• We're currently experiencing a minor issue with our email system preventing emails for new registrations and verifications going out. We're currently working to fix this
  • Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
  • If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders

Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
I'll post reviews a chapter at a time (edit-merging if required).

"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 it subsided, sheepish. Oh. Of course. It had already died.
Just bringing up a previous, already reviewed section that my eyes fell on: that's some nice morbidity. I was all cool about it in my first review, but I really admire your fic's tone of language with its particular, gentle, apocalyptic fatalism. There's something special about its form of 'destiny' actually. Destiny in many stories seems to me very much claimed for humanity, a giant affirmation that the universe is made in human terms, everything that happens is for you to understand and appreciate, hints of a gigantic human-shaped arbiter controlling things. But the destiny of your fic is not only made in a nonhuman way, it's also delivered by nonhumans. It's impersonal like no corporation, government, or human abstraction. It's quite scary in that way.

While we're at it I also found a typo from chapter 7:

At the time it didn't thought of anything but how lucky it had been to survive, to have Absol.
I think my mind is failing because I saw this typo once, scrolled up to somehow find the exact same passage completely duplicated at another place with the typo fixed, then looked at the thread again and couldn't find anything but the typo'd passage. That is definite crazy material.

Chapter 8: Like I said last time, I joined at a big chapter. This is the point from which, in a very general way, we're supposed to know what's going on. The chapter still does in medias res in a way that immediately makes a lot of open questions: when and where is this, what is the child doing, and who is it it's following? I guess it's revealed that the child itself doesn't know the answer to some of the questions (hand of Fate).

How do you evade the swear filter? I put the letters under SIZE=2 tags but that makes them look slightly weird.

"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 to completely surround the great Nathaniel Morgan.
Hah, he's caught on to that title like a mockingbird, repetitious, unintelligent.

Unlike certain people I know, I don't need to send six pissant grunts to take care of my own goddamn business.
Rocket underworkers as dispossessed teenagers, I haven't seen that very often! There are endless ways to make the Teams actually menacing. Also, it's common sense that when Teams are given to hiring from the seedy underbelly of society, what they're hiring are not so much manzai troupes as, highly cruel, efficient, unscrupulous people.

On the other side, setting a pack of wild mankey on someone is classic anime material.

The teenagers gather around their injured target, laughing and jeering as the ursaring steadily dismantles him, getting in the occasional kick of their own.
Creepy choice of words. It takes the violence a step above your teenage neighborhood menace. These are not just crawlers under society, they're castoffs -- they don't do decency or physical gentility.

"I don't care if they're having a mother****ing church revival up there.
If they were, it would be awesome. Can you imagine? I need to write that scene now. UPDATE: Already did it before the review got posted? So classy.

"He is not dead. He will be, soon. And he should not be. You have to stop it." Absol has seated herself next to you, but as you watch she gets up off her haunches, turns a tight, agitated circle, then sits down again. "It's not right." Up, circle, sit.
Ohhhh, not literally dismantle. I'm an idiot. I like this piece of gentle, emotionless apocalypticism too, there's never trumpets and hellfire in these ominous moments, just someone nonhuman being agitated.

Then you sit back on your haunches and watch the Rocket closesly with Absol at your shoulder, waiting for your attack to do whatever it's going to do: heal him, or burn through his veins and annihilate the last of his spark. Or maybe nothing at all.
Typo.

There's a funny sliding feeling as your lower jaw unhinges to let it pass through whole, and then it's sitting heavy in your stomach, waking lizardy instincts to crawl off somewhere and digest.
Wouldn't it be 'awaking'?

It was her ridiculous rule that you leave the corpses of all you doomed souls where you'd found them.
Typo I think.

The pokemon are all cute when they're with each other. When they're on missions they cannibalize strangers and raise the dead.

I also realize that great swathes of the plot are still not clearly explained yet. At one point Absol says something about the child's 'brother'! What is that about? Is that one massive clue as to what's going to happen in the tournament? As it is, we don't know that, we don't know exactly what Absol is doing (and you suggest that the answer might actually be ineffable), and now there's a new thing we don't know, the shadow passing over your face reflection.

Chapter 9:

The sky is lightening, the stars disappearing into its warm gray, and the birds are trying to sing the sun up. For a few groggy seconds you think they're the ones that woke you.
A descriptive opening! I didn't look around in previous chapters but I believe these are uncommon for your fic? You do medias res. It's also uncommon to start a chapter where the last one left off.

"**** you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is."
One of two, I seem to remember, instances where the f*ck turns up uncapitalized (evidence of find & replace? hmmmmm...). I'll dredge up the typo in chapter 8, too:

"**** you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is."
The latter seems to me possibly more awesome without capitalization. : D

Gahh, why do I always turn on my nitpick in this fic?

"I am not an experiment."
I like how even in this situation, the fact that one of these characters in much more eloquent in Human gives the child a bit of a disadvantage.

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.
I wonder! Even though I doubt the child has any sense of morality, I definitely don't think that, in terms of human/nonhuman faculties, it has nothing; natural or not, the child is itself. We know its behavior is very close to pokemon; it bonds with them, thinks in terms of their hunting/scavenging needs. Is it that the revulsion Nate inspires in the child, is one of logic? The perversity of his laughing and grinning in direct irony of his situation at the moment. Animals do not have a sense of irony. They hate pain and love health; twisted humans have a penchant for doing the opposite. Maybe in that way human evil is also an offense against nature.

I'm just being told off by some ******* mutant thing that looks like me and claims it saved my life so it can take the ****ing league challenge and become a pokémon master.
It does sound hilarious if it were doing it just to become a pokemon master.

For a time the two of you walk in silence, and you bask the sense of being out on your trainer's journey at last.
So he does just want to be a pokemon master! I think you necessarily 'bask in' something, which my dictionary supports.

[quot]"Your brother?" Titan looks down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, brow furrowed.[/quote]

Does that mean, which seems kind of messy, the child is going to go into the tournament as identical twins, the qualified one doing the actual battling and the other one tagging along to help in the disguise? And perhaps the brother will play another role in the hazy drama that is supposed to unfold.

"Yeah, because eating is the first ****ing 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 grabbed it like Titan if it didn't require any fast movement.
I like how the needs of the body are not just a presence in this Factually Rigorous Journey, they're the major recurring theme. One trainer is a hospital case!

Also that we're seeing the "irritatingly cryptic stranger" trope from the other side. I mean, we're supposed to understand basic things about the child, so when they bewilder Nate, we're not exactly on the same page.

Chapter 10:

Marina is... kind of an appropriate name.

"Umm, no. Hello, electricity? In the middle of the ocean? One lightning bolt from that magneton and I get electrocuted along with Staryu. If you're going to use that guy, I forfeit. I don't want to get roasted, you know?"
Not only do we share the child's 'crypticness', we also share his cluelessness about training, because none of that has happened in the past ten chapters! This journeyfic phase of Salvage is really fun. It's very ambivalent about mood, full of disconcertingly cute moments in all the violence and morbidity. The point in the plot where you'd expect it to be heating up, fate somehow hastening everything along to the revelation... the child is just trying to kill the last remaining days. It wants to be a real boy.

"You are not listening. I am a good trainer. Me! Your opinion does not matter. You are a worthless, stupid Rocket!"
In retrospect, it was pretty clear that the child doesn't just have amorality + regard for friends, it is probably ideologically on the side of the pokemon, and that gives it a sincere reason to hate Rocket, not just a TV reason. We humans do not value the lives of animals all that much. If a lizard gets inside the house, it has two choices, get out of the way or get killed. The child may be the same, except it values pokemon lives.

In the silence that follows, you realize that everyone is watching you. Titan is half to his feet, crouched nervously in the shadows behind you. Somehow Rats has 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.
Not such a nice trainer picnic after all! All's ominous that ends ominous.
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Ah, another thorough review. Thanks so much for doing these; I love seeing how your opinions on things change as the story moves along. But please don't feel obligated to do one for every chapter if you don't want to... I know that's a lot of work!

Just bringing up a previous, already reviewed section that my eyes fell on: that's some nice morbidity. I was all cool about it in my first review, but I really admire your fic's tone of language with its particular, gentle, apocalyptic fatalism. There's something special about its form of 'destiny' actually. Destiny in many stories seems to me very much claimed for humanity, a giant affirmation that the universe is made in human terms, everything that happens is for you to understand and appreciate, hints of a gigantic human-shaped arbiter controlling things. But the destiny of your fic is not only made in a nonhuman way, it's also delivered by nonhumans. It's impersonal like no corporation, government, or human abstraction. It's quite scary in that way.
Ah, glad you like it. Absol definitely has blue and orange morality, so I'm glad it's coming through nice and alien. More about how it all works will be revealed as the story progresses.

How do you evade the swear filter? I put the letters under SIZE=2 tags but that makes them look slightly weird.
I've been using font tags, setting them to Arial. I think I'm going to be using Verdana from now on, though, since that looks closer to the board's default font, if not actually the same.

Rocket underworkers as dispossessed teenagers, I haven't seen that very often! There are endless ways to make the Teams actually menacing. Also, it's common sense that when Teams are given to hiring from the seedy underbelly of society, what they're hiring are not so much manzai troupes as, highly cruel, efficient, unscrupulous people.
Yeah? I think it's a pretty common approach with TR, but it might just be the genres I read. There's definitely nothing goofy about Team Rocket in this story.

Well, maybe a couple of things. It is made up of people, after all. But the organization itself is very not-goofy.

If they were, it would be awesome. Can you imagine? I need to write that scene now. UPDATE: Already did it before the review got posted? So classy.
Awww, that was cute! I might be the only person in existence to actually like written-out accents, so for me the salamence's southern drawl really made the piece. Hope you had fun writing that, it was a nice little scene.

I like this piece of gentle, emotionless apocalypticism too, there's never trumpets and hellfire in these ominous moments, just someone nonhuman being agitated.
Quite so, although given Absol's general lack of emotional display, acting sort of strange like this is her equivalent of rolling around on the ground, screaming.

The pokemon are all cute when they're with each other. When they're on missions they cannibalize strangers and raise the dead.
...Pushing Daisies reference?

I also realize that great swathes of the plot are still not clearly explained yet. At one point Absol says something about the child's 'brother'! What is that about? Is that one massive clue as to what's going to happen in the tournament? As it is, we don't know that, we don't know exactly what Absol is doing (and you suggest that the answer might actually be ineffable), and now there's a new thing we don't know, the shadow passing over your face reflection.
Yup, although the next three or so chapters are really just a sprint to cover all the rest of the background information needed to understand the rest of the story before the plot really kicks into high gear, so much of what's going on should become clear soon. The bits about the child's brother are definitely teasers about what's to come, and we'll learn more about him in chapters twelve and thirteen. Absol's stuff gets resolved much later on.

Gahh, why do I always turn on my nitpick in this fic?
No worries. I really appreciate it! :D

A descriptive opening! I didn't look around in previous chapters but I believe these are uncommon for your fic? You do medias res. It's also uncommon to start a chapter where the last one left off.
Yes, this chapter marks a major shift in how the story is presented. Previously, it was jumping around a lot in time and space and just showing disjointed scenes, while from this point forward it's pretty much a straight shot through to the end. There will still be time skips between chapters and a fair number that start in media res, but the majority are going to be more like this one, along the lines of, "And then, the next day..."

I like how even in this situation, the fact that one of these characters in much more eloquent in Human gives the child a bit of a disadvantage.
Yup, it gets left in the dust pretty quickly.

I wonder! Even though I doubt the child has any sense of morality, I definitely don't think that, in terms of human/nonhuman faculties, it has nothing; natural or not, the child is itself. We know its behavior is very close to pokemon; it bonds with them, thinks in terms of their hunting/scavenging needs. Is it that the revulsion Nate inspires in the child, is one of logic? The perversity of his laughing and grinning in direct irony of his situation at the moment. Animals do not have a sense of irony. They hate pain and love health; twisted humans have a penchant for doing the opposite. Maybe in that way human evil is also an offense against nature.
The child definitely has trouble understanding irony, and part of its unease around is Nate is definitely because he behaves, from its point of view, completely erratically. It just doesn't get this guy at all. "Perverse" is definitely a good word for him!

Does that mean, which seems kind of messy, the child is going to go into the tournament as identical twins, the qualified one doing the actual battling and the other one tagging along to help in the disguise?
That's the plan, yes. Not sure what you mean by "messy," though. The child is the best at plans. The best. There's absolutely no way this one might go horribly wrong!

Marina is... kind of an appropriate name.
I didn't realize that until I'd already posted the chapter. Totally accidental.

Not only do we share the child's 'crypticness', we also share his cluelessness about training, because none of that has happened in the past ten chapters! This journeyfic phase of Salvage is really fun. It's very ambivalent about mood, full of disconcertingly cute moments in all the violence and morbidity. The point in the plot where you'd expect it to be heating up, fate somehow hastening everything along to the revelation... the child is just trying to kill the last remaining days. It wants to be a real boy.
I'm glad you like this part! I'm pretty uncertain about this section of the 'fic, since it's a dramatic downshift after the earlier chapters. Hopefully it won't wear out its welcome before we kick back into high gear around Chapter 15.

The uneven tone does stay throughout the rest of the story, primarily because the child is, after all, just a child... it does silly and/or cute things at times. It also does some truly horrible things, of course, but all children are like that to some degree... they haven't developed the same moral sense as adults, and at some level don't even have the mental machinery necessary to recognize that other people are, well, really people, with actual feelings. The child's condition makes it even worse at understanding other people than the norm. But on the other hand, a lot of the humor comes from that same lack of understanding.

In retrospect, it was pretty clear that the child doesn't just have amorality + regard for friends, it is probably ideologically on the side of the pokemon, and that gives it a sincere reason to hate Rocket, not just a TV reason. We humans do not value the lives of animals all that much. If a lizard gets inside the house, it has two choices, get out of the way or get killed. The child may be the same, except it values pokemon lives.
Pokémon aren't treated quite as badly as animals in the world of this 'fic, but yeah, there is a little undercurrent of pokémon rights that runs through the story. It's less of an ideological thing than simply that the child was basically raised by pokémon, so it understands their perspective on things much better than it does the human outlook, and humans do legitimately treat pokémon pretty crappily in a lot of little ways. The child is pretty bothered by these because it doesn't understand why you would treat a pokémon different than any human person.

On the other hand, it doesn't actually value pokémon lives above those of humans--it's just as indifferent towards pokémon it doesn't know as it is towards humans it doesn't know. It's just that so far in this story, we've mostly encountered pokémon it happens to know well and like, and humans it dislikes.

In the specific case of Team Rocket, it has some intimately personal reasons to dislike them above and beyond them being thugs in general.

Zapped the typos. And yes, I'm afraid the un-capitalized cursing was the result of find and replace... I'll try and remember to watch out for that in the future.

Thanks again for the excellent review! I hope you continue to enjoy the story. Next chapter will be up shortly.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: And so, long overdue... a moderately lengthy chapter. This one goes a little over the character limit, which, seriously, I don't remember being a problem in the past--did they decrease it recently, or something? I swear there never used to be issues unless a chapter hit like twenty pages or something. Anyhow, this chapter's split at the natural scene break.

Chapter 9

The child wakes irritable from its mother's nightmares, staring up at a predawn sky framed by Titan's wing. It feels the rise and fall of the charizard's side beneath its head, listens to the counterpoint of Rats' snoring. The raticate is a solid warmth curled against its side, and Togetic roosts not far away, between Titan's shoulder blades. For a few minutes the child lies still, letting the presence of its friends calm it, but it can tell there's no point trying to go back to sleep. Instead it gently moves Rats aside, then gets up and stretches. The raticate grumbles dozily and wiggles closer to Titan, and only Duskull, ever watchful, sees the child leave.

The cold shock of the water brings it to full wakefulness, and for awhile it hunts with eyes closed, following the tickling of movement against its skin, feeling for the sparking of frantic muscles darting through the still-dark ocean. Only after it's sated its hunger and taken to lazy trolling for fish to bring back for the others, does it have any thought for the day ahead. By the time it leaves the ocean, tossing a last couple of fish on its pile and shedding gills and webbing as it goes, it's ready to take up its burdens for the day.

The sun is starting to rise as the child shrugs into its new skin and the clothes that go with it. It sits a while with the pokédex, reciting its litany.

You are Nathaniel Morgan. You've been a trainer for almost six years now. And how long a member of Team Rocket? You neither know nor care. What matters is that when you were twenty-two years old, you--lived. Unfortunately.

In the end Rats' insistence drags you back into the moment, and you spit a few of the fish for her and bury them in the coals of last night's fire. Titan devours the rest in eager, blazing gulps. Meanwhile, the other you is still out cold in his sleeping bag. You give his mind a light flick, but it rings hollow as an empty cistern; he's not dreaming at all.

You shove at his mind again, harder this time, and he wakes up choking, blinking around in confusion. "It is time for you to get up," you say, and skin one of the blackened fish with a quick movement of claws. "Here is your breakfast. We will be leaving soon."

Maybe it's disorientation, or maybe it's some lingering unease over last night's conversation, but one way or another he accepts the skewer without comment, moving slowly and gingerly. His hand is looking better this morning. The swelling's gone down, though the injury's still bruising up interesting greens and purples.

You forget about the human completely in the confusion of breaking camp, hands full with the usual tasks: get Togetic to stop teasing Duskull, put the ghost to work picking things up so he'll stop hanging around looking bored, sort out who's coming with you, who's staying in their pokéballs.

"I think I'll go on ahead," Titan says, stretching his wings and neck and looking out over the ocean. "It's been a while since I flew as far as I did yesterday. I liked it."

"Sure, Titan." You dig an item pouch out of your bag. "Here, I'll give you some money so you can get something to eat. We probably won't get there until the afternoon."

No sooner has the charizard slipped the pouch around his neck and hurled himself into the air than Togetic starts demanding your attention, saying she wants to stay out with you today. You wouldn't mind, you doubt War will tolerate her for the entire morning. While you're dealing with that, Rats gets into an argument with the tentacruel, who is waiting for you at the water's edge, and they nearly come to blows before you notice and rush over to break them up. But in the end all is sorted, pokémon in pokéballs and supplies in pack. The Great Nathaniel Morgan, who dozed off sometime during the proceedings, is roused and prodded onto War's bell again.

The exercise gives him his voice back, but you cut him off before he can really get going. "It is not even far to Cinnabar from here. You will be fine, unless you continue to bother me with your nonsense."

"All I'm saying is, no more fucking stupid detour battles, okay? Give me a fucking break already."

"I will battle if I want to," you snap, mostly so he doesn't think he's getting his way. War sets a good pace, paddling along in a smooth, constant dance of tentacles, and truth be told you're looking forward to reaching Cinnabar yourself. You won't be able to challenge Blaine today, not with junior trainers to get through, but impatience drives you forward nonetheless.

So the journey passes unbroken either by fucking stupid detour battles or unwelcome comments from your guest, who looks every bit as queasy as yesterday and stays beautifully reticent. It's not until you're both standing on Cinnabar's beach that he finds the strength for conversation.

"Where the hell's that guy been?" he asks as Titan shyly offers you a frozen lemonade.

"I saw you coming while I was flying, so I thought I would meet you here," the charizard is saying at the same moment.

"Thank you, Titan," you say, and don't respond to the Great Nathaniel Morgan until you've managed to chip off a piece of the icy dessert. "And I do not know. Around here, I suppose. He wanted to come by himself."

"Yeah, but. You just let him fly around, like, wherever the fuck he wants?"

"Of course. He knows where we are going. There is no reason he cannot go his own way and meet up with me later. He is big enough to take care of himself. Not," you can't help but add, "that people like you make it any easier. I am sure Team Rocket would be happy to gang up on Titan and take him if they could. But I think flying between Cinnabar and Seafoam is fine. It is not a good place for thieves."

"Huh. If you say so. Where the fuck're you going?"

"The gym, of course. I will defeat the junior trainers and book a match for tomorrow if there is a spot open. Then I have preparations to make."

"Sounds fucking boring. Look, can I just hang out by my fucking self for a while? You don't want to put up with me, and I sure as hell don't want to deal with your shit, either."

You open your mouth, ready to explain on no uncertain terms why he can't and that he'd better not whine about it, either, when an idea occurs to you. And that's how the human ends up shoved in a room at the pokémon center with Thunderstorm on guard under strict orders that the man shouldn't be allowed near the phone, window, or most especially, door.

An afternoon to yourself puts you in an excellent mood, better than you've been in since your unfortunate meeting with the Rocket. You're grinning and refreshed when you come barging back into the room to find Thunder hovering near its middle with the Great Nathaniel Morgan sleeping on the bed closer to the window. "And did he behave himself?" you ask the magneton.

Thunder throws off irritated sparks as it says, "Yes. It was boring."

"Sorry, Thunder. I won't ask you to watch him again. Look, I brought you a present." You hold up the new pokéball, and Thunder goes cross-eyed trying to get a look at it.

"What's wrong with the old one?"

"It's registered to your old trainer's pokédex. I need to release you from the old pokéball and capture you again with this one so I can register you on mine." You tap the device in question.

The magenton hums to itself for a few seconds, then says, "Yes. I suppose that makes sense."

"You don't have to if you don't want to. You just won't be able to fight in the gyms. Or, I mean, you don't have to let me catch you again at all, but..."

"No, no." The words work their way around the periphery of the magneton's body, dazzling little arcs of light. "It's no problem. I was just surprised, that's all."

"Okay, if you're sure." You bring the magneton's pokéball out and pop it open. Inside, mirrors gleam like the facets of an insect's eye.

Pokéballs, even cheap models like this, are built to last--but not against something like you. You seize the top of the ball in one hand and the bottom in the other and pull until the hinge gives way, then stab steel-reinforced claws through the protective shield inside each half, stirring metal and glass into a shredded tangle. Then you trap the remains between your palms, knit your fingers tight, and incinerate them with a sudden burst of heat. One of Thunderstorm's eyes spins around to watch the slaggy lump sail into the wastebasket, but it makes no comment, and when you hold the new pokéball out to it, it doesn't hesitate to bump one of its magnets against the button, disappearing in a flash of red light.

In a second it's floating there again while you scan the pokéball with the Great Nathaniel Morgan's pokédex. "Thanks, Thunder. You can take a break now if you want. We're not really going to be doing anything until tomorrow."

"Not that I'll be doing anything tomorrow," Thunderstorm muses in a low drone. "Unless you decide you really want to try your luck against Blaine." The magneton drifts towards the small desk at the far end of the room, where a charging station bristles with ports of all sizes and shapes.

"No, I guess not. But you'll get your turn against Blue, right?" you say as the magneton plugs the end of a magnet into one of the larger outlets.

"I hope." Its voice trails off into nonsense static as electricity starts to flow, and Thunderstorm slumps into half-conscious repose, all but one eye sliding shut.

It only gets a few seconds' peace and quiet; soon the room is filled with the rest of your pokémon, all chattering at one another, investigating the furniture, fiddling with the curtains.

"I liked my old pokéball," Titan says wistfully, looking down at the new one clutched between his claws. "I had it since I was hatched."

"Speak for yourself," Rats grumbles as she scrambles onto the free bed. "I was looking forward to getting out of that grubby little thing. Which is why I said I wanted my new digs to be a luxury ball, huh?" She shoots you a meaningful look. "Luxury. But look, that? That's pretty much the opposite of luxury." She swipes at Titan's new pokéball with her tail.

"I know, Rats." You reach out and take the ball from Titan. "But like I told you, I don't have enough money for one right now. I'll buy you one after we beat Blaine tomorrow. Then I'll have plenty of cash."

"Yeah, yeah, you're poor and crap. And whose fault is that? Hey, loser!" She launches herself onto the other bed and lands with a gleeful bounce that wakes the Great Nathaniel Morgan immediately.

"Oh come on, Rats. He was being quiet." The raticate sniggers and slides back to the floor, pursued by your glare as well as the human's.

"Ugh. It's like a fucking zoo in here," the Great Nathaniel Morgan grunts, rubbing his eyes and blinking. He must have bathed while you were gone, and without all the dirt it's much easier to see his remaining injuries, the cut across his nose standing out red and livid.

"Hey! Who's hungry?" Rats scurries past on her way to the door.

"Rats..."

"Food! Food! Yay!" Togetic is after her in a moment, twirling enthusiastic circles.

"I wouldn't mind something," Titan admits, offering you a sheepish grin. You sigh and dig out the remains of your petty cash. "All right, Titan. Here. That should be enough for all of you to get something," you say, handing him a few bills. It's a good thing real meals are free.

"Hey, come on, what's this?" Rats says as Titan crumples the money between his claws. "Where's the goods? Where's the dex?"

"I'm not paying for you to buy out the whole machine again, Rats."

"Ah, come on. You know it was awesome!" She snickers and shoots out the door with Togetic on her heels, yelling for Titan to keep up as he lumbers along in their wake. The door slams shut behind them, leaving you in abrupt silence. It can't last.

"Where the fuck is that lot going?"

"Vending machine." You shuffle morosely through the last few bills in your wallet. "I wanted to buy them something nicer to eat, but after paying for supplies I did not have enough left. Why did you have so little money?"

He'd been staring at the door, but now he turns to look at you, very slowly."Why did I have so little money? As in used to?"

"Yes. In your trainer account. Obviously Team Rocket took everything in your pockets, but--"

"Are you telling me that you've been fucking using my money to buy shit?"

"I was. Until it ran out."

"It--you--" You watch with interest as his face reddens, he clutches helplessly at the air. Finally he manages to choke out, "You spent all my fucking dough? All of it? And now you have the fucking nerve to ask why I didn't have more for you to steal?"

"It was not stealing."

"Like hell it wasn't stealing! That's what you fucking call it when you take somebody else's money without asking!" He actually stands up, hands clenching into fists, and you take a step forward, making yourself just the tiniest bit taller as you do. "Where the fuck do you get off?" he snarls. "Why the fuck would you--?"

"It was ill-gotten, was it not?" It takes him a second to register what you said. He frowns and leans back a bit, staring at you in confusion. "The money. You got it as the result of some illegal activity, am I right?"

"You--what? What the fuck does--well, yeah, but--"

"So you stole the money from somebody else in the first place. Stealing is bad, so you should not have been allowed to keep it at all. The right thing to do would be to give it back to whoever you took it from, but I do not know who they are and have no way to find them even if I did. But at the least you should not be allowed to benefit from it, so I used it instead. It was the right thing to do."

"What? What the fuck are you even talking about? That's the most fucking--" He breaks off with a shake of his head, then stares at you for a moment, teeth bared in a grimace. "So that's how the fuck it works, huh?" He snarls at last. "Let's see if I've got this all fucking sorted out. Your stupid little plan is to leave me alone some place, without my pokémon, without any supplies, and without any fucking money?" He counts them off on his fingers as he goes, glaring at you all the while.

"Well, not 'some place,' Indigo Plateau, but--"

"Oh, right! Very fucking nice! So some tourist deathtrap in the middle of the fucking mountains, surrounded by the most fucking dangerous monsters in the entire goddamned region? That's your fucking idea of the right thing to do?"

You frown at him. "Yes. I do not know why you are getting angry at me about it. I am being generous by not turning you over to the police as soon as I can. This is your fault. If you had not decided to be a criminal, you could have avoided all this."

"Oh my God. How the fuck do you even fucking exist?" All the anger's gone out of him, and he winces a bit as he slumps back down on the bed. "Just fucking kill me now and save me the pain and humiliation, Jesus."

You frown down at him as he stares at the carpet, running one hand back and forth over his bare scalp. "Well?"

He gives you a tired look, then says, finally, "Well what?"

"So why did you have so little money?"

He clenches his fists again and turns away from you. "I dunno, maybe because being a Rocket grunt is only one step up from flipping burgers? The fuck did you think?"

"I thought stealing stuff would pay better. I thought that was the point."

"Yeah, you think a lot of stupid shit, don't you?"

"You are the stupid one."

He shakes his head and crosses his arms and goes back to staring at the carpet, and in the quiet you can hear Duskull chuckling to himself as he bobs in circles overhead. Satisfied, you flop onto the free bed and scrabble the remote off the nightstand.

You flip on the TV and bring up the guide channel, watching hungrily as the listing scrolls up the screen. It's been two whole days since you've been able to watch anything--you've missed so much! Let's see, it's Wednesday, going on six... Too late for cartoons. There's always the news, of course, but oh, that channel is halfway through Castelia Summertimes. And meanwhile, the guide itself is playing a trailer for some kind of action movie...

"What the fuck are you doing?"

You blink, then turn a glare on the Great Nathaniel Morgan. You'd almost forgotten he was there. "I am watching television. Obviously."

"No you ain't. You're watching a bunch of fucking words go by."

"Fine. Then that is what I am doing."

He's laid back down and dragged a pillow over his head, and his words come out half-muffled. "You've been sitting there for like five fucking minutes. Just pick something, for God's sake."

"Why do you care what I watch?" But any answer he might have is cut off as the door flies open and the room is filled with the jabber of your returning pokémon, Togetic at the fore. She shoots up in front of your face, waving a bag of fruit candies at you.

"Yes, very nice, Togetic," you say, but she's already on her way, whirling around Duskull in teasing arcs until the ghost drifts off to resentfully haunt the alarm clock.

"I got you some cookies," Titan says shyly, holding out a bag.

"Just lemme know if you don't want 'em. I'd be happy to take 'em off your hands." Rats must have already eaten whatever she purchased. She hops onto your bed and makes a beeline for the headboard, curling up amongst the pillows.

"Thanks, Titan," you say, and take the snack. "Thank you, Rats, but I'll be fine."

The charizard grins and trots around to the other bed, holding out another package of cookies for the Great Nathaniel Morgan. The Rocket just stares at him.

"He got you food. Take it." You can't keep the disapproval out of your voice, but Titan doesn't notice. He just smiles when the Great Nathaniel Morgan takes the bag, then wanders away and starts in on his danish.

Togetic demands you let her watch something, and after a bit of surfing around you find a channel showing Tiara the Trainer reruns. "It's spelling!" Togetic chirps as though she can't even imagine a more exciting prospect. Most cartoons are too much for Togetic--she can't handle bad people, even the mild sorts of bullies seen on most children's programs--but she's more than happy to settle in, eat her candy, and learn how to spell "Silph Company" with Tiara.

"Human words are so funny!" Togetic says with her mouth full. "How come they keep working even when there's nobody around to say them?"

"I don't know, Togetic." It is a strange thing, but you're feeling too lazy to think about it right now. You half-watch the TV with Togetic as Tiara is replaced by some sort of science programming about research at the Oak Pokémon Laboratory. Titan leans in to watch this one too.

Lulled by boredom and cheerful fatigue, you pay less attention to Togetic than you should. You don't notice her fiddling with the empty candy wrapper, fidgeting and humming to herself. You jerk out of your stupor only when, during an innocuous commercial break, Togetic shoots into the air, squirming and bouncing with boisterous energy. "Why is everybody being so boring? Come on, let's play!"

"Togetic, I don't think now is a very good time. Why don't you...?"

But it's too late. Togetic doesn't wait for you to finish your protest. Rats lets out a disgruntled squawk as her pillow is jerked out of her grasp, and she claws at empty air as she tries to get it back. "Come on! Pillow fight!" Togetic says.

Titan, who is watching the proceedings in bald confusion, snorts and jerks his head back as the pillow hits him in the snout. Togetic is beside herself with cackling delight, and you can't help but smile despite your exasperation. "Not now, Togetic. We're trying to rest before the gym battle tomorrow. Why don't you--?"

Your perfectly reasonable suggestion is cut off as the pillow comes down squarely atop your head. Titan gives you a sheepish grin as he twists the squashy weapon between his claws. "Umm. Defend yourself?"

And of course there's no way you can turn down a challenge like that. "Hey. Hey! What are you doing?" Rats yelps as there is a sudden rush towards the headboard to claim a weapon. "No! Leggo!" She clings hard to the pillow she's been sleeping on as Togetic tries to fly off with it. Moments later she joins the fray herself, laying about with a bit more force than strictly necessary.

Blows are traded and battle cries yelled, and after a few minutes you're lying sprawled on your back, laughing uncontrollably, with Rats and Titan collapsed in giggling heaps nearby. Togetic perches on the headboard, wracked with laughter. A fine drift of feathers fills the air from a pillow that caught on one of Rats' incisors.

The moment stretches long as you float on a wave of exhilaration. Then, "Jesus fucking Christ. What the hell was that?"

You tip your head back until you can see the Great Nathaniel Morgan and grin at him upside-down. "What the fuck is wrong with you? How old are you, fucking five?" He's pulled himself into a sitting position, one hand braced against the headboard, like he wants to be ready to move on short notice.

"No. Eight." You roll onto your stomach and flop your arms off the edge of the bed. "Or twenty. It depends on how you count."

"God-fucking-dammit. It depends on how you count? Why the fuck can't you answer a goddamn question like a normal person?"

You're feeling too good to do more than laugh at his rudeness. "I used to be twelve. Then I died. And now I am eight. So. Eight or twenty."

He rolls his eyes. "Ugh. Forget I even fucking asked. Fine. We'll go with eight, because you sure as hell don't act twenty. Eight with fucking mental problems." He grimaces. "Whatever. But could you lay off the nutcase shit already? It's creepy as fuck seeing me bounce around like a fucking retard."

You stick your tongue out at him, and he glowers. "I cannot help it that grownups are boring. If you do not like it, do not watch."

"I can't fucking believe it. I'm getting pushed around by a fucking elementary school kid." His brows draw down together as he frowns. "That explains a lot, actually."

You sit up and investigate the torn pillow, which puffs more feathers into the air as you slap your palm onto it. You toss it at the Great Nathaniel Morgan out of lazy curiosity. He manages to get an arm up and swat it out of the air, but not without a wince of discomfort, his movements stiff and jerky.

"Fuck off already. God, I never thought I'd say it, but I think I prefer you when you're all pissed off and breathing fire and shit. Now you're just being fucking annoying."

You smile and bounce a little on the bed, eliciting a grumbled complaint from Rats. "You are just jealous because you are old and soon you are going to get all wrinkly and die."

He stares at you. "What the fuck. And you're not?"

"Nope!" Bounce, bounce. "At least Absol does not think so. Since I never get any bigger and my mother does not, either. And she's been around a long time. Longer than, than Professor Oak, even. And he's old!"

The Great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't act suitably impressed. In fact, he's not even looking at you as he mutters, "So, what? You're going to be like... that... forever?" He waves a hand vaguely in your direction.

"Yup!" He's so slow.

"Huh." To your annoyance, all he does after that is stare at his knees for a while.

"Jealous," you conclude at last. The pillow fight's ironed the last of the energy out of your team, everyone but Togetic. Even she settles down after a vigorous bout of tickling, and you're able to put on an old kung-fu flick while she sleeps atop the television. But while everyone else drifts off into slumber you're up late, late, past the comedy shows you don't understand and into the realm of reruns and ads for sleeping pills and counseling. Your eyes ache and your head feels heavy and filled with sludge, but you can't calm down--not that you really want to.

After all, you have a gym battle tomorrow! You'll win your first badge, you'll get your prize money, and you'll be on your way to Viridian City. And you'll prove to the Great Nathaniel Morgan what a good trainer you are. If he's not jealous, he should be. Because you're awesome.

---​

And that next day, standing in Cinnabar Gym's main arena, you're not even tired. How could you be? You can hear your heart hammering even over the roar of the crowd as you stand in the glare of sunlight shining down through the gym's open roof. Once, challengers would have stared up at the walls of a caldera, stood suspended over a pool of lava pumped up from the volcano's heart. The new gym is at the foot of the mountain, and now Blaine only aspires to create the illusion of fighting at its summit. Maybe even he has grown wary of the volcano's temper.

It's less impressive than you'd expected, as is the ardor of your fans. Truth be told, your imagination has to supply most of their cheering. The stands are largely empty, holding just a scattered collection of family and friends of other trainers who will be battling today, maybe a couple hopefuls scouting Blaine's strategies. They didn't come here to see you, sure. But by the time they leave they'll know there's a hot new trainer to watch for at the Plateau, real champion material come out of nowhere. You grin up at your audience and shade your eyes with your hand.

At least a couple of people are interested in your battle. Togetic is beside herself with excitement, bouncing up and down on the bench, and when she catches your eye she waves so hard she nearly overbalances and falls off. The red glow of Duskull's attention is trained square on the arena, drifting neither left nor right, and Thunderstorm watches with all three of its eyes. The Great Nathaniel Morgan is sitting on the very far end of the same bench, leaning so far away from your pokémon that he looks like he's going to tip over sideways any second, but he, too, is watching.

You wave back to Togetic, then turn to your opponent. Blaine waits on the far side of the arena, leaning on his cane and grinning at you from the shade of his hat. "Well, then," he says. "How about we get started?"

There's a pokéball in his hand now and one in yours, too, and before you can even think about what's happening they're in the air, the pokémon taking shape on the field.

War balances on the jagged points of his beak, his tentacles taut with the effort of holding up his bell. He raises a couple of them, holding them at the ready as he stares down the rapidash Blaine's sent into the fray.

"Challenger moves first," says Blaine, and you start, realizing you've been staring and leaving the pokémon to wait.

"Use hydro pump."

"Agility, Rapidash." There's laughter in the gym leader's voice.

A second later a thick column of water gushes against the energy shield that separates Blaine from the arena. The gym leader would've been a goner without it, smashed against the far wall like a bug. But the shield's there, rippling with blue light as it dissipates the force of the attack. It's the rapidash that isn't, his hooves clattering a rapid-fire beat as he darts around the hydro pump and accelerates to be so fast even your eyes have trouble keeping up.

"Now double-edge. You know how this works," Blaine says. Before you can even open your mouth, War is sent skidding across the floor, tentacles flailing and slapping at the ground as he tries to stop himself. Rapidash is cantering away, waiting for his next order.

"Good. Now double team."

The rapidash flies around the arena, chased by flickering afterimages, while War labors to right himself, dragging his bell, heavy and sagging without any water to support it, off the ground.

"Just hit him with surf," you say. The rapidash can't dodge forever, and once War gets him with a couple good attacks he won't be so ridiculously fast. No reason to worry.

But even as War coils and twists his tentacles in complicated patterns, calling up water, Blaine is preparing a response. "Not so fast. Give it a good bounce, Rapidash."

The fire type's hindquarters bunch, and he hurls himself into the air just seconds before pipes under the arena burst open and a sheet of water comes jetting out of the floor. War sends the improvised tidal wave surging higher, but it can't catch the Rapidash, who soars on, impossibly high, trailed by a herd of illusory comrades.

The surf attack crests, then comes crashing down over the arena, followed by Rapidash, who lands on War's bell hard enough to drive the tentacruel's beak a handspan into the packed clay of the floor.

"Now, War! Quick, use--" The tentacruel isn't listening. The springiness of his bell sends the rapidash bouncing up again, but War strikes out with his tentacles, snaring limbs and pulling his opponent back down. The rapidash bucks and struggles and tears himself free, but the graceful arc of his leap is broken and his clones flicker and die, now that War's managed to find his real opponent. The tentacruel's tentacles have taken off long strips of skin, and lines of swelling mark the path of War's stinging touch. The rapidash stands out of War's reach for a moment, bleeding and catching his breath.

Meanwhile, War is straining frantically with his tentacles, trying to wrench his beak out of the ground. "Great. Stay out of sight, Rapidash. Hit it with stomp until it goes down."

"Quit struggling, War! Just use surf." He can hit with that even if he can't see the rapidash.

The tentacruel begins gathering the attack, puddles left by the previous surf flowing together and gathering at the center of the field, but Blaine is giving new commands. "Bounce, then, Rapidash. Just stay out of the way."

Again, War sends a tidal wave roaring up, riding high on the wall of water as it finally lifts him free of the floor. And again the rapidash jumps, sailing clear over the reaching wave and leaving the surf attack to collapse across an empty field.

Rapidash is still rising, but any moment now he'll reach the top of his arc and start to plummet. "Quick! Grab it again like before when it lands. Wrap. Use wrap!"

"Overheat."

The rapidash falls, mane and tail streaming out behind and legs braced for impact. This time he lands in a nest of waiting, upraised tentacles that snap taut around his body even as his hooves drive War's beak into the floor a second time.

You can't even see the rapidash anymore with his body completely wrapped in War's tentacles. But even as you start to relax, consider how best to finish this, the tentacruel lets out a shrieking curse that echoes around the battlefield and starts unwinding his tentacles as fast as he can. Light streams between them and the rapidash slowly reappears, glowing white-hot. He jumps down from atop War's bell and gives himself a contemptuous shake, sending off a final wave of heat that flashes the puddles beneath his hooves to steam.

War is cursing fluently now, slapping singed tentacles into puddles and trying to drag his beak free with angry strength. The rapidash lashes out backwards with a hoof, nearly knocking the tentacruel over on his face. At least the power of the attack snaps half War's beak free, and he pulls the other half out with a loud crack, rounding as fast as he can on clumsy tentacles and sending a water pulse at his opponent.

Rapidash sidesteps, not at all to your surprise, but his movements are sensitive now, ginger. His sides heave from exertion, and he sweats and shivers where he stands. War must have poisoned him earlier, and now at last the spring's gone out of his step.

"Come on, War. One more surf!"

"Get on top of it and stay there," Blaine counters. He's noticed too, then. No more bouncing.

The water on the arena floor ripples and trembles, then rises to War's call. The rapidash jumps onto the tentacruel's bell, and as the wave takes shape, buoying both pokémon up, War tries to lash a few tentacles around his opponent's legs.

The fire type gives an angry whinny and kicks off, evading the tentacruel's attack as he soars into the air. This time, though, his jump is not as powerful; it can't carry him high enough to escape the rising water. Rapidash sees what's going to happen a second before it does, and his cry of distress is cut off by a boom of water flashing into steam as the wave catches up with him, pulling him down with it as it rashes back to earth. The rapidash is nearly washed out of the arena as the wave spreads and drains away, coming to rest on his side with his mane and tail reduced to guttering flickers. Blaine recalls him without even waiting for the referee's verdict. "Good work, Rapidash. Now, Arcanine, finish it off."

You should be celebrating. You have the lead, after all. To win, you just need to hold it. But you'd expected War to carry you all the way through the battle without a hitch, and he's barely upright, sagging and bruised. You will win, of course. Your pokémon are the best, and you're the best, and that's just simple facts, but this is turning out more difficult than you'd expected.

"Arcanine, start with wild charge."

"Hydro pump," you say reflexively. There's no time to wonder if you should have made a different move; the arcanine is already charging forward, splashing heedlessly through puddles as sparks dance and crackle in his thick fur. War's moving, too, raising his heavy bell and aligning himself with his opponent.

The hydro pump is a direct hit--but the arcanine charges right through as though it weren't there, slamming into War and toppling him over in a twitching heap.

The tentacruel tries to pull himself upright again, slapping at the floor with spasming tentacles, but after a few seconds he falls back, exhausted, and lies like a deflated balloon. The referee declares him out of the fight.

The arcanine turns and walks back towards Blaine, flicking water from his tail as he goes. You recall War and stand there at a loss for what to do next.

Blaine can see your dilemma. "You didn't really come in here thinking you could sweep me with a water type, did you?" he says with a laugh. A laugh. He's laughing at you, like you're some pathetic newbie trainer who doesn't even know their type chart. "What kind of gym leader would I be? You'll need to do better than that if you want a badge!"

What kind of gym leader would he be? Maybe not the kind who only beat War because he spent most of the battle running away.

Your face feels hot, and it's all you can do not to sprout talons and fangs and show the old man what he's really dealing with. Nobody laughs at you like that. Nobody.

But not here. You can't--not with people watching. All you have to do is win this battle. That'll show him. It will be enough. More than enough. You squeeze Rats' new pokéball extra hard to relieve some of your irritation, then cast it to the floor. "Come on, Rats. Let's go!"

The raticate shakes the last sparks of energy out of her fur and glances around the arena. "Oh, so War's not getting all the fun, then?" she says. "Nice. Too bad he can't stick around to watch how it's done!"

The arcanine on Blaine's side of the field is crouched in a ready stance, while Rats remains relaxed and unconcerned, looking around with casual interest. "Could ask for a bit of air conditioning or something, but hey, it's not so bad. No lava or open flames or nothing. Damper than I expected, too."

You watch the referee with hungry intensity, Rats chattering away just below your notice. The very instant the flags drop you're ready to blurt out, "Quick attack!"

"Extreme speed."

Rats blurs out into a long streak of motion, but an instant later the arcanine simply vanishes. Rats skids to a halt, glancing around an arena suddenly alive with furious splashes. Bursts of water leap from puddles on all sides, the arcanine moving so fast that he seems to be racing through them all at once. Then the fire type snaps back into view as he collides with Rats, slamming to a halt in a feat of impossible deceleration as the raticate is sent rolling and bouncing away across the arena.

"Keep her at a distance, Arcanine. Flamethrower."

The arcanine roars out a long cone of fire, and Rats rolls sideways to avoid it. Then she drops flat on her stomach to dodge another.

"Get in close and use bite, Rats," you say. The arcanine's flamethrowers are powerful, but Rats doesn't have any problem dodging them. She weaves ever closer, skipping easily around gushes of fire, until--"Extreme speed!"--Arcanine disappears, and Rats pounces on empty air. She spins around, spitting curses, but can't get her bearings before she is engulfed in flames, the attack coming even before the command, "Another flamethrower, Arcanine. Keep it up."

"Rats!" She's rolling on the ground, trying to put out the fire, but is forced to stop and leap away lest she get hit with another attack. The air is filled with the sour smell of burning fur. And you? You are beginning to panic.

The arcanine is too fast. It's too fast and Rats can't even hit it without getting close. She's going to get tired of dodging before the arcanine runs out of fire. If she can't hit, she can't win, and if she doesn't win then all the rest is up to Titan. Titan is strong, but--no, you have to win. You aren't going to lose. Master trainers don't lose.

"A little help here, Boss?" Rats rolls away from another burst of fire, but her movements are pained, her skin mottled red and white in patches of burnt-off fur. The twang of panic in her voice sets your heart racing, your fingers clenching. You open your mouth but can say nothing because the only words in your head are What if I can't win?

But wait. Wait, this is stupid. You close your eyes half a second, make a change you can't feel. When you open them again there is nothing but a raticate and an arcanine on the field in front of you, fighting. You look and struggle for a moment to remember, and then the way is obvious.

"Rats, use sucker punch." She's coming up out of another roll, and the moment her back paws hit the floor she's gone, no more than a flash of shadow as she tears across the arena. The arcanine tries to move, too, but he's already started to gather fire for another flamethrower, and he can't concentrate on an extreme speed at the same time. Rats is there even as his muscles start to tense, and the arcanine takes a punch to the gut that has him inhaling his nascent flamethrower, then hacking up smoke and little bursts of flame.

"Bite him and hold on."

The arcanine roars as four-inch fangs lock in his stomach, and he drops into a roll, trying to throw Rats off, trying to aim a flamethrower into his belly. "Overheat now, overheat!" Blaine says, and for a moment you're thrown by something in his voice, some emotion you don't recognize.

You shake it off after a couple seconds. Whatever the gym leader's feeling, you don't care. "Super fang."

The air around the arcanine starts to ripple and wiggle with heat, but Rats just closes her eyes and holds on tight. Her own fangs start to glow, red then yellow then white, and then she bites down harder. The arcanine squeals and rolls over again, kicking madly at the raticate. Rats is yelling as she chews, scissoring her teeth deeper and deeper into the arcanine's flesh even as the fire type starts glowing himself, like an igniting star.

And then, suddenly, it's over. Rats tumbles free, screeching breathlessly with pain, and the arcanine curls in over his gushing wound, spitting fire blindly. Rats' fur is alight, up in flames just from contact with the blazing arcanine, but somehow she still feels his attacks, still tries to crawl away from them.

She can't. She collapses. The arena is loud with the arcanine's strangled panting.

Just like that, you're down against the gym leader. You don't think more on it, just recall Rats and pull Titan's pokéball off your belt.

The charizard takes shape, craning his neck around as he takes in the arena. Blaine speaks. "Oh ho ho! Fighting fire with fire, are we?" Your eyes flick away from the battlefield to the human standing just beyond. That noise he's making. Laughter? Why?

It doesn't matter. You look back to the battle.

Titan is standing poised with his wings half-spread, staring down the arcanine. The other fire type has managed to pull himself into a sitting position, but the thin layer of water spreading from still-gushing pipes is dark with feathery tendrils of blood. Arcanine won't be doing any more running this match.

That doesn't mean he isn't dangerous, of course. You need Titan to finish this quickly, so he has as much strength left as possible for Blaine's magmar.

"Keep your distance, Titan. Use dragon rage."

"Dragon pulse."

Titan circles around the arcanine, his tail flame dancing with streaks of turquoise as he spews wave after wave of blue-green fire at his immobilized opponent. But though the arcanine's face is contorted in pain and he turns slowly, barely able to keep up with Titan's steady movement, he does not hesitate to launch his own attacks. Titan is forced to duck and lean around the arcanine's blue-glowing globes of energy, once having to do an awkward hop and flutter of wings to get away in time.

Finally the charizard slips up, and a dragon pulse catches him in the side, bursting with concussive force and knocking him backwards with a sharp "oof!" You frown. The arcanine's on his last legs, fur smoldering from the dragonfire and his movements becoming ever more slow and jerky. But dragon rage is simply taking too long to do its work, and Titan's getting tired out as well. You need to end this.

"Titan, get in close and finish him with slash."

"Got it!" The charizard ducks under a dragon pulse, then charges forward before the arcanine can launch another attack. The canine pokémon roars in pain as Titan lays open a long gash across his shoulder, but even as the charizard turns to deliver another blow, the arcanine sinks his teeth into Titan's side.

"Thunder fang!" Titan jerks back, and now it's his turn to roar as electricity snaps through his body, his muscles shivering out of control. But then he lashes out again, smacking his opponent across the face with his tail. He rakes with his claws as Arcanine turns back in the charizard's direction with his teeth bared in a snarl.

Arcanine rocks back from the force of the blow and teeters a moment, gasping for breath. Then finally he concedes, slumping to the floor in an exhausted heap. Titan straightens up and fusses with the wound on his side while the arcanine is recalled, cauterizing it with delicate little bursts of flame.

"Good work, Titan." He flashes a grin at you over his shoulder, then turns at the sound of an opening pokéball. Blaine's magmar stands at the far side of the arena, inspecting Titan with a critical eye.

"Let's get this over with," she says in a bored tone, cracking her knuckles while she waits for her first command. Titan leans forward and lets out a deep growl, the flame on his tail leaping and dancing.

Charizard versus magmar. You hadn't expected it to come down to this, or not as far as you can remember. It's fitting, though. You know exactly what move to use here. You taught it to Titan yourself not long ago, while you raced each other through the sky above your island home. "Titan," you say, "seismic toss."

The charizard launches himself forward with a kick of his wings, angling up over a flamethrower from the magmar, then swoops down on her with claws spread wide. She tires to slip away, but Titan grabs her, pinning her arms behind her back and hauling her into the sky.

The open ceiling is working against Blaine now as Titan soars ever higher, to scattered applause from the audience. You keep your eyes trained on the battle as Titan starts doing loop-the-loops far overhead, building momentum.

It's only when the charizard comes shooting down again, diving straight at the ground, that Blaine gives his command. "Magmar, use thunder punch."

Without your enhanced vision, it would have been too quick for you to see. Magmar wrenches her tail around, shoving it in Titan's face. The charizard jerks his head away, closing his eyes, and the clean line of his dive is broken. In his moment of surprise Magmar manages to get an arm free, then lands a thunder punch square in the charizard's stomach.

Titan lets go completely now, twisting in pain, and the magmar shoves her way free of him. She rolls as she lands and comes up in a crouch while Titan crashes to the ground behind her in a mess of flailing limbs. The applause is now much, much louder.

"Fan of Red, eh?" Blaine asks while Magmar straightens up. "Ever since he came through here I can't tell you how many people've tried to pull that stunt on us. Better luck next time! Magmar, confuse ray!"

Magmar snaps around to face Titan, who has only just sorted out his appendages and is getting to his feet. She spreads her hands, a flurry of golden lights dancing between them, and as Titan turns to look, she releases them in a humming cloud.

Titan half-raises his claws as the attack whirrs towards him, peering uncertainly at the little glowing specks. They circle his head in a nauseating swirl, dancing in an intricate pattern perhaps only Magmar can appreciate. And then, as one, they wink out. Titan wheezes and lurches to the side, shaking his head.

"Titan. Titan! Come on, snap out of it. Use slash." The charizard looks left and right as though wondering where your voice is coming from. His eyes are wide and unfocused, and when he tries to take a step forward he trips, hammering his wings to keep himself upright.

"Thunder punch." Magmar walks forward, unhurried, arms at her sides. She stops squarely in front of Titan while the charizard looks everywhere but at her, moving his head in short, jerky bursts and puffing out perplexed little clouds of smoke. The magmar stands there for a moment, watching, then lashes out with a punch that catches Titan square on the jaw.

"Come on, Titan. She is right there. Get her with slash." The charizard tips backward, wings flapping as he tries to right himself, and Magmar sends another punch into his exposed gut. Titan thrashes around in a lopsided circle, striking out at random and ignoring your every attempt to get his attention. A wing slaps Magmar across the face purely by chance, and she falls back, trying to stay out of the charizard's way, only darting in with a punch when she has a clear shot.

There's nothing you can do. It's only when a fortuitous punch jars something in Titan's head, knocks him far enough askew to turn him the right way round again, that he comes to his senses. The charizard lets out a roar of frustration and pain, but then his eyes focus, finally, on the magmar, and she takes a step back as she realizes it at the same time you do: the charizard's back in business.

Titan lunges at his opponent with a shriek of rage. Magmar fights to get away as he tears into her with claws, teeth, wings, attacking in a mad flurry of blows. "Go on, Titan. Use rage." You doubt he's actually paying attention to you, but you might as well throw a command out there for the look of the thing.

"Another confuse ray." Magmar has her hands up over her head, trying to fend Titan off with one lightning-crackling fist while shielding herself with the other arm. The charizard's still forcing her back, shrugging off her punches. If anything, they're making his advance more furious. Now the magmar stops punching, splaying her claws and scattering more golden lights.

Titan rears up, screaming outrage as the confuse ray engulfs his head. This time Magmar rushes to get away, not even looking for an opening to attack. She hovers at a safe distance, her expression neutral but her fists raised. Her flame-licked body shows little sign of injury, but you can see the droop in her tail and the tension in her muscles as she works to keep herself steady. She's not going to last much longer--but unfortunately, she's in better shape than Titan.

The charizard staggers to and fro, clawing and biting at nothing, roaring out angry bursts of fire. He doesn't notice his injuries, doesn't seem to care when he goes after his own wing with his claws or gets his tail tangled in his legs. Magmar follows his weaving progress, waiting for him to fall, maybe, or simply run out of steam, so she can rush in and finish him off.

But the charizard's erratic movements are hard to predict, and a sudden lunge sends Magmar skipping back, then scrambling, then turning to flee as Titan doesn't stop coming in her direction, propelled by momentum, or blind luck, or some fragmented sense that he's found his opponent as last. He crashes into Magmar, and the two of them go down in a struggling heap. You and Blaine are both yelling commands, but it's no good; the pokémon are deaf in their panic.

Titan is struggling simply to rise, though his reaching claws and flailing wings do plenty of damage to his trapped opponent. The magmar, half-crushed by his weight, doesn't have the leverage for a proper punch, but she's laying to with sparking claws and gouts of flame. Every time it looks like Titan's going to make it up, she manages to get under his feet or land an attack that knocks him off-balance, sending him crashing back to the floor.

The undignified tangle goes on until Titan comes to his senses again, and finally the pokémon manage to extricate themselves, Magmar backing away in weary alertness while Titan stands where he is, huffing to regain his breath. His tail flame blazes high--too high. He's starting to lose control of his fire. It won't be long before the strain gets to be too much and he simply collapses.

Titan lets out another bellow and charges, bloodied jaws wide. "Seismic toss, Titan. Get her away from you."

Maybe he's actually listening to you. Maybe he just intended to do it anyway. Either way, he swats aside Magmar's punch and grabs her, hoisting her over his head. No fancy aerial stunts this time--there's no way he's getting airborne on his shredded wings. He simply throws Magmar as hard as he can, sending her skidding across the floor.

"Now fire blast. Don't let her get close." The magmar can respond with fire of her own, but she won't be able to match Titan's power, not while he's blazing up like this.

No sooner has Magmar gotten back to her feet than she's knocked down by a huge, five-pointed star of flame. "One last thunder punch, Magmar. You can do it," says Blaine.

Magmar rises to her knees and braces herself, head lowered, arms raised, letting another fire blast break against her and dissipate. Then she's up and running, rushing straight into another unfolding fire blast. She skirts around it at the last second, keeps coming.

"Stop her, Titan. Dragon rage." The magmar's close now, one fist alive with lightning, and she takes the burst of dragon-fire right in the face. She stops only a moment, shaking her head, but Titan is following in the dragon rage's wake and snatches her in his jaws. He lifts Magmar straight off the floor and shakes her, then throws her to the ground and goes at her with his claws. Then the magmar glows red, brilliant laser-red, and is gone. It's over.

The referee's announcement is drowned out by a furious roar from Titan. He flexes empty claws and glares around the arena, which is very definitely empty of magmar. His eyes settle on Blaine instead.

The charizard sets off in a stomping run, head low and neck extended, wings scooping at the air to give him extra speed. He roars a challenge at the puny creature standing so boldly in his way. A moment later, his pokéball's beam finds him. "Return, Titan."

"Now that's a fiery charizard you have there," Blaine says, with another of those absurd laughs. You're only half-listening. The battle is over now. The least you can do is let yourself enjoy it.

You close your eyes in another too-long blink, then flinch, disoriented as the noise of the crowd hits your new awareness. Then it all comes back to you and your heartbeat surges as you realize what you've done, what you've finally accomplished. Now you raise your arms and laugh in delight, and Togetic, unable to contain herself, fairly rockets down out of the stands.

You forget to pay attention to Blaine's post-battle speech, lost in the ardor of victory. Togetic flies rings around you, babbling delight and pulling a sparkling contrail of joy dust behind her. The applause is scattered, polite, but it doesn't matter. You hear behind it the roar of filled stands, the fathomless capacity of Indigo Stadium. Soon, now. You're finally on your way. You'll find your brother. You'll save your mother. And you'll be standing in that victor's ring in Indigo Stadium, listening to the whole world cheer for you. It's only a matter of time.
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Because the character limit for the forum used to be lower, Chapter 9 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.
 
Last edited:

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Yay. I can finally return reviews.

Um, I can't really give any specific advice. I'll do more when I can finally do chapter-by-chapter, but for now I can just give general thoughts and commentary. Paradoxically, this will end in a much shorter review for a much longer swath of content.

The only thing I distinctly remember disliking for more than subjective reasons were the first few chapters. Now, there is definitely something to be said about keeping things short as a hook but I felt like they were almost too short to the point where they said almost nothing and thus did not really garner my attention. Maybe you could combine or lengthen them a little bit?

My only other major gripe is that as a disciple of Vonnegut's Rule (tell as much as possible as early as possible) I naturally had some problems reading. That has nothing to do with you or the story; we simply have different styles and reading preferences.

Second-person is intriguing in this story. Normally when I think of second person in journey fics it is used to make a semi-novelization of a game. The trainer is you just like in the games. Here it seems to signify a lack of identity more than anything. Interestingly enough, "the child" appears to be a distinct character who has an identity if that theory is correct. Is it because it is a previous incarnation? Perhaps even the brother being alluded to every once in a while? Or maybe it is meant to signify the central character when they were alive?

Having to use "central character" leads into another interesting part of the work. There is genuinely no standard protagonist. The central character is a murderous mutant that even eleven chapters in we still know almost nothing about compared to that which we don't know. The only arguably noble characters in the entire work are antagonists with almost no screen time. The creature (I am now going to refer to the central character as this) isn't even a standard villain as xe has blue and orange morality more than anything. Xer motives are also really unclear right now, as Absol could be anywhere from a righteous avenger to a satanic pawn to a harsh neutral figure (which he currently appears to trend closest to).

Which leads back to the entire "not knowing any information" thing. Oftentimes it kept me reading just to see how things would unfold. More often than not it just left me really confused because I had no idea what was going on or why something held particular significance. You've tried to allude to more and more about the creature's nature in recent chapters by confirming xe is undead and tying it to the Mew duo, but I still can't tell you much other than that xe is undead, died on Cinnabar Island, can use attacks, and can transform using a Pokedex but that leaves me with... nothing. There isn't a whole lot of buildup of tension because presumably the creature can use some new mechanic that had never been discussed before to get out.

Which is what makes the current arc so refreshing. Now the creature is forced into a well-defined set of rules with a clearly stated objective, if a vague motivation. While some things are unclear they will surely be revealed later and I feel like I know most of what I need to in order to get through the gym part. Now that a strange quest to get Pokemon for no clear reason until the very end of that arc and using mechanics never fully explained or introduced is over and a quest with widely understood goals and mechanics has been introduced, the fic is vague but not excessively so in my opinion.

So, the verdict of my rambling and self-contradictory review:

The early parts were honestly almost too wierd for my preferences. Digging through clues while having little idea what was going on or why I should care about any of it was difficult. Now, the fic is starting to get more interesting as at least the immediate goals and path to reach them are clear. I still don't get what happened to "the child" sequences or why they were phased out, but that could just be me missing things. The fic is very well-written and the concept is intriguing, parts of it just weren't really my cup of tea.

And I'll stop before I make even less since. I'll be back when you post again, though.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
The only thing I distinctly remember disliking for more than subjective reasons were the first few chapters. Now, there is definitely something to be said about keeping things short as a hook but I felt like they were almost too short to the point where they said almost nothing and thus did not really garner my attention. Maybe you could combine or lengthen them a little bit?
Hmm, maybe. The first chapter has to stay how it is, despite being more or less a little teaser, but I do recall thinking that some of the other early ones were short. They're pretty separate scenes, chronology-wise and topic-wise, so I like them being kept distinct, but perhaps some of them can reasonably be combined.

Interestingly enough, "the child" appears to be a distinct character who has an identity if that theory is correct.
Nope, I'm afraid not. The child and all variants of "you" are the same person. The POV switches to second person when the child transforms into someone else and starts telling itself a story of being that person, which is why you end up with shifts like the one in chapter eleven where the prose goes from third person in one paragraph to second in the next without a break. The child does take on some characteristics of whatever form it's occupying at any given time, which grow more pronounced the longer it does so, but it has a consistent character that largely remains regardless of transformation. There is definitely only one protagonist, and everything written in present tense is happening "now." Sorry, I know the POV shifts are disorienting.

Having to use "central character" leads into another interesting part of the work. There is genuinely no standard protagonist. The central character is a murderous mutant that even eleven chapters in we still know almost nothing about compared to that which we don't know. The only arguably noble characters in the entire work are antagonists with almost no screen time. The creature (I am now going to refer to the central character as this) isn't even a standard villain as xe has blue and orange morality more than anything. Xer motives are also really unclear right now, as Absol could be anywhere from a righteous avenger to a satanic pawn to a harsh neutral figure (which he currently appears to trend closest to).
Heh, yes, I have to admit that I prefer stories with muddy morality where it's not obvious who's a hero and who's a villain. Ideally your opinions on some of the characters will shift a bit as the story progresses, too.

Which leads back to the entire "not knowing any information" thing. Oftentimes it kept me reading just to see how things would unfold. More often than not it just left me really confused because I had no idea what was going on or why something held particular significance. You've tried to allude to more and more about the creature's nature in recent chapters by confirming xe is undead and tying it to the Mew duo, but I still can't tell you much other than that xe is undead, died on Cinnabar Island, can use attacks, and can transform using a Pokedex but that leaves me with... nothing. There isn't a whole lot of buildup of tension because presumably the creature can use some new mechanic that had never been discussed before to get out.
Well, the intent of the earlier chapters was to introduce the format of the story, a bit of the situation, and get the reader used to the child's abilities. At this point, you shouldn't expect any new "mechanics" to crop up--there shouldn't be any further surprises as to what it's capable of. I don't know if there's any way to really indicate that in the story itself, though, so I can see how you'd be worried that I'm just going to pull some new power out of my *** when the child gets in over its head. The early chapters are definitely radically different from most of the rest of the story, and I've gone back and forth over whether it's appropriate to start the story there or later on many times. I'm just worried that it would be even more confusing to skip them, and I'm honestly not sure where I'd cram all the necessary exposition if I did... the reason these last couple chapters (and the next couple, with Chapter 13 being especially bad) are so talk-heavy is that I'm trying to drop a lot more information before the plot really starts to accelerate around Chapter 14, because I won't have much opportunity to do so beyond that point. Bit off more than I can chew with this story, eh?

The early parts were honestly almost too wierd for my preferences. Digging through clues while having little idea what was going on or why I should care about any of it was difficult. Now, the fic is starting to get more interesting as at least the immediate goals and path to reach them are clear. I still don't get what happened to "the child" sequences or why they were phased out, but that could just be me missing things. The fic is very well-written and the concept is intriguing, parts of it just weren't really my cup of tea.
Sorry to hear you didn't care for the earlier part of the story (in particular); things stay pretty linear from here on out, although I'm afraid that it takes a long time for all the mysteries that have been presented to get resolved. The "child" sequences haven't been phased out--it's just that the protagonist has been spending a lot of time in someone else's skin recently. There'll be some long third-person stretches later on; what POV dominates just depends on what the protagonist's up to at any given time.

Thanks for reviewing even though this wasn't really your cup of tea. You've definitely given me some things to think about!
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: Early update! Birthday update! Kinda. Nice and short this time, probably another long one next.

Chapter 10

"All I'm saying is, that battle? Fucking sucked."

"I won. I do not see what your problem is."

"Yeah, you won. Because you got fucking lucky. That and your charizard is some kind of fucking insane berserker or something." Titan turns in his direction, confused, licking ice cream off his snout.

"Do not pay any attention to him, Titan. He is just jealous." Togetic whips past overhead, trailing a streamer of joy dust. You reach up to pass your hand through it, enjoying the tingle of the glowing flecks against your skin. You and the rest of the team are lounging in the sand, enjoying the spoils of victory--ice cream, mostly. The great Nathaniel Morgan sits alone at a picnic table a little farther up the beach, though his unwillingness to join the celebration hasn't stopped him from making snide comments.

"Oh yeah, totally fucking jealous. I was real goddamn impressed by he way you completely lost control of your pokémon. Teach me your secrets, oh motherfucking master trainer."

"I am not going to teach you anything. I want you to be quiet."

You toss Titan another tub of ice cream. He eagerly pries the top off and starts licking at the dessert within.

"Damn but I can't wait until you face Blue," the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on. "He's going to fucking wreck you, and he'll be a complete dick about it the entire time. It's going to be fucking great."

"I do not see how you think you have the right to criticize. It is not as though you could do any better."

"What, in a battle? Freak, I could kick your ass--" he pauses as a gust of wind blows some of Togetic's joy dust in his face, then sneezes explosively. "Ow! Fuck! What the fuck is this--?" He sneezes again, then pulls his shirt up over his nose and glares at you from watering eyes. "What the hell is this shit?"

You're laughing too hard to answer, and Togetic comes drifting down to land on your shoulder, scattering another cloud of dust as she goes. Once you catch your breath, you say, "It is joy dust. Togetic makes it when she is happy. It makes you feel good."

"Oh, well that explains it," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls, slightly muffled through his shirt. "No wonder you're acting like a fucking moron over there, it's because you're literally high." Once Togetic's lost interest and floated away again, he pulls his shirt back down and wipes his nose on his sleeve. "Anyway. Like I was saying. You think you can beat me in a battle? Fat fucking chance. I ain't no champion, but at least I don't suck."

Ordinarily you might be irritated by his rudeness, but even his most determined efforts can't put a dent in your good mood right now. "Oh, really? It is a pity you managed to lose your pokémon. I would enjoy showing you how wrong you are."

"Yeah? Then lend me one of yours, asshole. Doesn't matter to me."

You have to laugh at that. "Really? You think you could win against me with one of my own pokémon?"

"Easy." He smirks as laughter overtakes you again. "Tell you what, let's make a bet out of it, huh? Some jackass took all my fucking cash, you might have heard, so why don't we say this: if you beat me, I'll be quiet the whole rest of this fucking stupid trip."

"You won't say anything?"

"Not one single fucking word. Sound good?"

Sounds suspicious. "And what do you get if you win?"

"You get off my ass and let me do what I want instead of being glued to your hip twenty-four-fucking-seven."

"No."

He rolls his eyes. "One day of freedom, then."

"No."

"Come the fuck on! I ain't gonna win anyway, remember? What the fuck're you afraid of?" You feign disinterest, picking up handfuls of sand and squeezing until the grains slip between your fingers. Finally the great Nathaniel Morgan makes a frustrated noise. "Come on! One fucking hour!"

You turn back to him and say, "Half an hour."

He growls to himself as he thinks, staring off into space. "Oh, fuck me. Fine! Half an hour. We battle, and if you win, I shut the fuck up, and if I win, you let me out of your sight for half an hour. Deal?"

You take a few seconds to turn it over in your mind, checking for cracks. "Deal."

"Ha!" he gets up from the table, unfolding with pained slowness, and picks his way down the beach towards you. "I woulda done it for nothing, just to see the look on your stupid face. But I ain't gonna argue with a fucking perk, neither."

You stand up too and brush some sand off your pants. You glance around at your team, of which only Thunderstorm is paying any attention to the conversation. "Who do you want?"

"Don't care. I can kick your ass with any of 'em."

You hesitate, considering. Finally you decide: "Since you think I did such a poor job with him, you should take Titan and show me how it is done."

The charizard's sunning himself amidst a litter of empty ice cream cartons. He starts at the sound of his name and twists around to look at you over his shoulder.

"Titan, the human would like to use you in a battle against me. Would you mind listening to him for a little while?"

"Oh." Titan heaves himself to his feet, shaking himself until his wing-vanes rattle and sending up a great cloud of sand. "Sure. I'll do it."

"He is ready if you are," you say to the great Nathaniel Morgan, who is watching the charizard with a hint of a frown.

"Charizard, huh? Yeah, I can work with that. What about you?"

"Why should I tell you?"

He shrugs. "You know what I've got. But whatever, if you're so fucking scared of losing that--"

"Rats," you snap. "I am using Rats."

"Whuzzat?" The raticate rolls onto her back and squints up at you from sleep-fogged eyes.

"You are going to be battling Titan in a minute."

"Give me ten to get ready, and then we'll fight, okay?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He doesn't wait for you to reply, just motions for Titan to follow him and starts walking away from you. The charizard gives you a bewildered look.

"Why should you have time to prepare?" you ask. "It is not like you normally do before a battle." Rats scrambles up and starts stretching and combing sand out of her fur.

"You coming?" the great Nathaniel Morgan yells over his shoulder. Titan shoots you another confused glance, then whirls around and starts stomping after the human.

"Hey!" you yell after them. "Wait! I am talking to you!"

If the great Nathaniel Morgan can hear you, he gives no sign. Certainly he doesn't stop. He can hear you, can't he? Surely there's no way he couldn't.

You waver on the brink of going over and demanding a battle immediately, but confusion holds you back. By your feet, Rats chuckles. "Smooth, Boss."

Titan stands by the great Nathaniel Morgan a little ways up the beach, out of earshot--or the earshot of a normal human anyway. You consider turning up your ears, decide against it.

So the great Nathaniel Morgan wants to have his secret conference? He thinks a few minutes of preparation will be enough to let him win? Fine, then. It doesn't matter. You're going to beat him no matter what, so like he said, you don't need any extra advantages.

So you just watch. You don't think even the great Nathaniel Morgan would be dumb enough to try anything with Titan there, but you aren't going to turn your back on him. As far you can tell the human's just talking fast, making little hand gestures, while Titan listens in an attitude of polite confusion.

"This is unwise," Thunderstorm says from beside you. "He would not have made that bet if he wasn't sure he could win."

"I know he thinks he can win. He's just wrong."

"You have no idea how good he is at battling. Don't be overconfident."

"Come on, Thunder. He's a Rocket. Everybody knows they suck." You cross your arms over your chest and frown, still watching the distant pantomime. "And he's stupid even for one of them."

"Yeah. And you know I can take that big lug one on one anyway," Rats says. She's prodding at the sand by her feet, bored. Thunderstorm floats down to her level, zooming in close.

"From what I saw, that 'big lug' had to clean up a mess you left in the gym battle earlier today."

"Well maybe you saw wrong, three-eyes. Wouldn't surprise me if it was hard to make things out from where you were cooling your ass on the bench."

"Rats." She stops talking but flashes her teeth at Thunderstorm anyway. The magneton drifts off again, much to your relief. The rest of your wait passes peacefully enough, War growing bored and playing a complex drumbeat on the surface of the ocean. It's not long before you've done all the waiting you can stand.

"Hey!" you yell. They look your way. "Enough. Let us battle, if you still insist on it."

"Oh hell yes," the great Nathaniel Morgan calls back, starting in your direction. "You got all that, big guy?" he asks Titan over his shoulder.

"I guess," the charizard says, ducking his head in a nervous nod. Then he hurries around the great Nathaniel Morgan and out into the makeshift arena.

"Go on, Rats." She takes up your side of the field, a grim look on her face as she settles into a ready crouch. Her loss at the gym must have really stung. Well, she'll get to redeem herself here. "Hyper fang!"

"Fire spin!"

Rats takes off at an angle, ready to jink around Titan's attack. But it doesn't come. The whirlwind of fire you'd expected to bloom around Rats whips up with Titan at its center instead.

Rats skips to a halt just outside the wall of flame, peering at it. She stays constantly in motion, bouncing back and forth around the perimeter of the attack, looking for an opening. There isn't one, nor any way to see inside the fire spin--or for Titan to see out.

How does he expect hiding to help? You snicker to yourself and say, "Get ready with a hyper fang as soon as the fire goes out."

"Like I need telling," Rats mutters, keeping up her restless pace around the attack's edge. The very moment the flames start to dissipate she's on her way, lunging and sinking her teeth into Titan's side. He roars and turns to unleash a flamethrower at her. Rats lets go and scampers out of the way, skipping light-footed across the ring of molten sand left by the fire spin, then backs up even farther when Titan sends another flamethrower slashing her way.

"Go for the whiskers," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. Typical. It's what everyone thinks of first, battling a raticate. They're not even half as fast with their whiskers damaged.

"Another hyper fang when you see an opening, Rats," you say, though surely she's already thinking the same thing. She ducks under more fire, then starts forward again, teeth bared.

"Now! Get it!"

Titan hooks his foot-claws under the rim of the slaggy, half-crystallized ring of sand surrounding him and lifts up. Rats stumbles, caught off-guard as the arena moves beneath her feet. "Slash!"

Titan lunges, claws at the ready, but Rats spins away, protecting her face.

It's not what Titan's aiming for. He reaches with his jaws, clamping down on Rats' tail as it comes whipping into view. Then he rears upright, dragging the raticate backwards and into the air.

Both of you are too startled to react until it's too late. Rats' front paws scrabble across the ground for a moment, and then she's hanging upside-down in midair, clutching at nothing.

"Hey! What the--?" She flails around a bit but only succeeds in rocking herself back and forth. Titan is standing with his neck stuck out awkwardly, Rats dangling where she can't reach any part of his body.

"You--you, you--put me down!" She tries to curl in on herself, reach up and claw at Titan's face, maybe, or pull her tail out of his mouth. But she can't reach and falls back in an exhausted flop, swinging like a pendulum.

"Rats." You still don't really understand how this happened. "Get out of there! Try--quick attack? Sucker punch. Something!"

"I swear, you stupid lizard, you're going to pay for--nrrrrrgh!" Rats transforms into a crazy ball of paddling limbs, twisting gently back and forth in the air but making no progress towards freeing herself. You can see the muscles in Titan's neck straining to keep his head held out at such a strange angle, but he doesn't look tired.

"Good. Now go for the whiskers," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and Titan brings his tail around and lines it up carefully under Rats. Then he starts to move it up, closer and closer to his helpless opponent. Rats, hanging in quiet exhaustion, sees it coming, her eyes widening.

"No--you--no! No no no nononononononononono!" The raticate throws herself into another fit of desperate struggling, to no avail. Titan's grip stays firm, and the flame keeps moving closer. In another couple seconds it's going to reach Rats' face.

The pokéball's recall beam reaches her first, and Titan's mouth snaps closed as her tail vanishes from between his teeth. He rocks back on his haunches in the sudden absence of her weight and blinks in consternation.

"Worked like a charm," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, a broad and hideous mockery of a smile spreading across his face. "Nice job, big guy." Titan lets out a snort of surprise and jerks his head around to look as the human pats him on the side in passing.

The great Nathaniel Morgan stands in front of the charizard with arms crossed over his chest, his horrid grin stretching even wider. "Ooh, yeah, I was right. That look is fucking priceless." But after a second his smirk fades. "Ugh. Actually, no, wipe that look off my fucking face already. You're making me look like a total fucking moron."

"I won," Titan says, staring at the arena in front of him, the place where Rats isn't. Then his snout crinkles in a grin. "I won!"

It's only when he looks to you, hoping to share his excitement, that he catches your expression. His wings droop, and he knots his claws together, hunching his shoulders down. "...Oh. Sorry."

"No, Titan." You're barely able to get the words out between gritted teeth. He glances up at you, nervously, then away again. "You did a good job. Nice work. But you!" You turn and glare at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who raises his eyebrows at you. "You cheated!"

"Oh really? And how the fuck did I cheat?"

"That was not an actual attack! You cannot do that!"

"Not an actual attack? What, you've never heard of 'I win' attack? It's like feint attack except it's super effective against total dickheads."

"That is not even a real thing!" you howl.

The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head. "Honestly. What are they teaching you little monsters in school these days? Oh, wait." He smirks at you again. "Never went to school, did you? I bet they wouldn't take you 'cause you were too fucking ugly--"

"That battle does not count! You only won because you cheated. You cannot beat me in a fair fight!"

"It's not cheating, Freak. It's called fucking strategy. Maybe you oughta try it sometime. Starting with teaching your raticate some goddamned distance attacks already. If you don't, you're just going to end up getting fucked over when somebody with half a brain puts their pokémon out of reach. I mean, you didn't even teach it fucking hyper beam? I thought all the dumbass newbies loved hyper--"

"I do not want your stupid advice. I do not take advice from cheaters!"

"--is your strongest, but that doesn't mean you can just throw it at everything and expect it to be able to bite it to death or whatever--"

"Shut up. Shut up! That battle does not count. You will not get your stupid reward."

He shrugs and smirks at you again. "Huh. Not like I was really expecting you to keep your fucking word." He uncrosses his arms and wanders back to his spot at the table, followed by Titan's morose gaze. "But guess what, Freak? I already got my fucking reward. And it's that you're never. Ever. Going to live this one down."

--​

And indeed, he's still going on about it at dinnertime. You'd hoped food would shut him up for a while, but he doesn't have a problem with talking while chewing. If anything, he's even more expansive than he was before. "All I'm saying is, you want to actually win against somebody who knows what they're doing, you've got a long way to go," he says.

Your pokémon have already eaten and gone off to their own pursuits, leaving you to pick at your food and try to ignore your remaining dinner companion. He's already eaten two of the center's stiff, squashed burgers and shows no sign of slowing down.

"Like what the hell kind of trainer just lets their charizard rampage all over the fucking place? Sure it's kind of badass, but one of these days that rage thing's gonna come back and bite the two of you in the ass so hard you won't be able to sit down for fucking weeks."

You grimace and pull your tray a little closer to you, just to be safe. For once you wish the great Nathaniel Morgan wouldn't curse so much. All those "f"s are dangerous when he's talking with his mouth full.

"Not that I blame you for having trouble with it," the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on, stickily. "I swear to God I've never met a dumber pokémon in all my fucking life. I could barely get it to understand even real fucking simple instructions."

"Shut up. Do not talk about Titan like that."

"Why the hell shouldn't I? Who's the one who just got fucking curbstomped? I know what I'm talking about, Freak. At least I know more than you."

You don't meet his eyes, prodding experimentally at your pudding. It looks a bit more appetizing than the rest of what's on your plate. "I told you. It does not matter that you won. You do not know anything. And I will not allow you to talk about my friends like that."

"Yeah, yeah, it doesn't count or some shit. That what you're telling yourself?" You wrinkle your nose as he spews spitty crumbs everywhere with a laugh. "Face it, Freak. You lost to the fucking Rocket scum. You're a shitty trainer, and no amount of bitching at me is going to change that."

"I do not have to face it because it is not true. You can keep saying the same things over and over again, but that will not change the fact that you are just a weak, stupid human who cheats." You shove a spoonful of pudding in your mouth to shut yourself up. You really shouldn't even be talking to him. But ignoring him doesn't seem to help, either, and you're beyond tired of his sneering rants.

"That so? You want to talk weak and stupid, maybe you oughta take a look at that raticate of yours. Fucking pathetic, that's what it is."

"Shut up!" You bang the fist holding your spoon down on the table so hard some of the soda in your glass sloshes over the rim. "I told you not to talk about my friends like that, and I meant it. If you keep saying those kinds of things, I will--"

"You'll what?" He leans forward now, food forgotten, and lowers his voice so you have to strain to hear. "Set me on fire? Make my head explode? In front of all these people?"

There's maybe a dozen other people in the cafeteria, humans and their pokémon. The two of you have a table to yourself, shoved up against the wall, but it's true--there are plenty of witnesses.

The great Nathaniel Morgan flicks a glance around the room, as if to drive his point home, then turns a smirk on you. "Yeah, that's right. So just what the fuck do you think you're going to do to me, huh? What would you do if I told you that lardass charizard of yours is the weakest, pussiest, ugliest excuse for a retarded lizard I ever--"

"I said shut up! Do not talk about him like that. I do not even care who is watching, I will--" realize with sudden cold certainty that the room has gone quiet and every single eye is on you. Find yourself standing up with your fist drawn back as if preparing to drive it through the great Nathaniel Morgan's smug, ugly face. Discover that your hand hurts for some reason.

You open your fist, and your spoon clatters unevenly to the table. It's just a useless mess of metal now, bent and twisted back on itself from the force of your grip. After a moment of surprise, you realize that now everyone is staring at the spoon instead of you. You shuffle it hastily onto your tray under a litter of used napkins, then sit back down again and try to act like nothing's happened.

"This center silverware," the great Nathaniel Morgan says blithely. "Completely shitty, am I right?" He's gone back to eating.

You wince as a young girl bangs her fork experimentally against the edge of her table. You sit and stare down at the remains of the meal in front of you, not even seeing it. You force yourself to stillness and as close to calm as you can manage, waiting, meeting no one's eye. Gradually, conversation in the cafeteria starts to pick up again.

After a few minutes you realize that the fries the great Nathaniel Morgan's eating are yours and decide dinnertime's over. "You are going to pay for that," you hiss at him.

"Oh, I know. Totally fucking worth it, though." He stares right back at you, and there's not a trace of fear in his expression.

"Take your tray back to the kitchen," you say, gathering your own. "If you know what is good for you, you will not make a scene." From now on, he'll be getting his meals in your room, and let him complain as much as he likes. This was a disaster. And, you think as you dump your tray off into the garbage, to top it all off, you didn't even get to finish your pudding.

--​

You aren't surprised to find Rats back at the room, taking advantage of the quiet to get in a good nap. She's the only one back. The great Nathaniel Morgan lowers himself onto his own bed, favoring his injuries, and takes to staring at the ceiling.

You glare at him. "Do not even think you can ignore me. You are going to regret saying those things about my friends."

"Hey, Boss," Rats says on the tail end of a yawn, "Could you maybe keep it down? Trying to sleep, here."

"I think you should leave, Rats," you say, running your thumb back and forth over the fingers in your fist. Iron spines are starting to grow out from your knuckles.

The raticate raises her head and squints at you. "What do you mean? What are you going to--oh. Hey, whoah, hang on a second, there. What's going on?"

"Don't worry about it, Rats. Just get out of here."

She's on her feet already, as alert and attentive as if she'd never been napping. "Hold it. I don't like the looks of this. Why don't we just take a minute and--hey. Hey! I'm talking to you, here!" She makes a running jump as you start towards the human, catching your arm and clinging, like she's going to somehow hold you back.

"Look, you can't just go beating people up whenever they get on your nerves, all right? What the heck's your problem?" You try to twist your arm free, but she hangs on tighter, feet scrambling for purchase against your side. You work to pry her off while you talk, your words coming out breathless and harsh.

"He made fun of Titan, Rats. He made fun of you. I told him to stop and he wouldn't stop, and I can't just let him get away with that, he can't keep saying things like that. It isn't right! Someone ought to punish him for being so mean."

"That so?" Rats' whiskers twitch, and she pauses for a moment. "Oh, well... Maybe if you just punched him once... No! No, kidding, kidding!" She tries to reach across and grab your other arm, too, while you do your best to shake her off without hurting her. The great Nathaniel Morgan watches the two of you struggling out of the corner of his eye, face expressionless.

"I'm serious! You need to chill out and think this over, okay? This whole rage thing has got to stop. Hey--Absol! Absol, back me up, here."

"Back you up on what?"

"Absol?" You jerk around so fast that Rats digs her claws into your arm to keep from being thrown off. Absol's walking down the bed towards you, as casual as though she's been here all along. You sit down at the foot of the bed, gut twisting with nerves and embarrassment, and Rats lets go.

"Backup," she mutters to herself as she drops to the floor. "Gotta get backup. One second!" You don't turn to watch her leave, barely notice the sound of the door opening and shutting behind her. Your attention is on Absol instead. She settles down next to you with her legs stuck out straight in front of her, calm as anything.

"Where the fuck did that thing come from?" The great Nathaniel Morgan's raised himself up on one elbow, giving Absol a narrow-eyed stare. And it's just too much.

"Stop it! Absol is not a thing, she is a person, just like you! Except better. And it is because of her that you are still alive, so you ought to show her some respect. Do not ever call my friends 'its' unless that is what they are. Do not call them 'things.' Call them by their names, and treat them like actual people, or you will not like what happens next."

Absol actually blinks, and for a moment the great Nathaniel Morgan is struck dumb. But he's never off-balance for long. "Wow. Jesus fucking Christ, I fucking get it already," he snarls. He nods at Absol, who barely glances in his direction. "Sorry, your royal motherfucking highness. There. You want me to curtsy, too? God."

Absol looks up at you. "Why are you so angry?"

"Absol, where have you been?" You run your fingers through her ruff, trying to calm down. "This stupid human is ruining everything. He's slow, and he always complains, and he said mean things about Titan and Rats, and about me, and we had a battle and he cheated so he won, and I hate him. Why do you keep protecting him?"

Absol's red eyes show no sign of emotion. "What makes you think I am protecting him?"

"Why can't I just kill him? Absol, he should have died in the first place. He deserves it. He's horrible."

Absol rolls onto her back and stretches her legs in the air, one at a time, flexing her claws with languid patience. Without looking at you, she asks, "Do you think killing him will solve anything?"

"Yes. I wouldn't have to listen to him anymore. And he wouldn't be able to do more bad things."

"He would not be able to do more good things, either."

"He doesn't do good things, Absol. He's a bad person." You reach out to scratch her tummy, but retreat when you receive an icy look. "If you don't want me to kill him, then just say so already," you say as Absol tucks her legs back in and starts licking at her ruff.

"You are free to make whatever choices are not dictated by Fate. You should exercise that freedom where you have it," she says without interest.

You make an exasperated noise. "I wish I could tell where that was."

Absol gives the faintest of smiles and rolls back onto her stomach. "I came to make sure this nonsense wasn't causing any delay. Are you still expecting to reach the plateau within a week?"

"Yes, yes. I'll be there. I already beat the seventh gym. I got the badge today, see?" You show her the little pin you've stuck on your backpack, and she peers at it with polite interest.

"Congratulations. That's very nice," she says, and you grin and slide the bag to the floor again.

"So, are you going to stay for awhile?" you ask. Absol kneads the bedspread with her claws for a few seconds.

"For the night, I think." You grin and scratch around the base of her blade, and she is content to be fussed over for a bit.

"So? What the fuck?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says after a few minutes. You shoot him a glare, and Absol gives him a bland look as you stop petting her. "You got any more pokémon that are just gonna appear out of thin air, or what?"

"No."

But of course he won't leave it there. "Well? What the fuck is up with that... with fucking Absol, then? You sure were having a real animal noise session over there."

"Absol came to see whether my journey is going all right. Which it is. Except for you."

He rolls his eyes. "Glad I could be of motherfucking service. What, so Absol's all about you being the best there ever was and shit? How the fuck does a freak like you even get a fucking fanclub?"

"She does not care about that, no," you say with a hint of reproach. Absol snorts. "She wants me to go to the plateau so I can talk with my brother. I need his help."

"What the fuck? You have a brother? There's more of you shits?" The great Nathaniel Morgan rubs at his face as if abruptly tired. "Oh dear God."

You frown at him, then watch as Absol leaps down from the bed and stretches. She ranges around the room, sniffing at corners, peering into the A/C unit. The great Nathaniel Morgan says, "So why the shitty badge quest, then? Just go to the fucking plateau and leave me the fuck out of it."

You don't need to be hearing this from him, too. "I need to be able to get close to the Champion. Only people fighting in the tournament are allowed in that part of the plateau."

"So, wait, the champion... Wait, the fuck? You're saying the champion is your brother?" He gives you a calculating look. "I thought Red was a fucking only child. Not that I can't see why they'd want to keep you quiet."

"Do not be stupid. Of course my brother is not the Champion." Absol grows bored of wandering and jumps back up on the bed, stretching out across its full width. "My brother is Mewtwo."
 
Last edited:

Sidewinder

Ours is the Fury
Here for the review game. and below is my review for chapter two as requested

There isn't much in your PC, just a few potions and odd trinkets picked up here and there, but you take them all and shove them into your backpack.
Makes me think of a beginning trainer in the games.

You have no pokémon in storage, and that is a relief. You still haven't really figured out what to do with former trainers' pokémon; you've tried releasing them, but they often attack you when you try, and Absol considers it unwise. You do try to be careful—release them far from home, all across the globe, and hope no one will listen to some pokémon's wild tale of a creature that wore its trainer's face but was something else entirely. But if someone took an interest, and the proper lines were drawn—dangerous.
Why not just kill them? Or leave them in the box permanently? I can see the logic in releasing them in different parts of the globe, for the reason you listed. But since the concern of being discovered is always in the back and front of its mind, why even take the chance. Unless it has some sort of weird nostalgia feedback from the body that its inhabiting, or is completely benevolent towards Pokemon (which doesn't seem like the case), I don't see why it would even chance it.

There's the same problem with selling them, with the added fact that buyers often ask questions you would rather not answer. So, for now, you mostly leave them in the PC, to eventually be dealt with by the league. You can't help but feel a bit guilty, knowing the long sleep ahead of them, and when they awake, only the news that their trainer is dead and a new life has been selected for them.
Hah! Answered my own question. Another though, when you mentioned the buyers and questions they might ask, what kind of questions were you thinking of? The most common ones I can think of would be personal eating habits, medical history, temperament, etc. With its ability to inhabit the bodies of those deceased, and general knowledge of that dead trainer's personality, wouldn't it know something about that trainer's Pokemon? Or why wouldn't it simply make up answers to the buyer's questions?

You are carrying his pokédex, wearing his face and his name. No one will know you're dead for a couple of weeks at least, not until they find the body, and in the meantime you can enjoy all the luxuries of being him.
That sentence reminded me of the book Camouflage by Joe Haldeman. Similar start to the story, but with animal instead of human. You might check it out. It's an easy read and you might like it

Absol calls you hopelessly materialistic. You call her a wet blanket.
Nicely done. That was honest, direct, and seemed to flow really naturally. Liked it

blisters on the back of its hand have burst and are dripping blood
Though it would make sense for maybe a drop or two of blood, dripping is the wrong word here, and so is blood for that matter. The following italicized blurb I pulled from a google search.

A blister is a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by forceful rubbing (friction), burning, freezing, chemical exposure or infection. Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid called serum or plasma

You dig?

It hurls the ball it's carrying into an empty one so hard all the rest jump
I think 'hurls' is the wrong word here as well. Look at this realistically...You're standing in front of an open drawer and you hurl a pokeball at a carton filled with depressions for pokeballs. Now, when you 'hurl' it, that implies you're using most of your strength. I have no idea what kind of composition pokeballs are made from in your version, but if you look at most solid objects, when it is hurled downward into the drawer, it is much more likely to hit the carton and bounce straight out then land directly into one of the depressions. I feel like I went a little bit overboard for disagreeing with the usage of one word but oh well haha

The child looks down at itself, does a thorough inspection of the damage. Its shirt is rent open from just above the right hip almost all the way up to its heart, and its left arm is bubbled with half-healed burns. The gash on its chest is already scabbing over, but the clothes are ruined, soaked in blood where they aren't torn.
Lovely imagery there. I was able to visualize it perfectly, nicely done.

The child will rest, now; and next time it will wait for rain before making a move.
So it dashed into a burning building?

My only real gripe with the chapter is how short it was. I know where you're going with the story and I like that you build more steam and length with every chapter so it seems kinda useless for me to harp on the length of this particular one. Other than that though and the other points I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this chapter and I'm glad I got to read it :)
 

Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
The MC and its pokemon react to hotel rooms the way normal children react to hotel rooms, except I guess they've been jumping in and out of places from the very beginning. I always think an important part of childhood is the sense of whatever's going to become of you completely entrusted to someone else -- children don't question each new place they're put in, or worry about it in any critical way, because someone is handling it. Even the child seems to give off this vibe -- its plans certainly aren't the way an adult would handle things, anyway -- where its intentions about fighting the League and working for its mother are just an extended project a child has taken on, with a poor idea of what it's coming up against and what the proper way to go about things is.

But wait. Wait, this is stupid. You close your eyes half a second, make a change you can't feel. When you open them again there is nothing but a raticate and an arcanine on the field in front of you, fighting. You look and struggle for a moment to remember, and then the way is obvious.
It sounds like the child has let some other self/entity take over? Certainly fits the sudden amnesia that seems to occur.

She tires to slip away, but Titan grabs her, pinning her arms behind her back and hauling her into the sky.
Typo.

I like the idea of a battle that goes out of the hands of both trainers, since pokemon are powerful fighting creatures with their own minds, and the best level of strategy and training is still just a measure against chaos. I imagine only fighting pokemon would be capable of perfectly executed, well-defined moves every single time.

He flexes empty claws and glares around the arena, which is very definitely empty of magmar. His eyes settle on Blaine instead.
Are you going to tell Titan that humans are above the power of his fighting might?

Hm I just noticed that the child is gender-neutral, but its brother appears to be -- a brother. I guess most organisms, that its mother might be considered a mother of, would have one gender or another. We know about one canon son of Mew's though I'm not sure if he's the one you have in your plans (and he's not necessarily always male either now that I come to think of it).

"All I'm saying is, that battle? ****ing sucked."
A win is a win, as far as I understand. =P

Titan hooks his foot-claws under the rim of the slaggy, half-crystallized ring of sand surrounding him and lifts up. Rats stumbles, caught off-guard as the arena moves beneath her feet. "Slash!"
Clever! You end up writing some very cool battle exchanges even if the main character is not the best as a pokemon trainer.

"Do not be stupid. Of course my brother is not the Champion." Absol grows bored of wandering and jumps back up on the bed, stretching out across its full width. "My brother is Mewtwo."
I knew it! A bigger revelation for Nathaniel, I guess, who didn't even know about Mew. That means this story wraps a bit further closer to the Mew-Mewtwo story than I was thinking before, though I don't remember what I thought before. I was looking at the shades of Absol's Destiny and that brief mention of pokedex information conspiracies, I guess. I have a feeling most things will wrap around to Mew at some point.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Finally back; sorry it took so long to review that chapter. But what a chapter it was. More characterization of the child as completely and utterly out of its league strategically and emotionally, as well as potentially in raw power. It will be interesting to see just how it manages to react when the challenges are above its head for real. Incoming defeat/training montage much? Absol was shown as a bit more of an animal/non-human than its previous appearances, which is interesting. She actually is a bit more than just a cryptic dark guardian: she's a cryptic dark guardian who likes being pet. And the entire Mewtwo line... I take it that isn't a literal familial thing, as that would get really strange/confusing quickly. I am going to assume that it's more of a fellow clone/derivative of Mew relationship that they refer to as a sibling thing. And, uh, wow. That brought absolutely nothing into focus except the whole "avenge Mew" thing. And it's also kind of awkward since their goal is to punish the people who made Mewtwo, which is also the POV character's brother.

tl;dr Good chapter for character development, I have no idea where the Mewtwo thing is going but after reading Homestuck I am very good at nodding, making a few notes on an excel diagram, and pretending I understand exactly what is going on.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Well, the next chapter has been fighting tooth and nail not to get written, but I think I've got most of its limbs staked down now, so hopefully it'll be coming along soon enough. Probably not for another couple weeks, though.

In the meantime, review responses!

Sidewinder

Another though, when you mentioned the buyers and questions they might ask, what kind of questions were you thinking of? The most common ones I can think of would be personal eating habits, medical history, temperament, etc. With its ability to inhabit the bodies of those deceased, and general knowledge of that dead trainer's personality, wouldn't it know something about that trainer's Pokemon? Or why wouldn't it simply make up answers to the buyer's questions?
Mostly the ones you were thinking of. There are exceptions (Kerrigan being the primary one), but it mostly doesn't know too much about the trainers it transforms into, so it would just be making up answers to those kinds of things--it'd be worried about there being some discrepancy that they'd figure out pretty quickly and call it out on. Moreso than that, if the person asked to actually see the pokémon beore buying (which seems reasonable), it would be worried about how the pokémon would react to the situation, since they wouldn't know what was going on, would probably be distressed by the situation, and might do something to blow its cover.

It doesn't make sense to have it worry too much about little things like that, though, and I'm sure push came to shove it could find ways to get rid of them without having to consider that kind of thing. No plot reasons why it couldn't just be selling them, so I might go ahead and change it to be that way...

That sentence reminded me of the book Camouflage by Joe Haldeman. Similar start to the story, but with animal instead of human. You might check it out. It's an easy read and you might like it
Lots of Haldeman books at the library, but no Camouflage specifically. Thanks for the rec, I'll keep an eye out for it!

Though it would make sense for maybe a drop or two of blood, dripping is the wrong word here, and so is blood for that matter.
Ah, I was thinking of a blood blister specifically, but it looks like that's the wrong kind for this situation anyway. Thanks!

I have no idea what kind of composition pokeballs are made from in your version, but if you look at most solid objects, when it is hurled downward into the drawer, it is much more likely to hit the carton and bounce straight out then land directly into one of the depressions. I feel like I went a little bit overboard for disagreeing with the usage of one word but oh well haha
Nah, it's cool. It probably would bounce out again, and that would be a funny little moment, so it's all to the better that I change it!

Lovely imagery there. I was able to visualize it perfectly, nicely done.
Thanks, I'm rather fond of that one.

So it dashed into a burning building?
Ah, no... it had been outside and elsewhere when it confronted Titan, then come back to the house... the house itself wasn't on fire. Not clear?

My only real gripe with the chapter is how short it was.
Ha! Well, I'll take somebody wishing a chapter was longer over wishing it was shorter any day.

Thanks for the review--it was great, and it gave me plenty to think about.

Praxiteles

I always think an important part of childhood is the sense of whatever's going to become of you completely entrusted to someone else -- children don't question each new place they're put in, or worry about it in any critical way, because someone is handling it. Even the child seems to give off this vibe -- its plans certainly aren't the way an adult would handle things, anyway -- where its intentions about fighting the League and working for its mother are just an extended project a child has taken on, with a poor idea of what it's coming up against and what the proper way to go about things is.
Yes, definitely. I'm glad that's coming through well.

It sounds like the child has let some other self/entity take over? Certainly fits the sudden amnesia that seems to occur.
Not quite! More on that later.

Zapped. >_>

Clever! You end up writing some very cool battle exchanges even if the main character is not the best as a pokemon trainer.
Ah, thanks. I'm a bit frustrated by the battles in the beginning--they get much interesting later on where we have fights between characters who actually know what they're doing. Hopefully these early ones are at least a little entertaining anyway.

I knew it! A bigger revelation for Nathaniel, I guess, who didn't even know about Mew. That means this story wraps a bit further closer to the Mew-Mewtwo story than I was thinking before, though I don't remember what I thought before. I was looking at the shades of Absol's Destiny and that brief mention of pokedex information conspiracies, I guess. I have a feeling most things will wrap around to Mew at some point.
Oh yeah, it's definitely all about Mew deep down.

Thanks for reviewing! Glad you liked these chapters.

Rediamond

Incoming defeat/training montage much?
Oh, absolutely. We're nearly done with this expositiony little arc, and things are definitely going to get shaken up in the near future.

Absol was shown as a bit more of an animal/non-human than its previous appearances, which is interesting. She actually is a bit more than just a cryptic dark guardian: she's a cryptic dark guardian who likes being pet.
She's just like a big cat, really. She could probably be deep in some lecture about the workings of Fate and Destiny and whatnot and then have to rush off to deal with a laser pointer being shone on a wall.

And, uh, wow. That brought absolutely nothing into focus except the whole "avenge Mew" thing.
Yup, not much clarification there. That's the job of the next chapter!

Well, I hope this story turns out to be a little more comprehensible than Homestuck, but you'll have to be the judge of that. Thanks for coming back to review again.
 

Creepychu

The horror
So, after realizing just how unrealistic trying to do a full review all in one post would be, I've decided to split this effort up a bit and try to cover this in 3-4 chapter segments instead. I'm writing from the perspective of having read the whole fic several times over at this point, but in the interests of trying to keep this coherent, I'll save general comments for when I'm done covering the individual chapters. I'm going to try sticking to things that other reviewers haven't already pointed out, but apologies for any redundancy.

Anywho, introductory rambles aside,

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. The inside of the house is cool as well, the windows in the small kitchen showing mostly the underside of palm leaves.
That last part confused me quite a bit. Throughout the whole paragraph, you've been emphasizing how it's cold both outside and inside, and then suddenly there's the palm leaves, which don't play along with that mood at all. I'm guessing it's supposed to be a hint as to the location the scene is taking place in, but the location has no real impact on the events of this chapter and the next chapter already jumps to a whole new time and place, so I don't really see what the point of giving us that information is. It's foregrounded enough imagery-wise to draw attention, but the information it gives doesn't feel relevant enough to warrant the foregrounding.

Unless of course there's something more significant about this that's going way above my head.

There aren't more than half a dozen, but it goes through them again and again, until the ice melts from its hair and the shadows recede from its mind and an appropriate amount of time has passed.
Wouldn't the time it takes for the ice to melt and the shadows to recede itself be an appropriate amount of time? Unless there's some third unknown time the child is waiting out, that last part is redundant.

You do try to be careful—release them far from home, all across the globe, and hope no one will listen to some pokémon's wild tale of a creature that wore its trainer's face but was something else entirely. But if someone took an interest, and the proper lines were drawn—dangerous.
This might be a product of the child's own lack of knowledge, or of differing interpretation of canon, but I was under the impression that trainers actually understanding what their pokémon have to say is the exception rather than the rule. It would seem rather unlikely for the released pokémon to even find someone who could comprehend what they're going on about, and even more unlikely for that person to also be able to track the child down based on the very vague and spotty information those pokémon would have, let alone convince anyone else that this story is worth looking into rather than just a result of shock experienced by the pokémon. Again, this could be excused by the child itself not realizing that talking with pokémon is not exactly normal, but it just seems like a very far-fetched fear, especially given how it usually overestimates its own cunning and subtlety.

You hesitate over the matter of money. You don't really need it, no, but you do love to shop. Absol thinks this is a failing of yours, but she is a pokémon, after all. There are some things she doesn't understand.
This made me giggle. It's such a typical child's reasoning for ignoring advice it doesn't like.

No one looks at you twice, and why would they? You are only Nicholas Garret, one trainer among many and, you certainly hope, not well-known. You are carrying his pokédex, wearing his face and his name. No one will know you're dead for a couple of weeks at least, not until they find the body, and in the meantime you can enjoy all the luxuries of being him.
Wait...how would they find Nicholas's body at all? By the description in the first chapter, he got pulled down by currents to the bottom level of Seafoam Island, which is not exactly an area of heavy traffic to begin with. On top of that, he was carrying so much gear that the weight made him unable to resist the current, so wouldn't that same weight pull his body down under the water? It seems pretty unlikely that anyone would find him without an active search, which they probably wouldn't organize seeing as how - to the world - Nicholas Garret was last seen in the Fuchsia City pokémon center. Not to mention, given how the child took his trainer ID, even if someone did come across the body it would probably be so badly decomposed (not to mention battered from the initial trauma that killed him) that positively identifying him in the first place would be a near-impossibility. I'd probably be more concerned about running into his family and friends if I was in the child's shoes.

Nicholas Garret did have one pokémon you intend to welcome into your fold, though it probably won't be easy. Titan was always stubborn, and he likely took your death harder than Rats. He won't like to hear about his second trainer dying, either.
So, just to make sure I follow the child's sense of identity correctly, since Titan was in Garret's possession last, that would make Garret the 'second trainer' rather than 'you' in this instance? Meaning the child has likely also taken the identity of Titan's earlier trainer at some point in time...yeah, I can see he might not take this too well then. XD

Absol calls you hopelessly materialistic. You call her a wet blanket.
Love this bit. It goes such a long way characterizing Absol, the child and their relationship all in just two short sentences.

It storms into the study and hauls open a desk drawer, revealing old egg cartons with dozens of pokeballs shuddering in their depressions. It hurls the ball it's carrying into an empty one, then fumbles to catch it as it bounces out again. Gritting its teeth in pure fury, the child sets the ball back down with aching gentleness, then slams the drawer explosively and stands there glaring at it until a wave of dizziness forces it to lean forward and grab the edge of the desk for support.
Unless I'm going delusional from rerading this part too many times, that rebound was added in a later edit, correct? If so, good job on the edit because that's a hilarious image and exactly what would happen if you tried to anger slam an object into a target area that precise.

What a mess. It's always such trouble to find attire to match what's on a corpse, since the original is rarely in any condition to be worn again—trainers rarely go quietly in their sleep. And now it's going need to go out and find replacements.
'since the original is rarely in any condition to be worn again' and 'since trainers rarely go quietly in their sleep' are both adequate explanations for why the clothing usually isn't intact on their own. Using both comes off as redundant and it makes the sentence structure a bit clunkier than it needs to be. Using just one of those phrases might work better here. Also, why would the original being unwearable affect the availability of replacements? Unless you're trying to say that the clothes are usually so badly tattered that you can't even identify what they used to be like (and hence can't recognize the replacements when you see them), the condition of the original clothes wouldn't affect the supply of similar clothes available in any way whatsoever.

I get what you're trying to say here and I didn't even notice this on my first read through, but the more I look at how you've phrased it, the stranger it sounds to me. Maybe a rewording would be in order here?

You imagine it like you're a character in a movie, a real adult human, living her life. It's a normal life, just like the ones you've seen on television. And if you just turn your head a little, look out the window beside you, you can watch a parade of other normal humans going past on the street outside.
And with that line, the child's behavior suddenly makes so much more sense.

“Take it, kid,” they'd said. “It's the best offer you're going to get, and who knows? Maybe you'll even manage to make something of yourself.” They'd said he'd be watching over all the trainers in the league, and their pokémon, too, just another member of the bureaucracy. They hadn't said he would be a grave keeper.
That's...awfully specific information for the child to know, especially the quote since this happened long before the child took any interest in him so it wouldn't have been able to spy on the conversations. Unless it's dramatically filling in the gaps from its own imagination, this kind of detail should be something only Leonard and the people he talked to back then would be privy to. Coming from the child's perspective, it feels off.

Once, he had a family, a wife and a son. Now he has neither, though one was given up and one was taken away.
The way this is phrased, it sounds like you're listing off three things (a family, a wife, and a son) but you're using 'neither' which is usually used to refer to two things and no more. I'd guess you didn't mean for family to be part of the list, but in that case just making that 'Once, he had a wife and a son' would be a clearer way to express it, since family is a broader concept than just your spouse and kids.

You watch him now, see the slump in his shoulders, the shuffle in his walk as he leaves the desk and selects one of the center PC's, the one you'd used earlier, when you were Nicholas Garret. You see the gray in his hair and the lines on his face. He's growing old, is Leonard Kerrigan. He's collapsing in on himself like an old piece of fruit rotting from the inside, and you revel in every moment of his demise. What would he do, if he knew the one he was chasing was sitting not fifty feet away, watching his every move?
I assume you mean 'this'.

Also, specifying that it's a fruit rotting from the inside seems redundant. You've already described him as collapsing in on himself, so the image would already be complete by simply comparing him to 'an old piece of rotting fruit' without weighing it down by specifying what kind of rot it is.

Nitpicks aside, it's pretty funny how cocky the child is about the situation seeing how Kerrigan homed straight onto the right PC, implying he's well aware that the child recently used it. Seems to me it's not giving quite enough credit here.

You start at the sound of the voice, tearing your eyes off Leonard and only just remembering not to bare your teeth. “No, Officer Feldhorn. I did not know there was a crime.”
I love these little animalistic touches to the child's behavior. It's brief, subtle and very effective.

Also, the child trying to act casual is always a laugh.

Now that the initial surprise has worn off, you aren't worried. Television has taught you that there are two kinds of cops in the world: the hard-bitten, driven servants of justice who will stop at nothing to put criminals behind bars, and those whose greatest exertions are in pursuit of donuts. There is no doubt in your mind which camp Officer Feldhorn falls into. Under the sharp bitterness of the coffee in his thermos, you can smell custard and powdered sugar about his person.
Again, some really nice characterization. Both for Feldhorn and indirectly for the child itself. Highlighting scent to this level of detail is another nice, discreet way to demonstrate the child's nonhuman side.

Duskull is there somewhere, hiding in the drooping plant on the center counter or haunting a ceiling light, out of sight of the porygon but able to get a look at what Leonard is doing. It won't do much good, since Duskull can't read, and all attempts at getting him to remember and recite the order of keys punched into the keypad have failed. He'll pick up whatever information he can, though. You never know what you might learn.
It took me a while to realize this, but aside from noting that Duskull also can't read or memorize very well, this sounds an awful lot like a repeat of the earlier:

This isn't likely to gain you much, as Duskull finds human conversations dull and full of things he doesn't understand, so his reporting often leaves something to be desired. You'll take what you can get.
These two sections are a good bit separated from each other, but it might still be worth it to trim down the overlapping information a bit since repeating that Duskull is bad at this both here and with the in-between mention that Duskull is a 'less-than-reliable spy' makes it feel like you're hammering in the point just a bit too hard.

Duskull returns and whispers what he's learned; there was some talk of a computer upgrade, replacing the old PC stations. No real news, then.
...and the obvious red flag passed straight beneath the child's nose without notice. It really isn't half as clever as it likes to think.

You take a sip of your coffee, and your smug grin turns to a grimace. If it it's bad hot, it's unspeakable cold. Across the table from you, Togetic giggles at your expression.
I'm with Togetic on this one, that image is hilarious. Excellent payoff for that earlier setup too.

It wakes to the sound of rain. At first it actually smiles, snuggling down farther in the blankets and imagining a comfortable day spent lazing around the house. Then it frowns and rolls onto its side, flopping an arm across its forehead.
Oh, I know that feeling all too well. Also, nice childish touch to the child's character there.

You have to dodge almost immediately after Charizard takes shape from his pokéball. He’s nearly faster than you, but you remember the nasty scratch he gave you last time and make a point of moving a little quicker than normal. “Charizard, hey! Hey--!”

“That’s not my name!” The hiss of rain off his tail only lends his words extra bite. “Stop pretending!”

“Titan, Titan!” you try. It’s the right name, but aside from the briefest flicker of surprise, the snarl plastered across his muzzle doesn't change. “Come on, I just need to talk to you. Come on.”
For all that talk of preparation, that certainly was a botch on the child's part right from the outset.

“Ooh, so that's how it is, huh? Well, how about this, Titan, would just any raticate remember that time you totally got beat up by that magikarp you’d—oof!” Titan's tail snaps around, catching Rats off guard and knocking her onto her side. Then Titan is on her with teeth and claws and flame, and Rats can do nothing but shriek disparaging comments about Titan's parentage as she struggles to overcome the charizard.
As much as it's a serious emotional scene going on here, the imagery of a wildly cussing raticate still made me crack a smile.

You punch him in the snout as hard as you can, hard enough to dislodge teeth. “You bastard. You know I can’t do that without you.” You push yourself to your feet, shaky. He keeps his eyes on the ground, blood leaking from his mouth. It might be a while before he realizes you’ve left.
The ending to this scene just really made an impression on me. While it's been clear from the outset that the child is not exactly a nice person, the sheer brutality and raw emotion on both sides here just really drives it home. It's really powerful stuff.


And on that note, I think I'll cut it off here for my first post. Reading this fic was what really rekindled my interest in pokémon fanfics after a long hiatus, so I've been meaning to do a proper review of it for a while now. I'm shooting for chapters 5 through 8 next, so hopefully that should be up soonish. Hope at least some of this was helpful and keep up the good work.

EDIT: Oh, I almost forgot. With regards to the discussion on the child's burns, Sidewinder is actually a bit mistaken in this case. While it's true that a normal blister wouldn't contain blood, blisters caused by burns can definitely bleed. This can happen either due to blood vessels expanding rapidly from the heat and bursting or due to the burned, dried skin cracking or tearing off, which can easily happen, especially around joints and when pressure is applied to the area, such as would happen from clutching an object as hard as the child is clutching the pokéball. This is particularly true for fingers, since they have multiple points of articulation which would cause extra strain on the skin if used and the blood vessels inside them are closer to the surface (and thus more liable to injury) to begin with. Also, speaking from personal experience with hiking, even normal blisters can easily become bleeding wounds because once popped, they expose lower skin layers which are easily irritated and rubbed raw by further friction.

tl;dr: given how reckless the child is with its injuries, blood flowing from its blisters actually wouldn't be all that far-fetched in this case.
 
Last edited:

GingerDixie

Hopes and Dreams
Boy howdy, here I go, ready and raring to review Chapter 8 for the Review Game!

Well, Negrek. I have to say that for my introduction to this story, I'm definitely intrigued with both the world that's being presented to me and the story that's being told. Second-person format isn't something you find very often in fiction and rarely is it done well, and in my own personal opinion, you're pulling it off with style. Personally, I think this format allows us to feel closer to the protagonist in a way that first nor third person can do, and if there's anything I like more in a fic, it's being able to relate to the main character...because to me, feeling like you can feel what the protagonist is going through is just as important as detailed world-building when it comes to storyline immersion.

Speaking of description, you're also doing fairly well with that. As someone who's written far worse I wasn't all that bothered by the violence in this chapter...only impressed with how realistically you described it. This chapter contains a perfect example of how you describe that sort of situation without overdoing it, something even I sometimes have a problem doing, and even the scenes after that, I could feel the protagonist's boredom, Absol's tension, and even the Duskull, who doesn't seem to be a talker, has no trouble conveying to the protagonist or the reader what he's trying to say, because the body language is written well and easy to understand.

I honestly wish I could write more, but I feel as though I should probably start from the beginning of the story and review more later when I have a better sense of what's going on. But all in all, good work with this one! Can't wait to catch up and see what else you've got! Cheers!
 

Dragonfree

Just me
AHAHAHAH I've finally caught up now to not fall horrendously behind again help

So. My current theory on the child (possibly already jossed since I haven't reread the earlier chapters to confirm that it matches up yet) is that it's an earlier Mew clone that one way or another believes it's the reincarnation of Amber, Fuji's daughter. (Though that's assuming you're even using that bit of anime canon here.) It seems somewhat more parsimonious, in any case, than some other random child, I can't think of any other canonical children that would make particular sense here, and fits with your hint from way back about Ghost Trick.

I've enjoyed the past few chapters enormously; the addition of Nathaniel Morgan to the main cast provides a delightful relatively-normal-human contrast to the child's view of life and their interactions are just pure gold. His very existence brings out a lot of the child's disturbing qualities, from its total chilling lack of empathy for the grotesque injuries he's suffered to its staunch belief in the most simplistic sort of black and white morality. Also, he's generally entertaining. Sometimes I feel like you're slightly overdoing the swearing in his dialogue, but it may just be that he's the kind of person to make a point of injecting as many ****s as possible into every sentence he says. (Also, the gag of consistently calling him "the great Nathaniel Morgan" in the narration is still amusing me.)

I really think you should redo the censor-evading in chapter eight, though, because not only does it use the wrong font, but the case-insensitive find-and-replace you appear to have done results in several sentences throughout starting with lowercase f's. It's pretty distracting in an otherwise lovely chapter. (On a somewhat similar note, in chapter eleven you seem to have decided to capitalize the Great in "the Great Nathaniel Morgan", but then you appear to have changed your mind back. Either way you should probably fix it to be consistent.)

At this point, I must say I agree with some previous reviewers' concerns that the first chapters are probably not the best start for this. Don't get me wrong; I've found this intriguing and entertaining from the beginning, but I'd hardly call it accessible. The first chapters are very well written and establish an interesting mystery, but the child is not exactly loveable and it's hard to get invested in the plot without having much of an idea why the child is doing what it's doing, so I'd imagine readers who'd love the character interactions and the Rocket stuff later on but aren't into bizarre mysteries and unrelatable protagonists with unknown motivations would probably not get that far. I assumed initially that it was like this because what on earth the child was and what it was trying to do were meant to be the driving questions of the narrative, but if that's not what the fic is about at all, I think the beginning is hurting you by giving the impression it's a completely different genre than it actually is. If I were you I'd probably open in medias res with something like chapter eight and then jump back in time to establish more information, or something in that general direction. I don't know exactly what you were aiming for with this beginning, though.

Lastly, some typos, etc. that I noticed (forgive the lack of more line-by-line reviewing; I would have taken even longer to catch up if I'd been constantly stopping to tell you about every line I find hilarious, so I figured I'd go with mostly general comments):

She turned back to you and gave you another bump on the shoulder.
Suddenly past tense.

A choking noise makes you glance back at him the great Nathaniel Morgan
Extraneous "him".

"How the **** did you dothat?"
Missing a space between "do" and "that".

but despite all your exhortations and threats that you really will carry the him
"the him"

But you can't relax today, when you're sure every look you get is wondering who you are, what's wrong with the great Nathaniel Morgan¸ whether they ought to offer assistance or get help.
...what even is that punctuation mark after "what's wrong with the great Nathaniel Morgan"?

You'd been getting tired of their back-and-forth.
I think this should be simple past.

"You're raticate's pretty lazy, huh?"
Wrong your.

The two of you have a table to yourself
Shouldn't that be "yourselves"?
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
I've finally, finally gotten the second draft of chapter thirteen done, so it should be going up in about a week--earlier if I can swing it, since it would be nice if I didn't manage to go over the two-month mark on this one, but that's not terribly likely. The writing on this is certainly progressing, anyway.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed my quiescent 'fic in the meantime! My responses are below. Note that I'm going to hold off on doing any edits until next weekend, since at this point I'd prefer to devote my editing time to grinding out the next chapter, and redoing the code for chapters eight/nine is going to take a bit of work. The typos etc. that you mentioned will be sticking around for just a little longer.

Creepychu

Thanks for reviewing! It's always cool to see a new face pop up in the thread.

That last part confused me quite a bit. Throughout the whole paragraph, you've been emphasizing how it's cold both outside and inside, and then suddenly there's the palm leaves, which don't play along with that mood at all. I'm guessing it's supposed to be a hint as to the location the scene is taking place in, but the location has no real impact on the events of this chapter and the next chapter already jumps to a whole new time and place, so I don't really see what the point of giving us that information is. It's foregrounded enough imagery-wise to draw attention, but the information it gives doesn't feel relevant enough to warrant the foregrounding.
Hmm, my intent there was to indicate that the protagonist had arrived from somewhere very different (some cold caverns, apparently) to end up in a tropical place nearly instantaneously--or at least fast enough that the slush wasn't able to melt. It was supposed to feel like the protagonist had kind of popped up there supernaturally quickly, rather than getting home the way an ordinary person would.

Perhaps there's some confusion because your impression of the house itself is too cold? It's only supposed to be "cool" relative to the temperature outside, the same way it's cooler inside a shaded building in the summer than it is outside. The palm trees aren't supposed to be in contrast to the house's interior, just giving an indication of the sort of place where it's been built.

Wouldn't the time it takes for the ice to melt and the shadows to recede itself be an appropriate amount of time? Unless there's some third unknown time the child is waiting out, that last part is redundant.
It's a ritual thing. The protagonist isn't specifically waiting just for the ice to melt or for any other event to occur--just until it feels it's paid its proper respects to its little data cards. In this case that takes a little bit longer than for the other two things to happen.

This might be a product of the child's own lack of knowledge, or of differing interpretation of canon, but I was under the impression that trainers actually understanding what their pokémon have to say is the exception rather than the rule. It would seem rather unlikely for the released pokémon to even find someone who could comprehend what they're going on about, and even more unlikely for that person to also be able to track the child down based on the very vague and spotty information those pokémon would have, let alone convince anyone else that this story is worth looking into rather than just a result of shock experienced by the pokémon. Again, this could be excused by the child itself not realizing that talking with pokémon is not exactly normal, but it just seems like a very far-fetched fear, especially given how it usually overestimates its own cunning and subtlety.
It is very unlikely, and it's a bit of a stretch. I'm considering dropping this bit altogether since ultimately it doesn't matter what it decides to do with the extraneous pokemon, and while it's a bit paranoid about Leo in particular finding out about it, this kind of planning is a bit over its head and in contrast to its usual give-no-****s attitude. I can't remember why I was really concerned that it shouldn't just be selling off or releasing the other pokemon it had, so unless I can come up with a solid reason why it shouldn't I'll most likely be taking this bit out.

Wait...how would they find Nicholas's body at all?
The child figures there's probably someone who'll notice Nick went missing, so they'll be searching for him eventually. They may not ever find him (hence the "at least"), but the child is here just focused on the fact that for sure it's got a bit of time before it even needs to worry about his body turning up.

So, just to make sure I follow the child's sense of identity correctly, since Titan was in Garret's possession last, that would make Garret the 'second trainer' rather than 'you' in this instance?
Yes!

Meaning the child has likely also taken the identity of Titan's earlier trainer at some point in time...
That's a no, however.

Unless I'm going delusional from rerading this part too many times, that rebound was added in a later edit, correct? If so, good job on the edit because that's a hilarious image and exactly what would happen if you tried to anger slam an object into a target area that precise.
Yup, Sidewinder mentioned that bit in his review, and I thought it made a hilarious mental image. It took more finessing to get it to fit into the paragraph than I expected, but I was pleased with how it turned out, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

'since the original is rarely in any condition to be worn again' and 'since trainers rarely go quietly in their sleep' are both adequate explanations for why the clothing usually isn't intact on their own.
Good point. I'll probably end up just keeping the second.

Also, why would the original being unwearable affect the availability of replacements? Unless you're trying to say that the clothes are usually so badly tattered that you can't even identify what they used to be like (and hence can't recognize the replacements when you see them), the condition of the original clothes wouldn't affect the supply of similar clothes available in any way whatsoever.
The second sentence isn't meant to imply that it's going to be more difficult to find new clothes, only that it's going to have to do so, which is kind of a pain. It's basically the equivalent of, "Sigh, that's my last pair of good shoes ruined, guess I gotta go out and buy some more." Not difficult, just annoying.

That's...awfully specific information for the child to know, especially the quote since this happened long before the child took any interest in him so it wouldn't have been able to spy on the conversations. Unless it's dramatically filling in the gaps from its own imagination, this kind of detail should be something only Leonard and the people he talked to back then would be privy to. Coming from the child's perspective, it feels off.
Ah, that's being supplied by the child's imagination. It knows in general what happened--that Leonard was originally busted for being a hacker and was offered the choice of taking a job working on the League network's security or going to prison--but the actual dialogue is pure fabrication. I tried to make it sound a bit movie-like rather than like what you'd expect someone to literally say, but perhaps I should do something to make that more explicit.

The way this is phrased, it sounds like you're listing off three things (a family, a wife, and a son) but you're using 'neither' which is usually used to refer to two things and no more. I'd guess you didn't mean for family to be part of the list, but in that case just making that 'Once, he had a wife and a son' would be a clearer way to express it, since family is a broader concept than just your spouse and kids.
Yeah, I see what you mean. I think I'll just try putting a colon after "family" to set it apart from the two people mentioned. In Leo's case those are his only family. Or were, anyway.

Also, specifying that it's a fruit rotting from the inside seems redundant. You've already described him as collapsing in on himself, so the image would already be complete by simply comparing him to 'an old piece of rotting fruit' without weighing it down by specifying what kind of rot it is.
Hmm, I'm of two minds about this. I'll think about changing it.

Nitpicks aside, it's pretty funny how cocky the child is about the situation seeing how Kerrigan homed straight onto the right PC, implying he's well aware that the child recently used it. Seems to me it's not giving quite enough credit here.
It's definitely way overconfident.

These two sections are a good bit separated from each other, but it might still be worth it to trim down the overlapping information a bit since repeating that Duskull is bad at this both here and with the in-between mention that Duskull is a 'less-than-reliable spy' makes it feel like you're hammering in the point just a bit too hard.
Ah, yeah. I'll work one of those out; not sure which at the moment.

...and the obvious red flag passed straight beneath the child's nose without notice. It really isn't half as clever as it likes to think.
Heh, yes. I have way too much fun nodding at stuff that's going to turn out to be important but that the characters completely discount as irrelevant. Mostly we see the child do this since it's the POV character, but the other characters goof up a bit in this way, too.

For all that talk of preparation, that certainly was a botch on the child's part right from the outset.
Yeah, its plans tend to leave a bit to be desired. :p

The ending to this scene just really made an impression on me. While it's been clear from the outset that the child is not exactly a nice person, the sheer brutality and raw emotion on both sides here just really drives it home. It's really powerful stuff.
I'm glad! This was a bit that was rather uncomfortable for me to write, so it's always nice to see that it had an emotional impact on readers as well.

tl;dr: given how reckless the child is with its injuries, blood flowing from its blisters actually wouldn't be all that far-fetched in this case.
Ha. I guess it's pretty obvious that my medical knowledge is predominantly from Wikipedia. It's not important either way what sort of blister it is here, so I'll take another look to see whether I want to keep the original version or go with the new one.

Thanks again for reviewing, and giving such a detailed response as well! You definitely make some good points, and I'll keep them in mind as I go back through and make some revisions. I'm flattered you like the story enough to have read this multiple times (and notice a minor scene I inserted recently, wow); I hope you continue to enjoy it in the future.

GingerDixie

Thanks for reviewing! I hope it wasn't too confusing to jump in this late in the story (and indeed, that's what I was hoping to find out). I'm glad you liked the second person narration, although I don't know that the protagonist is all that relatable, one way or another. :p

Glad you liked the description as well; it's something I don't generally think about much one way or another, so it's always interesting when somebody comments on it.

Hope you enjoy the earlier chapters if you decide to go read them.

Dragonfree

Hey, good to see you back. Hope you didn't find catching up too onerous.

So. My current theory on the child (possibly already jossed since I haven't reread the earlier chapters to confirm that it matches up yet) is that it's an earlier Mew clone that one way or another believes it's the reincarnation of Amber, Fuji's daughter. (Though that's assuming you're even using that bit of anime canon here.) It seems somewhat more parsimonious, in any case, than some other random child, I can't think of any other canonical children that would make particular sense here, and fits with your hint from way back about Ghost Trick.
I totally thought I put a note somewhere on here that this story is strictly game-canon in terms of history and characters, buuuut I guess not. There are a few anime elements that sneak in (pokemon being able to use an arbitrary number of moves, the concept of an Indigo League Tournament), but other than that it hews to the games pretty closely, I think. So Amber's not a thing, sorry. The child is neither a canon character nor related to one.

I've enjoyed the past few chapters enormously; the addition of Nathaniel Morgan to the main cast provides a delightful relatively-normal-human contrast to the child's view of life and their interactions are just pure gold.
Heh, I'm glad you enjoy them. I'm always worried about people finding Nate unbearably obnoxious (in the sense of annoying to read about; no question, I think, that he's an obnoxious person), so it's nice to know that he at least doesn't repulse everyone. It takes a lot of self control not to go overboard on his scenes with the protagonist; I honestly could write them bickering about nothing for pages and pages and pages if I weren't careful. (I do it anyway, of course, I just don't put it into the actual story.) They hate each other so, so much; it's delightful. :D

Sometimes I feel like you're slightly overdoing the swearing in his dialogue, but it may just be that he's the kind of person to make a point of injecting as many ****s as possible into every sentence he says.
Weirdly enough, this is easily my favorite thing you pointed out in this review, simply because I've been hoping someone would say this since the moment he was introduced. Yes! His swearing is a bit overdone! It's supposed to sound slightly over-the-top and unnatural, and since no one mentioned anything, I was kind of caught in a bind, since I wasn't sure how I could dial it up higher without starting to make his dialogue aggressively ugly and/or difficult to understand. So I guess I'm just going to... keep slightly overdoing it, then. :p

(Also, the gag of consistently calling him "the great Nathaniel Morgan" in the narration is still amusing me.)
Good... hopefully you'll still feel that way in a good thirty chapters or so, since it's not going away anytime soon. :p Something else I worry will irritate people.

I really think you should redo the censor-evading in chapter eight, though, because not only does it use the wrong font, but the case-insensitive find-and-replace you appear to have done results in several sentences throughout starting with lowercase f's. It's pretty distracting in an otherwise lovely chapter. (On a somewhat similar note, in chapter eleven you seem to have decided to capitalize the Great in "the Great Nathaniel Morgan", but then you appear to have changed your mind back. Either way you should probably fix it to be consistent.)
Caaaan do. And dammit, I obviously need to stop being lazy and just throw all my regexen into a batch script instead of re-running them individually each time. That should stay lowercase.

At this point, I must say I agree with some previous reviewers' concerns that the first chapters are probably not the best start for this...
Ah, yes, the early chapters continue to be my bane. I admit that they're quite a bit different from most of the rest of the story, although I wouldn't really call the section from chapter eight to the present representative, either; the narrative's going to be taking another hard left at the end of chapter fourteen, and this next chapter, thirteen, is probably more along the lines of the kind of stuff to expect for the rest of the story.

My primary sticking point in jumping in at around eight is that there are a couple of important characters introduced in the beginning section, and I think that to understand the protagonist's relationship with them it's best for them to have some actual screentime rather than just getting mentioned. The problem is that there honestly isn't a lot of room for them to get introduced before we'll be seeing them again; I had a lot of difficulty cramming all the exposition I wanted to into the first fourteen chapters, although it hopefully doesn't show, and once the rising action starts going in this story, it kind of... goes. The next opening where there's downtime that isn't already solidly occupied by something else important is after the end of the fifth arc, somewhere in the neighborhood of chapter thirty, by which point one of the aforementioned characters will already have gotten dragged back into this mess. If I tried hard enough, I could probably figure out a reason for the child to meet up with Nate and then those other characters afterwards, but it would require some serious restructuring.

Anyway, all that rambling to say that I'm aware that the early chapters are pretty weird and off-putting for a lot of people, and I've seriously considered starting in at approximately chapter eight many times over the course of writing/revising this--I just haven't found a way to make it work yet. Watch me shamelessly A/B test my stupid fanfic through the Review Game.

Lastly, some typos, etc. that I noticed (forgive the lack of more line-by-line reviewing; I would have taken even longer to catch up if I'd been constantly stopping to tell you about every line I find hilarious, so I figured I'd go with mostly general comments)
No problem . Although...

...what even is that punctuation mark after "what's wrong with the great Nathaniel Morgan"?
Ahaha, well, the way I type is kind of barely-controlled undignified flailing, so unusual key combinations happen with surprising frequency. That's right alt + ??? + comma somehow all typed while I was reaching for the comma key--no idea how I managed to pull that one off or what it actually represents, but we'll see if it gets reproduced sometime before the story's done!

Thanks for reviewing! No worries about it lacking a lot of specific quotes, I enjoyed it all the same--especially the bit about the cursing. I seriously can't get over how glad I am that you mentioned that.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: Here we go! This chapter didn't want to get written pretty badly, but now that I've finally ground it out, I should be able to get back to a more regular update schedule. This the longest chapter so far, and it's rather dark as well, so be warned, I suppose. Also, edits on the earlier chapters haven't happened yet--I was on vacation last weekend, so I have no idea why I thought I'd be getting anything done then.

I've also overhauled the programs I use to do the formatting/censor-dodging/etc for this 'fic, so if you see any weirdness a) that's probably why and b) please let me know!

And finally, thanks to everyone who nominated or voted for this story in this year's fanfic awards. It means a lot to me to know that people are enjoying the 'fic, and I hope you continue to do so as it continues to roll along. Onward!

Chapter 11

"What the fuck? Mewtwo?" The great Nathaniel Morgan looks even more taken aback by that than the idea you're related to the Champion. After a moment, though, he's back to scowling. "So you are an experiment, then. I was right in the first fucking place!"

"I am not an experiment. I told you that already."

"What, that's it? Come the fuck on, what the hell are you, then?" You go for the remote. "Hey, douchebag! I'm fucking talking to you!"

With stony-faced purpose you call up the channel index. You really hope there's something loud and violent on right now.

"Oh, think you're going to fucking ignore me, do you? Fat fucking chance, Freak. You want me to shut up, you're going to have to come over here and make me."

"See what I'm talking about?" you say, turning to Absol. To your dismay, she's dozed off with her head on her paws. "Absolllll!"

"That's right, she totally doesn't give a shit. Gonna have to deal with this by your fucking self. So what'll it be? You gonna talk or are you gonna pull the whole 'I'mma zap you with my bullshit pokémon powers' thing?"

You can't find anything to watch. Maybe the great Nathaniel Morgan's constant noise is making you too annoyed to concentrate. You sit through a few minutes of rerun coverage from a local pokémon contest, but a prinplup fumbling through a surf appeal can't distract you from the continued whining in the background. Finally you throw the remote aside and snarl, "If I explain about my brother, will you shut up?"

"Yeah."

You turn and stare at the great Nathaniel Morgan. He gives you a faint shrug.

You growl and close your eyes, rubbing at the bridge of your nose. "Fine fine fine fine fine fine fine." How on earth are you going to explain this? "Okay." You stare blankly at the television. "Have you ever heard of the Mewtwo project?"

"Nawwwww." He smirks as he traces an invisible "R" over his chest. "The fuck is that? How the hell would I know, huh?"

"Really? I thought you were the one who brought it up in the first place." You frown. This is going to take even longer than you thought. "Several years ago there was a scientific expedition to South America..."

"No, no, no. Skip it, Freak. I was fucking joking, God."

"What?" You narrow your eyes at him. "Joking about what?"

"I mean I know what the goddamn Mewtwo project is, okay? For Christ's sake."

"That was a joke? It was a lie. How is lying funny?"

"Okay, so it was a lie. I'm a huge fucking liar. Now will you please get to the fucking point? As you were so fucking kind to remind me the other day, I ain't getting any younger over here."

You could strangle him, you really could. You glance down at Absol. No doubt she'll miraculously awaken the very second you threaten violence.

You take a deep breath and try to calm down. So he knows about the Mewtwo project. There's not much to know, just a story spun out of scattered diary fragments and the confused accounts of a few shell-shocked survivors. It's true enough, as far as it goes: Mew captured, taken to a lab for research, Rocket infiltration, the creation of Mewtwo. Mewtwo, uncontrollable, brings the whole thing down in fire and ruin. He flies to the dark quiet of Cerulean Cave, wailing for his mother, and later is captured by Red, the Champion. So: a captive, a clone, and a conflagration. But what people forget, what the media was never told, is that at the beginning of it all, before the flames and death, there was also a child.

You can see her now, lying in bed with a hand-held video game propped on her chest, annoyed by her mother's intrusion. It's an old memory, well-worn and fraying at the edges, threatening to fade back into blank forgetfulness. The child's mother is at the door, but you know it's her only in the way of dreams, without real recognition. There's the impression of a smile, dark hair falling about the face, but the face itself--that you can't recall. In that far-off moment, the mother speaks nonetheless:

"I thought you loved the rainforest! I practically had to pry you off me the last time we went. Dad and I thought we were going to open our luggage in Peru and find you stowed away inside."

"But the whole summer?" She's aghast, that human child. Summer meant something to her then, the word steeped in even older, vaguer memories: long days, no school, roaming the island with friends. It wasn't a time for grownups and their dreary plans. "Meimei's gonna be in the Junior Trainer Program, and Owen Michaels said I could come with him to visit his grandma in Johto. I don't wanna go to the stupid forest!"

"Well," there's sternness in the mother's voice, but a touch of laughter, too. "Isn't that exciting? But are Meimei and Owen going to get to spend the summer with a pokémon of their very own?"

The child forgets her scorn. "A pokémon...?"

"Well, the forest is a dangerous place. There's wild pokémon, plus snakes and rivers and quicksand and things. Dad and I thought you ought to have something to protect you, and we asked Dr. Oak--you remember him, don't you? You met him at the Institute Christmas party a couple years back."

An even dimmer memory, hardly more than passing sensation. The gruff voice, the cool, calloused feel of the hand she was shaking--all she remembers of the professor. Mostly she recalls weird reddish lighting, the dull mutter of adult conversation, boredom.

"Well, we arranged so you could have one of his old pokémon, a special one. He hasn't got many left. And of course you'd be getting it a whole year early, so by the time you started your journey it'd already be stronger than anyone else's..."

Meimei would get loaners from the Junior Trainer program, and Owen would spend his days badgering his grandma's old fighters, trying to rouse the ancient chesnaught from one of his naps. But neither of them would be getting a pokémon of their very own, not one to keep. She doesn't know what to say, can only stare open-mouthed while her mother rests a finger on her chin and tilts her head. "Of course, if you don't want to go, we can just tell him the deal's off. I'm sure it'll be no problem."

That's enough to get her out of bed. "No, wait. I changed my mind! Are you serious? A real pokémon?"

"You can stay with your aunts. I'm sure they'd be happy to have you, and I hear they have some new broccoli recipes they're itching to try out."

"No, I'll go, I'll go! I want to go! I changed my mind!" The child catches at her mother's arm as the woman starts to stroll off down the hall. She keeps on talking in a too-loud voice, ignoring the pleas of her daughter. "Maybe he'll give it to someone else instead. Maybe Meimei's family would like it for her? Then she could start the training program with her own pokémon..."

"Please, Mom? Pleeeease?" She whines and wheedles and pleads until her mother drops the act and they laugh together, and the child presses her with eager questions. What kind of pokémon? When do they leave? Will she really get to keep it?

It's a hazy memory, as much speculation as fact. Still, there are details scattered about, little here-and-there things that stand out clear despite time and distance, trinkets your mind has hoarded at random: the feel of the carpeting under stocking feet, the faint musty smell of the old house, and on the child's windowsill, a little statue of Rayquaza. It's a cheap thing, bought at some fair or other. In this memory gray afternoon light falls through the window, glinting off the statue's glaze and barring it with the dark shadows of the blinds. That's what you remember: some worthless bauble, not the face of someone that child used to love.

Not everything important has been lost. You recall, too, the morning of their first meeting. The forest is steaming hot after the morning rain but still dim, the light leeched out of the air by rank on rank of leaves overhead. The child wanders in aimless boredom, bullying the charmander along while he whines and slices at the undergrowth with his claws. The umbrella rigged to his tail keeps getting caught on things, and he's wet and irritable, big for a charmander and clumsy in his bigness. Titan. "Now there's a name to grow into," the child's father said once, like it was a joke, and she'd been deeply offended.

By now the novelty of the rainforest has worn off. The child left camp solely to avoid the grownups, who see idle hands and suggest that she go out and collect butterflies, or count different kinds of trees, or any number of other little chores. They always make it sound like it's going to be a grand adventure, but the child knows work when she sees it and escapes into the forest instead. That's where, that gloomy day, she meets the pokémon.

And then you leave the fuzzy comfort of the child's memories and fall into a psychedelic dreamscape where all the colors are brighter and the air is oversaturated with scents, the perfume of tropical flowers mingling with the endless rot and wet of the forest floor over top of smells you can't name, the scent trails of insects and animal pheromones. At the very base of it all is the pokémon's own sensory map, the sketchy black-and-white outlines atop which everything is painted, the dim impression of wind through her own fur almost drowned out by tactile awareness of leaf-surfaces gleaned from a strutting lizard and the cool, smooth curve of the pokéball under the child's fingers.

A psychic lives a gestalt life, drawing on all the minds around her, from the tiny sparks of awareness in creeping insects to the fountains of information roaring through the brains of animals and pokémon. The pokémon's experiences are a dizzying amalgam of the perceptions of all the living things around her, all those with a nervous system, anyway. She gathers bits of others' lives and uses them to build her own.

That's how you have a memory not just of the human child turning, surprised, to see the pokémon, but a second and a third: that pokémon's memory of encountering the human child, seeing her start and look around from a multitude of angles. Then there's the echo of the child's awareness filtered through the pokémon's mind, a memory within a memory, weirdly distorted by its translation into the psychic's mental language.

Your brain is still mostly human, though, and it was never meant to hold a psychic's memories. They come crammed together in a kaleidoscope of sensory overload, blaring noise and impossible colors and a tangled mess of all the senses you don't have mapped imperfectly onto the ones you do. They stretch back an impossible distance beyond where your human recollections begin. The world was different in those far-off memories, and for the most part you leave them alone. It's hard enough to make sense of the ones fallen in between the cracks of your human memories, telling their strange sideways version of events. This is the first, lying at the point where your disparate pasts collide and twine together. To the best of your understanding, it goes something like this:

So long since there's been any humans in the forest, ages and ages. She'd assumed them long gone, like the bladed creatures that once sparred in the warm, shallow waters of the great river's delta. But now here they are again--humans. Industrious, swarming over the ruins of the old hive, picking through bits of trash and waving strange toys about, busy, busy, as humans tend to be. They've brought a kit, too, and let it go wandering, some dull pokémon the likes of which she hasn't seen before stumbling after.

She can't resist. There are such strange and wonderful pictures floating at the edges of the kit's thoughts, and she wants to know how it is that humans still walk this world. One day she gets too close and the little one sees her, mind lighting up equal parts fear and joy.

The kit tries to make its lizard fight her, but that's all right. It's no threat to her, and the kit gives up soon enough, deciding it wants to play instead. It chatters at her in its weird mouth-language, a different one than she learned from its ancestors, utterly incomprehensible. That's all right, though, because the language of its mind is close enough to what she remembers, the weird, clipped dialect of humans.

The child's thoughts wend through the pokémon's memories like a strain of music. Not a pleasant tune, they're high and thin and squeaky, like the strained noise of violins pushed to the very top of their range. The pokémon can't get enough of them, enchanted by the far-off world that takes shape out of their strange melody.

They play together as days unravel into weeks, funny human games she always wins. She's stronger and faster than any human, and no matter how the kit hides its body, tucking itself into root crevices or crawling under shading leaves, it's betrayed by the constant bubbling of its thoughts. Sometimes when she hides herself, becoming bird or lizard or simply drifting high out of reach, she waits for much longer than necessary, just watching the dance of thoughts through the kit's head. Once she even becomes the kit itself, and it shrieks with fright and then sudden laughter when it realizes who she is, and they chase each other around the ancient trees and play tricks on the fire-lizard until she gets tired being stuck to the ground and floats off and is herself again.

She's starting to remember why she found humans so fascinating, starting to consider making contact with the adults, when one day the kit comes to her buzzing with nerves. It holds up some strange round thing and makes a request.

She doesn't understand much of it, only that it's going away and travel and fight and the images she pulls from the kit's mind are stranger than ever. She watches as it uses another ball to make the lizard appear, then disappear again. From him all she can get about the thing is that it means home, safety, family... No, she has no idea, really.

But the essence of what the kit wants is clear enough. Come away with me. And why not? She loves the forest, yes, has flown its farthest reaches, will never grow bored of its ever-shifting tapestry of light and shade and life. But perhaps it's time to go beyond once more. It seems the world outside has grown far more interesting in her absence.

You watch her watch the child's face, smell the sweat on her skin and see the blush of heat she radiates into the humid air, and then you're that child again, looking up at the pokémon's inscrutable blue eyes.

The child watches as the pokémon scoops the pokéball out of her hand, balancing it on the tip of its tail. The ball stays steady while the pokémon spins around it, inspecting it from every angle. It flicks the ball up, bounces it off foot and nose, its mental laughter filling the child with the reflection of joy, making her forget her nerves for a spare moment. The pokémon gives her one last long look, blue eyes wide, then flicks the ball high into the air. It catches the it as it comes back down, daintily, on the very tip of its tail and square on the button. The ball springs open, and in a flash the pokémon is gone.

--​

There are no secrets before psychics, only those things brought to mind those not. The right trigger will lay anything bare. So to the pokémon at least it is no surprise that the kit has no luck keeping its new companion from the others of its kind. By the time they reach the island, word has gotten out, and there's a veritable circus waiting to greet them.

The pokémon is overjoyed. It's more than she'd dreamed, even more than she'd seen in the kit's mind, and most of that she hadn't believed. Humans are odd, keeping things in their head they know aren't true. But these are true, the nests stretching taller and wider than the greatest tree, standing shoulder to shoulder, a rank of giants. Here are the crowded perceptions of a thousand thousand people, humans and pokémon alike, giving the world a riotous depth like she's never known. And here too are human wonder-toys, even moving pictures of people that can laugh and speak in squawk-talk tongue but which have no mind, an invention as fascinating as it is disturbing. For weeks she swims through that fascinating world, absorbing its wonders, following the human kit as it shows her new places, new foods, an endless procession of people to meet.

In some of these she recognizes thoughts that betray less than virtuous intent. There was trouble, once, when enough such humans got together, back in their hive in her forest. But now creepers grow on the broken sides of their great stone nests and snakes slither in the dirt grown up over their scattered bones. They're only humans, after all--lots of them, a hellish-noisy bunch, but nothing to be afraid of. So she sheds apprehension and spends her days in play.

That's what they do: "nonhuman interaction sessions," psychological experiments, nonsense games played out before a video camera and a team of scientists behind one-way glass. The child convinces the pokémon to provide a little blood, to perform various acrobatics for their audience, to give them their precious data. She basks in the pokémon's delight at this new world, in her sudden importance at the Institute, in thoughts of her upcoming journey.

She's deferring for a year at her parents' insistence: research comes first, this is an incredible discovery, we can't just let it go, but after a year, yes, she and the pokémon would be free and they could journey together, exactly as she'd planned. She spends her days at the lab, playing with the pokémon, doing odd jobs for cash. The researchers send her to catch wild pokémon they need for their experiments, and she sometimes grabs one for herself as well. She assembles a little team and works with them in her free time, challenging traveling trainers to fights or chasing down local rattata and scruffy meowth.

The child doesn't think much of the influx of unfamiliar scientists. After all, the pokémon's arrival is a huge draw, and whole new research groups are being formed around it. Grant money is flowing in. Why would she be suspicious of this bright-eyed crop of researchers hoping to be a part of the cutting edge of the field?

So when the ultimatum comes it seems impossibly sudden. They tell her there will be no more play-dates, no more seeing the pokémon at all. And why not? She isn't well, she shouldn't be disturbed. The doctors are taking care of her, don't worry. But she's in no condition to see the child.

The pokémon isn't well for a very long time. And now when the child looks around she finds herself surrounded by strangers. The people she knows are taking on a new look, haggard and hunted. Her own parents are suddenly old and exhausted, don't smile or laugh like they used to. Late at night, when she's supposed to be asleep--but who can sleep at times like these?--she hears them whispering, tearful quiet arguments that go on for hours. During the day they give her fake, tired smiles, play like everything is normal. But where once they encouraged her to spend time at the lab, had been delighted at the faintest sign of interest, now they hint that perhaps she'd better stay away.

The child's memories are fragmented things, moments here and there connected by no more than confusion and a sense of creeping dread, but the pokémon's are just incoherent tatters. She hangs suspended in a haze of nightmare and delirium, and you can make out only a horrible sense of restraint, a heaviness of limbs and mind that leaves her too weak to concentrate and consider the swelling wrongness growing beneath it all. She spends scant waking hours in terror of hallucinations that turn the mirrors of others' minds dark and disjointed, so senses no longer line up and reality distorts along manifold planes.

By the time she realizes she's pregnant, impossibly, grotesquely so, it's too late. She's aware of a new mind taking shape inside her, but it's growing wrong, taking on a form she doesn't recognize. She tries to guide its budding awareness the way a mother should, tries to mold it back into the right shape, but her confused reaching only makes things worse, when she even has the strength to try. As the alien mind stirs inside her, scared and horribly alone, she grows more anxious and her attempts at contact become more desperate. And as her agitation increases, the drugs get stronger, until all the rest is lost in a gray blanket of unawareness.

The child comes into the lab one day and notices a new feeling in the air. There's something grating at her just below the level of awareness, a persistent ringing in her ears, goosebumps rising on her arms. All throughout the day she's caught in sudden lurches of panic as she gasps for air, realizing she's been holding her breath with no idea why.

The pokémon's still nowhere to be seen, but soon, now, they tell her. Just another couple weeks. She's frantically excited up until they they actually meet, and then she's horrified, sick, runs away and cries so hard not even Titan can console her. It's only then she learns that the tension in the air, the sense of festering wrongness, is a sign there's been a new arrival.

--​

"No, but you don't understand!" In her memory the woman's all teeth and smirk with a badge somewhere on the periphery. She's sitting there hoping for that indulgent grin to falter. She pleads. "It's Team--it's Team Rocket. I know it is. They took over the whole lab and made the scientists work on their projects. And now they made--they made a monster. I don't know what it is, but it's horrible, and it's dangerous, and--"

"Sweetie," the police officer interrupts in her singsong, talking-to-children voice. "The scientists at the Institute are doing very important work. We can't just send a bunch of people over to bother them because you think something might be wrong."

"But it is wrong! I just told you, Team Rocket took over and they're holding everybody hostage. You have to send someone to look. You have to make them stop!"

"Now, I know you're upset, honey, but what proof--"

"Please!" She feels tears welling and hates them, hates herself for being so pathetic. She tries to force the rest out before she truly begins to cry. "Please, we need your help. I swear it's true, really. Just send some people out there, you'll see, it's all real. If I'm lying you can, you can lock me up or something, just do it. Please!"

The child digs her nails into her palms, trying to force herself to stop. She can feel the officer's eyes on her, watching while she shakes and sobs, and the shame makes her cry even harder. "Here, Sweetie... You want me to call your parents so they can come and get you? I can see you're really upset."

"No!" she chokes. "No, I, I'll... You have to!" She looks up, peering through tear-blurred eyes, and forces herself to be strong. "Please, you have to do something. You can't just let them get away with it, you can't!"

But the woman's just pursing her lips, her brow creasing, all sympathy for the distressed little girl. "Hey, Mike," she calls to another cop lurking by the door. "You think maybe you can get some tissues in here?"

She can't do it. She's on her feet, still crying, and makes a half-blind run for the door, ignoring the officer's yells.

"Oh, no--Sweetie, wait! It's okay, just--dammit, Mike, stop her--"

They don't catch her. She's back out in the afternoon sunshine before the slow-moving adults can react, thoughts shrunk to just the shock of each footfall against the hot asphalt, panting for air through a throat ragged from crying and from running as hard as she can. She hides on the empty school playground, tucked away in the shadow of the slide where no one can see and cries and cries until finally she can't anymore.

That night her mother lingers a moment as she puts the child to bed, brushing a curl of hair away from the child's face. "That was a very brave thing you did today," she murmurs. The child feels a cold jerk of guilt and fear. She's about to ask how, how did you know...? But then her mother adds, even softer, "But please don't do something like that ever again." The frightened catch in her voice keeps the child awake that night, keeps her silent through the next day, and the next.

She stays silent for long weeks as life falls apart around her. There's faint whispering in her head whenever she's in the lab, and slowly it grows from half-heard muttering to painful chatter to headache-inducing screaming. It's a constant hateful monologue that drowns out all attempt at thought. Researchers work in shifts of no more than a couple of hours, and even then there are incidents, sudden spikes of power that leave people gibbering, frothing zombies. In between stretch uneasy lulls, as though the clone is waiting, biding its time. It grows stronger and it grows cleverer and still the weeks go by.

She goes willingly to her sessions with the pokémon. Anyone would beg for it to stop if they'd been made to listen to the hateful sneering of their own brains, suffered through eye-watering headaches that flare into migraines at uncertain moments. The child wants it to end as much as anyone, and she pleads and cajoles and promises everything, whatever might make the pokémon intervene. But after all the child thinks the pokémon wants it to stop, too, and can do nothing.

Then one day she arrives to find the air inside the Institute no stuffier than than that outside. At first she thinks it's just another trick, that the clone's withdrawn only with the intent of coming smashing back once they let their guard down. Then she comes upon a janitor up on a ladder, mounting a black plastic box like a wireless router above the door. It's got a row of little lights on it, dancing green and yellow.

Seeing the child's curiosity, the woman grins down and says, "They're callin' 'em 'psychic dampers.' Team's been working on 'em for weeks now, and they finally got a batch that does the trick. Nice, innit? Not having that bastard in your head all the time, talkin' like how he'll peel the flesh from your bones and may-you-rot-in-torment?"

It is nice. She grins, too, elated beyond caring. It's a horrible thing, an awful thing, to steal the psychic's voice, but after all the grating hours under the pressure of his hate it's hard, somehow, not to begin hating in return.

( Continued in Next Post )
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
( Continued from Previous Post )

That's the year she begins her pokémon journey, but not by choice. "I'm not going! I said I wasn't going without Mew, and I'm not! How could I leave her behind when--when--you know!"

Her mother kneels down and smiles at her, tries to put a hand on top of her head. The child steps back and glares betrayal, arms crossed over her chest. "Sara, honey, I know you're worried about Mew. But she's going to be fine without you, really. You're already a year late starting your journey--if you wait again, you're going to be older than all the other new trainers. All your friends will be done training and doing other things. You shouldn't wait. Mew can join you later, once the lab is done--"

"No she can't! That's a lie! They're never gonna let her go, and you know it. How can you say things like that? You know it's wrong and you don't do anything and you lie and pretend it's okay. I can't leave Mew behind. I promised. I'm not going to break my promise, not like you."

"Sara..."

"No! I'm not going. I don't care what you say, you can't make me. I'm not going without Mew!"

"You're going. This is not up for discussion," her father snaps. You can almost get a complete picture of him in this memory, and the mother too. The two of them move slower now, more carefully, like they're afraid of waking something dark and toothy. Here what the child remembers best is the sound of the father's voice, raised like the child's almost never heard it--angry. "Two days from now you are going down to the registration office to pick up your license, and right after that you are getting on the boat to Sinnoh to begin your journey. Do I make myself clear?"

"Sinnoh? But--but why not...?"

"Sara, listen to me." Her mother puts a hand on her shoulder and gives her a tired smile. The expression sits uneasy on her face, like it knows it doesn't belong. There are lines around the edges of her eyes where there weren't any before. "You can't stay here, honey. It's not safe. The best thing for you to do right now is to go off on your journey and not worry about the lab at all, okay? Owen's younger brother's going to go with you, too, so you'll have a friend. It'll be an adventure, you'll see."

"No." She pulls back again, glancing between her parents. Her anger is soured with an acid edge of fear, deep in the pit of her stomach. "No, I don't want to go. Why are you doing this? Why won't you just tell the truth? What's going to happen to Mew?"

"Listen to your mother!" her father roars, and she jumps in shock. "This is what you have to do, do you understand? You're going if I have to drag you down to the registration office myself, and that's final." He abruptly turns away.

Her mother starts to say something, then only sighs and shakes her head. The fear has climbed out of the child's chest and taken over her whole body, a cold, spreading burn.

"Dad?"

He stays where he is, and the child can only stare at his back, disbelieving. It's been bad, but she'd still had faith. She'd thought that in the end it would be okay, that her parents would find a way to stop it. She'd be fine, because they'd always protect her. But now here they are, her father with tears in his eyes, not able to look her in the face. Her mother quiet, at a loss. They don't know anymore, either. This is all they have left.

So she goes. She gets on the boat to Sinnoh, where it's all cold and piney and old. She travels with the younger sibling, and they mostly stay out in the wilderness, away from cities and the real League challenge. It is an adventure, and maybe given enough time she could have forgotten about everything she left behind in Cinnabar.

But it's barely a month before the agent finds them, defeats their teams, brings them with honeyed force back to Kanto. For surely there must have been some misunderstanding, the two of them running off like that. Didn't they know their parents were worried sick? And you, little miss, what were you thinking? You know how Mew gets when you're not around to cheer her up. How could you go and leave her all alone?

After that the child's parents don't talk about her going away anymore. Her mother walks with a limp, and her father can't quite conceal the bruises under his sleeves. She goes back to working at the lab because, after all, she's important. Owen's brother wasn't important, not to anyone but his friends and family, and her parents don't talk about him anymore either. No one does.

--​

It's hard to think. She's alone in her head, the minds that used to fill her world gone, vanished--taken? She doesn't know. Every now and then she catches a glimpse, sees a snatch of color or feels the jump of another's emotion, but that's all. All that's left is a strange droning buzz that goes on and on forever. She can see only through her own tired eyes, hear only the vibrations against her own dull ears. It takes all her effort to keep herself floating, and even then her tail nearly brushes the floor.

Her son--for whatever else he is, he is that--is stronger than her. He can still see through others' eyes, at least a little bit, but that isn't what they want from him; that isn't what he's learning. He's growing strange and solitary, off in his own world, aloof from the thoughts of the people around him. He's learning to understand the yapping human language, to listen to what comes out of people's mouths rather than what's hidden in their heads.

He's learning to kill, of course. That's why they made me, he tells her. I'm a weapon. I'm the strongest ever. And you know what? Those purple eyes widen, the mouth twists up in an imitation of a human smile. I will. I'll be the strongest there ever was, and I'll be their weapon. One day I'm going to be so strong that they can't stop me anymore, and then I'll kill every last one of them, and then we can be free.

She tries to object, but her words aren't strong enough to get through. The vague messages her son receives only make him angry, raging despite her best attempts to calm him down. Such a powerful mind, and such a terrible one. In what little time she has for herself, when she's not locked in the long, strange sleep of her prison, she runs these thoughts ragged in her empty head. She doesn't know if how much she loves him outweighs how much he frightens her.

As far as she knows the only reason the humans keep her around is as a threat to him. "Do well, and you'll get to see your mother. Do poorly, and you might not see her ever again." She fights them, sometimes, with whatever power she can muster, but she is far too weak, and they don't even seem annoyed by her resistance.

Now and again they send one of their kits to wheedle and plead, to make her eat, to calm her down enough to face her son again. Maybe it's the same one each time, maybe not--she doesn't know how to tell humans apart by anything but the texture of their thoughts. What the kit says she doesn't know either, since all she can hear is the nonsense braying of its mouth.

Still she gets the sense of desperation from it, an unhappiness to mirror her own. It comes in scraps and flashes, the edge of its mind brushing hers. She doesn't know why it happens more often with these kits, and she doesn't care. She does what they ask, as best she can understand, and strains to pick up those faint transmissions from their minds, to see colors again, just for a moment, to hear something other than the echo of her painful, tired thoughts.

It's uneasy companionship, this camaraderie of prisoners. She wonders sometimes what would happen if her power was restored. Would she punish this small human as well? Does she want all of them to die, really? She can't tell whether she does not hate or is simply too tired to hate. She's alone in her own head. It's hard to think.

--​

The child presses herself deeper into the alcove under the desk, laying her cheek against the cool wood. She's too shaken to care if anyone saw her duck in here, simmering in despair and disappointment. She'd been overjoyed when she first saw him and recognition leapt in her chest. A gym leader, here? She didn't know why, she couldn't imagine how, but for a few wild seconds she believed they were delivered at last, that here was someone who would see what was happening the lab and, finally, have the power to make it right.

But then--no. No, no, and no. She presses herself deeper into her hiding place and tries to listen over the pounding of her heart.

"Unacceptable," he's saying to some nervous, stuttering scientist. "A weapon I can't control is worthless. No matter how powerful it is, it's of no use to me if it won't follow orders."

"But sir! We're had great success with the psychic dampers, and the team's about to release an even more advanced system. I think you'll find the level of control to be as precise as--"

"And what? So it will murder on command, then turn around and kill me the moment there's a mechanical failure? No, Fuji. I want a weapon I can rely on, not one that's as dangerous to me as it is to everyone else."

There is an outburst of sputtering protests, but the gym leader cuts them off in the same smooth, unhurried voice. "No need to worry, Doctor. This specimen is certainly impressive. Its power is more than adequate, and I commend you for having produced a prototype in such a small amount of time."

"Th-thank you, Sir, ah, I--"

"Nevertheless, I cannot accept it. It does not satisfy my requirements. But I am not an unreasonable man, Doctor. I understand the way that science progresses. I couldn't expect you to find complete success on your first attempt."

He pauses, and the scientist babbles something incoherent that goes completely ignored. "Another year's worth of funding. I trust that will be enough."

"A year? S-sir, I don't--"

"Very good. As I said, Fuji, I'm impressed by what you've shown me so far," he goes on over the scientist's whimpering. "But let us be honest, Fuji. This experiment is a failure. Study it, learn from it, extract as much value as you can--and then destroy it. And do better the next time."

They're moving away, the scientist's breathless simpering growing ever more indistinct. The child sits where she is until long, long after their conversation fades, biting her knuckle to keep herself from whimpering.

They're going to make another one. After everything, after all that's happened, they're going to make another one. It's never going to end.

She sits in the dark and hugs her knees against her chest and makes no noise and thinks, oh, what can she do? What is she ever going to do now?

--​

It's dim and close in the space under the play structure, lit only by the flickering glow of Titan's tail. They can barely all fit, Thunderstorm hovering low over Rats' head. The child herself is tucked into a crouch, back pressed against plastic so hard she can feel the edges of the graffiti carved into it. Another couple years and she probably won't fit under here at all. If she makes it another couple years.

"So I just want to ask," she says in a rush, trying to get it all out and over with before she loses her nerve, "if you'll help. You don't have to, it's okay. But I'm the only person left who'll do anything about it, and it's my fault Mew's here in the first place. So I have to at least try to stop it. You don't have to help if you don't want to, it's fine. But--will you? Is anybody with me?"

She grins as Titan punches a clawed fist in the air and lets out a battle cry. No surprise there--she doesn't know what she would have done if Titan had said no, really.

War is more of a surprise. He's slouched up against one wall of the play structure, tentacles sprawled limply on the dusty gravel. He raises one in a weak sign of assent, eyes glinting inscrutable from under the heavy hang of his bell.

Rats is not so eager. She chatters an angry question at the child, who can guess what's being said. "You'll get food, Rats, I promise. Whatever you want."

The rattata sniffs, tail flicking back and forth as she considers. "Please?"

With an exasperated huff, Rats puts up her paws and jabbers a curt reply. The child can't help but smile. "Thanks, Rats. It'll be worth it, you'll see."
There's one left, the one she's most worried about. She tries to keep the apprehension out of her voice as she asks, "Thunder?"

The magnemite is quiet, floating as far from Titan's flame as the small space allows, hard edges softened by shadow. The electric type's quiet, bobbing gently on the electromagnetic tides washing through their hiding place. She can see the great glassy eye sliding open and shut as it thinks.

The other pokémon are watching too. The child's about to say something--maybe beg, maybe apologize for even asking--when Thunderstorm's eye snaps full open and it lets out a brief shower of sparks, painful-bright in the dimness and leaving purple and green afterimages floating in their wake. She blinks them away and laughs, laughs as Titan lets out another excited crow, as she reaches out to rearrange War before he topples forward on his face.

"Thanks," she says, wiping away tears. "Thanks, all of you. We're--we're gonna do it. We're gonna save Mew and get rid of the Rockets together, okay? We're a team." Even Rats looks caught up in the moment, buck teeth gleaming in the half-light as she grins.

For a few seconds the child lets herself enjoy it, but only a few. She has to get back to the apartment before she's missed, and her mother's a light sleeper these days. So she puts up her hands and makes calming motions until even Titan is quiet. He's bouncing on the balls of his feet, tail swishing back and forth in excitement and coming dangerously close to hitting Rats. The child takes a deep breath, lets it out, tries to feel calm and authoritative. "Okay. Here's what we're gonna do..."

--​

"I want to see Mew."

Kelly scrabbles off her headphones as she turns in her chair. "Huh?"

"I want to see Mew. Now." The child makes herself stand as tall as she can and look Kelly straight in the face.

The researcher looks confused, like the child's someone she's never met, even though they've both been working in the lab for years. "What?"

One more time. "I want to see Mew now. Please." Her voice goes all funny on the last word as she tries too late to squash habitual politeness.

Kelly is too wrapped up in her own anxiety to notice. She sets the headphones down on the table, where they lie spitting staccato beats into the air. "Look, Sara... You know you can't just, ah..." She rubs at the end of her nose. "Mew isn't feeling well, okay? She's resting. You can see her again later, when she's feeling better."

It's the same old fiction. Once, so long ago, the child actually believed it. "I know. I'm worried about her. She seemed really weird last time I saw her, and I want to make sure she's okay."

Kelly gives her a bewildered look, like, why aren't you playing along? You and I both know... "I don't think that's, uh, a good idea. The techs, you know, they'll take good care of her. I'm sure she'll be... fine."

"I want to make sure," the child says. "It's my job to make sure, remember? I'm supposed to take care of Mew, and I want to see her so I know she's all right." No luck keeping the bitterness out of the last two words.

Kelly frowns, brow crinkling in confusion. "No, look. I mean... You can't, right? You'll just have to wait until they send for you, that's the way it--"

"I'm worried about her. Something isn't right." The child looks straight at the bewildered woman and says as firmly as she can, "And you know, if there really is something wrong, and I don't get a chance to figure it out, something bad might happen to Mew. I don't think anybody would like that very much, and I don't think they'd like you stopping me from helping, either."

Kelly's eyebrows go up, and the child rides out a rush of shame at the fear on the researcher's face. But this is what she has to do, and it's too late to call the words back.

Kelly's face sets grim and thin-lipped. She shoves her chair back and stands up. "Look, I'll ask, all right? It's not like I have any actual say in the matter." She stalks off and leaves the child leaning against the desk for support, wiping sweaty palms across its surface and watching her foggy handprints slowly disappear.

--​

The child stands before the pokémon one last time, ignoring the wall she knows is one-way glass. (It's different this time somehow. Different time? Different human?) They'll be watching her extra-carefully, of course, but she doesn't know how long she has before they start over again and the pokémon disappears into the bowels of the lab. She couldn't just wait and see if they'd summon her first.

The pokémon floats at waist height now, and the child bends down to pick it up, hands under the little creature's armpits. It's weightless, its fur only just brushing the child's fingers as what psychic powers it has left keep it hovering inside her grasp. The big blue eyes focus on her face, but their gaze is slack, uninterested. The winding tail hangs down loose, as if forgotten.

"Mew?" the child asks. There's a burst of static in her head, fuzzy and faint like a radio tuned to the wrong channel. (She can almost catch what it's thinking, a cobweb brush of apprehension and uncertainty.) The pokémon's tail twitches once, involuntary.

The child wasn't really hoping for a response--she wouldn't even have to talk out loud for the pokémon to hear. She's speaking for her own benefit more than anything else. "In a second," she whispers, "we're going to get out of here. I need you to trust me, okay? I need you to stay with me." She keeps her eyes locked with the pokémon's as she shifts her grip to one hand and with the other goes for the pokéballs in her pocket.

Three flashes and Titan and Rats are running for the door while Thunder hovers up high. A boost from Titan and Rats is clinging to the door handle, chewing at the lock. Thunderstorm takes only a moment to inspect the plastic box, maybe even reading the message its little lights are blinking. A burst of electricity and the psychic damper explodes in a shower of sparks and an acrid puff of smoke.

The pokémon twitches, blinks, and the child only just catches it before it can surge up out of her grip like a helium balloon. (Colors, there's colors again, faint and shifting but there, after she'd almost forgotten what they look like.) The child runs and kicks the door open as Rats, complaining mightily, launches herself at her trainer's shoulder, spitting splinters of plastic and bits of metal.

Kelly confronts them in the hall, breathless after dashing from the little observation room, but Titan growls at her, flashing his claws, and she falls back against the wall and tries to disappear. The child pushes past her, and now she's out in the hall, down the hall, in the lab area proper, and people look up from row on row of cubicles.

(The kit's thoughts are louder now, beating inside her head in a chorus of run, run, escape. She struggles a little, moving with slow effort as if trying to swim through deep waters, but the human only grips tighter, making a cage with its fingers.)

Thunderstorm swoops in after the child, blowing out another damper, then floats up, eye rolling back and forth as it looks for the next. She keeps running, Titan out ahead of her, ignoring the yells and the sudden psychic pressure in her head.

People are up and moving. The ones without pokémon fall back, shoved aside by others hoping to intercept her, coming forward with the flash of opening pokéballs.

"Out of the way!" one woman roars. "If you can't fight, get to the containment area. Shut it down!" There's a scramble behind the child as people start to pour towards the heart of the lab, where the clone has sensed the disturbance. His confused awareness is stirring in the child's head. She has to keep going, has to hope the distraction will keep them busy while she escapes.

"The magnemite! Get the magnemite!" Thunderstorm blows out another damper then swoops down and away, firing bursts of electricity at its pursuers.

There's more desks behind her than in front now, and in a head-down sprint she's at the door, slamming clean into it, stuffing the pokémon under one arm and scrambling for the handle while Titan cries out and spits fire at an approaching pidgey.

Then she's through. Hallway again, and her running down it. The seething anger in her head is turning to words. Mother! What are you doing? Let her go! Stop! The pokémon struggles in the child's arms.

"No, Mew! Listen!" The child tries to keep going, but then a doduo dashes up from behind. It breaks around Titan and rams into her, knocking her to the floor. "Mew, you have to listen to me," she chokes, kicking backwards at the bird while Rats leaps from her shoulder, hissing and seizing onto one of the its ropy necks. "We're almost there. Just let me get you out of here!"

(My son! She can hear him clearly now, yelling for her. Let me go! I have to get him out! I can't leave him behind!)

The child releases War over her shoulder and tells him to keep sending surfs down the hallway behind her. Titan only just manages to limp past the tentacool before pipes start bursting and a surge of water sweeps humans and pokémon alike back down the hall.

The child gets up and staggers into a run, only to be yanked off her feet when the pokémon jerks sideways in her arms, dragging her hard into the wall. She claws at it as she tries to stay upright, struggling to stuff the pokémon back under her arm and get her bearings while a whirl of images and emotions batters the inside of her skull. "That's the wrong way," she gasps. "Please just stop struggling. We're almost there."

(I'm coming for you! she yells, trying to force her voice through the heaviness that separates them like a veil. Don't worry, I'm not going to leave you behind! He's too far, he's too angry. He doesn't hear, but she keeps shouting anyway.)

The child staggers down the hall, fumbling with her pokéballs. Rats is down, and War is beset on all sides. He manages a final surf, knocking humans off their feet and slamming pokémon against one another, then falls to a pikachu's determined thunder shocking. She only just manages to recall him before the pokémon makes another lunge, this time back in the direction they came. The child's pokéballs scatter everywhere while she struggles to keep her hold on the writhing creature. Overhead Thunder bursts another damper, only to clatter to the floor in a buzzing heap, struck by a jet of water fired from somewhere in the mass of pursuers.

The child is almost sent to her knees as a renewed wave of anger hits her. Bring her back! Mewtwo's raging. Let her go now! I'll kill you! I'll kill you! I'll--

(She can almost fly, is nearly strong enough to break the kit's grip. As another leaden layer of unfeeling falls away, though, she is brought up short as she hears the human's thoughts clearly. She not only hears them--she recognizes them. It's you!)

The child is sent skidding as the pokémon kicks out with hind feet and a burst of psychic power, rocketing up and away. She rolls onto her back, clutching at empty air. The pokémon's floating in erratic loops, bouncing off the ceiling and spiraling down again, but definitely moving--in the opposite direction of the doors. "Mew!" she screams. "No! This way!"

(She orients herself to the frantic reaching of the kit's thoughts. You! You brought me here! And now you think you'll steal me away again and leave my son to die?)

The pokémon twists around to face her, its eyes sparking with fitful blue light. Whatever it's trying to do, it doesn't manage to raise enough power before there's a yell of, "There! Get it!"

An absol bounds out of the wet chaos and leaps high, swatting the pokémon down with one broad paw. The psychic lands heavily beside the child, and a second later the absol lands on top of it, pinning it to the floor.

For a moment the child just lies there, aching and confused. As soon as she works out what's going on she scrambles up and throws herself against the absol's side, trying to push it off. "Let her go! Get out of here!"

The absol takes a step sideways, bracing itself, and turns a blank look on the sobbing human pushing at its shoulder. Under its paws the pokémon struggles and cries out with its mind, battering the child with its thoughts.

(Leave me! Take my son, not me! Don't leave him behind! The world is starting to intrude on her mind again, but viewed through the eyes of the terrified and desperate it's little more than a nauseating blur. It's been too long since she's been able to see properly, and she can't filter it properly, can't sieve the real out of the confusion. She strikes out blindly at the pokémon holding her down and gets no response; she pushes at the hateful kit's mind, tries to drive it off, but goes unrewarded.)

The child struggles to see through her tears and think through the sudden deluge of the pokémon's thoughts and the background seething of Mewtwo's broadcasts. The pokémon's saying something about the clone, and it's sending shocks of despair through the child's already ragged nerves. "I know, I know," she mutters to no one in particular. "Don't worry, we're almost out of here. You won't have to listen to him anymore." All the while she keeps shoving at the Absol, trying to push it aside. For her trouble she gets a look she can only interpret as irritated.

She's so distracted that she doesn't even notice the man until he speaks. "Get away from there." She searches blindly at first, until he repeats himself, and then she turns full around, trying to concentrate despite the screaming in her head.

The corridor behind her is obscured by jets of water from broken ceiling pipes, but through the mist of droplets she can see the outlines of people and pokémon, some lying unconscious or curled in pained balls, clutching their heads. Others are fighting, maybe in confused efforts to escape, or perhaps for no reason at all, acting on the wrath being pumped into their minds.

Out ahead of them is a man, soaked to dripping with one shoulder braced against the wall for support. His teeth are gritted and veins stand out in his neck and forehead as he fights against Mewtwo's influence. Despite it all he holds a gun steady in two hands, pointed directly at the child.

"Get away from Mew," the man says. "Now."

She hesitates, as much from confusion as anything else, and his face darkens. "Get away or I'll shoot," he says.

The child stands slowly, knees aching. Water is starting to pool around her shoes, and she splashes as she stumbles backward, keeps going until her shoulders bump up against the wall.

The man keeps eyes and gun trained on her as he says, "Absol. Bring that back here." The dark type bends down and carefully takes the pokémon's neck in its jaws. It lifts the psychic up, ignoring the thrashing limbs and the tail that wraps around its throat.

In the child's head Mewtwo's words are an unending nightmare chant. I'll kill you, I'll kill you all, all of you, I'll kill you, I'll kill--

(There's some change in the kit's mind, a shift from agitation to blank resolve. She tries to concentrate over its suddenly pointed thoughts. Promised. We promised we would save you. The pokémon shudders, tail lashing, trying to drive out the images flooding in from the human's mind. She can't think, she can't concentrate with all this noise. She shoves as hard as she can at her captor, some black-hole creature whose mind is like an endless dark pond, not even a ripple passing over its surface. She pushes as hard as she can and it does no good, months of neglect and apathy leaving her with little more power in her mind than in her wasted muscles. All along the kit's blaring memories into her head, washing out her view of the world-as-now.)

She doesn't see any way around it. Her team is done for, and the pokémon itself can't fight, not that absol, not with the dampers still going. But if she can knock the man down, if she can get the absol's pokéball away from him and recall it--it has to be her. She's the only one left who can do it. And she promised... She promised, no matter what it takes. She tries to breathe easy and stares down the barrel of the gun and waits for the man to look away.

There's a psychic damper on the wall above his head. The lights on its front are flashing orange and red now, weak, stuttering bursts. Mewtwo sends another surge of hatred rolling through her mind, and they sputter on and off in a ragged counterpoint. Let her go!

"Don't move," says the man through gritted teeth, glancing towards the absol as it pads up to his side. It looks back at the child for the briefest of moments, calm as death.

Flash, flash, flash. There's just one light left on the damper now, fluttering with frantic energy like the beating of some terrified rodent's heart. The pokémon stops struggling and hangs limp, blue light sparking in the air around it. The absol doesn't react. It's still too weak.

The child inches half a step forward, hoping to go unnoticed.

The gunman's gaze jumps back to her again. "I said don't move!"

She has to try. She has to try or it's never going to stop. The child takes a deep breath, then throws herself forward at a run.

The light goes out.

I'LL KILL YOU ALL!

--​

There's only one memory left from that before-life, back when you were another person. Mew's contribution disappears; she's already left for wherever it is that's hiding her. Only the human child remains.

She wakes that last time in pain and terror and finds the world on fire. Her lower body's trapped under a litter of concrete and splayed wire, and she can see sky through the ripple of heat and haze of smoke. She can't feel anything from her waist down, but there's stabbing pain in her chest every time she draws breath, some kind of block in her throat so no matter how she gasps she can't get enough air. She's choking on ash and dust, pain flaring behind her temples with each shallow breath.

She lies there dying in the awful heat and can't think of anything but wanting to be gone, wanting to be away and safe and to wake up and find this was nothing but a dream.

And then, suddenly, she's home. She's lying on her back on carpeting in the cool, silent house, staring up at the light coming in through the window. On the windowsill there's a little Rayquaza figurine, glaze reflecting a flickering orange-red. The window's open and the blinds dance on a warm, ash-smelling breeze.

She doesn't question how she came to be there. She doesn't wonder what happened in the gulf since she was last awake. She's too tired to care about logic or danger. The child closes her eyes to sleep and never opens them again.

By that time, Mew's power had already saved her life, dissolved the bullet and restarted her heart. It continued to spread, and as it did she changed, in brain as much as in body. The person who would eventually awake was someone else entirely.

For a good two years after that you remember nothing but splinters: staring down at your arm as it shifts out of control, skin to scale to feather to fur, fingers fusing and splitting anew, crying with terror and the pain of transformation you haven't yet learned to ignore; wandering kaleidoscope landscapes, lonely routes and trackless forests and even, briefly, city streets, inhabiting each only until an errant thought, an unchecked dream, blinks you somewhere else. There's a memory dark and pulse-pounding, where you've lost your eyes and don't know how to get them back. Once you tasted pidgey blood, feathers between your teeth, as you stared into the eyes of the young trainer who'd cornered you, no doubt thinking he'd been tracking some new species--and what happened to him, you cannot say.

The first full memory you have from your new life, showing up clear and sharp-edged, not like the hazy half-dream of your former selves, is cold. You're huddled in a tangle of tree roots, woody coils jabbing into your back, naked and whimpering with pain. You'd been trying to make a flame sac, something to keep you warm, but it's gone wrong and now there's a searing lump in your chest like a white-hot piece of metal trapped under your ribcage. Overhead, Duskull's got his tail wrapped around a scraggly bare branch, red eye watchful, swaying in a chill breeze.

Many more come after, disjointed memories of your miserable, lonely time in the wild. You can't actually recall how you met Duskull, where you found the egg that would become Togetic. They were your only companions until Absol arrived, and without them you would probably have gone mad.

Absol did arrive, of course, as abruptly and mysteriously as she always does. She taught you how to be a person again, how to use your pokémon abilities, how to look after yourself. More importantly, she reminded you of your purpose, of the promise you'd made and your failure to fulfill it. You had a mission, and she had one, too. Mew herself had told her to protect you that day so many years ago, after your death and just before the lab went up in flames.

"What happened to her?" you asked Absol. "Where did she go after that?"

"I don't know," and, "Why would I ask?" Sometimes, Absol is a frustration. But she got you through your growing pains alive, helped you find your friends, and assisted you in untangling the nonsense mess of your memories, helped you get them in their proper order and puzzle out what they meant. That brings you through the last five years, past the eruption on Cinnabar and your home on the island, past the start of your journey, past your first (and seventh) badge, and at last to this very moment, sitting on a bed in the Pokémon Center with your voice gone scratchy with talking and a Team Rocket member glaring at you and saying, "But that's complete bullshit!"

You swallow to wash some of the dryness from your mouth, pulling yourself back into the present. It takes a few seconds for you to register what the human said. "No. It is the truth."

"Come the fuck on, I wasn't born yesterday," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. "Look, first, it's Ho-Oh who does the resurrection thing, not fucking Mew. Get your goddamn fairy tales straight, for fuck's sake. Second, what the fuck even is this? 'I was running while I tried to get away from me, and the whole time Mewtwo was yelling he was going to kill me so I tried to tell him I was coming for him but I could not and I would not let me go.' The hell kind of drugs are you even on? And third, you don't even know half that shit, you just think the fucking pokémon are telling you you're goddamn the chosen one." He waves a hand at Absol, who is still in repose.

It's not so strange as all that, really. You have some memories of the you that used to be, the human child that died, fragments of a person trapped in your head. But all humans have that, in a way; they change and grow, and so their memories are from a different person than the one they are now. You've changed more than most, made a bigger jump, but it's easy enough to follow: once, you were a living human; then, briefly, you were a dead human; and then abruptly you were... well, you. The now-you that's the great Nathaniel Morgan and also not.

Now, it's true that your human-speak isn't quite up to the task of explaining your past lives. Still, that's the longest speech you've ever given in it, and you think you did a good job, all things considered. "It is true," you say. "It happened. I remember it twice. And you said you were going to be quiet."

"Only 'cause you said you were going to actually explain something for once. Doesn't count if you just give me some acid-trip bullshit about how you're actually Mew trapped in the body of a... a whatever-the-fuck you are."

"I am not Mew trapped in anything. She put a piece of her power in me to save my life, and some of her memories came with it. That is all."

He throws up his hands. "Well when you put it that way it's just so goddamn believable, isn't it?"

"Yes. Because it is the truth."

"Bull. Shit."

"So where is Mew, then?" you ask. "Where did she go after the lab burned down? How do you explain it, if you know so much?"

"I dunno, the fucking jungle maybe, like, where she came from in the first fucking place? What the fuck's that got to do with it?"

"So you think she just flew off somewhere and abandoned her son? You think she would not at least go looking for him?"

He stares at you for a moment, then shrugs helplessly. "Yeah, maybe? The hell kind of question is that?"

"Do not be stupid. Of course Mew would not abandon Mewtwo. She loves him. He is her son. Something stopped her from reaching him. And only humans could do that. It is not like all of Team Rocket got wiped out when Mewtwo destroyed the lab. They managed to recapture Mew, and that is why we have not heard about her for years." You pause for a moment to lick your lips. You could really use a drink of water. "And anyway, I know where she is being held. I see it in my dreams."

"You fucking what?"

"I am still connected to Mew. I share her dreams. So I see where she is when she dreams about it."

"No, no," he mutters, face twisting into a desperate smile. "Fucking... You're saying you're going on some kind of stupid quest because Mew gave you fucking superpowers and you're following some shitty dreams that are telling you what to do next?"

You pout. "It is a little more complicated than that."

"Oh God, I can't even handle this." He shakes with breathless laughter. "I am actually in the shittiest movie ever oh my God. What the fuck is wrong with my life? What the fuck?" You watch with disgust as he succumbs to another one of his cackling fits.

While he's choking and swearing and clutching at his ribs, Titan nudges your shoulder with his snout. "I thought you did a good job telling the story. I wish I'd gotten back sooner so I could have heard the first part. It's happier."

You grin and scratch at the base of his jaw. "Thanks, Titan."

"Yeah, well, I gotta disagree," Rats says from where she's parked herself in your lap. "You completely missed the best part, Boss. 'And then my pokémon helped distract the scientists so we could escape?' No mention of me being the most badass ever? What gives?"

"Sorry, Rats. I was getting tired of talking."

"Tch." She stretches luxuriously, then settles back into a lazy ball. You frown down at her. On the one hand, the interruption of her arriving with the rest of your pokémon gave you a little time to rest and gather your thoughts. On the other, you're losing sensation in your legs. "Guess I can't blame you. Not like there's much point trying to get anything through that guy's skull." She cranes her head up to watch the great Nathaniel Morgan for a couple of seconds. "You think one of these days he might laugh himself to death? Sounds like he's practically suffocating over there."

That's when it strikes you, and you have to resist the urge to smack yourself in the forehead. Of course, your pokémon--you should have thought of them earlier. "You. The great Nathaniel Morgan. Listen."

He pauses, wiping tears out of his eyes, and frowns. "The fuck'd you just call--"

"You do not believe me, but my pokémon were there, too. They know what happened. Everything I said is true, correct?" You cast a look around at your team. Titan nods enthusiastically, and Togetic, who's been preening atop the coffee maker, cheers. Rats grumbles and waves a paw in a gesture that could mean anything, and even Thunderstorm rocks its body in an awkward forward-and-back nod.

The great Nathaniel Morgan stares at them in narrow-eyed suspicion. "What? The lot of you think that fucked-up story is true?" Various gestures and noises of assent. For a moment the human is quiet, a stony look on his face. Then he snorts and says, "Well fuck me sideways with a rake. You managed to find a bunch of monsters just as batshit as you are, Freak. That or they got brainwashed too as a part of whatever actually happened to you."

"But it's true!" Titan exclaims.

"Never mind him, Titan. He's stupid." You grin up at the charizard as he huffs and shakes his head. To the human, "I suppose you have some other theory for how I can be sitting here, looking and sounding like you, if you do not believe what I just told you?"

"Sure. Like I said, obviously some kind of experiment thing. Maybe you do have something to do with Team Rocket, like I have any fucking clue what the fuck goes down in the labs. Don't know why the hell they'd want to make something like you or how the fuck you ended up wandering around loose, but little chosen one of Mew you ain't, I'll say that fucking much."

You have no idea how he can find that more plausible, but it's not worth arguing. "Okay."

"Yeah. Damn straight," he says to himself, smirking. He turns his injured hand palm-up and stares at it. The swelling's gone down, but a red line jags across his palm, the skin at its edges a mottled purple-gray. You start trying to figure out how to get Rats out of your lap with a minimum of complaining.

"Anyway." You look around in surprise, but the great Nathaniel Morgan's still inspecting his hand. "If any of that shit is actually true, well. Sorry about your parents and, you know. All that shit. That's pretty fucked up."

You tilt your head to the side. "It is fine. I am not sad about it. None of it happened to me anyway."

"Huh." He glances at you out of the corner of his eyes. "Well, one thing's for fucking sure. Whatever else you are, you're definitely one cold little bastard. Not to mention crazy, thinking you want to go looking for Mewtwo and shit."

"Why would I not want to find him? He is my brother, after all."

"Cute, but he sounds like one scary motherfucker to me. Plus I don't imagine he's real pleased by the fact that you, you know, totally fucking ditched him back there."

"It was not me who did that. It was the human from before."

"Yeah, sure, whatever. I'd love to see you try and explain that one to him while he turns your brains to fucking soup."

"He would not do that to me. To you, certainly. He is not very fond of Team Rocket."

The great Nathaniel Morgan snorts. "Yeah, or anybody. But whatever, it's your fucking funeral." He clenches and unclenches his hand a couple of times, grimacing, then turns a smirk on you. "Enough about that shit, though. Let's talk this fucking gym battle, huh? I was thinking, how long do you honestly think you're going to last against Blue before he kicks your fucking loser ass out on the curb? Ten minutes? I was thinking fifteen at most."

"Did you mean how long it will take me to win against him? I suppose it might take as long as fifteen minutes, if I was unlucky."

"Yeah? You wanna make a bet on it, Freak?"

You bare your teeth at him. "No bets."

"Real fucking confident, aren't we? No worries, I'll keep track of time for you anyways. Just so I can tell you exactly how much of a fucking loser you are afterwards."

"Good. I bet the match will be over so fast, it will be a record. Of me winning." You really do. You might have had some bad luck against Blaine, but this time, you'll be prepared. Blue--you can hardly believe you're really going to be fighting him, the legendary Blue--doesn't stand a chance.

The great Nathaniel Morgan rolls his eyes at you, but in the end it transpires that he'd rather sleep than make a nuisance of himself. You're left alone with your pokémon, who are especially chatty after hearing you tell the old tale again. You stay up late reminiscing about old times and sharing plans for the future--what you'll do after you've rescued Mew and are free to just be ordinary people again. Viridian City is still days away, but anticipation is firing your nerves again, keeping you jittery and on edge. It's hard to believe that you have your seventh badge now, that you're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Pokémon League and your brother. It's hard to believe that, after all this time, everything's finally going right.
 
Last edited:

Dragonfree

Just me
To start off with, I did not at all mean to read this last night because it was late but then I accidentally read the first few sentences and then I couldn't stop and then it was seven AM. Which counts in your favor in my book, if not in my sleep cycle's favor.

Anyway, whoa, that was a lot of material and it was all fascinating. The descriptions of Mew's psychic perception were a highlight, I think - deliciously vivid yet alien. I also loved Sara's genuine childishness, the descriptions of their games, the Team Rocket takeover of the lab and the entire escape attempt (the way they couldn't understand each other, Sara wanted to just get Mew away and thought Mew didn't want to have to listen to Mewtwo's rants anymore while Mew was desperate to get her son and ultimately thought Sara was in on this all somehow was particularly heartbreaking).

So. I have a powerful hunch that the child is Mew, or all that's left of her at any rate, rather than just having some of her memories. The deduction that Mew vanished therefore Team Rocket caught her again seems suspiciously simplistic - exactly the sort of thing the child would think, but it's making too many leaps to truly be that simple. And after all...

Mew's contribution disappears; she's already left for wherever it is that's hiding her. Only the human child remains.
By this point you also state Mew has already made whatever contribution it took to 'save' Sara, so I'm thinking that in itself what's hiding her, not Team Rocket having caught her again in between. (I'm not entirely convinced the child was in Sara's original body at all, though - maybe Mew transformed into her and somehow melded with her dying mind in order to hide herself from the Rockets?)

Doesn't count if you just give me some acid-trip ******** about how you're actually Mew trapped in the body of a... a whatever-the-**** you are.
Plus, if I'm right about this, then this is awesome foreshadowing, because...

I am still connected to Mew. I share her dreams. So I see where she is when she dreams about it.
...I'm thinking Mew's original mind (or at least some fragment of it) is trapped somewhere in its subconscious and that's how she's influencing its dreams. And that Mew (plus Absol, who presumably knows more than the child thinks she knows) is trying to make the child go find Mewtwo because what Mew actually wants is to free him.

Plus, I've always been side-eying the silhouette of Mew on your banner suspiciously.

Or maybe I'm way overthinking it. But it fits so well! With clever foreshadowing and everything! Never mind that time I picked out foreshadowing throughout an entire movie for a theory that turned out to be way off.

I only found one typo this time, though there were a couple of sentences I had trouble parsing initially (I would go back and find them, but the chapter is so monstrously long it would take ages, and it was probably just me being tired at six AM):

With an exasperated huff, Rats puts up her paws and jabbers a curt reply. The child can't help but smile. "Thanks, Rats. It'll be worth it, you'll see."
There's one left, the one she's most worried about. She tries to keep the apprehension out of her voice as she asks, "Thunder?"
There seems to be a line break missing there.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
To start off with, I did not at all mean to read this last night because it was late but then I accidentally read the first few sentences and then I couldn't stop and then it was seven AM. Which counts in your favor in my book, if not in my sleep cycle's favor.
Heh, well, I'm willing to take that as a compliment. Hope you managed to get some decent sleep afterwards, though. :p

Anyway, whoa, that was a lot of material and it was all fascinating. The descriptions of Mew's psychic perception were a highlight, I think - deliciously vivid yet alien. I also loved Sara's genuine childishness, the descriptions of their games, the Team Rocket takeover of the lab and the entire escape attempt (the way they couldn't understand each other, Sara wanted to just get Mew away and thought Mew didn't want to have to listen to Mewtwo's rants anymore while Mew was desperate to get her son and ultimately thought Sara was in on this all somehow was particularly heartbreaking).
Great, glad you enjoyed it. Re: Mew and Sara completely misunderstanding one another, communication (and the lack thereof) is actually a running theme over the course of the story; although the characters are at times actually malicious towards one another, most of the time they end up causing problems for one another simply because they haven't actually been listening to each other or, if they have, draw totally incorrect conclusions based on what's been said. Hopefully it won't get too tired by the end.

Fits pretty well, doesn't it? This is the last substantial exposition dump we'll be getting before the full nature of the child's relationship to Mew is revealed in the last chapter, so we'll see how well it stays consistent with the little bits and pieces of explanation that come in later.

Plus, I've always been side-eying the silhouette of Mew on your banner suspiciously.
Heh, you'd probably be even more suspicious if I had the artistic talent to turn out the design I was actually planning on. Maybe I should take another crack at it; I've been meaning to replace that ugly old thing for quite some time now.

I only found one typo this time, though there were a couple of sentences I had trouble parsing initially (I would go back and find them, but the chapter is so monstrously long it would take ages, and it was probably just me being tired at six AM)
Fixed that, and naturally as I was scrolling up to get to that part I noticed another typo, so I guess I got a two-for-one on this correction.

Thanks for the quick review, and I'm glad you enjoyed the chapter! Next one should be substantially shorter, so at the least if you end up reading it at an inopportune time it shouldn't keep you up 'til seven.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
Author's Notes: Been a month, and this thread almost managed to fall off the first page. Guess that means things are picking up a little around here.

Still haven't gotten around to editing the earlier chapters like I'd planned. Given the length of the next chapter, I think I'll have time to do so before the next update. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the new content.

Chapter 12

Fifteen minutes into your gym battle, things are starting to look grim.

Rats pants and swears to herself, combing yolk out of her whiskers as Blue's exeggutor disappears in a flash of red light. The gym leader doesn't hesitate before throwing out his next pokéball. "Let's wrap this up, Alakazam."

You can feel her before you see her, psychic pressure turning the inside of your skull close and buzzing. Alakazam gives you a long look as she walks her spoons back and forth through her fingers. She can't read your thoughts at this distance, but she can probably catch their outlines, recognize they aren't quite human. You wonder what she makes of that.

Rats growls and tries to puff out her sweaty coat, but there's no need for her to act intimidating; she won't be around to make good on her threats. You pull her pokéball off your belt. "Rats--"

"I got this, Boss," she says through clenched teeth.

"Gonna switch?" Blue asks. "Looks like your raticate doesn't want to. Go on, leave it in there. Alakazam'll take it out in a couple of seconds, save you having to send it to get wiped later."

There's a reason you clamped down on your emotions way back at the beginning of the battle. It's all gone distant now, but you think you found the gym leader's attitude distracting, somehow. Now you just think he's confusing. Why would he want to save you any trouble? He's your opponent, after all.

"Return."

"I said I got--" is all Rats manages, half-turning in your direction, before the recall beam pulls her off the field. "Go, Thunderstorm."

"So Magneton's back," Blue says as Thunder takes shape, a bit dented after its battle against Pidgeot but still in decent shape. "Running low, aren't you? No worries, Alakazam'll make this quick so you can get right back to training."

You wanted to save Thunder for Blue's gyarados, but it's all you've got left besides Rats, and the best she could do against Alakazam is maybe get off a sucker punch before fainting. Thunder doesn't have any real advantage, but at least it resists psychic attacks.

The referee opens the round, and you don't hesitate to attack. "Use thunderbolt."

"Start off with light screen."

It only takes Thunder a couple seconds to charge up and send a thick bolt of lightning at the Alakazam, but the psychic's faster yet. She traces a golden shield in the air in front of her, and the thunderbolt hisses and crackles across its surface, only a few stray branches punching through to strike the psychic beyond. She doesn't even flinch.

"Now calm mind." Alakazam leaves her spoons hanging in the air in front of her face as she brings her palms together, closing her eyes in meditation.

"Metal sound." Thunder's magnets start spinning, setting up a grating, screeching noise that sets your teeth on edge. Alakazam's brow furrows, and when the shrieking doesn't let up she finally opens her eyes. You can feel her irritation pricking at the periphery of your awareness, ever so faint, as she reaches out to take her spoons again.

"Not gonna let us set up, huh? Then I guess we might as well get blasting. Use future sight."

Alakazam is struck by another thunderbolt as she focuses on her attack, but she hardly seems to notice. After a couple of seconds where she does no more than stand in place, eyes glowing, she's back in the fight, teleporting away from a thunderbolt with a faint pop.

Another lightning strike catches nothing but air. It's time to change tactics. "Magnet bomb."

Thunderstorm scatters a swarm of glinting metal spheres that drift towards the edges of the arena in an ever-expanding cloud, moving purposefully towards Alakazam when they drift into her proximity. She teleports halfway across the arena, only to attract a new clutch of bombs.

No amount of jumping around can shake the attack, and finally Alakazam gets too close to a bomb. It explodes, and the rest converge on its location, hiding the psychic from view with a series of fiery bursts. Alakazam is knocked down but rights herself quickly, just as a blue-glowing fissure etches itself in the air behind Thunderstorm. The burst of psychic power Alakazam sent into the future comes rocketing through it, smashing into the magneton's middle and sending its magnemite spinning off in different directions.

"Now focus blast!" Alakazam points one spoon at Thunderstorm, a globe of swirling orange and blue energy growing at its tip. The attack takes a while to form, and it's ponderous in the air, but Thunderstorm is in no position to dodge while it's trying to pull its bodies back together. It finally manages, only for the focus blast to hit home, scattering it again.

You hadn't realized she knew focus blast. This is a more dangerous situation than you thought.

"Good. Future sight," Blue calls, and Alakazam closes her eyes, ignoring the furious thunderbolt Thunderstorm slings her way as soon as it gathers itself. A confusion attack redirects the next burst of electricity into the ground.

"Magnet bomb," you say, and Alakazam doesn't even try to dodge. The bombs swarm straight at their stationary target, and when the smoke clears she's cringing, bleeding from long scratches left by shrapnel. Then she glows golden, just for a moment, and her wounds knit closed in a matter of seconds.

Alakazam straightens up again, standing tall while you give a mental sigh. Recover. That's one you know well. And now a low drone heralds the arrival of another future sight. Thunderstorm is scattered, then struck with a focus blast while vulnerable.

"Future sight."

By now Thunderstorm's bodies are cracked and scuffed from the buffeting of powerful attacks. The alakazam, of course, is fresh and virtually uninjured.

"We could do this all day," Blue says, running a hand through his hair to fluff it up. Gossip magazines attribute his hairdo's increasing height to the fact that Red's started shooting up in growth spurts, while Blue hasn't. "This the best you've got?"

Perhaps it is. You turn your options over calmly, unhurried, being as careful as you can. Thunderstorm can't give as good as the alakazam, especially not those focus blasts. Alakazam can dodge most of Thunder's attacks with teleport, and the others don't do much damage. Even paralysis isn't going to help you, not when Alakazam doesn't use her muscles to get around.

You have to gamble, then. "Supersonic," you say as Alakazam draws another light screen in the air to replace her fading shield, then dull your ears as the warbling pulse makes your eyes water. If you're not careful you'll end up as confused as Alakazam.

The psychic wavers as the noise washes over her, spoons going slack in her grip and eyes drifting off to focus on nothing out in the corner of the room.

"Okay, good work. Now use--"

"Leave it to me. I think I know how to finish this." Thunderstorm shoots across the arena towards Alakazam, starting to spin as he goes.

"Use spark." That's the closest thing you can think of to what Thunder's doing. It never actually strikes its opponent, stopping to hover just in front of her, wheeling, wheeling, its three magnemite in constant motion. It moves in little darts and swoops just in front of Alakazam and, as you watch, her spoons begin to move with it.

You're as surprised as Alakazam when one of her hands jerks up and delivers a decisive uppercut to her chin. She staggers, and her hand draws back again, then slams straight into the middle of her face.

At first you think it's severe confusion, strong enough to make Alakazam attack herself rather than just tripping her up. But then her eyes clear for a moment, focusing on Thunderstorm, and blue light gleams from her pupils--only to fizzle out when she punches herself in the gut.

Thunderstorm keeps up its constant dance, making precise little movements that somehow play Alakazam like a puppet, setting her to merrily battering herself unconscious. One arm hangs slack by her side, swaying and twitching with some echo of the force making the other move. Alakazam manages to bring it up into a defensive position whenever she regains her awareness, but it does little good against her other arm's determined assault.

As the confusion fades the psychic tries to lash out at Thunderstorm, her ambient mental radiation carrying her anger into you. It's easy for you to ignore while you're wrapped in uncaring, the emotion recognized, acknowledged, but never truly felt.

Finally Alakazam lets go of the spoon that's acquired a mind of its own, leaving it to hang in the air like it did while she was meditating. It's suspended for only a second before Thunderstorm makes a little lunge and it flies backwards, bouncing off the broad expanse of Alakazam's forehead then flipping up and over, spinning end over end as it tumbles to the floor behind her.

Thunderstorm allows itself a brief moment of crackling laughter as Alakazam raises her empty hand in disbelief. Then the psychic finally heeds Blue's frustrated commands and disappears.

Thunderstorm wheels in the air, scattering magnet bombs as it goes. You realize you're just standing there watching, a spectator in your own battle. You don't know what's going on, you have no idea what Thunderstorm is planning, and you can't ask, can't distract it now while it's trying to win.

Alakazam blinks back and forth across the arena while the magnet bombs spread out. Then she pauses a moment, stretching out her empty hand. Her spoon zips towards her, but Thunderstorm moves to intercept, and it arcs wide, repelled by some invisible boundary. The spoon clatters back to the floor as a magnet bomb detonates against Alakazam's side, soon followed by the rest.

In the meantime, the fabric of reality splits open as another future sight arrives, and while Thunder collects itself Alakazam rises and pulls her spoon back into her hand.

The psychic clutches her weapons tight, impassive expression changed to one of utter fury as she stares Thunderstorm down. "Disable magnet bomb! Disable magnet bomb and get out of there!" Blue yells, but the psychic stands her ground. From the texture of her thoughts you get the sense that this fight has gotten personal.

Thunderstorm's spinning even as it realigns its magnemites, and it sizzles with electricity as it makes a lunge for Alakazam. A wave of telekinetic force meets it with a clang and knocks it back a bit, but the magneton powers forward again a second later, spinning all the faster, and Alakazam braces herself as it draws close.

Her eyes glow, and it takes you a moment to realize she's not attacking, just pushing against whatever force Thunder's generating. The magneton spins faster as it approaches the psychic, a whirl of gleaming metal and white-bright jags of electricity. It moves ever closer, fighting against Alakazam's psychic pressure.

At last it comes to a halt about a yard in front of its opponent. The two pokémon stay there for long seconds, locked in an invisible battle for dominance, until all at once Thunder releases its gathered lightning as a wicked thunderbolt.

Alakazam is knocked back by the sudden discharge, and with her concentration broken she loses her grip on her spoons, which shoot out of her grip and ricochet off the forcefield in front of Blue's face.

Thunderstorm tries to keep Alakazam off balance with a quick thunder shock, but though she shivers from the electricity she manages to teleport away. The magneton scatters more bombs.

Alakazam reaches for her spoons, but Thunder sends them flying. The psychic teleports around patient lightning strikes, only to be harried by a constant stream of bombs. Finally she tries to take the offensive, but her powers are erratic without her spoons to channel them. Blue dazzles of random discharge spark around her fingertips as she tries to summon a future sight; multiple focus blasts explode in her face; light screens flicker and die, leaving her at the mercy of Thunderstorm's increasingly bold offense.

At last a thunderbolt hits the psychic square in the chest. She falls to her knees, heavy head hanging, then slumps unconscious on the floor as Thunderstorm follows on with another blast of lightning.

The mangeton's wild spinning slows to a smooth halt, and you can finally get a clear look at it. It's dotted with scorch marks, one eye cracked and blank. Other than that it's hard to tell how the electric type is doing; it floats in place as serenely as ever.

"You're brilliant, Thunderstorm. Good work."

"Thank you."

Blue recalls Alakazam with a scowl, but his cocky smile snaps back into place as he takes the next pokéball off his belt. "Not bad. I'm impressed--or I would be if you'd done more than stand there and let your pokémon do all the work. Gyarados, finish this loser off!"

His pokéball disgorges a huge flash of light, and the pokémon that takes shape fills almost half the arena. The serpentine water type rears up, flaring his fins as he lets out a shattering roar.

You have to tilt your head far back to get a look at your new foe. Gyarados, the legendary creature of rage. Gyarados, the destroyer of cities. Gyarados, the consummate predator.

Gyarados, the pokémon with one of the best-known, most easily-exploitable weaknesses of all time. This battle's as good as over. "Thunderbolt."

"Earthquake."

Thunder starts charging, and Gyarados slaps his tail down, sending waves of seismic energy radiating across the arena. Thunderstorm lets out a popping cry of distress as the floor heaves and lurches under it, throwing off its anti-gravity. The magenton falls and bounces, smashed into the floor again and again as the earthquake wracks the arena.

As the last tremors die away Thunder is left motionless, its battered magnemite scattered and silent.

"That's more like it," Blue says as you recall Thunder, not disappointed, not worried, but contemplative. There must be some way to win this still, if only you can see it. "Now send out the rat so Gyarados can finish it off and I can go to lunch."

You reach for the last active ball on your belt. "Go on, Rats."

She looks horribly small before the gyarados, hunched down and still breathing heavily from the exertion of her last fight. Gyarados' mouth curls up in a faint smile as he looks down at her, whiskers twitching in anticipation. He could probably swallow her whole if he wanted to.

"Oh, what? This was your brilliant plan, Boss? Not going to let me fight the alakazam, nooo, you'd rather I went up against the giant killer fish instead? That makes a lot of sense."

You can only shake your head, keeping your eyes on Blue. He's totally at ease, hands in his pockets as the referee announces the start of the round.

"Hyper fang." Rats' complaining fades into a drawn-out snarl as she launches herself at Gyarados.

"Dragon dance."

Rats manages to seize one of the serpent's fins in her teeth, but she's forced to release it almost immediately as the gyarados' tail sweeps sideways, threatening to take her with it. She backs away from the big water type as his thrashing grows more and more frantic. Dragon dance may not be an attacking move, but it's plenty dangerous when it's being used by a twenty-foot-long sea monster.

Gyarados coils and twists back on himself, moving in a complex, undulating pattern you can't predict. Going near him risks getting crushed by an unexpected movement of one of his heavy coils. Rats stands near the edge of the arena and simply watches the fearsome display, seeming hypnotized by the play of light off Gyarados' cobalt scales.

Of course as soon as Gyarados' done with this, he's going to be faster than Rats, and there goes the only advantage you thought made this a better fight for her than Alakazam. "Bite when you see an opening," you say.

"Ooh, excellent. Glad to hear you had an actual strategy figured out before throwing me into this one."

You don't think it's much of a strategy yourself, but it's all you've got for now. The gyarados' dance is slowing, and at last he uncoils in one fluidly menacing motion, head lifting high. He sways faintly back and forth, awaiting commands.

"Show it what a real bite looks like."

Gyarados lunges, horribly fast, but his jaws snap shut on empty air. Undeterred, he strikes again and again, driving Rats across the arena as she skips and ducks away from his attacks, constantly retreating as she tries to keep her distance from the huge monster.

"Get out of there with quick attack."

Rats sprints away in a blur of motion, and Gyarados doubles back on himself to follow her as she races for his tail. She seizes the base of the caudal fin, earning a grunt of annoyance from the serpent, then is launched into the air as Gyarados flicks his tail up.

Rats tumbles in freefall, flailing at empty air. Water streams over Gyarados' scales as he brings his tail back, then down like a flyswatter, crushing Rats against the floor with a thud you can feel in your gut.

That might be it. Gyarados lifts his tail back up and peers at the crumpled form of the raticate beneath. You can see the referee craning her neck, too, getting ready to make the call.

Rats stirs, face set in a grimace as she rolls over and, with slow determination, gets to her feet. Gyarados lets her, watching impassively as she raises herself up as much as she can and hisses at him.

"You've got real feisty pokémon, I'll give you that." Blue's voice comes from somewhere distant. You're not paying attention to him, going over options in your mind.

There aren't many. Rats can't take another hit, and she's in no shape to dodge. She's got maybe one good attack left in her, and Gyarados isn't even winded.

You bow your head in defeat, closing your eyes, and Blue's voice takes on a different tone as he continues. "Too bad they're stuck with a worthless trainer like you. Now, Gyarados, end it with--"

With your head down like this, no one can see the glow of psychic energy in your eyes as you reach out and stab at Blue's mind. The arena's defense systems prevent you from interfering with the pokémon, but there's nothing protecting the trainers against attacks from outside the battlefield.

Your eyes pop open as Blue's command cuts out in a shout of pain. You straighten up and try to act surprised, but no one's watching you, and they miss your beautifully executed gasp of shock.

Gyarados twists around, letting out a worried rumble as he peers down at the little human behind him. Blue's slumped against the railing of his box, clutching his head and groaning. His pokémon leans down further, pressing his face against the energy barrier and sending up a faint tracery of sparks as he watches his trainer.

It's exactly the opening you need. "Okay, Rats, get it with super fang."

She hesitates, glancing back at you. After a moment she starts creeping forward, only to stop as the referee waves her flags. "Whoah! No, no, time out!"

"Thank you for that, Nadia," Blue growls. He's still clutching his head, and his arm shakes as he tries to push himself upright again.

"Are you okay?" Gyarados asks, voice a bit muffled by the shield. "What happened?"

Blue squints up at him and takes his hand away from his face long enough to manage a dismissive wave. Gyarados grumbles to himself and settles into a more comfortable coil, obviously unconvinced.

"What are you thinking?" the referee asks, still holding her flags high to indicate that the battle's paused. "Was it a discharge off the shield? Maybe all that magnet nonsense earlier messed it up somehow. Should we call this off and get it checked out?"

"Nah." Blue starts to shake his head, then stops with a wince. He's standing on his own now, massaging his temples with his fingers. "Don't think it was that. Something psychic, but I don't know what. Let's just finish this. It's almost over anyway."

"Are you sure? I don't know if this is wise."

"Of course I'm sure. Get ready." He starts to step forward, maybe going to move to the front of his box, then wobbles like the floor's moving underneath him and falls forward, only just catching himself on the railing again. "Shit."

Gyarados snarls and bangs his snout against the barrier once, twice, ignoring the buzzing hum it gives off with each impact.

You hope you didn't hit Blue too hard. You were trying to be gentle, but humans are delicate creatures, and you can't control your psychic attacks very well. It would be inconvenient if the gym leader went and died on you in the middle of your battle. Would they still give you the badge if that happened?

"Fine. Fine." Blue waves one arm at Gyarados without getting up. "Forfeit. Whatever." The serpent stops trying to break through the shield and retreats a little, though he stays vigilant, his head hovering on a level with his trainer.

"Forfeit?"

"Yeah. Forfeit." He manages to raise his head to look at you and tries to grin, but the expression comes out warped with strain. "So congratulations, you're obviously a great trainer, blah blah blah, you can get your prize stuff at the front desk on the way out. And while you're at it, you can go ahead and thank whatever deity you've been praying to, because you've gotta be the luckiest bastard I've had the displeasure of fighting. Huh. You owe me a rematch, loser, and we'll see how you manage when I don't have any random psychic fits."

The shield goes down as the referee makes the official announcement, and Gyarados lunges forward, nudging his trainer's shoulder. Blue tries to pull away as the serpent's whiskers dance over his torso, poking and prodding. "Knock it off, Gyarados. I'm fine."

"You aren't fine." Gyarados is satisfied enough to take his eyes off Blue for a moment, though, turning to glare at you. "He has something to do with this, I know it. I don't like him."

Blue reaches up and puts a hand on the serpent's crown, "Come on, Gyarados. This has nothing to do with him. Help me down, would you?"

Gyarados stares at you for a couple seconds more, then turns and very carefully closes his jaws around Blue's midriff, lifting him up and out of the challenger's box and setting him down on the floor. The gym leader has to lean against the water-type's neck while the referee dashes over, phone out, probably calling for medical help. The three of them huddle together, ignoring you completely.

Togetic arrives to do her usual victory dance as you withdraw your pokédex from the terminal in your challenger's box, and you shake off your indifference until you can smile and laugh with her, the battle behind fading into indistinct memory.

"Hey," Rats says, and you stop teasing Togetic for a moment to give your champion a smile. "Good work, Rats. That was a tough battle, but--"

"Can it," she snaps. "What the hell was that? You not even going to let me fight my own battles anymore? Don't trust me, huh, Boss? Think I'm too weak to fight for myself?"

You look around to make sure there's no one in earshot. "There was no way you could have beat that Gyarados by yourself. We cannot waste time here, Rats. I could not afford to take the loss."

"Oh yeah, that's some serious 'believe in your pokémon' shit right there, isn't it? How do you think it makes me feel, Boss, you deciding I'm so hopeless you'd have to step in and take this one yourself?"

"We have a mission, Rats. I am sorry, but I had to win. Your feelings are not important here."

Rats snorts and turns her back on you. "Huh, yeah. Some mission. Funny, I don't remember the part where getting badges had anything to do with Mew."

"We will talk about this later," you say, and when Rats doesn't respond, you recall her, then turn to Togetic, who's hovering at your shoulder and making anxious noises.

"Do not worry, Togetic," you say, reaching out to ruffle the feathers around the base of her neck. "We got the last badge! Be happy!"

She doesn't need any real convincing, and you smile as she starts scattering her joy dust again, laughing with delight. If only everyone on your team were so easy to please. Waves of elation wash over you as joy dust sparkles in the air, and you laugh along with Togetic as you make your way to the lobby. For now, at least, you're not going to let anything spoil your final victory.

--​

Your good mood can't last, not through a lunch where Rats picks at her food, sullen in the midst of her teammates' good cheer. An exhausting argument sees you leave the great Nathaniel Morgan with Togetic and Duskull while you go shopping. It's probably for the best; with your temper as short as it is, having him along would be downright dangerous. To top it all off, storm clouds blow in from the east, and you're forced to hurry through your errands, grabbing only the most essential supplies. By the time you reach the park you're outright stewing, longing to be on the road where you'll be able to work off a bit of your irritation.

It's not much of a park, hardly more than a few flower beds ringing a monument to of one of the gym's old leaders. She held back an invasion from a Johto clan during some half-forgotten old conflict, back when gyms were there for protection from human and pokémon alike. Gym leaders are still important in the region's defense, of course, but in these days of peace and prosperity that function is a distant second behind mentoring rising trainers.

"I am done shopping," you say as you come up behind the great Nathaniel Morgan's bench. "We need to get moving. It will start raining soon and--not the sour ones!"

The great Nathaniel Morgan jumps at the sound of your voice and starts turning around, but you lunge forward and seize his arm before he can finish, fending off an indignant Togetic with your free hand.

"Agh! What the fuck? I thought you had like eighty thousand things you wanted to buy before we skipped town. How the fuck are you back already?"

"Did you eat any of these?" you ask Togetic, prying the piece of candy the great Nathaniel Morgan had been offering her from between his fingers. "Did you eat anything he gave you?"

"No. Why are you so mean?" Togetic pouts, flouncing her wings.

"This is sour candy, Togetic. It will make you sick. Stay away from this human, you understand me? You cannot trust him."

She calls you unfair, but you don't back off. "Do you understand me?"

Togetic wheedles and whines a few seconds more, then finally trails off, withering under your stare. "Fine. I understand. Meanie."

"Good." You turn your attention to the struggling human. "And you. If you ever, ever try to hurt one of my friends again, I will kill you. I do not even care what it costs me. I do not care who finds out. You do not. Ever. Hurt my friends. Stay away from them." You squeeze his arm tighter with each word until you feel bones shifting under your fingers.

"The fuck are you even talking about?" The great Nathaniel Morgan asks through clenched teeth. His gums are an angry red around the stubs of the broken ones. "It's just a fucking piece of candy, she eats that shit all the time, what the fuck is your problem?"

"Sour candy. Sour things make Togetic sick."

"How the fuck was I supposed to know the stupid thing's allergic to sour shit?" he growls, and then his eyes widen as your expression darkens. "Shit, I meant she, I meant she was allergic to--arrrgh!"

Your fingers grow claws down into his flesh as you say, "After everything you said? After all your bragging about how much you know about pokémon, you expect me to believe this was an accident?" You stop for a second, staring blankly as it dawns on you. "Wait. Where did you even get that?"

He doesn't answer, hissing curses through his teeth as he watches blood run down his arm. You let go and grab at the bag of candy in his other hand, glancing at the name on the packaging. "Are these mine? I bought these for myself. Did you steal them from me?"

"Yeah." He doesn't look at you, talking instead to the hand he's clamped over the gashes.

You take a long, shuddering breath, crushing the pack of candy between your fingers. "When?"

"When you weren't paying attention, dumbass."

"Because?"

"Because I was fucking bored, duh! What the fuck do you want from me?"

You stand still a moment, grinding down the points growing on your teeth and letting the pain distract you from your anger. You turn and say, "Togetic, you--"

But she's gone. No real surprise there. She always disappears at the first sign of conflict.

"I do not even know why she goes near you," you growl at the great Nathaniel Morgan. "Togetic are supposed to avoid bad people."

"Not my fault you've got a fucking defective togetic."

"She is not defective! There is nothing wrong with her!" You stop with a wince as you realize you've been yelling. You glance over at the street. A couple of young trainers are stopped and staring, wide-eyed. You offer them a huge smile, then, noticing your hand is covered in blood, hastily stuff it into your pocket.

The pair scurries off, and as you turn back around, the great Nathaniel Morgan meets your furious gaze with a tired look. "Hangs around with you, don't she?"

"She does." You spend a moment puzzled by the non sequitur, but it can't distract you for long. "Stay away from her. Stay away from all my friends. This is your last warning."

"Yeah. I fucking get it."

"Good." You take deep breaths and stare up into the cloud-covered sky until you've collected your thoughts. "Now. I have purchased all the supplies we will need for Victory Road. There was more I would have liked to buy, but it would be better to leave now. I don't want to spend all afternoon walking in the rain."

"Great. Quick marching. Just what the fucking doctor ordered." He peels his hand away from his injury, then grimaces and clamps it back down when the bloody scratches start welling.

You ignore him, peering into the shadow under the bench. "Duskull, where are you?"

The ghost's red eye drifts out of the wood, the rest of his body fading in around it. "What were you doing? I told you to watch the human."

The ghost grumbles something indignant. "I know he did not go anywhere. You are supposed to make sure he does not try anything funny, not just keep him from running off."

The ghost lurks around muttering, and you give him a stern look. "Togetic could have gotten really hurt. I know she should have been more cautious, but you still should have tried to stop it."

Duskull twitches his tendrils at you in grumpy acknowledgement, then fades back into the bench before you can say anything else. You clench your teeth and let out a hiss of exasperation. That's two of your friends you've had to yell at now, all because the great Nathaniel Morgan will be horrible at absolutely every opportunity. He's still clutching his bleeding arm.

"I said we need to get to Victory Road as quickly as possible," you say, straightening up.

"Yeah?"

"That means get up and walk!"

He does, albeit with no small amount of complaining as you prod him ahead of you down the street. You tune him out and try to focus on the positive. You're on your way to Indigo Plateau, eighth badge in hand, soon to meet the Champion and your brother. You won't have to put up with the great Nathaniel Morgan for much longer, either. But somehow this brings you back to you your gym battle, and Rats, and what almost happened--and you look around, hoping to find something to distract you.

Viridian City is offering plenty of distractions at the moment. This is its most prosperous time of year, when trainers and spectators alike flow through on their way to the Plateau and the city is decked out in honor of the coming tournament. The trees lining its boulevards are hung with streamers, sidewalk planters overflow with blossoms, and baskets of flowers are suspended from lampposts. Above the city's namesake vegetation its traditional green-tiled roofs are clean and bright, showing signs of recent repair.

The great Nathaniel Morgan thinks this is all "a load of flowery bullshit," but you're enamored of the sights and, too, of the crowds--and the riotous business that's sprung up to serve them. Everywhere banners and posters advertise special sales and new products, and you look with longing at all the fantastic deals you're going to miss.

You could easily spend days here, snapping up exclusive merchandise, watching endless hours of pre-tournament speculation on TV, just going out and walking, letting the tide of tourists carry you where it will. You've lurked around the festivities before but never traveled all the way to the Plateau to see the tournament in person. Participating this year means spending your time trekking through Victory Road instead of immersing yourself in all the clamor and excitement.

Togetic reappears, flying a loose orbit around you and amusing herself by spelling out words on the signs you pass. "Viridian" is her favorite, and she finds it everywhere, of course, letting out a delighted chirp every time. After a while she gets tired of flying and settles on your shoulder. You entertain her by reading off your favorite bits of text from posters in the windows you go by: "Official League apparel sold here! Wear it like a champion!"; "Lightning Strikes, here for a limited time only!"; "Try our Victory Roadhouse Ribeye! Best steak this side of the Plateau!"

You notice the great Nathaniel Morgan glancing back at you every couple minutes, staring like you're some kind of alien species. You give him a huge smile the next time you catch him doing it, talking a bit louder for his benefit. For once it's not a constant struggle to keep him moving; he's trying to stay as far away from you as possible.

Your voice trails off into hoarseness by the time you reach Route 22, but the festive atmosphere lingers on. A steady flow of foot traffic snakes towards the gatehouse that marks the entrance to Route 23 and Victory Road, and people selling food, water, and trinkets of all kinds line the edges of the path, calling out their wares to passersby.

Gaggles of kids, too young to be proper trainers, weave in and out of the crowd, roving jabbers of young voices. One girl, dressed in an outsize jersey from some local training clan, lets out a stifled shriek and points at a young woman with a vaporeon by her side--someone she's seen on TV, maybe. More kids cluster around, staring unashamedly and talking in hushed tones as the trainer goes past.

Then they're off again, proclaiming loudly that they'll be here one day, on their way to fight at the Plateau. Here and there they break out in spontaneous games of tag or I-spy or halt in sudden distraction, gasping over a particularly exotic pokémon. Now and again one gets called aside and goes scurrying back to one of the spectator family groups easily recognizable by their clean, well-kept clothing and conspicuous lack of gear.

The trainers are much dustier, and most are showing off, traveling with their pokémon out and on full display. "Riptide!" a hulking poliwrath calls to a feraligatr stomping along with another group of pokémon. "Fancy seeing you here. So your witless trainer actually managed that eighth badge in the end?"

"Witless? Your human's no prize either, Taddy." The feraligatr's grinning as he says it, looking back over his shoulder. "Roger's a better battler than Vic'll ever be, and you know it."

"He may have won last time, but that was before I evolved," the poliwrath says. "You'd better hope we're not in for a rematch, you big lizard, unless you're cruising to lose even more teeth."

"Bring it on, you overgrown frog." The two of them banter on for a bit, their voices mingling with the rest of the trash talk flying over the humans' heads, pokémon calling out to old friends or antagonizing rivals. Here and there new rivalries are being made as territorial pokémon get on each other's nerves, the crowded route sending them jostling into one another by accident or design.

A battle's broken out off to the side of the path--it sounds like a rapidash against a nidoqueen, but even craning your neck you can't see more than the occasional burst of fire. The fight is mobbed with spectators, cheering and laughing and thoroughly blocking your view.

You'd love to stop and challenge somebody, maybe that boy there with his liepard, or the woman perched on her rhydon's shoulders--but the gray sky threatens, and after the morning's gym match you're feeling a little battled out, somehow. No one seems inclined to challenge you, perhaps because you only have Togetic on your shoulder and Duskull at your side. More likely the other trainers are put off by your traveling companion, who's surveying the cheerful bustle as though it's done him some grievous offense. Also: "Your face is bleeding again."

"Huh?" He reaches up to dab at his nose and grimaces when his fingers come away wet. "Ah, fuck." He scrubs the cut with the back of his hand, smearing blood across his face in a rusty streak.

"Why do you keep picking at that, anyway? It will not heal unless you leave it alone."

He stops rubbing to glance at you, then snorts and goes back to work. "'Cause it's fucking annoying, that's why. You try going around with a hugeass scab on your face and see if you can just ignore it."

"I heal too fast for that to happen."

"Yeah, well ain't you fucking special?"

"It has been a week. You would be healed now too if you did not mess with it like that."

"Big whoop. So one little cut gets healed up, that's fucking fantastic. Meantime in agony getting dragged all over the fucking planet with about a hundred cracked ribs, but oh, good thing that one scrape closed up all nice, that's going to make one hell of a difference."

You frown. "Are you still complaining about those? I thought your ribs would be healed, too. It has been an entire--"

"Yeah, yeah, a week, I get it. And no, Freak, try more like a month on those fuckers, if I get a chance to actually lie around and heal instead of being a fucking wilderness explorer. That it, then? You thought I was all fucking better and, what, I've been making shit up when I say I'm in fucking pain? You think I've been lying just to piss you off or some shit?"

"You would."

He cracks a grin at that. "Okay, granted. But no, Freak, the reason I'm a slowass is because walking hurts like a fucking bitch."

You size him up for a couple of seconds. "I do not believe you."

That gets you an irritated look. "You are such a fucking asshole."

Bickering gets you most of the way to the gatehouse, where the stream of people breaks up into tributaries, each taking its own route to the Plateau. There are a couple buses waiting for spectators going directly to the stadium, but most people coming this early are taking the scenic route instead, following the long road up into the mountains. It's lined with little hotels and restaurants and scenic lookouts, as inviting as the path through the mountains' heart, the one you'll be taking, is forbidding.

You get into the queue of people passing straight through the gatehouse. This is the first of six checkpoints you'll need to register at to actually earn a place on the tournament roster.

"He is with me," you say to the smiling woman who slots your pokédex into her computer.

"Must be nice, getting to travel around with your brother. Most trainers'd kill to have someone to watch their back in Victory Road." If she's at all put off by the great Nathaniel Morgan's newly-bloodied appearance, she doesn't let it show.

"You got no fucking idea, lady," the great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles.

"Thank you!" You snatch the pokédex back from the miffed woman and shove the great Nathaniel Morgan forward before he can open his mouth again and make things worse.

Beyond the gatehouse the route broadens, running through marshes and over foothills to the base of the mountains. It's mid-afternoon, but the lowering clouds have brought an early dusk and hidden the peaks of the Kanto range from view.

Beside you, the great Nathaniel Morgan's looking up into the sky, where a lone fearow circles against a backdrop of leaden gray. "We need to speed up," you say.

"Oh, right, because I wasn't going as fast as I fucking could before or anything. Forget the fact that I'm even more fucking tired now than I was when we started out--"

"Must we really go through this every single route?"

"I guess so, since you haven't figured out that bitching at me isn't gonna make me move any faster. So what's next? Threats? Some shit about how fucking weak I am? Or can we just skip to the part where you get all pissy and quiet?"

You scowl and watch with naked envy as a trainer goes sailing past on the back of his pyroar. If only Titan could carry two people.

Much though you hate to admit it, the great Nathaniel Morgan's right--you've never had much success getting him to speed without taking extreme measures. You resign yourself to being one of the slowest trainers on the route and say, "Just get walking. The faster you move, the less you will get rained on."

A cool breeze kicks up, rippling the waters of the marsh ahead and carrying the damp scent of rain to your nostrils. The wind makes it hard for Duskull to move, tossing his gaseous body around. He tugs at your sleeve until you recall him, and then Togetic decides she'd like to rest for a while, too. All of a sudden you're alone with the great Nathaniel Morgan as your only companion.

The two of you stick to the outskirts of the route, avoiding the worst of the marshy muck that sprawls across its middle. You're only about halfway to the cave entrance by the time it starts spitting rain, but at least the trees marking the edge of the route give you a bit of cover.

At first you think the sudden weight on your shoulder is the great Nathaniel Morgan grabbing you, but you turn around to find he's still several feet behind, trying with little success to pick his way around half-hidden puddles of brackish water. Then the weight lifts and you twist around to investigate a faint noise at your side. There's a flash of black in your peripheral vision, and you snap your head up just in time to see a sneasel leaping for a tree trunk, sinking claws into wood. Then it pushes off, heading deeper into the trees.

"The fuck was that?" The great Nathaniel Morgan pants, squelching to a halt next to you.

"That sneasel, he, he..."

"Sneasel?"

"What is a sneasel even doing on this side of the mountain?" You clench your hands, hard. "Why would he want my pokédex?"

"Hell if I know, but if you keep standing there wondering it's probably gonna get awaaaaugh! What the fuck are you doing?!"

You hoist him in a fireman's carry and dash into the trees, ignoring his thrashing and loud protests. You pay no more mind to the branches lashing your face and tugging at your clothes, charging straight through every obstacle in your path.

The sneasel is virtually silent, leaping easily from tree to tree, but you can smell him, then see him. He hears you coming, of course. His carefree pace picks up until he's little more than a black blur pouncing from one limb to the next.

You accelerate to match and bellow over the great Nathaniel Morgan and the crashing noise of your progress, "Give that back! Give it back now, or you're going to have to fight me!"

The sneasel's gait falters, and you catch the flash of his eye as he looks back at you over his shoulder. For a second you think he's stopping, but then he takes off again, even faster than before. Maybe you should've said that in human instead, but you're too angry to concentrate on the words right now.

This would all be much easier if the great Nathaniel Morgan would allow himself to be carried without a fuss, but of course he insists on trying to kick you or reach you with a punch, despite that it means he gets caught on even more things as you race through the undergrowth. You shift him to one shoulder and tighten your grip until the vile names he's calling you give way to a shriek of pain, then fire a swift after the sneasel with your free hand.

The brilliant-white stars split up, looping around branches to converge on the sneasel from all sides, battering him until he loses his grip and tumbles to the ground. He lands in a roll and is back on his feet in an instant, though his once-graceful flight turns to a panicked scramble. Another swift knocks him flat on his face, and a second later you're there, aiming a stomp at the base of his skull.

The sneasel jerks out of the way, and your foot slams down on his forearm instead. His screech of pain comes with a blast of cold air that sends you staggering, frost riming your lower body. In the time it takes you to recover the sneasel is away, dashing across a small clearing and up the side of a huge, half-rotted old tree, perching himself on the shattered jut of a branch split by lightning.

You step into the clearing after him, watching the little thief all the while. He watches you back, teeth bared and gleaming. He's shivering and clutching the pokédex against his chest like it's his most prized possession.

You dump the great Nathaniel Morgan at your feet and hold one hand out towards the sneasel, palm up. "This is your last chance. Give that back and I'll let you go free."

It's only then, as you're standing with arm outstretched, that you begin to notice something wrong. "Motherfucker," the great Nathaniel Morgan gasps, holding his side as he slowly pulls himself into a crouch. "I think you broke one of my fucking ribs again. Fucking fuck."

You grab his arm and haul him to his feet, holding him steady while he lets out a breathless yell of pain. "Quiet. Get ready to move." You keep staring at the sneasel as you conjure a ball of fire in your palm. It fizzes in the strengthening rain, but it's enough to get the point across. The sneasel's eyes widen, and he presses himself harder against the tree.

"Throw the pokédex on the ground now," you say. "Then go. Get out of here."

The great Nathaniel Morgan tries to pull away from you, squinting up into rain that runs in bloody rivulets down his face. He's covered in whip-thin scratches from all the branches you ran into on the way here. You tighten your grip on him and say, "Stay still. There is something wrong here. I will let you know when it is time to run."

You toss the ball of fire at the sneasel, and he drops from the branch, swinging by one claw as the incinerate attack bursts just where he'd been sitting. The concussion knocks him away, and he lands messily in a tangle of roots, still holding the pokédex against his chest.

"Get it!" he screeches, kicking up a scatter of dead leaves as he claws his way back upright. "Get it! Get it! What are you waiting for?!"

"I can't believe you dragged me all the way out here," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, trying to pull out of your grip. He's still staring upwards. "Give me a fucking break. Give me a fucking break already. Give me... give me... give me about three... steps... to the left."

He stops trying to break your hold and leans into it instead, slamming his shoulder into your side and knocking you away. You turn to him in frank disbelief, mouth hanging half open. "Did you just push me?"

He doesn't answer. He's already gone, stumbling towards the far side of the clearing. Before you can go after him something slams into you from above, knocking you to the ground. You barely register the sodden mess of feathers on your chest as a fearow before the bird's beak spears down, stabbing clear through your shoulder and into the earth below.
 
Last edited:
Top