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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Thanks, pacman000! Battles are some of my favorite things to write, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. There will be some longer ones later... in any case, no Titan's never had something quite like this happen to him before. He's a bit bewildered by it.

Author's Notes: This chapter changed substantially during revision. If you'd like, you can read the original version here

Chapter 4

Something bothers you about Cinnabar Island, something you can't put your finger on. Your friends rest exhausted in the pokéballs at your waist as you wander the hot, twisty streets, headed for the Pokémon Center. Not far away, perhaps, your water-bloated corpse rests at the bottom of Seafoam Caverns. That's not what's putting you on edge, though.

Maybe it's that this is where you died--that's kind of hard to overlook. But you had good memories here, too; it's more than just how your human life ended. There something off about this sunny little island, some kind of wrongness in the soil, maybe, something alien rolling on the waves. With everything that's happened in the last ten years, there's got to be some kind of curse on the place.

First there was the Mewtwo project, a perversion of nature that ended in flame and death as the slick research facility dominating the island's northwest corner went up in smoke. Then the riots, once the rest of the world found out what had really been going on, more fires, streets littered with abandoned cars and broken glass. And then, barely three years later, a quiet morning shattered by the volcano's explosive eruption, one no seismometer had seen coming.

You were there, actually, that very day, playing in the shallows and digging aimlessly in the sand. It was the first time you saw Absol do her appearing act, not even stepping from shadow like she normally does but suddenly just there, grabbing your arm in her teeth and dragging you into darkness even as the sand underneath you started to tremble. Not many people were lucky enough to have such a friend. Not many remain who can recount that fateful day, Gym Leader Blaine among them.

With a friend like Absol, it's hard not to be superstitious. Even if you weren't, you'd live with the knowledge that certain others are, and they take a personal interest in seeing karma's whims played out. But even if you weren't superstitious, you think you'd still be wary of spending a lot of time here on Cinnabar. The gym's back, reinstalled just above the volcano's fiery heart, and new resorts hog the shoreline. There's even a new lab. But so far, the people haven't followed; the streets are quiet, many of the storefronts up for lease, and the high-rises are draped in overly-exuberant banners advertising rooms still to be had.

You wander through the Pokémon Center's doors, lost in thought. You were a ball of nerves the first time you did this, standing paralyzed on the threshold with no idea what to do, but by now it's all routine. You hand over your pokéballs and idle by the desk, peering with interest at the Center computers. They're new, all shiny smooth plastic that won't last long under the tender care of eager young trainers. They appeared a few weeks ago, not long after you started training with Titan, and you haven't tried one out yet. Today, though, you need money, so you'll get to experience the wave of the future for yourself.

Once you get your pokémon back you choose a station and slide your pokédex into the slot. You don't even flinch when the machine razzes at you. You nearly had a heart attack the first time that happened, nearly blew your cover in the most dramatic way possible, but you're more experienced now. You lean closer to the screen, calm, unruffled, and read the error message. You're just Nicholas Garret, a no-name trainer who made a tiny mistake, of no interest to anyone.

But the message is not one you understand. "ERROR: Access Denied. This pokédex has been blacklisted. Please see the front desk for assistance." You'd expected it to tell you that you'd inserted the thing wrong. Annoyed, you press the "Pokédex Eject" button.

The machine buzzes again, and you almost jump in surprise. Another consultation with the screen gives you no new information. It's the same message staring back at you, hateful and red. You press the button again and grit your teeth as the machine lets out another loud, grating razz.

You're leave sweaty fingerprints on the keypad as you jam the button over and over again, the terminal's buzz droning in your ears and making your heart rate climb. Still the flashing error remains onscreen; still your pokédex stays locked in the depths of the machine. You growl and press down harder on the button, your eyes starting to blur with tears--

"Excuse me? Is something wrong?"

The nurse. The nurse. You spin around so fast she flinches back, staring at you with such shock that for a moment you fear you've lost control of your disguise. Your body's starting to shift in response to your emotions, straining away from the human mask you wear. You rub a hand over your face, wipe the tears out of your eyes and massage the muscles back into place. Then you take a deep, shuddering breath, try to drown the terror pounding inside you, and make an attempt at communication.

"Yes. The thing took--I do not know." You gesture helplessly at the computer, and the nurse makes a cautious approach, glancing over at you before peering down at the screen. You don't let yourself hope that she'll know what's going on, that she'll be able to get it back. That's not why you're leaning forward to watch, that's not why your breathing's picked up again.

"Oh," the nurse says, her forehead creasing in a frown. "It's these new models. They said something about a policy change, trying to crack down on pokédex theft, I think." She turns and gives you a reassuring smile. "I'm sure it's just a glitch or something. They're still getting the kinks worked out on these things. Somebody'll be over in a few minutes to look at it, and they'll be able to get it all sorted out for you. I'll call and make sure they have someone on the way."

You are not reassured. In fact, you feel like the nurse's words have frozen you over inside, ice water seeping into your guts. There is no glitch. This is not a mistake. They must have found your dead body, marked you down deceased in their eternal electronic records. This time, they are not content to let you walk the world of the living. They've taken your pokédex and now they're coming here to retrieve it, to retrieve you.

Heat flares in your chest as you realize: "They" aren't coming. Leonard Kerrigan is. This is his doing. He stole it. Now he's on his way here to confront you at last.

The nurse is still looking at you, the frown back on her face. "Are you all right?" she asks. "Would you like a glass of water?"

You turn away from her, shake your head. You rake your fingers through your hair, sweaty down at the roots, and try to focus. Try to concentrate. "I..." you start to say. "I am..." You are what? You are whom? You are--Nicholas Garret, you went to visit the Seafoam Islands, you slipped, you fell, you died. You are--trapped inside the machine, all that's left of you, the little card, the little card that tells you who you are. Who are you without it? Who are you now? Who are you? "I am..."

You're distantly aware of the nurse saying something else, backing away from you. You're making a scene. You can't help it. Your hands are shaking. Your heart is racing. Thoughts are pounding so hard inside your skull that your temples are throbbing. He took your pokédex. He has no right! It's all you have! It's you!

You make a guttural noise, a choked scream, and shove the nurse out of the way so you can get at the terminal again. You plunge your arm straight through the screen, shattering the mocking words, ignoring the glass in your arm, the shards of plastic and spitting wires. Your heart flutters before you remember to toughen your skin against the electricity, and you reach ever deeper, tearing up the machine's insides, searching.

Your fingers brush against something smooth and metallic, a box jutting inwards from the computer's plastic skin. You seize it and wrench it free, hauling it out of the wreckage. It's the device reader, your pokédex still caught inside, but it's safe now, it's free, it's in your hands. You cradle it against your chest, ignoring the burns and cuts dripping blood all down your arm. The terminal's ruined, its screen caved in and smoke pouring from the hole, shorting wires popping inside.

You turn around, grinning. It's okay. You have it again. It's safe. And your eyes meet the horrified stares of every trainer in the place, most now on their feet. A couple are releasing pokémon.

Your smile only gets wider. Something seems to have come loose in your head. You can't think. But you feel you ought to say something into the stunned silence, something apt and witty. You flip through your mental notebook, looking for the right phrase.

And there it is. Still grinning, you say, "Don't worry, I can pay for that." Then you lean forward over the pokédex and charge for the doors.

--​

The child lies curled on the bed, sobbing and shaking in the dark. It grips the pokédex so tight it can feel the pulse beating in its fingertips, the machine's metal casing grown warm from the heat of its body. Duskull floats nearby, his single eye giving off a cold exit-sign glow. He's been there almost as long as the child can properly remember; some of its earliest memories of this life are nothing but damp and the cold and the light, the little red light, watching. The child cried a lot then, too.

It's not badly hurt, although it healed too quickly. Skin's closed over some of the glass, trapping it in the child's flesh. It'll need to be dug out later. More blood will have to flow, but for now, tears are enough. The child cries not because it is in pain, but for the sheer wrongness of it. They tried to take the pokédex. They tried to take its identity. How could they? What gives anyone the right to steal its soul?

But the dirty feeling of having someone's sweaty hands pawing at its spirit lies atop the sour ache of shame. It knows who's responsible for this. Leonard Kerrigan, with his cold sad eyes and tired face, he's the one who nearly brought the child low. It thought it had the upper hand; it thought the man was no real threat. And it was wrong, oh, so very wrong. It sobs and sobs until its whole body aches, like its every muscle has been wrung dry. It holds the pokédex as tightly as it can and vows to never let it go. No one will ever get the chance to steal it.

Soon Absol appears. The child doesn't actually see her come in, but it hears the whisper of footsteps on carpet, and then the pokémon leaps onto the bed. Absol settles within easy reach and permits the child to throw its arms around her neck, endures being dripped on, overlooks the fact that her ruff is getting gummed with snot.

Once the downpour slacks off to intermittent showers, she speaks. "What happened?"

The child tells her, stopping now and again for fresh upwellings of tears. Absol listens quietly, then remains so for some time afterwards, thinking. The child waits. Finally, Absol says, "That is unfortunate. You will need to be more careful if you don't want the human to catch you."

"I don't want to be more careful. I have to get him back, Absol. I can't let Leonard Kerrigan do this to me. I need to get War back and not have to worry about him anymore."

"Seeking revenge is a sure way of making a mistake."

"I don't care. I don't care." The child turns its back on Absol, curling into a ball around the pokédex again. It can feel her eyes on it, always the same calm, incurious stare. "He tried to steal from me, Absol. He already stole from me, and now he's not just taking one pokémon, he's trying to take all of them. I have to make him pay. He shouldn't be able to do that."

"It is not yet his time. We have discussed this before."

"That was different!" The child pounds a fist on the mattress. The other still holds the pokédex close. "I can't do it anymore, Absol. I don't want to wait. I'm not going to. If I ignore him, he's only going to get closer to the truth. It's more dangerous not to go after him now." It doesn't say it wants to see the look on the man's face when he realizes what's going on, realizes that he really has lost everything and there's nothing he can do about it. He will be powerless, and he will know it. And he will never again, never ever again, dare to try and stop the child.

Absol would disapprove. She already disapproves; the child can hear it in the long pause before she speaks. But she doesn't understand. An absol bears no grudges, names no enemies, holds none dear. The child knows this. Sometimes, it wishes it could be like Absol, eternally serene, eternally detached.

"You can't do anything until you've rested. That will give you time to think it over. I think you will come to see I'm right," she says.

The child doesn't care if she's right. She probably is--that's the irritating thing about Absol. It wants to answer the anger burning like acid in its chest, not sit around and listen. "It won't matter. He has to be punished, Absol. I can't let him do this to me."

Absol shifts over so her back is up against the child's, and the heat of her body soaks in through its shirt. "Rest," she says. "We can talk more later."

--​

"You said we could talk about this later," the child says with every ounce of accusation it can muster.

"'Can' is not the same as 'will.'" Absol circles the child, and it reads suspicion in the narrowing of her eyes.

"Well I got Thunderstorm back, didn't I?" The child tries to thrust the pokéball under Absol's nose, but it can't keep hold of the slippery thing. Absol watches the ball bounce, red splotches marking where it lands. "Oops." The child wipes its hands on its shirt, not caring about the smears it leaves behind, and chases after the pokéball, jabbering all the while. "We have to talk about what to do next, Absol. There's only one left, and--"

"Did you eat the human?"

The child cradles the pokéball close to its chest, its mind racing. "Why?"

Absol doesn't say anything, but her look somehow takes in all of the child, the red-soaked clothing hanging heavy off its frame, the blood smeared across its face, gumming its hair into unruly upwards spikes. "Maybe a little," it mumbles. "But Absol--wait, no--Absol!"

She stalks away, but the child hurries around to cut her off, pausing only a moment to flame the bottom of its feet so they stop sticking to the floor. It gets in front of her and spreads its arms wide, blocking the doorway. "It wasn't much! And I waited until she was dead anyway, I'm not bad."

Absol is unmoved.

"I was hungry! We were following her forever," the child says, drawing the last word out as long as it can. "And I had to stop the wild pokémon from getting her too. They would have taken every bit they could. I was tired and hurt and I didn't even have much. When they find the body and they'll be able to tell who it was, don't worry."

They always do find the bodies. Absol insists that this is important. The child insists that it's a waste of perfectly good food, and terribly inconvenient besides. If she'd let the child hide them, it would take much longer for the humans to catch on, and it wouldn't have to keep getting new identities when the humans realize its current ones are dead.

But Absol won't budge. "Take whatever you wish from the dead; they can claim nothing as their own," she always says. "But the death itself has purpose, and attempting to disguise it is against the will of Fate. If the body is discovered, it is discovered; if not, it is not. A death may serve as a warning, a spot of comfort, an inspiration, and to prevent its message from reaching those for whom it was intended, even to delay it, is to act against Fate. You may take their lives for as long as you can, and if you are wise, you will ask for nothing more."

Absol believes in a lot of stupid rules.

Right now she's trying to leave again, pushing past the child in that smooth, imperious way she has. The child hurries after. It knows Absol isn't trying to get away, not really; if she wanted to go, she'd be gone, vanished into shadow and halfway across the region in seconds flat. Nothing much will hold a pokémon who can walk the dark ways.

Absol jumps up on the couch, settling in with paws hanging just over the edge. She looks down on the child with a bland expression, as though wondering why it's there. It stops and gives her a sour look right back. "Come on, Absol. You know we can't just wait around. The humans are figuring things out. We saw it on TV, remember?"

She'd better. She'd been lying on that very couch at the time. The child was sitting there, too, way over on the opposite end, huddled as small as it could make itself against the armrest. It could tell Absol was angry from the way her claws clutched in the cushion in front of her, from the hard line of tense muscles in her shoulder. But she wouldn't say anything, wouldn't even acknowledge the child at all; she just watched.

The TV was turned to some twenty-four-hour news channel showing endless repetitions of the security footage from the child's tantrum at the Center. Absol watched in statuesque calm, but the child shrank deeper into the cushions in cringing shame as it watched its mistake play over and over again. After all this time, it thought it had a better handle on its human act than that.

Meanwhile, commentators chattered over the silent tape. "Yeah, I see where they're coming from. I mean, the way he just stuck his whole arm in there like that, didn't even care about the glass and stuff, that's not natural, I mean--"

"But he's bleeding," another pointed out as the action moved on to the brawl between Nicholas Garret and the other trainers in the center. "I mean, have you ever heard of a zombie that bleeds?" Laughter.

Nicholas Garret escaped through the center's automatic doors, and the screen cut back to the newscasters. "What you saw there was footage of an incident that occurred earlier today at the Cinnabar Island Pokémon Center. A trainer identified as Nick Garret of Cerulean City had a breakdown and destroyed a computer terminal, then injured several other visitors who tried to prevent him from leaving. What makes this case interesting, though, is that Nick was found dead in Seafoam Caverns just last week."

"The whole thing started when the Center computer sequestered his pokédex because he'd been marked deceased in the League's records. In the past, trainers with suspicious pokédexes would be allowed to continue using the device without penalty for a short period of time, but a recent change in policy has made the sequestration immediate. Shortly after the incident, the League held an official press conference to discuss the motivation for the change and its relation to today's events."

The screen cut to a tape of a harassed-looking young man leaning on a podium emblazoned with the Indigo League seal. Michael Fitzwallace, according to the text at the bottom of the screen, an administrator of the Indigo League Trainer's Network. The child remembers being confused by that, wondering why Leonard Kerrigan didn't make an appearance. "Look," Michael Fitzwallace said, "we implemented the lockdown procedure in an attempt to curb the recent surge in pokédex theft by Team Rocket and other petty criminals. The grace period was long enough to allow thieves with a stolen 'dex to do serious damage to the previous holder's account before flipping it. That's all. And because the system isn't perfect, sometimes an innocent trainer is going to get flagged and have their pokédex taken away; the grace period was supposed to prevent that from happening by allowing time for spurious flags to be resolved."

"Whatever's up with Nick, it's a job for the police to figure out. It's got nothing to do with us. The League does not believe the dead are walking in Kanto, but we are not discriminating against undead trainers either. Questions?" He had a cocky grin for the camera, but it dissolved in the clamor that followed--obviously he'd expected his wit to go over better, but the reporters weren't going easy on him. The child watched in bitter amusement, amusement that twists its lips in a tooth-bearing smile even now, thinking back on it. He deserved that, the liar. "Nothing to do with us." The smug, smug liar.

But it's what the anchor said when the camera went back to the news desk that's been on the child's mind. "Nick's family has been unavailable for comment, but the funeral home where his memorial service was held reports that there was nothing odd about the proceedings or the body, and that it was definitely in the casket when it was put in the ground. Nick's gravesite appears intact, and plans to exhume the corpse for inspection are on hold until forensic evidence comes back that positively identifies the trainer on camera..."

That's where the child stopped listening, frozen in dismay at the mention of "forensic evidence." Alongside the cold prickling in its gut was the searing disapproval in Absol's gaze as she finally turned to look at it. It couldn't meet her eyes, head full of scenes from its favorite crime dramas: white-coated lab techs bustling about, mixing mysterious fluid, reading glowing lines that say who it really is, the person hiding in the blood that spilled from Nicholas Garret's body. It had been so angry it couldn't think, that it hadn't been careful. How much blood would they find? Enough, it thought. How much did they even need? Only the tiniest drop...

The child looks down at itself, turning Thunderstorm's smeary pokéball around in its fingers. "They're trying to find me, Absol. With science. I can't just sit around and wait for that to happen."

"It was rash action that got you into this situation. It will not get you out of it."

"They took my pokédex, Absol. What was I supposed to do? I couldn't let them have it. What would happen then?"

"You lost your temper."

"I know. I'm sorry. But what was I supposed to do? What would you do if--I mean, I tried. I tried to be calm. But I can't be calm like you, Absol." It sets Thunder's pokéball aside and clenches its fists. "I know I screwed up. I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting anything unusual, and I panicked." It clenches its hands tighter, then changes its mind and buries them in its matted hair instead. Absol just watches. "What am I going to do now? What if they get my blood and figure out who I really am? What if they figure everything out, Absol? What am I going to do?"

"What do you think you should do?"

It doesn't know. But it knows what it wants to do.

"It's Leonard Kerrigan," the child says. "He's behind this. Whatever this new rule is, it's his fault somehow. It isn't safe to use the pokédex anymore, not like I used to. If they find out who I am, they might figure everything else out, too. What would I do then? If they find me and they stop me, then she'll be all alone. I have to save her, Absol. You know I do." It stops for a moment, mouth working on nothing as the words catch in its throat. It grits its teeth again and forces the tears back, determined not to be pathetic.

Absol says nothing, but after a few seconds she gives the faintest of nods, inviting the child to continue. It works its mouth until it finally unsticks the words from its throat. "So I have to get him. I have to stop Leonard Kerrigan, Absol. I know you don't like it. But it's the only way. I have to get War back from him before he figures everything out."

Absol's eyes narrow the merest fraction; her claws dig into the cushions. The child keeps going, spilling out the words as fast as it can, getting it over with, like plunging into an ice-cold lake. "So I'm going to go and get War back from him and make sure he can't do anything to stop me. And once I have War, that will be it, won't it? I can go and find her. It will all be over and I'll find her and everything will be okay."

"You are panicking," Absol says. "You are losing your temper. Haven't you already done enough damage? Waiting is the safest thing you can do."

"I can't wait forever, Absol! And Mew can't, either. It's been years. What if it's already too late? What if we wait and wait and in the meantime, they, they--do something to her? They're hurting her, Absol. You know, when I see her--she's scared. She's hurting. We can't just leave her there."

"It will do no good to rush in when the time is not right. You will only make things worse."

"But it's fate that we meet again anyway. Why does it matter if I speed it up some? Can you even prove that this isn't how things are supposed to go? Maybe I'm fated to get angry and go off and fight Leonard Kerrigan. Or maybe I was supposed to get War back the first time instead of messing up." They're old arguments, bickered on and off over the months and years prior. The child drags them out one more time, lines them all up for Absol to consider. If she doesn't agree, then she doesn't agree. It'll just have to do it anyway. The thought of going against her puts a cold edge of unease alongside the flush of its anger.

"It's happening faster and faster now anyway. It was years before you found Rats, wasn't it? And then more for War, the first time. But it was only a couple for Titan, and then a few months for Thunder. Something's going to happen soon. It's got to. Obviously fate is speeding up. I'm supposed to get War back soon. I need to be ready."

"This is not Fate," Absol says icily. "This is vengeance. And those who practice vengeance will only see it visited on themselves. I cannot stop you if this is what you wish to do. But neither will I be able to save you when Fate turns back on you for it. It is not my place to intervene."

"I know it's not. But maybe it's mine. Isn't that what humans do? Isn't that what you told me?" The child throws up its hands and tries to believe its own arguments. This isn't about vengeance. It isn't. It's just what needs to be done.

"You are not human."

"I know! But I'm not a pokémon, either. So maybe I get to choose."

Absol cants her head to the side, just slightly, and for a moment the child could swear she's smiling at it. When she speaks again, her tone isn't quite as acid as before. "Perhaps. But I would choose wisely. I have told you of the danger. You could be throwing everything you have away. But it is not my place to intervene." She jumps down from the couch and stands stretching a moment before turning back to the child. "No decision as important as this is properly made in haste. If you take a while to rest, if you think it over, you will be much more likely to make the right choice."

The child scowls after her as she pads away, off towards the kitchen. The right choice. Of course she just means what she would choose. It turns on the TV and tries to concentrate on what's going on on-screen, some rerun cartoon of a couple nidoran bashing each other with mallets. The noise and flashing colors wash over the child, but they can't distract it from the dark churning of its mind.

Of course Absol doesn't understand. The child could swear that icewater runs in her veins instead of blood. She wouldn't hurry if there was a tidal wave collapsing down on top of her; she wouldn't show a hint of anger if her entire family was murdered before her eyes. She doesn't understand how hard it is for the child, her and her perfect "Fate" and her detachment and her always being right. She doesn't understand why it has to do this.

It's not just because Leonard Kerrigan is making its life difficult. That's annoying, but nothing more. There's humiliation there, yes, the memories of how it failed, and that's the only reason the human troubles it at all. But it's more than that, now, so much more. He went and put his dirty hands all over the child's soul. He tried to take the pokédex, the only thing it really has left. And the child can't let someone do that to it. Not now, not ever. It can feel bile rising in its throat just thinking of it. Not now, not ever, never. It doesn't matter what Absol says. She doesn't understand.

She's right about one thing, though. The child needs to think this over. And it is thinking it over, very, very carefully. It's considering everything it knows about Matt Kerrigan, every piece of information it's gathered over the years, and what it's going to do with them. It won't make the same mistakes it did last time. It's prepared, this time, to be Matt Kerrigan properly. Matt Kerrigan, the lost son. Matt Kerrigan, the suicide case.
 
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pacman000

Well-Known Member
Ooooo...A twist. I like that. Your twist makes since; It dosen't come out-of-nowhere. I also like the news cast; that lets us see the event from different view point. I feel sorry for Nick's family. Imagine finding out that your kid died, then seeing him on the news. That would be terrible.
 
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Dragonfree

Just me
Happy late birthday. Would have posted on the eighteenth, but then you said chapter five would be up that day so I figured I might as well wait for it, and then I was busy. :<


Now it remembers why it had been waiting for the rain. It could have conjured up a storm whenever it wanted, of course, but it hadn't wanted to, had been perfectly content to wait for nature to provide.
Past perfect in the present-tense narration again.

You’d forgotten you’ll need to mend that again.
This too. Although "You'd forgotten" would work fine if the implication were "At the time you should have mended that, you'd forgotten"; it's just that when what you'd forgotten is that you will need to mend it again, that doesn't really seem to make sense.

It's interesting how unfazed the child is by Titan's attacks - "Oh, the Flamethrower is setting your hair on fire and immolating your ear" - even though it can clearly feel the pain. I wonder if that's a result of the same detachment that makes it narrate this stuff in second person (that's not me being hurt, it's Nicholas Garret!) or just a narrative voice thing.

and you grab Rats' pokéball off your belt and release him onto the ground next to you.
Being that the narration and characters call Rats "her" for the rest of the chapter, I'm assuming this is a mistake.

Titan easily overwhelms her, pinning the raticate in the mud beneath one heavy foot while she stares down at his opponent, smoke streaming warningly from his nostrils.
She can hardly stare down at him if she's pinned under his foot, so I assume that should be him.

“I don’t need too ‘make’ you. I’m your trainer. Stop trying to deny it.”
To, presumably.

It’d known the rain wasn’t enough to be dangerous
Past perfect again.

You'd been there, in fact, that very day, playing in the shallows and digging aimlessly in the sand.
Since you're still talking about when the volcano erupted, I'd think this should still be plain past tense.

They're new, their plastic still shiny and smooth, not scuffed and dented from contact young trainers.
I think you're missing a word here.

You'd expected it to tell you that you'd inserted the thing wrong.
Yet again with the past perfect.

They're hurting her Absol.
Presumably this is a direct address and should have a comma, as opposed to a statement that "she" has an Absol and they're hurting it (in which case you'd be writing "absol" without a capital letter, anyway).

And the child can't let someone do that to it. Not now, not ever. The child can feel bile rising in its throat just to think of it.
Very possibly just me, but it feels like you repeat "the child" a bit too soon here.


So. More tantalizing hinting. Titan knows who the child is and says it was there when Nicholas Garret died. I'm guessing that means the child didn't kill him, or he would have said that instead of just "you were there".

Right now my best wild-speculationy guess as to the child's nature is that it used to be a trainer who died (probably not long into its journey, since one way or another Nicholas Garret seems to have received Titan as a starter after the child died, which doesn't seem to make sense otherwise), and that one way or another, it was revived in some kind of shape-shifting form with only a few stray memories of its human life. That or, what with the way the child appropriates the lives of those it impersonates, it wasn't human even then and Titan wasn't actually its Pokémon, but it lost most of its memories of that life for some reason anyway.

You're still doing a good job with the child's character. While it's distinctly off-human, it's distinctly childlike too, with the emotional outbursts and kind of whiny "she doesn't understand!" thing.

Since you posted in the Fan Fiction Mafia about the plot of the fic (spoilers! D:), I assume the "her" that they keep talking about saving is Mew (and that Mew was probably involved in the child's resurrection, somehow). It will be interesting to see how Team Rocket comes into all this.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
pacman000

Glad you like the twist! I'm pretty addicted to them, so there's plenty more where that came from. And this is far from the last time the child will end up on television...

Dragonfree

I spent ages kind of staring at the various tense things; usually I can deal with that kind of thing more or less on instinct, but I just dooon't seem quite equipped to deal with this present-tense stuff. Nonetheless, I think some of those are actually correct:

Now it remembers why it had been waiting for the rain. It could have conjured up a storm whenever it wanted, of course, but it hadn't wanted to, had been perfectly content to wait for nature to provide.
Changed the first sentence to "Now it remembers why it's been waiting for the rain," but I believe the rest is fine, because it's referring to events/attitudes in the past, relative to the time the narration's going on. At any point previously, the child could have summoned a storm, but it chose not to. So, I just cleaned that second sentence up a little, but left things in the past perfect.

But these...

It’d known the rain wasn’t enough to be dangerous...
You'd expected it to tell you that you'd inserted the thing wrong.
...at this point I don't think I can even English anymore after staring at them for so long. I can't explain why they look better to me that way than otherwise, and I know that I would state them as simple past if I were saying them aloud ("I expected there to be candy," for example). On the other hand, I can't think of any examples of where I'd actually use the perfect in conversation (there are cases where I could use it, but I can always think of a more natural-sounding, reworded sentence I would pick instead... but probably I'm just a little fried), so I don't know how much that means. I can't say why "You expected it to tell you..." looks so bad to me--it might be because I'm used to the simple past tense being "present" in narration. But for now I'm going to leave those as is, simply because the revised versions seem so irrevocably weird somehow. It's been a long time since I've had to do any sort of serious thinking about grammar... clearly I'm getting rusty. >>

Thanks for pointing those slips out, along with the other various typos... It feels like, despite the fact that this 'fic has been proofread to a much greater degree than my past stories, it winds up with way more errors in the final copy than those did. Someone's in denial about the prevalence of typos in her previous 'fics, I guess.

It's interesting how unfazed the child is by Titan's attacks - "Oh, the Flamethrower is setting your hair on fire and immolating your ear" - even though it can clearly feel the pain. I wonder if that's a result of the same detachment that makes it narrate this stuff in second person (that's not me being hurt, it's Nicholas Garret!) or just a narrative voice thing.
The child's used to battling and isn't fazed by this kind of thing at all. It isn't much bothered by getting injured in general, for a couple of reasons that should become more clear in time.

I don't know how much I should comment on your speculations, since I don't really know if you would consider what I said a spoiler or not, but you're definitely on the right track!

On the other hand, what you mention about the plot really isn't a spoiler--it's all heavily implied in the story summary in FFN, in fact. The child's origins and motivations aren't intended to be major mysteries here (less a couple of things) and should all be more or less resolved within the first fifteen chapters. So I have no problem saying that yes, Mew is the "her" being referred to here, and she has a very important role in the child's back story. And we will most definitely be seeing Rocket quite soon.

Thanks for reviewing! Best birthday present.
 
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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: This chapter changed substantially during revision. If you'd like to read the original version, you can find it here.
Chapter 5

Only one light burns in the Kerrigan household tonight, up in the study at the rear of the second floor. You can't see into the room from here, but you can picture the scene well enough: Leonard hunched before a keyboard in the semidark, fingers flying, casting his incantations over the computer.

What you can see from here is your old room. You sat in this very spot almost two years ago now, on the neighbors' roof with legs dangling over the edge and eyes trained on the bedroom window. Only that time, you were the one in the room dying while another waited outside with Absol, nervous and fidgety and unsure what to do. It had waited because Absol told it to wait and not interfere. There wasn't much to see, but somehow she knew when you stopped breathing and prodded that other one forward.

She won't be prodding you tonight. She watched while you prepared, staring into the mirror trying to get the color of your eyes just right, testing your voice, fussing with your hair. She didn't say anything, and she didn't follow you when you left. Now it's her turn to wait and practice the art of noninterference.

But you haven't acted yet, and why? Your old room is dark and cold and empty. You sharpened your eyesight enough to pierce the gloom, and you can see that everything's still exactly as it was that day, not even a bit dusty. You can't see it from this angle, but you wonder--is the empty bottle of pills still sitting on the nightstand?

Leonard isn't the only one in the house. Gruff, the family's aged growlithe, is sleeping somewhere on the first floor; if you concentrate, you can just taste the edges of his dreams as they run in confused little circles. He's no threat--you'll be surprised if he even wakes up to come greet you. You run your fingers through your hair, on edge and not wanting to think about why, then grimace and tease it back into place. Honestly--after all the time you took getting it right in the first place.

This is stupid. You've established everything you need to: Leonard is home. He's defenseless. It's not like you're going to get a better opportunity. Irritated with yourself, you draw your legs up onto the roof and push yourself to your feet, then forcefully think your way to the stoop.

You reach out and ring the doorbell before you can hesitate, before you can talk yourself out of it. Then there's nothing you can do but stand and wait, not fidgeting, definitely not fidgeting, as the seconds drag past. If only you didn't have to do this as a human. It would be easy to still the racing of your heart, to banish your anxiety and anticipation alike, but changing enough to do that would make it very hard for you to act like Matt Kerrigan.

Finally, you hear movement inside the house. A light comes on in the foyer. The bolt turns, and the door opens a fraction. You find yourself looking into the face of Leonard Kerrigan, more haggard than usual, more disheveled. If he was planning to open the door further, he's forgotten. Instead, he's frozen staring out at you, the whites of his eyes huge and round.

You'd been afraid that you'd forget all your preparations in the heat of the moment. The lines you rehearsed would fly out of your head, and you'd be left a stammering idiot. But you channel all your nervous energy into a kind of poised focus and are able to summon up the casual smile you practiced in the mirror, nail the voice as you begin, "Dad..."

The door is open in an instant. Leonard Kerrigan throws himself at you, and then it all goes to hell.

You barely resist the instinct to swat the man aside, the way you would any other creature that jumped at you, and that moment of hesitation leaves you no time to get out of his way. Leonard Kerrigan catches hold of you, wrapping his arms inappropriately tight around your torso. You manage to get your arms up and out of the way so they aren't pinned to your sides, but you're stuck there nonetheless, leaning away from the human and trying to make the minimum amount of contact while he clings to you like he thinks you'll evaporate if he doesn't.

Ah, wait. This is a "hug," isn't it? You've seen these before. You know how this works. Yes, definitely you do. You lean forward a bit and drape your arms over Leonard Kerrigan's shoulders and wait, hopefully, for further indication of what you should do.

Unfortunately, the human isn't giving you any cues. He's got his face buried in your chest while he makes making the most horrific wailing noises. The longer you wait there, the more nervous you get--he's making a scene. Leonard Kerrigan's making a scene! What if someone comes to investigate the noise? What if someone sees you?

"Dad," you say. "We should go inside."

He keeps sobbing. You squirm around, starting to panic and not really caring if you're being rude. But Leonard Kerrigan won't let you go, and if you push him away too hard, you might hurt him. You wouldn't mind that, but it might be bad for your cover.

"Dad," you say again. "Inside. We should go inside. Listen."

You try walking forward, pushing him ahead of you, but that only threatens to get you even more tangled up. For a moment, exasperation replaces panic. You could pick the human up and carry him into the house if you needed to. He's lighter than you expected, actually, thinner than he looks under his sweater. But your head is going round and round with confusion, and you can't remember if you ought to be that strong or not.

You're standing there wrestling with the crying human and for one instant you feel the insane urge to burst out laughing. You look down at the back of Leonard's head, draggled and unwashed and graying, as you make out words in his pathetic whimpering. "I always knew you weren't dead... Nobody believed me that I saw you, but I knew it, I knew what I saw, I knew you would never k-ki..." Then he descends into incoherence again, sobbing and coughing on his own tears, and you are almost--honestly. Why does being human have to be so confusing?

You take a quick glance around to make sure no one's watching--not that you could really do anything if they were--then half shove, half carry the man back into the house in what you hope would be called a firm, not rough, manner, and shut the door behind you. You set Leonard firmly aside, taking a moment to be sure he's not just going to jump at you again the moment you let go. He appears to be trying to get ahold of himself, though. His babbling's done and he's wiping tears from his eyes, and you take the moment of peace to have a look around.

It's dim in the foyer, only one light working in the chandelier. There's only one of everything here: one coat hanging on the hooks by the door, one umbrella in the holder. The smells of unwashed human and dishware overwhelm your sensitive nose; you can see the kitchen down the hall, stacks of plates piled in the sink and garbage overflowing from the can.

You surprise yourself in having to take a deep breath before you say the line, but say it you do. There's no going back now. "Dad. I am sorry, but I do not have much time. I am taking a great risk to be here in the first place. I need your help, Dad."

"Help? You need my help?" His voice is shaking, his hands are shaking as he cleans his tear-soaked glasses on the front of his sweater. He almost laughs, makes a horrible noise of inhaling mucus. "Of course, Matt. Anything. Anything you need. What do you want?"

"I need you to get my pokémon back for me."

"Your pokémon?" The glasses are back on his face and he squints through them, trying to make out your expression. "But why..."

"They are in League holding. I cannot access them. But I need them back, and I know that you can get them released."

"Yes, yes, of course," he says, brushing aside what you've been agonizing over for years. He reaches out and puts a hand on your arm, and you fight down the urge to flinch away. "That's not what I meant. What is this all about, Matt? Where have you been?"

"I cannot tell you. The work I am doing is very dangerous, and if I told you, you would become a target." You find yourself warming to your lies now that you've really gotten going. Secret agents are cool, after all.

"Come on, Matt!" Leonard Kerrigan says, and you stare at him, confused by the heat in his words. "A target of what? What's going on? You can tell me! Why are you only coming back now? After all this time the least you could have done would have been to let us know somehow--I mean, everyone thought you were dead, and I--" He slides a hand under his glasses so he can rub at his eyes and the bridge of his nose. "At the very least, your mother--"

He's isn't taking this as well as you'd hoped. Why can't he just be glad you're alive? You cut him off before he can work himself up even further. "I am sorry, Dad. No one was supposed to know I was alive. It was safer that way. I cannot tell you what I am doing, or where I have been. And no one else can know about it either. You would not have to be involved, but you locked me out of my account. I need my pokémon back, Dad."

He pauses with his hand still over one eye and laughs. "What, getting mad at me for doing my job? If you weren't faking your own death, you wouldn't have to worry about your storage account."

You honestly don't know how to deal with this. A glance around the miserable little room doesn't lend you any ideas. You decide to be direct. "I am sorry, Dad, but I cannot stay long. If you want to talk, we can do it while you get my pokémon out of storage."

He looks at you with an unreadable expression on his face, then sighs and removes his hand from your arm. "Up you go, then," he says, pointing towards the stairs. You remember the way to his study from the last time you were here and are only too happy to lead. You're less happy with what you find inside.

The area around the computer is cleaner than the rest of the house, but only barely. The machine itself is slick and new, of course, Leonard Kerrigan's porygon-Z bobbing around as its screen saver. But the rest of the room is crammed with old newspapers, from respectable publications to the most seedy, the kind that announce Pikablu sightings and report on people who've seen the face of Arceus in their breakfast cereal. These in particular have been going wild with the stories of Nicholas Garret's posthumous adventures, but even the Saffron Times was only marginally more restrained in its reporting.

Leonard Kerrigan found those stories, every one of them, and cut them out. There are others, too, reports of curious disappearances, unexplained thefts, that sort of thing, some actually related to you and some not, stretching back over the past two years. They're stacked in haphazard piles, tacked to the walls alongside computer printouts, and overflow onto the floor in a slurry of words.

The sight is like a hot knife twisting in your gut. Ah, of course. For a few minutes you actually forgot who you were dealing with. You do your best to keep the tightness out of your voice as you ask, "Dad. What is all this?"

"This?" he asks, stepping into the room behind you and gesturing languidly at all his incriminating papers. "I don't know, Matt. I was hoping you might be able to tell me."

"What? Why?"

"Well, Matt, you aren't the only trainer out there to fake their death recently." He sits down at the computer but stays turned towards you. "I was just wondering if whatever this thing is you've gotten involved with has something to do with them, too."

"I do not know anything about it," you say immediately, then inwardly curse yourself for panicking. "I mean, I do not think so. I have not been keeping up with the news. What is it about?" Leonard isn't typing anything, just sitting at the computer and watching you. You remind yourself to stay cool and alert and that after all you won't solve anything by killing the human right here and now, however easy it would be.

"Just what I said, Matt. Trainers who are supposed to be dead not staying dead. Showing up on the network even after they've been put in the ground." He's looking at you very closely, and you force yourself to focus on his face and not on the computer screen behind him, where War lies close, so close.

This isn't working. You take a deep breath and prepare to go off the rails. "I am sorry, Dad. You are right. I am not the only one involved in this. I cannot say more than that, but I promise you that if you help me get my pokémon back, I will return soon. I am almost done, and then I can be with you and Mom again. I did not want to leave. I did not want to be a part of this. But now I am. I need your help, Dad. That is all I am asking for."

Leonard Kerrigan sighs and rubs at his face again. "Of course, Matt. I don't understand, and I wish things could be different, but I'm glad you're alive. If you need your pokémon back, then I'll get them back for you. I just wish, though"--he stops rubbing and looks you in the face--"there's really no way you can let anyone else know that you're alive? Not even your mother? If you came to see me--"

"Not even you should know," you say curtly. And how awfully true that is. If you hadn't been so careless back then, if he hadn't seen you, then you never would have had to do this.

He's still staring at you, and for a moment you are terribly close to doing something rash out of fear that he sees something wrong in your expression. Standing there surrounded by evidence of his scheming is fraying at the edges of your temper. But the human only shakes his head and says, "I see."

And then, mercifully, he turns to the computer and nudges the mouse, dismissing the bouncing porygon. You watch hungrily as he starts typing, torn between wanting to edge closer and afraid that if you move you might somehow shatter this fragile, perfect moment when everything is going right.

A transporter set up on the desk spits a crackle of white light, then in one concentrated burst zaps a cluster of pokéballs into existence on the receiving platform. Leonard Kerrigan scoops them up and holds them in front of his face. He picks out one you don't recognize, old and scuffed with a blue top on it. "You remember your first pokémon, don't you, Matt?" he asks, glancing at you out of the corner of his eye.

You tense. He wants to play this game, then, does he? You've made a careful study of Matt Kerrigan and remember him as well as you think you can without ever having met him, but if Leonard begins to ask you serious questions about your past, you're going to be in trouble. This one is no problem, though. You nod and say, "Duke." Duke the persian, family pet for several years before joining Matt Kerrigan on his brief and ill-fated journey.

"That's right," Leonard says with a wan smile. "It's been a long time, hasn't it? Why don't we see if he still remembers you?"

Before you can protest, he tosses the pokéball to the carpet, and Duke takes shape in a flash of light. You have to step back, bumping into a leaning stack of magazines, as the appearance of a four-foot persian abruptly makes the small study even more cramped.

Duke blinks and snuffs at the air, his movements jerky and uncertain. He's been in storage for a long time, and you wonder whether anyone even bothered to explain to him what happened before putting him away. Your heart is hammering even though it's clear Duke isn't ready to fight. You weren't expecting this, not at all. You were prepared to deal with Leonard, but you don't even know any of Matt's pokémon aside from War. If they realize what's going on, you don't know if you can fight them all.

You take a deep breath and kneel down in front of Duke. "Hello, Duke," you start. The persian turns deep brown eyes on you. "Remember me? It is good to see you again."

"What? Matt?" Duke rumbles. His gaze roves the cluttered study, passing across Leonard sitting by the computer without pause. You reach out your hand to pet him, but he shrinks away from your fingers, bumping clumsily against the desk. "What's going on here?" he asks, baring his teeth.

You hurriedly draw your hand back, make placating gestures, but it's too late. "I knew it," he says, wearing a sickly smile. "You're not my son. But you are connected with the other dead trainers, aren't you? Who are you? And what"--the smile is gone, replaced by a grim expression that draws the skin tight over his cheekbones--"have you done with my son?"

"No, Dad--Duke--you don't understand. It really is me. I know I seem different. Some things... some things have happened. I did not mean for it to be like this. Please, you have to believe me." Duke keeps looking back and forth between you and Leonard, fur starting to bristle.

"Is that so? Then just what is it that I should believe? Or is that something else you 'can't tell me'?"

"I cannot! I am not lying. It really is dangerous! Come on, Dad, what is it that you want me to say?"

Leonard Kerrigan shakes his head, and you know his mind is already made up. "No. Just listen to yourself. You sound nothing like him--you sound like some kind of fucking robot. Who are you?"

You take a breath, clearing your head. You're about to make one more stab at diplomacy, but paper crinkles under your foot as you shift your weight; you glance around at the clippings plastering the walls. Leonard Kerrigan is your enemy. He trapped War in the computer; he forced you into skulking furtiveness for fear he might discover you; he stole--you almost choke on bile at the thought. What's the point of discretion? You didn't come here to make friends. You step back, skirting a stack of papers.

All you're trying to do is maneuver for extra space, but Leonard must think you mean to leave. "Duke, stop him!"

That's all the excuse you need. There is a ferocious crack as Duke leaps headlong into an invisible barrier, a protect shield thrown up in a heartbeat. The persian falls to the floor in a daze, and you leap over him in one impossibly fast motion, the room blurring for a second before slamming into focus again as you land directly in front of Leonard Kerrigan.

He jerks backward, completely unprepared for how fast you closed with him, and you grab his arm and wrestle the pokéballs out of his grasp. There's movement behind you as Duke leaps onto the desk, knocking a cascade of papers and old, coffee-crusted mugs to the floor. You brace yourself as he jumps for you again, then catch him in the chest with your elbow and slam him into the side of the desk.

You deliver a smashing brick break with your left hand to keep the struggling persian down, and with the other you try to juggle the pokéballs without dropping any, rolling them around until your fingers can find the blue-topped one.

Finally Duke gets his legs back under him, badly bruised but now, at last, starting to realize that he really has to fight. You thumb the button on the front of the ball and call him back to captivity.

There's a moment of relative peace as a last couple paper shreds drift to the floor in front of the now-crooked desk. You stuff the pokéballs into your pocket and make for the door in earnest, then are jerked to a halt as Leonard grabs your arm from behind.

You turn to look back at him, surprised but not at all disappointed, because now the fool really is going to put himself in your way. If he's going to push you--well, who's to blame you if you push back? You look down into his desperate face, his teeth clenched, eyes tearing at the corners, as he tries to--what? Drag you back? Pull you down? What can he expect to do, after he saw you take care of the persian so easily? "Stop!" he yells. "Who are you? What have you done with my son?"

You smile, easily resisting his attempts to wrestle you down. You could kill him now, if you wanted. You have what you came for, and he's doing his best to provoke you. But it might not be wise. His death would bring an investigation, and for lack of any other motive, someone might begin to suspect that there was more to his ramblings about dead trainers than previously suspected. As it is, they think he's crazy, and if he tries to discuss your visit with anyone, they'll only grow more sure. Best just to leave him something to remember you by.

Your grin stretches wider and wider, splitting Matt Kerrigan's face ear to ear as jaws reconfigure to accommodate the rows of new teeth forcing their way out of your gums, gleaming sharp in the dim light. Fingers grow claws and irises bleed to red as you stare into Leonard Kerrigan's eyes.

Those eyes are widening, and the grip on your arm slackens as anger gives way to horror on his face. "What--just what the hell--" he starts.

"Your son is dead, you stupid old fool," you say in a voice that comes out mushy from a mouth no longer meant for human speech. Leonard Kerrigan is still trying to say something, or at least he's moving his mouth, but there's nothing there for you to hear. You lean in closer and add, "And if you continue to get in my way, you will be next."

The hopeless look on Leonard Kerrigan's face is exquisite, and you laugh as you press your free hand into his chest and shove him away, easily breaking his slack grip. You half-hope he'll come at you again, make some desperate final effort. But he just lies where he's fallen, cowering. You laugh again at his pathetic expression, flush with your victory, and leave the room unharried. Out in the hall, well out of sight, you pause for a moment and clamp down on your elation just long enough to concentrate. With another thought, you're gone.

--​

Back at the house, the child spends a long time simply holding War's pokéball, bubbling with excitement but too exhausted to face the pokémon inside. The thrill of victory won't let it rest, and it lies awake on its bed until long after morning comes, thinking, exulting, remembering. Remembering Cinnabar.

It watched footage of the eruption on television, marveling at the disaster it had so narrowly avoided. At the time it didn't think of anything but how lucky it had been to survive, to have Absol. But then, two days later, she came for the child. "Come. There is something you must see." And the place she took it was like the ruins of hell.

Cinnabar Island was wiped out, nothing left standing. Some buildings had been engulfed by lava flows, others flattened by the force of the blast itself or crushed beneath the boulders it had hurled. Choking ash buried everything meters-deep. Absol practically swam through it, and the child struggled to follow, floundering along with its shirt pulled over its face in a vain effort to block out the particulates, coughing miserably all the while. But it knew better than to complain. Absol, her usually immaculate coat soiled and dark, would not have brought it here for no reason.

She climbed a splintered beam jutting from the ash slurry, claws digging deep into the crumbling wood to hold herself steady. The child stopped below and waited, looking for some indication of why Absol had brought it there. But the slumping gray humps of ash obscured everything, and even if they'd been standing at the center of the town hall, the child would never have been able to tell.

"Listen," Absol said. "Look around you. This is Fate."

"Fate" wasn't right. When Absol spoke of it, the child got the impression that what she meant was something far larger and more complicated than such a simple human word, but "Fate" was the best translation it could make. It grilled Absol about it more times than it could count, but they only ever ended up frustrating each other. Absol would be annoyed by the child's stupidity--how could it fail to understand something so natural and obvious? And the child was completely bewildered by Absol's analogies--what was it supposed to do with explanations like "It is like the way shadows bend when they flow over blood?"

So, Fate it was. Absol continued. "Two years ago, a terrible crime happened here. It was a crime against both Mew and nature itself. It must not be allowed to happen again. Look around you. Those who were responsible have been punished." She tipped her head to the side, ever so slightly. "And those who were not responsible have also been punished. Such is the way of Fate."

The child looked again at the shattered remains of Cinnabar Island, then to the still-smoking volcano rising overhead, one side of its cone disintegrated by the explosion. Half-imagined pictures of white-furred shadows, padding quietly through history, teased at its brain. Sometimes it wasn't sure whether Absol thought Fate was something that was or something you did.

"There are many who abetted the creation of Mewtwo, and every last one of them will be punished. They will die. They will die unnaturally. They will die before the time set down for them."

Ah. A question. The child, most certainly, had so abetted. And it had to ask--did that mean that it, too...?

Absol gave it a long, steady look, and after a moment the child subsided, sheepish. Oh. Of course. It had already died.

Absol continued. "You recall that I have a mission."

It did. Defend the child.

"You recall that you have a mission as well. One that you did not undertake alone."

It did. Its heartbeat quickened as it began to suspect.

"After you died, humans took your pokémon and divided them. They have come to rest in the hands of others who were here on Cinnabar, others who have been marked by Fate. Each of these will perish, and when they do, I will know. When they do, you will be reunited with your friends. You will take what the humans had and use it to carry out your mission, so that in their death they may help rectify the wrongs they brought about in life. Such is the will of Fate." She fixed the child with a hard stare. "You have grown into your strength. You are ready to begin your mission in earnest. Are you prepared?"

Yes, of course. It said as much, wheezed it, gagging on the suffocating mouthful of ash-filled air it sucked down in its excitement. Absol was solemn in the face of its hacking affirmation. She nodded. "Then come." She leaped from the beam and dropped into the wreckage, the remains of some anonymous building blasted from its foundation. She dug industriously, hollowing out a crevice in the shifting ash and batting free a grime-covered pokéball, sending it rolling towards the child's feet. As it bent down to pick it up, she said, "This is the first. See to it that you do not forget its purpose, or your own."

Only later would the child wonder how Absol managed to find the pokéball buried in a pile of soot in some no-account corner of Cinnabar Island. At the time it was too overwhelmed by the reunion with its friend, with the treasure salvaged from the wreckage, with the fact that it suddenly had a real home, once the vacation house of some wealthy Cinnabar resident, now left empty and forgotten on a little island to the south.

When the child held that first pokéball--Rats' pokéball--it didn't understand what it meant, what it was embarking on. Now it holds this last pokéball, and the circle is complete. It has planned and waited and grown impatient and waited still more, and finally it is ready to set out on its journey. It's a journey long-deferred, dreamt of by a dead human child but never taken. It's a journey dreamt of once again by the person it's become, and today it will begin.

There are eight badges. There is a grand tournament held only once per year. It's only a little over a month away.

The child will win those badges. It will enter the tournament. And it will meet the trainer who holds the key to its future--its future, and that of its mother.

But first, someone else will have to die.
 
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pacman000

Well-Known Member
Hooray! A new chapter.

So the Child was waiting for Kerrigan's son to die? That seems kinda...wrong. (Moreso than usual.) Now I'm interested in Kerrigan's son. He commited suicide? Why? Was he sick? That would explain why he was at home, not on a training journey.

Cursing seemed uneeded.

Anyways, good chapter, and I'm looking foward to the next one.

P.S. Do you have a PM list? If so, will you add me?
 
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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Yes, the child was waiting for Kerrigan's son to die, albeit only for a few minutes. Mark did indeed commit suicide, although I can't say at this point what the specific circumstances that caused him to do so were.

Mmm, well, Leonard generally isn't much for swearing, but he's quite worked up in this chapter--I thought it would be appropriate for him to curse a bit. However, not all characters in this story keep it as clean as he usually does, so I'm afraid if you don't like cursing, you're going to be pretty unhappy starting with about chapter eight. If it bothers you and you have a FFN account, though, you can read the story on there with the swear filter enabled if you'd prefer.

Thanks for reviewing! I'm glad you liked the chapter. And sure, I'll put you on the PM list.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
This is the very same spot you sat almost two years ago now, on the neighbors' roof, with legs dangling over the edge and eyes trained on the bedroom window just below your perch.
I'm a bit confused by this. "Just below your perch" seems to indicate a window on the neighbors' house just below where the child is sitting, but logic and the rest of the text would indicate the child is still talking about Matt's window. Which would be below its perch, but hardly just below since it's on a different house.

From this angle you can't see, but you wonder—is the empty bottle of pills still sitting on the nightstand where it was left?
Hm. This would indicate Matt Kerrigan killed himself in his room, but if that were the case, wouldn't Leonard or his wife have found the body, and thus wouldn't Leonard have known pretty much beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt was dead? At least it seems like the child's plan shouldn't have relied on Leonard accepting his son simply turning up alive (though that could just be the child's poor planning abilities). Unless there was more to it than that.

Gruff, the family's aged growlithe, is sleeping somewhere on the first floor; if you concentrate, you can just taste the edges of his dreams as they run in their confused little circles.
I like this sentence. Dog dreams would run in confused little circles.

I also generally enjoy the conflict between the child's obvious nervousness and its conscious attitude of "ugh, why would I be feeling like this, silly human emotions." The way it experiences emotions according to its current form without really understanding them is interesting.

You only barely resist the instinct to swat the man aside, as you would any other creature that jumped at you, and that moment of hesitation as you rein in your battle instincts leaves you no time to get out of his way. So it is that Leonard manages to catch hold of you, wrapping his arms inappropriately tightly around your torso. At least you manage to get your arms up and out of the way so they aren't pinned to your sides, but you're nevertheless stuck there, leaning out of Leonard Kerrigan's embrace, trying to make the minimum amount of contact, while he clings to you like a limpet for some reason.
This is a lovely paragraph, but I feel the final "for some reason" is rather unnecessary - the child's complete revolted bafflement at being hugged is already expressed amply in the rest of the paragraph, so just "...while he clings to you like a limpet" seems to be a stronger end to the sentence.

"So it is that..." also sounds kind of off to me, but that may just be because my brain wants to continue it with "...the group began to describe themselves walking, and as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm they walked."

And then he descends into incoherence again, sobbing and coughing on his own tears, and you are almost—honestly. Why does being human have to be so confusing?
More human emotions denied and dismissed.

Here in the foyer it's dim, only one light still working in the chandelier. There's only one of everything here: one coat hanging on the hooks by the door, one umbrella in the holder. To your sensitive nose the smells of unwashed human and dishware are overwhelming; you can see the kitchen down the hall, with leaning stacks of plates piled in the sink and garbage overflowing from the can.
This is a lovely description. Says a lot about what Leonard's life is like these days.

“Dad. I am sorry, but I do not have much time. I am taking a great risk to be here in the first place. I need your help, Dad.”
Still loving the unnaturalness of everything it says.

His voice is shaking, his hands are shaking as he cleans his tear-soaked glasses on the front of his sweater. He almost laughs, makes a horrible noise of inhaling mucus.
I also enjoy the child's focus on these gross details.

He looks at you with an unreadable expression on his face, then sighs removes his hand from your arm.
There should probably be an and there.

The sight is like a hot knife twisting in your gut. Ah, of course.
It may just be me, but these two sentences seem a bit contradictory in tone - "Ah, of course" sounds casual and in control, which doesn't really mesh with hot knife-twisting. Or maybe that's the intended effect and just the child being detached from its human emotions? The rest of the paragraph makes the hot knife-twisting bit seem like the overall intended focus, though.

porygon-z
Hmm, seeing as Porygon-Z isn't actually a hyphenated word, just a word with a letter stuck on the end with a hyphen, I would think you'd capitalize the Z even if you're not capitalizing the name in itself, the way you would generally capitalize the letters in "So if person A talks to person B..." Or am I way off?

“You're not my son. And you are connected with the other dead trainers, aren't you? Who are you? And what,” the smile is gone, replaced with a grim expression that draws the skin tight over his cheekbones, “have you done with my son?”
This kind of situation is awkward to punctuate, but I'm pretty sure this is definitely not how it should go, seeing as the bit outside the quotes isn't even vaguely a dialogue tag.

No, Dad—Duke--you don't understand.
Presumably both of those should be proper dashes.

You're about to make one more stab at diplomacy—but the evidence of the man's pathetic scheming is all around you, a stark reminder of the injustices you've suffered at his hands.
The narrative bias is lovely.

He jerks backward, completely unprepared for how fast you managed close with him
I can't tell if there are words missing here or if it's just a figure of speech I'm unfamiliar with.

“What—just what the hell--”
Again with the inconsistent dashes.

There was a lovely sense of tension in this chapter in the interplay between the child and Leonard - we can tell how unnatural the child is acting long before it realizes Leonard is seeing through it, and the subtle buildup in Leonard's behaviour from acting simply relieved to see his son alive and well through his increasingly probing questions until he lashes out is really well done.

Also, the child's plan was a delight. So absurdly straight out of TV-land.
 

Chapter

hello, im back sorta
Oh, shoot. I'm not on the PM list. That's why I missed that chapter...... Well, put me on the PM list! This story is really great.

You laugh again at his pathetic expression, flush with your victory, and leave the room unharried. Out in the hall, well out of sight, you pause for a moment and clamp down on your elation enough to concentrate and think yourself elsewhere.
Huh? Flushed with your victory? I'm kinda confused here.

Well, anyway, this story keeps getting progressively better and I can never seem to wait until the nxt chapter (unless i dont know that its posted! :< LOL) and your description is just perfect. It seems like it's perfect actually. I try to find mistakes but they've either been fixed already, or there aren't any. Also, there aren't many 2nd person fics or, I mean.... Yeah. Well, I'll be back next chapter.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
I'm a bit confused by this. "Just below your perch" seems to indicate a window on the neighbors' house just below where the child is sitting, but logic and the rest of the text would indicate the child is still talking about Matt's window. Which would be below its perch, but hardly just below since it's on a different house.
I agree. I spent a long time trying to reword this and eventually gave up. It is indeed supposed to be a window on the house opposite, such that the child is looking across and down to see into it. I'll see if I can clean it up now, somehow.

Hm. This would indicate Matt Kerrigan killed himself in his room, but if that were the case, wouldn't Leonard or his wife have found the body, and thus wouldn't Leonard have known pretty much beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt was dead? At least it seems like the child's plan shouldn't have relied on Leonard accepting his son simply turning up alive (though that could just be the child's poor planning abilities). Unless there was more to it than that.
Yes, they definitely found the body, so people are quite sure that Matt's dead. This is why Leonard's obsession with his son is treated as actually crazy, rather than kind of tragic but sort of understandable, by pretty much everyone.

I tried to allude a little bit to how the child knew Leo would accept Matt's being alive without question; basically, the child screwed up and ran into Leonard previously when it was pretending to be his son. A complete description of the incident will appear in a much later chapter, but I might need to work something stronger in here if it's not coming through. Did you not catch that part, or did you not feel like it was a strong enough reason for Leonard to doubt his son was actually dead?

This is a lovely paragraph, but I feel the final "for some reason" is rather unnecessary - the child's complete revolted bafflement at being hugged is already expressed amply in the rest of the paragraph, so just "...while he clings to you like a limpet" seems to be a stronger end to the sentence.
Hmm, I'm not sure about this. I'll think about it.

"So it is that..." also sounds kind of off to me, but that may just be because my brain wants to continue it with "...the group began to describe themselves walking, and as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm they walked."
Heh, I'm afraid I don't get the reference, but you're right, it does sound a bit formal for the paragraph.

Still loving the unnaturalness of everything it says.
I don't know what you're talking about. The child is the best conversationalist ever!

I also enjoy the child's focus on these gross details.
Heh, good. I was kind of worried it was going to be too gross, since I'm weirdly sensitive to that kind of thing and it felt strange to be writing it.

There should probably be an and there.
Yes!

It may just be me, but these two sentences seem a bit contradictory in tone - "Ah, of course" sounds casual and in control, which doesn't really mesh with hot knife-twisting. Or maybe that's the intended effect and just the child being detached from its human emotions? The rest of the paragraph makes the hot knife-twisting bit seem like the overall intended focus, though.
Mmm, yes, I see what you mean. The way I had heard them being said in my head was in keeping with the sentiment of the rest of the paragraph, but I can see how it would come across that way. It's definitely not a casual statement, anyway; it's something you would kind of say with a hiss, rather bitter and berating yourself for not realizing something before. I'm not sure how I could convey that, though, so I'll see what I can do about rewording that part.

Hmm, seeing as Porygon-Z isn't actually a hyphenated word, just a word with a letter stuck on the end with a hyphen, I would think you'd capitalize the Z even if you're not capitalizing the name in itself, the way you would generally capitalize the letters in "So if person A talks to person B..." Or am I way off?
Yeah, that's just me being a derp. It should definitely be capitalized.

This kind of situation is awkward to punctuate, but I'm pretty sure this is definitely not how it should go, seeing as the bit outside the quotes isn't even vaguely a dialogue tag.
I was quite sure that commas are fine even for interrupting actions that aren't dialogue tags, but the internet says no! Apparently there should be dashes instead. Learn something new every day, I guess.

I can't tell if there are words missing here or if it's just a figure of speech I'm unfamiliar with.
I take it you mean the "close with" bit? To close with someone is to approach them, usually to engage them in a fight. If that wasn't it, where did you think there were missing words?

Presumably both of those should be proper dashes.
Again with the inconsistent dashes.
I'd like to thank the academy... and MS Word autocorrect. <<

There was a lovely sense of tension in this chapter in the interplay between the child and Leonard - we can tell how unnatural the child is acting long before it realizes Leonard is seeing through it, and the subtle buildup in Leonard's behaviour from acting simply relieved to see his son alive and well through his increasingly probing questions until he lashes out is really well done.

Also, the child's plan was a delight. So absurdly straight out of TV-land.
Ah, good, I was really unsure of the pacing of the buildup in this chapter, so I'm glad you thought I got it right, and also enjoyed the child's "how do I emotion" bits; there will definitely be a lot more of those moments as the story goes on, and I'm always worried that I haven't managed to convey how weird the child really is, but how what it's doing usually makes perfect sense according to its warped view of the world.

Once again, thanks for giving me such lovely reviews. They're always a delight to read.

Oh, shoot. I'm not on the PM list. That's why I missed that chapter...... Well, put me on the PM list! This story is really great.
Sure, no problem!

Huh? Flushed with your victory? I'm kinda confused here.
To be flush is to be glowing with an emotion or to be experiencing a flood of strong emotion.

Well, anyway, this story keeps getting progressively better and I can never seem to wait until the nxt chapter (unless i dont know that its posted! :< LOL) and your description is just perfect. It seems like it's perfect actually. I try to find mistakes but they've either been fixed already, or there aren't any. Also, there aren't many 2nd person fics or, I mean.... Yeah. Well, I'll be back next chapter.
Thanks, I'm really glad you're enjoying it. And sorry about the PM list thing!

Also, thank you to everyone who nominated me or voted for me in this year's awards! It's always nice to know that people appreciate the 'fic.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
I tried to allude a little bit to how the child knew Leo would accept Matt's being alive without question; basically, the child screwed up and ran into Leonard previously when it was pretending to be his son. A complete description of the incident will appear in a much later chapter, but I might need to work something stronger in here if it's not coming through. Did you not catch that part, or did you not feel like it was a strong enough reason for Leonard to doubt his son was actually dead?
Presumably you're referring to where Leonard is sobbing about how "nobody believed me that I saw you, but I knew it"? It does establish that Leonard was inclined to accept it, and I don't have a problem with that part, but it doesn't quite seem to follow from there that the child would be completely aware of this, especially when it has no idea how human emotions work. I'm guessing the actual incident involved a confrontation where it was very explicit that this was the case, but from Leonard referencing it here, there's no indication that he tried to talk to Matt or anything, only that he saw him, which wouldn't tell the child with any degree of confidence that he genuinely thinks his son is still alive as opposed to simply determined to hunt down whatever thing is going around impersonating him. This plan could work, but it could also be stupidly handing itself on a silver platter to the one person most likely to have figured out that it's not who it says it is, and there's not much indication of why it's so sure it's the former despite that under normal circumstances one would assume Leonard knows 100% that his son is dead. That's what had me confused.

Heh, I'm afraid I don't get the reference, but you're right, it does sound a bit formal for the paragraph.
It's the Community D&D episode. Don't mind me.

Heh, good. I was kind of worried it was going to be too gross, since I'm weirdly sensitive to that kind of thing and it felt strange to be writing it.
Me too, really, but the narration's utter disregard for the idea that you don't go on about mucus when people are crying is part of what gives it so much character.

I take it you mean the "close with" bit? To close with someone is to approach them, usually to engage them in a fight. If that wasn't it, where did you think there were missing words?
I was thinking of the fact it says "managed close with him" as opposed to something like "managed to close with him", actually.

I notice you conspicuously avoided the subject of chapter seven in your response. Coming 4/28, eh?
 
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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Hmm, well, it's not much of a secret that Leonard is convinced that his son is actually alive; the child, which is at least mildly obsessed with the guy itself, picked up on that from multiple sources. The whole thing with his wife leaving him in particular was well publicized and explicitly involved her thinking he was crazy because he was convinced Matt was still alive for crazy reasons. So it was pretty confident it wasn't going to be assumed an impostor right off the bat.

Though, for what it's worth, even if the child considered that it might be walking right into some kind of trap, it wouldn't even care. It has a very low opinion of what other people are capable of relative to its own abilities; by its reasoning, even if Leonard immediately recognized it as an impostor, what's he going to do about it? It can easily take him in a fight or simply teleport away if the situation gets particularly bad. It's generally pretty cavalier and terrible at planning, for a variety of reasons.

...I don't know. I feel like I might still be misunderstanding what you're saying somehow. Thanks for mentioning it, though; you definitely brought up some things I hadn't even considered or had taken for granted, so it's been worthwhile examining them more closely.

I was thinking of the fact it says "managed close with him" as opposed to something like "managed to close with him", actually.
...you know I read that sentence like at least four times looking for the missing word(s), right? Wow.

I notice you conspicuously avoided the subject of chapter seven in your response. Coming 4/28, eh?
Oi. I'll have you know I didn't conspicuously nothing. Let's not talk about me and deadlines, but in theory if I keep setting them and attempting to make them, I will eventually get better at not failing to make them entirely. In theory. In the meantime, you want chapter seven? I got your chapter seven right here.

...or not, because Chapter 7 ended up getting deleted during revisions. If you'd still like to read it, though, you can find it here.
 
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Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
... Where'd everybody go? ... Is it safe to post here? O.O

I've had this thread open for a good long while. I'd read the first chapter and, of course, found it all enigmatic and dark and spooky. This review is chaotic and not a little nitpicky and weird. I've stopped doing like before, when if I couldn't find anything wrong I'd just say how I felt about the plot and characters and maybe speculate, like a nice reader. Now I make enormous, bizarre critiques based on things that probably only exist in my head.

As usual, I've mostly posted my immediate reactions to each chapter as I read it:

Since (what I thought, anyway) there's a lot of mood in the prologue, I tried to close-read for the impressions the details give and the bigger picture they seem to form. (It is a mood chapter I think; since we hardly know what's happening yet, the two things that get across are teasers and mood.)

The child comes home with the chill of the caverns still clinging to it, slush under its fingernails and inner fire stoked against the cold.
When you say the chill is clinging to it, the image in my head is kind of amphibious and creepy -- a clammy film clinging to the child. (Although I realized it could be a sheet of cold air too, depending on which mind is making images.) That's my imagination, but it seems to imply that its skin is not warm, unlike a mammalian child. Plus, it's an it at this point. The inner fire though takes it in the other direction: a warm-blooded creature. I just thought that a small change, if the chill was only clinging to its clothes, would put it more completely in the warm-blood position; outwardly just a human child, inside (you've still called it an it) something else. Of course, I wouldn't know if you might want this contradiction to stand as strong as it is, or if you even care that much about such a close detail.

You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard that evolved from your starter, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several more of little consequence.
The second sentence would possibly read smoother if you don't even mention that the charmander evolved, which (at one sentence distance) might be guessed by the reader: You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several ... Not to mention more businesslike.

The second person here is a little more spirited than later, the narrating voice takes a vaguely cruel, businesslike character, though of course it never becomes a character. I think second is a nice POV for your fic's situation, because in a way the child is really being told what it is, and what happened to it. There's a weird distance in the memories that are supposed to be part of the child's personal experience (according to the child anyway), but don't really belong to it. That distance is decently embodied in the 'you's.

Post Ch2: I do think you're being a little too reticent about details, about leaving things implied -- I don't mean the bigger picture of what-the-child-is-what-is-it-doing-why, but just what's actually going on in the chapter. You explain the minor thoughts that go on in its head (blast it, my ribcage is half a ribcage), but nothing about its plans and failures. The way you omitted the whole first meeting with Titan. I think we're supposed to have basic comprehension about these business happenings, and with guesses like Dragonfree's we can piece it together, but I just think: why is the reader being made to guess this? What's achieved by putting this behind a movable curtain?

Actually my brain was on low sleep throughout the chapter and I kept having reading-comprehension mishaps, so I don't know if it's my fault or yours. But, like, "your own" pokemon, by which it's meant the child's, even though Nicholas's PC and box are also "yours":

The first thing you do is empty your computer account.
Anyway, you have your hands full with your own pokémon as it is.
I tripped on that, anyway.

Ch3: Collecting clues for what the child is.

-- between human and pokemon.
-- no longer a human.
-- only interested in training -- so, something about motive?
-- it can manipulate the weather; there are way too many pokemon who can learn Rain Dance.
-- it talks to pokemon over long distance or something. I guessed a psychic link with 'her', possibly.

Then I read that you've explained the plot in the Fan Fiction Mafia -- again! this info is all coming very very slowly in the actual fic, at least relative to the speed things are progressing. Such that all these pivotal scenes are happening without the reader understanding the soul of what's going on: backstory that would explain the desperation of the quest, the emotional bonds, the rationales of the main players, etc. I won't say I can't feel the raw emotion, in a partial way, without understanding the exact details, but I have to keep guessing and assuming to understand. I wonder if you're withholding the backstory until you have enough leverage with us to really deliver it; once we feel like we know the child enough that those enormous things that must have happened in the past can really have an impact.

You wonder. This is what you come to Fuchsia to do: read the paper; enjoy the tropical weather; and consider what might have been.
I don't think even the pacing of this sentence would be that much changed by just using commas; certainly the semicolons aren't grammatically needed. Still, maybe you just like the look of them. =P

The great digital brain of the League records everything, from the first step each trainer takes after receiving their license to the origin and life history of every pokémon passing through their hands. Leonard stands at the nerve center, watching the data flow in from all the league's sensory organs, the pokédexes that every trainer must carry to be considered legal. The pokédex observes everything, records everything, surely knows more than the trainer herself about everything that has happened on her journey: every item purchased; every trainer battled, and the outcome of that battle; every visit to a pokémon center. It is Leonard's job to guard the ever-widening river of information, to see that it flows freely in the wires, to make sure that the grand architecture of the system is never undermined.
I don't like the soaring, orchestral tone of this paragraph, particularly the last sentence, especially considering that there is such a cool Big Brother element which you could have scored using sinister, minimal ambient music (so to speak). You're describing how it's his calling, how grand and important he considers it. But the grandiose fervor is just not convincing, and doesn't feel like it deserves 33 words, because

-- it illustrates nothing specific about what he actually does, how he might feel doing it or thinking about it, which I guess you must not have personal experience in IT, but still,
-- everything is a frustratingly abstract metaphor: a database is a 'nerve center' that you can stand in front of, there are rivers and architecture, and apparently he literally/metaphorically 'guards' information.

I would prefer a more compelling description of fervor, or even no description at all (we already know it's his calling). I think I'm suggesting in a massively over-the-top way that here you didn't write what you know.

[Later I realized this is his job, not even his calling. Is this really what he found 'frustrating at times, but interesting enough'?]

Officer Feldhorn turns to look back at Leonard, who is going through his ritual at the computer station: a few mysterious incantations on the keyboard, then plug a cable from his laptop into the computer. Keys, keys, keys, then out with the cable, pack everything away. You know he has underlings that could be doing this for him; you know he can probably retrieve everything he wants remotely. But, alas, he has a calling. He has to be sure. He has to be here, to do it himself.
See? That was in one way another illustration of his Calling, and it's quietly enjoyable. Your understated humor; a sly undercurrent of slightly more casual tone, that's really been running throughout from the start of the fic (I felt it in "You were in deep", for instance). I'm just idly speculating, what if you moved that grandiose paragraph to much later in the story; then Leonard might just look slightly nerdy for the rest of the chapter and beyond, until we got familiar with him, and then -- bombshell -- he was standing guard at the Floodgates of Information the whole time.

Of course, I'm eating up all the nuances of the child's character that you put here and there. I like how television dominates so far, and think it might even have some kind of meaning in the story. (Is there a TV Rotom?) But that the child is so reared up on it is real nice. I like that so far its motives are driven by such such simple childlike needs: entertainment, comfort, consumerism. Your character hasn't shown any dimensions yet of the Advice for Aspiring Authors kind, and it doesn't need to (yet). Just a content roaming animal.

She even said it—wait, and if it has not come back to you by the time you find the others, then you must do what you must do.
It wasn't immediately clear that this is Absol's speech -- 'you's are scattered all over the narration anyway, and the tone of it is slightly narratory whereas the other things Absol said sounded conversational enough. Possibly use a colon here? Or even capitalize 'wait'?

Oh, there's a mission... less simple and childlike already, though a mission is (looks to be from here) professional, not personal.

What I assume is that third person is used for the child when it's not wearing a face, and second for when it is. So all the home scenes are 'it'. If in second person, it's being 'told' its identity... in third it's like it has no identity. Just an objective digital eye in a corner of the room.

Ch5: All the ambiguous 'you's do have the effect of giving the reader minor identity confusion on par with what the child might feel. In the first paragraph I'm not sure if the child died on Cinnabar, or if somehow Nicholas died 'here' (in the Seafoam Islands area).

There was the twisted excess of the Mewtwo project, that perversion of nature that ended flame and the death for most of the island's population, those who worked in the slick research facility dominating its northwestern corner. And then, barely five years later, the volcano erupted one quiet morning, completely out of the blue, sweeping away all the rest on a tide of lava and ash.
Ended in flame, I suppose. Also the way of saying that it 'swept away all the rest' strikes me as slightly comical (considering how serious the paragraph is): First there was Mewtwo and it killed the scientist half, and then five years later an eruption killed the half that was left! Not to mention it's suggesting a weird death toll; you'd expect the Mewtwo incident to be a domestic tragedy on the scale of tens or fifties, at most, and the eruption absolutely calamitous (if it really did wipe out all life more or less).

I started looking at your use of contractions in the child's talk: it's like "I did not know" to Officer Feldhorn and the Cinnabar nurse, but later when it's calmed down, "It's a small world", "but that's about it", etc. With pokemon it's always natural (I guess the child is better at talking to pokemon). That's the pattern I can make out. If that's how it is, breaking contractions is a simple way to show broken language, but distinct I guess.

Ch6.

What you can see from here is your old room. This is the very same spot you sat almost two years ago now, on the neighbors' roof, with legs dangling over the edge and eyes trained on the bedroom window just below your perch. Only that time, you were the one in the room dying while another waited outside with Absol, nervous and fidgety and unsure what to do. It had waited, because Absol told it to wait, and not interfere; there wasn't much to see, but somehow Absol knew when you had stopped breathing and prodded that one forward.
Oh, damn. I was worrying it would be mean of me to talk about confused 'you's in case you didn't intend them to be that confused, but here, I think, you're pretty direct about it. "You sat on this spot, looking into a bedroom in which you lay dying." And another one waited outside the door. This is also a decent riddle; I can barely work out what exactly happened here without reading more. Also, though, I had to reread "This is the very same spot" a few times because it didn't occur to me that "This" was referring to the place where the child is sitting, as opposed to possible bedrooms, roofs etc. You could change it painlessly to "You're at the very same spot you sat ..."

I like the child's habit of 'denying' automatic thoughts and behaviors that come to it; you weren't leaning forward in anticipation, you definitely weren't fidgeting; when I was younger I used to try to discipline my mind by literally pretending that certain thoughts weren't there. To an extent, it worked.

Ch7.

Surprised that weeks have passed after the Leonard incident without obvious retribution, and that Absol appears to be helping the child a little (though I guess she's just doing her Absol thing).

In the scene where Weavile rifles through the bags in the supply closet, I had the sense that sentences of the "You [present tense predicate]" form are kind of unhurried, deliberate, descriptive, because when I read it quickly sensing the child's haste, the "You ____"s sort of stood in the way. It's very emphatic, the "You did this, doing this and that" sentence. Still what are you going to do, surely the second person is capable of all registers. This is the three "You" sequence where I felt I was being speedbreaked:

At last you find the one you're looking for and drop the rest, letting them bounce and roll away into whatever crevices they please. You struggle with the hatch on the back of the pokédex, only now bothering to let your claws melt away and reform into dextrous human digits. You pull the data card from its little slot and drop the dead pokédex onto the pile of detritus, then glance up at Absol and grin.
Stray line break here:

It had watched footage of the eruption on television, marveling at the disaster it had so narrowly avoided. At the time it didn't thought of anything but how lucky it had been to survive, to have Absol. But then, two days later, she came for it. "Come. There is something you must see." And the place she
took it was like the ruins of hell.
She reached an anonymouse pile of wreckage climbed the jut of a splintered beam poking from the ash slurry, claws digging deep into the crumbling wood to hold herself steady.
Anonymouse! And possibly a missed comma.

Ah. Now all the backstory is resolved, like I thought. In retrospect the withholding information does make an odd kind of sense, if you think about it getting explained finally at this 'full-circle' point. It's a good kind of feeling, fitting the whole story we finally have to all the fragmented references given out in earlier chapters. (But "between human and pokemon" remains to be explained, along with the basic shapeshifting nature of the child's existence now.) I also think what's to come will get all kinds of cosmic and spatio-temporal, eventually, and look forward to that possibility. I'm still surprised Absol's warning about hastening Fate hasn't come to anything yet, though it still could.

Oh, put me on the PM list too.
 
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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
... Where'd everybody go? ... Is it safe to post here? O.O
ikr? No come baaaaaack everyone. ;-;

When you say the chill is clinging to it, the image in my head is kind of amphibious and creepy -- a clammy film clinging to the child. (Although I realized it could be a sheet of cold air too, depending on which mind is making images.) That's my imagination, but it seems to imply that its skin is not warm, unlike a mammalian child. Plus, it's an it at this point. The inner fire though takes it in the other direction: a warm-blooded creature. I just thought that a small change, if the chill was only clinging to its clothes, would put it more completely in the warm-blood position; outwardly just a human child, inside (you've still called it an it) something else. Of course, I wouldn't know if you might want this contradiction to stand as strong as it is, or if you even care that much about such a close detail.
There's a bit of cold air coming along with it, yes. What I was thinking of more specifically there was the way that the outer layer of your skin will cool down if you've been somewhere cold for a while. For example, if you step out of a heavily air-conditioned movie theater into the summer heat, if you touch your arm or whatever it still feels cold for a brief period of time before you warm up again. Or that might just happen to some people, like me, whose extremities tend towards the icy. One way or another, the child is a temporary cold spot here.

The child is usually but not obligately warm-blooded, but the "inner fire" thing refers to something entirely different than the usual endothermic lifestyle. It's literal fire.

The second sentence would possibly read smoother if you don't even mention that the charmander evolved, which (at one sentence distance) might be guessed by the reader: You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several ... Not to mention more businesslike.
Yeah, that part can go. The intent was more to drive home that the charmander had actually been Nick's starter, but I think that's implied well enough by the previous sentence.

I do think you're being a little too reticent about details, about leaving things implied -- I don't mean the bigger picture of what-the-child-is-what-is-it-doing-why, but just what's actually going on in the chapter. You explain the minor thoughts that go on in its head (blast it, my ribcage is half a ribcage), but nothing about its plans and failures. The way you omitted the whole first meeting with Titan. I think we're supposed to have basic comprehension about these business happenings, and with guesses like Dragonfree's we can piece it together, but I just think: why is the reader being made to guess this? What's achieved by putting this behind a movable curtain?
There's a couple of reasons I play the larger picture close to the chest in the early chapters. The first is that I don't want to overwhelm readers with all that's going on at once. The structure of the narrative is hard enough to get used to, and the child's situation is extremely strange; I thought it would be difficult to convey a lot of information at once without info-dumping or causing more confusion, because some things only make sense when you understand better how the child thinks. I was more concerned with readers being able to piece together what was going on now than trying to introduce the larger picture in the early stages of the story; it takes more or less an entire chapter to lay out most of the details of its situation when we get to it, and I wanted people to be invested in the payoff of the mystery and so actually be interested in reading that, instead of dumping it on them before they have any reason to care. On the whole I thought it would be better for readers' views of the child to evolve organically over time rather than trying to get them to understand what's up with it up front.

For the second part, this story is constrained by the child's point of view, and it already knows all of its plans, desires, etc., and doesn't often feel the need to reflect on them (or reflect on them in a form that's easy for an outsider to understand). It's true that I could have shown the earlier meeting with Titan, where the two of them start to hash out the basics of what's going on, but in addition to worrying that that would be too long and info-dump-y, it would still be full of things like "hey you remember that thing that happened with the person" "yeah" "well now we need to deal with that," which I thought would be just as frustrating for readers as not getting any information at all--the two characters share enough references that what they're talking about wouldn't be immediately clear to someone without their background knowledge.

But I think I may have erred to far on the side of not showing the larger picture early on. The structure of the early chapters are markedly different than for the rest of the 'fic (it gets much more linear, for one), and I still don't know if I really started it in the right place. Overall I'm pleased with how the early part of the story turned out, but I do know that it can be frustrating to readers and overall may not have been the best choice in terms of trying to present information.

But, like, "your own" pokemon, by which it's meant the child's, even though Nicholas's PC and box are also "yours":
Yeah, it's supposed to be like that. The child has to deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance, since it's essentially two (or more) people at once at any given time, so it's used to stretching the concept of "I" or "me" in that way. Again, something I know people will find confusing to read about, but I think that's the truest way to present it. In this case those two sets of pokémon do belong to "you," even though "you" is referencing what any outside observer would identify as being two separate entities.

I don't think even the pacing of this sentence would be that much changed by just using commas; certainly the semicolons aren't grammatically needed. Still, maybe you just like the look of them. =P
Yeah, I'm not sure why I went with semicolons there. It's possible that a previous revision had longer prhases containing commas there, and then I didn't change the semicolons out to commas after rewording.

I don't like the soaring, orchestral tone of this paragraph, particularly the last sentence...
Heh, I think Dragonfree said something along these lines in an earlier review. I agree that it's a problematic section, though I'm worried more that the way it's conveyed isn't appropriate for the child's mental narrative.

I think the content is okay, though. This is all being told through the child's ("your") perspective, and it really does believe that Leo is some kind of computer god-wizard who basically guards this magical network entity for a living. It's influenced both by the amount of impact Leonard has had (inadvertently) on its own life, and by movie/television portrayals of hackers, who are usually able to do absolutely absurd things (think The Matrix or similar) with computers, which it understands not at all. And it definitely has no clue what it is that Leo actually does all day--certainly it doesn't realize that it rarely gets more exciting than having to clean things up after some moron tried running a huge job on the head node and took down the scheduler. So I do want to convey a sense of awe, respect, and maybe a little fear (the child is still pretty sure that it's way too badass for Leo to actually touch, though)--I think that just portraying him as "just some nerd," while definitely more true-to-life, wouldn't be appropriate here.

Possibly use a colon here? Or even capitalize 'wait'?
I do like putting a colon there instead of a dash, yes.

What I assume is that third person is used for the child when it's not wearing a face, and second for when it is. So all the home scenes are 'it'. If in second person, it's being 'told' its identity... in third it's like it has no identity. Just an objective digital eye in a corner of the room.
Exactly!

Also the way of saying that it 'swept away all the rest' strikes me as slightly comical (considering how serious the paragraph is): First there was Mewtwo and it killed the scientist half, and then five years later an eruption killed the half that was left! Not to mention it's suggesting a weird death toll; you'd expect the Mewtwo incident to be a domestic tragedy on the scale of tens or fifties, at most, and the eruption absolutely calamitous (if it really did wipe out all life more or less).
Hmmm, I'm not sure what's comical about it. But I think we have different views of how big Cinnabar Island is; I think of it as a very small place, with the research laboratory being quite extensive and by far its largest employer. Sort of like a little town that's grown up around a factory. There's a reasonable transient population of tourists and trainers stopping by for the gym, but most of the actual families living there had some connection to the lab. So the "Mewtwo incident" probably did for about 60% of the island's adult population.

But yes, ended "in" flame, heh.

I started looking at your use of contractions in the child's talk: it's like "I did not know" to Officer Feldhorn and the Cinnabar nurse, but later when it's calmed down, "It's a small world", "but that's about it", etc. With pokemon it's always natural (I guess the child is better at talking to pokemon). That's the pattern I can make out. If that's how it is, breaking contractions is a simple way to show broken language, but distinct I guess.
Yeah, pretty much. The child is actually speaking a completely different language when it talks to pokémon; that will be made explicit in about three chapters. "Human" (whether English or whatever language they speak here in Kanto) is actually its second language, and one it hasn't had a ton of practice with. It also has trouble with register, and the lack of contractions is one manifestation of that--it has a kind of overly formal, unemotional thing going on. It also tends to refer to people by their full names and/or titles even when that would be inappropriate, for example.

Also, though, I had to reread "This is the very same spot" a few times because it didn't occur to me that "This" was referring to the place where the child is sitting, as opposed to possible bedrooms, roofs etc. You could change it painlessly to "You're at the very same spot you sat ..."
Hmm. After some consideration, I decided to try rewording that sentence slightly.


Anonymouse! And possibly a missed comma.
Damn anonymice. << Fixed those, thanks.

Ah. Now all the backstory is resolved, like I thought. In retrospect the withholding information does make an odd kind of sense, if you think about it getting explained finally at this 'full-circle' point. It's a good kind of feeling, fitting the whole story we finally have to all the fragmented references given out in earlier chapters. (But "between human and pokemon" remains to be explained, along with the basic shapeshifting nature of the child's existence now.) I also think what's to come will get all kinds of cosmic and spatio-temporal, eventually, and look forward to that possibility. I'm still surprised Absol's warning about hastening Fate hasn't come to anything yet, though it still could.
Great, glad you found it satisfying. As you mentioned, there's still quite a bit left unexplained, and that will mostly get worked out within the next five chapters or so.

Absol's "Fate" tends to work on the scale of years or even decades, so it would be pretty unusual for it to come around and smack somebody after only a few weeks. Of course, given that making life difficult for the protagonist is fun, you can expect it to show up sometime before the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Leonard is definitely working on getting his own revenge, but what he's doing is a bit tricky and also illegal, and the child has actually been able to dodge it completely by accident, without its knowledge. You can definitely expect to see more about that and of Leo in general in the future, though.

Oh, put me on the PM list too.
With pleasure!

Thank you for the lovely review, especially given how quiet the thread's been. I noticed it a long time ago, but since it had been a while I didn't want to post a reply without a chapter to go with it, and then that, erm... took a while. Thanks again, I really appreciate it.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: So here, finally, is the next chapter! As a note, this is where the strong language warning mentioned at the beginning of the story starts to come into effect. (And also where we get to see whether my automatic BBCode and censor-evasion filters are working properly...)

This chapter hasn't changed a great deal with revision, aside from being numbered differently, but if you'd like to see the original version, you can find it here.

Chapter 6

"Duskull, I told you to wait back in town. It's dangerous." The ghost scuds away from you, gurgling laughter. When you lunge at him, he sinks back into the tree trunk and vanishes from sight. "I mean it," you hiss, as loudly as you dare. "Stay here."

No response. You hunch your shoulders and turn away, looking down on the humans below. On the one hand, it feels wrong to tell Duskull to go away when he was the one who led you to them in the first place. On the other, it is dangerous. You nudge the felt bag hanging around your neck, done up to look like brightpowder. It actually holds your friends' pokéballs, including Duskull's, shiny and new. You could use it to stop him cold, if you could coax him back out of the tree, but you don't know if he would ever forgive you.

You glower at where the ghost used to be, then start at the sound of leathery wings nearby. You throw yourself belly-down on the branch, making yourself as small as possible, and curse Duskull twice over for distracting you. You turn your head slowly, ever so slowly, until you spot the source of the noise.

A golbat weaves her way through the trees, staying low to the ground and keeping to the shadows. You follow her with your eyes, taking some comfort in the erratic, preoccupied way she's flying.

The golbat sweeps into the little clearing where the teenagers are gathered, smoking and making forced conversation. They stir to attention as she starts circling one of the girls. "Come on, come on, let's move it," the bat calls. "I can hardly fly straight in this damn sun!"

"Looks like we're on, ladies and gents," the girl says with a grin met by uneasy silence. "Let's get this over with already." She turns to leave, and the rest of the group follows at a shamble, flicking cigarettes into the grass and taking half-hearted swipes at the golbat, who harries the stragglers with a constant stream of high-pitched complaints.

"Yes, yes, good work, I'll make sure Mark gives you a treat or something later," the girl says when the bat swoops back in her direction. "Lead the way already."

The golbat doesn't stop grumbling, but she takes off into the trees, and the humans are forced into a lope to keep her in sight. You shoot a last warning glare at the tree behind you, then take off after them.

For a few glorious minutes you lose yourself in the chase, racing branch to branch, alighting on one only long enough to push off to the next. The wind blows your leaves out behind you like pennants, the tiny hairs on their undersides registering minute changes in direction and speed as you sail along.

The humans come to a halt, and you nearly go sailing on past, lost in the rhythm of impact and soaring, larger concerns drifting nebulous and half-forgotten around the edges of your thoughts. But some fragment of intent remains, and you come to a neat stop before you can go too far, using your momentum to flip yourself up and around a branch, grasping with fingers and toes to gain your perch.

You fold into a defensive crouch, ready to move at the first sign of trouble. Below, the humans are discussing something with a boy who was waiting for them, now the primary target of the Golbat's whining.

"--no problem. Bastard won't know what hit him," the newcomer is saying, sweaty and out of breath but grinning nonetheless.

"Yeah, that's right, no need to thank me for dragging this pack of idiots over here for you," the golbat says, hovering so close her wingbeats stir the boy's hair. He ignores her with practiced ease. "Feel free to express your undying gratitude later, after you recall me. Maybe at night, or at least somewhere dark?"

"How long?" the lead girl asks.

"Dunno. Ten minutes at the inside. Even the freaking champion couldn't handle a pack of mankey that big in less than that."

"If he can handle it at all," pipes up another girl, to nervous snickering.

"Oh, come on, Sasha. You don't want the monkeys to have all the fun, do you?" the leader drawls. Then, raising her voice: "Spread out! Don't get comfortable. If we're lucky, there won't be much left of Nate after the mankey have been at him, but if there is, you do not want to be the one who let him get away. Mark, have your golbat scout."

The supersonic cry of exasperation comes even before Mark repeats the order to his pokémon. You wince and dig your claws deeper into the branch, but the humans don't react--they probably can't even hear it.

For all her griping, the golbat is a-wing immediately, and you have to wonder what could inspire such loyalty in the face of the hated sun. You glare down at the boy as he takes his place at the edge of the large, grassy clearing. Nothing good, you think. Nothing good.

The teenagers spread out below, ranging in a half-circle around the clearing. You try to calm down, casting a look around for Duskull. It helps a little that you see no sign of him, that at least he's probably safe, but anger roils your stomach as you think about the golbat and anxiety worries at your fraying nerves.

You sink back into the grovyle's hunting trance, letting the trappings of your human mind fall away until the wood takes on new texture under your fingers and the rich, sappy smell of the leaves around you blossoms into your awareness. You can see every twitch in the clearing's grass, and you sit and watch them, idly marking the passage of cloud-shadows over the ground, and think no more of anything but what is there before you. You can't remember what you're waiting for, but have vague faith that you'll know it when you see it.

And indeed, you stiffen when faint squeaks and wingbeats reach your ears. Your eyes narrow in confusion as you try to recall what they mean. By the time the golbat comes into view, you know what to expect.

"All right, all right, he's coming!" the golbat grumbles to her trainer, dancing around him in tight circles. "Done with me now? Because if you send me off on another stupid errand, I'm probably going to end up hitting a tree or something."

"Recall that thing!" hisses the leader. "Everyone on your guard!"

Barely a minute later you hear two people smashing through the undergrowth on the far side of the clearing. They're taking even less care than humans usually do, and though they must be in full flight, they aren't moving all that fast. You sit up straighter and crane your neck, straining for a first glimpse of who you'll be for the next few weeks.

The first into the clearing is a mightyena, thick coat matted with blood, favoring a forepaw as she bounds into the open. She stops immediately on sight of the humans, snarling with teeth bared and mane bristling. Her trainer stumbles out of the trees a second later, chest heaving as he gasps for breath, and you feel a twinge of disappointment as you look him over. You hadn't been expecting much, but you'd hoped anyone important enough to get a hit put out on them would be at least halfway competent. All you see here is a young man in muddied, shredded clothing, face bloodied from a deep cut running across the bridge of his nose. He leans heavily against the mightyena, gaze roving the people assembled before him.

"Wha--" he starts, then thinks better of it, takes a deep breath, and tries to draw himself up straighter. The other humans step forward, all eagerness now. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing, Jenna? This your idea of a joke, setting a whole fucking truckload of mankey on me while I'm fucking working?"

"Aww, what's this, now? The great Nathaniel Morgan running scared from a few angry monkeys?" Jenna says. You can only see the back of her head from here, but the smirk rings clear in her voice. The mightyena's growling redoubles, saliva frothing from her jaws to the grass below.

"Fuck you and your asshole friends, Jenna. Now get the hell out of my way unless you want to end up the same as the fucking mankey."

He makes as if to start forward again, the mightyena stalking ahead, but they both stop when Jenna unclips a pokéball from her belt and tosses it to herself. "So terribly sorry to detain you, your lordship," she says, with a bobbing parody of a curtsy, "but we're here on orders from someone even higher and mightier than yourself, if you can imagine that. See," and the mocking tone drains from her voice, leaving it all steel and malice, "Aiden isn't very pleased with the quality of your 'work.' In fact, he's thinking it has something to do with how the police have been doing a mighty good job of busting our suppliers lately and how half the jobs you work on go all pear-shaped. Because if there's one thing Aiden can't stand--that any of us can't stand, Nate--it's traitors."

"I ain't no fucking traitor!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars over mutters of agreement from the lurking teenagers. "That's bullshit! And I'll shove it up Aiden's ass myself the second I get back to base. Unlike certain people I know, I don't need to send six pissant grunts to take care of my own goddamn business. Now get the hell out of my way, Jenna! Last fucking warning!"

"The reason Aiden sent so many of us after you, Nate, is because he overestimated you," Jenna says in a mock-soothing tone while the rest of her group starts to fan out, moving to surround the great Nathaniel Morgan. You can see his eyes darting around as he looks for an opening. "I mean, nearly losing to a bunch of wild mankey? Talk about disappoin--"

A yell of "Mightyena!" cuts her off. The dark-type surges towards Jenna while her trainer takes off sideways, trying to outrun the closing cordon of Rockets.

Jenna's only startled for a moment, and the mightyena, injured as she is, can't reach her before she casts her pokéball to the ground. "Let's go, Ursaring!"

You shrink closer to the tree trunk as the hulking normal-type appears, catching Mightyena across the face with a slash attack even as she leaps for him, sparks of energy still dancing in his half-solid fur. The attack sends Mightyena sprawling, and she does not rise.

Meanwhile, one of the other humans calls out a sandshrew to intercept her trainer. The ground-type has no trouble catching the limping human and brings him down with a blow to the back of his knees. The sandshrew's trainer starts to give another command, but Jenna steps in. "Hold. Ursaring, make sure he doesn't run off again."

The big bear doesn't hurry, and its kind aren't known for their speed, but even so the great Nathaniel Morgan only barely makes it to his feet by the time the ursaring reaches him, recalling his mightyena in a flash of red light. Pathetic. The Rocket should be grateful he'll have you to carry on his name after he dies--at least you'll be able to lend it some small measure of dignity.

Certainly if it were you staring down nearly six feet of stony-faced bear, you wouldn't sneer up at him and say, "All right, you stupid piece of shit, let's see what you--"

The ursaring doesn't wait for him to finish, just grabs him by the shoulder and hurls him one-armed into the side of a tree. The normal-type turns a blank expression on his trainer, awaiting further orders.

The teenagers gather around their injured target, laughing and jeering as the ursaring steadily dismantles him, getting in the occasional kick of their own. The bear operates without apparent interest, a bored expression on his face, and you can't blame him. The whole process is really very dull; it's not as though the great Nathaniel Morgan is able to put up any kind of fight.

You zone out for a while, the sounds of the beating fading from your awareness as you think of nothing at all, spreading your leaves and quietly photosynthesizing. It's only when the ursaring is recalled and the humans close in around their victim that you bother paying attention again.

And as soon as you realize what they're up to, you come out of your lethargy with a shock of alarm. They're taking the great Nathaniel Morgan's wallet, his pokémon... his pokédex! It vanishes into the back pocket of one of the Rockets even as you watch. You stifle a growl. Of course they wouldn't leave it to rot out in the wilderness with the great Nathaniel Morgan's corpse. It's nearly as valuable to them as it is to you, and if you don't get it, this whole tedious excursion will have been for nothing.

But you can't just run down and grab it. You don't like your odds against six trainers, Rockets or not, especially not if they have more pokémon like that ursaring. So. You need a distraction.

The group saunters back in your direction, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They stop and look up as a shadow passes across the sun, a meteor hurtling low over the forest. It rockets into the trees on the far side of the clearing with a rending crack and an impact that knocks two of the humans off their feet and showers the rest in leaves, twigs, and a surprised squirrel.

While blue flames burn themselves out in the resulting crater, you let out the loudest roar you can manage from a reconfigured throat, then crouch low against your branch as the humans' heads snap around in your direction.

"What the fuck was that?"

"Sounded like a... salamence? Salamence, right?"

"What would a salamence be doing way out here?"

Lightning strikes a tree near where the Rockets huddle, and they scatter to avoid a shattered bough that tears down through the canopy. You leap away, putting some distance between yourself and your old perch, and let out another roar, pitched just slightly differently. Then you freeze, wait until their eyes pass indifferent over your new hiding spot, and call quietly on the power of storms.

"Two of them?" wonders the boy who'd identified the salamence cry earlier.

"What are they, fighting?"

"I don't care if they're having a motherfucking church revival up there. We're getting out of here before we find out," Jenna says as dark clouds boil into existence overhead and rain begins to fall. She rubs at her cheek, where a flying piece of debris has scored a long cut.

"I can't see anything up there," says another girl, and you petulantly send the next thunder attack her way, just for that.

"No more talking! Everybody move!" Jenna barks after she's picked herself up again. "Nicholson! Where's Nicholson?"

"There are two salamence out there, and you're just going to run away from them?" asks the golbat's trainer.

"Look, Mark, if you want to go off and capture those salamence for the glory of Team Rocket and your paycheck, be my guest," Jenna says as she hauls a dazed girl back to her feet. "If you make it back alive, I'll recommend you for a promotion myself. But we gave Morgan what he deserved, so as far as I'm concerned, we're done here. Let's go, people."

She takes off running in the direction of Fuchsia, and most of the others follow her lead. Mark lingers a moment, staring up into the trees, then turns and follows after.

You lash out with a burst of telekinetic force and hook the pokédex out of the thief's pocket, and it tumbles into the leaf litter, unnoticed in the scramble to escape. Then you wait a few minutes more, sending an idle draco meteor after the group, just to drive home the point. When the snapping and crashing sounds of the humans' flight have died away and tentative forest noises are returning, you dismiss the storm with a wave of your hand.

One great jump sets you down next to the pokédex, and you struggle to pry its cover off with clumsy reptilian fingers, too impatient to shift them back towards human. Then it's open and on, its screen glowing, and you start flicking through menus and calling up statistics, drinking in all there is to know about the life that is now yours. You're so engrossed that you don't even notice Absol until she nudges your shoulder.

You choke and drop the pokédex, twisting left and right as you look for some sign of trouble, the leaves at your wrists flaring in alarm. "Absol! What is it? Is there danger?" Maybe your little show attracted unwanted attention. If so, you don't see it yet.

"No. No danger to you. But that human is dying." She tips her head sideways, pointing with her blade, and for a second you aren't sure what she's talking about. Your gaze travels out across the clearing to where the ruined corpse of the great Nathaniel Morgan lies.

"But he's already--"

"He is not dead. He will be, soon. And he should not be." Absol gets up off her haunches, turns a tight, agitated circle, then sits down again. "It's not right." Up, circle, sit.

You slowly spread your leaves again, unease prickling at your gut. She's anxious. Absol is actually anxious. You've never seen her show emotion like this before, not even when the volcano was about to annihilate your world--even then, it was efficient professionalism to the last.

"Absol, what's going on? Why do you care what happens to that Rocket?"

"His death is not right, but I cannot prevent it. You are the only one who can." A muscle in her shoulder starts twitching, like she's trying to shake a fly, and she turns her head to bite at it.

"No I can't! I don't know how to save him. What do you want me to do?"

Absol turns back to you, though the twitch is still going. "You can heal him with your attacks."

"Healing attacks only work on pokémon, Absol."

"They work on you, and you are not a pokémon."

"But I'm not a human, either! I don't know what they'll do to a human. I've never tried it before. It might just make things worse!" You regret the stupid words the instant they leave your mouth.

Absol glares at you, so venomous you actually flinch away and half raise your hands to shield your face. "You are whining. At the least you can try. Quickly. Now!"

She lunges at you, and you take off in a stumbling run. You're out of the trees and across the clearing in a matter of seconds, pulling up next to the wreck of a human. Absol follows, her gaze stern, then stops and bends to scratch a sudden itch on her leg with her blade.

Dismay tightens your chest as your life-sense tells you that Absol is right. The Rocket isn't dead, but he will be, and soon. You glance at Absol, and she stares back, all twisty-sideways as she tries to deal with the itch at the same time. You look down at your patient, and the cold fear in your gut knots tighter. The ursaring was very thorough. You can only begin to guess at all the injuries the man's sustained. It would probably be easier to count the number of bones left intact than the ones that got broken.

Another pleading glance at Absol receives only a stony, meaningful look in response, so you do your best to quash your fear as you raise your hands in front of your face. Energy surges down your arms, pouring blinding white from your fingertips and gathering between your hands. As you force more of your life energy into the attack, the mass grows, forcing your palms apart until it's roughly the size of a chicken egg.

You roll the softboiled into your left hand and give it a quick glance over, fighting the wave of exhaustion trying to drag you to your knees. The attack looks fine, faintly glowing through a thin, gelatinous shell that can barely hold back the raw energy within. Fine, but also fleeting; if you don't get this into the Rocket in the next half-minute or so, it will collapse in on itself and fall inert.

You lean over the man and use your free hand to pull open what's left of his jaw. You drop the softboiled in his mouth and slam it shut again, not troubling to be gentle; a little extra damage from an overzealous push won't make much difference at this point, and it would be far worse to let any of the softboiled's energy escape. Then you sit back on your haunches and watch the Rocket with Absol at your shoulder, waiting for your attack to do whatever it's going to do: heal the human, or burn through his veins and annihilate the last of his spark. Or maybe nothing at all.

It doesn't take long. After a few seconds you can see the softboiled working, some of the Rocket's minor cuts disappearing, deeper ones starting to clot and scab. All well and good, but his more serious injuries are barely touched, and you slump a little as you realize, half a moment before Absol says it aloud: "That is not enough."

It's no good arguing now that you've committed to the work, and stopping to think will only make it worse. You flex your fingers, which prickle with faint, itching pain, then draw them up in one swift, determined motion, already sending energy racing down your arms. This time, you really do stagger, panting, as the softboiled takes shape, but your motions are quick and sure as you feed it to the great Nathaniel Morgan--after all the effort that's gone into making it, you can't afford to slip up and drop the thing.

With the softboiled secured, you release your focus and slump to the ground, gasping for air and digging your burning fingers deep into the cool dirt. And still it isn't enough. The human is like a black hole, sucking up all your energy and tossing it into the void. You meet Absol's stern gaze and force yourself upright to perform the attack a third time.

And that does it. The Rocket isn't restored, no; he still looks as though he's taken a beating, albeit a less severe one. But he is no longer dying, and at the moment you think that's the best Absol can ask for. You're not sure you could manage another softboiled even if you had to, anyway.

"Watch him," you say to Absol, much too tired to keep the bite of anger out of your voice. "I'll do more later. Now I need to sleep."

Absol hesitates only a moment, then bows her head in a brief nod. "Thank you." You grunt and stagger a couple of steps away, then collapse into sudden, heavy slumber.

--​

You wake ravenous, arms and fingers aching to the bone. The rest of you is sore and weakish, stirring memories of the flu from a whole lifetime ago. But mostly you're hungry, and the big lump of bloody human lying so nearby, faintly breathing, isn't helping.

Absol is stretched out next to him, watching patiently as you gather yourself. You half want to slide back into a doze, but the hunger is too insistent. "The least you could do after all that is get me something to eat," you growl at Absol without lifting your head from the grass.

To your immense surprise, she doesn't reprimand you for being rude. She actually rises and says, "I suppose." Then she steps sideways into drifting leaf-shade and vanishes. You find yourself looking at nothing but empty air, deprived of anyone to gripe at. A few seconds later you let out a warbling yell of exasperation and roll onto all fours, sparing only a passing glance for the Rocket. It's clear he's not going anywhere.

You find the pokédex lying where you dropped it earlier, in that flash of panic when Absol started going crazy. You shake your head as you pick the machine up, brushing a bit of dirt off its cover. You shouldn't have given her the excuse to leave. She might have actually told you what was up if you'd been quick enough to ask, but by the time she gets back you're sure she'll have come up with some evasion or other.

Your spirits improve once you actually manage to concentrate on the pokédex's data. It comes loaded with six badges--six! Two more than you'd even dared hope for, and more still than you'd really expected to find. Somewhat at odds with what you've witnessed of the great Nathaniel Morgan's abilities, too.

Your gaze slides back to the convalescent Rocket, and unease stirs in your chest. How long is it going to take him to heal? If you're going to be using his identity, you can't just let him wander around free. He might tell someone about your plans. On the other hand, you don't want to drag a half-dead human along on your journey, either. The inconvenience could easily outweigh the boon of badges you hadn't expected to have.

Before you can wallow too deeply in melancholy thoughts, Absol steps out of the shade with the food she promised, a rabbit dangling from her teeth. She sets it neatly on the ground in front of you, then watches without expression as you grab it up and toss your head back, swallowing it down in one quick motion. There's a funny sliding feeling as your jaw unhinges to let it pass through whole, and then it's sitting heavy in your stomach, awaking lizardy instincts to crawl off somewhere and digest.

You can only manage a "thank you" for Absol before you succumb to the urge to rest, scaling the nearest tree and seeking a sunny spot along a branch to settle yourself in. There you relax into a digestive stupor, leaves flared to catch the light and mind gone dozy and distant.

"Are you just going to go back to sleep?" You blink, shake your head, look down at Absol. She's up on her hind legs, paws braced against the tree trunk, and is staring up at you.

"What?"

"I don't understand why you are sitting around doing nothing. I thought you wanted to hurry."

You shake yourself again and try to gather your thoughts. They're none too charitable, now that your rest has been interrupted. "I did, Absol, but then you decided you wanted me to babysit some Team Rocket member I hoped was going to die. There's no point trying to hurry now. I can't go anywhere until he at least wakes up."

"You're being petulant." Absol lets go of her grip on the tree with a snick of claws over bark, then starts to pace around its base. "If it means so much to you, you can go out and find another for your scheme. You have no reason to linger here."

"Absol, I don't have the time to get anybody else. It took me over two weeks to find this one, and that was only because Duskull got lucky."

It had been much, much harder than you'd expected. Isn't training supposed to be dangerous? Trainers on TV face peril every day, and there's never any shortage of murders to fuel your favorite crime dramas. You thought there'd be plenty of lives for the taking if you were willing to do a little leg work--honestly, you'd been surprised you hadn't encountered any murders in what time you'd spent around humans already.

But no amount of following children into the wilderness yielded results, and you'd been forced to flee from a trainer's pokémon twice. Checking dumpsters for discarded bodies hadn't gone over any better. Weeks passed, and all you accomplished was to drive Absol to icy uncommunication with your nagging. "I cannot say when simply any human is going to die," she said--repeatedly, you did have to admit. "If I could, then I would be on constant alert. I can only sense the fate of those whose lives are twined with mine--and the more distant the connection, the weaker my awareness."

It wasn't fair that she wouldn't help, especially because it was her own fault that you were scrounging for another body in the first place. Absol and her stupid rules.

None of your old souls were suitable. You needed someone new, someone no one, or at least no one connected with the League, knew was dead. Someone who'd perished in an out-of-the-way place and wouldn't be discovered for a couple of weeks. You hadn't thought that too much to ask. All you needed was for some human to walk into a convenient ravine and die--how unlikely could that be? In the end you'd found someone--well, Duskull had--and of course, Absol had come along to ruin that, too, babbling something about Fate like always.

"If you do not have time, then perhaps it would be better to abandon this nonsense. There is no reason for you to take another's life for your piece of folly. You can go to the Plateau as some imagined person, and I will see to it you find your brother."

You already pointed out challengers need a valid license, and only challengers have access to the trainer's village where the Champion will be staying. And there's no point getting to the Plateau early, since there's nothing you can do until he arrives anyway. It only makes sense to spend your extra time on making getting to him easier.

But Absol's heard all this before, and you don't expect her to change her mind. The truth is, none of these is the real reason, and she knows it. "It's not nonsense, and I know I don't need to, Absol. I want to, and I want you to either tell me why you have a problem with it or stop getting in my way."

"I don't know what you're talking about. I see no reason to stop you from entering the tournament if you want. That does not mean I think it is a good idea. How am I getting in your way?"

"This... That. What's up with this guy?" You gesture to the great Nathaniel Morgan. "Absol, I've never seen you act like that before. You almost seemed... scared."

Absol turns her stare on the unconscious Rocket. "Him? He has nothing to do with anything. But we must always try to prevent the world turning aside from Fate, no matter how small the transgression." She pauses, then shakes her head, as if to drive away an insect.

"Absol, you're doing it again. Come on, I know it isn't nothing. You're acting all funny." A thought occurs to you. "Or is it not about this at all? Is it something else?" An icy certainty freezes your bones as you start to realize: "You--you're not sick or something, are you?"

Absol snorts and says, "Of course not. You are being foolish. There is nothing wrong."

You still feel cold and shaky, and you want to crush down your feelings, make them all go away, but you can't concentrate on that or anything else right now. You find yourself stammering out the truth instead, voice small and quivering. "Absol, why won't you tell me what's going on? You're scaring me."

Absol tips her head to the side and stares at you, and you realize in a flash of exasperated relief that she's genuinely puzzled. Then she leans forward and gives you a quick nudge on the shoulder with her nose. "Well. I did not mean to frighten you. I'm sorry, but it really is nothing. Nothing you need to worry about."

"But you were worried about it. Why were you worried?"

Absol turns away from you, so quick you think she must have seen something out in the forest and jerk around to stare yourself. But she's just looking blankly at the trees, thinking. After a few seconds her claws tighten in a death-clutch on the earth, and she says slowly, distantly, "I cannot explain it to you. It was a shadow on the water's face. I saw it. I don't know how to explain it. That is what it was. A shadow on the water's face."

"And that's... bad."

"Yes." She turns back to you and gives you another bump on the shoulder. "But you stopped it, like I asked you to. So it is nothing to worry about. And thank you for helping."

You catch her before she can pull away again and hug her around the neck while she tries to wiggle out of your grip. "That's okay. I just wish you could tell me what was going on. Do you think another one of those water... face... darkness things is going to happen again?"

She tops shaking out her mane and stares at you, then says slowly, "That depends on you." When all she receives in response is a perplexed look, she elaborates, "Because the water doesn't have a face unless you're looking into it."

"Absol, if you meant 'reflection,' you should have just said it."

She gets a faraway look and thinks again for a minute. "Would you have understood what I meant if I had?"

You have to admit it's still frustratingly metaphorical. "No."

Absol nods briefly. "Better to call it what it is, then," she says. "Now, I must be going. Whatever you choose from here, you have done well." She turns aside.

"Absol, wait. I still need to sleep. I need you to stay here and watch--" But she steps into shadow and out of sight, and you're left talking to a shaft of sunlight falling between the leaves overhead.

You snort and turn away. Aches are creeping back into your joints, a fog settling over your mind as your body demands you rest. For you, it's a safe enough proposition; not so much for the human. You cast him a resentful glare. He's already attracting flies, and if something larger and hungrier arrives while you're distracted, all the effort you went to in saving his life will be wasted.

As a sludgy haze of lethargy descends over your mind, you decide it's an acceptable risk. It's not like you really want him to stay alive--just the opposite, actually. If Absol doesn't want something scavenging him, then she can show up to stop it herself.

Feeling sluggishly, vindictively satisfied with that, you make your heavy way back up the tree and out onto a branch, and let yourself slip into blissful uncaring for several hours more.

--​

You return to yourself in late evening, prodded back to alertness by insistent cramps and, again, the demands of your stomach. The sun is sunk behind the trees, their shade gone deep and cold, and the cloud tatters overhead are tinted a blushing pink. You close your eyes and stretch, luxuriating in the feeling of being returned to full strength.

Meanwhile, the Rocket's still unconscious, lying in exactly the same attitude as you left him. He isn't dead, you're disappointed to see. But he's acquired a new companion.

You jump down from your perch and rush across the clearing. "Duskull, Duskull!" The red glow of the ghost's eye rolls in your direction while the rest of his body bobs in place. "There you are. Where'd you go off to, then?"

The ghost grumbles something barely audible and drifts in your direction, eye roving back and forth in his skull. "Thank you for not following me earlier. I told you, Duskull, you shouldn't hang around near Team Rocket. It's dangerous. What if one of them saw you?"

Duskull grumbles and scoots away from you, waving his tendrils dismissively. You shake your head. It's an old argument, and not one you have the patience for right now. Instead you look down at the Rocket, considering.

"This is so stupid. He looks exactly the same as he did this morning." You know it takes longer for humans to heal than pokémon--much longer, even. But you think he should have at least woken up by now. Prodding him with a toe yields no response. Duskull watches as you select a finger you can tell is broken and lean your weight on it. Not even a twitch. If the Rocket is playing dead, he's an incredible actor. You let out a hiss of disgust and flop to the ground next to the man, staring at him through the frame of your knees. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

Duskull gurgles quietly. "Yes, this is the guy they were going to kill. But of course, they're Rockets, so they managed to screw it all up, and then Absol made me heal him for some stupid reason, and now he's just lying there." You spread your hands in exasperation.

Duskull watches the early night-insects investigating the great Nathaniel Morgan's wounds for a bit. Then his eye turns to you, and he mutters something half to himself.

"No, Duskull. I told you I don't want you hanging around those guys." The chirp of crickets fills your pause. "I mean, you don't know if... they have a hit out on anybody else right now?"

Duskull wags his body side to side. "Then no. It's too dangerous." For a while the two of you remain in silent contemplation of the human. Then you push back to your feet with a gusty sigh. "Look, you mind watching him for me? I don't think he'll go anywhere, but I don't want anything to come along and eat him, you know?"

Duskull's only response is to retreat most of the way into the tree trunk over the Rocket's head, only the red orb of his eye floating outside it, his skull mask nothing more than a suggestive whorl in the tree's bark. "Thanks," you say, then close your eyes in brief concentration, jumping back to the abandoned building not far from the forest's edge where you hid your supplies.

Back in the clearing, you unroll the sleeping bag you packed more out of a sense of obligation than anything--you don't mind sleeping on the ground--and drape it over the great Nathaniel Morgan. You don't relish the idea of trying to get him inside it, so you decide he'll simply have to deal with being cold. If it bothers him so much, he can always wake up and climb in himself. After that, you seek out a couple birds to take the edge off your hunger, then become Charmeleon, the warmth of your fire sac and the flame burning on your tail driving back the chill of the late-summer night.

You take one last look at the great Nathaniel Morgan, Duskull's eye hanging over him like a ruddy night-light, and have to stifle a hot surge of irritation. If he doesn't wake by morning, you'll try one more softboiled on him. If that fails, he'll be on his own and you'll look to your other, dwindling options. With that resolved, you settle down in a nest of leaf litter, curled in around the flame on your tail, and sleep.
 
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pacman000

Well-Known Member
Ahhh...he saved the Rocket. I was wondering if he'd do that. If he didn't he'd come off as kind of evil, so I'm glad he did.

More cursing, but I guess criminals wouldn't use the nicest language.

I wonder what makes Nathaniel Morgan "great."
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Hey, good to see you back again.

Ahhh...he saved the Rocket. I was wondering if he'd do that. If he didn't he'd come off as kind of evil, so I'm glad he did.
It did, yeah. For what it's worth, though, I don't give it many points for that one--it would've quite happily sat back and done nothing if it weren't for Absol snapping at it. To earn good person points, in my book, you have to do a good thing because you wanted to, not because someone else was making you!

More cursing, but I guess criminals wouldn't use the nicest language.
Yeah, they're a pretty coarse bunch, generally speaking.

I wonder what makes Nathaniel Morgan "great."
We-ell, that was actually sarcasm. At least in Jenna's opinion, he's anything but.

Thanks for reviewing!
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: This chapter hasn't changed a great deal in revision, aside from no longer being two posts long, but if you'd like to read the original version you can find it here.

Chapter 7

The stars are disappearing into the warm gray of a lightening sky, and the birds are trying to sing the sun up. For a few groggy seconds you think they're the ones that woke you. You're about to shut them up with a little song of your own when Duskull drops down in front of your face, eye pulsing slowly on and off. "Oh," you say, the smile sliding off your face.

You scramble to your feet and hurry towards the Rocket, Duskull drifting behind like a tiny storm cloud, then stop. You need to do this right. You need to be careful. You tickle your voice box low enough for human speech, tongue and teeth rearranging. The spitting flare of your tail flame sinks back to a faint glow as you school yourself to calm, and you hold it close behind you as you start walking again. From the Rocket's perspective, you should be nothing more than a silhouette. You expect this conversation will be difficult enough without him getting a good look at you.

You can hear him moving, tentatively, making faint noises of pain, but he stops as you get close. "I know you are awake," you say. "There is no point in pretending."

He stays still and silent. You let out a smoky huff of irritation and swat him lightly on the side of the head. His eyes fly open as a gash reopens and spills sluggish blood into his ear.

"Gah! What the fuck was--" he starts, jerking away from you. The motion turns to a wince of pain, and he hisses a long string of curses between his teeth as, with delicate slowness, he settles back into a relaxed position.

"I do not have time to play games. I have a proposal for you, and I require your attention. Do you understand?"

"You're fucking insane," he croaks. You take a reflexive step back as you see his eye, no more than a slit in the midst of a receding shiner, glinting in the light of your tail flame. "What in the fuck is going on here? Who the hell are you?"

"What is going on is I am giving you the opportunity to save your worthless life. Pay attention."

"Fuck you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is." He has to take a second to get his breath back before plunging on. "And you didn't answer the fucking question: who the fuck are you?"

You consider possible responses while he lifts himself ever so slightly and peers around the clearing, squinting in the half-light. "Hey! Where the fuck are you? Just gonna set your pokémon on me while you hide out somewhere, asshole?"

"No. I am standing right in front of you. Now, if we can return to what I was actually trying to say--"

"You can return all you like, but I ain't going with you until you tell me just who in the fuck you are." He stares hard at everything but you and Duskull, still searching for a lurking human.

"You will be quiet and listen to what I say or--"

"Or what? Bring it on, you cowardly little bitch, I ain't scared of--"

"I said be quiet or I will--"

"What, you'll get your pokémon to do your dirty work 'cause you're too much of a fucking pussy to--"

Irritation burns in your chest, flammable gases evolving, temperature rising. "Shut up!" you roar, and flames gush out with the words, setting the leaves at your feet alight. You realize your mistake as the great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes widen. You stand there silent and mortified, cringing at the dry-leaf rustle of Duskull's laughter.

"Christ," the great Nathaniel Morgan breathes, staring into the returning darkness. "That's no fucking charmeleon. Fuck who are you--what the fuck are you?"

"I am me. Not that that is important. What is important is that I want your help."

Through a long string of ginger movements he manages to get one hand up to clutch at his head, and he's muttering to himself, a breathless stream of words you have to turn up your hearing to make out. "...so fucked. Like thanks for the fucking head injuries asshole, I wasn't up shit creek already without fucking seeing things..."

"Pay attention!"

He closes his eyes and sighs.

"I said pay attention!" You're on him in a second, knocking his hand out of the way and ignoring his cry of pain as you jostle unknown wounds, putting your face so close to his that the heat of your breath blisters his skin. "Look at me!"

He cracks open desperately watering eyes, and you straighten up again, staring down into his face. "Now. I am not a hallucination. I am very real, and I do not like to be ignored. If you want to continue living, I suggest that you listen to what I am saying."

The Rocket twitches, like he's going to try and strike you, but can only subside with a choked noise of discomfort. You glare at him for a second, then go on when he doesn't try anything else. "Now. Once again, I have a request for you. I want to use your identity in order to take the gym challenge, and I need you to come with me as I do. If you agree to those terms, I will spare your life and return your identity to you after I finish the Indigo League Tournament. What is your answer?"

He's quiet for so long you're about to press him again, but at last he takes a wheezing breath and says, even softer than before, "Look, I still don't even know what in the fuck is going on here. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm fucking cold, and I feel like a bunch of snorlax have been doing the fucking conga all over my body, okay? I'm having a little trouble concentrating on your fucking offer, get me?"

You let your breath hiss out between your teeth, hoping it will take some of your aggravation with it. "I have food. I have water. I will give them to you if you agree to my terms."

"How about no, food first, and then we fucking talk?"

"You are in no position to be making demands. Will you come with me or not?"

He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the trunk. After a second he says, "Look, could I just get some fucking water? Fucking 'please,' all right? Then I'll listen to your bullshit offer or whatever, swear to God."

You bare your teeth at him and spit out another half-flaming breath, but when he doesn't react, you give up and stomp over to your pack. You can tell he's watching as you rummage out your water and storm back over, the tiniest slit of eyes showing under his lids, but he's not prepared when you upend the canteen over his face.

"Hey! What--" he splutters, then coughs and sits glaring at you for a second, licking moisture off split and swollen lips.

"There is your water. If you want more, you will listen to what I have to say."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. "Bastard. Fine. Let's just get this shit over with already."

"Yes. As I said. I need you to accompany me on my journey. I am going to take on your identity and use your pokédex to earn the last two badges. Then I will enter the Indigo League Tournament. Once it is over, I will return your pokédex to you, and you will be free to go. All I ask for is your cooperation over the next three weeks."

"Whoah, whoah, whoah," he says. "Hold up. Badges? The fucking League finals?" His face twists into a hideous smirk, shattered teeth glinting bloody in the growing light. "What the fuck is this? Splice-boy wants to be a motherfucking pokémon master?"

"Splice-boy?"

"Oh, come the fuck on," he says, smirk growing wider. "You're obviously some kind of ugly mutant thing. I mean, whatever lab you escaped from"--his smile falters for a second, and his eyes widen. You wait in confusion as he groans, "Oh, fuck, that's it, ain't it? You're some escaped freak they were cooking up down in the labs, huh? And now you're free, you're going to get your revenge on Team Rocket or some shit, like liberate your mutie brothers and sisters and start a revolution, am I right? Well, forget about it, I got nothing to do with that shit..."

"I am not an experiment."

"...don't even like scientists, those nerds give me the fucking creeps. I mean, yeah, sure, I know some guys who were in on the whole Mewtwo thing, but who the fuck doesn't? Like--"

"Be quiet. I am not a mutant. I am not a Rocket experiment. I am me, and I am doing this for my own reasons."

"What, fucking with me? Because you want my identity? What, you think you can just walk into a gym or something, show my fucking pokédex, and they'll let you in?"

"They will if I look like you."

He stares at you for a moment, then bursts into actual laughter. It only lasts a second before it turns into coughing, wrenching noises that shake his whole body. He's gasping for air but trying hard not to breathe, curling in over smashed ribs and choking back the wracking noise. "Come the fuck on, Freak," he says as the fit subsides, barely above a whisper. "I might be ugly, but I ain't that fucking ugly. What are you, some kind of master of fucking disguise?"

"Yes."

He blinks up at you, then lets his head fall back against the tree trunk with a careful sigh. "Fine," he says. "You know what? That can be your fucking problem. But I still don't know how the fuck you expect me to be going anywhere in time for the goddamned finals, hell, anywhere for like fucking weeks."

"Why not? If you have some other plans, you will have to cancel them. This is more important."

"What the fuck are you talking about, retard? Plans? Hell yeah I got plans, like, you know, lying around in a fucking hospital, high out of my mind on painkillers, until I can fucking walk again, shit like that."

"You mean you need more time to heal."

"Yes! Yes, that's what I'm fucking talking about. I can hardly fucking move over here, and everything hurts like a motherfucker. I ain't going nowhere, with you or nobody else."

You barely suppress a growl of frustration. Pathetic. "Fine. I will heal you, and then you will join me."

"Oh, right, heal me, you'll just fucking heal me, with your magic mutant fairy dust, that it?"

"No. Softboiled."

"What, they drop you on your head when they were pulling you out of the fucking test tube, or what? That don't work on humans, dipshit."

"Mine does. That is what I used to heal you earlier."

"Heal me 'earlier?' Yeah, some fucking fantastic job you did of that, didn't you? I mean, fuck, I can't even move my fucking arm, here."

"I saved your life. You owe me your cooperation."

"I don't owe you shit, even if you are telling the truth." He takes a fortifying breath and starts again, a little stronger. "Look. You fuck off and leave me here, and I swear to God I'll forget I ever met you. Hell, I'm already trying to forget I ever met you. You can have my fucking identity, sure, fine, fucking peachy. Not like I was going to be able to use it anymore, anyway. Which is another thing. The whole reason we're having this fucking delightful conversation in the first place is Team Rocket decided they didn't like my fucking face and wanted to put me six fucking feet under. Guess they kinda fucked it up, but all that means is they're going to be after you if you go around pretending to be me--"

"I know."

He breaks off in confusion. Then, "What the fuck are you talking about? You 'know?'"

"Yes. I was following the Rockets when they came to get you. How did you think I found you in the first place?"

"What? Hold the fuck up, you were just hanging out watching while those morons beat the shit out of me? And you didn't do jack about it?"

"Of course not. If I had interfered they would have started attacking me, stupid. Besides, you are a Rocket yourself. I am sure you deserved it."

His face twists into another one of those awful smiles, and his shoulders twitch with suppressed laughter. "My fucking hero. Well, whatever. What I was trying to say in the first place is that we should just go our separate fucking ways. I swear I won't ever tell nobody about you and your crazy fucking plan, and you can just go off and do whatever the fuck you want. Sound good?"

"No. You will accompany me."

He starts what sounds like a growl, but it nearly turns into a cough, and he chokes it down, bottles it up inside. When he goes on, it is in a carefully neutral tone. "Why the hell do you care so much about that? What the fuck do you even think I'm going to do to you? I already fucking told you, I'm gonna be fucking hospitalized for longer than your stupid-ass little adventure is going to take." He doesn't quite manage to hold in another cough, and it takes him a while to pick up his train of thought. "God, you haven't got any meds on you, do ya?"

"No. And I do not trust you. I cannot afford to leave any loose ends. You will come with me so that I can watch you and be sure that you do not betray me."

"Look, seriously, what the fuck are you even planning to do? Carry me?"

"If necessary."

"Are you--are you fucking--?" He shivers a little, like he wants to move but hurts too much. "For fuck's sake, who am I even going to 'betray' you to, anyway? You think I'm going to go to the fucking police or some shit? Who the hell would even believe me? They'd just lock me up in the goddamn psych ward, come on."

As well they might. Most people probably wouldn't believe his story. But there is one, you know, who would, one person whose ears it can never be allowed to reach.

"It could be anyone. Your Rocket friends, perhaps. I cannot risk it."

"Rocket friends? You mean the fuckers who just tried to kill me?" He glares at you. You stare back and wait. "Look, the answer is 'no,' got it? Drag me along with you or whatever, I guess, if you can fucking manage it. But first chance I get I'm screaming as loud as I can and at least when they come to take me away they'll get you too, you piece of shit."

"You will not."

"And why the fuck not?"

"Because if you start to do so, I will kill you."

He grimaces and shifts his weight against the trunk. "Then might as well save us both some time and bump me off right now, Freak."

You flex your claws and lash your tail, letting its flame leap higher, spitting and popping with your anger. But though Absol isn't here, you can imagine her displeasure well enough. For the moment, at least, your desire to stay on her good side stops you going farther. "Stop being stupid," you snarl at the Rocket. "You have nothing to gain by being stubborn. If you cooperate, we both benefit."

"Yeah? Funny, I still haven't heard how the fuck I benefit from letting some psycho freak bastard push me around."

"If you cooperate, I will make sure you live."

"Oh, right, after you've threatened to kill me like every two goddamn seconds. I believe the shit out of that one."

You stare each other down for another few seconds. Finally, gritting your teeth, you hiss out, "Very well. What do you want from me?"

"I want you to fuck off and find some other poor bastard to push around. I've got more important things to do than run around on your fucking stupid badge quest."

Your tail flame surges higher, its heat beating on the back of your neck. The smoke from your nostrils stings your eyes, and you tremble with the effort of not unleashing a flamethrower straight into the Rocket's ugly face. A few stray licks of flame spit from your mouth as you snarl, "Fine. I will leave you here, and maybe if you are lucky you will manage to crawl back to Fuchsia before you starve or something eats you. Otherwise, good luck doing your 'more important things' when you are dead. At least Team Rocket will be happy that they got what they wanted in the end."

You whirl around and stomp away, feeling darkly pleased. The human's sure to die if you leave him on his own, and then you'll be able to use his face and his pokédex without fear of repercussion, at least from the law. As far as you're concerned, Team Rocket coming after you is a bonus. Then you won't have to waste time looking for them later.

And it's fair as fair can be. You gave him a chance to save himself--not even Absol could argue with that--and he threw it back in your face. Let her grumble about shadows and mirrors all she likes; if anybody is trying to thwart Fate here, it's obviously the accursed human himself.

You're brought up short by a stab of pain as your tail pulls taut. Without even thinking you spin back and lash out at whatever's caught you. The human yelps and lets go, staring at the gashes down the inside of his arm.

"Agh! What the fuck--"

"Don't touch me," you snarl, then pause to lick the blood off your claws. "We are done here. You did not accept my offer, so I have nothing more to say to you."

The Rocket tears his gaze away from the bright blood welling out of his new wounds. "Oh, we're done, are we? I don't fucking think so. Guess the fuck what, Freak? I changed my mind. You want to go on some fucking stupid master journey? What the fuck, I guess I'll come with you. Should be one hell of a laugh if nothing else."

You're snorting hot embers now and only just manage to grate out, "And why have you changed your mind so suddenly?"

He tries another smirk, but some twinge of pain stops him, and he only manages a faint grimace. "Oh, I dunno, Freak. Call it a little fucking revenge. You want me to come along on your goddamn journey? Fine, you get your fucking wish, and I get to make your life hell the entire way."

You stand there for a few moments, concentrating on breathing while your anger sears the back of your throat. In the end you say only, "Good. You had better be ready to move in three hours."

"Are you fucking insane? Look at me, moron. How the hell do you expect me to go anywhere in three days? Three hours? You gotta be fucking kidding me."

Looking him over, you must admit he has a point. What you can see of him is variously bruised, lacerated, smashed, or bleeding, sometimes multiple at once. His movements are slow and careful, and he has to stop periodically, whether from fatigue or pain you can't be sure. You're surprised he was able to move quick enough to grab you.

"Very well," you say tightly. You clench a fist and exert all your will to force healing energy through it, rather than the fire that so desperately wants to leap from your scales.

The great Nathaniel Morgan watches quietly, for once, as the softboiled takes shape in your palm, forcing your claws open as it grows. "What the fuck," he mutters. "How the hell does a charmeleon--wait, what are you doing? Oh, n-no, that's okay, I can do that myse--agghwhulp!"

There's no way you'd trust the Rocket to handle the softboiled, weak and clumsy as he is. What if he'd dropped it? That would be all your energy lost for nothing. So you hold his mouth shut to keep him from spitting the egg out and wait until his thrashing becomes noticeably stronger. He grabs your arm and tries to wrench it away.

You let go of him and easily twist out of his grasp while he sputters and gasps, "If you ever touch me again, Freak, I'll rip your balls off and shove them down your fucking throat, got it?"

You incline your head. "The same to you." But he isn't listening. Instead he's flexing his fingers in front of his face, wincing.

"Ugh, that stings like a motherfucker. Hey!" He shudders faintly and looks down at the sleeping bag covering his other arm, then shoves it aside. "Some shitty job of healing me. I still can't move my... Oh, shit."

You're barely paying attention, rolling your shoulders and flexing your claws to work the ache out of your muscles, but the Rocket's tone gives you pause. He goes on, a bit breathless. "Oh, shit. You didn't... You didn't splint my arm or nothing before you fixed it, did you?"

"Splint it? What are you talking about?"

"Shit," he says, so quiet you can hardly hear. "Oh, shit. I think it healed wrong."

"Healed wrong?" All your anger returns in a flash, setting tail and teeth blazing. "Heal wrong? What do you mean, 'heal wrong?' How could that possibly happen?"

There's naked fear in his eyes, and he flinches away from you. You dig your claws into the earth and force yourself calm again, evaporating your fire into smoke while the Rocket babbles in the background like the fool he is. "I don't know! Do I look like a fucking doctor to you? All I know is my fucking arm should not be... like that, okay? No need to get all pissy at me about it."

You climb over him to get a better look, ignoring his groan as your weight settles on his chest. And it's true. His arm hasn't healed properly: it's still all crooked and jutting in the middle.

The worthless human can't do anything right. You curse Absol again for putting you in this situation. "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

"Fix it, duh. You really are fucking stupid, aren't you?"

"What if I choose not to? You do not need this arm to travel. The other works."

"Are you fucking kidding me? God, you're such an asshole. Look, my arm isn't the only thing that's broken, okay? I'm pretty sure, at least. Let's just say I'm not going to be doing much fucking walking in the near future, you get me?"

Of course. You glare down at his ill-healed arm. To make matters worse, you think you do remember seeing a few humans wearing funny contraptions on injured limbs, bulky casts or slings. Things to keep them from moving around too much, to hold bones in their proper place. Plot points. You hadn't expected to deal with that sort of nonsense yourself--but then, you hadn't expected to deal with many humans, either.

"Fine. I did it wrong the first time. But I will get it right now."

You use a foot to brace his arm just above the knot of bone that holds it at its strange angle, and the Rocket starts to sputter. "Hey, what're you--no, no, don't--"

You jerk up on the free end of his arm, and the mishealed joint snaps again after only a moment of resistance. The Rocket's scream makes you jump, but it's cut mercifully short. You poke him with a claw and discover he's fainted.

That's a relief. Now you won't have to put up with his sniveling while you work. You search the human for more breaks, made thorough by your irritation. Once you've undone all the false reattachments and gotten the bones in line as best you can, you stuff another softboiled into the Rocket's face.

Shaky and nauseous, you're short with Duskull when he complains about being asked to watch the man again--it isn't really fair, and you could have someone else do the job, but you're too tired to explain the situation to your other pokémon. You drag yourself to the other side of the clearing and collapse, seething with resentment as you consider the work ahead of you. Honestly, this human is so useless he can't even die properly.

At least he's given you an excuse to go shopping. You'll need clothes for the both of you, more food, extra supplies. You packed for five, not six, and that means heading into the city for a while. And then perhaps the Rocket can provide you with a bit of entertainment.

After all, you only told Duskull to be sure nothing bothered the great Nathaniel Morgan, not to make sure he didn't run off. You hope that when you return tomorrow you'll find the ghost waiting alone.
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Note: Last chapter of the year. Much more reasonably-sized this time, and practically on time to boot!

This chapter changed a bit during revision. If you'd like to read the original version, you can find it here.

Chapter 8

"Good morning."

The great Nathaniel Morgan starts and looks around. It takes him a while to catch sight of you, even though you aren't trying to hide, just standing with a screen of trees between you. You haven't been trying to hide for nearly twenty minutes, and still he didn't notice you until you spoke up.

They call humans "the most dangerous game," don't they? A gross exaggeration, at least in this one's case. There'd be more fun in tracking slowpoke, and they're stupider than dirt. You shouldn't have hoped, of course. This human is a constant disappointment.

Even now he doesn't look ready to put up a fight, staring at you with mouth half hanging open, eyes wide as he makes faint choking noises. "You are not very good at this. Did you think that I would let you just walk away? If you remember our agreement--"

He bolts. You watch him go for a second, considering. Judging by his horrible, teetering run, he's probably only going to end up falling, injuring himself, and requiring more fixing. Tedious.

You overtake him in a matter of seconds, reaching out to grab him before he crashes into you. "I will not allow you to run away, either."

He tries to twist out of your hold, but you simply tighten your grip until he grits his teeth and stops struggling. You wait while he tries to gasp something out, taking the shallowest breaths possible and hunched over ribs that must still be sore. "What... What the fuck are you? Let... Let go of me, you fucking..."

"I told you before. I am me. Now, can I let you go, or are you going to try and escape again?"

He sags a bit, still panting and trying not to pant at the same time. "What, you're that... that fucking charmeleon thing? No fucking way... No fucking way..."

"I said I would look like you. Did you not believe me?"

"That's... not..." He suddenly throws himself backwards, trying to wrench out of your grasp, but even caught off-guard you have no trouble bracing yourself against his struggles. "If you keep being difficult, I will have to paralyze you. Calm down."

"Calm down? I'm barely alive over here and I'm getting fucking attacked by my fucking evil twin. How the fuck am I supposed to calm down?"

"I am not your evil twin. If we are twins, you are clearly the evil one because you are a member of Team Rocket."

"Oh, right. Let's ignore the fact that you're some kind of bad-trip demon thing that keeps going on about how it wants to murder me, yeah, clearly I'm the evil one here."

"I am not interested in listening to you babble nonsense. You are evil." He starts to argue, but you cut him short with a quick shake. "I said I am not interested in listening to you. Now, I am going to let you go. If you try to run off again, I will make it so you cannot run. Do you understand?"

A slow smile spreads over his face, horrible and too wide, not reaching his eyes. "Sure, why not? Buddies for life, right, Evil Twin?" To your confused horror, he starts giggling, madly and convulsively.

You let go of him and watch in disgust as he doubles over, unable to stop his strangled laughter, chest heaving fitfully and tears streaming from his eyes. Even when the spell passes and he's able to stand straight again, that awful grin stays in place, strained and painful and somehow threatening.

In the end it falls to you to fill the uncomfortable silence. "Well. Good. I am glad we understand each other. Now, before we go any further, you need new clothing. What you are wearing now will attract too much attention."

"What? Can't you just magic it better? You know, like... woooo..." He waves a hand vaguely, then sinks into another painful laughing fit.

"Are you brain damaged?" you ask while he's trying to recover. Perhaps your healing abilities had side effects. How on Earth are you supposed to deal with this?

"No, no," he chokes. "I'm just getting told off by some asshole mutant thing that looks like me and claims it saved my life so it can take the fucking League challenge and become a pokémon master. It's all just so fucking sane, I can't take it anymore!" You clench your hands into fists as he gags on his own mirth.

"Shut up! Shut up, shut up," you snarl, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and hauling him upright. Scales spread down your arm and claws slide from your fingers, shredding the fabric. That, at least, is enough to shut the human up. His grin vanishes as he stares down at your sudden talons.

"What... What the fuck?" He struggles against your grip, and you shove him away, letting him stumble to a shaky halt.

You're going about this all wrong, somehow. You tried to make this as straightforward as possible, but whether the human's stupid or intentionally misunderstanding you, he simply isn't getting the picture. Concentrating mightily, you gather what few references you have for this sort of situation and line the words up in your head. Then, very slowly and carefully, you recite, "Listen, pal. You've made good friends with some bad people, but if we stick together, we'll get through this thing just fine. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, capiche? Whaddaya say? Partners?"

For a few seconds he just stares at you, and then, to your horror, dissolves into another fit of hitching giggles. "Oh, God," he gasps out at last. "What the hell. Might as well enjoy the trip while it lasts, right? You want to go for a walk through the fucking magic woods or some shit? Fine. Lead on, Evil Twin, lead on."

You consider the human as he tries to recover. It's a "yes," anyway. That's probably the best you can hope for. "Good. I have no intention of hurting you, but if you continue to be a nuisance, you will end up injured. Now." You pull some clothes out of your pack and hand them to him. "Put these on. I have food and water for you--I am sure you are hungry. You can have them once you have changed."

You step away from him and watch as he blinks tears out of his eyes and, frowning, starts picking through the clothes. Slowly he says, "This is the same shit you're wearing, isn't it?"

"Yes." Pause. "Is that a problem?"

That horrible smirk of his is broad enough to show the angular stubs of teeth. "Oh, no," he says, and a spasm of suppressed laughter shivers through him. "No there's nothing fucking weird about that. You're definitely not my fucking evil twin, huh?"

"Right. I am not."

You try and puzzle out what the great Nathaniel Morgan finds so funny while he finishes shuffling through the clothing. "Hey. A little fucking privacy, here?" he asks when he sees you looking.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, so now you want to fucking watch me get naked too? Just what the fuck is your problem? Look, I don't know if this is all some kind of sick power trip to you, but--"

Oh, right. You forgot about humans and their taboo against nudity--you don't usually bother with clothes yourself. You like dressing up, though, especially in bright colors, or clothes with your favorite cartoon characters on them. Unfortunately, this morning's shopping trip failed to turn up any Transformozords shirts in the great Nathaniel Morgan's size.

"I have no interest in your body. I simply do not wish to turn my back on you."

"Oh, yeah, sure, I totally buy that one, you sick fuck. Tell me, you do this kind of thing often, or am I just so lucky to be the one who--"

"Fine. Fine. I will turn around, and you will change clothes, and if you try anything else, you will regret it." And you do turn, glaring off into the trees and keeping ears wide open for any sign of an attempt at attack or escape.

But the human only mutters, "Fine. Fucking whatever, then." There's the rustle of fabric and the occasional hiss of pain, and in your boredom you notice you haven't changed back the arm you transformed earlier, which glints teal and scaly in the sunlight. You massage it back to the right shape and rub your fingers together to drive out the last of the tingling. Finally the great Nathaniel Morgan announces, "There. Done. Now where's the goddamned food?"

You turn back around and give the Rocket a critical look over. The new clothes do help, and they cover most of his injuries. The unreasonable number of softboileds you stuffed down his throat left only a few fading bruises and scabby cuts behind, but he's still covered in blood and dirt, and the skin underneath is pale and loose-looking, like it's a size too big.

It's a start. At least the human doesn't look like he got run over by a tyranitar while out on a killing spree anymore. You unsling your pack and dig out a sandwich. "Catch."

He drops his old clothes to fumble the sandwich out of the air, and in a matter of seconds he's managed to tear the plastic open with his teeth and is devouring the contents in huge bites. You can't help but be impressed as you stand there with the rest of his lunch in your hands--just an apple, an energy bar, and a water bottle. You probably should have anticipated his appetite--using softboiled certainly left you hungry, and all things considered it was probably harder on him.

He walks up to you with one hand out, and you silently pass over the rest of the food. The great Nathaniel Morgan takes it without pausing in his destruction of the sandwich, and you leave him to it while you deal with his old clothes. You pick them gingerly out of the grass, trying to ignore the smell of blood, then set them alight with a wash of heat from your palms.

A choking noise makes you glance back at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who was gnawing at the apple with the good side of his jaw. He's caught in a fit of coughing, and you watch impassively as he splutters and chokes, going through the usual contortions of pain. The fire burns itself out in the meantime, leaving you holding no more than a few smoldering tatters of fabric. You drop the ashy remains in the grass and stomp them out.

"How the fuck did you do that?" the great Nathaniel Morgan wheezes at last.

"You thought I was a charmeleon, remember? Would you be surprised if a charmeleon did that?"

"No, but you ain't no fucking charmeleon, duh. Where did the fucking fire even come from?"

You shrug. "From the same place as all fire attacks, I suppose. Now come on. I want to get to Fuchsia by afternoon."

"Oh, nice. Real helpful, asshole. Do you get off on being a mysterious dickhead, or what?"

You ignore him and step forward, reaching out to catch his arm. He jerks away and snarls, "What the fuck are you doing? You want to walk, fine, whatever, I'll fucking walk. You don't have to motherfucking drag me or anything."

"I am not going to drag you anywhere unless I have to. We are going to teleport. Anything else would be too slow." You can see him starting to object, but before he can get anything out, too fast for him to dodge, you lunge forward and grab him by the shoulder, then pull him along the trail of your memory to a spot a couple of miles north of Route 18.

"And now we walk."

He shrugs your hand away and blinks around at a new assortment of trees and bushes, a shift in light and shade. Then he turns to you and snarls, "If you can just fucking teleport wherever you want, why are we still in the middle of the goddamn woods? You're going to Cinnabar, right?"

"I did not want to risk anyone seeing me teleport. It could lead to awkward questions."

"Right, like having me walking around half fucking dead isn't going to get you any goddamn 'awkward questions,'" he grumbles, but at least for the moment he's more concerned with eating than arguing. He wanders after you when you start moving again, struggling to get the energy bar's wrapper open as he goes. And, after the roughly fifteen seconds it takes to dispose of the snack, "Hey! Is that it?"

"Yes. You can have more at dinner."

"Oh, nice. Real fucking nice. Look, I'm so hungry I swear if I ran into that fucking ursaring again I'd up and eat it. I'm probably going to collapse of starvation or some shit."

"If you continue to complain about it, you will get nothing." But the question jogs your memory, and you scrounge up something you forgot to give him earlier. "For now you can have these."

"Fuck, why didn't you give me the drugs first, Freak?" he grumbles, struggling for a few seconds with the childproof cap. He dumps a slurry of pills into his palm, considers them for a moment, then knocks the lot back with a swig from his water bottle. "Well, thanks, I guess. But I don't think what I've got going on here is really aspirin-level pain, you know?"

"I thought giving you medication might make you stop whining."

"Fat fucking chance, Freak. Fat fucking chance." He pockets the pill bottle and sighs.

For a time the two of you walk in silence, and you bask in the sense of being on your trainer's journey at last. The sun stabs little islands of warmth through the cool shade of the forest, and the air is full of the dampy-sweet smell of decaying leaves. There's no path out here, and you clamber over fallen logs and thrash through bushes, following the ups and downs of the land.

You keep hoping you'll be attacked by a wild pokémon--you're a trainer now, after all. You hear them from time to time, brief snatches of conversation in the distance, the odd yell of surprise or anger. Here and there are symbols scratched out on tree trunks, sudden blasts of scent where someone's marked their territory.

But no one bothers you. Maybe it's because there are two of you humans. Maybe it's because you're still far from the route; pokémon interested in engaging trainers usually hang around near humans, after all. Whatever the case, your walk is uneventful, if pleasant. But there is, inevitably, one glaring problem.

"Can you not go any faster?"

The great Nathaniel Morgan starts to reply, then nearly trips over a root. He stops for a moment, leaning against a tree trunk as he regains his balance. "Hell yes I can. Just not after I've been beaten practically to fucking death and then revived by some asshole who wants me to walk a thousand miles through difficult fucking terrain. We can't all be motherfucking nature spirits like you." He aims a petulant kick at a bush, which clings thornily to his leg. "I mean, come the fuck on, I should probably be sleeping fourteen hours a day for the next fucking week, here. And I'm hungry. And I'm thirsty. So you know what? Why don't we just take this opportunity to have a nice fucking rest break?"

He moves as if to sit down, only to scramble upright again as you reach out to stop him. "No! No rest breaks! It has barely been half an hour! You can rest while we are surfing to Cinnabar."

"Wait, surfing? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"How did you think we were getting to Cinnabar Island?"

"I don't know, the fucking ferry, like sane people. I mean, that'd be bad enough, but surfing..."

"Trainers do not take the ferry," you say with utmost disdain. What would even be the point? No wild pokémon to battle. No trainers, either; it's considered a safety hazard. Why go journeying if you were just going to take shortcuts? "We will surf on my pokémon, of course. Why are you so stupid?"

"Surf on your what? How in the hell do you have pokémon?"

"I caught them. Why are you surprised? How did you expect me to take the gym challenge without pokémon?"

"I thought you were using mine, dumbass."

"Your pokémon? I do not have them."

"You don't." His face sinks into an even deeper scowl than usual, and he levels a glare at you. "Then where in the hell are they?"

"Team Rocket took them, of course."

"Of course. Of fucking course," he mutters. "So how about you explain to me just how in the hell that works, huh? They somehow decide to take all my shit but my pokédex?"

"No. I managed to get the pokédex back."

"And you just left the fucking rest?"

"Yes. It would have been difficult to retrieve it all without being noticed. The pokédex was all that I needed."

"All that you--" He bites the sentence off and slams the side of his fist into the tree, turning away from you for a second. Then he snarls, "And I guess it didn't occur to you that I might need some of that shit later, asshole?"

"I do not care what you need. You are a criminal. You got what you deserved."

A nasty smirk spreads across his face. "You got that fucking right, Freak. I am a goddamned criminal."

"Yes. So you should not be surprised if other people steal from you. It is only fair. Now. We need to get going. I had expected to get to Fuchsia by noon, but at this rate we will be another hour. I do not want any further delays."

"Oh, you don't, don't you?" the great Nathaniel Morgan sneers. "Funny, 'cause me, I was thinking I might just like to lie down and take a fucking nap right now."

"No. You are done resting."

He backs up a step as you start towards him, baring his teeth. "What, you think you're gonna haul me the rest of the way there? Face it, Freak, you can't make me walk if I don't want to."

"I can and I will if you force me. I do not think you will enjoy the experience. Last chance now. Are you coming?"

He stares at you for a few seconds, then drops his gaze and sinks into a resentful slouch. "Yeah, sure. Why the fuck not? God, this is the shittiest hallucination ever."

You let that one go in favor of getting moving again, but despite all your exhortations and threats that you really will carry him if he will not walk, you achieve only a modest increase in speed. The great Nathaniel Morgan only gets slower and clumsier as time wears on. He's panting like he's run the whole way, sweating heavily into his new clothes. Pathetic. At least he doesn't have the energy left to complain, sunk into a dull, head-down doggedness, all his attention invested in staying upright and taking yet another step.

It gets him through the last of the forest and onto Route 18 proper, where the trees thin out and leaf litter fades into scruffy grass. The human doesn't speed up even when you reach the paved thoroughfare down the middle of the route, where foot traffic shares an uneasy peace with cyclists zipping down off Cycling Road.

"Hurry up," you hiss. "We are nearly there. The faster you walk, the sooner you can rest." The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you a blank look.

This is all his fault. If not for him, you'd be long gone, well on your way to Cinnabar. And you wouldn't be attracting so much attention, either--your dirty, staggering friend is drawing eyes. You meet curious stares with your broadest smile, and that, thankfully, has so far been enough to get onlookers hurrying on about their business.

Finally, when the great Nathaniel Morgan stumbles and nearly falls, tripping on nothing, you concede. "Fine," you growl at him. You grab him by the arm, haul him over to a bench by the side of the route, and practically throw him onto it. "If you insist on being so pathetic, you can stay here. I will bring food. Titan," the pokéball is in your hand without conscious thought, and you drop it next to the bench. "Watch my brother for me. He is not feeling well."

"Your brother?" Titan looks down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, brow furrowed. "Why does he look like a human?" He leans in close to snuff at the man, who does not react. "He smells like a human," Titan says, an accusation.

You wish there weren't anyone around so you could explain things properly. For now all you do is pat Titan on the shoulder and say, "That is right. He just needs a bit of time to rest, that is all. So you are going to watch him and make sure he does not move or make any noise, okay?"

Titan gives you a bewildered look, but after a second he nods, then turns to stare at the human again. You do the same. "And you understand as well?"

The great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes are closed, and he's covered them with a shaking hand, but he does nod, ever so slightly. "Good. I will be back soon."

It takes less than half an hour to find food, but you're still on the verge of running as you make your way back. Visions of the human escaping, of him somehow managing to overcome Titan and stealing away with the charizard, play endless loops in your head. You slow down as the bench comes into view, letting out a long breath of relief. They're exactly where you left them: the great Nathaniel Morgan asleep on the bench, Titan staring at him with single-minded diligence. At least you don't have a new crisis to add to this farce of a trip. Titan can smell both you and what you're carrying a ways off, and he half turns towards you, wings stretching upward in anticipation.

"Thanks, Titan," you say. "Here. I brought you some food."

The charizard fidgets while you rearrange your burdens, tail sweeping back and forth in agitated little arcs. He snatches the bucket from your grasp as soon as you hold it out and rips the top off with his teeth, then sticks his whole head inside, gobbling and crunching with such reckless enthusiasm that you have to smile.

If only your other companion could be so easily pleased. Irritation lends a bit too much force to your kick, and you glance around nervously, hoping no one notices the dent you've put in the bench's metal leg.

The great Nathaniel Morgan wakes with a start, followed immediately by a wince and a growled curse. "Now is not the time for sleeping. You can do that on the ocean. For now, eat. Then we will walk the rest of the way."

"Yeah, because eating is the first fucking thing I want to do before getting on the goddamn seasickness express," he says, but he doesn't turn down the fast food bag you hand him--probably he would have snatched it like Titan if he could move properly.

He pushes himself to a half-upright position on and digs into the food, and you watch with mild interest as you get out your own cheeseburger. If only the human walked as fast as he eats.

After a couple of minutes, you're halfway through your sandwich, and the great Nathaniel Morgan is nearly done with his entire meal, chasing stray fries around the bottom of the bag. "I realized that you need a name," you say.

"What the fuck do you mean?"

"I need something I can call you."

"Yeah? You first, Freak."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean what's your name, dumbass."

"Do not be stupid. My name is the great Nathaniel Morgan, of course."

He looks at you with eyebrows raised for a moment, then rolls his eyes. "Okay, fine, what the fuck ever. Guess I walked into that one. No, I mean what's your name. Like, I know you're all pretending to be me and shit, but what's your real name?"

He really is so stupid. You give him an exasperated look, the lull in conversation filled by scraping and gulping noises as Titan sniffs around in the bottom of the bucket. "I just told you. My name is the great Nathaniel Morgan."

"Fucking--look, cut it out already. Before you were all... looking like me, or whatever, what the fuck was your name then?"

"Charmeleon, I suppose."

"You--what? This shit again? I told you, Freak, I know you're no fucking charmeleon."

"I was."

"Okay, fine. Whatever, asshole. If you want to keep being mysterious about pointless shit, you just go right the fuck ahead."

You suppress a growl of agitation. "I was not being mysterious. I was telling the truth. It does not matter anyway. I just need a name for you to use until our time together is over."

"Which can't come fucking fast enough, believe me." You stare at him and wait. "What?"

"Your name."

"Fuck's sake. I don't care. Pick something."

"You choose. I am not very good with human names."

He groans and covers his face with his hand. "Shit, I dunno. Gary. Why not? Like the most fucking popular name around these days."

"Gary what?" He removes the hand so he can glare at you. "Human names have two parts."

"I know that. Gary Morgan, you moron. Unless you're not really my brother. Give it to me straight, bro, I can handle the fucking truth."

You frown as you think. Is that right? You're not sure why he would be lying. Brothers have the same second name? You try to come up with examples from television but draw a blank. Humans don't use their second names a lot in conversation.

While you're puzzling, the great Nathaniel Morgan makes as if to go back to sleep, and you decide to shelve the matter for now. Gary Morgan it is. "Get up."

"Oh, fuck you. You keep pushing me, you're going to need to start dishing out the emergency heals real damn fast, because I am not in any fucking shape for this shit."

"It is only a twenty minute walk to the beach from here. You will make it if I have to carry you the entire way. Now get up."

"Oh, yeah, like that's not going to attract any fucking attention or anything--"

"Get up!"

Titan pulls his head out of the bucket, looking nervously between the two of you. Grease shimmers on his muzzle, and he's managed to get a little clot of breading stuck to the base of one horn. You glance around, embarrassed, but though a couple of people looked around after your shout, no one seems particularly interested. The great Nathaniel Morgan opens his mouth to make some complaint or other, but before he can get anything out you grab him by the front of his shirt and haul him to his feet.

While he stands coughing, trying to get his breath back, you say, "There. You are up. Now we walk. Titan? Do you want to come with us? We are going to the beach."

"Oh? The beach? Um." The charizard licks at his snout as he thinks. "Sure, I'll come."

"Hey Charizard, think you could do me a favor and set this asshole on fire or something? I don't want to go to no fucking beach."

"Titan. This is Titan."

Titan, who is looking anxious. "If he, um, says he doesn't want to come..."

"It is fine, Titan. Do not worry. And you." You shove the great Nathaniel Morgan so hard he staggers forward a step. "Walk. Do not make noise. If you do, I will see to it that you can no longer talk."

"Yeah, I bet you will, won't you, assh--" He wavers where he stands, clutching his head and gasping in breathless pain. "Fuck. Wh-what--?"

"That was only a weak confusion. I could very easily disable your language abilities with a stronger one. Now walk."

He walks. Slowly. Titan brings up the rear, cleaning his face with little bursts of flame. You close your eyes a moment and take a long, fortifying breath. The rest of the day should be easier, with War doing all the work.

Tourists clog Fuchsia's streets, milling around quaint little gift shops, and trainers are out in force, battling their pokémon under the brilliant sun. Normally you wouldn't mind taking your trip slow, stopping to buy ice cream like Titan strongly hints you should, enjoying the show. But you can't relax today, when you're sure every look you get is someone wondering who you are, what's wrong with the great Nathaniel Morgan, whether they ought to offer assistance or get help. Your pace feels plodding instead of leisurely, the crowds threatening rather than engulfing.

By the time you reach the beach proper you're so on edge that you're literally prodding the great Nathaniel Morgan along, for what little good it does. Titan wanders off, beckoned by open stretches of sand, but you drive the human straight down to the water's edge. He collapses as soon as you stop harrying him, and you ignore his wheezing and release War into the water in front of you. The tentacruel takes shape with his jagged beak buried in the sand, staring out at you from the shadow of his bell.

"We are going to Cinnabar Island, War," you say. "We will stop at the Seafoam Islands tonight. Will you carry us?"

"Both of you?" the tentacruel asks, looking down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who's content to lie back in the sand and ignore you, eyes closed.

"Yes, him too. I will explain when we stop for the night, when I can talk to everybody at once. I am sorry. I know it will be a lot for you to carry two people. Do you think you can do it?"

"Oh, sure, sure, no problem," War says, waving a few tentacles dismissively. But his gaze is still on the great Nathaniel Morgan, his eyes alight with curiosity.

"Good. Thank you, War. Now." You prod the great Nathaniel Morgan in the side with your foot. He opens his eyes and glares mutely up at you. "This is War. He will be taking us to Cinnabar Island. War, this is th--my brother. Um. Gary."

The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at you, then addresses War without bothering to get up from his sprawl. "Yeah. Hi. Did you know your trainer's a total fucking douchebag?"

The tentacruel lets out a grating laugh that sets his whole bell quivering. Then he reaches out, and the great Nathaniel Morgan, finding himself confronted by dozens of bulb-tipped tentacles, scrambles backwards, nearly falling as he tries to get to his feet in the same motion. "Hey! What the fuck?"

"Oh. He wants to shake hands." You're not sure what the tentacruel finds so fascinating about the human custom, but your washed-out memories speak of days spent carrying a tentacool around, annoying people who had very important jobs to do with requests to indulge his curiosity.

"Are you fucking kidding me? Shake hands with that thing? I don't even want to go near all those fucking tentacles."

"His name is War," you snap as the tentacruel's eyes narrow. "And yes. You will shake hands. It is polite."

The great Nathaniel Morgan stares at you, then at the tentacruel, the forest of tentacles still upraised. "Oh, fine," he snarls. "Fucking fine. I guess I should just give in now and accept that you're fucking insane."

He steps forward and reaches out, gingerly taking one of War's tentacles by the bulb and moving it ever so slightly up and down. "There's your fucking handsh--aagh! Fuck!"

"War!" you say while the Rocket pulls his hand away like he's been burned, hissing expletives between his teeth.

"That bastard stung me! Shit!" he snarls, staring at the line of red welts down the middle of his palm. War is beside himself with mirth, slapping at the water with his tentacles while his laughter tumbles on and on, a pattering noise like churning pebbles.

"Yes. He has a strange sense of humor. Keep your voice down." You glance around, but the only people nearby are a group of swimsuit-clad children gathered near Titan, watching the charizard wallow in the hot sand.

"Jesus fuck, are all your pokémon are as sociopathic as you?" the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls, cradling his injured hand against his chest.

You aren't sure what he means by that. "You deserved it. Now we are going. Get on."

"Are you fucking kidding me? I could be fucking dying over here, and you just want to sail off into the motherfucking sunset?"

"You are not dying. War did not seriously injure you," you say, shooting the tentacruel a look that says, Right? War stares back at you, placid and inscrutable. "You have held me up enough already. Either get on, or I will drag you up there myself."

The Rocket looks from War to the ocean beyond, teeth bared in a grimace. "Look, if I have to be perfectly fucking honest here, I kind of really fucking hate water, okay? Like I can't swim for shit and I kind of don't trust your evil fucking tentacruel not to fucking drown me the first fucking opportunity it gets."

"That is unfortunate. Get on."

"I'm just saying, is all. If you don't want me throwing up all over you and your fucking pokémon, it would probably be safer to just take the ferry or something. The ocean and I don't fucking get along, see."

"I told you already. We are not taking the ferry. And you are not taking it alone, either," you add, when he starts to protest. "If it is really such a big problem for you, I will put you to sleep so that you do not realize where you are. That is my final offer. Make your decision before I make it for you."

"I don't even want to fucking know what you mean by 'put me to sleep,' do I?"

"I am not going to wait much longer."

You allow him a couple seconds of deliberation, then take a step forward, readying a spore attack. But he recoils, snapping, "All right! Fuck, I'll do it. Stay the fuck away from me. You're probably just going to try and dump me overboard or some shit as soon as there are no witnesses, and I'm not going to make that any fucking easier for you." He skirts around you and approaches War, face set grimly.

The Tentacruel watches him come, forcing his beak deeper into the sand with a drawn-out grinding noise and tipping his bell down towards the human. Even with the help, the great Nathaniel Morgan has a rough time of it, trying to shimmy one-handed up the springy curve of the tentacruel's bell. After much cursing and the occasional exclamation of pain, he finally manages to drag himself up to the crest of War's bell and perch there, weary and slumped in defeat.

Then he lets out a stifled shriek and throws himself flat as War wrenches his beak out of the sand and raises himself to his full height in one sudden, swaying motion. You sigh in exasperation and say, "Stop messing with him, War. I do not want to have to listen to his whining all afternoon, and I do not think you do, either."

You almost forget yourself and jump straight up next to the great Nathaniel Morgan, but remember where you are just in time and ask War to lift you up instead. The tentacruel deposits you next to your shivering, sweating companion, who's still clinging to the tentacruel's bell for dear life. You ignore him and call, "Titan!"

The charizard's buried neck-deep, sending up little plumes of grit as he snuffs around under the sand, wriggling his way deeper. He lurches guiltily upright at the sound of his name, blowing sand out of his nostrils and looking around in wild disorientation. His audience is beside themselves with giggles. "Titan. We are leaving. Do you want to come with us now, or catch up later? We will be stopping at Seafoam tonight."

"Seafoam?" he roars back, and you realize your mistake as his expression hardens, his tail flame leaping higher.

"It is okay, Titan. I can take you in your pokéball. You do not have to go there if you do not want to."

"No," he says with unusual force. "No, I'll go. By myself."

Before you can object he stretches his neck up and spreads his wings, sending children scampering as they realize what's coming. The charizard takes off in a blast of wind and sand, flapping mightily in a rapid ascent. Below, the kids squeal and stumble around, laughing and blinking sand out of their eyes. A couple wave.

You do not. You watch Titan bank around and soar out over the ocean, anxiety tightening your chest.

Nothing to be done for it now. Best to get moving. You push your worries aside and pat War's bell, shouting down, "Okay, War. Let's get going." The tentacruel lurches around, clumsy in the shallows, and sets out into the sea.

---​

"Come on, War. This is getting old." You haul the great Nathaniel Morgan back up while he makes a desperate one-hand grab for the tentacruel's bell. His other hand's swollen up a nasty shade of purple, and the human holds it out away from everything, letting out a bitten-off cry of pain whenever something bumps it. He lies half-curled on War's bell, eyes pressed tight shut as he breathes fast and shallow, shuddering convulsively. "He is just going to be sick again. Really, you ought to leave him alone."

War waggles an impudent tentacle at you, then lets it slide back into the water with the rest. "I mean it," you say. "No more of that."

That gets a sullen burble of assent, coming up distorted through the water. Even War's starting to get bored of playing pranks. He lashes out at a passing tentacool, forcing her to a hasty retreat. A few minutes later he sinks another of his kin with a precise blast of water, and you have to smile. Your old friend has become quite the terror of the seas since you last saw him.

You do wish he would quit harassing the human, though. The great Nathaniel Morgan really ought to learn, as you have, to just ignore the tentacruel's teasing, but he still shrieks pretty loud when War stealthily touches a cold, slimy tentacle to the back of his neck. And, inevitably, when he startles he nearly falls into the water, which only makes him more distressed. You have to admit it was pretty funny the first couple of times, but it's long since gotten old.

"Hey." You tap War's bell and point at a cluster of V-winged shapes circling nearby. "See those wingull? Think you can hit them from here?"

The tentacruel shudders beneath you, and you grab hold of his bell as it tilts back. War spits a dripping gobbet of sludge, which sails much farther than you expected, but only grazes one of the seabirds. Most take off, shrieking curses back at you, but a few wheel your way instead, jeering angrily as they bear down on you and War.

"Go on, get them!" you say with a laugh, and War fires away, knocking a couple out of the sky. Then the rest are upon you, screeching and dive-bombing you and War and your unfortunate companion. You laugh and toss Thunderstorm's pokéball out over the ocean. The magneton appears in a shower of sparks, only to get soaked, a moment later, by a wingull's water gun.

It only takes a few seconds for Thunderstorm to roast the rest of the flock. You laugh, and War laughs with you, as the last of the birds topples out of the air. "Nice, Thunder! All right, come on. Keep your eyes out to see if there are any other good fights around."

"This shit again? Why don't you give it a fucking rest already?" the human croaks from behind you. He's sitting with his back to you now, head hanging and one eye slitted open just enough to give you an accusatory look. He swallows thickly and adds, "Whatever happened to your crazy goddamned hurry, anyway?"

"Thanks to you, I am already far beyond late. A little extra time will not hurt. Besides, this is what a trainer does."

A trainer usually battles other trainers, too, but you don't want people seeing the great Nathaniel Morgan and asking questions. He ruins everything, so the least he can do is shut up and let you get in what training you can. You pass the hours distracting War with fighting, telling Thunderstorm to zap whatever he can't easily clean up. Even Rats gets a workout, despite complaining the entire time about how much she hates swimming. She throws herself at her enemies with extra ferocity, just so she can get back into her ball to sulk all the faster.

The battles peter out as shadows lengthen and your pokémon tire, and you let the team rest in their pokéballs as War strokes on south and west. The day bleeds out in sunset reds, and in time the stars and sickle moon gleam off the low humps of the Seafoam Islands in the distance. Broken reef-spires show black against pale ocean spray and frame the weatherbeaten hills that mark the entrance to the caverns.

War glides on, skirting around the rocks and putting in near the middle of the island, a flat, pebbly expanse between the caves' twin entrances. The tentracruel has to lift himself to crawl forward on his tentacles as he enters shallow water, and his smooth forward motion turns jerky and rocking. Finally he plunges his beak into the ground with a shuddering grind, anchoring himself; then stillness.

You jump down and stand stretching and shaking the stiffness out of your limbs. War doesn't wait for the great Nathaniel Morgan to get moving and shrugs him off with a quick rolling motion. The Rocket lands with a groan of pain, lying half in and half out of the water, and War goes through his own stretches, massaging his bell with his tentacles, working the imprints of your rear ends out of it.

"Thanks, War," you say, running your hand along the edge of his bell as you contemplate your campsite. It's windswept and exposed, but it's the only solid ground for miles. There's a light near one of the cave entrances where Titan sits, staring into the dark opening. "Titan!" you call. He turns his head slightly but does not get up. "Come over here a minute, okay?" After a couple of seconds he slowly gets to his feet and starts in your direction, and you return your attention to nearer concerns.

The great Nathaniel Morgan is lying where he fell, shivering, and you prod him with a foot. "Get up."

For a moment you think he's going to ignore you, but then he starts moving, slowly, painfully. At this rate he'll be vertical in an hour, maybe. A sudden stab of irritation has you bend down and seize him by the arm, hauling him upright while he hisses in pain. "Do not be so pathetic."

"Just you wait, fucker," he says, swaying as you release him. "I'm gonna laugh like hell when you're on your fucking knees, begging me for mercy..."

"I look forward to your attempt at revenge. I am sure it will be amusing," you say, rummaging your pokéballs out of your pocket. "Come on out, everyone."

Titan stomps up just as the rest of your team takes shape. Rats, still sopping, gives herself a vigorous shake and settles down to busy grooming. You glance around, but all the shadows are empty. Absol already knows what's up anyway.

"Everybody," you say, "this is the great Nathaniel Morgan. I'm going to be him for a while, but Absol told me to not let him die, so he's coming with us for a bit." Your pokémon exchange sidelong glances, and a couple look ready to protest. You raise your hands and keep going. "It will be fine. Just ignore him and let me deal with things. I don't know what Absol was thinking, either, but don't worry about it. She knows what she's talking about."

Nobody can deny that, but there's still a lot of restless shifting. You plunge on, straight into the good news. "We're staying here tonight, and tomorrow we'll be on Cinnabar Island. We're going to train a bit, then face Blaine." Even Titan brightens at that, wings coming up out of their droop.

"So just what makes him so great, huh?" Rats leaves off preening to squint at the great Nathaniel Morgan. Her whiskers twitch, and she makes a "tsk" noise. "Looks kinda dumb to me. Why's he staring?"

You turn and find the great Nathaniel Morgan tensed to run, eyes wide in the starlight. After a moment you realize you've slipped into talking pokémon, and he hasn't been able to understand a word. "I was making introductions. These are my pokémon. Rats. Thunderstorm. You already met Titan. Togetic. Duskull." You indicate each in turn. "And War too, of course."

He barely glances at them. "Yeah, hi." And turns back to you. "What the fuck was that?"

"What?"

"Those... Those fucking noises you were making. I thought you were having some kind of fucking fit."

"I told you. I was introducing you."

"And just what in the fuck do you mean by that?"

"I speak pokémon. Obviously."

"What?" His laugh is shallow, breathless, without mirth. "Listen, Freak. Even the wackjobs who claim they can talk to pokémon don't stand there going all 'bark bark growl hiss' at them and shit. Come on."

"Humans do not have to speak the pokémon language to be understood. But I can. I like to."

"Oh, right. Uh huh. The fucking pokémon language." He shakes his head, snorting. "I already knew you were a fucking psycho, Freak, but that? Seriously fucking delusional. Seriously fucking insane. Fucking insane..." He falls into another silent laughing fit.

Titan stretches his wings high and beats them once, letting out a snort, and Thunderstorm drifts gently side to side, radiating boredom. You decide to let the human think what he wants; you don't care if he's too stupid to see the truth.

"I'm going to get some food ready. If you want to help, you can look for wood. That's all," you say. While the rest of them scatter, you ask War, "You want any?"

"No. I'll hunt." There is a crunch of sand and rock as he uproots himself, and then he's toddling back to deeper waters, starlight glinting wetly off the huge red sacs on his bell as he lurches out of sight.

You turn back around, then jump as you find Togetic hovering directly in front of your face.

"Yay camping!" she chirps, flying a quick loop around your head.

You smile. "That's right, Togetic."

"Where's the TV?"

Ah. "No TV tonight, Togetic. I'm a real trainer now, so we're staying out here. You can watch tomorrow when we're at a Pokémon Center, okay?"

"Mmmm." She bounces as she thinks, ricocheting around in midair. You watch with bated breath, hoping she doesn't start a tantrum. You don't want to deal with that with the great Nathaniel Morgan there, staring at you two like he's witnessing an alien landing. Not that you'd blame Togetic for her distress--you don't even want to think about all the shows you're missing out on, yourself.

After a few moments Togetic brightens. "Okay! No TV! Adventure!"

You laugh as she zooms in erratic circles. "That's right. Now, you want to help? Can you find me some wood?"

"Yeah!" She zips away, zigzagging low over the ground and humming a happy nonsense song to herself. The great Nathaniel Morgan follows her with his eyes, frowning.

"And you. Stay out of the way."

"With fucking pleasure," he grunts.

And he does until later, when he settles in by your fire, as far away from you as he can manage without being completely out of its light. You fuss with the spitting, flaring little thing, cobbled together out of a few pieces of driftwood found bleaching on the rocks, then start rooting in your pack for food. There's nothing to catch around here but fish, and you don't feel like swimming in the black deep of the ocean tonight. It's human fare for you.

"Did you get something to eat earlier?" you ask Titan as he flops down behind you with a gusty sigh.

"Not hungry," he mutters, staring out at the ocean. You frown and scratch the base of his neck just above where the wings connect. He doesn't acknowledge you, and you don't know what to say. How can he be mourning that other trainer, the one who stole him from you? You're right here, alive; the two of you are back together again. How can he be sad? But somehow, it seems, he is.

The matter is driven from your mind as Togetic comes zooming in, demanding food with high-pitched chirps. You gently fend her off while you dig a pack of fruit chews out of your bag, then dump a few into your palm and offer them up. She snatches them and takes off, dancing around the fire and showing off her prize to everyone, the great Nathaniel Morgan included. "Piss off!" he growls, taking a swipe at her as she darts past. She evades him easily, laughing, and rockets away, probably looking for Duskull, her favorite person to irritate.

The gummies should keep her occupied for a while, but you get out a tupperware full of honey and crushed insects to heat up for her actual dinner. And while you're thinking of it... "Thunder?"

"Wait. You had a motherfucking car battery in your bag this entire time?"

"Obviously," you say as you clip the black contact to one of the magneton's magnets, the red to another. The magneton lets out a contented buzz as current starts to flow.

"That thing must weigh like thirty fucking pounds! How the hell were you lugging it around all day?"

"It is not really so heavy." You need some food for yourself and Rats. And the great Nathaniel Morgan too, you suppose. He's even more obnoxious when unfed. Soup?

"God. Why don't you use a charging station at a fucking Center?"

"Everyone else is eating. It would not be fair for Thunderstorm to be left out." Chicken noodle. Four cans, you think, to split between you. Plus crackers and energy bars and cookies... You smile as you set up your tripod and collapsible pot, then drag a sudden claw around the rim of a can and lever up the top.

The great Nathaniel Morgan watches, dubious. "You're fucking crazy."

Rats, now dry and fluffed, comes scrambling over as if summoned by the sound of soup hitting pot. She flops down by the fire and immediately tucks herself into a dozy curl, nose buried in the fur on her stomach and paws up over her head.

The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at her. "Your raticate's pretty lazy, huh?"

"He's welcome to criticize after he's spent the afternoon swimming around beating the tar out of uppity starfish," Rats says into her stomach. Then, as if suddenly inspired, she lifts her head a little and addresses Titan. "Hey, that reminds me. You totally missed how I destroyed this lame staryu this afternoon. See, I don't really like swimming, but..."

You smile and shake your head. "You should save that for later, Rats. Titan is not feeling well right now."

The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at you across the fire. "Oh, come the fuck on. You can't seriously expect me to believe you understood any of that shit."

"Of course I did. You may not believe that pokémon are capable of speech, but I am not stupid enough to agree."

He rolls his eyes. "Oh, fuck off. I know pokémon can talk. I just think you understanding them is bullshit."

"Oh? I did not realize Rockets consider pokémon to be sentient."

Titan turns and actually looks at the human, and Rats opens one dark eye to regard him as well. "Rocket?" She flashes her teeth at him. "Maybe you shoulda just ignored Absol and let him die anyway."

The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at Rats as she settles back into her doze, then turns his scowl on you. "Yeah, you got me, Freak. I like to spend my free time kicking baby eevee and repeating my mantra about how all pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket and shit."

You nod and set aside the empty soup can to eat later and heft a second one, considering. Is your pot big enough to hold all of them at once?

"Christ," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, and you glance up to find him looking at you with lips curled back to show a hint of teeth. "Look, maybe you missed the part where Team Rocket kicked me out because I ain't shitty enough for them. You know, while you were all busy doing fuckall and I was getting my ass kicked and all my shit stolen. I thought you wanted to be some kind of pokémon master like all the other trainer brats. Whatever happened to kicking Rocket ass like the morons in the movies?"

"There were too many of them, and I did not know how strong they were. I did not want to start a fight. And yes, I recall that they thought you had betrayed them. Which you denied. So either they were wrong and you are as bad as any of them, or you were lying, in which case you are a bad person anyway."

The great Nathaniel Morgan blinks. "Oh, shit. For a second there that almost made fucking sense. God, I'm really losing it." Then his expression hardens. "But oh, good one, 'Yeah, I could have done something about it, but I was just too fucking pussy.'"

You tighten your grip on the soup can in lieu of going for the Rocket's throat. "I told you before. Your pokémon are your responsibility. Do not blame me for failing to protect them. I would have if I could. And besides, I think they may have more luck with whatever trainer they go to now."

The great Nathaniel Morgan tilts his head and bares his teeth in a ragged, hole-riddled mockery of a smile. "Yeah. You know what? I think I'd be more pissed if you had up and snagged them. At least this way they're probably not going to get stuck with a murderous psycho piece of shit like you."

"I am a good trainer!" Does he want you to kill him? You could, you really could. You can feel the muscles shifting under your skin, bones thickening, talons threatening. How dare he? How could he even suggest? Your words come out husky and strained. "You are a member of Team Rocket. You are not a good person. I am."

"Ooh, nice comeback, jackass. That'll fucking show me."

"You are not listening. I am a good trainer. Me! Your opinion does not matter. You are a worthless, stupid Rocket!"

You're shaking, you notice distantly. Rats' voice comes to you, far-off and small. "Uh, Boss... maybe you oughta, you know, kinda calm down?"

The Rocket sneers at you. "Yeah, go on and say it a little fucking louder. I didn't quite hear you the first eight thousand fucking times."

"Shut up! Shut up!" The soup can in your hand explodes, and you stop in shock as cold, slimy broth drips down your wrist and drizzles onto the rocks. Then you shake the can off, extricating your fingers from the holes they punched through the metal, and leave it lying there in an expanding puddle.

In the silence that follows you realize everyone is watching you. Titan is half to his feet, crouched nervously in the shadows behind you. Somehow Rats made it to your side without your noticing, her paws up on your arm. You shake her off, gently, and sit and suck chicken juice off your fingers until you feel calm enough to talk again.

"If you continue to annoy me, that will be your head," you say to the great Nathaniel Morgan, who watches tensely from across the fire. "You do not know anything, and I am tired of listening to your lies. If you have to speak at all, you had better speak the truth."

He gives you another toothy smirk and starts to cross his arms over his chest, but stops with a wince as he jars his injured hand. "Temper, temper," he hisses, so quiet you almost miss it. And that's the last you hear from him for the rest of the night.
 
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Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Because the character limit for the forum used to be lower, Chapter 8 was originally split across two posts. This post contained its second half, and is currently being retained only as insurance against the potential for character limit shenanigans in the future.
 
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