow, meandering paths merge into what's almost a proper street, the main path back to town. Finally you sit back on your haunches, tail thrashing and flames hissing frustration in your ears. You don't have time for trying to make sense of the scent-map laid out in front of you, churned up by hundreds of wandering people. Where would he have gone?

    A bar somewhere. He's probably out drinking himself senseless. You tear off in the direction of town, resolving to turn over everywhere in Indigo that might sell alcohol. You'll carry the great Nathaniel Morgan off by force if necessary; you're looking forward to it, even.

    No good. There's not a whiff of him anywhere, not in the bars or restaurants or shops or even the laundromat you barge into mostly by accident, running on the adrenaline of desperation more than any kind of rational thought. The sun tilts towards setting, and your stretching shadow leads your charge down endless cobbled streets. The crowds are turning over, some people retiring for the evening, others emerging for a night on the town. It's fear more than frustration that speeds your steps now. Maybe the great Nathaniel Morgan saw his chance and ran, maybe he's halfway across the region already, maybe Team Rocket went and grabbed him while they could. You'd have thought he wouldn't leave his pokémon, but after today, maybe you're not sure.

    The sky's lighting up orange by the time you give up. It's back to the tents, back to tracking scents even more faded than before. You force yourself to slow down and piece the trail together no matter how long it takes, doubling back when you get confused and slowly working your way out from your tent. You haven't even gone far before you run across a windfall, a fresh splash of scent. The great Nathaniel Morgan's been back here, and recently. The scent's so strong you could imagine he was actually standing right in front of you.

    "The fuck're you doing out here?"

    You look up, and there he is, arms full of a knotted jumble of cloth. "Looking for you," you snap, too surprised to decide whether you're angry or merely relieved. "Why do you have all that stuff?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan blinks at you like you couldn't have asked a stranger question. "Gonna be cold as balls out here tonight, even with your fire. I got us some blankets, that's all." He shambles past you, moving at a foot-dragging pace, hunched up over his burden.

    He got food, too, if your nose tells you right. You follow along beside him, wondering. He wasn't out getting blankets all day.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan ducks back into your tent, and Raticate freezes. He's surrounded by scraps of cardboard and bright-colored sugary bits. The great Nathaniel Morgan pretends not to see him and sits down with a sigh, dumping the pile of blankets on the floor. Underneath them he was holding a paper bag, from which he withdraws a narrow foil-wrapped shape, which he sets down at arm's length between himself and Raticate. He takes out another and gives it to you.

    Raticate pounces on the sandwich, then retreats back to his corner, already wrestling with the foil wrapper.

    "I'm sorry, Raticate," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, "for being a dick at you before. And you, too, Graveler. Although for all I can tell, you really don't give a shit."

    Graveler gives a double shrug and goes back to prying up a fist-sized chunk of rock.

    Raticate flicks an ear and chews industriously through his sandwich, nose twitching as he nibbles away in tiny bites. The great Nathaniel Morgan watches him for a few seconds, then asks, "Seen Mightyena?"

    Raticate ducks away from his trainer's gaze, clutching his sandwich tight. You say, "No. She did not come back."

    "Well, good," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "If she's got a problem with me, she oughtta leave. And the same goes for the rest of you," he adds, raising his voice. "You don't like the way I do things? Fine. Just fucking go, then. You want to leave, leave. Ain't hard."

    "Go where?" Raticate asks.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan glances at you, and you growl back at him. More talking. That's exactly what you need tonight. Is he hoping to get rid of Raticate now, too?

    "Freak, come on. We gotta do this whole song and dance every goddamn time? What did he say?"

    "No. You are just going to fight and lose us another pokémon. If you want to talk, you can talk about what we are going to do for the battle. That is it."

    "Doesn't matter, does it? He doesn't really want to hear what I have to say anyway."

    "Look, this is about what I said to Mightyena, ain't it?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks. Raticate stares at him, chewing away again. "I didn't mean it like that, okay?"

    "Oh? And how exactly did you mean it, Nate?"

    "I really am not going to translate until we figure out what we are doing about the battle."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan rubs his head, scowling at the floor. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? Like, seriously. It's just weird, you know? Being able to hear what you're really saying. And it's great, definitely, it's amazing, but it's not always what I expected. It's just weird."

    "So you can't pretend we're saying whatever you want anymore, huh? That must be so hard. I feel real sorry for you," Raticate says. He tears a particularly large chunk off his sandwich with a vicious sideways jerk of his head.

    "Oh, yeah, we're pissed, ain't we?" the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. "Well, fucking deal with it. I'm trying, okay? What the fuck do you want from me?"

    "I want you to drop this stupid argument and get down to business," you say, fully aware that they're going to ignore you. You're squeezing your sandwich so tight you can feel marinara sauce oozing out over your fingers. Why are the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokémon being mean to him all of a sudden? Couldn't they have waited just one more day?

    Raticate doesn't say anything.

    "That's right, you ain't got no fucking clue. I'm doing the best I can, and if you don't like it, you can take a fucking hike. You hear me?"

    Raticate twitches an ear.

    "What the fuck are you still standing there for?" the great Nathaniel Morgan practically shouts, the blood rising in his face. Your tail twitches spasmodically, like you're switching away a fly. Here he goes again. "You think I'm gonna come up with something if you fucking stare at me long enough? I told you, I ain't got nothing. I ain't got no fucking clue! You want a real trainer, fuck off already and go find one. I'm a fucking criminal, got it? It's always gonna be the same shit."

    Raticate watches silently while the great Nathaniel Morgan's ranting ramps up. "What the fuck do you want from me? I'm trying, it's just, I don't know. I don't fucking know! Look, I know I'm an asshole, I just ain't got no fucking clue what the fuck I'm supposed to do! I've got fucking Team Rocket on my back and the police and the League and I'm probably going to die, and then, then you--I--I'm just--I'm just so fucking tired of being sick!" He takes a huge, gulping breath of air and turns away, pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes screwed shut. He breathes noisily between gritted teeth, shoulders rising and falling heavily.

    He sits like that for a while, shaking with--anger? You don't understand what's going on at all. Finally Raticate goes up to him and headbutts his knee. The great Nathaniel Morgan shrinks away from him, drawing himself into a tight ball. Raticate nudges him again, and again, and finally climbs up and settles himself on the great Nathaniel Morgan's hunched back, nosing insistently at what little of his trainer's face is exposed. The great Nathaniel Morgan reaches back and pulls Raticate into his arms, hugging him tight while the rat rubs the side of his face against his trainer's chest.

    You let them have their moment. Several moments, even, but as far as you can tell they plan to stay like that for the rest of the night. "That is enough. You have wasted too much time. You need to get up so we can train at least a little before tomorrow."

    "Ain't no point training, Freak," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. Raticate shifts in his arms, fixing you with one glinting, reproachful eye. "That pikachu's a fucking monster. Ain't no training's gonna make us strong enough to beat that."

    "So you are going to give up? After everything else you are just going to lose?"

    "Never said that, Freak. Just said training won't help. But don't worry, we'll get it done tomorrow. All we gotta do is send you out there and let you do what you do best."

    You're good at a lot of things. What on earth is he talking about? "Be awesome?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan opens watery eyes and actually manages a smirk. "Cheat."
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  5. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Whoops, I continue to love this steelix.

    I take it she's not a fan of jello, then. :B

    But yeah, love that detail. Of course a sableye would prefer food that doesn't yield so darned much.

    Well now we know where those "magic" towels come from, don't we.


    Oh my god that's adorable.

    Lots of great interaction between Nate and his team in general this time around. Incidentally I wonder if we really have seen the last of Mightyena. Somehow my money's on "yes".
  6. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    So first of all, lemme say that I'm super glad to see you posting here again! The forums are definitely livelier for it. Hope your travels have been going well!

    Also super glad to see a new chapter! Lots of heavy emotions in this one and I love it. The fact that Eskar belongs to the boss finally dropped, and Nate took it about as well as one would expect (not very.) And the protag finally confronted him about the concerns it's had throughout the entire league arc. I freaking love that its grievances with him basically boil down to "Why are you not irredeemably awful in every way?! D:< D:< D:< You're supposed to be!!" Not taking this whole "gray morality" thing very well, is it?

    Of course, the standout for me was Mightyena's callout, and man was it a doozy. Because yeah, Nate's Pokemon love him and support him, and also can see that he's made some really, really awful decisions and could easily fall back into making even more if they don't stop him. But at the same time, you see why he made those decisions, and it's obvious that he really didn't want to. And the idea that you can just cheerfully decide to always follow the right path in life regardless of whether or not it's realistically possible... is about as childish as the one suggesting it. But that doesn't mean Nate's Pokemon can't hold him responsible for his terrible actions, even if it's understandable why he did what he did! A good reason is not a good excuse (I've always been fond of that phrase.)

    Also, this chapter exemplifies a lot of the things I love about the way you write Pokemon. Because it's a fic that takes the fully sapient interpretation (with translated Pokespeech to boot), but still constantly sprinkles delightful little reminders that these characters are not human and do not act or think human at all. I just could not erase the stupid grin from my face the whole time Raticate was building that silly froot loop nest. That's something I really want to work on in my own writing, and something I'll be focusing on from now on after seeing it done so well here.

    Can't believe they're actually gonna fight Red soon. Obviously that fight is going to involve shenanigans. And it's not like the protag can really object to cheating, can it? After all, the mission is more important that everything else, right? >:3

  7. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    So I actually read this when you first posted it but am only now taking the time to review. Sorry about that...

    Anyway, the part with Absol and the child was really cute. I like how she gives this image of this caring figure, even if she is aloof much of the time. And I can't help but wonder at the "It's almost over." comment... Does that also mean this fic is almost over?

    Also I won't pretend that I teared up a bit when Nate started breaking down. His "I don't want to be sick anymore!" really got to me. He at least seems aware of his situation and the morality of it, although he doesn't believe there's anything he can do about it in spite of others telling him that there is. I really felt for the poor guy.

    Additionally, him finding out that Eskar belonged to Team Rocket made a pretty hilarious scene. I could really feel the child's panic when Nate asked if Eskar had given anything to the child XD The kid really needs to learn who he can and can't trust, especially considering how much he claims to hate Team Rocket.

    And you can probably imagine that I got really upset when Mightyena left ;_; I'm really really hoping this wasn't the last we saw of her--though I wouldn't blame here if it was...

    All in all, I really liked this chapter! It wasn't so action-y, but had a lot more focus on character interaction, which is more of my cup of tea and I think you did it all really well. It's really making me wonder what's going to happen next, and I'm a little worried for how Nate will be acting now that Mightyena is gone. Really great job, and I look forward to the next :)
  8. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I'm hard at work drafting the next chapter. No ETA on that yet, but it's been going pretty well. In the meantime, some replies!

    Sike Saner

    I definitely regret putting Steelix on a bus earlier in this story; he's probably my favorite out of Nate's pokémon to write, so naturally he's the one who gets the least screen time.

    Yup, if it doesn't crunch, it's basically inedible. Eskar might be fine with chewing bones, though. (They're full of lovely minerals!)

    It's too bad Nate didn't get to hear that quote verbatim. Or too good, maybe? That would have been a serious burn.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the interactions between Nate and his team! They were loads of fun to write. Thanks for reviewing and letting me know your thoughts!

    Chibi Pika

    The protagonist might be about as good as N at seeing shades of gray, heh. In fairness, though, its grievances go a little beyond Nate not fitting its idea of what a "bad guy" should be; he's going to have a lot of trouble living down that one time when he sold it out to Team Rocket, for example, and he has legitimately been an ******* to it on many occasions. But in this particular chapter, yeah, he's just being so confusing and obviously trying to pull one of his sneaky tricks over on the protagonist and he needs to stop.

    Ooh yeah, "a good reason is not a good excuse" is definitely a major theme in this story. There are several characters who've done pretty terrible things, although for hopefully-understandable reasons, and how are they supposed to deal with that? How do you balance holding someone responsible for their actions against recognizing they had few other options? Or they had other options but were never equipped to recognize or understand them? When should you hold someone accountable for their actions, and when should you give them a second chance? How can you forgive someone? Should you? On the flip side, how much are you defined by your past? How can you forgive yourself? (Should you?)

    Thankfully the cast is all emotionally and intellectually prepared to wrestle with these sorts of questions in the extremely hands-on crash course I've designed for them. :D

    I'm glad you like emotion-heavy chapters because there are going to be some weighty conversations in the back half of this 'fic, haha. Plus another generous barrel full of stupid jokes, of course.

    Thanks! I actually think I write my pokémon characters (and the protagonist) too human, so it's nice to hear you believe otherwise.

    Hoo, well, it was a bit difficult not to go on a huge rant in the middle there. I'm really glad you're digging all the gray morality in the story and the way the characters struggle with it; it's what the story's really "about", so to speak. There's plenty more to come!

    Starlight Aurate

    You seriously never need to apologize for taking a bit to get around to a review. Especially not when you're posting only days after an update, good grief!

    It's funny you should ask whether the 'fic's almost over--there's more than one person who seems to think we're nearing the end. But no, this is only about halfway through the story. The protagonist thinks it's almost over--they have to beat the Champion, and from there things will get resolved quickly--but it's not going to be that simple. I'm glad you liked the interaction between the protagonist and Absol, though; there's going to be more focus on their relationship soon.

    It's great that you enjoyed all the drama this chapter, what with Nate finding out about Eskar, Mightyena leaving, and the protagonist kind of freaking out about the whole thing. And yeah, Nate really feels stuck in a terrible situation here... he's definitely not in a good place right now. Whether he manages to get out of it and if Mightyena comes back we'll have to wait and see!

    Glad you liked the chapter! I was a bit apprehensive because it's quite long and doesn't appear to move the plot along (everybody's waiting on that last battle, heh), so I'm pleased that it's been well-received anyway. Thanks for stopping by!
  9. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Chapter 31

    The rocks looked at the child funny, obviously. Don't mess with it ever.

    The childish tone and word choice really sells this. I like it!

    Anddd the contrast between the child's seriousness and Mightyena/Nate's playfulness works well here. Nate's being super adorable with his team, as usual. <3

    Something tells me Eskar's the reason for this somehow...

    And not long ago, the child said it doesn't forget that easy... Hmm... (Not sure if that's an error or not, but it fits well with the child's character regardless.)

    I know Absol's dialogue usually sounds more formal, but the dialogue feels a bit forced here.

    It's never explicitly said so I'm not sure of this, but it feels to me like the child wants in on their fun. Even if not, Nate and his team having all this fun narration during his conversations with the child still hit hard, since the child is... well, a child, and should be having fun rather than worrying about everything happening right now.

    I'm wondering the same thing, to be honest.

    Okay, this conversation is hilarious, despite how messed up it is. I'm terrible, I know.

    I'm suspicious of Eskar again. Not sure if I should be, but I am. And after the way the last chapter ended, can you blame me?

    Now, this I wasn't expecting, especially after all the playfulness earlier. But I have to say, it fits Nate's character to say/do awful things when he's angry, even if he's hurting the ones he loves. We also got a more concrete idea of what his pokemon think of his criminal life here, which was interesting to see. I have a feeling this'll have a huge impact later on.
  10. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Review response and status update!

    Thanks! I quite liked this bit myself.

    Oh, definitely. This is me trying to sketch out what happened between last chapter and this one without actually writing it out explicitly.

    One of the child's things where what it claims doesn't necessarily reflect reality. :p

    Yeah, I spent a long time fiddling with this line, and unfortunately I was never able to come up with something that really sounded right. =/

    The protagonist is definitely way more lonely, and a bit jealous of Nate's relationship with his team, than it would ever admit. And agreed, dealing with everything that's been going on during the tournament isn't something a child should have to deal with. Nor is anything at all about this plot, heh.

    I wasn't expecting that to be a particularly humorous interaction, but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Suspicious? Oh, no, I'm sure everything's aboveboard with her. :D

    Yeah, there was definitely a big tone shift over the course of this chapter, heh. The conflict between Nate and Mightyena will have repercussions down the line, definitely (in fact quite a few more than I'd planned when I originally wrote it in, oops).

    Thanks for reviewing! It looks like you picked up on some subtle stuff this chapter, it's really cool to see.


    As for progress on the next chapter, I'm afraid it's been fighting me every step of the way. I've already rewritten the battle section twice, but finally on this go-round I think I've found an angle that'll work. It's still getting there, and the chapter is already over 10k words with at least another thousand to go, but I'm feeling optimistic about the direction this is taking at last. The next chapter will definitely be out by the end of the month, and hopefully a bit sooner than that.
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Welp, I caught up. I’ll be honest, this is like the fic equivalent of watching TV footage of a wildfire spreading. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just starts out so bleak and things continue to just rave and ravage out of control. But, it never stops being entertaining, even with the dark and sinister undertones. And for that I really must commend you. All of your characters are very well-written. They have distinct personalities and even subtle, nuanced traits that bubble up to the surface at just the right moments (Nate’s conscience, the MC’s child-like enthusiasm or desire for attention). Your Mewtwo is also spot on. It feels like a great mix of his brooding anger from the games, his human hatred from the anime, and his general stoic behavior in the Adventures manga. And as for the overarching story, you really do such a great job throwing in twists and unexpected turns. I can honestly say I really have no idea where this is going or what’s going to happen. And I really do not know what’s up with the MC even with the backstory. My prediction is still that they’ll have to give up their, uh, “newfound life” in order to have Mew live. But I’m guessing that’ll be wrong.

    I will concede that, personally, some of the running gags or quirks to characterizations are misses, rather than hits. Namely, that most human characters are referred to by their full names. It got annoying very quickly but it’s a narrative style, so I understand the decision. But constantly going the Great Nathaniel Morgan does make me cringe at this point. If that was the intention, then congratulations. Also, Nate’s f-bombs are so constant and over-the-top I’ve pretty much grown numb to them. Aside from that, my only other issue is with the narration. It’s extraordinarily eloquent to the point where it’s miles beyond my reading ability. The constant shifting between 2nd-person and a detached, limited 3rd-person narration throws me off a bit. And as a result I sometimes can’t quite follow what’s happening. But that’s more of a me thing, I suppose.

    Overall, it’s quite the whirlwind. As for the chapters themselves, well, here were my thoughts as I was reading them.

    Ch 1
    -It’s a very mysterious start, that’s for certain. I can clearly make out that some sort of creature (the “child” who has some sort of morphing ability and an Absol) kills a trainer and seems prepared to steal his identity. Certainly a jarring opening. The one thing I noticed is that, it appears at some point in the revision process you stripped the chapter of its second-person narration, except for the ending part where you reveal the human’s identity. Is the “you’s” meant to be a result of the “child” talking to itself or thinking to itself? If so, any way to distinguish it with quotes or italics or something? Cause it just ended up making me confused.

    Ch 2
    -Ah, okay, so we’re in second-person narration now (I think that’s what it’s called?). So the first chapter was used to kind of shift into that style. It was abrupt, but there’s really no other way to change it, I suppose.
    -Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do there. So, there’s still a lot of (I’m guessing purposeful) vagueness on the part of Not-Nicholas, but I do appreciate that it’s at least made clear he’s got a Raticate and an Absol on his side and that, apparently, he knew Charizard/Titan at some point. I like Titan’s reaction to. It’s like he’s having a breakdown from learning a family member died. Actually, I see a bit of the five stages of grief (mostly denial, anger, and depression, but some bargaining and then, at the very end, acceptance) playing out pretty spectacularly. The narration and Not-Nicholas’s dialogue is stiff, but in a good way. It shows off Not-Nicholas’s analytical character at this stage in the game. It also made the reveal that he’s trying to figure out a way to save Mew all the more shocking. I wasn’t expecting such noble motivations.

    Ch 3
    -It’s not a stylistic shift, per se, but I like how the opening sets up MC’s situation like it were some sort of staged scene from a show. One might complain about getting bogged down in the detail of the newspaper, but it just pulled me further into the story. And then Leonard gets an equally lengthy description detailing a backstory. It teases the prospect that he could be an adversary for the MC, but instead we get the interaction with Officer Feldhorn as a bit of a bait-and-switch. I’m going to guess some degree of psychic-type mind reading is responsible for the MC known so much about Leonard (I’m guessing this is a clone, though not necessarily Mewtwo, that we’re following, but I don’t know for certain, so my reviewing-as-I-go method is reflecting as such).
    LIES! LIES AND SLANDER! I mean, uh, something about the tidbit of MC enjoying talking to Officer Feldhorn and that last paragraph where it relishes shopping made me smile. Maybe it’s b/c the MC’s attempts to humanify itself may be working a bit too well?

    Ch 4
    -Oh goodness. Talk about mood whiplash. From a friendly conversation to MC having a panic attack of sorts. I do like the sense of confusion and apparent overlapping of MC’s real memories and those it’s essentially stolen. I would’ve appreciated a bit more context why it’s using the Pokémon Center anyway.
    -The MC’s thoughts in the following scene also did a good job of framing Leonard in a villainous light without actually putting him on screen or giving him any dialogue. If the intention was to get me to dislike the guy, it definitely worked.
    -So, MC’s breakdown is the focus of this chapter. I like its relationship with Absol. Maybe because I’m a superstitious person myself, but there’s something about how blunt and obtuse she can be that gels really well against MC’s more analytical, computer-like behavior. And the fact that Absol causes the MC to slip out of the characterization is very interesting.

    Ch 5
    -This is interesting. So now the MC has taken the guise of Matt in an attempt to take out/get around Leonard. I like tidbits of narration that remind us MC isn’t really human, and that concepts like a hug are somewhat alien to it. Everything feels stiff and awkward… like it should be for a scene like this. I think it’s funny that the MC is attached to some human pop culture things but doesn’t seem to have a firm grip on human emotions. And that makes the interaction with Leonard very difficult.
    -Ah, so Leonard’s not so easily fooled. For a second I thought this was going to end in him getting completely duped. The MC effortlessly deals with this issue and, I guess, brings Leonard one step closer to a psychotic breakdown. I was expecting him to be a recurring obstacle, but it looks like he’s been done and dusted with quite quickly. At least it was entertaining!
    -Okay, so now it seems like I have a firmer grasp on where this is going. MC was a child killed (possibly by an eruption on Cinnabar) and its Pokémon were scattered in the chaos. Now that they’re back, it looks like things are shifting toward a trainer journey. Albeit a very unusual one. It took a bit of set up to get to this point, and the mystery definitely left me in suspense through the beginning. It leaves me wondering how this ties into saving Mew.

    Ch 6
    -I think this is Team Rocket stuff I’m seeing, but I can’t say for certain. I know you’re being deliberately vague and it messes with me all the time, ha ha. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t point this out, that guy Nate Morgan’s name is hilarious because I’ve read the Sonic Archie comics and, late in the 90’s, there was a human character named Nathaniel Beauregard Morgan and he was hilariously out of place in that comic. So, that’s all I can think about when I’m reading this scene. Especially since you keep using his full name.
    -Hold the phone, looks like MC’s gonna revive Nate b/c Absol says so. Was that freak out of hers supposed to relate to her disaster sense? That’s the impression I got. But I like that MC is concerned over Absol. Turns they do have a bit of a mentor-mentee dynamic, even if it’s an aloof one. Also, hello casual appearance of a regular animal. This fic’s quite sophisticated, so I was expecting it to follow that there are both animals and Pokémon convention.

    Ch 7
    -Nate’s awake and, as expected, things could only be off to a worse start if MC decided to kill him then and there. I’d probably freak out too if a Charmeleon started talking to me, though. Kind of hard to take Nate seriously, though, when he’s dropping F-bombs in every sentence. Dunno if this is intentional over-the-top swearing, but it’s so overused it sucks me right out of things. But, it is an intentional contrast to MC’s sterile, robotic-like demeanor. And the two play of each other well (in an, “I hate your guts” sort of way).
    -I do like the bit with the fact that, given Pokémon healing moves aren’t meant to work on humans, MC using it on Nate leads to complications. Can’t make things that easy for the two of them (and it would be super overpowered otherwise).

    Ch 8
    -This chapter pretty much continues off from the last one. With the duo arguing enough to make an old married couple blush. Nate’s not having any of this but the MC is just dancing around the issue to try and get Nate to comply. On an unrelated note, I keep thinking of Shadow the Hedgehog (the game) when the MC says “I am me.” Nate’s comments are so ridiculously self-aware of how totally messed up the situation is that I can’t help but laugh. It’s like, a twisted take on one of those comedies where two arch-enemies are suddenly forced to live together. I don’t think that was your premise, but that’s how I view it.
    -You do a good job hammering home MC’s black-and-white morality here. Totally in line with their characterization. I mean, they’re a complete hypocrite with the way they’re treating Nate right now (kinda like a slave driver… or maybe like how a Rocket Grunt would treat their Pokémon? Eh? Eh?). And all the sharper of a contrast against Nate, who’s (rightfully) throwing a hissy fit at all of this.
    -Compared to Titan’s nervousness, War is… very different. Actually, I do appreciate we get subtle glimpses into the other Pokémon’s demeanors. Togetic was totally adorable!
    The more I hear this, the more unnerving it gets. Like, the MC is openly saying they’re the designated hero. They’re good because they say they’re good. Even though they do some pretty reprehensible things. I like that you have them say that rather than, say, trying to use narrative excuses to justify their actions.

    Ch 9
    -More of this designated hero business. MC going full Robin Hood and taking Nate’s money to give to his Pokémon friends. Only it’s not quite as glamorous, and Nate totally calls him out on it.
    -D’awww, Titan gets food for the nasty Rocket. He’s the most adoraaaaaaable little fire-breathing lizard-dragon-thingy! <3
    -Actually, the whole TV/pillow fight scene was very goofy. It just seemed so… out of place given what we’d seen up to this point. Which is probably why Nate’s calling everyone out on this ridiculous farce.
    -Interesting gym battle. I like how MC starts off extraordinarily overconfident (they’re the best like no one ever was) and how that sense slowly but surely evaporates into outright panic. Nice reference with Charizard botching Seismic Toss on Magmar. I like your portrayal of confusion as a Pokémon going totally out of their mind crazy. And in the end, Titan’s able to score the decisive victory. A well fought battle, with…

    Ch 10
    -As expected, Nate’s not having any of MC’s bs and wants to knock them off their high Rapidash. And he succeeds, but using actual strategy as opposed to “Attack! Attack! Attack!” Given how the MC was going on about how they’re the designated hero I got quite a bit of satisfaction out of seeing them knocked down a peg by their unwanted travelling companion. I mean, he takes it a little bit too far, dissing the Pokémon to (they’re innocent in all this!) but that’s to be expected. Nate’s no saint, that’s for sure.
    I think it’s moments like these that show that MC does still have a child-like mind to them. Thinking about it, that’s probably why they play so well off Nate. They still have some degree of childlike wonder while Nate’s a total cynic.
    -OH JEEZ THAT WHAM LINE IN THE END AGAIN. How is that even… is the MC Ambertwo or some sort of OC equivalent? I’M SO CONFUSED I MUST CAPS!

    Ch 11
    -Okay MC is in a full on childish freakout right now. The way they call for Absol is hilarious! On the more serious side, it looks like we’re finally getting some sort of backstory about MC. Although I do find a bit tough to follow as the perspective keeps jumping from the MC in their old/kid life to, uh, Mew, I think? That’s the impression I get, anyway. Then Mew’s carted off for experimenting and, a la the Pokémon Mansion, things start to go horribly awry. Though, again, with the sophisticated tone I get a bit confused when the dialogue starts popping up. Is this the MC’s way of relaying things to Nate? Or is this just the process of trying to figure out what/how to tell Nate? I think I’m not quite a smart enough reader to grasp that for myself.
    -Anyway, flashback continues. Looks like things go awry for MC when she tries to have some semblance of a normal life. I do like that some anime elements are getting mingled with Mewtwo’s game backstory. It’s done very well. And I do like your unique element of having Giovanni want to axe Mewtwo b/c it hypothetically wouldn’t listen. It all comes to a head with the MC attempting to rescue Mew, tying it into the current scenario nicely (as does Absol’s presence). You do a great job establishing an extremely tense atmosphere what with Mew’s desperation. Despite her knowing that Mewtwo’s a monster of sorts, she still has a motherly bond to him. It reminds me of those TV shows where criminals’ mothers refuse to admit they can do anything bad.
    -I have to agree with Nate, this “truth” is very tough to believe. Especially since, apparently, MC used “I” for both themselves and Mew. But, still, the whole thing was extremely trippy. And I am no closer to figuring out what MC’s deal is. I’m gonna take a stab in the dark here and say when all’s said it done they’re going to be the key to saving Mew. Literally, as in they’ll need to give up their current life or whatever to give back the part of Mew that they have.

    Ch 12
    -Clever way to turn Alakazam’s spoons against her like that. Not something that’d come to mind. Sucks that Thunder then gets effortlessly demolished by an earthquake but, hey, 4x weaknesses are a sword that cuts both ways. And, I’m not surprised MC resorted to cheating. I do like that MC gets called out on it immediately (that “that’s some real believing in your Pokémon…” line was brilliant).
    -Oh, and here I thought we’d be skipping Victory Road entirely. But, nope, random Sneasel. And wow, sheesh, that got violent quick. Although I guess that’s a pretty accurate portrayal of a Fearow based on their dex entries.

    Ch 13
    -It was an ambush? Well that came out of left field. But that seems like the point, so kudos on catching me totally off guard. They might not individually be strong Pokémon but the scene does emphasize the point of strength in numbers. I could certainly feel MC getting more desperate the worse the situation got and I honestly wasn’t expect them to actually end up defeated and… captured? The ending’s a bit ambivalent, but that’s for cliffhanger purposes. All in all, it was mostly just a chaotic battle scene (but an entertaining one) and this is a twist I wasn’t expecting right away.

    Ch 14
    -Oh, hi Absol. Showing up for an “I told you so,” moment, huh? I feel like this (and the MC’s frustration) would be funnier if Absol hadn’t been so cryptic about Nate to start with. Or, maybe, that’s the point of this? I think my brain’s starting to melt at this point, so I’m not entirely sure. But, I think Absol was able to save them? And maybe their Pokémon friends too?
    -Ah, nice to see MC’s childish side come through. They don’t want to just pretend, they want to be a trainer for real. It’s probably some lingering sentiment from their old life that they’re refusing to acknowledge as something that’s interfering with saving Mew. Absol pointing out that they don’t have to masquerade as a trainer makes that all the more evident. And, oh, I guess the MC escaped on their own? That didn’t seem all that clear to me, but maybe I just misread.
    -Aww, I’m kind of sad the silly scene with MC and Rats shifted to an argument, but it’s the logical follow up to that gym battle scene. And it’s a bit of a heartwrencher, but Rats totally has a point. However, it can be very tough to argue with kids; they’re naturally stubborn. So, even if they’re undead, the MC’s pretty much acting “age appropriate,” in a manner of speaking.
    -Ayy, Mewtwo’s first appearance. He’s… surprisingly polite (although definitely terse). And, you suckered me again. Here I was thinking they were going to scamper off scott-free and then things would break down. But nope, Mewtwo does his mind-reading shtick and now he wants the MC dead.

    Ch 15
    -The beginning confused me a bit. Was it supposed to be juxtapositioning news footage MC had watched before leaving for Viridian with their arrival? It’s creative, but a bit tough to follow for me. But, eh, it’s a short-lived scene anyway. The real meat and potatoes here is Mewtwo’s violent, gruesome rampage through the base. Carnage everywhere! And the Rockets are totally desperate. In a way, this chapter feels like some sort of twisted take on one of the Alien movies. Mewtwo’s equally as vicious as a Xenomorph. But the MC is no noble hero.
    Is… is that a reference to Madame Boss or something? If so, cool! If not, hey it’s still neat to see anyway.
    -One thing I will say is that, aside from Mewtwo being just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as expected, it’s interesting seeing him compared by side by side with MC. B/c it’s almost a role reversal of sorts. Previously, the MC was being the stubborn, distant one toward the scummy Nate. But now they’re confronted with Mewtwo and are trying to reason with them, only to be met with the same degree of stubbornness (only taken to a vicious degree).

    Ch 16
    -Welp, Nate’s back. That sure didn’t take long. The MC is not messing around this time, but credit to Nate’s Pokémon for trying to defend him, even though the effort’s ultimately for complete naught. And, well, looks like we’re not rid of Nate yet. The blurb for this story kinda implies that but I’m with the MC here: I’ve grown tired of him. On the other hand, we’ve got Mewtwo making some really strong points that the MC is not quite the wonderful hero they would think they are. Including bringing up the MC’s issues with Rats. It’s a good way to bring that issue back up, seeing as Mewtwo’s all-knowing and can read the MC’s mind flawlessly. Ultimately, we finally have our, uh, “heroic trio uniting?” Nah, this is about as far from heroic as you can get. But in a fun way!

    Ch 17
    -Sure, maybe the interactions b/w Mewtwo and Nate aren’t as funny, but Mewtwo is not having any BS from him or the MC either. In some ways, he’s just as out-of-touch and immature as the MC, but everything he says is basically a threat so it’s tough to see sometimes. But in other ways, he is quite clearly the brilliant super-psychic he was designed to be. Like when he points out all Nate can do is insult them or point out the MC’s glaring issue with their feelings. Dang, do you write a good Mewtwo. The more MC interacts with Mewtwo, the more their childish side gets dragged out. Even to the point of whining for Mewtwo to stop being mean to them. Perfect.

    Ch 18
    -Even in the middle of infiltrating a Rocket base, it’s so cute and funny seeing MC geeking out over secret agent-y stuff. I like that tidbits like this are popping up more and more. It makes MC more entertaining to read. On the other hand, jeebus does MC make a bad sleuth. Their robotic way of speaking just screams “something’s off here.” I’m amazed things didn’t fall apart right then and there. Instead, it’s a more conventional method (didn’t know that paycheck code and then Nate calls all the Rockets out on it).

    Ch 19
    -For a second there, I thought you were taking the manga route of having Sabrina have a Team Rocket affiliation. See, unlike you, I am not a smart or intuitive reader. But on an unrelated note, dang is Sabrina a cool customer. She’s got manga!Lorelei’s calm, detached demeanor. And showing up with a veritable militia of Kadabra and Alakazam is a way to make a statement.
    -And, huh, that’s a very abrupt anything to things just when things get completely chaotic. I do like that despite the abrupt ending, there’s still an element of desperation with MC trying to find their Pokémon friends. There’s such dramatic irony to the MC calling Mewtwo selfish when, if I’m remembering right, Rats made those exact same accusations to the MC. And now she’s missing!
    -Speaking of surprises, look: the MC is learning (sorta). They’re sucking up to their shortcomings and turning to Nate for help rather than trying to do everything themselves. Hooray? I mean, it initially seems to backfire on them (Nate’s Pokémon are loyal and seem to take up aspects of his personality).
    -Well, one step forward, two steps back. MC ain’t dealing with any of Nate’s desperate nature and just cold ***** him and makes off with him and his Pokémon anyway. I’d say it’s the thought that counts, but this was like a pendulum swinging back and forth.

    Ch 20
    -I think this is the most straightforward Absol’s been all story so far. Yay for me, easier to read! And she perfectly illustrates how the MC seems to be getting more childish and ridiculous as things are going along. It’s like… reverse characterization? Or would it be characterization in that they’re becoming more like the human they once were? Anyway, Absol doesn’t hesitate to point out how ridiculous MC’s tournament idea is.
    Huh, that’s actually a pretty realistic medical explanation why Pokémon healing shouldn’t work on humans, I guess. It would beg the question, why doesn’t a Pokémon experience similar issues with infections and wounds but that’s game logic for you.
    -Yeah, go Absol! Show ‘em how it’s done! I’m so glad she’s super present in this chapt– aaaaaand she got put to sleep.
    -Things go south once again but it looks like there’s a truce/agreement/blood pact in place? Everyone hates each other. It’s so lovely! <3

    Ch 21
    -Is every human involved in battling going to get their own subtitle? Well, I guess it does make the main character seem even more childish. So, it works. And, hoo-boy, someone the MC seems even worse attempting to command Nate’s Pokémon. By contrast, Allie looks more like a typical opponent in these sorts of fics. Naturally she loses and MC makes it a point to insult her without even properly realizing this.
    -Nate’s awake. I was kind of enjoying not having to hear his f-bombs every three lines of dialogue. But I do love how much he genuinely cares for his Pokémon. In, like, some sort of strange, “crime family” manner of speaking.
    -Oh, I was not expecting that random Sableye from the Rocket base to somehow be keeping tabs on the MC. So, Team Rocket’s not completely out of this yet? I’m anticipating another double-cross at this point. Because we haven’t had enough of those yet. XD

    Ch 22
    -Oh, WOW. As obnoxious as Nate’s personality can be, his overall actions aren’t that bad. The MC not only lost, but was a sore enough loser to totally cheat and get his victorious opponent bounced? That’s so… so… perfectly in line with their characterization and how stubborn they are.
    -I do appreciate the irony of the stealing money reversal. MC stole Nate’s money way back when and now they’re just returning the favor. Absolutely brilliant. It is nice just how much these guys seem to look out for one another. Yeah, they were all part of Team Rocket, but they somehow found a way to become this oddball group of friends. Considering the MC spent half the story up to this point arguing with their friends (except for maybe Titan and even then they beat the crap out of him in the beginning), it’s a very stark contrast.

    Ch 23
    -Aha ha ha watching MC geek out over their shows is like seeing Edgeworth talking about the Steel Samurai in the Ace Attorney games. Always great for a laugh.
    -Interesting that Eskar has reappeared again. I can’t say I’m a big fan of her talking style. It vaguely brings Gollum from LotR to mind, which I guess makes sense for Sableye. But I sometimes get her eye descriptions confused and forget who she’s mentioning in her dialogue. And yeah, I kinda realized when Eskar showed up again that she would became the sixth ranger in this team. I was most certainly not expecting her to be tempted by a literal one of the MC’s eyeballs. That’s grotesque and shocking and very interesting to read.
    -Hey, look, Nate’s actually strategizing. No time for the MC to give him any bit of credit (not that they would) b/c Mightyena’s too busy geeking out over being able to communicate with Nate. It’s a cute scene and quite the bit of mood whiplash following the gouging out of an eye.

    Ch 24
    -Hey, MC, not cool. Nate’s got all 8 badges, you’re supposed to be obeying himI mean, uh, it figures the MC would immediately start doing their own thing. They made it pretty clear last chapter that they still have no respect for Nate as a trainer at all. So, I found it refreshing karma comes around to bite the MC as Nate forfeits their slot and uses Raticate to make handy work of the remainder of the battle. And the scene afterward where Nate breaks down exactly what the MC mucked up and how they walked a fine line that nearly ended up screwing the team over was great. Yeah, Nate’s underhanded, but he’s quite the tactical battler. Too bad the MC’s just as prideful as Mewtwo.

    Ch 25
    -Jeez, Nate’s just a human punching bag isn’t he? Hot coffee in the lap on top of everything else. Poor guy.
    -Squeeeeee! Absol agreed to join. I mean, she’s probably there to give the MC a stern “I told you so,” when things go sour. But even still, I’ll take it, cause she’s my favorite character.
    -Hey, we even have a little anime-esque training scene going on. Nice. And I have to say I love Mightyena’s puppy-like behavior toward Nate. It’s a perfect replacement for Titan’s adorableness around the MC, now that he’s out of the picture… so to speak.
    -Somehow I find it strange the first conversations about dating or anything are from the Pokémon and not any human characters. Unless I’m forgetting something.
    -Aww, snap! Nate got served! Literally, right? That’s the Pokémon equivalent of a subpeona, right? XD

    Ch 26
    -Aha, no impersonation act for you MC. Nate’s actually doing what he’s supposed to for once. I will say, though, that for how resourceful the MC sees to be I’m surprised it didn’t turn itself into a Joltik to navigate the ventilation shafts. Seems like the logical choice there.
    -Leonard’s back, it would seem. Guess he did become a recurring obstacle, just one with a lot of fluff in between encounters. And he’s become slightly more… unhinged in that timeframe. But he’s once again dealt with kind of rapidly, and is now a part of the MC’s desperate plan to try and hold everything together. This has so many downs, it’s hard to figure out when things are going to shape up.
    -I swear, the MC is actually getting worse at impersonating other people as the story’s going on. I’m sure that’s intentional, cause everything’s going to hell in a handbasket around them, but it’s just so weird to see compared to the early chapters. At least they succeeded, in a manner of speaking.

    Ch 27
    -Nate sure know hows to make a charming impression with this tournament. It’s okay, Nate, you’ve still got a winning personality. A flashy opening round (I see we’re not going with that only 4 move silliness for this fic) and dang, Absol didn’t have much to answer Kabutops with. Tough luck. On the other hand, Eskar is totally off her rocker with her battling. But it is pretty funny to read, especially against fossil Pokémon. And the part with the Cradily utilizing the water to bolster its strength was very clever. Almost as frustrating as dealing with Steven’s Cradily in the actual games.
    -Jason sure has a very intriguing team. Besides the Crobat, not Pokémon you typically see getting much attention. But good fodder for the MC apparently.
    -Yup, I pretty much saw the loss coming. Because nothing can go right or well for this batch of “heroes” so to speak. Well, actually, I was kind of hoping they’d get a little farther in the tournament thingy. But this is good enough, I suppose.

    Ch 28
    -Wait, you lost me. So, Nate tried to throw that match? Is that what all the narration tidbits about how sickly and off he seemed indicated? I just thought he was in pain or tired or something. Actually, I really just have no idea. And they’re getting another chance? Is there a losers’ bracket or something? Shows how much I know.
    -Even though this is kind of an angry chapter it has peppered moments like Mightyena being the best doggo and the MC being a geeky little kid. I wish there was more of that. :p
    OH… OHHHHHHHHH. IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW! I was not expecting Nate to have stage fright. As if there wasn’t enough to have these folks at each other’s throats. This is crazy!

    Ch 29
    -D’aww, look, MC is trying to give Nate a pep talk of sorts. See, you guys don’t have to threaten each other constantly. I mean, I’m still very confused as to how Nate’s not out of the tournament. Didn’t he lose? Is this a double elimination or a round robin affair? Did I miss an explanation of the rules somewhere, because quarterfinals implies a one-and-done scenario…
    And I like you, Electivire. Because you’re hilarious.
    -Huh, I’m surprised Nate’s even hanging in here, because it seems like this time he is legitimately outclassed in every single way this time around. I don’t see the MC able to do anything about this scenario. But, hey, it looks like Nate got so worked up and angry he beat out his stage fright to some degree.

    Ch 30
    -Oh, hey, I thought the MC had lost just then. Nope, we’re still going here. Ah, I see. I wasn’t exactly clear on what happened, but it looks like the MC somehow stopped themselves in a Fissure and prevented the OHKO? Interesting take on Fissure, that’s for sure.
    -MC, you cheating little so-and-so! Taking advantage of a Fissure to basically use your godmodding powers to make yourself good as new. I think… honestly it all happened so quickly that I’m trying to make heads or tails of it. But that’s a good thing… honest! At least the battle with Electivire isn’t any bit cheaty.
    -Whoop whoop! Go Mightyena! I think there was a fair bit of anime-ish power of friendship going on there, because there’s no way Mightyena’s tanking attacks from a Salamence like that. But it was very touching nonetheless.
    -Wait, so he’s in the finals even though he lost at some point? Am I missing something? I really do feel totally clueless right now, but I went back and I couldn’t find the explanation as to how he progressed to the semis? I think I missed something somewhere. I must have.
    -Aww, look, MC’s getting included. Sure, it’s only to serve as a translator. But that’s an improvement from “We want to kill each other!” I’ll take those moments where I can get them, dang it. Too bad Eskar’s gotta kill the good vibes by being extraordinarily creepy. But I admire her commitment to the Gollum-esque act.

    Ch 31
    -Oh, well, guess the happy vibes from the end of Ch 30 couldn’t last. MC, you’re just now going into a hissy fit over Nate being all lovey-dovey with his Pokémon? You’re several chapters way too late there.
    *insert that “NO FUN ALLOWED” Sonic meme here*
    -I quite liked that scene where the MC is trying to reason with Nate. I feel like it’s supposed to be parody, but it’s written eloquently so that it feels very serious. But in the end, it pokes fun at that whole concept of, “I know there’s good inside of you and you can do the right thing if you try,” cliché.
    -Oh hey Nate finally connects the dots and realizes he’s working with his ex-boss’s Pokémon. Yeah, you should be freaking out.
    I feel like I’d believe this more if that boss wasn’t a one-scene wonder so far. Yeah, there was that TR extra, but we’ve still seen more of Eskar and she’s waaaaaay creepier at this point in time. Though I get the feeling the boss is due for a reappearance.
    -Wait, wait… hold the phone! So Nate does have a conscience. He just feels constrained by his situation. Whoa, that’s pretty dang true to real life. Once you’re involved in some kind of serious crime, it hangs over you like a black mark and can completely destroy your life and make it so that you have to turn back to crime.
    -Nuuuu! Nate made Mightyena sad. ;~;
    -Jeebus Eskar stop being such a creeper. You’re giving me the jibblies!
    -Oh god that tidbit at the end. This is gonna be a trainwreck isn’t it?

    So, yeah. Is this totally incoherent and makes no sense? Probably! But my thoughts are just that scatterbrained. This is clearly a very smart fic and look forward to seeing these crazy people kill each other. Wait did I just say that out loud?
  12. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey, thanks for going through all this!

    Well, I'm glad that you didn't find the darkness of the story overwhelming! This fic definitely gets very serious, and some deeply unpleasant stuff happens in it, but I hope that it remains a good read--maybe not the "funnest" of reads, but not all oppressive negativity all the time, either. I try to include moments of levity and some interaction with/brushes by people who are living much more "normal," happy lives, as a reminder that the world isn't just unrelentingly awful all the time. Because overall I think this is a very optimistic story! Though I understand that it doesn't really look like one at the moment. :p

    Thanks, I'm glad you find the characters interesting, in particular Mewtwo! (I talk more about him later, heh.) And unexpected twists and turns seem to be my thing, heh, although it never seems abrupt to me... it's just what feels like should happen next, though without my perspective on the story I can see how stuff can seem to come out of nowhere. Your guess about what's up with the protagonist is a great one! Unfortunately it'll be a while before we learn what exactly's going on there.

    These are some things that I know, or at least suspected, would turn people away from the story: the relentless cursing, the weird presentation, the dumb name joke (the dumb name joke), and I've been surprised both by the fact that the cursing is probably the number one thing people take issue with out of those and that it seems to bother a lot fewer than I was expecting. So, it's nice to have a different perspective on these things, and to see where I'm pushing things too far. Unfortunately, these are either pretty big elements of the story (POV shifts, for example) or have gotten pretty ingrained in it by now (the names), so they aren't likely to change. And if it's really just too confusihg or tedious to deal with this stuff, then don't at all feel obligated to keep reading. You've provided so much wonderful feedback already, and I wouldn't want you to keep pressing forward on this if you aren't enjoying it.

    Anyway, let's look at some specific chapter responses!

    It's the protagonist telling itself a story, basically, yes. By now you probably get why I don't italicize those parts, though. :p

    No mind-reading, no. The protagonist can do some limited mind-reading with psychic attacks (such as... mind reader), but it's not the same as being able to sit down and listen in on another person's thoughts. It doesn't have Mewtwo's sort of ability to pick on people's thoughts and emotions, though it's worth mentioning that even most psychic-types aren't nearly as good at that as Mewtwo: Mewtwo is just really strong, and his mental abilities are kind of on their own level.

    As far as finding out info about Leo, the protagonist defnitely did tons of (totally discreet) spying on him, as well as your usual internet sort of research.

    Haha, I'm glad you like that bit. I'm rather fond of it as well.

    Fair enough. That wouldn't be difficult to add.

    Seems like you had a pretty good idea of what was up as of this chapter.

    That's pretty fantastic! I think variations on "Nate Morgan" are actually more common names than I realized when I came up with it. I love that the comics character's middle name was "Beauregard," though, that's so terrible. XD

    Nope, but we won't learn what was up wth that for a while yet.

    Yeah, I have a really hard time conceiving of a setting that *works* without there being ordinary animals in the equation somewhere. Like, you could definitely come up with one, but I think it would have to look so different from what we have on Earth (and therefore what we see in the pokéworld) as to not be worth it.

    So, regular animals. Also neatly avoids any ethical questions that might otherwise arise from an emboar eating, say, a hamburger.

    Sorry to hear that. It is one thing that limits the audience of this story a bit--many people understandably don't want to read so much cursing. But rest assured that it is intentionally over-the-top. That's why Nate's the only character who goes so hard on the f-bombs, heh.

    Yeah, I figured if pokémon healing were available to normal humans all the time, it would change the world too much. It's still pretty handy when I want a character to get really ripped up but be ready to participate in the plot again after a way shorter recovery time than would ordinarily be plausible. :p

    Glad you liked this part! I don't know that I was necessarily intending to write a story about enemies forced to work together, at least initially, but that seems to be how it's turned out!

    I'm amused by how much Sonic you're seeing in here. :p

    Maybe. ;)

    Ooh yeah, I try to make it clear that the narrative often doesn't agree with the MC's understanding of what's going on, and in fact reality doesn't agree with the MC's understanding of what's going on. This story does have a hero... but it ain't the protagonist.

    That's right.

    Sorry, which dialogue do you mean?

    You're definitely on the right track there!

    Yes, I hoped it would be a surprise. An explanation of how Nate arranged the ambush will be provided later on, at which point you should hopefully be able to go back and see him putting his plan into action in earlier chapters!

    Mmm, Dragonfree also thought it had been captured after reading the original end of this chapter. I hoped I made it more clear what happened with some edits there, but perhaps it needs more work.

    Mmmm, it's not really supposed to be funny as such. Like you said, Absol had been too vague about why the protagonist needed to be careful around Nate; she wasn't really all that helpful in terms of actually telling it what it needed to know to make good decisions. So, I think its frustration here is more justified than humorous.

    Yup, Absol was able to save the protagonist, and its pokémon along with it (although it had those with them, it wasn't really a separate task).

    No, you were right the first time. What made you change your mind here?

    It was. Unfortunately people have in general found the juxtaposition confusing, so I'll have to count myself its sole fan.

    Alas, no. While I do incorporate some anime elements into the story, Madame Boss isn't one of them.

    Yup! Mewtwo and Nate kind of sit at opposite ends of various spectrums (for example, human vs pokémon) where the protagonist sits square in the middle, so often when it's just the protagonist and Mewtwo, the protagonist takes on more of the "Nate" role; and when it's the protagonist and Nate, the protagonist takes on a more "Mewtwo" sort of position. When all three of them are together it serves as a kind of balance between the other two.

    Ah, sorry to hear that. I'm afraid you won't get a great deal of respite from Nate in this story; he is a major character.

    Haha, thank you! I'm trying to go with the games' interpretation of Mewtwo, which at least based on pokédex entries, is a lot more in the vein of "vicious monster" than "philosophical outcast," which is where the anime's gone with his character. There are two major elements to his character that I try to focus on in particular in this story: first, that he's a child as well (only a year older than the main character), and rather stunted at that, considering he's been imprisoned for the majority of his life and had very little contact with "the real world," as well as very few positive role models, and second, that he's quite smart and perceptive. I hope that in the end there will be several times where readers think that Mewtwo kind of has a point (like here), or even if he does or believes some pretty horrible things, you can understand how he comes to those conclusions and maybe even see where he's coming from there, too, although he may twist things or take them too far. We haven't seen a great deal of him yet, but there will be more of him in the latter half of the 'fic, and I hope you enjoy how his character is developed in those parts.

    I'm glad you enjoy these bits! They're always fun to write.

    Haha, even if that hadn't made that particular slip-up, I doubt it would have made it out of that conversation without giving the game away. I figure that people aren't immediately going to jump on someone who's acting a little odd, but yeah, even without that colossal screw-up I don't think the protagonist would have managed to get through that conversation successfully.

    I've always had the impression that Sabrina was kind of terrifying and unshakeable, somebody who keeps a real tight leash on her emotions. She always looks so serious!

    Yup, the protagonist is very good at seeing flaws in other people... not always so much in itself. :p

    One step forward, two steps back about sums it up, yeah. :p The protagonist isn't really a quick study.

    I wouldn't say that it's becoming more child-like as time goes on; I think that what the child's being asked to do in the later chapters is more difficult than what it was up to early on, so we're seeing it run up against its limitations and generally not be able to handle things as well more so than we did early on. It's also been more "in charge" in later chapters, whereas before it was pretty much just doing what Absol told it to do, and it turns out it's... not so good at being in charge, maybe.

    Pokémon are adapted to deal with it! Biologically, they're very different from humans... I'll probably put up an extra in the next couple chapters that goes into that more.

    If you want to see more Absol, she's around a lot more often in the latter half of the story!

    I have so much fun with this hatey bunch.

    In the original version of this story, Team Rocket was indeed out of the picture at this point. Eskar was a spontaneous addition during my 2015 NaNoWriMo efforts who ended up becoming a much more prominent character than I was expecting. She brought the whole team back!

    Yes, Nate has a much better relationship with his pokémon does with its. That's something that will be explored a bit more later.

    Yeah, that's an unfortunate consequence of her being the only person to refer to people by those names. For reference, these are the characters and their, err, eyes:

    Cordierite-eyes: the protagonist
    Lazurite-eyes: Nate
    Illite-eyes: boss of Team Rocket
    Amethyst-eyes: Mewtwo
    Obsidian-eyes: Graveler
    Ruby-eyes: Absol
    Orpiment-eyes: Mightyena

    The universe (i.e. me) does really seem to be out to get him. :p

    Nah, you're not forgetting anything. I think this is mostly because there's only one major human character, so all other things being equal you'd expect somebody non-human to bring the topic up first. And Nate's been a bit preoccupied recently... not much time for thoughts of romance. :p

    Kind of! The League isn't actually a law enforcement agency of any sort, so what it does doesn't have any legal weight. But for internal League matters it's a very similar thing.

    The protagonist can't turn into anything that small (or, well, it could become a large joltik-looking thing, but that wouldn't help much). Unlike a pokémon, it's pretty constrained in how much its mass can change when transforming. In practice it can only change into things roughly similar in size to a human toddler up to a human adult, and the protagonist may have to fudge particularly large/small individuals a bit even then. It was about as small as it could go already.

    Yeah, I wasn't going to leave that plot thread hanging. XD Getting attacked by some kind of monster wearing his dead son's face didn't do a great deal for Leo's mental stability, it's true.

    Not intentional... I think it's trying to do more difficult things now in terms of impersonation than it was previously. It should improve a bit by the end of the story, but it's got a loooong way to go there.

    I started writing the battle with kabutops because kabutops r cool, and then I wanted to do a fossil theme with his team, but then the avalugg happened and I decided Jason was just a rich trainer who had access to rare pokémon. It was fun writing about some unusual species.

    Well, you figured out what was up with Nate later on. The tournament's double elimination. Nate mentions this in Chapter 22, but multiple people have missed it, so I'll look into putting more reminders in later chapters.

    Well, fortunately there will be more of those sorts of moments all throughout the story! Some of the story extras and spin-offs focus on the lighthearted elements much more than the main 'fic, if hat's more to your taste.

    I had a lot of fun with Electivire! Definitely one of my favorite bit characters thus far.

    Yup, exactly. Him trying to make high-level strategic decisions while furious isn't the best thing ever, but it's better than the alternative.

    Sounds like you got the gist of what happened there, yeah.

    Well, the tournament is double elimination, like I mentioned earlier. The fight against Jason was the quarter-finals, the battle against Aanya was the semi-final, and the upcoming chapter will be the finals. Or did I mess up and refer to one of the rounds incorrectly somewhere?

    There was definitely some power of friendship going on there, yeah, but the battle wasn't as lopsided as all that. I take a more anime view of battles, which makes base stats matter less and allows pokémon to generally take more hits than in the games--I think it makes things more exciting. Salamence versus mightyena isn't a good matchup, but it's not as lopsided as it would be in the games.

    They're not actively trying to kill each other! Look how far we've come. :p

    It's in an unusually bad mood here. If that lot wants to have a good time while it's feeling crappy, the least they could do is take it somewhere where they're not rubbing it in its face!

    It's not really a parody as such; you're right, the protagonist is taking it all pretty seriously. It's just that, like Nate points out, its ideas of how these things work are very cliché and unrealistic, and basically grounded in children's television programs of questionable quality. So it's kind of a ridiculous scene to everybody but the protagonist, who's legitimately frustrated and doesn't understand why this is so difficult.

    Yeah, a lot of the time he feels like the only options he has are bad ones, and by extension that it's not really his fault when he does bad things, sometimes: he didn't have a choice. But of course, he does always have a choice...

    Anyway, thanks again for going through and doing such a detailed blow-by-blow review! I appreciate you taking the time to go over your thoughts so carefully, especially by making note of what parts you found confusing. I don't want the story to confuse people, by and large, so that's always useful feedback to have! Though, like I said, I think you seem to have a pretty good grasp of what's going on overall. I wouldn't worry about "not getting it"--to me it looks like you're doing just fine!
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  13. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: At long last, it's here! There were all kinds of shenanigans that went on that complicated the writing of this chapter, but I hope you enjoy the end result. I imagine you'll be a little surprised by how everything plays out.

    Chapter 32

    The great Nathaniel Morgan explains his plan the next morning between bites of breakfast. "It's our last battle, see? And it ain't even a real fight. We ain't trying to win, we're trying to get Mewtwo on the field. So as long as you don't do nothing obviously illegal, we're good. Ain't gonna matter if they can pick it up on the replay." He demolishes a piece of toast, giving you a slim window to get in a reply.

    "Like what? You keep telling me I am bad at pretending."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan wipes away crumbs with the back of his hand and reaches for more toast. "Well, nothing like using hydro pump, but anything they can't see. Ability'd be good, like what that fucking cradily did. Change to moody and grab some free boosts or something. Or speed boost, that's a good one. Shit like that."

    "Is that it? Do things they can't see and we win?"

    "Yeah, basically. That's enough, ain't it?"

    "I guess." You crunch on your own piece of toast while the great Nathaniel Morgan reduces his to crumbs and looks around wistfully for more. "So you will not be telling me what to do. I will have to think of my own strategy."

    "I'll still be giving you normal commands. You see an opening, you just slide in something extra, that's all." The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at you. "Ain't scared, are you, Freak? Didn't you say you were like the most badass to ever badass or some shit? A couple good attacks on the sly and you'll have these bastards no problem."

    "I am not scared," you say. Of course you're the strongest. Outside of Mewtwo, you can beat any pokémon, easy. Even if they're champions, people you've seen on TV. "I am just annoyed that your strategy is to make me do all the work."

    "Anytime, Freak." The great Nathaniel Morgan studies you for a second, then continues. "But let's go over the lineup at least. Red's gonna lead Pikachu, then probably use Blastoise, maybe Charizard. If we're lucky he'll get pissed at you and go for Mewtwo early, but worst case you're probably gonna fight those three. So let's see. Pikachu and Charizard, those guys like to go up high, so gravity might be good, slow 'em down a bit and throw off their game. You want to get a little damage in first so people think they're slow 'cause they're hurting, but--"

    "What about me?" Raticate asks. He's perched on the seat next to the great Nathaniel Morgan and has been gnawing on the edge of the table since he finished his breakfast.

    "You?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks once you relay the words to him. "You don't gotta fight if you don't want to. The freak's got this."

    "You don't want me to fight?" Raticate stares at his trainer.

    "No, I mean, you can if you want to, but you don't gotta," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Same goes for you, Graveler. Your choice."

    "I don't get it, Nate. It's the championship. Why wouldn't I want to fight?" Raticate asks. "You don't even want me? You didn't even come up with anything for me to do?"

    "I dunno, I just thought maybe you wouldn't want to get the shit kicked outta you if it wasn't gonna make a difference." The great Nathaniel Morgan reaches over and scratches at the base of Raticate's skull. "Red's out of our league, buddy. No reason to fight him if you don't gotta."

    Raticate pulls away from him, hunching his shoulders. "I can't believe you," he says. "You think we're not strong enough? You're not even going to try?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns, studying Raticate uncertainly. "I mean, no," he says. "We ain't strong enough. Not being a dick or nothing, you're strong as shit, but that pikachu's something else. It's fucking insane. Even the whole team together couldn't beat it. Maybe if we had Steelix, but no. We ain't that strong."

    Raticate turns away from the great Nathaniel Morgan completely. "I seriously can't believe you."

    "It's just facts, Raticate!" The great Nathaniel Morgan spreads his hands. "I don't mean you're weak or nothing. Seriously. Don't mean you could never be that strong, neither, like maybe with a few years of training, but right now? No. That's just how it is. You want to fight? Fine, then you fucking fight. I'm just saying we got it, you don't need to, you know?"

    Raticate stares dully at the edge of the table. The great Nathaniel Morgan growls something to himself and looks away. "Jesus Christ, what's got everybody so pissy all of a sudden? Graveler, you in or out? You want to fucking fight?"

    Graveler grunts and punches a fist into her open palm, and the great Nathaniel Morgan throws up his hands. "For fuck's sake! Whatever! You want to get fucking electrocuted, you can get fucking electrocuted. Let's get out of here." He storms away from the table, leaving his pokémon behind. Raticate stays where he is even after Graveler's stomped off to collect her trainer, who's clinging to the door frame, already out of breath.

    "We have to go," you say to Raticate. "We can't be late."

    For a second you think you'll have to carry him off yourself, but finally he jumps down and waddles after Graveler. You follow, thinking about the pokémon you're going to beat today. It doesn't matter what Raticate does. You can win all by yourself, even without the great Nathaniel Morgan's help. It's the last battle, and you're going to win. No matter what.


    Somehow you make it to the arena not just on time, but actually early. The great Nathaniel Morgan leans against the wall of the tunnel under the stands, arms crossed over chest and scuffing one foot across the ground. Graveler and Raticate are resting on his belt, so it's just the two of you until Mightyena does a passable Absol impression and quietly steps from a shady corner.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan straightens immediately, pushing himself up to stand free of the wall. He and Mightyena stare at each other for so long you're forced to let out the breath you were holding, slowly, painfully. You suck another one in as quietly as you can, terrified of drawing attention to yourself. Neither of them so much as glances at you.

    At last the great Nathaniel Morgan takes the pokéball from the front clip on his belt and holds it up on an open palm. Mightyena keeps her gaze focused on the great Nathaniel Morgan's face while she says, "Tell him I'm not doing this for him, I'm doing it for Steelix. I came back for this battle only." She turns her head slightly in your direction, though her gaze still rests on her trainer. "Tell him."

    A dark expression flashes across his face when you do, and then it's back to what must be a very carefully-maintained blank. The great Nathaniel Morgan flicks the pokéball's front button and recalls Mightyena. He holds the pokéball a while longer, looking down at it in his hand, then returns it to his belt and slouches against the wall again. You watch him watching the ground and feel like you want to say something, without knowing why or even what it would be. You turn away and try to think about how excited you are for the upcoming battle instead. Soon enough the great Nathaniel Morgan's snarling at the prep woman sent to give you your final pre-match instructions, and then you're on.

    You thought you'd be ready this time. You've battled in front of a big audience twice now, in this stadium, even. But if the stands were packed then, they're absolutely crammed now, crammed and roaring, and he's already waiting for you: the Champion, watching you with one hand resting on the railing of his trainer's box. Pikachu perches on his shoulder, sniffing the air with tiny button nose, lightning-bolt tail twitching. You stop and stare, but the great Nathaniel Morgan keeps up his heads-down march to the field, and you have to jog to catch up. You wish, just this once, that he could act like he's happy to be here, instead of like he's walking out in front of a firing squad.

    You study the Champion as your trainer's box rattles upwards. He's shorter than he looks on TV, wearing his usual bright red vest and the signature hat that sits mass-produced in souvenir stands across the region. Those aren't the clothes of someone who spends months off in the mountains, all crisply bright and neat. You wonder if the Champion keeps them set aside, unused and pristine until he needs to make an official appearance. You wonder if it's his mother who holds on to them, his mother who is surely up in the stands, watching. You wonder whether she's rooting for her son to win, to carry the championship for another year, or if she's hoping he might somehow fail, fall in defeat, and finally come home.

    The referee announces the match, and the great Nathaniel Morgan moves without hesitation, knowing full well what the first matchup has to be. Graveler takes shape down below, and Pikachu leaps from the Champion's shoulder to land lightly across from her. Graveler waits, silent and unmoved, while the stands erupt for the crowd favorite. Pikachu himself doesn't appear to notice, kicking at an ear with one hind paw.

    Then the referee's signal comes, and Pikachu's gone, a yellow smear of motion rocketing across the arena. You lean over the railing, heart hammering already. He's fast. Even faster than you thought from watching him battle on TV. The great Nathaniel Morgan's shouting commands, but neither he nor Graveler can keep up with Pikachu, who races along like a furry thunderbolt, sparking and flashing nose-tip to metal-glinting tail.

    Graveler makes the arena shake, hurls rocks in all directions, swings all four fists whenever Pikachu comes close. Her opponent bounces and zips around every attack, in the air as often as he's on the ground. You can't see Graveler inside the blur of dust and debris, but you can hear her roars. Your stomach clenches as chips of stone bounce and skip across the ground, carved out of her hide.

    It can't be more than two minutes before the great Nathaniel Morgan raises Graveler's pokéball to call her back, which feels short even with adrenaline drawing out the seconds. The great Nathaniel Morgan unclips another ball from his belt, moving slowly with jaw clenched, and you look down at the arena. Pikachu's a little scuffed up, but aside from one thin cut on his flank you don't see any sign of damage. That's who you're going to fight, him and maybe two more.

    It's okay. The great Nathaniel Morgan's right, if you turn on volt absorb or something it'll be no problem. You don't know why he's relying on you after calling you stupid for so long, but it's nice that he's finally starting to catch on. And he's right. You're going to show everyone how strong you are.

    Mightyena takes shape on the field, and you shift around, trying to loosen your death-grip on the railing. Then the referee raises her flags and announces the next round.

    You squint and reflexively hunker down as lightning blossoms in earnest for the first time. Unlike Graveler, Mightyena's at the mercy of Pikachu's element. You struggle to make sense of what's happening, eyes watering as you stare into strobing flashes of white electrical light, looking for the dark splash of Mightyena's fur. You wonder whether the great Nathaniel Morgan's having any more luck or if he's not even trying, standing next to you screaming, "Yawn! Yawn! Yawn!" at the crackling mess in front of him.

    The Champion isn't yelling. He isn't saying anything at all, leaning lightly against the railing with a neutral expression on his face, lit erratically by bursts of Pikachu's lightning. Is he letting Pikachu fight unassisted, or is he giving orders by some means only he and his pokémon understand? Experts have argued the question back and forth on battle TV, in documentaries, wherever the Champion shows up to fight. Seeing him now, utterly calm, completely relaxed, and entirely silent, you almost feel like there's something supernatural going on, some link between him and his pokémon that goes beyond hidden messages.

    The Champion is silent even as the lightning flickers and dies. Pikachu falls to all fours, fizzing and blinking drowsily, then curls into a ball with his tail shielding his eyes.

    You let out a grateful breath and hear the great Nathaniel Morgan do the same beside you. For all his strength, for all his speed, Pikachu falls to yawn the same as any other pokémon. "Now super fang," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. This is last ditch, you think, the strategy he uses when none of his clever tricks avail him.

    Mightyena trots up to Pikachu, keeping her tail pennant-high and jaunty even though you can see her muscles seizing with paralysis, the limp she's trying to hide. She picks Pikachu up, the electric-type dangling halfway out of her mouth so one arm sways grotesquely just above the dirt. You wince. Even having seen the rest of the battle, even knowing Pikachu's hardly helpless, it's a horrifying image: the wolf with the mouse in her jaws, ready to swallow him whole. Pikachu's peacefully sleeping face fills the battle screen overhead, peeking from the cage of Mightyena's teeth. Those teeth glow as she prepares her attack, and then she bites down hard.

    Pikachu's black-button eyes pop open, but he doesn't cringe, or struggle, or even cry out; his free paw whips up and slaps Mightyena on the nose. She snorts and rears back instinctively, Pikachu falling from her jaws. His tail's already glowing when he lands, perfect on his feet despite the blood spattering the dirt around him. Before Mightyena can recover he swings an iron tail into her jaw with a crunch that makes you flinch. The great Nathaniel Morgan fumbles her pokéball off his belt, nearly dropping it in his haste to recall her. He stares down at the field, face even more gaunt-looking than usual as it's drawn into worried lines.

    Pikachu's up on his haunches, putting the punctures running down his belly and across his back on full display. If he's in any pain, he doesn't show it. He isn't sniffing around now, though, not twitching his little ears. He's doing the exact same thing as his trainer, staring straight at the great Nathaniel Morgan, silent, unblinking. What happened to the smiling boy who won the Championship seven years ago, the pikachu that squirmed in his arms, never more than a blur in photographs?

    The great Nathaniel Morgan returns Mightyena's ball to his belt but doesn't take the next, leaving his hand resting on it as he thinks. Only Raticate left. The great Nathaniel Morgan has to send him out now or not at all; once you're on the field, there's no going back.

    Finally the great Nathaniel Morgan bows his head and takes the ball off his belt. "Raticate," he says wearily, but once the next round's called he livens up, shouting, "Behind the rock! Swift!"

    Raticate ducks around one of the boulders Graveler left behind, and though Pikachu's immediate thunderbolt roars with destructive power, it strikes only stone. Raticate shakes a flurry of glowing lights from his fur, and Pikachu blasts lightning through the center of them. Some detonate, but most whirl in and strike him. Pikachu shakes them off and bounds around the side of Raticate's rock, his cheeks fizzing with the beginning of another attack.

    But Raticate's the great Nathaniel Morgan's fastest pokémon, with quick attack if he needs even more speed. Pikachu's still fast, but he's not the madcap ball of lightning he was at the start of the match. He must feel the wounds left by Mightyena's teeth, which drip blood as his running strides tear them wider. Raticate stays ahead of him, darting from the cover of one rock to the next and sending swift stars spinning in all directions.

    This is what the great Nathaniel Morgan does: running, hiding. He's trained his pokémon to be good at it, too. You watch all Pikachu's strength mean nothing as his thunderbolts glance off boulders and scorch empty earth. Raticate can't run forever, but he's not the one bleeding, pummeled by wave after wave of swift attacks--weak ones, but relentless.

    Pikachu looses another thunderbolt that strikes where Raticate just was and gets slapped in the face by a swift attack. He stops, and at first you think he's cringing, but no, he's just standing, waiting.

    Red's grip tightens on his box's railing, and his chin tips up as he looks imperiously down at the arena. Pikachu lets out a battle cry that's absurd in his tiny, high-pitched voice, and lets go his lightning.

    Some electric attacks are unavoidable, or nearly so. The most common is shock wave, which spreads interlocking tendrils of electricity across the arena in an inescapable net. But there's no need to bother with a special move when you can simply fill the entire battlefield with lightning.

    The energy barrier drones with terrible bass feedback as the attack strikes all four walls at once, the battlefield a curtain of light too painful to look at, even with eyes closed. The great Nathaniel Morgan really does drop his pokéball this time, unloading a long string of curses as he gets down on one knee, left arm shielding his face while the other gropes around in blind search. You cover your face with your hands and look down until the light and the noise stop, leaving sudden and ominous silence. Raticate lies on his side on earth scarred by crisscross scorch marks, fur smoking gently. You swallow hard. Clever tricks don't matter in the face of overwhelming power.

    "Return," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, pokéball finally in hand. The red beam lances out, but Raticate shivers, uncurls, rolls sideways at the last second so the beam hits the ground like one of Pikachu's thunderbolts. "Raticate!" The great Nathaniel Morgan raises the ball higher. Raticate gets to his feet and makes an unsteady run at Pikachu.

    "Raticate, goddammit!" the great Nathaniel Morgan yells, the end of his sentence drowned out by a crash of thunder. When your vision clears, Raticate's standing with head down and feet firmly planted, fur poofed and blackened by the electricity. Pikachu's fur stands up, too, bristling and fizzing with static discharge. More sparks dance around his cheeks as he charges another attack. The thunderbolts aren't coming as fast as they used to, and the great Nathaniel Morgan has the chance to fire the recall beam again, only for Raticate to lurch forward and out of the way. He shudders towards Pikachu with brief jolts of quick attack, jumping erratically across the field.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan curses expressively when he misses again and ignores the referee's warning to shout, "Get the fuck back here! You trying to get yourself fucking killed?"

    Pikachu looses another thunderbolt, but Raticate stutter-steps past it. He dodges his pokéball's beam again, closing in on Pikachu with huge teeth parted, ready to bite. Pikachu snaps out another thunderbolt, and Raticate sidesteps--too slow. He crumples, and this time the referee actually calls him out. He lies still while the recall beam finally dissolves him into red light, within a yard of Pikachu but still down, still defeated before he could land his final blow.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan holds Raticate's pokéball tight in both hands, the muscles in his neck standing out as he looks down at Pikachu. "The fuck're you waiting for?" he says without looking at you. "Get out there."

    It isn't the most rousing send-off, but that's all right. You hit the ground on all fours, adrenaline bringing the battlefield around you to life in high definition. On this side of the energy barrier the air is thick with ozone and the hideous organic stench of cooked dirt. There's the smell of blood, too, hanging thick around Pikachu.

    The electric-type hasn't moved since Raticate was recalled. He stares at you with those flat black eyes, expressionless, the fur on his lower body matted with blood. Even though he must be hurting, must be tired, he launches a thunderbolt straight at you the very moment the referee calls the round.

    You would have fallen over if you hadn't been ready. The world goes white, the air burns in your throat, and you lose a couple seconds as electricity surges through your skull. Power flows into your muscles, which twitch and buzz with energy. Your heart patters excitement, speed. You want to move, you need to move, and when you do it's so easy, so fast, it's like you're floating.

    "Finish it," the great Nathaniel Morgan says dully. "Heat wave. Spread it around if you have to."

    You raise a hand towards Pikachu, palm flat and fingers spread, and your gauntlet heats to a warm red-orange. Pikachu responds by frying you with a thunderbolt, and you struggle to keep your arm steady, heat flowing down your fingers while electricity surges in the opposite direction. Lightning races through your body, harmless but tickling madly, like thousands of ants are marching over every inch of your skin and down inside your bones.

    The heat wave sets the air to boiling, Pikachu shimmering and rippling in the middle of it. He's panting now, tiny pink tongue lolling and ears drooping back.

    You keep your hand pointed at Pikachu, letting a steady heat waft from it, content to simply cook Pikachu into unconsciousness. He wilts--and then he's on you, rocketing into your midsection. The lightning he unloads on impact only tickles, but the force of the volt tackle is enough to knock you over. Your head cracks against one of Graveler's boulders, and you lie dazed while the great Nathaniel Morgan yells, "Catch it! Catch it, mach punch and grab it!"

    Pikachu roasts you with more lightning while you're down, and it's the jolt of energy more than anything that brings you back to your feet. You hardly even need the mach punch's acceleration, your energized muscles fire so fast, but it's powerfully satisfying to land a solid punch on Pikachu. The attack sends him flying into a boulder, and you rush in while he recovers, grabbing him by the tail and swinging him up over your head.

    Suddenly there's lightning everywhere and Pikachu's shrieking, screaming far too loud for the size of his lungs. Sheer surprise makes you drop him, and he shoots away, skidding to a halt with fur bristling and teeth bared. At last there's some emotion in those flat black eyes, and that emotion is outrage, absolute outrage. You only get a second to marvel before Pikachu lights up the arena with another one of his nuclear-level thunder displays.

    Your heart races as motor drive draws ever more electricity into your body, and you twitch and bounce in place, unable to suppress the need to move, to release even a tiny a bit of the energy storming through you. Still Pikachu pours on more power, until your heartbeat's almost a continuous buzz, until the tickling of electricity evolves to itch and then to burning. You begin to fear, just a little, that there might be a limit to how much electricity your motor drive can absorb, and that Pikachu might be powerful enough to overwhelm it.

    But the curtain of lightning clears, and as your vision fades back in you see Pikachu crouched before you, hunched up over the tooth marks on his chest and breathing heavily. "Fire blast!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Make it a good one!"

    Not what you would have picked, maybe: too easy to dodge, even if it doesn't look like Pikachu's going anywhere. It's immensely satisfying to shape fire, though, to feel the heat of the flames on your palms as you swirl them into a dense ball. You let the attack go and watch it explode, jetting streamers of flame as it strikes Pikachu. He's knocked away, landing heavily on his side. You surround your fist with more fire and step forward only to halt, puzzled, at a blast from the referee's whistle.

    "Red corner yields," the referee says, and you look up in surprise. The Champion has one hand raised, his eyes fixed on Pikachu. You turn to your opponent, not quite able to believe it. But Pikachu doesn't argue. He doesn't look angry, or resentful, or even relieved as he turns and staggers off the field. He only ever showed any emotion when you grabbed his tail, and even that was just blind, instinctive anger.

    Doesn't matter. You smile hugely and settle back on your haunches, tapping your foot and lashing your tail. Doesn't matter, doesn't matter. What matters is you won, and it was easy. Pikachu's the toughest opponent you'll have to face, and he was no trouble at all. The great Nathaniel Morgan was right, this battle's going to be no problem. You knew that, of course, but still. Still it feels great, winning like this, with lightning bottled up inside of you.

    Pikachu finishes his long walk to the sidelines while the announcer gushes about how rare it is for any team to knock him out. The Champion barely waits for Pikachu to be off the field before taking a pokéball from his belt and tossing it out over the arena. You were expecting the round, stocky form of Blastoise, but instead the pokéball's light rises up and out, stretching neck and tail and wings.

    This charizard's smaller than Titan, more slender, but then again most of them are. He's still much taller than your infernape form, serpentine neck arcing down for a better look at his opponent. You can't tell what he makes of you. His face is as blank as Pikachu's was, as blank as the Champion's still is.

    You draw on the heat of the earth below, the fire in your heart resonating with the fire at the heart of the planet, the blood in your veins as magma, your bones splinters of rock. You stand firmer than before, taking strength from the earth's rocky core, and meet Charizard's flat gaze with your own electric grin. He has no idea, he can't possibly imagine, how badly he's about to lose.

    The referee gives the cue, and the great Nathaniel Morgan says, "Thunder punch."

    Your body's heavier now, but there's too much lightning in you for that to matter. You sprint across the field before Charizard can finish drawing breath. He might be raising fire, or maybe wind. It doesn't matter. Your first thunder punch hits him in the gut, knocking the breath out of him, and then you land another, and another, body humming with adrenaline and stolen electricity so it seems like Charizard's hardly moving at all. He slaps at you with his tail, and you duck away, landing another punch on the way out. He claps both wings together, but the blast of air barely hurts. You are solid, you are of the earth; no gust of wind can move you.

    This is easy, easy. The Champion watches from above, expressionless. Does he care? Does he care about the battle, about winning, at all? About his pokémon?

    Charizard strikes with claws and teeth, wings and tail, but you can get in three thunder punches for every one of his attacks. He blows out clouds of obscuring smoke, trying to play a stealth game, but he can't hide from psychic abilities no true infernape has. He stomps up an earthquake, and you protect against it, annoyed, and seize his mind and simply remove all knowledge of that attack with a disable.

    It's all you can do not to laugh while Charizard stands frozen, a faint haze of smoke drifting from his open mouth as he struggles to remember how to use earthquake, what an earthquake even is. This is power, the power to simply deny your opponent the ability to fight. You're powerful. Funny how you forgot that after so many battles won by the skin of your teeth, battles lost, even. When you don't have to play by human rules, when you aren't stuck doing what they think should be possible, that's when you're strong. You're the strongest ever.

    Charizard breathes deeply, readying fire, and you smile wider, knowing you can take this, too, and just like Pikachu's lightning, use it for yourself. When Charizard exhales, though, it's crackling teal-and-golden dragonfire that spills from his jaws. You aren't ready to dodge, and your last-second leap can't get you out of the way entirely. The unnatural fire burns and then numbs what it touches, leaving half your body tingling pins and needles.

    You push aside irritation at your mistake and punch upwards, summoning a forest of blade-edged stones. Charizard dodges by taking to the air, so you follow up with a rock slide, hoisting boulders up to swarm around him. He swerves and dips under spinning rocks, moving ever towards you. You smirk as one of the boulders clips him in the side, and another glances off his shoulder. You're still smirking while you somersault out of the way of a sweeping dragon breath.

    Charizard banks around to face you, and you dig up a double handful of dirt, transmuting it to rock as Charizard makes another sweeping pass. You stare down the oncoming dragon, undaunted by the blue flames dancing around his jaws, and take your time judging the shot. The hurled rock strikes Charizard at the base of one wing. He rolls crazily, injured wing flopping and useless, and crashes in a spray of loose dirt.

    "Okay, now stone edge," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and you saw the opportunity, too, are already preparing the attack. More needle-spires of rock lance up, but pain isn't enough to keep Charizard down, and he lunges away from them and straight at you, dislocated wing dragging beside him. You dart to the side, but he trips you with his tail, and you gasp as a rock smash crunches into your side. Then a dragon claw rakes sparkling flames across your shoulder.

    He caught you off-guard again, but he's still moving so slowly, his swings like the exaggerated pantomime of an amateur actor. You dodge his next dragon claw completely and land another thunder punch square in Charizard's face. He doesn't cry out, but there's a loud huff of air as he takes in a sharp breath.

    You yank your arm away from the resulting dragon flames, but they catch its edge and turn it to a numbed and useless log. Charizard keeps attacking despite a couple smart thunder punches: dragon claw, and dragon claw, and honestly, what's wrong with his good wing? Where are the flying attacks? Doesn't he know you're supposed to be a fighting-type?

    "Grass knot and back off," the great Nathaniel Morgan says as another dragon breath billows your way. "Tie him down."

    It'll only work for a second. The vines can drag Charizard down, but all he has to do is breathe on them to free himself. That's enough time to change, though, and when Charizard wrenches himself free and showers you with another dragon breath, you don't even feel it.

    Your affinity for earth is gone, the stony core that kept you grounded dissolved into an airy, sparkling glow, all moonlight and fey mischief. You thunder punch again, and though Charizard's return dragon claw leaves scratches behind, its brilliant fire has no effect.

    Another thunder punch knocks Charizard on his heels, wheezing. You lean in to attack again, but his tail slaps you away before the punch connects. You land hard, breath knocked clean out of you and skin itching like you've been splashed with acid. It's not acid on Charizard's tail, though, but a last flash of metallic sheen.

    Does he know you're a fairy-type?

    The thoughtful moment costs you as you're slow in bringing your arms up to block. This time when Charizard slashes down at you, you feel it properly. His claws sparkle silver in the sunlight, and the metal claw hurts, leaving three deep cuts down your forearm.

    You jump to your feet, meet another metal claw with protect to give yourself a second to think, and then return to the rhythm of punching and ducking and driving Charizard back, one blow at a time. Now, though, you're really watching. You need to figure out what's going on.

    You change one more time, switching from fairy to steel, and Charizard switches over to fighting attacks after only a couple unimpressive metal claws. He swings a dangerous series of power-up-punches at you, even though he really should be flagging after everything you've hit him with.

    Charizard fights on, unhurried and methodical. Calm. Expressionless. That's what you should call it. He makes small noises of exertion, sometimes gasps or grunts or flinches away from your attacks, all instinctive reactions. If he's tired he doesn't show it, if he's smug at having figured you out, if he's triumphant, thinking he has this now, you can't tell. His face is blank as he attacks, attacks, attacks. It's like he's here, fighting, but his mind is somewhere else. For sure his heart isn't in it.

    How could he know? You don't look different when you change types, or not enough that anyone who wasn't looking for it would see. He must have been able to tell his attacks weren't doing as much damage as they should, but to go from that to deciding you'd changed types? Something that shouldn't even be possible?

    You don't realize you're standing idle, fists raised but slack, until Charizard grabs you with his comically stubby arms and more or less falls on you, driving you hard into the ground with a submission attack.

    You roar in pain, and along with your howl comes another yell, "No! I said get back!"

    Oh, right. The great Nathaniel Morgan's here. Puzzling about Charizard made you tune him out, too. And you're still a bit preoccupied, for that matter. You struggle under Charizard's weight, trying to force him away while his claws rake at your sides.

    ""Quit d--doing stupid sh--stuff and pay attention! Hey, hey, hey!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars, a bit hoarse, like he's been yelling for quite some time now. "Finish it! Just finish it! Stone edge, now, now, he can't fly away!"

    You grit your teeth and push up hard, the motion accompanied by the crunch and creak of breaking earth. Rocky spires shoot up all around you, and you tip Charizard's weight directly into the path of the stones, perhaps with a little psychic assistance. The great Nathaniel Morgan's right--there's no dodging for him now, not with a ruined wing, and the stone edge cuts and bruises and pierces. Charizard lies still at last, silent and unmoved to the end.

    You get to your feet and watch Charizard vanish in red light, not quite sure how to feel. You won. You won, and it was easy. You flex aching arms, opening and closing your fingers and massaging bruised knuckles. Yes. It was easy. You look back over your shoulder at the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    "Oh, now you're looking at me," the great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles. "What, you were all complaining about how I wasn't gonna help or something, then you go nuts doing whatever you want? I mean, it worked and all, but..."

    How could you explain? It's not about the battle, not really. There's something else going on here.

    Even if he knew about it, the great Nathaniel Morgan would probably just tell you to focus on the battle for now. He'd probably be right. What matters is that you get Mewtwo back, and to do that, you have to win. Whatever else this is, you can think about it when the battle's done, if you even still care. Once you've got Mewtwo back, you can wash your hands of the Champion forever.

    The Champion sends out Blastoise, who's tiny compared to the one who fought for Aanya Singh. That blastoise was so large her shell alone must have weighed three times as much as you. The Champion's blastoise looks like most of the ones you see in high-level matches: small, which means young, less than thirty years old.

    You look down the barrels of Blastoise's cannons and shift your ability to water absorb. That was definitely a good idea last time. Even with that protection, it's hard to feel confident in the face of Blastoise's silence, the blankly intimidating look on his face.

    "Hi," you say. "You're not very scary. I beat a way bigger blastoise a couple days ago, and it wasn't even hard."

    There's absolutely no response. Blastoise stands there and breathes and acts like he didn't understand a word you just said, or even that you were trying to talk to him at all.

    "Hey!" you say as a cold, uncertain chill ripples through you. "Can't you hear me, stupid? I'm talking to you!"

    Still nothing, and the referee announces the next round before you can try anything else. "Grass knot," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and you're slower than you should be to raise energy, still preoccupied.

    That, and you weren't expecting Blastoise to be fast. Nothing the size of a car with legs like tree stumps should be nimble. But when the grass knot lashes out at Blastoise's ankle he's already well past, flat-out running in your direction. He tucks his limbs up into his shell and slides on his belly, crashing towards you with a double-edge, and you barely make the dodge.

    You watch the big shell rush past, grimacing. This might be harder than you thought. It's all you can do to dodge again when twin bursts of swirling turquoise and purple shoot from Blastoise's cannons, slicing towards you at waist height while Blastoise's shell spins.

    Dragon pulse. No water. It was the Champion who figured things out, then, not Charizard. It's too soon for Blastoise to have realized anything on his own, so the Champion must have told him not to use water. But if the Champion knows something's up, maybe even that you're not a real infernape, why hasn't he done anything about it? Why is he still fighting?

    Blastoise extends his back legs, flipping himself into the air and landing upright without a single wobble. "Enough running, Infernape! Use power-up punch. Go nuts," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and his oblivious confidence gets you moving at last. Yes, focus on this. Focus on what's ahead of you, and let the rest come later. You fall on Blastoise with a flurry of punches, and he withdraws, your attacks cracking off his shell without apparent effect. Still they energize you, each punch leaving you stronger than the one before.

    With a faint hiss, a dark mist spills from Blastoise's cannons. You back up to stay ahead of the billowing cloud of haze, but it soon expands to fill the whole arena. The chilly fog dampens your flame and leeches the strength from your limbs. Your speed goes, too, the last of Pikachu's stolen electricity bleeding into empty air. You're cold and sluggish, surrounded by dark fog. And your opponent, your opponent's somewhere out there, hidden by the mist.

    "No problem. You can find it, can't you, Infernape?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says.

    Of course you can. You channel energy into a giga drain, trusting the haze to hide its green glow from the battle cameras. The life-sense the grass energy lends you overlays your vision, coronas of living power pocking the dark cloud around you. There's no way to describe it other than to say grass beneath your feet glows, showing faint green through the haze. Blastoise shines brighter yet, a huge well of power and life.

    Except there are dark spots peppering Blastoise's aura, dull purple-brown in your energy sight, like Blastoise is some kind of overripe fruit, bruised and starting to ferment. You hold grass energy ready, not following through with giga drain like you'd been planning. Do you even want to drain that energy, with that weird whatever-it-is floating in it? What is it? The side effect of some attack, or maybe something like liquid ooze, some of defense against energy drain? Blastoise don't have that ability, though, and anyway you don't think it would look like that, and you've never--

    A swirling globe of blue light rockets towards you, bubbling with its own slick of sickly brown and black. You jump aside instinctively, but the attack easily swerves to follow. It bursts against your chest with a flash of blue light that dissipates your energy sight. Once more all you can see is gray fog, stretching out in all directions.

    Aura sphere. An aura sphere you would have seen coming, if you'd been paying attention to what Blastoise was doing and not how weird he looks. Giga drain would heal back the aura sphere's damage and more, but when you summon grass energy you again you find yourself staring at the dark stains shimmering across Blastoise's energy signature. You still don't want to absorb that, really. And then, at one terrified, inspired thought, you look down into the glow of your own life's power, and yes, blue spatters left over from the aura sphere still cling to your body, and in among them are droplets that don't so much glow as fume, bubbling with strange dark colors. Poison? Is it poison? But you don't feel sick, well, you do, a bit, clammy and dazed because you're getting worked up over nothing and you need to focus.

    Another aura sphere comes, and you block it with a protect. You can't, you can't think about this now. You brush anxiously at your fur, trying to dislodge the discolored blots of energy.

    "All right, Infernape?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says, still sounding perfectly cheerful. He can't see what's going on. You grit your teeth and send a focus blast towards Blastoise, getting in an easy hit while he's busy forming another aura sphere. You simply blow this one up with a bit of psychic power, confident that if the great Nathaniel Morgan can't see, the referee can't, either.

    As the haze dissipates you fire off a couple more focus blasts, a quiet lock-on making sure they don't stray from their mark. Blastoise doesn't flinch, doesn't acknowledge the strikes beyond swaying a bit to keep his balance. He growls and spreads his hands, calling boulders up in a wave. You dodge them with a series of acrobatic jumps and rolls, which look difficult but are easy for you, so easy that you do them on autopilot while you mull over more difficult things in your head.

    What could corrupt a pokémon's life energy? If it is corruption, you're just guessing. Whatever it is, it doesn't look right, and Blastoise has been acting strange--the Champion's whole team has been acting strange--the Champion's been acting strange, this entire time. Almost like they're robots. Or zombies.

    Blastoise charges out of the last shreds of the haze, and you trip him with a grass knot. He falls and slides on his plastron, but he doesn't act surprised, or irritated, or even like he finds it funny. His expression isn't so much grim as empty.

    While he's getting up again, you blurt out, "Blastoise? Can you talk? Can you say something? Just--just, I mean, hey, good battle so far, are you excited to be in the Championship, I mean I guess you've done it before but--"

    Then you have to dodge because he's running at you, claws clenched into fists, ice frosting his knuckles. You jump lightly aside, feeling sluggish and fatigued without Pikachu's electricity to buoy you up. Then you call on electricity of your own and leap on Blastoise with a volley of thunder punches, slower than before but made fierce by your frustration.

    "Come on," you grunt, knocked sideways by a graze to your shoulder. "Come on, say something! Stop being weird!"

    Attack, attack, attack. Blastoise says nothing.

    He's messing with you. He's playing with your head. But no--no, Charizard was like that, too, and Pikachu. Even the Champion himself, he doesn't talk anymore, he just looks at people all scary-like.

    "You can't fool me," you say. "You think this is funny? You think I'll get scared?"

    You land punch after punch, filling the air with the smell of ozone and scorched turtle-flesh. Blastoise's expression never changes. He doesn't flinch when a shocking punch lands, doesn't smile when one of his own connects, doesn't grimace or frown or ever look away. His eyes are on you, always on you, but there's nothing in them at all.

    Zombies. Blastoise isn't dead, but something is wrong with him, wrong to the very life, if it's affecting his aura. So if he isn't dead, maybe he isn't quite alive, either, at least not the way you or a normal pokémon is. Your fur prickles up, and you're suddenly cold, despite that you're sweating with exertion.

    "Can you hear me? Say something! Say something, you stupid turtle! I don't even think you can talk! I bet you can't, I bet you're so dumb you can't talk!"

    Blastoise pivots smoothly, keeping eyes and cannons trained on you the whole time. His huge hind-claws dig into the earth, bracing him against recoil, and then he fires a double dragon pulse from his cannons. After that comes flash cannon, then dark pulse, then dragon pulse again. You run, keeping just ahead of his attacks.

    "Block with rock slide," the great Nathaniel Morgan barks, and frazzled as you are he has to repeat the command twice before you figure out what he means. You raise boulders and let them fall in a rough line, blocking Blastoise's cannon volleys. You crouch behind the makeshift wall, firing focus blasts over the top. You even let one of them miss, just to make things more realistic. Then you throw yourself aside as Blastoise smashes into the barrier, spinning wildly in a metal-glinting shell and scattering fragments of rock in all directions. You jump from one side of the wall to the other to keep it between you and Blastoise, while he works on destroying it with sliding tackles, knocking boulders aside like bowling pins.

    Running and hiding, just like Raticate, you think, but you don't mind. Staying away from Blastoise is what you want to do. You don't know if what he has is catching, and you're fine not finding out.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan calls for a will-o-wisp, and you chuck a handful of blue ghostfire across the wall. Blastoise stops, expressionless as usual but now with a puckered red burn marring the side of his face. He glows briefly white, and the burn disappears.

    "Refresh. Hell," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, but you don't get time to share his irritation. Blastoise rockets forward with an aqua jet, shattering the boulder you were hiding behind, and grazes the side of your head with an ice punch. The next few seconds are lost in confusion, and then the sun goes out as Blastoise's shell crashes down on top of you.

    "Okay, great. Will-o-wisp then taunt," the great Nathaniel Morgan's saying while you struggle to gather your thoughts and muster sluggish, dragging limbs. The horrible smothering feeling of Blastoise's cadaverous weight lends a terror-edged clarity to your senses but makes it hard to think. You pump a full thunderbolt into Blastoise's shell, hardly caring whether you can pass it off as another thunder punch.

    "Will-o-wisp, come on," the great Nathaniel Morgan says while you drag, scrape, squeeze yourself out from under a temporarily-stunned Blastoise. You stand unsteadily, panting with exertion and the fading dregs of panic, and try to concentrate. Okay. Will-o-wisp. Yes. Continuous damage, so you can focus on not getting hit instead of attacking. You're fine with that.

    The will-o-wisp hits Blastoise in the face the second he emerges from his shell, leaving a burn in almost exactly in the same place as the last one. And now the taunt, before Blastoise heals again. You stop with mouth open, uncertain. Somehow Blastoise's stonily blank scowl doesn't invite ridicule, and simmering unease over what, exactly, is wrong with him doesn't put you in a mocking mood.

    The words don't matter, you tell yourself firmly. The words don't matter, it's the darkness that counts, darkness that turns your breath cold across your tongue as you say, "I-I'm not scared of you. I'm not going to fall for your stupid tricks. I bet... I bet even if you were a zombie, you still wouldn't be able to beat me!"

    Blastoise stands there, expression unchanged. You wonder if he didn't understand, if maybe he's so far gone that not even dark words can touch him. Then his face scrunches up, lips drawn back to show teeth and gums alike. His mouth's too wide, seeming to take up his whole face. Blastoise roars, the sound booming and resonant in the arch of his shell, and while you're still reeling from his transformation he slams a mega punch into your gut.

    You fall, choking on swallowed air. Blastoise brings one heavy foot down, and the ground convulses. You stumble more than run from him, hunched over your aching gut and struggling to stay upright on the shuddering earth. The ground falls away beneath one unlucky step, and you twist your ankle badly, groaning with pain but forcing yourself to hobble on.

    A blast of freezing wind knocks you down, rolling you over and filling your fur with ice and heavy, wet snow. "Looks like The Great Nathaniel Morgan got more than he bargained for with that taunt," the announcer says cheerfully while you curl in on yourself, trying to protect your inner flame from the horrible cold of the blizzard.

    You can barely see anything, eyelids gumming shut with frozen tears. There's little to see anyway, just angry blowing white.

    "Tie it down with grass knot, Infernape! Hold it back!"

    You push yourself to your feet, groping out with a mind reader, but then Blastoise charges out of the whirling snow and grabs you, sturdy claws wrapping around your arm. You aren't sure if it's a proper attack, don't even notice if it hurts. What matters, what really, really matters here, is he's got you, he's touching you, he's touching you.

    Blastoise's face hovers just in front of yours, still set in that incredible snarl. His eyes are empty of any kind of personality, lit only by blind, unthinking aggression. You broke whatever bonds of control were holding him back, and now he's got you. His hand burns where it touches your arm, full of wrongness, wrongness that's going to go into you now, that's going to make you like him.

    "Infernape, listen! You have to listen. I need you to--"

    But you can't listen. You can't possibly concentrate on his words now. Blastoise's mouth opens, hideously toothy. You realize what he's going to do a second before it happens, and it's only tucking your chin in that prevents Blastoise's teeth from closing on your neck. He bites your face instead, teeth grating against your jawbone, and you scream. No, no, no, he needs to get away! GET AWAY!

    Pressure builds inside your skull, gathering to a brief, stabbing headache, and then Blastoise is hurled away from you, tumbling over and over in the air. He crashes down on his back, and does not move.

    You curl into a ball on the ground, holding your face with both hands and sending desperate healing energy into the wound, not caring whether anyone sees it close underneath all the blood. You lie there dizzy, hot and cold by turns, sobbing and wondering if this is what it feels like to turn into a zombie. An overwhelming desire for home comes over you, and for a moment you see it so clearly in your mind--warm, private, safe--that the only thing that stops you from teleporting right then and there is the energy barrier cutting you off from the outside world.

    "Time out," the referee says. "Calling for a review of the last fifteen seconds of the round due to suspect attack usage."

    "Are you shitting me?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "It's the fucking championship, asshole, you want to waste time dicking around with your stupid toys? Let's get with the fucking fight."

    "Any more back-talk and it'll be a citation for you," the referee says. She's tapping away at her tablet, presumably calling up footage of the last round, energy readings from the sensors embedded around the arena. You curl in tighter, tail coiling up around your torso. You don't even know what attack you used, but it was powerful--maybe even a psycho boost.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan sneers at the referee but doesn't press her further. Instead he turns to you. "Hey, Infernape," he says. "Good work. Are you okay? Do you want to keep going?"

    A good act. You'd never guess he knows the referee's about to realize something's fishy and disqualify him. But he knows, of course, and he knows that means it was all for nothing. Good work. He's really loves saying the opposite of what he means, doesn't he?

    "Sir!" You flinch away from the referee's shout, clutch your fingers in your fur. You feel cold and tingling as you wait for the verdict. "Sir, I said we're in time out!"

    You glance over your shoulder at the great Nathaniel Morgan, filled with wild hope that he might have some other plan, that he might be fixing things even now. He's just standing there, though, not even looking at you.

    It's the Champion who's moving. He fiddles with the keypad in his box's railing--healing Blastoise already? That's not allowed, not while the battle's still going on. There's a brief flash of light, and the Champion takes a pokéball with a dark purple top from the machine. The master ball. In storage until the very last second, where all the League's vast electronic might could protect it.

    "Sir! Time! Time out!" The Champion's hefting the ball in his hand, looking down at the arena with no indication that he even hears the referee.

    He knows you've been cheating. He doesn't care, then? Or perhaps this is his punishment. He let you go on long enough to reveal your secret to the whole world, and now he's going to send Mewtwo in to ensure disqualification is the least of your worries.

    "Sir! You can't send out another pokémon!" the referee insists, but the Champion simply cocks his arm back and throws.

    Maybe he's following through with the battle because that's all he knows how to do. Maybe he's as much of a husk as his pokémon, with no desire for anything but battle, or no desire at all, fighting on and on by instinct alone.

    You watch the master ball spin through the air overhead, feeling sicker than ever and blinking more tears from your eyes. What if Mewtwo's like the rest of the Champion's team? You duck your head and squeeze your eyes shut. You don't want to know. You want to go home.

    Mewtwo takes shape, and the announcer's excited but baffled commentary twines with the referee's yells to form a distant, babbling counterpoint to the pounding of your heart. The overwhelming blast of Mewtwo's psychic field comes even before the light from the master ball has faded, and your heart races faster as the clone's anxiety amplifies your own.

    At least he is anxious. If he can feel nervous, that means he can still feel, not like the--zombies. Whatever they were. It would be a relief, except Mewtwo's fear and anger still jangle through your head, so you're left trying to convince yourself you don't feel them after all. Mewtwo must have gone into the master ball like that. What happened? Has he not been out at all since Sabrina caught him?

    Mewtwo's gaze snaps to you, and he straightens up, the fear ebbing from your head. What are you doing here? he asks, and of course there's no point replying. Within seconds he's extracted the answer from your mind. I see. Mewtwo's thoughts turn to rippling, smug pleasure. Go on, then. Unless you truly wish to fight me.

    You look from him to the referee, who with gritted teeth has apparently decided to open the next round. No one stands in the way of the Champion, especially not when the instrument of his power is right there, on display for all to see. And the Champion... You look up at him while your fingers trace the spot on your jaw where Blastoise bit you, once more cold with apprehension.

    What are you waiting for? Mewtwo snaps. What? Zombies? Don't be ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with you.

    A psychic push makes you stagger sideways, and you turn angrily towards Mewtwo, whose eyes glow baleful purple. For a second you stand there, glaring, but honestly there's no point. You're tired. It's best to get this over with.

    "It looks like Infernape isn't interested in fighting Mewtwo," the announcer says as you turn and walk to the sidelines. Vigorous booing rises from the crowd, and it rankles, even knowing this isn't a real battle, even knowing you're not running away. For a second something of your usual spirit returns, and you bare your teeth. Like any of those idiots would dare fight Mewtwo themselves.

    The sideline lies directly in front of you, neatly separating the torn and lightning-scorched sod of the arena from the green, manicured grass beyond. You step across and feel the brief fizz of the energy barrier passing over you.

    You pause a second, vertigo gripping you as the pressure of Mewtwo's mind vanishes. It's strange how fast you get used to it, and then once it's gone the whole world seems brighter, the air fresher, gravity somehow relaxed. The announcer's going nuts over you throwing the match, but he's really never going to believe what happens next.

    A single thought takes you into the trainer's box next to the Champion. He's only just turning to face you as you snatch the master ball out of his hand, easily breaking his grip; he is only human, after all. Still, your skin ripples with goosebumps when you touch him. You suppress thoughts of Blastoise and his creeping wrongness and teleport again immediately.

    This time you land next to the great Nathaniel Morgan, recalling Mewtwo with one hand and grabbing the great Nathaniel Morgan's arm with the other. And then, while the announcer's still reacting to the first teleport, with the crowd just beginning to bubble up to a confused clamor, before the referee or Champion or anyone can intervene, the both of you are gone.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  14. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    -I like the starting scene. Unless I’m misremembering, it’s a great parallel to an earlier scene where Rats chewed out the MC on interfering in the gym battle due to a lack of faith in her ability to win. The scenario’s strokes are very similar. Nate’s sure Raticate can’t win, and he’s encouraging Raticate to stay back out of concern, as opposed to a desire to win like what MC did with Rats. Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel like Nate’s argument escalated as much though. I guess that’s just part of the contrast.

    MC, I’m disappointed in you. No Mexican stand-off references. Your geek levels are slipping! I’ll shut up now… In all seriousness, while the “I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for ‘X’” shtick is a common principle of teeth-clenched teamwork, it’s interesting that Nate doesn’t have much of a reaction. Either his nerves have rattled him or he doesn’t want the MC judging him. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    -Hearing the MC constantly psyching itself up about how strong it is just makes me think of Mewtwo’s lines from the movies about how it’s “the world’s strongest Pokémon.” See, you two ARE more alike than you realize! XD

    -Hoo boy, Red and his Pikachu are just as frightening as I remember them from, uh, HGSS (I don’t remember playing Gen II, okay). Mute characters can be kind of hard to do the “show, don’t tell,” thing with, but his stoicism and silence makes me feel like I’m back on Mt. Silver. But, yeah, Godchu is here and he’s taking no prisoners. That massive Thunder(?) was quite the sight. Though Raticate follows up on the argument. Is this some sort of reference toward Pokémon’s instinct toward battling and wanting to grow stronger when they’re with a human counterpart? It’s a pretty cool way to go about it… even if Raticate does almost get vaporized for it.

    -Okay, the emotionless is getting reeeeeaaaaaallllly creepy. Are… are Red and his team a bunch of zombies or mind-controlled robots or something?

    -So, did MC use its godmodding shenanigans to spoof Protean onto itself after Motor Drive? Or is it secretly using one of the Conversions? It’s not Color Change… I at least know that. Can I also say this battle’s very colorful? I mean that literally. There’s such a wide swathe of palettes used to describe the attacks (which I sadly cannot visualize due to some colorblindness *tear*).

    Ah-ha! Actually, no, wait, I’m very disappointed in you, MC. They’re clearly corrupted by Phazon and you should be doing a Samus Aran impersonation. I’m joking of course… nice to see the MC branching out with its geekiness!

    Okay, this is a very brief but effective slip into horror movie mode. Kind of like I’m in one of the Alien movies (the good ones).

    -Ahahahahahahaha that ending though. I know it was intentional, but after how over-the-top crazy the battle was, to just have the MC be all, “**** it, we’re done here,” nab Mewtwo, and skedaddle, had me in absolute stitches!

    While I’m genuinely confused if Red being a zombiea Phazon husk is a serious plot point that’s going to get followed up on or a jab at his utter lack of personality in the series, I’m just going to roll with it and say it was very entertaining! And the absolute wrong thing to read before sleeping, but oh well, can’t take it back now…
  15. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Well, okay. Wow. I read the word "zombies" in #shameless-advertising, wondered how that would be relevant, but you know what? It worked, and it was creepily awesome. I've never seen the stoic, mute aesthetic Red has in the games used as well as I have here. I agree with Ambyssin that the child just saying screw this and rushing out was hilarious, but I can't say this is the end of the road like it's hoping. There's too many questions opened up and unanswered in this chapter, along with some remaining questions surrounding the likes of Eskar, for this to be anywhere near over. If I thought this chapter was chaos, well, I can't imagine what's coming next.

    I still find it interesting that, after all this time, Nate's pokemon are starting to question him and openly reveal their dismay for some of his choices. I would've thought that, if that happened, it'd be because of the child because Nate's warmed up to it a lot more than from the beginning, but no, everything's on Nate here. I just... don't see any sort of happy ending for Nate after all this. He got caught up in the crossfire, a very bad one, and I hope he at least reconciles with his 'mons if he has to die or something. ;o;

    Anyway, this was a riveting chapter. The switching of abilities was interesting to read, and the child's taunting of the zombie 'mons was amusing. The child still thinking it was the strongest ever after having its secrets exposed somehow was... so like it. I couldn't help but pity it because I initially thought they weren't going to get away with Mewtwo. I'll just have to wait for the next chapter for MOAR CHAOS.
  16. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    The final battle! (At least for this arc!) I’m both amazed and endeared over the fact that raticate actually wants to fight Red. I mean, unlike all the arguments last chapter, Nate is 100% correct here—they really, really don’t have to fight. But I can still see why Raticate feels hurt.

    And Mightyena returns as well! But man… it definitely sounds like she plans to leave for good after this. Of course, whether or not that will actually happen or if something else will come up… that’s another story. But for all intents and purposes, at this moment, she’s done with him. Wow.

    Man, oh man, do I love the picture you’ve painted of Pikachu’s sheer power. That instantaneous speed and overwhelming lightning that just fills the entire battlefield. Chills

    *Squints suspiciously.* This is one of those chapters I’m gonna need to give play-by-play reactions, isn’t it? That isn’t my style nowadays (reading this at work, after all) but… renders are all going as planned (for like the first time this week, friggin hell) so… yeah… something tells me I need a play-by-play.

    See… I thought you were playing at the cool, detached, emotionless confidence one would expect from someone who knows they’re going to win, but… that’s not what we’re seeing here, is it?

    That is definitely not what we’re seeing here. Hnng, what is it, are they being controlled? Mewtwo? But Mewtwo definitely did not want to get sent back to Red, so this doesn’t seem like his sort of deal. Maybe something happened in the meantime? what is it argh.

    He knows. How does he know? Psychic shenanigans?

    Hot damn I frickin love the way you describe these changes.


    Okay seriously he’s gotta be possessed or something. But by what? Mewtwo is the only thing that would feel like it wasn’t completely out of left field. But Mewtwo seemed so desperate to escape when the protag first located him. Unless something happened since then…?

    UM. Okay, this is probably not psychic possession. I don’t think it would look like that. In any case, the protag would probably know what that looks like.

    So you did mention that in your ad, yes. But that still doesn’t give away what’s going on! They’re obviously not dead--Blastoise has life energy, Pikachu bled, ect. But there’s something wrong.

    Yeahhhh, they’re kind of gonna notice a bigass psychic blast like that. >_< Definitely makes me wonder under what circumstances illegal movesets would come up normally, though. Are some Pokémon just exceptional? Are there ways of illegitimately modifying movesets? I gotta know what calling hax looks like in the real world. xD

    You know, I’ve… completely forgotten if it was explained how and why Mewtwo fights in these battles. He’s not being controlled. I know there was that thing with him being unable to leave the Master Ball’s area, but what’s stopping him from stealing it? I’m sure there’s a reason, I just can’t quite figure it out.

    Aghhhh no, why’d it have to end there aaaaaaa. *Conveniently ignoring that that’s the perfect place to end a chapter that was already extremely long.* We still don’t know what Red’s deal was! Is it recent, or has it been going on for a long time? Does Mewtwo know about it? Can he sense it? aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I need the next chapter now.

    Ahaha, I just realized that both you, me and Dragonfree all ended our most recent chapters with a teleport. That’s great. xD

  17. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Well! Red and his team were certainly freaky as all get-out, weren't they. I've sat here for a few minutes after finishing the chapter trying to determine, or at least guess, what EVEN the heck is going on there... and yeah, still drawing a blank, heh. There was a fleeting bit of "oh maybe Mewtwo has something to do with this somehow?" but?? No, that just doesn't seem right. The "corrupted" life force or whatever that Blastoise had gives me pause.

    Unless Blastoise was actually just fine, and something was wrong with the child somehow that made it see weird splotchy **** where splotchy **** there was not.

    Idk. All I'm certain of was that it was a great big chaos-and-creepiness party and I thoroughly enjoyed it. :D
  18. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    The next chapter's written, and editing's going well. I'm hoping to post it next week.

    In the meantime, replies!


    Dang, you're fast!

    I actually completely forgot about that scene! You're right, it is an interesting contrast how those two raticate-conversations turned out, although I totally wasn't going for it. :p And yeah, Nate's argument didn't really go that far because he kind of got fed up and stormed off before things really got heated, heh.

    Heh, I don't think the protagonist has anything on you when it comes to making references!

    Nate did react to Mightyena saying that, but he hides it pretty quickly. That's what I was going for with this line, anyway:

    Well, they are siblings! XD

    Thanks, I'm glad you thought the way I portrayed Pikachu lived up to his in-game power levels. I definitely wanted him to feel kind of like a force of nature, compared to the normal pokémon.

    As far as Raticate goes, to some extent, yeah. It's more than just an innate drive for battle that makes him do that, though; more like what battling means to him. We'll learn more about that in Chapter 34.

    It can change types just using its normal transformation abilities, so it wasn't using any formal ability changes or anything here. And huh, I definitely didn't realize I was using an unusual number of color descriptors for this battle... I can see how that's something you'd notice a lot more if you're colorblind, haha.

    Thanks, glad you liked it. I'll take a favorable comparison to Alien any day for sure!

    Heh, it's a pretty anti-climactic end to what's supposed to be a big-deal battle, that's for sure. I'm sure the audience was a bit miffed!

    No worries, Red being a Phazon husk is absolutely a serious plot point. We won't be learning more about it immediately, but it's definitely important to the story overall. I'm glad you found it entertaining one way or another. Thanks so much for a fun and in-depth review! I'll try to release the next chapter at a more sane time, and then you won't have to worry about it disrupting your sleep plans, yeah? :p


    Haha, well, I'm glad my little marketing blurb made you curious. :p Glad you think the "zombies" ended up working out well!

    Oh yeah, the protagonist wishes it could just peace out and never worry about Red again, heh. What's going on here ties in pretty closely with the mysteries at the center of the story, so it's definitely going to be relevant down the line. And oh yes, the chaos is only getting started...

    Well, these are issues that have kind of been festering for quite some time. Up until this point Nate's pokémon haven't really had any way *to* question him, or display their displeasure about his choices. I think it's actually probably a positive development that they're able to bring these things up and try to work them out. It's just that Nate's reaction really wasn't, uh, ideal.

    It's looking pretty bleak for him, definitely, and he keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into the protagonist's vortex of crazy. It would be great to see him reconcile with his pokémon, for sure... but he's also super stubborn and not quick to admit when he's in the wrong...

    Glad you enjoyed the chapter! Thanks a lot for the review, and I hope you enjoy the MOAR CHAOS, too!

    Chibi Pika

    I'm honored you felt the need to break out a quote review for this one! I didn't think much of this battle, so it's cool that you thought there were some moments that you wanted to call out in particular. Thanks for reviewing!

    This should, should be the last trainer battle in the fanfic. But there will be plenty more less formal fighting going on! In this arc, even!

    Oh yeah, she's pretty done. If Nate doesn't at least apologize soon, I don't see her sticking around. Even then he's going to have to do a pretty good job...

    Thanks! I had fun writing Pikachu, though I guess by now it's evident that I enjoy writing really powerful characters, heh.

    Haha, nope. I started out wanting to play the "silent Red" trope straight for this story, since it's supposed to be mostly game-verse, but then I got to thinking... Just why does Red go silent, anyway?

    Well, Mewtwo does have something to do with it, but remember that he was in storage until about five seconds before he got sent out onto the battlefield. He wasn't in any way present for the fight against Blastoise, Charizard, etc. And he definitely does want to get shy of Red!

    It's quite rare, but some pokémon can learn or be born with nonstandard attacks. Generally speaking the League doesn't want them being used in official matches because it doesn't want to encourage any sort of advantage-seeking through people attempting to get their hands on or generate these sorts of rare breeds through experimentation and/or unethical breeding practices. It *is* possible to get weird moves through some definitely unethical pokémon modification programs--think shadow pokémon--so if a pokémon is using them, it may also indicate that some other form of cheating is going on, like performance-enhancing drugs or more extreme genetic engineering kind of stuff. But, yes, it's quite rare to see it come up.

    Well, to some extent Mewtwo does really like to fight. He definitely doesn't like to follow orders, but generally, given a chance to show off his power he'll take it. It means more to him than spitting in the Champion's eye, as it were, although there are definitely situations where he'd just refuse. Not that it would do him much good... he'd most likely end up being recalled, which he hates.

    As for why he doesn't just peace on the whole operation, in addition to not being able to go too far from the master ball, he experiences excruciating pain if the ball itself or his trainer is damaged (technically, anybody who wears the device Red on him that causes that reaction, but Red is the only person with one at the moment). So if Red voluntarily gave him the ball, it would be no problem, but if he tried to take it by force and injured Red at all, he wouldn't be going far. He'd also need to be super-quick, since if he senses any danger can simply recall him at any time. I don't doubt he's made escape attempts, though. Red used to be much more liberal about letting him out of the ball, for sure.

    Haha, well, I'm afraid this won't be addressed in the next chapter, but stay tuned, I guess!

    Ahaha, I just realized that both you, me and Dragonfree all ended our most recent chapters with a teleport. That’s great. xD [/quote]
    This is still a great coincidence. I guess I've ended on a teleport a couple times in this story already. It just makes for a natural break in the action!

    Sike Saner

    Well, Mewtwo does have something to do with it, but not in the way I think most people are thinking, haha. And...

    Ooh, interesting thought! The protagonist doesn't use aura vision all that often, so who knows? Maybe it's getting worked up over nothing special, or maybe there wasn't anything there at all, in fact!

    Thanks for reviewing! I'm glad you thought the atmosphere here was good. I actually turned the creepiness down a notch because I thought it was laid on a bit thick in the initial draft, so it's good to know that I didn't end up just neutering it.
  19. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Name's Adam.

    Okay, this will be my overview of the entire story so far, but I’m not trying to make this a mega review as much as I’m trying to summarize everything, at least what managed to stick out to me anyway. Not every paragraph will be representing a chapter however, because I forgot to number my notes. Without any further ado, let’s carry on.

    The first thing I want to talk about is the main protagonist. Throughout this review, I’ll be referring to them using neutral pronouns or just mc for short. With that out of the way, I just want to say that my first impressions were that we have ourselves an mc who’s overpowered, sociopathic, selfish, has a superiority complex, an adamant self-righteousness, short fused, disrespectful, all around creepy and other times obnoxious. Never have I read or watched something that I’ll be rooting so hard against the mc since I watched DeathNote anime. It’s not hard to see why. The way you wrote their character isn’t bad per se, but you’re really doing a great job of making me ironically hate their guts.

    Chapter Overviews​

    One thing I want to say is that I certainly did not like how Mc practically forced Titan to obey, nor did I like how Mc kept insisting that they were Garret. Is it a fetish or an obsession, or just plain psychotic? Hard to say. But to steal someone’s identity and still strongly insist that you’re them to the point of deceiving yourself to believe that lie is just… interesting, for lack of a better word. Makes you really wonder what the philosophy behind such behavior is. Is Mc inspired by someone else, or are you trying to teach your readers what would happen if someone with the mentality of an 8 year old had the most powerful ability in the world and how they’d use this. I would like to know for sure.

    What will I be if I didn’t mention that whole pokedex stuck in the pc scene. I won’t lie to you, I did not feel any pity at all for Mc. I was like ‘That’s what you get!’ but I was shocked and confused when they broke the thing and pulled it out. I was just thinking, ‘Couldn’t you have opted for a… better solution?’. Let’s not forget the part they were crying like a baby to Absol and saying that they wanted to go kill someone at the same time. I don’t know if you wanted to make it a touching, but it was nothing but creepy and off putting, at least not in a bad way.

    As for that Cop dad, Kerrigan was his name? I was really rooting for him. I thought we finally had our antagonist to the hero—I mean… er… protagonist. I assumed a good part of the story will be a game of cat and mouse between them, especially after he pulled off that scheme with the pokedex freezing. Boy! Did my hatred for Mc sky rocket ever greatly when they posed as the man’s son, spat in his face and crushed his spirit, and then left with no remorse. You really do a good job at making me feel no empathy for Mc, don’t you? I was disappointed that Kerrigan didn’t appear much for the next several chapters after this one. Kinda a bummer really.

    The Great Nathaniel Morgan was easily the best character you’ve introduced into this story. The way both he and mc are messed up, yet contrast heavily with each other is simply a delight. His interactions and dialogue are always very fun to read and I can’t help but feel that you have more fun writing him the most. I wonder what he’s overarching role is though, and why Absol wants to keep him alive. Whatever it is, I am eager to find out real soon! Now we have a rocket grunt and a killer mutant travelling together. What could possibly go wrong?

    Mc’s gym battle against Blaine was very interesting for both the reader and the characters, especially mc themselves. They are taught the hard way not to underestimate gym leaders—I doubt they learned anything though, being self-righteous and all— and it was very arrogant of them to think they could win with just one pokemon. Personally, I was hoping that Mc would lose the match so they could reflect over some things and learn. Sadly, they won because Titan went Super Saiyan RAGE!!! I understand though, the story had to move along without taking any breaks. That being said, it doesn’t really matter.

    Ha! The salt was real when Mc lost that battle against Nathaniel, even though they went back on their word right after the battle. Goes to show how helpless a raticate is when you just leave them hanging around away from your face. The battle also proves how little Mc know about battle tactics. They’re like a noob trainer on smogon who goes with all legends, only teaches them offensive moves and doesn’t give them any items. What irked me the most was how they refused to acknowledge their loss and just continued to be a brat about it. Man! I really don’t like Mc. Someone needs to teach them a lesson. Where’s Kerrigan when you need him?

    Before I go on, I want to point out a few things I learned from reading that backstory chapter. If I’m being honest with you, I could not concentrate on it at all. At first, I thought that maybe it was too expositional or something, but I soon found out that the reason I skipped most of it was because I was only interested in knowing how they met Mewtwo at the time, and not their entire backstory. I can’t say I’m no culprit to this either because I did something similar with a flashback in my previous chapter, one most people thought felt dry or uninteresting. That got me thinking, maybe it’s not such a good idea when you highlight a fact about someone’s past (their relation to Mewtwo in this case) and then give their entire backstory after. Readers are already too anxious to know the highlighted fact that the longer the backstory is, the more tempted they’d be to just skip half of it. But I digress, maybe it’s just me after all. As for what I read, how come Mew giving the mc a literal piece of her to keep her alive cause the mc to become stronger than Mew will ever be? Is there even a limit to how strong Mc can become? From what I’ve seen so far, hardly.

    The Gym battle with blue was sort of anticlimactic. The battle itself was fine, the choreography was splendid and the dialogue was adequate, but the way it ended left me wanting more. And Mc sure is a hypocrite and they know it. Calls someone a cheat and then cheats to win a badge the next goddamn day! Worst part is that they keep using their self-entitled ‘Mission’ as an excuse for every wrongdoing and every ill-advised decision they make. I really hope that when they do find Mew, she’d just look at them with disgust at what she’s turned them into. Wouldn’t blame her if she does really. That’s cause and effect for you, but I’m sure that’s not going to happen.

    The part where Nathaniel sold Mc out was the most Top Ten Anime Betrayals betrayal chapter I’ve ever seen. Normally, I’d be rooting for the good guys to win this one and defeat Team Rocket! Unfortunately, there weren’t any good guys in this battle. No morally ambiguous folk, no antiheroes, just bad guys fighting a sociopathic demon. I honestly rooted for Team Rocket though, I just want to see someone prove to Mc that they aren’t infallible or the ‘chosen one with a mission’ they think they are.

    Rats finally gave Mc a much-needed scolding about their actions, and I can’t say I’m not siding with the Raticate. I was kind of disappointed that they still didn’t learn anything from it. They still think they’re in the right, that Rats’ the one who’s wrong about them. What would it take to have Mc listen and or learn at this point? If their friend can’t do it, I don’t expect them to change their perspectives any time soon. Which is ironic because we learn that Mc has the power to change their brain structure to change the way they think (Can Mew even do that?) and yet they’re somehow always a dickhead all the time.

    Next chapter has Mewtwo going on a total KILLING SPREE!!! I mean, really, I know Mewtwo is a powerful pokemon and all, but this is just overkill. How in the world did Red even stand a chance against this monster? I honestly can’t picture anything standing against him and not winding up dead, the way you made him that powerful. To be fair to you, Psychic types are inherently broken. If you follow their concept strictly, they’re bound to become unstoppable anyway.


    Okay, on a serious note now, is Mc being serious? Okay, yeah, I know they’re serious, but come on! They have no right to call anyone evil! Not when they’re so oppressive, cold, uncaring, egotistical. I want someone to flat out tell them that they’re no child, just a demon spawned from hell below. Hnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggg I need a minute to calm down. Just… Okay, I think I’m good now. Poor Nathaniel, he’s been put on a leash by these demons yet again. Wonder how he gets out of this one. Aside from Kerrigan, who still hasn’t shown up again, he’s the only other character I actually care about. No doubt he’s also an *******, but he’s an ******* in a likable way. I hope he continues to be a prick under Mc’s foot.

    I wonder why you made healing to cause Nate to lose so much weight each time it’s used on him. It’s kind of counterproductive, don’t you think? I’m sure you’ve mentioned the reason somewhere and I just wasn’t paying much attention to catch up on it. Still, this dude’s just keeps suffering that I can’t help but feel bad for him despite his history with Team Rocket. Mc and Mewtwo sure have mommy issues, though technically, Mewtwo is the only son Mew gave birth to, Mc excluded.

    Oh boy, that plan sure worked wonderfully well, didn’t it? You know what they say, if the plan goes off the rails, you throw away the plan. Mc continues to be an idiot for not even assuming that TR would have a secret code of verification in case they had spies in their ranks. I wonder why mc was afraid of that old lady (her sableye is creepy tho) when she can trump any human or pokemon in a fight. When **** went crazy, Mewtwo got captured by Sabrina the teenage witch (Sorry, I just had to) and Mc stole a computer, a computer she would leave in the wilderness which will probably make it less than functional once they go back to retrieve it.

    One thing I wasn’t expecting was that Nate actually cared about his pokemon that much. It was something I wasn’t expecting, considering his personality. It was kind of heartwarming seeing him reunite with them, though their journey to the hospital only added more to my distaste for Mc. They think they’re always in the right even when it’s blatantly obvious they’re not. It’s a bit worrying that Mc has yet to experience any major character growth even at this point. I’m hoping you’ll rectify that soon enough. It’s hard to keep reading about someone’s journey when you can’t feel anything for them but irritation.

    I would be celebrating Nate’s pokemon beating the **** out of Mc if I didn’t remember that they totally let them win. It’s like watching any villain beating Superman. You know he’s holding back the whole time, so seeing him get beaten will only evoke a mild ‘eh’. I did feel bad for Absol though, it was very irrational for Mightyena to attack her out of nowhere. Seriously though, I was expecting Absol to be much stronger than that, given the heaviness of her presence whenever she’s actually around. Oh well, we can’t all be an invincible, shapeshifting sociopath, can we? I still feel nothing for Mc.

    The first battle against The Awesome One Time Appearance Alice was a blast! Even in the brief time it was active, that Raichu had plenty of personality. I almost wish the story was about Alice, but that’s another story entirely, we have our Mc already. Kinda disappointed at Mc for feeling the need to cheat, despite getting furious that people used clear strategies against her which they saw as ‘cheating’.

    And I can’t believe what Mc did to that poor kid. I mean… just… ahem! I need to take a glass of water. There we go. So, when Nate accuses them for doing that messed up garbage, they retort by saying he’d do the same. Look, Freak, just because someone is a criminal who steals for a living, doesn’t mean all their words are hollow. Even the worst of people ought to be listened to as long as they’re making sense. Anywho, we now know that Sableye is keeping tabs on Mc for Team Rocket I suppose. I can’t wait to see where this is all leading up to.

    Mc tries to imitate Titan by going berserk mode in their own battle. Honestly, it was just a pidgeot and yet they couldn’t trust Nate to be able to hold up on his own. I wonder what I was expecting from a cocky, egotistical mutant of nature who doesn’t know the first thing about Strategy in battling. They might have as well gone all the way and gone incredible hulk on all the opponent’s pokemon. And out friend, the creepy Eskarr, returns with a brand-new deal to the table. I’m sure Mc wont bat an eye to stab a knife in Nate’s back as payback.

    Absol, after a long period of disapproval, finally decides to join the team and fight. Not like she had many options to choose from anyway. Joining the league seemed to be the most reliable way to lure Mewtwo out. Luck finally ran out for Nate with the cops finally figuring out that he stole his pokedex. Seriously, is there anything on this guy that wasn’t stolen from somewhere? This has Kerrigan’s fingerprints all over it. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

    I was right! Kerrigan was behind it all along! I was wondering when you were going to bring him back into the game and now he’s finally here. At last! Someone who can bring Mc dow—aaaaaaaand Kerrigan’s out of the game already. Who am I kidding, I knew this would happen from the very beginning with Mc always having their way and other always suffering the consequences for them. Seriously, karma never seems to catch up to Mc that it almost seems super unfair. I’m not saying I want the Mc dead, I just want an opposition to their goal that’s not either a pushover or hardly a threat.

    There are so many pokemon using Surf and Earthquake in this fic that I almost forgot there were other options to choose from. And Nate had the great luck of going up against a Smogon Stall Player with a bunch of fossils and a literal glacier turtle. Honestly, I was expecting Mc to just up and cheat this time as well. Nate practically rage quitted the battle and I laughed my *** off when that chansey gave mc a slap on the face. Slaps for the win.

    So, Kerrigan is alive, I guess, but he’s just a sitting duck now. It won’t really change much whether he shows up or not in the future since there’s little he can do to help nor deter our ‘beloved’ Mc. It’s revealed to us that Nate has stage fright, which is interesting to say the least. It explains some of his erratic behavior in the previous match and I hope he finds a way to defeat his fears. Mc is still planning on betraying Nate and at this point I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I just hope he’ll be prepared for when that happens.

    Nope! Nate still has anxiety and stage fright, forcing Mc to just go ahead and jump into the field when he keeps freezing in his pants. I was super taken aback when Mc threw that Sunny Day into the bastoise’s cannon. That was crazy! And it worked! Even with that, Bastoise managed to tear open a fissure in the ground which then forced Mc to cheat in order to get back to the surface. Even though they were taken down by Electivire eventually, Nate still managed to win against the academy girl. I’m sure Mc will regret not listening to Absol soon enough, because I sure as hell don’t trust that sableye either.

    Just now noticing the fact that there were no Elite Four Battles in this tournament. I wonder what that’s all about, but I’m sure it’s so the arc can get over with already. Even though Nate figures out that the sableye was the one he’s boss was using, he doesn’t consider the possibility that Mc’s deal involved him getting sold out. Heck, I’m surprised he even believed Mc either. I sure as hell wouldn’t. It was a nice moment of character growth for Nate when we saw him contemplating his options for the future, but I was disappointed in him when he decided he’d just keep being a criminal instead. Old habits die hard I suppose.

    The plan for Mc to just go no holds barred in their battle against Red was a good plan, but it shows the biggest flaw with any battle with Mc. Like I may have said before, it’s hard to be invested in a battle when you know one of the combatants is an unbeatable force. Mc’s shapeshifting capabilities are simply too broken for anything to be a real danger to them. I don’t think switching abilities without changing the pokemon as well should even be possible since most special abilities are tied to the pokemon’s biology eg a garchomp with rough skin. Mc could even beat Mewtwo by just transforming into a legendary pokemon or something, a thing I’m very positive they’re able to do. There are simply no noticeable thresholds to Mc’s power, and I doubt that’s something that can be changed now.

    Overviews end here​

    That’s all I have to say concerning what stuck out to me in the chapters.

    My general consensus for the story is that it’s very good. The battles are never boring and manage to keep your adrenaline going. Most of the characters are very intriguing and rightly varied in their roles. If anything, Mc is the only thing I can say is wrong with this story. Everything else is either great or just above average and decent. I dare say it’s as close as it can get to a masterpiece.
  20. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    DreamSayer: My response makes this post go over the character limit. I'm putting it in the next post instead.

    Author's Notes: It's on time for once! Which may have to do with this being the shortest chapter in a while, although it's far from tiny. I'm hoping to turn the next chapter around in a similar amount of time, too. For now, though, I hope you enjoy Chapter 33!

    Chapter 33

    You reappear a second later on the plateau, trading packed and roaring stands for empty, silent distance. Eskar's here, just like she said she would be. The sableye perches on a rock beside the black-glass lake at your training spot, a dark mirror for the feathery clouds high overhead. You nearly groan at the sight of her, slumping with exhaustion. This isn't over yet.

    "Okay," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, sparing no more than a cursory glance for the dusty rocks around him, "Okay. Ask the damn clone where Steelix is, and then I'll get the hell out of here."

    Steelix? Mewtwo says in his tiny captive's voice, and you tense, expecting him to give you away. You don't even know why--why, other than the embarrassment of being caught in a lie--why it should matter. Why you should care. It's not like it'll make a difference either way.

    But Mewtwo sees the whole situation written in your thoughts, comprehends it in under a second and replies, Oh, one of your precious slaves, is that it? Mixed in with this creature's? How terrible that you lost him. I can't imagine why you'd expect me to help you get him back.

    "We fucking saved your worthless ass, you cocksucking son of a bitch," the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls.

    I suppose, Mewtwo says blithely. But I seem to recall that the creature here once saved your life, and afterwards you were adamant that you owed it nothing. Can you explain how this situation is different? Is it because this time it's you who stands to gain?

    "It's different because you're a lousy fuck who fucking stole from me! No bullshit! Where is he?"

    You laugh but hardly get the chance to enjoy the great Nathaniel Morgan's frustration before Eskar speaks up. "Hello, Lazurite-eyes. Could you spare a moment for old Eskar?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan can't understand the words, but he must recognize the sibilant voice. He spins around with his hand already going to his belt, but it's no good; his pokémon are all fainted. Eskar's smile glitters up at him, dazzling in the late afternoon sunlight.

    "Fuck!" the great Nathaniel Morgan spits, turning a furious look on you. "You bastard!" And he starts to run, even though he must know it's pointless.

    Eskar doesn't even move. A thin black ribbon of shadow stabs up from the ground under the great Nathaniel Morgan's shoes, wraps around one leg, and pulls him down hard. Before he can try to stand it's stretched and slithered up his side, wrapping him in bands of darkness ankles up to shoulders. Only his head stays free, and he thrashes it around for all the good it does him, rocking slightly side to side.

    Eskar hops down and saunters over to him, unhurried, while he spits vicious curses and struggles twice as hard, to no obvious effect. "Shhh," the sableye purrs, putting a hand on the great Nathaniel Morgan's neck. He stops moving immediately, eyes rolled way down sideways to try and see what she's doing. Eskar strokes the vein standing out on the side of his neck, smiling her widest smile.

    "Eskar," you say, and when she doesn't reply, "Eskar!"

    "Careful, careful, Lazurite-eyes. Shouldn't move too much. Wouldn't want me to slip." She moves her claw lightly back and forth across the great Nathaniel Morgan's neck. "Very quick. Very messy. But not much fun, hmmm?" She lays her other hand down on the great Nathaniel Morgan's face, claws resting casually to either side of one eye like they just landed there by chance. You can hear the great Nathaniel Morgan hyperventilating from where you stand, see him trembling in his cocoon of shadows. "Eskar!"

    "Hmmm?" She makes a slow, exaggerated show of turning towards you, in the process dragging her claws through the orbit below the great Nathaniel Morgan's eye. You grit your teeth against his scream, and Eskar holds up her blood-soaked claw, staring at it as though shocked. "Cordierite-eyes! Oh, but look at what you made me do!"

    "Are we done?" you ask. "You wanted him, you got him. If that's all, I'm leaving."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan opens tearing eyes and blinks rapidly. It takes him a moment to realize he's still got both of them, and then he slumps against the ground in exhausted relief, breath coming hard and ragged. Blood wells slowly down the side of his face.

    "Oh, no, no, no," Eskar chirrs. "No, no! Stay awhile, yes? Let's talk, just us friends." She smiles brightly.

    "I don't have long, Eskar. What do you want to talk about?"

    "Oh, I don't know. This and that. Little things. Eyes." Her own sparkle as she cocks her head. "Perhaps you have some more to give me?"

    "Goodbye, Eskar." You turn to go. And don't.

    "I think you should stay, Cordierite-eyes."

    There's something holding you back. You think immediately of Leonard Kerrigan, think wildly that he must be here somehow, that he's been working with Eskar all along. You don't see him, though, and after a moment's panic you sternly remind yourself that Team Rocket could easily have bought a teleport-blocker like he did. But where is it?

    You try to teleport again. Still nothing.

    Your fingers tighten around Mewtwo's master ball. "Eskar," you say. "I want to leave now. If you keep trying to stop me..." You raise the ball so she can see.

    "No!" There's no way the great Nathaniel Morgan knows what you said, but the gesture's clear enough. "Don't let him out!"

    "Oh? Well, we would love to meet one so famous, oh, yes indeed, but--" Eskar pelts towards you, claws out, and makes a startling leap. You cringe away, and she lands on you in the moment her fake out provides, climbing up your side, out along your arm to your hand. She grabs the master ball and tries to wrench it from your grip. It doesn't budge.

    Eskar struggles and fumes, chittering in irritation as she twists and tugs. The master ball refuses to come loose, almost as though it were bound in place by a sticky hold--one you might have just put there, say.

    You raise your arm so Eskar's level with your face, and she turns a broad, innocent smile into your glare. "Ah, Cordierite-eyes!" she says without a single trace of shame. "So suspicious! So suspicious of your friend."

    You tighten your grip on the master ball, thumb over the button.

    "Don't do it! Don't you fucking dare! He's going to fucking murder people, you know you can't stop him, don't--"

    You press the master ball's button. White light spills out, rising, growing into Mewtwo's lanky shape. Then the clone's standing there in full, stretching and rolling his shoulders. But there's something wrong. He's alone, not accompanied by the sizzling power of his psychic field, his looming less ominous without the feeling of incipient headache to back it up. You see him realize, too, head turning sharply side to side as if looking for someone he expected to be right by his side.

    There must be a psychic damper somewhere. That would have stopped your teleport, too. Your chest tightens with unease, but even if Mewtwo doesn't have his psychic abilities, what can Eskar hope to do to him?

    Mewtwo holds his hand out to you, and after a couple seconds of confusion you pass the master ball over to him. He wraps it carefully in a coil of his tail, and then he turns his gaze on Eskar.

    "Hello, Amethyst-eyes," she says in her most innocent voice.

    Mewtwo lunges and grabs her, his hand glowing with the beginnings of a fire punch. The energy flames form a buffer between him and Eskar so the ghost doesn't slip between his fingers. Mewtwo keeps the fire going and raises Eskar to eye level.

    "Rocket scum," he says in a weirdly high-pitched voice, much too young for his tall and muscled body. The words come out slurred, with a strange singsong cadence, and you realize this is the first time you've heard him make a sound. "Betrayer of your kind. I won't let you stop me."

    Eskar smiles despite the flames blackening her ectoplasm. "It's an honor to meet you, Amethyst-eyes," she says, "but Eskar's not the one you should be worrying about, oh no indeed."

    And then there's people all around, crowded in close for a mass teleport. You let out a nervous hiss, and somewhere near ground level the great Nathaniel Morgan breathes a quiet curse. Even Mewtwo stops to stare, allowing Eskar to slip free with shadow sneak, rematerializing at her trainer's feet.

    "Mewtwo," the boss starts, but she's cut off by a rattling noise from the clone, what you realize is supposed to be a roar. Mewtwo charges, and a ripple passes through the assembled Rockets as people break formation and scramble away. Even Rockets standing shoulder to shoulder with the boss, who must be admins or other high ranks, shift and maybe shuffle back. Only the boss herself remains completely still, staring straight at Mewtwo as he barrels towards her.

    Pokémon take shape in front of her from hastily-thrown pokéballs. A rhydon is the first to step into Mewtwo's path, and the clone hits him with a rock-shattering uppercut, then sweeps out with his tail to knock the legs out from under a hitmonchan creeping up behind. You watch, mesmerized, as Mewtwo battles like a normal pokémon, without the power of his mind to brush aside everything in his path.

    That reminds you: the psychic damper. You have to find it and destroy it, and then you can get away. Now, where is--

    A blast of freezing water puts an end to that thought, and you turn, already launching a thunderbolt at whoever's behind you. An arbok rears back, hissing, and the tentacool riding with tentacles knotted under the snake's chin convulses with a pained gurgle. More pokémon press in behind them, grimer and pinsir and golbat and at least a dozen others. You back up, gathering energy between your hands, and glance at the sky. You can't teleport, but you could fly, and surely Mewtwo will be able to take care of himself.

    But you can't lose him again, can't take off knowing that once he's done here he'll probably fly away somewhere and leave you to chase after him again. For a few seconds you try to convince yourself that you can run away and not look back and everything will work out fine.

    You can't, though, and you know it.

    You throw a blinding mirror shot into the middle of the advancing pokémon and race towards Mewtwo, ducking under a tauros hurled by one of the clone's attacks. He's a purple blur amidst a jostling mass of pokémon, lashing out with all five appendages, ducking and sidestepping projectiles without breaking stride. He's not as fast without his psychic abilities to augment his movements, much worse at dodging without being able to read the intents of his opponents, but he's still one of the strongest pokémon in the world. He drives the pokémon back with a wide-flung rock slide, then knocks a lickitung to the ground with a backhand strong enough to crack concrete.

    You struggle forward, yelling for him to stop, to get back in the master ball so you can grab it and leave. Mewtwo doesn't slow down for a second, and your own opponents have caught up, closing ranks on you in a whirl of tearing claws and glowing streamers of energy.

    You knock a fearow out of the air with an ice beam, break the ensnaring vines of a weepinbell with a flamethrower. But there's a sandshrew crawling on your back, digging in stubby claws, and a venomoth making your eyes water with wave after wave of poison powder. No matter how many you knock down there are always more pressing in. There must be fifty, sixty Rockets here, and how many pokémon with them?

    You kick aside a hissing persian you could swear you already knocked out, and with a horrified cold sinking realize that the Rockets can just heal up their fainted pokémon and send them back in. You stop fighting towards Mewtwo and start struggling to get away, but they're all over you now and holding you back with their very bodies.

    There's another shaky roar from Mewtwo, and through the chaos you see him turn, snatching at a purple-black and sparkling shadow. Eskar holds the master ball up over her head, cackling as she disappears into the press of limbs, tails, and tentacles around Mewtwo. The clone charges after, but the pokémon close ranks around him, and he can't fell them fast enough to catch up with Eskar. She scurries up to the boss, climbing cane and arm and coming to rest on shoulder, dropping the master ball into her trainer's hand.

    The boss flips the ball open, unhurried, like she doesn't notice Mewtwo howling in her peripheral vision, bodily lifting the nidoqueen in front of him and throwing her aside. "Subdue the transforming creature," the boss says. A knife appears in her hand, a slender, elegant thing you don't waste time admiring.

    You throw yourself forward, hoping impossible speed will let you break out of the pack. But there are so many they obstruct you by blind luck alone, so you trip over tails and knock down oblivious pokémon, slowed enough that those with high-speed attacks can grab you. They drag you down bodily, and you thrash half-formed wings, because maybe if you can get airborne--there aren't as many that can fly, they--pokémon pile atop you from all sides. You kick, and struggle, and still the weight increases, crushing you against the rocky surface of the plateau. You can only fight so long and finally lie still, resolving to save your strength, to use this respite to heal and recover energy. And change--slowly, subtly growing more feathers, arms shifting ever more towards wings.

    Forced to lie still and listen, you finally notice the noises.

    Nothing stands between Mewtwo and the boss now, but he isn't standing, either, crouched on all fours with his head down. He makes an awful screeching sound, back arching in pain and seizing muscles showing all down his body. You wince and dull your hearing a bit, one eye tight shut while you watch the boss probe the inside of the master ball with her knife. She pauses a moment, and Mewtwo slumps forward, making funny whining noises, like a kitten that hasn't properly learned how to meow. But as soon as he raises his head, fangs showing in a snarl and muscles bunching to lunge, the boss makes a flicking motion with the knife and he's cowering again.

    "More effective than I expected," the boss says mildly. "Return." And in a flash of red light Mewtwo's gone. The master ball in the boss' hand clicks shut, and she holds it casually, like it doesn't contain one of the most powerful pokémon in the world. "Now what, exactly, is that noise?"

    By rights you should have heard it long before any human, but Mewtwo's screams distracted you somehow. No question what it is--airships, headed this way. It takes a few seconds for a Rocket to push through from near the back of the group, and she stands a moment looking flustered under the eyes of what must be top executives. "League contingent," she gasps. "Big one. Should be here in five minutes, maybe a couple more."

    "The League?" the boss says in a deadly mild tone. "I was made to understand the League would be occupied elsewhere this morning." She taps one finger on the top of her cane and turns her head to look at Eskar on her shoulder.

    The sableye sits bolt upright, hissing a cascade of quick, vicious invective. You catch something about "backstabby humans" and "last-minute changes," but that's all. The boss doesn't even try to make sense of it. She leans heavily on her cane, glacially serene as she says, "We're done here. Get that other thing ready for transport. Chang, stand ready with Morgan. Start sending back the assault squads, but retain the sixth and twelfth in case we need to delay the League."

    The Rockets come alive, recalling pokémon and clotting in small groups around people calling orders. A primeape comes towards you with a jumble of metal objects in her arms. You can't identify any of them, but you can guess what they're for. You grit your teeth and shift to get your limbs under you, tense and ready to move.

    "Okay, okay, let's move out of the way, here," the primeape grunts. "Left arm first." There's a disorderly shifting among the pokémon holding you down, and you wince as someone's claws dig into the small of your back. Finally your left arm's exposed. The primeape sets her burden down with a clatter and chooses one piece, a metal ring like a handcuff but not connected to anything.

    You watch her from the corner of your eye and put up only a token resistance when she grabs your arm. Don't let her know how much strength you have left, and when you see your moment, make it count...

    The primeape slips the cuff around your wrist, cold against your skin, and you shift uneasily, not sure whether you should let her lock it on. You want her to think you're completely defeated so she'll let her guard down, but who knows what that thing might do?

    The primeape pauses while fiddling with the ring's catch, snuffling faintly through her piggy nose and turning her whole body to look at something off to the side. You turn your head, too, towards a flicker of movement in your peripheral vision. For a second you're confused: how is Absol here--is that your Absol?

    It is, and she must have arrived the way she always does, stepping out of a shadow in front of all these Rockets. She sweeps up to the boss, blade flashing in the sunlight. Somehow she twists her head sharply and catches the master ball as it falls from the boss' fingers, all without breaking stride. Another two steps and she's vanished into darkness again. The whole group of executives is left staring at the boss' empty hand in a clear-edged moment of stillness filled by the drone of approaching ships.

    "Find it," the boss hisses, pressing her bleeding wrist against her chest. Shouts go up from all directions, and the pokémon around you thin out as those who can walk the dark ways disappear. The primeape's still watching the boss. You wrench one wing forward with all the strength you can muster and punch her in the face, so hard she shoots backwards and bounces on landing. You shake yourself, thrashing both wings and rising to a crouch as surprised pokémon scatter, then release a blistering overheat that sends most of the remainder running. With a few heavy flaps, you're airborne.

    You have a few blessed seconds of free air before anyone realizes what's happening, and you spend them accelerating as hard as you can, throwing yourself into an extreme speed straight up. At the peak of the attack you try to teleport again, but it's as though you're only human, closing your eyes and wishing hard to be away. The world stays resolutely as it is. And now you have to spread your wings, actually catch the air instead of relying on momentum, and throw up a protect against the first volley of attacks. Aura spheres and ice beams and crackling streams of lightning race up from below, from above, from all sides as Team Rocket's fighters rally against you.

    You spend as little time actually flying as you can, zigzagging in one quick attack after another, higher and higher, trusting speed alone to carry you away from most of the attacks. You grunt as an aura sphere hits you between the shoulder blades, a magnet bomb knocking the air out of you a second later. And then they're on you, flying pokémon swarming the air so thick you can't beat your wings without striking one. You scatter them with a burst of shock wave, all except a gliscor who only takes that opportunity to slice half the feathers off your right wing. You fire an ice beam in her face and let yourself tumble while you grow new feathers in their place, catching half-second whirls of the sky, the distant massing of League forces, the swarming Rockets below, and at their edge, the great Nathaniel Morgan, hands cuffed behind his back and face turned towards the sky, watching you leave him behind.

    You catch air again and break away upwards, spiraling around a diving pidgeotto, outracing a climbing fearow, up and up until a thunderbolt stalls you out. You fire back as soon as your vision clears, more lightning, more ice, heat wave and razor leaf until the air around you is empty and you can climb once more. You try to teleport, so hard you feel like you're going to go cross-eyed, but the world refuses to dissolve.

    You're up high, now, so high that you don't have to worry about attacks from the ground, even aura spheres falling apart before they can reach you. Team Rocket is nothing more than a dark patch of ants, and the great Nathaniel Morgan's given up on watching you, staring at the ground instead. He probably can't even tell which whirling shape is you anymore, with those inadequate human eyes of his. But even this high isn't high enough, because when you try to think yourself away you stay, and stay, and you rise and rise but the other pokémon are gathering again, swirling up from below.

    You cast a frantic look farther out, and yes, there they are: the psychic dampers, or at least some mechanical devices on tripods, set up in a broad ring around the place where you met Eskar, tucked away behind rock piles and outcroppings so they're hard to see from the ground. They must be much more powerful than the ones they used back on Cinnabar, if their effects reach you even up here.

    The mass of Rockets down below shrinks as groups teleport away, somehow shielded from the effects of their own dampers, but there's still enough left, to rally the fliers, to heal them and send them back at you again and again. One Rocket's dragging the great Nathaniel Morgan off, probably to take him away, too, and he's not even making them work very hard at it.

    Your vision whites out, then comes back in a sudden grainy rush, and you smell chlorine. When the pain catches up to you you realize that the gliscor got you on the forehead as she sped past in a quick attack, and then the warm rush of blood starts trickling down your face. You swat the gliscor aside with a burst of wind, but there's a noctowl hurrying after her, and then, to your irritation more than anything, a pidgey you shoot down with a jolt of electricity that could hardly be called an attack.

    There's no way you can win this battle, and trying is only going to tire you out. You spin out a whirlwind of air, battering away the flying-types closing in on you. The roar of approaching vehicles is growing ever louder, and maybe if you can hold out long enough for the League to arrive, Team Rocket will have to pack up and leave without you. On the other hand, you're not sure you really want to meet one of the League's enforcement squads, either.

    You take another glance at the psychic dampers, trying to memorize where they are. In another second the Rocket pokémon will be on you, laboring against unfavorable winds to attack with teeth and claws or energy beams and flame, but you allow yourself a moment nonetheless, just one moment to feel the fatigue of this crazy scramble-fight right after the terror and exertion of the championship, one moment to resent the unfairness of it all, one moment to feel more tired yet at the thought of what comes next. Then you tuck your arms tight to your body and dive.

    You plunge between pokémon still rising to meet you, scattering them in confused whorls and tatters. Some might recover and come diving after, but you can't turn back to look, hardly care anyway. The ground seems to zoom towards you like in a dramatic camera shot, and now you can easily read the puzzled expressions on Rocket faces turned up towards you. The red earth races closer, and at the last second you flip over, pull out of your dive and land hard, a shock of seismic energy radiating from the point of impact.

    You let yourself fall to you knees while the ground around you groans and buckles, deep fissures snaking across the rocks as the earthquake shudders up to full strength. Ignoring both the Rockets' screams and the ground-bound pokémon they send to attack you, you dig your fingers into the sparse dirt, clutching tight and reaching deep, feeling the sluggish churn of magma far below. It takes some finesse to direct the rising tide of molten rock, make sure it encompasses the full ring of dampers, but it's not like you need to be careful about only hitting them, not anything else. Well--only a little careful.

    A few seconds later you're rewarded by another great heave from the earth, an explosive roar as rock buckles away upward and lava jets high into the air. The ring of burning rock turns the air scorching and wakes renewed screaming among the Rockets unlucky enough to still be around. You leap into the air just in time to avoid the powerful swipe of a tyranitar, flap heavily to gain height, and take a brief look around to confirm that, yes, the psychic dampers have disappeared into the tephra. Only one thing left to do.

    Another dive, and your braking wingbeats accidentally clobber the Rocket who was hauling the great Nathaniel Morgan away over the head. The man goes down, and your target yelps in surprise as taloned feet close around his midriff and haul him into the air. He's lighter than the last time you had to carry him this way, but so much squirmier. It's like he wants you to drop him. Fortunately you only need a second to spread your wings, concentrate, and teleport at last.

    Or don't.

    Now, finally, panic takes hold, somehow soaking your laden body with even more adrenaline. You clench your claws tighter by reflex, to the great Nathaniel Morgan's vocal displeasure. No, you got rid of the dampers. Are there more? How can there be more? You must have messed up. Maybe they were shielded somehow, you think despairingly, heavy-duty. If one or all or some are left still pumping their weird energy waves into the air, then you're stuck here, and again the pokémon are gathering. They'll be on you soon. Should have just kept climbing. The dampers could never reach all the way into the sky. Now you're as doomed as the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    A stabbing pain in your leg makes you roar and get moving again, taking off in no direction in particular in a labored hammering of wings. Twisting around you catch sight of Eskar clinging to your leg, claws sunk deep and blood welling up. You wrench around in the air, trying to kick her off, but all that does is bring you into the path of a croconaw's hydro pump and cause discomfort for your passenger.

    The sableye works her way up your leg, dragging her claws through your flesh as she goes. You flutter erratically, trying to kick her away without dropping the great Nathaniel Morgan. She hangs on with vicious determination, and you falter as a blast of poison needles hits you, courtesy of a beedrill diving from above. Not long now before you're trapped in a horde of enemies again. You grit your teeth, and your lips bulge out around them, your face lighting up in pain as you force bone out and ever outward, skin keratinizing, forming a hooked sort of protuberance jutting from your face. You duck your head, rooting with misshapen, makeshift beak through the fur on your chest, which is distorted by reconfigured muscle and bone but still has the colors of an infernape stretched across it. You beak clacks against something hard, and you pull the gemstone free and let it drop, spinning through the air towards Eskar.

    The sableye catches the glint of sunlight off polished stone and reaches out to grab it, letting go of your leg in the process. You give an huge kick, and the great Nathaniel Morgan manages to swat her with a flailing arm, and you're free of the sableye at last, angling up into the air.

    So there it was, you think grimly, your one favor from Team Rocket. Eskar was as good as her word after all. And now, you fly.

    You leave everything behind, the pain shooting up your mangled leg, the great Nathaniel Morgan's weight dragging you to the earth, all the useless thoughts of what if the full damper field is still there, what if it's more than a couple flickering devices left, what if you can never get past their range. You discard everything, fear and thought and all of it that doesn't matter. All that's left is speed, every part of you straining forward towards the patch of clear blue ahead. You race towards it, mind and muscles both, the blue that grows narrower and narrower as dark shapes close in on all sides, start to pace you, start to pull ahead. Still you fly on, through burst of leaves and lightning and sick-making poison, reaching towards the blue ahead and the blue beyond that, the blue in your mind, endless rolling waves and zephyr skies of home, home, all your thoughts turned to reaching, reaching far away.

    A shadow dives for you, and you react without thinking, turn minutely so it falls away beside you. Something drags at one wing, tingling, burning, sends you wobbling, but you correct and keep going, not bothering to look for the source, not bothering with how the blue shrinks behind the shadows of more and more wings, how the weight gets heavier. No reason to worry about why you haven't jumped away from here yet, no reason to look back. All that matters now is speed and the blue in your mind, and you fly on straight, twist around shadows and duck under their claws but always move forward, always, always, even as shades grab your wings, sink claws into your sides, try to drag you back, back, but you can't think of them, have to keep flying forward, forward, nothing matters even if you are slowing, even if the weight is too much, even if there's blood in your eyes and you can't see the blue in front of you, you keep moving, keep straining, reaching for that other place.

    And then you're in it, sun dazzling from above and below at once, sky glaring almost painfully azure, the waves below flashing silver-white. Your mind crashes back into your body in a jumble of confused signals, wings spasming and the world spiraling end over end, blue above, blue below. You strain to make sense of it. The great Nathaniel Morgan's yelling helps, actually, gives you something to hang onto besides the abstract whirling of sea and sky. His weight drags you down, which means the other way must be up, and suddenly the world around you resolves into something ordered again, sky above, sea below, and you hanging in between. You steady yourself in the air, take a proper look around. This is the sea, and there is the shore--Cinnabar. You know where you are now, and this time take a moment to concentrate properly before teleporting again.

    When you reappear the ground's solid under you and the sky firmly overhead. You let the great Nathaniel Morgan fall, resulting in another yell and a plume of sand as he hits the ground at speed. You're too tired to try for a proper landing, too hurt to care about a few more scrapes and bruises. You plow into the beach, dragging a long furrow in the sand.

    Slowly you draw in splayed, disordered limbs, and start to feel properly again. There's not an inch of you that doesn't feel lacerated, burned, or acid-eaten. Your clawed left leg is a searing brand of pain as you drag it in close. It only gets worse when you start trying to get up, but then you realize--why? Why not just lie back and let the sun warm you, and worry about your injuries after you've rested a bit? You let your head fall back to the sand and your eyes droop half-closed, staring up into the sky while the last of the terrified energy ebbs from your body. The air's warm and full of the rattle of wind through palms, the crash and hiss of waves against shore, the great Nathaniel Morgan groaning somewhere nearby. There's nothing to worry about, nothing at all.

    After a while the great Nathaniel Morgan gathers himself and rolls sideways, getting up in awkward stages as he works around his handcuffed arms. When he's finally on his feet he stands gazing around at the jungle, the ocean, the wide golden stretch of sand arcing off in either direction, foamed around the edges where waves crash against knobbly piles of volcanic rock. Then he turns around and kicks you in the side.

    "What the fuck is this?" the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls. "Where the fuck are we, asshole? What, you decide Team Rocket ain't good enough, you'd rather drag me out here to finish me off yourself? Fuck! You!" He punctuates each word with a kick, and you grimace as they jar aching muscles and throbbing bruises. You snap your wing into the great Nathaniel Morgan's chest and knock him over on his side, but he's back up a second later, spitting sand and angrier than ever.

    "Oh, so that's how you want to play it, is it, you little fucker? You think I'm gonna just let you lie there after all that bullshit you tried to pull? I am going to fucking murder your--"

    But you let your eyes fall closed and with another thought are on your bed, in the cool dimness of your own room, the trees outside your window throwing shifting patches of light and shade across your ceiling. You sigh and drag yourself up to the head of the bed, hugging one pillow and curling comfortably atop another, reveling in blessed quiet. As you let your mind drift, muscles unknotting slowly, an image comes to you unbidden of the great Nathaniel Morgan stewing out on the beach, under his own personal storm cloud while the surf eats up the sand and the sun shines down from a perfectly clear sky. You smile to yourself as you sink into exhausted sleep. It feels like everything is just as it should be at last.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2017

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