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Salvage

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

  1. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Hey, so I wound up blazing ahead to the end of the story a while back. But in the interest of keeping a good thing going (however belatedly), I'm going to be covering 3 chapters in this review again. Namely 8-10.

    This is why you don't antagonize shapeshifters, Nate.

    I have to wonder how much Nate would hate the Child for prancing around in a doppelganger body wearing gaudy children's clothing.

    Mm-mmm, Kanto Fried Torchic... Unless some other fast food gets served out in buckets out there. You have to wonder what repeatedly eating that stuff does to a Pokémon's health though.

    Should've listened to that little mental skeptic, Nate.

    So what Pokémon's cry is the Child borrowing for this moment anyways? While it's obvious that things don't quite get 'Raticate Raticate' in this setting, I have to wonder...

    I think this explains why Pokémon Centers are in business. Why lug around a car battery when you have convenient power outlets to mooch off of. I have to wonder how the child's never spilled that thing before, though.

    I'm waiting for that moment when the Child angrily chucks a vending machine at someone later on in the story.

    Aw, but the Child could've made a momento out of it! Just think of all the things you can do with two halves of a metal-and-plastic softball!

    You sure get a lot of mileage out of abusing poor Nate, even if it's for snerk-worthy moments like this.

    Well that's one way to rain on someone's parade.

    Well that's promis-

    Oh.

    I see that battling's not as straightforward as children's cartoons make them out to be.

    Well that turned out to be quite the slugfest, but it was certainly a nice finisher there.

    How long do those tubs last before the ice cream just becomes 'cream' thanks to being around Titan, anyways?

    Does this mean that there are drug rings that illicitly traffic Togetic dust?

    I see they don't teach negotiation skills at Team Rocket.

    This cannot possibly end well.

    Oh that is evil.

    Again, evil. Though I have to wonder how Titan is so willing to do this to one of his teammates on behalf of a stranger.

    Does 'attack the trainer' also count as being in the school of 'I win' attacks? Because Nate's treading some dangerous territory here what with the shapeshifting kid that can pulp metal cans.

    Oops, that disguise is slipping.

    I find it eerie that aside from the topic being 'murdering a person', this sounds exactly like an 8-year old's tantrum.

    Oh, this is going to be good. And that helped to narrow down how the Child has its powers when I got to this part.

    Top-notch work as usual, and can't wait to see where you wind up taking things out at the Indigo Plateau... I'll just have to speed up the rest of these reviews in between a bit. ^^;
     
  2. Shattersoul

    Shattersoul Maniac

    I'm here from the Review Game.

    I'm going to be focusing on the first three chapters.

    Opening: It's rather hard to understand the opening description. Although it seems grammatically correct, I have a difficult time connecting the dying man to the child. I'm willing to attribute this to having a different writing style than you; I personally think a monologue would have been an amazing addition to the opening for the story.

    Characters: From what I can understand, the main character is a Doppelganger, with elemental powers. He watched someone die, looted their corpse, and took their identity.

    I like this. It gives the character a bit of a mystique, and adds a ton of space open for adding details later.

    What I can't get over, however, is how the story is narrated. Call it personal preference, but I find it very hard to connect to a second-person narrative with conversations in first person; when I read stories, I isolate myself from the character.

    Writing Although the description of the scenes and events is quite good, it still is jarring having the jump between what appears to be several first person perspectives, all in a second-person narrative.

    Scene: I understand that at the beginning it is important to establish the main characters. However, the three chapters just don't feel connected. Every single one feels almost like an entirely different story.


    I assume that all of these problems are addressed in the latter chapters.
     
  3. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    All right, so I read this on my phone and will have to dispense of my usual review style. I see Starlight Aurate already pointed out most of my favorite parts, anyway, including how you introduced "the awesome Allie Wilson". XD I would also think that the child would be better at portraying the personality of whoever it's impersonating at the time, but it seems to be the opposite. If Allie Wilson's mother knows Nathaniel, she may make an appearance later and point out the inconsistency. The child probably isn't thinking of anything regarding the future except winning the league, though.

    Anddd the battle. I'm not sure what was up with the being-shy-with-the-referee thing, to be honest. I may have missed something. But the child definitely did not deserve to win. It's a terrible strategist, and you can tell that Allie Wilson, even using pokemon that aren't hers, is much better at this whole training thing. XD I'm hoping Allie Wilson makes another appearance - her character certainly has a lot of potential.

    My favorite part of this chapter was Nate's interactions with his pokemon. You can really, really tell how much he cares deep down about them. If he's willing to make himself sicker and weaker just to see them, that says something. And the dialogue... XD It made me smile quite a bit. So cute.

    Another thought I have is how the child is going to fight in the tournament. It would have to pick a specific pokemon to mimic and then restrict itself to that pokemon's movepool, right? Doesn't quite sound like something the child can actually adhere to and not mess up. Hmm...

    Also, there's quite a few typos in the last section I can point out if you need me to. If I remember right they're just repeated phrases ("for her for her" is one of them).

    Overall, fantastic chapter and I'm glad I finally caught up. :D
     
  4. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey there! Been a while, right? This thread's been pretty quiet, but I've been hard at work on the story over the past couple months. Essentially I was having trouble figuring out how to wrangle the next story arc; I wanted to post Chapter 22 at the beginning of November, but I kept changing my mind about what scenes to include, and then I was thinking of maybe scrapping the chapter altogether... so I figured I'd concentrate on getting the whole arc laid out ahead of time, before I started posting more chapters.

    This ended up working out very well! I'm feeling way more solid about things now, and I now have ~85,000 words lined up to go. I'll be posting the next chapter this weekend, but for now I've got an extra and some review replies to tide you over for the last few days. Sorry for leaving this thread dark for so long. I'm really excited to be posting stuff again, and I hope you enjoy the upcoming material, too.

    The extra is about as long as a typical chapter, so it gets its own post. Now for some far-too-belated replies!

    Rediamond

    Glad you enjoyed this one! I guess borrowed pokémon are usually associated with spoiled characters, yeah, although I wasn't really thinking of the trope when I wrote this. It struck me as something that would be pretty common, provided the child and the pokémon were familiar with each other and willing to work together. And I'm glad the disparity between the competence of the pokémon and their trainer was clear; what I really wanted was for this battle to establish a point of contrast with later ones where Nate's in charge. Thanks for reviewing!

    Spiteful Murkrow

    I'll just combine responses to your two reviews into one, here...

    He was pretty messed up after his time at the Cinnabar lab. Since you've read that far now, hopefully you've got a sense of why that might be. :p

    Pretty much the same as it is in our universe. It's supposedly a water-type alternative evolution of pikachu, with most "sightings" thought to be misidentifications of marril.

    He didn't really pick up on the fact that "Matt" wasn't Matt right away; he was just disoriented and instinctively pulled away from the child when it tried to pet him, and Leo took that as confirmation that something was up. After that, he can pick up the tension between Leo and the child, which makes him nervous, and then the child starts doing some outright weird stuff.

    Oh, definitely. We'll see Leo again later, and I hope it'll be clear that he hasn't been doing so well in the interim.

    It's definitely one of the more exciting ways to get laid off!

    I hope so! I definitely don't want the child to read like a normal human being.

    No, but typically Absol doesn't know why something needs to happen herself. She usually avoids speculation.

    If the child had let Nate die here, the immediate aftermath would have been that Absol would be deeply troubled, although she wouldn't have punished the child or anything (not her place). I can't really say what it would mean in the longer term without contrasting it with events that do happen down the line in the story, which would get rather spoiler-y.

    Depends on what it hit. If something inanimate, it would just shatter, and the energy inside would dissipate in a couple seconds. A fair amount of the energy would also be lost if it hit something living, but any of the energy that was projected into the organism would stimulate its wound-repair mechanisms and, unless those are screwed up somehow, result in some degree of "healing." The degree to which this would have any effect would depend on how closely related it is to a pokémon (mammals are the most closely related), so e.g. plants would be more or less unaffected.

    The child's softboileds are unusual, though; an ordinary pokémon's softboiled wouldn't have any affect on anything non-pokémon that it hit, aside from whatever pain as a result of the impact.

    I imagine you've worked this one out by now, but no, the forms the child takes aren't necessarily of dead things. It generally prefers to impersonate dead humans because then it can use their identities without worrying that the real article will pop up to complain, but it can take on the form of any living human or pokémon as well. It can also make up custom bodies if it likes, or even mix and match from different species, as it tends to do during battle.

    Its pokémon forms rarely look exactly like the actual pokémon species just because there's a limit to how far off human it can go with its transformations. Most of its changes are distortions of basic human features rather than straight replicas of pokémon traits. It has trouble growing additional limbs, for example, and while it can add or shed some mass, it can't get a great deal larger or smaller than its base height--even trying for a very tall or heavy human form would give it trouble. So it can turn blue and scaly like a salamence, but its wings and tail are going to be pretty pathetic, and its proportions will skew more towards human than salamence--it'll look pretty freaky. It could do a much better job of something more humanoid, like gallade or kadabra.

    In actual fact, probably not. I doubt they'd see much use for one. Ever since the Mewtwo business, though, pop culture's kind of run with the "mad science" aspect of the team, so Nate wouldn't be surprised if they had.

    Or why his only human "friends" are the ones with quotation marks...

    Maybe just a tiny bit. XD

    It's interesting that you mentioned this marked a darker turn for the story... I tend to think of the chapter coming right before this block as being particularly grim, and the next few being a turn for the more upbeat and humorous. Which is kind of weird when you consider that they mainly revolve around someone getting beaten more or less to death.

    So much searing hatred. I did originally want to have it work out that way, but tbh I kind of felt like Nate had already been humiliated enough. It's kind of a weird place to draw the line, but ultimately there is a line, I suppose.

    None. It's making "human noises," which are mostly blathering nonsense sounds, hums, and grunts. I think it'd be pretty unsettling to listen to. Almost none of the content of pokémon language is carried in actual sound--the noises pokémon make are mostly inflection to what they're saying, part of their "body language," as it were. It's also why your normal human isn't able to understand pokémon language; they physically can't even perceive most of it.

    Pokémon Centers definitely make it easier to care for pokémon with exotic needs (how about those blood-sucking zubat, then?), although in the child's case it's actually only been carrying the battery around for a couple days--it only just started its journey with Thunderstorm, after all.

    Well, now that you've invoked it, it definitely has to happen. (And I already know when, too...)

    At least Titan would have liked to have kept his for nostalgia reasons.

    Yuuuup, the narrative sure does slag on Nate a lot, and it's played for laughs pretty frequently. It'll get less funny as time goes on.

    Well, it did work for Red. :p I actually think Charizard vs Magmar is one of the better battles in the anime (from what I've seen of it, anyway; I've only watched the earlier seasons), and the seismic toss works as a cool dramatic moment imo. But I figure if a high-profile trainer pulls a dramatic, effective strategy like that... there's no way the gym leader's not going to come up with some way to counter it.

    He's never let one sit long enough to find out...

    Nope. It degrades too quickly to be worth selling--you'd need to buy it within about five minutes of production to get any effect out of it. So, okay, you could illicitly traffic the togetic themselves instead... But in order for them to produce joy dust, they have to be really happy, and usually getting poached, smuggled, and dumped on someone looking for a quick buzz doesn't do much for their mood. There are plenty of popular pokémon-based street drugs, though.

    Actually, Nate got exactly what he wanted out of this exchange.

    Well, it's just a battle. She's not seriously hurt. Since the child asked Titan to follow Nate's orders for a while, that's what he'll do, as long as he doesn't think they're morally repugnant or anything.

    Oh, definitely, and that's one technique the child won't hesitate to employ.

    Yes! This little exchange is actually really important.

    Haha, excellent. I definitely want the child to seem, well, childish, while at the same time having a rather alien outlook on life.

    I'm glad you enjoyed these chapters, and thanks so much for your lovely reviews! You ask lots of great questions, and I really enjoyed reading them. I hope the fact that you ripped through the latter part of the story means that you had fun reading it, too. ^^;

    Starlight Aurate

    I put the curse word in there in hopes that it would stick out a bit! This line is actually a direct reference to something Nate said way back in Chapter 10: "Starting with teaching your raticate some goddamned distance attacks already. If you don't, you're just going to end up getting ****ed over when somebody with half a brain puts their pokémon out of reach." Unfortunately, Chapter 10 was long enough ago now that I wouldn't expect anyone to pick up on the reference, but I'm hoping that if someone were to read the story straight through they'd have a better chance of getting it.

    Heh, glad you liked it. I figured someone other than Nate should have to put up with the woefully misunderstood name treatment... she just has a much better attitude about it than him. XD

    The protagonist usually treats other people well enough, except when it has issues understanding them, but it has a personal dislike for Nate's pokémon at this point. As far as it's concerned, Raticate wouldn't look out for it, so it's not going to go out of its way to be nice to him, either.

    I totally hadn't noticed that, but yeah, it is a bit strange.

    Nooope. Took me quite a while to settle on a name for her... I'll be lucky if that's the only time I goofed it in the chapter.

    Haha, thanks. I'm overly pleased with it myself. :p

    I hope so! We'll get there eventually.

    Glad you enjoyed him! There's plenty of Nate and his pokémon in this arc, so I hope you'll like the rest of it, too.

    Yeah, the protagonist is quite stubborn and something of a slow learner. This arc is all character development, so we should be seeing some movement on that front, finally.

    Thanks for reviewing! I think there's a lot of stuff you'll enjoy in the coming chapters (as well as some I'm sure you won't, I'm afraid). We'll see if we can get Nate his steelix back. :p

    Sike Saner

    Well, that's definitely going to change the tone of the story from here on out. XD

    Thanks, I thought it was a pretty fun mental image.

    Glad you found the pokémon's interactions with Nate cute! There's plenty more where that came from... perhaps altogether too much, even. Thanks for the lovely review, and it's good to hear you enjoyed the chapter!

    Praxiteles

    It's great to see you back! That was quite a lot of story to catch up on. I'm glad you decided to stop by!

    It is a dubious honor that this story probably has the highest **** density out of any on the forums, but there's not much to do but own it. :p

    That's really encouraging to hear! I don't want to be the person who says, "Well the early chapters aren't very good, but it gets better," but I'm pleased that, at least in your case, you did think they got better... and that it was worth getting through them for the rest.

    Heh, excellent. I'm glad that part was effective and that you found the portrayal of TR realistic.

    Well, those and lots and lots of awful television.

    Perish the thought!

    Heh, I don't know that there's any real kindness going on here...

    Wow, really? He's kind of a jerk, but psychic intrusion seems a bit of an over-the-top response to me.

    Truth. Much more fun to write about, too.

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! I have a lot of fun getting to write more in-your-face battles than I do when I'm following a human trainer who gets to just hang out on the sidelines. Hopefully the League battles will live up to expectations.

    Yeah, it definitely could use some more structure. Breaking it up into a smaller initial fight, some exposition, and then a larger one, is an interesting option. I think it would definitely help make the middle stages of the fight less murky (essentially by splitting it into two battles with less "middle," heh) and could give some time for a true realization of the situation... On the other hand, it's most definitely not in Team Rocket's best interest to do anything but send everything they have at the child at once, so the practicalities of getting that setup to work within the logic of the story are more tricky. I'm still not entirely sure how I might fix this battle, but that's definitely something to consider.

    I may or may not go back and rework some of the older chapters a bit; at this point I'm largely satisfied with most of them (and most of them aren't that old at this point, heh). However, I do have ~three scenes that I think could use polishing, and this is definitely one of them. I might have a go at it as a kind of "spring cleaning" thing around the same time that I did my revamps last year.

    It's pretty terrifying to imagine what it would end up looking like for the child to celebrate irresponsibly, ngl.

    There are definitely some upsides to being a give-no-****s sociopath.

    Red's definitely complicit in Mewtwo's situation, but Mewtwo brought a lot of it on himself, honestly. The relationship between Red and Mewtwo will be explored more later... I think it's pretty interesting (albeit not in a happy way), and hopefully readers will agree.

    The horror elements around Mewtwo were honestly kind of unexpected--my old, old rough draft had some pretty bloody encounters, but less of the psychological dimension. Overall they were a ton of fun to write, even if they ended up going creepier places than I was planning on.

    Haha, well, the "friends" thing hasn't been going well so far, anyway. We'll have to see about the future.

    Alas, not really. Absol isn't huge on answers.

    Re: character progression: Yeah, things have probably been looking too static for a while. If I do go back and do some editing, I'll probably try to highlight the progress the protagonist has made a little more; it's definitely micro-level rather than macro-level character advancement, but perhaps putting more emphasis on it will help a bit. You're right, though, in that the child will ultimately need to face its problems as a child, and that being one will help it at least as much as hinder it in solving them.

    Heh, I'm glad people liked that part. It didn't seem fair that only Nate had to suffer through a ridiculous nickname. Allie's just totally willing to own it.

    Glad you liked it! I'm rather fond of that one myself. If you enjoy looking at the relationships between Nate and his pokémon, there'll be a lot more of that in the upcoming chapters.

    Heh, definitely. I tried to give them more visually stunning strategies and bigger in-battle personalities to try and give that effect.

    No worries, you had a lot of insightful things to say! I'm glad you like the characters; I have way too much fun with them. I agree, Nate's definitely a tough person--just not in the way he would like.

    Thanks a lot for a wonderful review!

    Shattersoul

    Hey, congrats on your first review! Don't worry, it's great.

    Haha, yes, we probably do have quite different styles. I usually avoid monologues like the plague. XD

    When you said you had difficulty connecting the dying man to the child, do you mean you had trouble connecting with the characters, or you had trouble telling how they were related to each other?

    Yes!

    Yeah, it's definitely not a popular POV choice, and it has its downsides. If you don't like it you definitely wouldn't enjoy the rest of the story.

    Hmm, good to know. Making the connection between the earlier chapters more clear was one of my goals for the revision I did, but it sounds like I might have more work to do there.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by! I'm disappointed to hear that you didn't like the story, of course, but it's useful feedback to have.

    diamondpearl876

    Heh, no, the child definitely isn't very good at impersonating the actual personality of people--it has a lot of trouble understanding others, after all. The whole lack of empathy thing makes it difficult for it to really mirror other people's actions, emotions, etc. the way most people intuitively do.

    Fortunately for the child, neither Allie nor her mother know Nate. When Nate said he didn't know her mother "personal-like" he just meant he'd seen her on television, so he knew who she was but had never actually met her.

    By being shy with the referee, did you mean how Allie was acting? She was just a bit nervous--this was her first battle in her first big competition, so she's kind of off-kilter throughout. Allie Wilson is definitely a better trainer, although to be fair, the child wasn't using its own pokémon, either, and they straight-up don't like it, whereas Allie Wilson's presumably get along with her fine if they agreed to team up. I hadn't planned to bring Allie back, but it seems like a lot of people enjoyed her part here, so I'll see if maybe I can find a place to slot her in later.

    Glad you enjoyed it! I have a lot of fun writing these scenes... hopefully people don't get sick of them by the time this arc wraps up. :p

    Yup, you got it. We'll have to see how well it pulls that off. It might be worth noting that I don't use the four-move limit, so whatever pokémon it picks, it'll be able to use any of its attacks (including egg moves, TM's, etc.), so it will still have a fair amount of leeway to work with.

    It would be great if you could point them out! I have to admit I couldn't actually find "for her for her" anywhere in the document...?

    Good to see you back, and glad you enjoyed your chapter! Also I swear I will get you a review soon oh god.
     
  5. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    So, the 'fic's third anniversary was November 1st! That explains why I'm posting this in February. (Actually, the above post explains why this is going up in February.) However, I actually started writing this story in 2008, and by the time I started putting it on the web I'd already amassed a couple hundred pages of material for it. The amount of stuff that I write for this fanfic far outweighs the amount of stuff that gets posted, and a great deal has changed about the story over its lifetime. To belatedly celebrate the 'fic's anniversary, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the scenes that didn't make it into the final edition of the 'fic, for various reasons.

    When I first started writing this story, the concept was very different. I was expecting the story to be quite a bit shorter, and rather than being told exclusively from the protagonist's perspective, it instead flipped back and forth between what the protagonist was doing and what the various people who were trying to figure it out/stop it were doing. At first these were primarily Leo and his colleague Mike, who oversee the League's computer network. Mike's role is greatly reduced in the published version of the story; he's appeared in just one paragraph so far, I believe, although he'll pop up again later.

    Ultimately I didn't end up writing too many scenes focused on these characters, since the multi-POV thing was scrapped pretty early in the 'fic's development, but I thought I'd include one of them. This was written sometime in 2008 or 2009--I don't know because I was using a laptop without an internal battery, so it saved all files with a creation time of January 1st, 1900. Regardless, it's old, and all I did in terms of touching up was to change names to be consistent with the current 'fic versions and correct egregious typos, so you can enjoy the prose in its full cringe-worthiness...

    "You all right, Leo?"

    "What do you want?" Leo's more ruffled than usual, hair greasy and stuck up in wild clumps from the combing it's received from his fingers. Bloodshot eyes stand out against a face pale and strained, withering beneath the unfriendly glow of the screens.

    "I brought you the report you asked for." The manila envelope is held far out in front of him, whether because Mike's afraid of what's inside or afraid of the man reaching out to take it. "Listen, I, uh, I understand that this must be rough for you..."

    "Yes, I'm sure you think you understand." Leo snatches the folder away, but then only holds it, resting lightly between his hands, as he turns his eyes away from the screen and onto Leo at last.

    Leo grimaces and rubs sweaty fingers together in an absent gesture. "Are you really sure you should be doing this? I know you don't want people getting access to the root functions and all, but this is serious stuff."

    "I'm the only one who can be doing this," Leo snaps, his head jerking forward like a striking bird of prey. His eyes are narrowed, the red veins shooting through them making them look all the more demonic. "That you can understand, Mike."

    "Leo, come on. This..."

    "I know that you've been poking your nose into this," Leo growls. "I'm sure you're only doing it out of the kindness of that goddamn soppy heart you have instead of a brain. But listen to me now. Stay out of this, Mike. This is something I have to do by myself, and if you keep getting in my way, you're going to become my enemy."

    Mike wavers, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he looks into Leo's face. I's new to him. He remembers the day when the laid-back, chatty Halfbend became the cold, aloof, workaholic that clawed his way to the top of the administrative ladder after his son's death. And now that his son's alive again, this sick, furious creature is what he's become?

    "You can't make everyone your enemy, Leo. How are you going to solve this without help?"

    "I'm the fu‌cking systems administrator," Leo half-yells, starting to rise out of his chair. "If the motherfu‌cking Nurse Joy in Saffron farts, I know about it. I have it all, Mike. As much as anyone will ever know about what goes on in Kanto, I have it here, all here. If I can't find it, how is anyone else going to? What help can I expect from the dribbling idiots who let--who let my son--?"

    Seething eyes stare up into Mike's. Leo's frozen in a sort of crouch, as though ready to surge up from the chair and tear Mike's throat out. The big man looks down at his smoldering friend, chest constricted and painful. All that power, all that drive--and he's helpless. He's going to let his sorrow consume him, go out screaming and empty.

    And Mike... Mike was going to let him.

    "I'm sorry, Leo," he says, dropping his gaze to the floor tiles between them. "You're right. I should have minded my own business."

    "Yes." Mike knows that Leo's eyes are still on him, those wild, killer's eyes.

    "I've... I've got to go. But you... you need anything, you let me know, all right?"

    "Yes. I'll let you know." Mike can hear him shifting around again, turning back to the computer screens. He raises his head, sees the man once more running his eyes over the scrolling lines of data, all the life sucked from his face by the dark light of the screens. He turns away, cursing himself all the while, and hopes that he'll someday see that face smiling again, the hopeless rage forgotten, the grasping ambition spent.

    Mike doesn't think it likely.

    Five-ish-years-ago-me was clearly having fun with this one. The gratuitous elipses! The melodrama! The accidental(?) homoerotic subtext! This is what deathless prose looks like. I'm sure I would have had a good time writing about these two bantering and having Dramatic Life Crises against a backdrop of technobabble, but ultimately it wasn't to be. Leo and his wild killer's eyes will just have to languish in the land of might-have-beens.

    My conception of how the 'fic would run changed a great deal when I introduced Nate, initially just because I needed somebody whose identity the protagonist could use for awhile without serious fear of repercussion. I ended up enjoying writing him so much that I decided he could stay, which changed the entire nature of the story. (I am clearly not a planner when it comes to writing.) This is one of the earliest scenes I wrote with him, also probably 2009-ish. Note that Nate looked different in this version of the 'fic, so if there's some description that sounds wonky to you, that would be why.

    Nearly two hours later by the tilt of the sun, you're nearing Fuchsia city, and it's clear something has to be done about the Great Nathaniel Morgan. Though he's stopped the breathless laughter that assaulted him after agreeing to accompany you, his eyes are wide and wandering, and he frequently breaks into bursts of giggles. Dark hair is starting to color his chin the same as the wide purplish smudges beneath his eyes, and his disheveled hair still has dirt and bits of twig in it. The state of his clothing suggests that he's been badly beaten recently, or perhaps beaten something himself; either way, it's not a look to deflect attention, and you already have enough problems in that regard.

    What's more, most of his giggling fits start after he lets his scared-animal eyes wander over to you and jerks them away again. Earlier on you caught him fixating on one of your hands, only to realize that you hadn't shrunk away your claws yet. Even after you did so--while he wasn't watching, of course--he continued to watch that hand. You would think that, after a while, he would realize that it wasn't going to spontaneously change back. It's easy enough to fix matters of appearance; matters of trust are a bit more thorny.

    It's time to think human again. You've been enjoying the quiet air, full of birdsong and green-filtered sun, but it's clear that your guest isn't similarly enthralled. Examining your store of social niceties, you decide to take a stab at making the great Nathaniel Morgan feel more at ease.

    "So." His eyes were wandering around in the foliage overhead, a small smile across his lips, but now his attention is properly fixed on your face. Good. All is well so far. "Tell me a little about yourself."

    Another of those uncontrollable giggling fits catches him up, and his eyes shine with tears. "What, so you're my psychologist now, or something? Gee, doc, what do you want to know? We've got all the time in the world here in Crazyworld; ask away!"

    "What are you laughing about?" you snap. Is the man actually mentally ill? He seems to have difficulty with your most simple statements.

    "Well, I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with almost dying yesterday, then almost getting killed by my evil mutie twin this morning. Then, after tromping around in the magic wood for a few hours, he goes all talk show host on me and wants to know my life story? It's all just so sane, I can't take it anymore."

    "I know that it's strange, but that is what has happened. What do you find humorous about it?"

    "Come on, it's all just so absurd. I keep expecting some film crew to pop out from behind a tree to let me know I'm on some really violent new reality show. How can you not laugh? I thought life couldn't get worse after that ursaring just about tore my arm off, but nope, life decided it wanted to kick me in the balls a few times before letting me die."

    "You think that they would set an ursaring on you in a reality TV show?"

    "Well, no, of course not. That's got to be all kinds of illegal, at least on network TV. In light of everything else, though, I can definitely say 'stranger things have happened.'"

    "But the attack wasn't unexpected."

    The smile vanishes from his face and his lips flatten into a tight line. "I guess you could say I had it coming." The narrowed, glaring eyes that bore into the trees by the side of the road aren't friendly, but at least they weren't the delirious ones he'd been swinging around earlier. You suppose you'll call this progress.

    "So you were a member of Team Rocket for quite some time?"

    "A couple of years, yeah. And then they try to off me on the sly. That's gratitude for you."

    "And just why did they try to... off you?"

    "None of your business." The beady stare is fixed on you now. Back to challenging you, then. The man can be quite a nuisance when he's feeling stubborn.

    "Of course it's my business. I'm you."

    "Oh, right. How could I forget? Well, what's the bother, then? If you're me, you already know my life's story."

    "Humor me."

    "Sorry, but I think I've done all the humoring I'm inclined to just by letting you drag me along on this crazy trip."

    "I thought that you were only coming because you know that I will kill you if you don't cooperate."

    "Yeah, well. I'm a generous guy like that."

    "I could take refusing to answer questions as a lack of cooperation." You let your eyes wander up to the sky overhead, tracing the contours of baggy clouds overhead. Humans supposedly enjoy finding pictures in the clouds; you usually see nothing of interest. Meanwhile, your peripheral vision tells you that your body double is studying your face.

    "You can push me, but that just means I'll lie."

    "I can tell when you're lying. I'll just hurt you until you stop." You pretend to be enthralled by a cumulonimbus.

    "Ever the friendly one, aren't you? Save my life, threaten to kill me, heal me, threaten to hurt me... Honestly, make up your mind already."

    "I am the friendly one, yes. I could push you, but I won't."

    He rolls his eyes and turns away. "Guess I'm not the only generous one around here."

    You let that statement hang in the air and keep walking.

    [...]

    "Do you know anyone in Fuchsia?" you ask, and he starts a little at the sound of your voice.

    "Not really. There's my old pals from Team Rocket, of course, if they're still hanging around. Other than that, I don't really know anybody, no."

    "Good. Then no one will be surprised when you acquire a twin brother."

    "Oh, so you are my evil twin?" He smirks. "Well, aren't I lucky. How many people get a chance to meet their other self who can turn into lizards and things?"

    "I'm the evil one now, Mr. Discharged Rocket? Anyway, who's going to believe that? You're the one that looks like you got into a fight with an ursaring."

    He grimaces and looks down at his torn, stained clothing. "Yeah, pretty as a picture, aren't I?"

    "Don't you have a change of clothes or something? Even just a jacket that you could put on over that?"

    "I do have a change of clothes, yes, but the shirt has this big red 'R' on it that some people might not find too endearing. A jacket, though, yeah, I guess I've got one."

    "I'd put it on, unless you want people asking a lot of questions."

    He laughs his teetering laugh again, though there was more genuine and less frantic about the sound than there had been. "What if I don't care about questions? After all, what have I got to lose? Not like I'm going to come out of this alive, anyway. Maybe I'd just like to see you writhe when people start to suspect you, brother mine." He was bending over and rummaging in his pack, though, and pulled out a light jacket that he zipped over the remains of his shirt. It was a bit too warm for most people to be wearing a jacket, but it was better than the alternative; hopefully, they would pass the blood on his pants off as something else.

    You nodded and started walking again as he slung the pack back onto his shoulders, grimacing as the movement aggravated now-hidden wounds. Perhaps it would be best to heal him all the way, reluctant though you were to reveal more of your power than necessary. For the moment, he was doing well enough.

    It's strange for me, at least, to read back through this, because both of the characters are so wrong. Above all else, they don't talk like themselves. Nevertheless, somehow the two characters here evolved into the protagonist and Nate who take part in the story today. This is how it tends to go with my characters--they only really gain their personalities after I've written a fair amount about them--but looking back on the process is always strange for me.

    The prose here isn't as overwrought as it was in the first passage, but it's just dull. The elipses indicate where I cut several paragraphs that were just too damn boring. At least we have the odd "scared-animal eyes" moment to spice things up. (No killer's eyes for Nate! I guess he isn't looking too up to murdering anybody today.)

    The next scene, story-wise, was actually written much more recently. It was originally stuck on the end of Chapter 11. Chapter 11 is GIGANTIC, however, and although I thought it was a fun little moment, it wasn't essential.

    "What?"

    "What I said. You can transform into other people, right? So transform into your old fu‌cking self. Prove you're not just bullshitting about that, at least."

    "It is not that simple."

    "The fu‌ck?" He snickers. "It's exactly that fu‌cking simple, Freak. So you don't even remember what the fu‌ck you looked like, huh? Yeah, your memory's definitely reliable as shit."

    "No, it is not." Of course you remember what you looked like. How could you not? You can describe it as well as you ever could: hair color, eye color, skin color, height and build. But it's not enough to get all the little pieces right. "I can show you, but I am afraid it is not very good."

    "Yeah? Go the fu‌ck on, already. I gotta see this."

    So you show him. He screams and jerks backwards so fast his skull cracks against the headboard, then curls forward again, clutching his head, with a shout of, "Oh, FU‌CK!"

    The noise is enough to startle the child right out of it, back to what it looks like when it's being no one in particular, the body it's stitched together out of whims and casual habit. Rats rolls out of its lap in a fit of catatonic laughter, and Titan rears back, flaring his wings in alarm. Meanwhile, the great Nathaniel Morgan makes it across his bed in a mad scramble, half-falls off the far side, and lurches to his feet with his back pressed against the wall, like he's trying to press himself backwards and through to the other side.

    "Jesus fu‌cking fu‌ck! What the hell was that?" he gasps.

    "I told you it was not very good."

    "Not very good my ass, that wasn't even fu‌cking human! Never do that shit again, God!"

    "You asked."

    "Jesus. I wasn't expecting anything..." He groans and slumps back against the wall, starting to feel his injuries again as his panic recedes. He rubs at the back of his head with a pained grimace on his face, muttering, "No fu‌cking sleep tonight, nope, God. Just when I thought this couldn't get more fu‌cked up."

    The child frowns at him. He's being very rude. It tried its best, after all.

    "So obviously you were never fu‌cking human at all," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters. "How the hell is that the best you could come up with? You can usually do human just fine, can't you? You sure as hell pull a better me than that."

    "I do not know." The child fidgets with the bedspread a moment. "I think the problem is I try to get the feeling right. I know how it felt to be human, sort of. But when I try to change things to feel like that again, it does not work. You know." It smiles to itself, reflexively. "It is like when someone asks you to smile for a picture. When you do it like that, it does not look right. This is the same thing, except all over my body."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan succumbs to a full-body shudder, then a wince. "Jesus Christ. I'm sorry I asked."

    "Yes. But now you know."

    "Yeah. Now I fu‌cking know." He steps forward and very carefully lowers himself back onto the bed at the extreme opposite side from the child. "Now I fu‌cking know. Stay the hell away from me, you got it?"

    This passage raises some questions, albeit not important ones, I think. Nate's speculation that the protagonist was never human is incorrect. Mostly I just enjoyed an excuse to have an all-caps-italicized "FU‌CK" in there.

    Part of this next scene was actually included in the 'fic, albeit briefly. Everything before the first break was posted as the end of Chapter 17, while the rest would have been the opening for Chapter 18. As I was editing Chapter 18, however, I decided that beginning didn't work very well and cut it. That made the previous end of Chapter 17 unnecessary, so I retconned that out, too.

    The child wakes in suffocating panic, jerking up off the ground and staring around the moonlight-washed clearing in terrified disorientation. Already its dream is evaporating, shredding like a cobweb in the face of reality. It can't remember what it was afraid of, what dream-thing stalked or grabbed or killed, but the fear lingers on. The child lies back down and waits for its breathing to steady, to feel safe enough to slide back into sleep.

    The fire's gone out, but at least it didn't burn down the entire forest as it went. The only light comes from the cloud-edged moon overhead and the purple sparks of Mewtwo's eyes. The child lets its gaze wander, taking reassurance from the quiet normalcy of the scene. Then it sits up again, heart thudding. "Where's--?"

    It hasn't gone far, Mewtwo drawls in a distant voice.

    "You just let him leave?" The child stumbles to its feet and rushes to the human's empty space, feet tangling in undergrowth and catching on fallen branches. "What if he gets away? You don't know what--"

    I can see what it's doing. There's no reason to worry.

    "You don't understand! He must be up to something. You can't just let him go off on his own like that." The child stomps around in the detritus the human left behind, a few scattered wrappers, a scrap of blood-stiffened cloth. There's still a faint blush of heat in the ground where he lay, seeping up through the child's bare feet. He hasn't been gone long.

    "Where?" it asks, but Mewtwo doesn't answer. The child shoots a glare at the boulder, then bends down to sniff. At least tracking the human isn't hard, the way he smells. The child casts around until it's sure of a direction, then storms off into the woods.

    Mewtwo never listens, it fumes as it walks. It knows the great Nathaniel Morgan. It knows he's plotting something. Maybe the clone isn't worried, but the child won't take any chance that the human might mess up the plan.

    It's a cold walk, longer walk than the child expected. It wonders if there are any wild pokémon around, whether any of them might have attacked the great Nathaniel Morgan. Too good to hope for, probably. It doesn't hear any, just the rasp of nighttime insects.

    At last the child comes across the human sitting on a fallen log, slouched and frowning down at the dirt. He doesn't acknowledge the child's arrival, not even when it demands, "What are you doing out here?"

    The child paces back and forth in front of him, crunching in old fallen leaves. "Are you trying to run away? That is stupid. You know you would never get far."

    When that doesn't get a response either, the child sits down next to the human and prods him in one bony shoulder. "Do not even try the silent treatment on me. I know you can still talk."

    It sits and glares at the great Nathaniel Morgan until, finally, he raises his eyes enough to look it in the face. "Oh, stop being so pathetic," the child grumbles, glancing away from his tired gaze. "I do not know how you convinced Mewtwo to ignore you, but I know you are up to something. I am not going to let you get away with it."

    The human's only reply is to cough, haltingly, trying to hold it back. He puts a hand up to his chest and grimaces. When he drops his eyes again, the child gives him a solid shove. "Come on! Sitting there ignoring me will not make me go away."

    The human lets out a hiss of pain and grabs for the log to keep himself from falling over. At last he starts to say something, but his voice comes out as no more than a bubbling, mucusy noise. He clears his throat, spits up something phlegmy, and tries again, voice so soft and hoarse the child has to strain to hear it. "What? You really think I'm gonna get in your way? I only weight like twenty pounds and I'm dying of pneumonia or consumption or who knows what anyway. What the fu‌ck am I gonna do about it? Go ahead, go murder your way through a ton of people. I ain't gonna stop you."

    "If you do what you are told, nobody has to die. You heard Mewtwo." Somehow the human's expressionless stare feels like an accusation. The child hunches its shoulders and frowns back. "Anyway, if your friends had not decided to join Team Rocket, they would not have to worry about maybe getting killed. Did you ever think of that? They probably deserve it." The child takes a sudden breath as a fragment of nightmare comes back to it, fluorescent light reflecting from dozens of still and staring eyes. "Anyway, killing Rockets does not count. Have you never seen any movies?"

    "Oh, fu‌ck you," the great Nathaniel Morgan says without feeling.

    "It is Mewtwo's idea anyhow. He is the one you should blame if you have a problem with it."

    "I dunno. You don't get mad at the clouds for raining on you, do you? Being all murdery is kinda what Mewtwo does, right? Like, you'd have to be pretty stupid if you went and made your super-weapon care about people and shit. It's not really--not really a, a surprise..." The child stares at him as he succumbs to another coughing fit. The human doesn't meet its eyes when he finally wheezes out, "Still an asshole, though. Anyway, the point is... The point is, Freak, what the fu‌ck is your excuse?"

    "What are you talking about?"

    "Yeah," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, squeezing his eyes shut. It's like he's talking to himself. "Just another fu‌cked-up kid, ain't you? What the hell. What the fu‌cking hell."

    "You are in a weird mood," the child says cautiously. "Did Mewtwo do something to your brain when he messed with you?"

    "Don't think so." The great Nathaniel Morgan sighs and opens his eyes, looking off into the trees. "Bastard. Least he coulda done."

    The child can only stare at him. "I do not understand you at all."

    "Right back at ya, Freak."

    The child sits awhile in a silence bright with cricket-chirps. Finally it works out that it must be sometime after midnight, and all at once it wants to go back to sleep and not have to think anymore.

    "I am going to take you back," it says. "And you had better not run off again, or I will be angry."

    "Whatever. Only came out here to get away from that bastard's mind powers anyway. I swear it's like sticking your brain in an oven, being around him."

    The clone's mind's still there, of course, though it's no more than a faint ringing in the child's ears. There's no way Mewtwo would let the great Nathaniel Morgan get far enough that he couldn't monitor him. The child doesn't bother to correct the human, just puts a hand on his shoulder and thinks them back to camp.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan falls hard on his tailbone as the tree disappears from underneath him, and the child senses that whatever strange spell held out in the woods has faded as the human's face contorts into a grimace. It blows a spore attack into the the great Nathaniel Morgan's face even as he draws breath to speak, and he only manages half a slurred complaint before slumping over, out cold.

    The child lies down in its old spot and closes its eyes before realizing that it feels, inexplicably, happy. Mirthful, actually, like it's contemplating some private joke. And then it realizes the feeling isn't coming from itself at all.

    "What are you laughing at?" the child asks, but it gets no answer. Mewtwo's eyes are immobile purple spots burning from the shadows of the boulder.

    The child lies there for what feels like a long time, fighting the levity the clone's pumping into its head. Each time a snicker tries to force its way from the child's throat it reminds itself that there's nothing funny here, not one thing. There's nothing funny here at all.

    --​

    The child wakes abruptly, dragged out of sleep by the words booming soundless in its head: Get up.

    It lies there in the crisp early-morning sun, utterly confused. Faster. We have much to do today. Memories come trickling back. Ah. So it does.

    At least Mewtwo's brimming anticipation makes it easier to get up. The child stands, yawning off the last of its morning fog, then stretches up, and up, taller and taller until it settles into a new shape. You're Tony Flores again, scratching the last of the transformation's pain out of your skin and flexing your muscles into their proper places.

    You reach for your pokédex without even thinking, even though it doesn't have anything to say about who you are right now. It doesn't matter anyway, because the pokédex isn't there.

    Panic pricks at you as you check another pocket, but it's not there, either. You pat frantically at your clothes while you glance around at the ground, searching.

    "The fu‌ck is your problem?" The great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles. He sits up against a sapling, watching you from eyes sunk deep in bruise-colored circles. The human leans on his right arm, holding the left out at a funny angle, like he doesn't want it to touch his body.

    "My pokédex! I can't find it!"

    "Your pokédex? Yeah, real fu‌cking nice, you rip me off and suddenly it's your--"

    The human has it.

    You both turn to face Mewtwo in the sudden dead silence. He's standing with his back to you, staring into the trees like he can actually see the city from here.

    You turn back to the great Nathaniel Morgan. "You stole it from me again? When?"

    He opens his mouth to say something--to deny everything, you expect--but Mewtwo cuts in instead. Last night. When the two of you were off by yourselves.

    "What? I was being nice to you, and you went and stole from me?"

    "It wasn't stealing, fu‌cktard, it was taking back what was already mine," he growls at you out of the side of his mouth. "Besides, I needed it."

    To warn your poor Rocket friends that we're coming, yes, Mewtwo says. You stifle a chuckle as his laughter burrows into your mind. The great Nathaniel Morgan shifts his weight slowly, drawing one leg up like he means to stand. He looks--well, sicker than before, anyway. Very cute. But do you really think any of them will believe you?

    "Mewtwo! You let him do that? Why didn't you stop him? What if they run away and we can't find them?"

    I'll find them, Mewtwo says. Even if they leave the base, they won't go far. Even if they leave the city, there's sure to be someone in that miserable hive who'll know where they went." The clone turns and locks eyes with the great Nathaniel Morgan. I'll kill as many humans as it takes to uncover them. The whole city, if I have to.*

    "The whole fu‌cking city?" the great Nathaniel Morgan shoots back. "Are you fu‌cking insane? That's like millions of fu‌cking people!"

    Yes.

    That brings the human up short. He searches Mewtwo's blank purple eyes for, what, a hint of mercy? Some sign that he's joking? "But that's not even poss--"

    I am the world's most powerful weapon, Mewtwo says. I was made for this. Do you think I'm not capable of a single city, one that's unprepared and undefended? Well, giddy laughter bubbles up in him again. I have to admit I'm not actually sure myself. I've never been free to use the full extent of my power, you know. Wouldn't this make a fitting test? And I think I can do it. His tail flexes, but there's no other sign of emotion, nothing to match the excitement surging through his mind. I think I can do this, and much, much more. Rest assured, human, if there's anyone in Saffron who knows anything about Mew's fate, I will find them, no matter how many minds I have to strip bare to do it.

    It takes the great Nathaniel Morgan a minute to find his voice. "But all those people, they don't have anything to do with--"

    Yes, it will be dreadfully inefficient, Mewtwo says, his gaze never wavering. But what do I care? They're only a bunch of humans, after all.

    His laughter fizzes inside you while the great Nathaniel Morgan closes his eyes and leans back against the tree, rubbing at his scalp with one hand. Of course, I won't have much use for you if we find the base empty, the clone goes on. But I think I'll wait and kill you last. Won't that be fun? You'll get to see exactly how many of your kind die because you thought you could outsmart me.

    Mewtwo waits, but the human doesn't have anything to say to that. The clone's eyes gleam purple as he pulls the pokédex from one of the great Nathaniel Morgan's pockets, then tosses it to you with a flick of psychic energy. You fumble it out of the air a clumsy half-second too late. The clone starts talking again while you stare down at the glossy red machine cradled between your hands. That takes care of that. It's time for you to go. You glance up. Mewtwo's looking at you now. Go knock on Team Rocket's door and see if anybody answers. And don't be gone long. We're both anxious to know what you find.

    You've never heard the clone more cheerful. The great Nathaniel Morgan's hunched over, grimacing like he's in pain. Maybe Mewtwo's doing something? But you don't feel anything from the clone, nothing but immense self-satisfaction.

    It doesn't matter. You put the pokédex back in your pocket, slowly, while you think. You were right. The human tried tried to stop you.

    But Mewtwo was right, too. In the end the great Nathaniel Morgan couldn't do anything at all.

    You watch a moment more, then turn away, thinking of the city. There's a convenient alley you know, somewhere you won't be seen.

    No point delaying longer. You go.

    --​

    ...but by all means, try Mewtwo's saying as you reappear in the clearing. If it amuses me enough, who knows? I am not an unreasonable pokémon. He shifts his attention to you without even turning to look. So? Did anyone come when you called?

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's head jerks up, and he stares at you with such desperate interest that you turn to address Mewtwo's back instead. "I found the entrance," you say, "but nobody answered when I knocked."

    Oh, my. What a terrible tragedy, the clone chuckles. The great Nathaniel Morgan shudders and closes his eyes again, frowning so hard it looks almost painful. So be it, then. We'll head to the base and see if there are any stragglers who might have information. At least we can take the computer somewhere safe. And then... I suppose we'll go from there. The master ball plucks itself from the clone's belt--your belt--and hovers out in front of him, but he doesn't recall himself just yet. You understand what you need to do?

    "Go look for the computer, I guess. Do you know where it is, or do you just have the picture?"

    It's in a storage room. There's a moment of silence, which you take to be furious cogitation as the clone sifts through memories. B18865 is the identifier, I think. If there's anyone skulking about, you can ask them where it is. Or where the scientist went. He senses the question forming in your mind. Eleanor Fairchild. But with any luck we won't be able to find her, will we? Then we can have a bit of fun.

    The clone's still laughing when the red beam of light swallows him, and then the master ball drops out of the air, landing in the dirt with a solid thump. You can still feel the humming of the clone's mind, the same as when you first picked up his ball. Now that you've been around him for a couple of days, the faint tingle of his mind seems inconsequential instead of startling. You've grown used to feeling much more.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan opens his eyes as you reach down to pick up the master ball. "I don't know about you, but I'm all for shoving that asshole in the first PC we see and pretending none of this shit ever happened."

    I can still hear you, you know, the clone says. His voice is almost comically small, like he's been shrunk down to ant-size and is shouting up at you. Rest assured that if you try something like that, I'll know. I'll let myself out and make sure you live to regret it.

    "Besides, I do not know why you think I would go along with you. You stole my pokédex again." This is a point you feel has not been sufficiently emphasized up to now.

    The human starts to answer, but falls victim to a harsh, painful coughing fit instead. You frown and stuff the master ball in your pocket.

    When the great Nathaniel Morgan finally speaks, his voice is hoarse and breathless. "Really?" he gasps. "That's what you're pissed about here? Really?"

    "Why should I not be? Stealing is bad."

    "Oh, I dunno, I was just thinking you might be kinda more pissed about like a bazillion people getting murdered than that goddamned stupid piece of plastic. What the fu‌ck was I on, huh?"

    "I am not going to kill anyone," you say. "I have nothing to do with that. It is your fault. If you had just done what Mewtwo said, no one would be in danger. But instead you decided to steal from me, and now look at what you get. Stand up."

    He actually tries, but it's so painfully slow that after about three seconds you decide you don't have time for this. "Enough. I will help you."

    "No, don't--"

    You reach down and grab his arm, only to drop it again when he jerks away with a choked-off yell. You watch, suddenly wary, as the human curls in over his left side like he's trying to protect it. "Other arm," he hisses through gritted teeth.

    "Fine, then." You have neither the time nor the patience to try and figure out what's gotten into him. This time you seize the human's right arm, and he allows you to drag him to his feet. You watch critically as he wobbles in place, then grabs the tree trunk for support, shivering and sweating with effort.

    "Look at you," you say in disgust. "First you try to outsmart me, and it would have gotten you killed if I had not decided you could be useful. But then you go and try to outsmart Mewtwo? How can you be so stupid? You know Mewtwo can read minds. How could you possibly think he wouldn't find out about your plan?"

    His glare's so venemous you take a step back in surprise. "Don't give me that shit!" the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls. "I couldn't feel a goddamned thing! And I went far, a fu‌cking alakazam couldn't even do half that. I was fu‌cking careful."

    "Well I guess you were not careful enough. Idiot. Have you not noticed that every time you try something, you only make things worse?"

    But the great Nathaniel Morgan closes his eyes and leans his head against the tree, and no amount of coaxing can get another word out of him.

    But, of course, Nate's warning wasn't taken seriously (in the current version of the 'fic, he simply never gave one), so all the dire stuff Mewtwo goes on about here would come to naught. I figured it was just setup that went nowhere, and that everything else the scene did would be covered by stuff later.

    Getting rid of it also meant that no one had to buy Nate managing to come up with this idea, then remaining awake for several hours and walking for a considerable distance through the cold, dark forest despite being badly injured and running a high fever. I play it pretty fast and loose with the medical stuff as it is, but that was probably getting a bit silly. Nonetheless, it was a scene that I'd been looking forward to for quite a while, and it was a real wrench to have to let it go.

    Finally, to more or less catch us up to the present, here's how the protagonist and Nate originally arrived at Indigo Plateau. This is early-ish draft stuff, albeit more recent than the exerpts I posted above, probably 3-4 years old.

    Dodrio slowed, digging in huge claws and skidding in a shower of dislodged stones and a plume of dust a quarter-mile long. The building before you wasn’t really all that impressive when compared to some of those that graced Saffron and the other great cities of Kanto, at least not in terms of size. It was an entirely different awe that fell over the traveling band. The gate was tall enough, and the complex was certainly large, sprawling out across the broad expanse of the plateau like a steak on a dinner plate, but the pitted statues that guarded it had been worn down almost to crusty nubs, and there were gaudy souvenir stands parked outside its grand entrance. There was a chubby family posing for a photograph with a life-size replica of the current champion that had been set up nearby, and the stark splendor of the windswept heights was somewhat diminished by the little camp of tents, trailers, and RV’s that had descended on the place and created a kind of city-outside-the-walls.

    Still, the sight of the place, the bold banners fluttering from its walls and the blush and hum of humanity blossoming again after your lonely trip through the mountains, was undeniably stirring. You looked on quietly, a faint smile stretching unfamiliar muscles in your electivire-face. Behind you, the Great Nathaniel Morgan slid to the ground and tottered away, doing his best to be on his way without actually moving his legs.

    "The Pokémon League," you observed. "Home of the elite four and the Champion, the best trainers in the Kanto League and, therefore the world. The final goal for trainers everywhere, the place where dreams are made and broken..."

    "God, what did you do, watch Pokémon Legends so many times you memorized all their shitty catchphrases or something?" The Great Nathaniel Morgan decided that walking around wasn’t worth it and came back over to lean on Dodrio.

    "Yes. How else would you expect me to learn about being a trainer?"

    The Great Nathaniel Morgan could muster no more than a roll of his eyes, which you wondered over as he said, "Okay, great. And did the TV go into any detail about all the hopeful little angels that showed up at Indigo Plateau feeling like their ass was going to fall off and land in their boots because they’d been riding a dodrio over rough terrain all day?"

    "No. Most people arrived on foot."

    "Well ain’t that a shame?" The Great Nathaniel Morgan patted Dodrio on the side, and the bird’s heads left off bickering about which was the most tired in order to give him a reproachful look. "Look, can you zap me with a bit more of your magic healing or whatever the hell it is? Seriously, I’ve probably got callouses where callouses ain’t not be, you hear me?"

    "Are you actually injured? I don’t think wish works on things like muscle cramps."

    "Well you could at least give it a goddamned try..."

    "I’m tired as well. Why don’t we go to the Pokémon Center to get a room, and if they can’t do anything for you, I’ll try something?"

    "Aww, well if you’re so goddamned tired, Princess, I guess I can go see if I can book a fu‌cking sedan chair to the Pokémon Center for you so you don’t have to go through all that extra exertion."

    As you can see, the context of the League tournament was quite different in the original version. Nate didn't end up hospitalized, and the protagonist managed to get its hands on a reasonably high-level dodrio before leaving Saffron, which fills out a team of six (including Absol) for use in the tournament. However, I never really had any idea what to do with her character; she was cranky and standoffish, avoiding interaction with the other characters as much as possible, which made it particularly difficult to develop her. Also, did the story really need another misanthrope?

    In the current version, of course, Nate only wishes he were well enough to be complaining about a long day of dodrio-riding, and I figured out a way to cut dodrio out of the story entirely. The character who replaces her is, I think, far more entertaining, and doesn't just hang around like a deadweight that I don't know how to get rid of but who never actually does anything. (Also, I have long since left behind any inclination to refer to the main characters of this story as "the traveling band." Really? Really?)

    That's all for now. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into some of the 'fic's what-could-have-beens, and some painful old prose that I mostly try to pretend never happened. When going through old files I discovered that, awkwardly, a majority of them actually consist of scenes we simply haven't gotten to yet, so there was no way to feature them here. Time to get working on moving things along so I finally catch up to them, then! Thanks again for a great three years, and here's to hopefully finishing before another three pass!
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: Okay, here we go! It feels great to be posting chapters again after a break that long. As always, hope you enjoy.

    Chapter 22

    "Deaf! Deaf! Can't aim for nothing!" the golbat jeers as the pokéball clatters off the rock behind him. He's fluttering like mad, trying to stay airborne with one wing frayed nearly to the vanes, but somehow he keeps dodging your throws.

    You heft your last pokéball in your palm, staring narrow-eyed at the golbat. He might sneer, but he's keeping his distance. If you could just get him to hold still a moment...

    You throw your arm forward, and a vine whips out from your palm, wrapping around the base of the golbat's wing. He lets out a stream of curses as you reel him in, followed by a blast of supersonic waves that rebounds crazily from walls and floor and ceiling, too close, too much, filling your head with chaotic, blaring noise.

    You regain your wits just in time to catch the blue flash of the golbat disappearing into a narrow corridor. Of course he hears your pokéball coming and ducks out of the way, and you're left empty-handed as it clatters away into the dark.

    "Loser!" the golbat yells from somewhere out of reach, and seconds later the sound of his labored wingbeats fades to nothing.

    You kick a fallen pokéball so hard it rebounds from the far wall and nearly hits you on its way back, bouncing and rolling off to some dark crevice or other. You slump down on a ragged outcrop and glare at the few feet of cavern illuminated by the spark of energy cupped in your hand. Whatever. You didn't even really want a stupid golbat anyway.

    When you first came through Victory Road it was full of stragglers hoping to clear it before the tournament cutoff. Anywhere you went you'd hear footsteps, distant conversation, the sounds of battle. Now it's quiet, all sound smothered by the heavy sleep of the earth. You shouldn't be here. The route's closed until next August, and they won't even start remodeling it until after the tournament ends.

    This is where the most powerful pokémon in Kanto live, though. You hear them now and again, voices in the dark so distorted by jagged rock walls that you can't make out the words. Trembling in the stone underneath you, a far-off grinding, speaks of rock-types moving about deeper in the cave. There are onix here, even; you could catch one and buy a metal coat with your prize money and the great Nathaniel Morgan would never know the difference.

    But that would be stupid. You don't go and give pokémon to Team Rocket. That's the opposite of what you're supposed to do.

    There's another sound, close. The click of claws on stone. You hold your light up high, and it glows back from Absol's eyes.

    "Do you like being creepy all the time?" you ask as she comes forward and bends to sniff one of the scattered pokéballs. She turns it gently with her paw, careful to avoid touching the button on the front.

    "Are you out here alone?" she asks. "Where are that human's pokémon? The mightyena or the raticate or the graveler?"

    "Hospital," you mutter. "Mightyena kept telling the wilds I was a horrible trainer, so they all ran away. And the other two wouldn't do anything. So I left them with their stupid human."

    "It's dangerous to be out here by yourself."

    "Not really. The wilds here aren't that strong."

    Absol looks more interested in the pokéball than your answer. She bends down and takes it gently between her teeth, then comes over and sets it next to your feet.

    You rest your chin in your palm and watch her as she wanders over to another one. "I need to find two pokémon now, you know, because you aren't helping. If I end up losing, it'll be your fault."

    Absol nudges the pokéball with her paw and watches intently as it rolls across the stones. A solid swipe sends it bouncing and skittering off into the shadows, and Absol races after it.

    "Are you going to tell me what you found out about Mewtwo, or are you just going to play around?" you yell after her.

    She takes her sweet time coming back, finally trotting into the light with the pokéball in her mouth. She sets it next to the first, then saunters off to find another, talking as she goes. "I have not found your brother," she says. "The Champion does not have him. The humans couldn't agree what to do with your brother otherwise, but still they thought the Champion shouldn't have him. I believe he's being kept in some corner of the storage network."

    "They'll give him back. There's no way the Champion'd let them take Mewtwo away."

    Absol crouches to bat a pokéball out from under a ledge and rests a paw on top of it as she goes on. "There were few at first, saying that the Champion is the only one who can control your brother, that the safest place for him is with a trainer. Now there are more. The one human, the psychic, she will not budge. But there are enough now to overcome her. They'll send your brother back to the Champion in the end."


    "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?"

    Absol turns to face you now, and though her expression is as neutral as ever her words are as much a reproach as an explanation. "Because the situation changed, and I don't know why. There's something at work here that neither of us understands."

    "What, because a bunch of humans changed their minds? That happens all the time. Who cares? All that matters is the Champion brings Mewtwo to the final battle. It sounds like we're going to get exactly what we want. Like I said we would."

    "It matters because you may not be the only one who wants it." Absol swats her pokéball over to you, then sets off stalking another like it's recumbent prey while it lies there, inanimate.

    "So that's it? You don't know what's going on, and you're worried about it. So you came here to try and get me to stop fighting in the tournament again." No answer. "Are you at least going to help me battle? Please, Absol? It's going to be hard enough to get one new team member, and you're way better than any of the wilds out here. If you think it's so dangerous, you would at least be there if I got in trouble."

    "I have work to do. And I will always be there if you get in trouble. I do not need to waste my time on pointless fights for that."

    "Come on, Absol. I don't want to be stuck with the Rocket's pokémon all the time. They're almost as annoying as he is."

    "You could always go home."

    You lean back and cross your arms, scowling at Absol. She pounces, and the pokéball skitters from under her claws, rolling and bouncing away. She follows at a measured pace, like she's pursuing an animal that's fled into hiding. You give up and scoop the pokéballs Absol collected into your pocket. You're feeling too irritated to go after the rest.

    It's not fair. You'd usually have Rats to back you up when Absol's being weird, but you're on your own now. And all you have to look forward to later is more of the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokémon ignoring you when they're not being outright mean.

    "Fine, then I guess I'll let you keep doing your work," you say. "I'm leaving." Not that she cares, or even notices, probably.

    --​

    "Been busy, ain't you?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks. He's propped up with a mostly-finished tray of food in front of him, eyes on the television--tournament coverage, of course.

    The monitors around him are all dark and silent, disconnected, and he's energetic enough to manage a proper meal. But even though you healed him again three days ago, he still looks almost exactly the same as he did when he came in here. No wonder the doctors think he'll be stuck here forever. "What do you mean?"

    "Well, while I've been lying around here, you've been out training... battling... getting little kids written up on drug charges... All in a day's work, am I right?"

    "What are you talking about?"

    "Oh, I dunno. Somehow I'm just not buying that some twelve-year old was doping his mons hardcore, you know? And if he gets cited, who gets a bye into the next round? Seems pretty goddamned convenient, if you know what I mean."

    "It is you. You get the bye. And yes, it is convenient. How did you hear about it?"

    "It's all over the fucking news, come one. Unlike some dipshits I know, most people think cheating is kind of a huge fucking deal. You made a kid cry on international TV, Freak. How you feel about that?"

    "I did not make him cry. That was his choice. And if he did not want people to make a big deal about it, he should not have cheated."

    "Give it a fucking rest already. I know you framed his ass. The only reason anybody would ever buy some dude standing in the middle of the street going, 'Oops, oh no, look at all the drugs that I have. By the way, my name is Zachery Oberti, and I am a competitor in the Indigo League Tournament' is because they don't know there's a pissy shapeshifter running around out there! Not with the kid going on about how it wasn't really him and someone took his pokémon and locked him up and all that. They're probably gonna call it a psychotic break or some shit, and he's probably gonna walk, but I guess his mons were drugged up all right when they tested them, so he's out of this tournament at least. So you'll get your fucking bye, and I damn well hope you're happy with it, jackass. But don't go pretending like the kid actually did anything to deserve it."

    "I am happy with it. And he did so cheat in our battle. I was just making up for the referee being an idiot."

    "Oh, for Christ's--he had a baton pass team! It's a strategy, you moron. Ain't fucking cheating!"

    "It is cheap. He should not have won."

    "Don't be such a fucking scrub. It ain't even that good a strategy. You're the one who let yourself lose to baton pass bullshit. It ain't the kid's fault you suck."

    "Well, what did you expect me to do?" you ask, exasperated. "We have to win this tournament. That is more important than Zachery Oberti being sad. I did what I had--"

    "No you fucking did not!" He has to take a second to recover from his outburst, clutching his fork in a white-knuckle grip and wheezing painfully. "This is a fucking double elimination tournament, you fuckwit. Losing once don't matter."

    "We will face much stronger opponents later in the tournament. We should try to win all the early matches so we can take a loss later if we need to."

    "So in other words, it was actually completely fucking unnecessary, and you're just a colossal dick who decided you didn't like the guy. Well, congratufuckinglations, he's out now. He probably ain't never gonna live it down, neither. I hope fucking up his life forever was worth your goddamned ego."

    You press your lips together to keep from showing teeth. "I did what was best for both of us. We need to win. You would have done the same."

    "No, because there was no fucking reason--"

    "If you thought it was necessary to win. You would have framed Zachery Oberti if you'd had to."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's quiet for a few seconds, prodding at the scraps of food on his tray. "Well, yeah. But I wouldn't have been such an asshole about it. Making out like it was all the kid's fault, honestly."

    "The outcome would have been the same either way. Zachery Oberti would have been disqualified, and he would have been sad. You feeling bad about it would change nothing. Do not go acting like you are the moral one here."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan scowls down at his tray, then attacks a last tangle of soggy vegetables, ramming them down with an angry energy.

    You can't hide a smirk. It feels like you never win any arguments against the great Nathaniel Morgan, and you'll savor this victory. At last the human tosses his fork onto his empty tray and pushes the lot away. "Where the hell did you even get all those drugs anyway? I mean, holy shit," he grumbles, not looking at you.

    "It was easy. You can smell when people have them."

    "Huh. Yeah, I guess that's pretty convenient. But, I mean, come on, you had all that high-class shit and you didn't fucking share? You're such an ass!"

    "Those are drugs for pokémon!" you say. "They would probably just kill you!"

    "Yeah, well then at least I wouldn't have to put up with no more of your bullshit, would I?"

    "What are you doing?" you snap as he grabs the railing on the bed and drags himself upright, breath hissing between his teeth with the effort.

    "The fuck you think I'm doing? I'm getting the fuck outta here. Didn't you come to bail me out in the first fucking place?"

    "I was expecting you to be healthier than this," you say. Even sitting up looks like it took a lot out of him, as he sits panting and rubbing his side. "I think you should stay here for a little while longer. I can handle one more battle. You said it yourself, it would not even matter if I lost."

    "Oh, fuck no," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "If I have to sit through one more fucking second of you making an ass outta me on TV I'm going to die of fucking embarrassment. Besides, you fucking cured me, didn't you? The doctors won't shut up about how it's some huge miracle. Fucking miracles. I've had it with motherfucking miracles."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gets up by stages like old people do in commercials, sitting on the edge of the bed for a few seconds, then slowly dragging himself upright using the railing. Finally he pushes off and stands by himself, turning a sway into forward motion and stomping over to a cupboard. He bends down carefully, grumbling the whole time about how he feels like he's "six hundred fucking years old," and pulls out a neat stack of clothing. "Right. I'm just gonna change, and then we can get the fuck out of here."

    "Why do you not just change here?" you ask as he shuffles off towards the bathroom. "Those clothes are old, and you are a lot skinnier than you used to be. The ones I have on now will fit better. Here, I can just take them off..."

    "Holy shit, stop. God, why do you always gotta be such a fucking creeper?"

    "What is your problem? I have been you for days now, it is not like I do not know what you look like under your clothes."

    "Oh my God why are you still talking?" The great Nathaniel Morgan slams the bathroom door behind him. You glare at it for a few seconds, consider following him and continuing the argument, but ultimately decide against it. Let the human have his weird hang-ups, then.

    When he come staggering out again his clothes hang off him like loose sails, just like you predicted. "Pass me my fucking belt already," he growls.

    You do, and the great Nathaniel Morgan buckles it on, cinching it as tight as it goes. He runs his hand over the pokéballs at his side, an unconscious gesture that ends with an awkward jolt when his fingers pass across the empty fourth clip. "All right, let's bounce," he says. "And then order a pizza. A hundred fucking pizzas. I'm so goddamned sick of shitty hospital food."

    "You ate that pretty fast if it was really so shitty," you say, eyeing his empty tray.

    "Yeah, well, it was free and it was right in front of me, which makes up for a lot in food. But seriously, you'd think a pepperoni murdered some doctor's mom or something. Now come on, let's go already."

    "Can you really just leave? Do you not need to check out or anything?"

    "Well, no, they want me to hang around a while for 'observation' or some shit, but fuck that. They didn't cuff me to the bed, they can't complain if I decide to go for a fucking walk."

    You suppose they can't. It's not like you're itching to stay, anyway. You put a hand on the human's shoulder, and in two hops you're back at the Plateau.

    "Where the fuck are we, anyway?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks, slouching on the couch. His eyes wander over the modest television, the scuffed and battered furniture, and the little kitchen with information about checking out taped to the fridge. The window behind the great Nathaniel Morgan looks out on a row of close-packed hotels, the late afternoon sun already sunk behind them, darkening the street with their long shadows.

    "This is one of the apartments they give trainers who are here for the tournament," you say.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan nods and runs a hand over his scalp, taking another quick glance around. "Looks nice enough, I guess. So where's the pokémon?"

    "I do not know. I told them I was bringing you back with me. Maybe they decided to get away while they still had the chance."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns for a second, then says, "Well, whatever. You wanna start doing the infernape thing already? I've had about enough of the fucking evil twin act."

    You shrug, and the room grows bigger around you as you settle into a more infernape-appropriate size, nearly as small as you can get without trouble. Your whole body aches, pain flaring where muscles tear and then re-knit, unsettling vibrations running up and down your body as bone grinds against bone. You grit your teeth and concentrate. Going from human to infernape isn't bad, all things considered, but you have to be careful and get this one right.

    "Ugh," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters as you fumble out of your ill-fitting clothing. "I hope to God I never gotta watch myself go all melty and turn into an infernape ever again. Holy shit." He studies you intently while you scratch all over, itchy where fur forced itself out of your skin and from the thought of being trapped in those clothes one second longer. It's so much more comfortable being a pokémon and not having to wear anything. "Yeah, that's pretty good," the great Nathaniel Morgan concedes at last. "You're kinda scrawny for a real battle-trained infernape, but it's one hell of a lot better than whatever the fuck you were doing with that charmeleon thing. What the fuck happened to your tail?"

    "Tails are hard," you say, looking over your shoulder at your own, making it twitch and curl in on itself. "They hurt a lot." This one is pretty good, though, you think. It's kind of stubby, but it moves just fine.

    "Well, whatever. People'll probably just think you're a runt or some weird breed or whatever the fuck. So, you find a sixth pokémon yet? I'm guessing no, or you woulda been all shoving it in my face first chance you got."

    "No," you say sourly. "Your pokémon kept scaring off all the good ones."

    "Fan-fucking-tastic. So not only can't you battle, but you can't catch pokémon for shit neither. Goddamn, Freak, you're like the worst trainer ever."

    "I am working on it," you say, injecting every ounce of menace you can into the words. The flames streaming from your head blaze orange and yellow, heating up along with your temper. "I do not want just any pokémon for this. I am not going to catch the first thing I see."

    "Yeah, well, we're kinda running outta time, here, Freak. Anything's better than nothing. The semis are six on six, and we only got, what, three matches left before that? Clock's fucking ticking." He frowns into the middle distance, running his hand over his belt. "Now, we're gonna need a pokéball for you."

    "What? No!"

    "Well, why the fuck not?"

    "I am not going to let you catch me. As if you even could."

    "What, you mean I gotta have the team beat the tar outta you first? I mean, fuck, I ain't complaining if that's how you want to play it, but it seems kinda point--"

    "No. I mean you cannot catch me because pokéballs do not work on me."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan spreads his hands. "Well, why the fuck not? Potions and shit do, don't they? And attacks."

    "Because that would be stupid," you say. The human makes an exasperated noise, but you move on before he can start in on some new complaint. "And anyway, I would not let you catch me. I do not want a trainer, and even if I did, I would pick somebody better than you."

    "Oh, what the fuck ever. Look, what about your absol friend? You got a ball for her?"

    You smile at the thought of the great Nathaniel Morgan asking Absol to join his team. "You can ask if you want, but I do not think she likes pokéballs."

    "Great. Just fucking great." The great Nathaniel Morgan rubs his face and sighs. "So that's two mons that can't get recalled, which means they can't switch out in a tournament match. So already we're starting with a big disad--" Something heavy thuds into the door, followed by a flurry of scratchings and scrapings, the door handle rattling. The great Nathaniel Morgan sits up straight, one hand gripping the edge of the couch like he's not sure if he should be on his feet or not.

    You don't bother turning to look, recognizing Raticate from the way he snuffles and mutters to himself while he fumbles with the door. Your only warning is a second's glimpse of the great Nathaniel Morgan's nervous look changing to a grin before Mightyena goes past like a rocket, slamming into you and almost knocking you flat on your face. Raticate shoves by a second later, and you take a halfhearted swipe at him, but he's already gone. The two of them leap onto the couch with such force that the great Nathaniel Morgan has to grab for a handhold lest he get bounced out of his seat.

    "Hey, whoah, careful. I don't wanna go back to the--gah, Mightyena!"

    The dark-type shoves past his warding arm to get at his face with her tongue, and then Raticate pushes her out of the way and climbs up the great Nathaniel Morgan's side, reaching for his shoulder. Mightyena bounces around in a circle, panting out huge excited breaths and smacking the great Nathaniel Morgan upside the head with her tail as she goes. He winces and puts a hand up to his head, but manages to transform his expression into a strained smile before Mightyena turns back his way. With the other arm he's trying to keep Raticate out of his face. "Okay, wow, I'm happy to see you, t--no no no no no!"

    Mightyena pounces on him again, slobbering all over his face without a care for his attempts to push her away. You cross your arms and frown, impatient, while the great Nathaniel Morgan chokes on breathless laughter, barely managing to gasp out a garbled "stop, stop" as he tries to disentangle himself from the pokémon.

    Graveler stomps past and sets a couple of pizza boxes and a six-pack of beer on the table, then joins you in quiet observation. "Hey, Graveler," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, attempting to pull Raticate off, the normal-type's claws tangling in his shirt. Graveler makes a rumbling noise that could conceivably be some kind of greeting. "What have you got there?"

    "Wait, hold on!" Mightyena jumps down from the couch and gallops across the apartment to a plastic bag lying abandoned by the door, grabs it in her teeth, and races back over. The great Nathaniel Morgan leaves off investigating the pizza to sort through it, setting wrappers crinkling. You see chips, snack cakes, candy...

    "Holy shit, you even got some of those little chocolate cupcake things? Badass!"

    A thought occurs to you. "Wait, where did you guys get the money for all that?"

    Mightyena sits next to the great Nathaniel Morgan again, and Raticate appears comfortable draped across his trainer's lap. The great Nathaniel Morgan absently steadies the normal-type with one hand as he leans forward to consider his food options.

    "They stole my wallet!" you snap at the great Nathaniel Morgan after a quick rifle through the pockets of your discarded pants. "They took my money to go out and buy all of that!"

    "Not really your fucking money, is it, Freak?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks cheerfully as he selects a bottle of beer and bangs it open on the edge of the table. He takes a long pull from it as he reaches for a package of beef jerky, then tears the snacks open with his teeth. "I mean, you jacked it from some dead guy, right?"

    "That is not the point," you say. "The point is your pokémon should not be stealing from me."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan offers Mightyena a piece of jerky. "No, no, that's all for you," she says, giving him a lick on the cheek.

    "Speak for yourself, Dogbreath," Raticate says, eagerly snatching the treat out of the great Nathaniel Morgan's fingers.

    The human smiles and offers Raticate the rest of the package when the normal-type tries to snag another piece without being noticed. To you he says, "Go cry to someone who gives a shit, Freak."

    "If we are going to work together, you are going to have to stop letting your pokémon antagonize me."

    "If we're gonna work together, you're gonna have to stop being such a little bitch. Quit whining about every goddamn thing and grow a fucking spine already. And don't give me none of that 'antagonizing' bullshit, neither. You're always going on about how you could fucking destroy anybody with like a flick of your finger or whatever the fuck. You can keep an eye on your goddamn wallet. Ain't that hard."

    The back of your neck heats up as your flames leap higher, and the pokémon stop eating, tense and wary. The great Nathaniel Morgan shoves a huge handful of chips into his mouth and chews noisily, looking unimpressed.

    "Who has it?" you growl. "Give it back right now, or I your dinner is going to get ruined."

    "I think we'd better settle this later," Mightyena says, her hackles bristling. "Or are you really looking for another beating so soon?"

    "Oh, come on, guys," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, grabbing a slice of pizza. "You really want to see the Freak throw a tantrum in here? I just want some fucking food. Give the damn thing back, would you?"

    Raticate and Mightyena glance at each other, and after a second the dark-type turns away with a snort, glaring at the wall. Raticate reaches into his mouth, extracts a spit-covered square of leather, and chucks it at your head. He hops over to the table to inspect the pizza while you fumble the wallet out of the air.

    You flip it open, acid anger fizzing in your chest when you see how little cash is left, then wipe it off on your fur. Your searing look goes ignored, everyone too preoccupied with the pizza to pay attention to you. You tuck the wallet into the fur on your chest and fix it in place with a localized sticky hold. No way anyone can swipe it from you now. Then you make for the pizza yourself.

    Mightyena growls as you approach, getting louder the closer you come. Raticate and the great Nathaniel Morgan look up from their food, and the human puts a hand on Mightyena's side. "Okay, okay, we get it. That's gonna get old real fast, all right?" Mightyena stops growling but stays tense, watching you like she thinks you're about to leap at her trainer.

    "I am just going to take some pizza and leave," you say. You wouldn't even do that much, but the food does smell really good.

    "Wait, what? This is our food, Freak. As in 'not yours.' You want some pizza, go get your own goddamn pizza."

    "What?" you yelp. Raticate snickers, but Mightyena's as serious as ever, as though she suspects you're just waiting for her to let her guard down. "But your pokémon bought it with my money!"

    "Oh, you mean the money you fucking stole? What the fuck was it you said earlier? Something like if you're a thief you can't get mad if somebody takes your shit? Yeah, that."

    "This is not the same thing at all!"

    "Whatever. Look, you want some fucking pizza, you can grab some leftovers later--if there are any. Otherwise piss off and get your own goddamn dinner."

    You glare at him as he shoves a slice into his mouth, tearing off almost half of it in one go. Mightyena's given up her ban on eating his food and is licking the toppings off her own slice, her eyes still on you, and Raticate's fur is bloodied by sauce and bits of cheese. He's attacking the pizza like he's afraid it might get up and run away. Leftovers. Right.

    "Is that really the sort of thing you should be eating right after you get out of the hospital?" you snarl.

    "Nope." The great Nathaniel Morgan belches expressively and leans back into the cushions, grinning. "I could swear I died and went to heaven. You guys are the best."

    Raticate snickers again, and Mightyena nudges the great Nathaniel Morgan with her nose. He strokes her head until Raticate shoves her aside, demanding his own scratching. You stand and watch the scuffle, considering setting them on fire, just setting everything on fire, but in the end all you do is throw open the door and take off into the dusk.

    --​

    You try to stay mad, you really do. But it's Indigo Plateau in the middle of the League Championships. Everything's lit up like a party as sunlight leeches out of the sky, the streets mobbed with laughing, chatting people milling around bars and restaurants or migrating towards the park, where a band's tuning up for a free concert. You get a rice bowl from a food cart, and then some ice cream, and then a waffle dipped in chocolate with sprinkles and raspberry syrup from a stand you could smell halfway up the street.

    You've been spending too much time worrying about the championship battles, you decide. Now that you actually get to fight, it'll be easy. Even if the great Nathaniel Morgan and his team are completely incompetent, you can carry the matches if you need to. You should be relaxing and enjoying the Plateau while you can, not letting those losers get on your nerves.

    You climb a streetside tree and find a comfortable spot amid leaves edged with red by the oncoming fall. You lean back against the trunk and scratch your back on the bark, then sit sucking on sticky fingers, listening to distant cheering and the indistinct boom of the announcer from the direction of the grand stadium. Someone's giving it their all out there, fighting for their chance at the championship. You imagine the glare of the stadium lights against the blue-black sky, the wall of spectators rising up on all sides, the battlefield shaking with the force of powerful attacks. Not long now. One more round, and it'll be your turn to battle in front of thousands.

    There's snick overhead, the scratch of claw against bark. It's a small noise, easily lost amidst the clatter of branches and rustle of leaves. You've lived with a pokémon who loves to make unexpected entrances for years, now, though, and the tiny noise sounds loud in your subconscious, loud enough to snap you out of your imaginings.

    "Absol--" you start, but of course you're twenty feet off the ground, and even Absol isn't that good. You twist around and stare into the branches overhead, squinting in the dim light. There's nothing up there, nothing scratching, nothing creeping. A breeze whips past, and branches sway, leaves hiss and shiver. You stay still, listening with all your might, waiting.

    The wind blows again, and as a branch shifts aside, just for a second, your fire gleams off something blue and sparkling. Another breeze, and it's gone.

    "You!" you roar, leaping to swing a blazing fist through the spot where the ghost was. Because you're sure it was her, still following, still watching. "Get back here!" you howl. "Get out here and fight! Coward!" Hot, sweet-smelling ash stirs in the air around you, leaves blacking and crinkling before they even touch your roaring flames. There's no answer, not that you were expecting one. Coward.

    "Come on!" You climb higher, the fire following you up and around, leaves catching other leaves and bark charring under your fingers. "Where are you? You want to spy on me, huh? You think you can sneak around and I won't notice? Let's settle this! Come out and fight!"

    No reply. There's nowhere to hide, either, the tree blazing away under you, flames breaking the shadows into wavering, dancing splinters. You perch high up, where the branches thin to whippy, springy twigs, and fume.

    The fire's starting to attract attention, people gathering down below, and with a final frustrated snort you hurl yourself back to the ground, landing hard and sending a lickitung scrambling aside with a screech and a burst of fire. You race through the crowd on all fours, knuckles jarring hard against pavement, wrapped in a sheet of fire just in case anyone thinks they want to get in your way.

    You run and run and leave the city center behind, all the lights and all the people and the noise, until you're far out in dark, quiet streets, not really sure how to find your way back and certainly not caring. You skid to a halt, a few last tongues of flame flickering and dying in your wake, and take a seat against the side of a building, leaning your head back, flames burning low from exhaustion.

    Of course the sableye's still following you. She challenged you once and escaped before, didn't she? Not next time, though. Next time you'll be ready. You know how to handle ghosts, and she really has no idea what you're capable of.

    You sit there for what feels like a long time, long enough for the cold to creep in even with your fire warming you from the inside out. You should get back to the apartment, get some proper rest. You're going to need it, if you'll be dealing with the great Nathaniel Morgan all day tomorrow.

    --​

    It's now well past dark, and the great Nathaniel Morgan's sound asleep with Raticate hugged against his chest like a buck-toothed teddy bear. Graveler's still awake--for all you know she never sleeps--standing in a corner, watching you.

    You suppress a shudder and look away, making a beeline for the bed. Something moves in the semidark, and you jump, flames leaping high in shock. Mightyena's eyes gleam in the firelight as she glares at you from her trainer's far side. "What do you think you're doing?"

    "Going to bed, obviously."

    "Keep your voice down!" the dark-type hisses. "And I don't know if you noticed, but the bed's taken. Go sleep somewhere else."

    "There is still room. I can be small, too." You start to climb up, but Mightyena gets her paws under her, letting out a low growl.

    "So you want to wake everybody up while you go climbing over them, looking for a spot? I don't think so. My trainer needs rest."

    "He needs a lot more than that. Your trainer is a disgusting slob."

    Mightyena's teeth flash white in the dark, her hackles raised, but you only smirk. She can't do anything without waking the others.

    "Maybe you don't remember the lesson I taught you a few days ago," Mightyena says. "You're not in charge here. You think you want to push me, you really want to start something over this, you're going to get a pretty harsh reminder of where you stand. And if it comes down to a fight and it wakes Nate up, I'll be twice as angry as I was last time."

    You stare her down until you hear Graveler shift, a chalkboard noise of scale over scale. "Well, where am I supposed to sleep, then?" you snap.

    "There's a couch, isn't there? And there's plenty of floor. I don't care. Just not here."

    The light of your flames casts a warm, flickering glow around the room, warmer now that agitation lends them extra fuel. Mightyena rests her chin on her trainer's side, ears up and eyes fixed on you until, at last, you turn and go.

    It's quiet and cold out in the living room, and you curl up tight on the couch, tail thrown over one shoulder and flames banked. You stare into the darkness and seethe, playing the injustice over and over in your mind. It's only a few days, you remind yourself. Four more battles. Then you can tell Mewtwo to blow up the great Nathaniel Morgan's stupid head and get on with your life. You huddle on the scratchy old couch where the smell of pizza sauce still lingers and nurse thoughts of revenge late, late into the night.
     
  7. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Of COURSE a golbat would attribute poor aim to that. That's brilliant.

    SO KITTY. SO VERY KITTY.
    Argh she is just way too adorable for words. I love her. Best catwolfthing.

    Child, you are such an asshat. XD

    This is so, so satisfying somehow.

    Anywhere there's tact in the universe
    The Child
    Will be there
    To make everything worse!

    It's likelier than he might think!

    I think you know how I feel about the kind of transformations that Don't Feel Great. :D

    they're a real pain in the ***

    Impenetrable logic.

    SO DOGGY.
     
  8. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Glad you caught that! I was afraid it might be a bit confusing.

    I was rather fond of that line, too.

    I love that we live in a world where enough people thought that toy was a good idea that it was able to be designed, manufactured, and distributed, and ultimately made fun of on the internet.

    Hmmm, I feel like this might be a reference I don't recognize. DX

    They're loads of fun to write!

    Terrible, but it made me smile.

    Always great to hear from you, Sike. Glad you enjoyed this one.
     
  9. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: I kind of missed the nominations phase, but here's a little propaganda spot to remind you to vote in the fanfic awards if you haven't already! There are plenty of good stories in the running, and it only takes a couple minutes to toss your faves a few votes.

    Anyway, here's another chapter!

    Chapter 23

    Morning light chases away straggling, nonsense dreams, leaving you with nothing but an uneasy feeling. At least they weren't bad enough to actually wake you up this time. It's been a while since you properly dreamed your mother's dreams. Maybe you have enough nightmares of your own now.

    Doesn't matter. You have other ways of finding out where to go next.

    You stare up at the ceiling, watching deep purple shadows retreat into corners as the world outside brightens, and think of nothing much at all until, abruptly, you remember it's Saturday. You topple off the sofa in an excited flail of limbs, but the clock on the microwave says it's not even six yet. That's two whole hours you've got to spend somehow, and of course the great Nathaniel Morgan and his pokémon are still asleep.

    It only takes about a minute and a half to fix yourself some Sugar Loops and then you're settled in front of the television, staring fixedly at the screen while you crunch the whole bowl down. Turn on the TV on and stare at the blank bands of color for as long as you can stand, then go get another bowl of cereal. An hour and forty-five minutes to go. Why do grown-ups make everything start so late?

    It'll all be reruns today, of course, but on Transformozords they've been showing the storyline with all the cool snake aliens, and Trainer Max should have a couple episodes from Hoenn. You lie back on the couch and pass the time playing some of your favorite scenes over in your head. An hour and twenty minutes to go.

    If you were at home you could at least go out to the jungle and hunt for wingull eggs or chase a few night-owl oddish who hadn't planted themselves yet. You might go swimming and see how deep you could go, down and down to where everything turns shadowy blue and your head feels ready to burst from the pressure. At the very least you could count on Rats to entertain you, even if just by chasing you out of the house so she could have some peace.

    You perch on the back of the couch and stare out the window. The street outside is quiet and empty, the sunlight bright in a chilly, fall-ish way. Nothing there to distract you.

    You slide back down and try to find a comfortable position on the couch. You pull your feet up, then put them down again. You lie facedown with your head on your hands, but of course there's no going back to sleep now. You turn upside-down and stay that way until your head gets hot and your heart pounds in your ears, then slide to the floor and lie there for a second instead. Then you jump up, onto the arm of the couch, then the back, then over to the chair, the coffee table, the couch again--

    "What the heck is going on out here?" Raticate asks from behind you. The great Nathaniel Morgan leans out from the bedroom, his pokémon poking their heads out around his legs.

    "There you are!" you say, letting the chair you'd been righting fall back to the floor. "I was wondering when you were going to wake up. It has been light for hours! Are you finally ready to start training?"

    The human squints at you, his eyes no more than glinting slits in puffy sockets. "'m goin' back t'bed," he slurs, then disappears from view.

    "Oh no you are not!" You cross the room in two easy bounds, but Mightyena stands in the bedroom doorway, snarling.

    "Oh God, Mightyena, don't start shit now," the great Nathaniel Morgan groans with his face pressed into the mattress.

    "You have been asleep for at least ten hours," you say, ignoring Mightyena's hostile look. "That is more than enough time. We have a lot of work to do before the battle tomorrow."

    "No shit. Maybe you shoulda thought of that before you mauled me half to fucking death. You better be ready for me to do a fuckton of sleeping."

    "This is ridiculous! You cannot expect to get anything done if you spend half the day in bed."

    "Look, you can go back to jumping around like a maniac or whatever, I don't give a fuck. Just do it outside, for God's sake. I'll get up at nine, okay? Any earlier than that is just... jus'... stupid." He yawns hugely, then rolls over so his back is to you.

    "I will come get you at nine," you say. "You had better be ready." The human grunts something, which you suppose means he at least heard you, and his pokémon settle in around him and stare at you until you leave.

    You still have half an hour before anything worthwhile comes on TV. At least now there are old re-runs on a couple channels, ancient, washed-out sitcoms. You doubt they were funny even when they first aired.

    It gets better from there, though. You'd forgotten that Gligar-Man was on early today, and Trainer Max has a commercial you've never seen before for a giant charizard plush that growls, roars, and makes ten other charizard noises. You want one, even though you have the real thing. And in the end you never even have to haul the great Nathaniel Morgan out of bed. He makes his entrance about halfway through Transformozords, his pokémon tagging along behind. Raticate hops up on the table to investigate the Sugar Loops. "Those are mine," you say warningly as he sniffs the corner of the box.

    "What the fuck are you watching?" The great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles. His eyes are most of the way open, but he looks even surlier than usual as he leans against the kitchen counter.

    "It is Transformozords, obviously."

    "Transfo-what?"

    "Have you not heard of Transformozords? Really?"

    "Freak, I don't pay attention to nothing where I can feel my IQ drop just hearing the fucking name."

    "But it is the best show! It is about people who can transform into big monster beast robots, and also they are ninjas. They fight the evil Space Pirates and defend the galaxy from crime! Except Transformo-Gray, she turned out to be evil and joined the Space Pirates a while ago."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at you. "Wow. That sounds... really fucking stupid. Get your ass over here already. You wanted to leave, and we're leaving."

    You roll your eyes. Transformozords is about ninjas, so if the great Nathaniel Morgan thinks it's stupid he's just objectively wrong. You hang around long enough to watch Transformo-Blue finish his morphing sequence, which is so cool, but you do have to admit that training is more important.

    A few minutes later you're wishing you'd at least stuck around long enough to watch the commercials, since it doesn't look like you'll be getting to train for the next hundred years or so anyway.

    "Why are you so slow?" you hiss at the great Nathaniel Morgan, voice pitched as low as possible so passersby won't realize his infernape's yelling at him. Quite possibly he doesn't realize, either, since all his attention appears to be on staying upright. It's Mightyena who growls, then snaps at you when you shove past and out to the front of the group. "Come on, come on!" you yell in Infernape, figuring the meaning's clear enough even if the great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't understand the words.

    Instead of hurrying up he gets even slower. By the end of the street he's sweating and dragging his feet. He stops to lean against a wall, and when Mightyena races over he snaps, "I'm fine, Mightyena." She backs off but keeps staring up at him, pacing out a nervous arc a few feet away.

    "This is stupid. We will never get anywhere at this rate. Why do you not just ride on Graveler?" you ask.

    "I'm fucking fine! I don't need nobody to carry me around like a goddamned baby." He pushes off from the wall, only to stagger and grab for it again.

    "I did not say 'carry.' I said 'ride.' Like you ride an arcanine or something. Graveler is big enough."

    "Oh." The great Nathaniel Morgan studies the rock-type while he works to get his wind back. "Well, that's kind of weird, but we could try, I guess. I mean, if you're okay with--"

    Graveler grunts and moves to stand next to him. The great Nathaniel Morgan hesitates a moment, looking down at her like he's afraid she's going to dump him off as soon as he sits down, then gingerly settles cross-legged on top of her. "Uh, I guess this works," he says. He leans forward and tries to look into Graveler's face upside-down. "You're okay with this? I'm not too heavy or nothing?"

    The rock-type starts walking by way of reply, and the great Nathaniel Morgan grabs for a handhold, shifting around until he finds a steadier position. "Uh, sure. Okay. That way, I guess."

    In the end Graveler isn't much faster than the great Nathaniel Morgan himself, but at least she keeps up a steady pace. A few people seem to find the great Nathaniel Morgan's mode of conveyance funny, but you're sure it wouldn't attract so much attention if he didn't snarl at anyone he caught looking. He's a human and should understand that sort of thing, but no, he insists on getting worked up over nothing.

    Mightyena bounds on ahead, weaving in and out of the growing crowd but never going far, keeping a constant watch on her trainer. Then she pops up beside you, completely out of nowhere, and even after years of living with Absol it takes all your self-control not to jump.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't even glance at her, reaching back to take something held gently between her jaws. You crane your neck, trying to get a good look at it, but the human hunches in over it, shielding it with his body. Mightyena paces alongside Graveler, ears and tail up, awaiting his verdict.

    You start to grab for the item, but think better of it when you feel Raticate and Mightyena's eyes on you. A burst of speed gets you out in front of Graveler and gives you a moments' glimpse of what the great Nathaniel Morgan's holding before he conceals it again. It's a pokénav, a newer model, sleek metallic casing and big, glassy screen. "That is not yours!" you hiss at him. "She stole that, did she not?"

    The human runs a finger over the model name etched on the back, checks the buttons along the sides. He tilts the screen carefully, peering at it from an angle, then swipes at it experimentally. After only a couple tries he has the nav unlocked and is browsing the installed programs as casually as though he's owned the thing for months.

    "Stealing is wrong," you say, raising your voice enough that he can't pretend not to have heard you but mindful of the people passing by to either side.

    "So some yuppie douchebag has to buy a new nav. Cry me a fucking river," the great Nathaniel Morgan says without looking up.

    "You cannot go around stealing things while we are here! Or your pokémon! What if somebody saw them! What if they got caught? There is security everywhere! If we end up getting thrown out of the tournament because--"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan shoots you a furious look and raises his hand in a swift negating gesture. His gaze flicks around the crowd for a second before he passes the pokénav back to Mightyena. "Nice find," he says, reaching around to pat the side of her neck. "But the freak's right. We ain't got time to fence nothing, and we'll make plenty off the tourney anyhow. Go put that back where you found it, okay?"

    Mightyena wags once, then turns and is gone. The great Nathaniel Morgan stares right past you, managing not to notice you no matter how often you move to be in his line of sight. You start telling him what you'll do if you catch his pokémon stealing again, but Raticate decides to make a game of swiping your legs out from under you with his tail. You're so preoccupied with avoiding him that you don't even realize you've reached your destination until the great Nathaniel Morgan says, "All right, all right. This is good. Thanks, Graveler." He shifts from her back to a boulder on the edge of a flat, open space and gives his team a critical look. "You guys warm up, okay? Freak, you're with me."

    The other pokémon move away, Mightyena bouncing and prancing and tossing her head as a brisk morning breeze ruffles her thick fur. Raticate looks markedly less enthusastic.

    You look around at the rocky expanse of the plateau, the huddle of tents and campers in the distance, and sourly remember what happened the last time you had the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokémon out here. "Hey." The human snaps his fingers, and you grudgingly turn your attention back to him. "You and me gotta have a little talk. So you know, like, every fucking attack ever, am I right?"

    "Basically."

    "Great. Let's see it, then."

    "What, every attack? You cannot honestly expect me to stand here and go through every--"

    "No, no. Uh, ice beam. You can do an ice beam?"

    You sweep your arm out in a contemptuous gesture, drawing a lacy line of ice across the rocks nearby. "Okay, great. What about a flying attack? Say, sky drop?"

    You do that one, too, and fairy wind, and frenzy plant, with the great Nathaniel Morgan watching intently all the while. You execute every attack flawelessly even as your frustration grows, your flames roaring higher to meet it. Finally, the great Nathaniel Morgan starts, "Okay, now try a--"

    "I said every attack," you snap. "I do not care what you pick, I can do it. Watch."

    You put your palms on the ground, extending your awareness to the earth beneath you. Energy leaves you in a hot wave, reaching down through rock and out in all directions. Shadows bubble up from crevices and stretch from under scattered rocks until the whole area's drenched in undulating, sun-defying dark. You lean forward and send another shock of power racing outwards, and needle-thin spires of darkness spear up, piercing an invisible foe. You let out a sigh and sit back on your heels, drawing deep breaths as you survey your handiwork.

    The plateau before you is a lake of black glass, warped and bent into uneasy frozen waves. At the center of it all a forest of blades glints darkly, horribly fragile but even more horribly sharp.

    "Holy shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan breathes. His pokémon huddle nearby, staring, their exercises forgotten. "I ain't never seen an attack like that before. What the fuck was it?"

    "I do not think it has a name." You can't contain your smugness as you say, "There are a lot of attacks humans do not know about. And I can do more than attacks, too. I know all the abilities, and I can be any type I want. I can change them any time. And I am much stronger than other pokémon."

    "Yeah, I saw," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. You squint at him in confusion. "Back when you were fighting Team Rocket in the forest. Wonder guard's a bitch when you don't know what type the thing you're wailing on is."

    "Ah," you say, pride warming your chest at the memory. "You know the kinds of things I can do, then."

    "Yeah. But you ain't gonna do them in none of the tournament battles, you hear? Nothing you shouldn't be able to do. Infernape's pretty flexible, so we still got plenty to work with. But the point is no fucking cheating, you hear me? You're gonna be out there in front of the crowd, and the League'll have cameras so far up your ass they can see your tonsils. Instant replays, spectral analyzers, real-time whatever the fuck, all that shit. So don't you be thinking you can show off none of your fancy bullshit, okay?"

    "Of course not. I am good at disguises."

    "Like hell you are. Just don't even try nothing, got it? Not even like that bullshit you pulled on Blue, where you thought nobody'd be able to see. All it takes is for one weird thing to happen for us to end up balls-deep in League flunkies determined to find some dirt on us. And we got some serious fucking dirt to worry about, you know? Look," he lowers his voice to an urgent growl, "I know you don't give one single fuck what I say and you're going to do whatever the hell you want anyway. But I want you to remember that we only got one shot at this, and it's gonna be hard enough without risking getting kicked out for some bullshit reason like you thought it would be cute to wonder guard up against somebody tough. Don't fuck this one up for the both of us."

    "You do not need to remind me of that. If there is anyone who is going to mess this up, it will be you."

    "Well, good," he mutters. Then he raises his voice, turning towards his lurking pokémon. "All right, you slackers! Time to do some actual work!"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan pairs you up with his pokémon one at a time, putting you through mock battles and specific drills. "Fire attacks only this time," he says when you and Mightyena break apart, eyeing each other with a dislike that says you'd rather be beating each other up for real. "You're kinda slow on the old flamethrower. Tighten it up, try for less power and better speed. Mightyena, dodge for now. You're doing fine." In the background, Raticate and Graveler are going through their own exercises, the normal-type keeping up a running commentary on how unfair it is to be asked to "literally bang my head against a rock all morning."

    But in the midst of his ranting Raticate keeps throwing his trainer sidelong looks. Mightyena's doing it too, you realize when her distraction lets you graze her with your fire. Before you know it you're keeping an eye on the human as well, wondering what the others are expecting. He's a Rocket, after all, and they have something of a reputation for unethical training regimens. But all he does is watch.

    At last the great Nathaniel Morgan human calls his pokémon over, pulling some bottles of water out of his backpack. You follow the others, breathing hard but flush with energy. Even mock battling like this calls up a shadow of the excitement of the real thing, and it feels good to exercise your power, to stretch to the edge of what you're capable of. You idle at the back of the group and draw random squiggles of flame with your finger, making coiling symbols that flare and die in tiny puffs of smoke.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan hands water bottles to you and Raticate and pours half another into a bowl for Mightyena. He ducks a second later, hands raised to ward her off. "Every goddamn time!" he says as she tries to reach his face with her tongue, spraying water droplets in all directions. "You trying to make me take away your water breaks or what?" He grabs for her, but she jumps away, bouncing around him in a circle.

    Raticate drops his empty bottle and nudges it a couple times with his nose, then shoots the great Nathaniel Morgan an expectant look. He hops towards his trainer, then whirls and runs a few paces before stopping and looking over his shoulder. "You're not really going to sit there and watch all day, are you, lazy-ass?" the normal-type asks. "Seriously. What about your training?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan takes long seconds to puzzle out the normal-type's meaning. At last a sad smile spreads across his face. "Sorry, buddy. I ain't really up to running around right now."

    "Really?" Raticate demands. When the great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head, he hunches over with ears drooping, combing a claw through his whiskers. "Man, you're totally boring when you're sick," he mutters.

    "Raticate!" Mightyena snaps.

    "Well, it's true," the normal-type grumbles. Mightyena looks like she wants to say something more, but stops herself short. Instead she leans up against her trainer's leg, and he reaches down to run his fingers through her mane. Raticate crawls into his trainer's lap, resting his head on his paws and barely reacting as the great Nathaniel Morgan scratches the fur on his rump. You hover nearby, itching to get back to work but somehow getting the sense that now might not be the best time to draw attention to yourself.

    "How long are you going to sit there?" you ask after far too much time has passed. They all glare at you. "What?"

    "Look, why don't we make this a lunch break, then?" The great Nathaniel Morgan says with a sigh. "Head back to the city and find some grub. We got plenty of time for more work in the afternoon. And I..." He takes a deep breath, and for a moment he looks like he's feeling every one of his injuries. "I need a fucking nap."

    --​

    You can't even feel irritated that the great Nathaniel Morgan's wasting time sleeping while you lie stretched full-length on a bench, eating an ice cream cone. If nothing else, he appears to be taking the tournament seriously. From the way he conducted himself this morning you could almost imagine he was competent.

    You watch people filter through the town square, sun-warmed and feeling pleasantly lethargic. You're considering going back for another cone when something catches on the edge of your awareness, sending cold prickles running straight down to the tip of your tail. Someone's watching.

    You stay as still as you can, trying not to hurry as you crunch down the last of your snack. She's behind you, on the left. You're sure of it.

    You stick the final piece of cone in your mouth, chewing slowly while you brace yourself to move, then spin around and jump up to the back of the bench, staring hard at where you know Eskar has to be.

    The sableye ducks back into the shadows, but your eyes glow with foresight's light and pin her on the spot. You pounce while she hisses and swears over her sudden corporeality, grabbing her firmly around the middle. Three bounds take you over to a quaint little boutique, and another two, hand over hand, have you up its side and to the privacy of its roof.

    Eskar squirms and gasps, "Wait! Wait, Cordierite-eyes, stop!"

    You drop her and stomp down on her chest before she can scuttle away. It would be a bone-cracking blow, but Eskar's body compresses like a stress ball under your weight and your foot merely sinks a half inch into her body.

    "What did I say would happen if you kept following me?" you ask. Your flames roar up blue-white, and a blast of heat scorches the concrete all around. Eskar's ectoplasm chars to black and flaking about the edges, releasing an acrid, chemical smell.

    "No! Only talk, Cordierite-eyes, only talk! Please!"

    "You want to talk?" You hit her with a brick break that leaves deep divots in her congealed ectoplasm. "You keep spying on me! I'm not going to talk with you!" You reach down and wrench one of the sableye's gemstone eyes out of its socket while she's still cringing from your attack.

    She reaches after it, screeching, "No! Don't take! Don't take!"

    You hold the stone up in a clenched fist. "I told you last time I would break this, didn't I?"

    "No, Cordierite-eyes, no! Please! Please listen!" The sableye holds her hands up in front of her face as if to shield herself from the waves of heat rolling off your blazing crown.

    "Why are you following me?" you demand.

    Eskar turns her face away. "Illite-eyes says follow. Illite-eyes says watch."

    "So you're supposed to see what I'm up to and then call Team Rocket in to get me when you see the chance, is that it?"

    "Well..." Eskar starts, then throws her hands up again as your grip tightens on her eye. "Wait! Wait! Don't want to hurt you, Cordierite-eyes, no! Illite-eyes wants you, oh, yes, very badly indeed, but... Illite-eyes doesn't understsand. She can't take you, no, not someone like you. You see, Cordierite-eyes? You see?"

    "What do you mean, someone like me?"

    "Well, you, you can change, yes?" the sableye says. "Your eyes..." She taps her remaining one, as though trying to convey something she can't quite put into words.

    "Yes, I can change my eyes," you say warily. "So?"

    "So that's amazing, Cordierite-eyes! Amazing! Don't you see? Illite-eyes wants you, yes, she wants to know what you are. But she doesn't really understand, Cordierite-eyes! You see?" It comes out in a hasty jumble, Eskar's grin inviting you to share her excitement.

    You don't see, though. "So Ill--I mean, the boss, she... doesn't understand?"

    "No, no. She tries, yes, she tries. But she is only human, yes? She doesn't really understand about eyes." Eskar lets out a breathy, nervous chuckle. "Why, she even said I could have hers, after she died."

    "Well, that's... nice," you hazard.

    "No! Oh, no, Cordierite-eyes, no! She'll need them! She'll need her eyes! What good is a no-eye ghost? No, no, Illite-eyes must have her eyes to keep. It was kind of her to offer, so kind, but she doesn't understand. You see, you see? And now she wants you. But people Team Rocket takes, hmm, they sometimes, they sometimes get"--she taps her claws on the concrete beneath her, a fast, agitated rhythm--"damaged. And what a shame, Cordierite-eyes! For someone as amazing as yourself, to go to Team Rocket, well... no."

    You lower your fist a bit, fingers relaxing around the gemstone. "So you're not going to call Team Rocket on me?"

    Eskar nods, her triangular diamond teeth gleaming even brighter than usual against the blackness of her burned face. She's smiling, but then she's always smiling, and it usually means nothing good.

    "Good. Then get out of here. Leave me alone."

    "But Cordierite-eyes! Illite-eyes, she says--"

    "I don't care. If you really don't want me to get hurt, you'll go away and not tell Illite-eyes anything about what you saw."

    Eskar turns away from you and mutters to herself, too low for you to hear. She rakes her claws across the concrete, leaving shallow furrows behind. At last she turns back to you, one of those horrible wide smiles on her face. "But if I don't, Cordierite-eyes? Oh, if I don't..."

    "Then I'll beat you up and knock you out and smash your eyes every time I see you. You won't get what the boss wants anyway."

    Eskar lets out a mirthless bark of laughter. "Oh, you think so, you think so. I see, Cordierite-eyes. You and Illite-Eyes, I think you could be friends, yes?"

    You frown, confused. "No. She's in Team Rocket. She's a real Rocket. How could I be friends with her?"

    Eskar's smile is hard-edged and gleaming. "Oh? Not Rocket? Not you? Are you sure?"

    "Yes, I'm sure!" Your flames flare up again and the hard edges of Eskar's eye cut into your palm.

    "Hmmm." Eskar tilts her head to the side, and you're sure her smile's gone mocking. "As you say, Cordierite-eyes. But that human you hang around with was one of us, yes? Your friend?"

    "He is not my friend," you say immediately. "I hate him."

    "Backstabby!" Eskar spits the word like it's a curse. "Illite-eyes has plans for him, too, oh yes. Traitor!"

    "Well, you can't go after him, either," you say. "I need him around until the end of the tournament."

    "But why, Cordierite-eyes? Why? It's not safe! You can't trust him."

    "I'm not worried about him. There's nothing he can do to me, especially now that he's not in Team Rocket anymore."

    Eskar lets out a faint whine, air whistling between her teeth. "But Cordierite-eyes! Illite-eyes must have something! I can't keep her away from you both. Illite-eyes will accept it if you get away from us, so unfortunate, couldn't be helped, but I have to give her something."

    "Too bad. I guess you'll have to come up with something else." It feels strange, defending the great Nathaniel Morgan. Eskar's right, after all. You've been hanging around with a Rocket grunt, and even now you're actually negotiating with one of the team's pokémon. Go much further and you will be working for them.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't want to help, though. That's good. You'd be worried if he thought what you were doing was a good idea. And it's not for long. As soon as the tournament's done, you can take off and hope you never--hmm. "Actually, do you like to fight?"

    "Fight?" Eskar scratches distractedly at the roof. "Yes, of course. Illite-eyes would hardly keep me around just to look pretty."

    "Then fight for me. We need another pokémon for the tournament, and you're strong, aren't you? You can keep an eye on... on the Rocket guy, and then once the tournament's over you can do whatever you want with him, I don't care."

    "Oh, so generous, Cordierite-eyes, so generous to offer what I was already doing anyway!"

    "What I'm offering," you growl, "is to not attack you and to not attack any of your friends and to not get in your way. You don't want me getting in your way. You know that, don't you?"

    "But Cordierite-eyes! But! Do you know what you ask?" Eskar makes a chirring noise deep in her throat. "Illite-eyes is so angry! She sees the backstabby human on television and says, 'Why do we not take him? Why?' So it falls to Eskar to come up with some excuse, yes? To throw everyone off the trail? Poor Eskar! No, Cordierite-eyes, that's not enough."

    "Well, what do you want?" you ask. "I haven't got a ton of money right now, but I guess I'll make more when we win some matches."

    "Ha. Money. No, Cordierite-eyes, no. What would I do with money? No, what I would like--oh, but even to ask! Cordierite-eyes, I can't! It's too much, too much!"

    "Just ask already," you say. "Seriously.I'm not going to stand here and listen to you talk forever." Your foresight won't hold forever, either. Your foot is already more in Eskar's chest than out of it, wisps of ectoplasm drifting up around its edges. Not long now before the ghost's airy enough to slip away.

    "Ah, yes, very direct, Cordierite-eyes. Yes. Admirable. You see, what I want is--what is, what... an eye."

    "An eye?"

    "Yes! Yes, Cordierite-eyes, just a look, just a little peek. I know. I know people, they can get rather... attached to their eyes, yes? But I won't take! You can have it back right away, oh yes! I just want the tiniest look. For eyes like yours, so rare, so precious... It would be an honor..."

    You swallow, trying to drown the churn of your stomach. An eye. Right. Eskar's lone gemstone stares avidly into your face. You look away over the edge of the roof and try not to think too hard about the ice cream you just ate.

    "So you see why I couldn't ask," Eskar says quietly. "No, Cordierite-eyes, I understand. Such precious eyes, it couldn't be done. You couldn't let just anyone take them, no, not even Eskar--"

    "You can have one," you say, still staring into the distance. It's a perfect day, so piercing clear and bright that it hurts even to look full into the sky.

    "What--but--really?" Eskar's mouth hangs half open, her overlarge smile gone slack. The ghost takes a hissing draw of air, and for once she's not smiling. "Only for a minute, Cordierite-eyes! Just a tiny peek! No more for Eskar!"

    "You don't have to give it back. You can keep it." You won't have much use for an eyeball that's been outside your skull.

    Eskar's actually quiet for a few moments. "But--but Cordierite-eyes..."

    "Is that settled, then? You take an eye, and you can have the great Nathaniel Morgan once the championship's over. In exchange, you'll fight with us in the tournament and keep Team Rocket away from us until the end. Do we have a deal?"

    "Yes! Oh, absolutely, Cordierite-eyes, yes!" You step back, and Eskar's on her feet in one unsettling boneless motion. She gives herself an all-over shake, motes of light dancing around her as she recovers off the damage from your flames. In seconds she's standing whole and healthy again.

    She reaches out to you. "My eye, Cordierite-eyes. Give me my eye."

    You do. The sableye purrs over it for a moment, cleaning it on her ectoplasm before popping it back into her face. The ghost turns her head side to side, muttering to herself, and reaches up to adjust the eye once or twice.

    "Now what? We haven't got all day," you say. She's enjoying this, isn't she? Making you wait and worry while she fusses over nothing.

    "Make them change!" Eskar blurts out, then puts her hands over her mouth like she's ashamed. "If you would, Cordierite-eyes," she says. "Just to see."

    You can do that. Pigments build up and break down and tiny geometries remodel. The world shimmers as the light hitting your retinas shifts and shifts again.

    Eskar lets out a tiny, delighted squeak, her hands still over her mouth. "Oh," she says. "Yes, I see. I... gold? You could do gold?" You do. "Or purple? Heliotrope?"

    "I don't know what color that is. But I can do purple." Like Mewtwo's eyes. You can picture them very clearly.

    "Yes, that's... You're incredible, Cordierite-eyes," the sableye murmurs, sounding distracted. She raises a hand and lets it hang loosely in the air. It takes you a while to realize what she wants and even longer to force yourself to lean forward so that the sableye can reach your eye. She's gentle, running her claws lightly over your cornea, but it's a struggle not to pull away again. Your eye waters like mad and the fur bristles all down your spine, and you can only go a couple seconds before before you have to blink.

    Eskar pulls her hand away and cackles while you rub furiously at your eye with the heel of your palm, grinding it into the socket to get out the itch. "Oh, beautiful, Cordierite-eyes. Beautiful! Wherever did you come across eyes so fine?"

    "Made them," you grunt. "Now do you want one or not?"

    She does, and spends a tedious long time demanding various changes of shade and added effects. You can't see what she finally settles on, of course, but you imagine it to be a kind of gray-green, ringed with coppery bands of color. The sableye claps her hands and chews on her fingers in delight, then reaches out. "Hold still."

    It's harder than you expected. You're used to battling, to steeling yourself for pain, but somehow watching the sableye's hand drawing closer and closer brings up bile and a crippling desire to run unlike any fight you've ever been in.

    And you do have to watch, of course; you can't be closing your eyes, or not the one Eskar's reaching for, at least. You can see right up until the sableye's claws eclipse your vision, then dig in.

    Worst is the sound, a sticky wet noise and the scrape of the sableye's claws against bone that echoes through your whole skull. It hurts a lot more than you were expecting, and you jerk backwards, retching. Eskar ignores you, jabbering in delight over her new treasure.

    You press a hand against your face, which is hot and wet with running blood in place of tears, and hold it there while pain flares, then fades away, and a new eyeball grows in your empty socket. You open your eyes again and blink until the world comes into focus, and now there really are tears striving to wash away the bits and scraps of old tissue smeared on your face.

    Eskar is staring avidly at--you don't look. You turn away and stare at a wall and think about your favorite television shows until your stomach settles a bit. Then you ask, "Are you ready to go now?"

    "Tomorrow, Cordierite-eyes, tomorrow," Eskar says. "Right now I must make a few arrangements. Or perhaps cancel a few arrangements, yes?" She chuckles.

    You want to protest, to say she needs to come now and meet the great Nathaniel Morgan so she can be in the next battle, but he probably wouldn't use her anyway, not with so little time to learn her capabilities. More than that, though, more than that, you just want her to leave. "Yes. Fine. Tomorrow. Come to the apartment. You know which one."

    "Certainly, Cordierite-eyes." Eskar comes up beside you, putting a hand on your leg, and you force yourself to look down at her. One of her hands is stained dark, your blood starting to wick into her ectoplasm, but her claws are empty. You don't want to know. You don't want to think about what she might have done with--with your payment.

    "Pleasure doing business with you, Cordierite-eyes," Eskar says. "I think we will be good friends, yes? Such good friends."

    You nod, or at least you think you do. You're feeling lightheaded, not properly connected to your body at all.

    Eskar grins. "Tomorrow, then, Cordierite-eyes."

    She moves fast, considering her little legs. It only takes her a couple seconds to cross the roof and disappear into the shadow of its far edge.

    You stay where you are and focus on breathing until you no longer feel like you might throw up. It's silly to get so worked up over one little eye. Losing it didn't hurt that much. Certainly not as much as a bad battle. And now you've taken care of Team Rocket and one of your missing pokémon--and the great Nathaniel Morgan besides, you suppose. After a few minutes, you're feeling practically cheerful--and why wouldn't you be?

    You won't have time for that second ice cream, though. It was getting late even before Eskar showed up, and you don't want to leave the great Nathaniel Morgan unsupervised for long.

    --​

    When you get back to the apartment the living room's dark and empty, but you can hear people talking in the bedroom. You're halfway to the couch, already considering the afternoon's TV offerings, when a thought gives you pause. The great Nathaniel Morgan's talking--with who, exactly? You creep over to the bedroom and peer in, halfway expecting to find a secret Rocket cabal.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan sits at the desk with Mightyena lounging on the bed a couple feet away. The human has his pokédex and a pad of paper out in front of him, punctuating his sentences with breaks to chew on his pen.

    "...has to be Raticate, though. He'd have to be a complete fucking moron not to lead Lucario, but if he didn't, and we sent Infernape, then all he'd have to do is hold it back until he could knock Infernape out, and we'd be totally fucked."

    "I know, but putting Raticate against that guy is really dangerous. At least Graveler has super-effective attacks. And if Raticate gets taken out early, we'll have nobody left who can deal with the azumarill."

    "No?" The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at the paper in front of him. "What are you worried about, the pidgeot? I mean, yeah, if he sends that in on infernape it'll be pretty shitty, but you could handle it after that, couldn't you?"

    "The azumarill, Nate. She could be even more of an issue than the lucario. I mean, I think Raticate can take her out, but if he runs into problems with the lucario he might not be in any shape to fight her."

    "Oh, please. I could take a bubble bunny with my teeth broken and half my whiskers gone." Raticate's on the bed, too, rolled like a burrito in the sheets.

    "What, so it ain't the pidgeot?"

    "No."

    "Then what? Extremespeed or something? I mean, if the Lucario has that, we can still--what? That's not it either?" The great Nathaniel Morgan scowls down at his notepad, running his hand back and forth over the dome of his skull. "I don't get it. Raticate ends up against Lucario, he U-turns to Infernape. Simple. What's the problem?"

    "Azu. Marill." Mightyena articulates it like that could somehow help.

    The human sighs. "Look, you sure about this? Like really fucking sure? Because I ain't seeing it here at all."

    "Yes."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan stares down at his paper for a long moment, and then his frown softens as he sighs and crosses something out. "Okay. So who's in, then? Cause we ain't got a lot of options against a fucking lucario, in case you ain't noticed."

    "Do they do this kind of thing a lot?" you ask Raticate as you go past.

    "You got no idea," he groans. He looks like he's trying to sleep. "This stuff can go on for hours."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan glares at you as you clamber up the side of the desk, shrinking yourself down to fit better. You settle into a crouch and peer at the great Nathaniel Morgan's notepad, which is covered in scribbles and symbols you don't recognize.

    "The fuck do you want?"

    "Mightyena doesn't want you to send Raticate out against the lucario because if he takes too much damage he won't be able to beat the azumarill."

    "What? Azumarill? Who the fuck even cares about--oh. Oh, hell. It's a fucking fairy, ain't it? Goddamnit." He covers his face with his hand a moment, then pulls it down so just his eyes show. "I can't fucking believe I forgot that. God, I'm an idiot today. Okay, so azumarill, it's good against Graveler, Infernape, Mightyena... Fuck, okay, no way he's not bringing it..."

    "You can speak human." You look over at Mightyena while the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters away beside you, doodling on his notepad.

    "Yes. You already knew that."

    "Right, I mean, I heard you do it and everything, but I didn't realize--do you know what this means?" Mightyena's on her feet in two seconds flat, tail wagging like mad, and the great Nathaniel Morgan looks over at her in surprise.

    "Mightyena? We're not done with this, you know."

    "What does it mean?" You have no idea why she's so excited all of a sudden.

    "It means you can translate pokémon speech for humans! You can tell them what we're really saying!"

    "I know. I just did it."

    "But that's amazing!" Mightyena bounces around in an excited circle while bedsprings creak and Raticate protests. "That's great! Don't you see how wonderful that is?"

    "All I see is some idiot jumping around interrupting my nap," Raticate growls, disentangling himself from the sheets and jumping down in a huff. "You have fun, now. I'm going somewhere I can get a bit of peace."

    "Oh, you are the most boring!" Mightyena calls after him, but it ends in a laugh, and and a second later she's back to prancing, stepping high and light in excitement. "Let's see, let's see. Uhh, tell him, tell him... tell him my favorite color is red. Oh, and ask him what exactly happened with the Viridian Base and Mewtwo, I still don't really get what went on there, oh, oh, tell him he's the best trainer ever and I love him!"

    "What, really? Ewww."

    "What really what?" Mightyena says with another laugh.

    "What? What's going on? What are you two talking about?"

    "Mightyena just figured out that I can talk to humans, so I can translate what she says. She is happy, that is all."

    "What?" The great Nathaniel Morgan's brow furrows. "Oh, not that shit again. How many times have I got to tell you, Freak, you ain't the fucking pokémon whisperer."

    "You believed me when I told you about the azumarill."

    "Azumarill?" He stares blankly down at the page in front of him. "Wait. How did... No, hang on. Look, that doesn't mean..."

    "Oh, you," Mightyena lunges forward, getting her front paws on the desk and licking madly at the great Nathaniel Morgan's face.

    "Ugh, Mightyena! Stop!" He tries to push her away. "We need to finish this and--stop it!"

    Mightyena turns to you, tongue lolling and eyes alight with mischief. "If you can't talk to pokémon, how do you know about that time he missed a squad meeting because he was crying like a cubone over the ending of Old Rusty? He got a month of janitorial duty because he told everybody he didn't go because he'd been totally high."

    "You cried at the end of Old Rusty? That was such a stupid movie!"

    "What? Fuck no! Are you kidding me? Who the fuck told you that?"

    "Mightyena did. And you are lying, are you not? I cannot believe it. It was obvious the growlithe was going to die, that always happens in those kinds of movies."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan stares at Mightyena, "Really? You did?"

    "Really," Mightyena says, tail wagging like mad.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you a bewildered look. "But that's... that's not real. You can't..."

    Mightyena goes for his face again, and this time the great Nathaniel Morgan's the one to laugh, burying his fingers in the fur around her neck. "What, you been telling all my darkest secrets? Asshole. You better watch it, Pooch, because when it comes to you, believe me, I got stories of my own."

    Mightyena lets out a playful growl and headbutts him, hard enough to shift him in his seat, but recoils immediately when the great Nathaniel Morgan takes a sharp breath of air and puts a hand to his side. She stands watching anxiously, her tail drooping, until the great Nathaniel Morgan recovers enough to give her a tight smile. He reaches over to play with her ears as he says, "All right, all right, I'm happy, too. Let's just focus on the battle for now, okay?"

    "Okay." She lies back down but keeps a close eye on him all the same.

    "Right." The great Nathaniel Morgan stares down at his notes, tapping the mangled end of his pen against the table. "Right. Okay. So... azumarill. How are we gonna open this if we don't use Raticate? What if he leads with the damn fairy?"

    "He won't. Lucario's way more flexible. And keeping Azumarill back means he'll have something to close the battle out if Raticate does get knocked out early."

    You translate, and the great Nathaniel Morgan gives a slight nod. "Okay, sure. But don't you think--here, look, you don't have to hang off the edge of the table like that." He gathers in his things to make more room for you on the desk. "Do you really want to bank on that? It would be safer to use Raticate. At least he can get himself out of there if it ends up being Lucario, and he's fast..."

    You settle in more comfortably, knees drawn up under your chin and tail curled around your ankles. It isn't long before the other two forget you're there completely, talking back and forth like they're the only ones in the room. And for a time, you don't mind blending into the background as the battle plan takes shape around you. The two of them together sound like they're coming up with something almost as good as you could.
     
  10. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Good ol' Rats.

    Yep, that sure is what "fine" looks like, all right.

    Was. Was that shadow rave DID THE CHILD JUST USE SHADOW RAVE??
    If so, HOLY BALLS.

    Good ol' Raticate.

    I know there probably wasn't a squeak toy noise there, but I can't help but pretend there was.

    Cute!

    Eskar just keeps bringing the reasons for me to like her, doesn't she. :D

    D'aww.
     
  11. ChloboShoka

    ChloboShoka Writer

    I've read the first three chapters and I'm going to review the first chapter for the review game.

    Opening
    When I read the first paragraph I got a bit confused at first. At first I thought of abortion and then in the last sentence of the paragraph it made me think of someone getting revenge for something. At first I also thought You/The Child was ditto like one of the other reviewers, the chapters I read dosen't reveal very much but I wouldn't expect that from the opening chapters anyway. Then I thought of Mewtwo because of your signiture, (since he is the child of Mew), and then Smoochum as she is a baby pokemon and is an ice type. So I think I would need to read more chapters to understand more.

    Ending​
    I think the ending was good, It did make me want to read the other chapters but for some reason, I think this ending would make a better start as I think it would make a stronger hook. The ending feels more like a beginning of a chapter than an ending. I enjoyed the visuals of the ending parts of the chapter and especially as it reminded me of a russian song about becoming someone else and taking the place of a dead person.

    Writing​
    I didn't have any problems with the spelling and grammar but there was a few bits that stood out for me which I thought was very odd.
    I think maybe another word other than purchase. I've never seen purchase used in that way before.

    I think there should be a ? instead of a . at the end of this because it feels much like a question. And I think — instead of -- would make this chapter look much neater.

    I really liked how the first chapter was set in Seaform islands and showed all the dangerous currents in the water and the ice that I would imagine to be the home of Articuno. While reading this chapter, I was listening to The Cold Song and it helped me to enjoy the first chapter even more. I tend to enjoy reading fics more when I have music on. It helps me focus on the atmosphere of the words.

    Characters
    I find the characters to be very interesting and I thought the use of Absol was a very fitting touch in the first chapter as in their pokedex entries they are known as the disaster pokemon. And I feel as it's a symbolisation of death and that there will be more deaths that the child will find.

    Overall I really enjoyed reading the first chapters and the mystery and fun stuff going on makes me want to read a lot more chapters in the future. It makes me want to know more about The Child and if Absol will make another appearance.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2016
  12. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Sike Saner

    What, are you questioining his fine-ness? How about you come a little closer so he can show you exactly how fine his is, punk?!

    If this were a movie, there would definitely be a gag reel with a squeaky toy noise inserted there.

    Nope. It's a dark-type attack, supposed to be one that doesn't exist yet in canon. We may be seeing some shadow attacks later on in the story, though. A big "may" at this point, however; that bit's still pretty hazy.

    I'm glad you like Eskar! She was a spontaneous inclusion and originally just going to be a bit character, but the way things stand now she'll have a pretty important role in this arc. I'm hoping people will enjoy reading more about her.

    Thanks for reviewing! Kind of surprised you didn't comment on the whole eyeball extraction bit; I figured that would be your favorite part. :p

    ChloboShoka

    Interesting! I'm always curious to see what people think is up with the protagonist in the early part of the story. Smoochum isn't one anybody's suggested before (I think?), but it's cool how you put that together from the sig banner and the setting of the first chapter. Their identity is something you learn more about in later chapters, of course; like you said, the first chapter isn't supposed to give a ton of information on the matter.

    Hmm, interesting. I think I can see what you mean, if I rearrange things in my head. It definitely does read like the start of something more than an ending (heh). If I decide to go back and rewrite this chapter, I might play around with that.

    Re: purchase: it's not super-common to use it to mean "grip," but it can be used that way. A common construction is "fight for purchase."

    It's definitely the character wondering about something, bus since it's not a direct question, I think a period is an appropriate way to end the sentence. If it were something like, "Was he looking for a seel, or just out for adventure?" then you'd need a question mark, definitely. As for the em-dashes, though, guilty as charged. The FFN version actually uses the — already because the site strips two hyphens in a row, so there's no serious excuse for me to not use them here as well, other than I'm lazy.

    Well, you're definitely on track here. XD

    Anyway, thanks a lot for the review! I'm glad you enjoyed the part that you read, and if you do decide to read further, I hope you like it, too. It's cool that you mentioned the music you were listening to or that a particular part reminded you of. I don't usually associate my stories with music too much, so it's always fun when someone who's more into that kind of thing shares their opinion on it.

    The next chapter's underway, of course, but in the meantime I have another extra for you. This one gives a bit of backstory on how Nate and Mightyena met.

    Poochyena's Human

    "Hey. Fuck off," the human says, nudging her away with a paw. She pounces on the new target, growling and slobbering as she attacks the dangly things trailing from its foot.

    "No. Would you fucking--" The human drags its foot away and gets down close to the floor, trying to fend her off with its forepaws. "I said knock it the fuck off. Piss off already!"

    She dances just outside its reach. "I will not. You're coming with me. I chose you. Don't you listen?"

    The human flinches. "Jesus. Shut the fuck up already." It glances towards the front of the store, where Absol and his human wait. But with all the noise, the chatot in an argument again and her own siblings setting up a racket, she's not worried about them overhearing.

    "What even is your fucking problem?" the human grumbles. It tangles its toes in its mane, which is black, like mightyena-black: obviously the best color. She'll have a mane that color someday, too. "Ain't you the one the lady stuck back in the cage a minute ago? How the hell did you get loose again so fast?"

    "You just have to press on the right part of the floor and the door pops open. It's easy once you know how. But come on, come on, we haven't got time for dumb questions. Let's go!"

    "I said quiet." The human scowls at her. Poochyena's starting to get exasperated herself. Humans are supposed to be dumb, but really, this? Doesn't it understand anything?

    "What, you want to come with me or something?" She's only barely started answering when it rocks back and raises its paws. "Okay, okay, I get it. Shut the fuck up already. Look." It fusses with its mane again, and she wonders if it's got fleas. That'll be the first thing to deal with. She's not going to be known as someone who lets her human get fleas.

    "You heard what I said to the lady, right? But look, I was kinda lying about wanting a pokémon for a pet, okay? I want something that can battle. I'm going to be a trainer."

    "If you want something that can battle, why are you over here looking at the eevee? They're useless in a fight." A couple of the fluffballs have come over to watch, peering out at her. More frolic in the background, empty-headed as ever.

    "Maybe he has actual taste," suggests one of the eevee, her nose pressed up against the glass. Poochyena snarls at her, but all she does is wag her tail, taunting.

    The human looks between her and the tank with naked confusion on its face. She yaps up at it in amused irritation. "Yes, yes, I love to fight! And I always win, too. I'm the strongest. So you'd better be ready, because I'm not going to settle for just any human!"

    Everybody knows that if you're going to go out into the world, if you're going to be a fighter, you need to have a human by your side. It's not safe otherwise. And if you find a good human, one that works well with you, you can go much farther than you could alone. You have to pick carefully, though, because a bad human can be worse than useless.

    She hasn't liked most of the humans who've come through the shop, especially not the puppies, which are noisy and pokey and the worst. But she likes this one. She thinks it's nearly full-grown, it's not loud, and it doesn't keep jabbing at her with its toes. Best of all it doesn't smell like the other humans. It smells like dirt and damp and a thousand scents she can't place, but she knows they mean somewhere different. They mean outside. This isn't a human that stays hunkered down in its den all the time. It's free-range, off by itself. It's exactly what she needs.

    She only wishes she could properly explain that, because somehow it doesn't seem to be getting the picture. Right now it's not even paying attention to her, leaning away to peer around the edge of the eevee tank. "Look, if you want to come with me, you're gonna to have to get in a pokéball, all right? Because no way in hell am I paying"--it squints at her cage a moment, and then its eyes get big--"Holy fuck. What, did they breed you to have fucking wings or some shit?"

    She stops listening at the word "ball." "Ball? You have a ball? Throw the ball! Throw the ball! Let's play!"

    That brings the human's attention back to her. "Shhh! Okay, okay, so you want to get trained, I fucking get it already. But the thing is, I ain't gonna be no ordinary trainer. Actually... I'm gonna join Team Rocket. You know what that is, don't you?"

    She's never even heard the word "rocket" before in her life, but if she hasn't by now it can't be all that important. She's almost a month old, after all--she knows everything that's important to know about life. It's not like she's some silly baby. "Where's the ball? You said you had a ball. Where's the ball?"

    "Well, I guess if you're sure," the human grumbles. It reaches into the folds of its skin and pulls out--yes, it is, it really is! She knew she made the right choice, she knew she picked the best human.

    "Throw the ball! Throw the ball!"

    It sets the ball on the floor in front of her instead. "Then I guess you can--whoah, hey, easy! Are you fucking--?"

    She pounces, nearly sends the ball flying with the scrabbling of her paws. She bites down on it, trying to pick it up, but something clicks and she's surrounded by warm red light...

    --​

    The light clears, and Poochyena's somewhere else entirely. The human's behind her now, sitting up against a wall, a wall she's never seen before. They're inside a human den, but it's big and empty and full of old smells. She breathes deep and concentrates, sorting through layer on layer of human scents, stretching far back into the past, and more recently, pokémon: rattata, spearow, some she can't identify. Here and there sunlight streams through holes in the roof, throwing golden puddles of light on the ground. It brings with it city smells, rain and garbage and exhaust and all the others she can't name.

    Most important of all, she smells food. Hot food, fresh food, something meaty. And the smell is coming from her human.

    She stops sniffing around and bounds over to it, ignoring the words coming out of its mouth. "Hey, I got you a--whoah, fuck! Calm down!"

    She attacks the meaty thing, snapping it down without bothering to chew. It's full of hot grease and spices and flavors she's never tasted before, and it's the best thing she's eaten in her entire life.

    "Jesus. Slow down before you choke." Her human's words come out a bit mushy, since it's busy eating, too. She finishes her meal off in a couple quick gulps, then leaps on her human, rearing back and trying to reach its food.

    "Hey, no! This is mine. Fuck off!" It holds the meat-thing up over its head and tries to push her away, but she won't be deterred. If she can't reach the food, she'll settle for the next best thing: the grease smeared on her human's face.

    "Agh! Stop! Stop it! Fuck!" It laughs and pulls her away, holding her up in the air while she squirms with indignation. "You got your food, okay? So let me have mine."

    It sets her down on the ground, then crams the rest of the treat in its mouth in one go--no chance for her there. She shakes out her fur and gives her human a stern look. "Someday I'm going to get big. I'll be so big you won't be able to pick me up anymore. We'll see what you do then!"

    The human finishes chewing and wipes its face with a paw, then hesitantly reaches out for her. She dances away from it, not sure what this is about, but when it reaches again, toes spread wide, she realizes--it's a game! She pounces, snapping at the waving toes.

    The human snatches its forepaws back. "Jesus! Don't do that. Come the fuck here." It lunges and seizes her around the middle, and she's airborne again before she properly realizes what's going on, under her human's curious stare.

    "Let's see, the lady at the shop said you were a girl, didn't she?"

    "Yes. What are you?"

    "What? Look, bark once for yes, twice for no, okay?"

    "Yes. Honestly, don't you ever listen?"

    "All right, all right." It gives her a critical look, and she starts struggling again.

    "This is uncomfortable, you know. Put me down."

    It does, and she skips away and gets started on a proper investigation. In amongst the human smells are strange sour ones, harsh and surprisingly strong despite their age. She wanders off in the direction of the rusty old towers near the center of the room, nose to the ground and tail in the air.

    "Yeah, fine. You're cute as fuck," her human says, and a look back finds him smiling, just the smallest bit. "You don't wanna be cute for the Rockets, though. You gotta be tough, you know? Like, fierce. Can you do fierce?"

    Of course she can do fierce! Is there anything she can't do? She plants her feet and bushes out her fur and starts a long growl, the loudest she can make. She has to stop, though, and laugh at the look on her human's face. After a moment it laughs, too. "Yeah, yeah, just like that. Not bad."

    "More like awesome," she says with a huff and goes back to exploring.

    "Anyway," her human goes on in the background, "not meeting the recruiter until six, so I figure we can hang out here until then. It's a decent spot. Nobody ought to bother us here. At least, not unless that fucking absol shows up. Damn thing kept staring at me. Gave me the fucking creeps. I better not end up fucking cursed for nicking you. That'd be just my fucking luck."

    "Don't be silly. Absol don't curse people. And he'll leave you alone as long as you go far enough away. He doesn't like to go outside much." She stops, then, her head popping up as she realizes. "Wait. You did go far away, didn't you? Where are we?"

    Her human isn't paying any attention. It's staring off into space and fiddling with--

    It's the ball. "Throw the ball! Throw the ball!" she yells, dashing back to her human. "Throw the ball! Throw the ball! Come on!"

    Her human flinches away from her, grimacing. "Wow, what the fuck? The hell are you carrying on about?"

    "Throw the ball! Throw the ball!" She pushes her head in under the human's forepaws, trying to get at the ball. The human holds it up and away, and she darts back, running in circles. "That's right, that's right. Now throw! What are you waiting for?"

    She's starting to get a depressing sense of just how dense her human is. Yes, she knows humans need extensive training to be any use at all, but she never expected one would have trouble with something as simple as this!

    "What, you want to go back in?" The human's frowning at her.

    She has no idea what that means. "Just throw the ball!"

    "Well, okay. If you want to. Return, I guess." The human presses the button in the middle of the ball, and then it's red again, red and warm, and she's--

    --​

    --out in full sunlight. She freezes for a second. She's outside. She's never been outside before. She needs to go, she needs to run, she needs to smell absolutely every part of it. Before she does, though, she needs to make something clear. "Stop doing that!" she snaps at her human.

    It barely glances her way before returning its attention to something behind her. It's got its back pressed against a wall, one coated in dirty black and colorful human marks. From the way her human's baring its teeth she can guess it doesn't like what it sees. Apprehensive, she turns around herself and finds--"Oh, come on. I said you needed to go far away! Why don't you ever listen?" she wails as she sees Absol and his human staring at her from just a few feet away.

    "You're going to send that puppy to battle Azrael?" Absol's human says. "Honestly. Are you actually criminally negligent, or just stupid?"

    "Fuck you, I ain't neither of those things. And that poochyena could kick your kitty's fluffy ass any day of the week, bitch. Now get lost if you don't want to get fucking hurt."

    "That poochyena was bred specifically to compete in cute contests. She's not a fighter, which you would recognize if you had even the faintest idea what you were doing."

    "Cute contests?" The horror in the human's voice makes her glance back over her shoulder. Her human's staring at her now, eyes wide with shock.

    "What's a cute contest?"

    "Exactly," Absol's human goes on. "Looking for a vicious pokémon to guard your drug den, was that it? Or maybe you wanted to try your hand at the underground fighting circuit? Idiot."

    She growls at Absol's human. "Don't talk about my human like that! He's smart, he knew I was the best at fighting."

    Absol's human gives her a stern look. "If you return the poochyena now, I won't press charges. You'll be free to go off to whatever despicable activity you were planning on. If you insist on being stubborn, Azrael and I will have to take her back by force, and I assure you you won't enjoy that."

    Her human's face reddens up, and he grits his teeth again in an angry grimace. "Fuck you, lady. Poochyena, get that thing!"

    She's glad to. Absol's always ruining her fun, catching her when she gets out of her cage and breaking up all her really exciting fights. Poochyena throws herself forward, slamming into Absol's shoulder at top speed. He rocks sideways with a little "oof" of surprise, then gives her a baleful red glare.

    Absol's human sighs. "Very well. Azrael, deal with it. But be careful."

    "As you wish." Absol stalks forward, stepping neatly out of the way of another tackle as he goes.

    "Yeah, get it, Poochyena! Tackle again." Her human inches sideways along the wall, moving slowly, slowly towards the sound of traffic.

    "Where are you going?" she yaps at it. Can't it see she's in the middle of a fight, here?

    "Little one," Absol says, his voice soft and perfectly even, flowing smooth as silk, "you have no idea what you're doing. If you don't come home, you're going to get hurt."

    She whirls around to face him again, letting out an angry growl. "Yes I do! I'm going on an adventure and I'm taking this human with me and I'll take good care of it and make sure it gets enough food and doesn't get eaten and everything and you can't stop me, so there!"

    She charges at Absol, but he puts up a paw and swats her hard across the snout. She stumbles away, snorting and tearing up. That hurt!

    "Is that what you think? You know nothing of humans, little one. All you've ever heard are stories. Humans run this world. They're the ones who will decide your life for you."

    "Don't be stupid. That's not true." She knows all about life thanks to the shop's big old torkoal. The fire-type normally lives in a pen outside, but she comes inside sometimes when it rains, and when she does the whole shop goes quiet so everyone can listen to her stories. Torkoal's almost two hundred years old, and she knows everything. And she says humans and pokémon are partners, and they exist to help each other, so obviously Absol doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Absol snorts, then pounces on Poochyena, making broad movements, trying to hit her with the flat of his blade. She growls, offended that he obviously isn't even trying to fight properly. She snaps at his face when he comes in close, and he jerks back, sunlight dazzling from the gemstones in his collar as he shakes out his mane.

    "Really, now. You can believe what you want, I suppose. You're only a cub. But of all the humans there are, this is really the one you want? Look at him. Even now he abandons you in favor of saving his own skin."

    Poochyena spins around in sudden terror and finds her human's creeping sideways progress has brought it up against a stack of boxes. It doesn't run, though; it braces a hind foot against the side of a crate and tears off a splintered piece of wood--a weapon, she realizes, the best a human can manage in a fight. Her human drops the club a second later when it finds its weapon's inner side covered in tiny spiders, more of which come pouring out of the hole it made in the crate.

    Poochyena's distraction costs her as Absol deals her a hearty slap with his paw, then smacks her again with his blade when she tries to get up. "You should stay down," he says, pressing her to the ground under one paw. "No need to make this difficult."

    Poochyena whines and scrabbles at the pavement, trying to push Absol off. Of course her human is of no help, cursing and beating baby spiders off its arm while Absol's human laughs at it. Poochyena's running out of options. It looks like Absol really is stronger than her, but she's still got one trick left.

    She growls up at Absol, loud enough to get his attention, and when he looks around she opens her mouth wide, giving in to a jaw-cracking yawn. She shimmies out from under Absol's paw while he sways back, yawning himself and blinking in consternation. A second later he he realizes what's going on and lashes out at her, hissing, "You impudent little fool! How dare you?"

    It's a real attack this time. Poochyena tries to dodge, but Absol's claws nick her, slicing a short cut down her right foreleg. Absol raises his paw again, then sways, blinking furiously as his eyelids try to drop closed. He collapses sideways, asleep before he hits the pavement.

    Absol's human takes a step back. No laughing now. Poochyena growls at the human as she stalks around Absol's limp body, ignoring the twinge in her leg where Absol cut her. "That's what you get for messing with me and my human," she snarls. "Now back off, or else."

    "I'll be damned," her human says. "Nice work, Poochyena. Make sure she doesn't go anywhere. And you," it addresses the other human. "Better luck next time, bitch."

    Then it's gone. It takes Poochyena a second to realize what's happening. Her human's running. It's running away. It's running away, and it's leaving her behind.

    "Hey!" she barks. "Hey, get back here! Where do you think you're going?"

    She takes off after her human, which is already out of sight around a corner. It's not exactly quiet, though, and she races after the sound of its footfalls. His footfalls? Absol seemed to think her human was male, but how could he tell?

    The human's nowhere near as fast as her, of course, but he knows the outside world much better. Poochyena does her best to stay focused, but the air is full of tantalizing new smells, sights she doesn't understand crowding in on all sides. Through it all she tries to hold onto the one constant, the only familiar thing: the smell and sound and sight of her human, always ahead, always running.

    He's not just running, he's climbing and jumping, swinging over obstacles and hurdling the tops of fences. He has the advantage over Poochyena there, and she wastes time looking for ways to squeeze around or under where he can go over. At last she catches him on an open stretch, and with a burst of speed she catches up, slamming into him and knocking him to the ground.

    He curses and throws his hands out to stop his roll, and no sooner has he come to rest than he's trying to scramble up again. She barks and jumps at him, and he drops back to the ground, glaring.

    "Why the fuck are you following me?" he gasps. "Piss off! I don't need no fucking contest pokémon on my team."

    "You're my human. You can't just run off and leave me." She huffs out an exasperated, exhausted breath. "Why would you run away from a battle we won, anyway? No thanks to you, of course."

    "Look, you should just go back to the shop, all right? A pokémon like you don't belong in Team Rocket. It was a fucking stupid idea in the first place."

    "I don't even know what a contest is! Why don't you understand?"

    Her human shields his face with bleeding hands, and she backs off, gone cold all over with horror. He's hurt? How did he get hurt? It wasn't her that did that, was it? She barely touched him, it wasn't even a proper tackle attack, she can't possibly have hurt her human, not already, that's not what she wanted, human's can't be that fragile. She was careful!

    "Look, we can do this later, okay?" her human says. "If you're here, that means your psycho bitch owner probably sent her fucking killer absol after me again as soon as it woke up, and it could show up any second. So I'll recall you for now, and we can do this shit later, all right?"

    Her heart leaps as the ball reappears, but only for a moment. She knows how this works now. She's not going to be fooled again.

    She takes a running leap, and the human yells and drops the ball as her teeth close around his wrist. She lets go immediately and runs after the ball, taking it in her mouth and being careful not to touch the button. "This is my ball now," she says around the unwieldy thing. "You clearly have no idea what to do with it, so you've lost your ball privileges."

    Her human rubs the white marks on his wrist and groans. "Oh, what the fuck ever. If you're not gonna let me recall you, you're just gonna have to keep the fuck up."

    She has no trouble doing that now that her human's lost his head start. It's not long before he staggers to a halt in front of a paint-flaking door set into a brick wall. Her human pants for breath as he tries the handle, then stands back. The door shudders in its frame when he kicks it, but no more than that, and further kicking and cursing does no better.

    This clearly isn't a job for a human. Poochyena throws herself at the door, which hurts--it's not fair, you attacks aren't supposed to hurt you--but it rattles louder than ever. Another tackle and the latch finally gives, and she stumbles through the opening with the human hard after her.

    "Fuck yes," he mutters, and Poochyena stares around, trying to figure out what has him so excited. They're in another big, empty den, but this one's lousy with recent smells, humans and pokémon alike. The floor's full of holes exposing pipes and coiling wire, and empty wooden frames draped with plastic sheets section the open space.

    "Ha!" Her human's over near the wall, where a pile of large brown bags is stacked amidst a bunch of human tools she doesn't recognize. Her human heaves one onto his shoulders, staggering and snarling to himself about the weight. He stomps up a ramp to the second floor, which is a patchwork of plywood and open air. "Come on," he yells to her. "You want to beat that fucking absol or what? Get over here."

    She sets the ball down and follows as much out of curiosity as anything. "You don't have to be rude. I'm coming."

    Her human throws the bag down at the edge of the scaffolding. "All right. You. Stay here," he pants. "I'm going. Down there." He points below. "When the absol shows up, you push this over the edge on top of it, okay?"

    "I don't think that's going to stop him," Poochyena says, but her human kneels down anyway. With a quick motion there's something gleaming metal in his hand, and he slashes the bag open. Gray powder spills out, and Poochyena sniffs it. It smells earthy but acidic, not natural.

    "There. Think you can handle that? It's heavy." The metal thing vanishes back into her human's loose skin somewhere. "Absol do that shadow-walking bullshit, don't they? It'll probably be here any minute."

    "I can move it, but I really don't think dropping it is going to--"

    "Great. Stay. Good pooch." He's off down the ramp again, and she stares after him in complete exasperation. Well, it'll serve him right if this doesn't work. If he won't listen, he'll have to face the consequences.

    Maybe she can find another human, she thinks as the one down below starts kicking an overturned bucket across the floor with a series of jagged, scraping clanks. There's lots of humans in the city, after all. It's dangerous to wander around alone, but she doesn't need to be alone for long. Just long enough to find someone more more suitable.

    Her human flops down on the bucket with a sigh and shakes out his sweaty mane. He's almost directly below Poochyena now, peering around the dim room, his eyes in constant motion. The air is full of the rustle of drifting plastic as the den breathes.

    Or there's the wild. That's certainly a good place to meet trainers. She's been told, though, that there aren't any wild poochyena around here. And besides, the wild is, well, wild. She can't make sense of everything she's been told about it. Plants everywhere? No buildings? How would that even work? And one thing she's been assured of, one thing she simply can't believe, is that in the wild there are no treats.

    There's a new sound down below, a rhythmic clicking. Claws on concrete. Poochyena leans over the edge to get a better look.

    Absol's there. He must have arrived the usual way: not there, and then all there, stepping out of shadow as though he were walking through a door. Poochyena'll be able to do that, too. Someday. For now she can only be jealous.

    "Where is the poochyena?" Absol asks as he stalks towards the human. Poochyena could have told him there was no point, that her human's much too dense to understand him. Not that Absol would listen. Why doesn't anyone ever listen to her?

    Of course her human doesn't reply. He's up off his bucket and backing away from Absol. The dark-type keeps coming, his gaze roaming the cluttered den. "You've put her away in a pokéball, haven't you? I suppose I'll just have to take it from you, then." He lowers his head, angling his scythe. "I'm not supposed to hurt you. But no one said anything about scaring you a bit."

    There it is. Absol walks underneath Poochyena, and she throws herself forward, tackling the bag hard. It slides with a long, grinding scrape, and gets almost halfway over the edge before it gets stuck.

    Absol stops and looks up. Poochyena shoves and butts at the bag, suddenly in a panic, until finally it tips and, ponderously, falls. Absol leaps to the side, and the bag barely clips his shoulder. It lands with a resounding slam and a great puff of gray dust, and Absol lays into it with blade and claws, filling the air with billowing clouds of grit before he realizes it isn't an enemy.

    "Perfect." Poochyena's ears prick up. Her human's voice is hardly above a whisper. In one paw he's holding the metal thing he brought out before, and now she can see it's like a claw, a stabbing thing to replace his useless human toes. In the other is a little box, one that must have fire inside, since there's a tiny flame jetting from the top.

    Absol sneezes and coughs, spitting out clotted hunks of gray. Poochyena's human doesn't wait for him to recover. She starts to cry out, to tell him he's an idiot for thinking he can fight Absol. He has his metal claw, but Absol has twelve claws, and the little flame won't do more than annoy him. But the human's already already thrown his flame-box at Absol.

    It never comes close to hitting him. It disappears into the settling gray cloud, and then there's a whoosh and a huge thump that Poochyena feels more than she hears, an explosion that knocks her backwards and rattles the wood under her feet. Dust blows everywhere, and the air is hot with the smell of burning.

    Then it's quiet, ringingly, utterly silent. In terror Poochyena realizes that no, it's not silent, it's just her ears that have stopped working. She pulls herself forward on her stomach, too achy to stand, and looks down.

    Her human's picking himself up off the floor, laughing and yelling something. She hears nothing but a constant whine. Dust and smoke swirl around where Absol was standing, slowly dispersing into the open air.

    A dark crescent of energy slices out of the cloud, and her human stumbles backwards and falls, the attack passing right over his head. It cruises onward and slices through a support pillar before dissipating.

    Absol steps into open air, unsteady but resolute. His fur's standing on end, gone gray with dust where it isn't blackened or burned away, and he favors a rear leg, hopping awkwardly as he approaches the human. Poochyena can't see his face, but in every stilted, halting movement, there is bubbling fury.

    Absol snaps his head sideways, launching another dark pulse from his scythe. Poochyena can just make out a faint static hissing as the attack flies across the room. Her human rolls away, but Absol doesn't let up, launching dark pulse after dark pulse. One catches her human in the arm, and she can barely hear him yell. He's got his claw out now, ready to attack.

    And there Poochyena is, just watching while her human's in danger. She's supposed to defend him, just like he's supposed to help her. That's how it works. She takes a moment to judge the distance, get the angle right. Then she charges forward and hurls herself into empty space.

    She lands hard on Absol's back, and they both topple to the floor. Absol hisses and strikes out blindly, transforming into an angry whirl of claws. Poochyena kicks and bites and tries to ignore the stinging cuts Absol lays open across her face and sides. His fur might be draggled, but it's still thick, and that on top of his squirming thwarts Poochyena's teeth.

    She struggles away, then slams into Absol with a tackle as he's getting to his feet. He doesn't go down again, though, and lashes out with a scratch that opens a long gash down her side. He starts to follow as she stumbles away, but then a brick hits him in the side and he spins around, snarling.

    "That's right, Fuzzball," her human says, lobbing another brick. Absol ducks, and it clatters uselessly across the floor. "You're gonna have to fight both of us. Can't take the heat, can you?"

    Absol roars and charges at the human, hardly flinching as another brick bounces off his shoulder. Poochyena runs, too, and throws herself into a hasty tackle that only gets her tangled in Absol's legs. He trips and falls and smacks his head against a pillar, and when Poochyena tumbles to a halt herself, she scrambles to her feet only to find her opponent lying limp and unconscious.

    It takes long seconds for her to realize she won, she really won. Absol's knocked out. Her first battle, and she won. Well, she did have help.

    "You okay?" that help asks, kneeling down next to her. He's clutching his bleeding arm. "You didn't break nothing, did you?" He reaches out to feel her legs, but his exploration only irritates her cuts, and Poochyena growls and snaps at his paw.

    He snatches it away. "Ow! Fine! Be that way! Go ahead and get fucking gangrene or some shit for all I care." He gets to his feet and glares down at her. "Where the fuck is your pokéball?"

    She doesn't know. She doesn't feel inclined to help him find it, either. She keeps growling.

    "Look, I don't got no potions or nothing. So you only got two fucking options, here: you go in the pokéball for a while, or you walk around all ripped up until I find something. Your goddamned choice."

    "I don't know if I want to go with you at all. Maybe I don't want you for my human anymore."

    "Or you can stand there and bark at me like a fucking idiot. Whatever." He bends down to unclip Absol's collar and holds it up to the faint light coming through the windows overhead. He scratches at a gem with one of his toes. "Probably fake," he mutters, but the collar vanishes into wherever he keeps his other trinkets. Poochyena's briefly struck with wondering how humans can handle so many items.

    Her human looks at her again. "Whatever you're gonna do, you better get moving. This guy's gonna wake up in a few minutes, and he's gonna be pissed."

    That's true. But she doesn't know where to go. She can't go home now, not even if she wanted to. She can go look for another human, but her human's right, she'll have no one to heal her. Only now, as the excitement of battle wears off, is she really starting to feel her injuries, a chorus of pain that strongly suggests she lie down and not move for a while.

    "Look, just get in the pokéball for a little while so I can get you healed. I promise I'll let you out as soon as I can."

    She doesn't know what to do. She looks from the human to the unconscious form of Absol to the door they came in by. She knows where the ball is now. She can smell it, can smell her scent and the human's on it.

    "Oh what the fuck ever. I don't need you staring at me all fucking pathetic." He storms off, headed for the door. She watches him go a moment, then goes off to get the ball, which rolled away and fetched up against a stack of boards. It's covered by a fine layer of gray dust, which is still sifting down out of the air.

    The human glares at her when she runs up next to him, but he does stop, and she puts the ball down by his feet.

    "You had better do like you said, or you're going to have more to worry about than your arm."

    "What, changed your fucking mind?" He starts to reach for the ball, then hesitates. "You're not gonna bite me again if I touch this, are you? Because fuck that, you can walk."

    "Not this time. Prove to me that you can handle it responsibly."

    "Yeah, whatever the fuck you said." The human scoops the ball up and points the button at her. "Return, then."

    --​

    When the red light clears, she isn't healed. In fact, she aches all over, and her fur's still matted with dust and blood. She doesn't really notice, though. What she notices are the trees.

    There was a tree outside the pet shop's window, right on the edge of the street, and it was huge, nearly as high as the roof. But here--here the trees are so tall they're practically skyscrapers. They're bigger around than her, crowding so close together they nearly block out the sun. And they've stolen all the noise, too, footsteps and honking and the subterranean rumble of the subway that's always formed the soundtrack of her life. Now there's only chirping and the rushing of wind through the leaves, plus mysterious rustling near the ground, which is not cement or tile, but dirt and dead leaves and bark and--she has to put her nose down to take it all in.

    "Hey. Turn this way so I can get that cut on your leg. And close your eyes."

    Her human's here too, of course. He's the one who brought her here out to... to the wild. That must be where they are. Poochyena turns, about to give him a piece of her mind, and only just has enough time to close her eyes before she gets hit with a mist of droplets from the bottle the human's holding.

    Her wounds flare up, pain searing across her body, and Poochyena's eyes pop open. She growls at her human, and he glances around, like there must be some other target for her anger. "What? It's just a fucking potion."

    The pain fades away as suddenly as it came, and Poochyena looks down in surprise as her wounds heal in fast motion, disappearing in a matter of seconds. She feels great. Well, she's still a bit tired, but she doesn't hurt at all anymore.

    "How did you do that?" Not that she really expects an answer. Now that she's healed she can properly enjoy being outside the city for the first time. She puts her nose to the ground and races back and forth, trying to take it all in.

    "Well, you got guts, I guess. I'll give you that much." She stops sniffing and looks back at her human. He's just as disheveled as her, but at least he's covered up the wound on his arm. He's watching her in a calculating way, rolling the pokéball around in his paws. She has to fight back the desire to chase it.

    "I guess you aren't completely useless," she says. "How did you know the dust would blow up like that?"

    "I mean, you did jump a whole story to attack an absol that was way out of your fucking league, which was totally stupid, but I guess it worked out." He's still spinning the ball between his toes. "We're lucky that thing wasn't battle-trained, though. Shit."

    "You did know it was going to do that, right? You didn't just get lucky?"

    "Anyway, you're free to go. You can get off here, if you want." He waves his paw vaguely at the trees. "Or I can take you back to the city. Not for a while, though. I'd rather give that damn absol some time to give up on finding us."

    Poochyena takes some time to consider. The human is completely inexperienced. He doesn't have any other pokémon. Perhaps with the proper training... A test. A final test to see if she ought to keep him.

    "Are you listening to me?"

    She roots around in the leaf litter until she finds a likely stick, then returns to her human--her potential human--and sets it down by his side. He looks at it in bald confusion.

    "What the fuck." He picks the stick up and turns it around, examining it. "It's a fucking stick. Congratulations."

    "Throw the stick! Throw the stick!" She really can't help it, not when he waves it around like that. She rears up on her hind paws and whines. "Throw the stick! Throw the stick!"

    The human stares at her, then waggles the stick back and forth, watching as Poochyena jumps around to stay in front of it. And then he throws it.

    It's not a great throw, more a kind of sideways flick, but Poochyena doesn't care. She races after it and snaps it out of the air before it even gets close to hitting the ground. Then she brings it back and sets it by the human's side. "Throw the stick again! Throw the stick again!"

    "Oh, so that's what you were carrying on about." He picks the stick up, and she all but explodes with delight. "I guess I can't pretend I got anything better to do." He throws the stick again.

    She fetches and fetches, her human's throws improving with time and sending her ever farther afield. At last she grows bored and leaves the stick to lie and crawls into her human's lap. "Pet me."

    He scratches her head, tentatively at first, then a bit harder. "Harder, harder. Good. Now the ears. Ears." He pets her back instead. "Well, at least I know you're not impossible to train. We'll work on the listening."

    "If you're sure you want to stay, I guess you can stay," the human says, like anybody asked for his opinion. "Why the fuck you're so excited to run off and join Team Rocket, I don't know."

    "You've got potential," Poochyena says, "but don't get cocky. You've got a long way to go."

    "Should probably try and get cleaned up before I meet the recruiter," her human mutters, brushing some gray dust off his leg. He doesn't get up, though, just leans back against a tree. "Today was one metric fuckton more exciting than I wanted. But what the hell, we fought an absol and won. That's gotta count for something."

    "It's not a done deal," Poochyena says. "I'll go find somebody else if you don't shape up. There's lots of other humans out there. So you'd better be ready to work hard, because I'm not going to settle for just anybody."

    "Well, here we are, anyway," her human says with a smile. "Nobody'd better fuck with us, am I right?"

    Poochyena yawns and stretches, then squirms around, trying to find a more comfortable position. Her human strokes the fur around her neck, and she lets her eyes fall closed. A part of her wants to get up and run off and smell more smells, but she feels all heavy, much too heavy to stand up again. "If you want to improve your chances, you could get me another one of those meat things," she murmurs dozily. "That's what you would do if you were smart."
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2016
  13. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Alright. I have been putting this off long enough. I have actually been reading this fic off and on for the past few months, and every time I sit down to write a review, I just end up staring at the box because I can't even figure out how to talk about it. This fic is just so damn unique! Holy crap. I had no idea what to expect going into it, and I still don't know how to write anything about it. So I don't care if this just ends up being incoherent rambling, because I've kind of forgotten a lot of my reactions.

    So I've read through chapter 15 at the moment. I don't remember having any theories as to how exactly the protagonist got to be in their current state, and I've already read Chapter 11, so sadly there will be no crazy theorymongering from me.)

    I do remember one of the most memorable parts of the fic for me was when the group was on Seafoam Island and the narration seamlessly switched from third to second without a scene break (iirc, the first time that had happened without a scene break) and I didn't even notice it until several pages later. I think that was around the time I put together that the change in tense reflected whether or not the protagonist was currently taking on the identity of another (I think there's more to it than that, but that's the simplest interpretation.)

    Now then, I think the one thing that took me the longest to figure out is that the reason the protagonist insists that the Pokemon they're retrieving actually belong to them is because...they actually do! I was completely barking up the wrong tree thinking that the trope of "shapeshifter with a weak sense of identity actually believes they are their current guise" was in play, when in reality it was just that they were recovering Pokemon that used to belong to them. The fun with pronouns further reinforced that, as I thought the usage of second person was to subtly reinforce the shifting sense of self. Though I'm not sure why they didn't just...open with the fact that they used to be the Pokemon's former owner. Then again, the protagonist might consider it so obvious as to not need explaining. Like "why can't you see that I'm your trainer, I clearly don't need to explain something so self-evident." (The protagonist is...not exactly the greatest at theory of mind.) It makes sense for them, it just took me a while to figure it out, as a reader.

    That said, I'm kind of curious how exactly these Pokemon got scattered around after their trainer "died." I can't remember if it got explained and I just missed it, or what. This is the problem with putting off reviewing for so long. >>

    At Chapter 12, I took a lengthy break from reading the fic. You see, around that time, I was starting to get a little fed up with the protagonist. Oh, don't get me wrong, their thought process is incredibly fascinating and wonderfully alien, but not particularly likable. I mean...that was obviously the intent, but it did get a bit hard to read. Thankfully, the fic was clearly aware of this, as this conversation came along with absolutely perfect timing:

    And with that, Rats officially became my favorite character. :D She'd been vying for that spot for a while, but that solidified it.

    I did wind up getting severely lost at the end of Chapter 12. I don't know if I was just being slow of what, but I reread the part where the child's Pokedex is stolen like five times and still couldn't actually find where it became clear that it actually happened (as opposed to just, I dunno, the child being paranoid.) The same thing with the Rockets attacking. It wasn't until like halfway through the battle that I went "Oh wait, these are actually Rockets??" The child just assumes so early on, but there was no real evidence, so I disregarded it because the child's assumptions of reality are rarely to be trusted, especially where Nate is concerned. I am really curious as to how exactly Nate was able to arrange that attack, though.

    And speaking of Nate, while he might be Douche McGee, he is still wonderfully entertaining to read. I also was quite surprised and pleased with the way Mewtwo was written in his first meeting with the protagonist.

    That's about all I can think of for now. Maybe now I can finally keep reading without being concerned about forgetting my thoughts on it. =P

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
  14. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey, glad to hear from you! I enjoyed reading this review quite a bit.

    Wow, cool! I think that is the first time that happens, yeah, and it's awesome that you picked up on it. It was something I was wondering whether people would notice, although iirc you're the first to comment on it. (Lordy but it's been so long since I was posting those first chapters.) As far as what the POV shifts mean, you're right, they pretty much just indicate whether the protagonist is "being someone else" or "being itself."

    Yeah, it's a case of the protagonist thinking it's something too obvious to need explanation. I'd hoped the second chapter, with Titan, gave the sense that the pokémon actually do belong to the protagonist, since he eventually seems to know what the protagonist is talking about. Since we don't actually see the other pokémon being "reclaimed," so to speak, that one scene is pretty much all a reader has to go on. Perhaps it's not enough.

    It hasn't been fully explained; may be a bit later, but it's not anything spoiler-y. Basically, the protagonist's pokéballs ended up in the lab during the whole bit where Mewtwo was burning it down and managed to escape, right? She was not in any state to be retrieving them herself, so they were eventually found by the salvage crews who went in to try and clean up that whole mess, rescue any survivors, retrieve bodies, etc. Because as far as they knew the protagonist and her entire family were dead, and she definitely didn't have a will or anything, her pokémon were either matched to another trainer or released. Thunderstorm was released, but eventually recaptured by another trainer. Rats was taken in by a former lab employee. War went to Leo's son.

    Titan's backstory we get a little bit of in literally the last chapter, but his situation was a bit unique; he was bred to work with humans and couldn't survive in the wild, but at the same time was a growing pokémon and needed someone who would be able to provide him with a fair amount of battling/exercise, and also he was pretty traumatized by the whole Mewtwo thing. Professor Oak took him back, but had trouble giving him the amount of attention he needed, and he had behavioral issues. Because he was still a charmander at that point, he was still low-leveled enough to make a decent starter, so Professor Oak ended up pairing him with Nick, who had worked in the lab, was also fairly traumatized, and was hoping to kind of turn over a new leaf by going on a late trainer journey. The hope was that the two of them could help each other out and work through some of their issues together.

    So you and elyvorg really like Rats, huh? I like her, too, but I hadn't really expected her to be a particular favorite. She will have none of the protagonist's ********, it's true.

    Anyway, the protagonist is a hard character to like, especially at the beginning, so the story has to lean pretty hard on secondary characters to provide people the reader might not want to punch in the face. Glad that Rats taking it down a peg helped a bit with your frustration. I can't promise you'll ever like our POV character, but I can at least guarantee that the other characters will be at least as frustrated with it as you.

    Heh, rereading that section it actually takes a while before the pokédex is actually seen in conjunction with the sneasel, so I could see how there might be some confusion as to whether that really happened or not. Having Nate react directly to it would probably help reinforce that the protagonist isn't just completely misinterpreting what's going on. As for the Rocket thing... yeah, that's one time that its crazy-*** assumptions actually turn out to be true. Not entirely sure what I want to do with that, since there's really nothing more to the protagonist's logic than "working with Nate -> clearly Rockets, then," but a stopped clock is right twice a day etc. It might be possible to include some little details that a reader might pick up on that would indicate they actually are from TR, but I'd have to think about it; it would be tricky! I suppose this is one case where rarely putting the Rockets in uniform comes back to bite me.

    Nate will eventually explain how he pulled it off! I think it'll be very eventually, but it'll be there. It's super simple, tbh, only takes like two sentences to go over. I'm hoping that people who re-read that part after seeing the explanation will actually be able to recognize the part where he does the thing.

    In this story, a lot of things happen really suddenly and cause the plot to change dramatically in the space of a couple paragraphs... We'll see if I get any better at surprise changes of direction by the end of it.

    Glad to hear it! I always worry about how these two come off, so it's a relief when people say they come across well. Mewtwo in particular, since he's so very different from his anime self and how he's usually portrayed in fanfic.

    Thanks a ton for the review! It was really useful to hear where the story lost you and some of the frustrations you had. I'm glad you stuck with reading it anyway, and especially left such a wonderful comment! Hope you enjoy the latter chapters more if you decide to keep going.

    To people in general: I've been working away on this story as always, and the next chapter is all drafted up and undergoing editing. I'm expecting to have it up by the end of the month. (So, given my track record, expect mid-June-ish.)
     
  15. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    You said you owed me reviews for so long (which I will respond to... eventually), but I believe that I've owed you these for even longer. My bad :p I'm not going to write the reviews as I normally do this time; I had a stressful day, and I honestly just wanted something fun to read (like your fic!). So I did a read-through of the chapters and I can honestly say that I'm really happy I did. It's been a while since I've looked at something that uses the English language so beautifully (or at all...), and how much emotion is packed into the character interactions and how beautiful the scenery is. I was laughing when the great Nathaniel Morgan told the child to get away, and smiling whenever his Pokemon showed their protective-ness towards him (the bit with Mightyena refusing to let the child onto the bed was a favorite :D).

    The part in chapter 23 that stuck out most to me was towards the end, when Mightyena realized that the child could speak human languages. I honestly hadn't realized earlier that the great Nathaniel Morgan couldn't understand his Pokemon, but it also makes their relationship cuter in a way--it really is one of those where words aren't needed, but they love each other anyway. I guess after having written only my fic for so long, I had forgotten that other authors handle this topic a different way XD

    The part with Eskar taking out the child's eye was freaking creepy, by the way. Nice job :p

    I really enjoyed reading these chapters, and thanks for making me day all the better (and returning a bit of the English-speaking world to me after so long! XD)
     
  16. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    starliteevee: Great to see you back! I'm flattered you picked my story to read when you felt like you needed a pick-me-up, and it's great that it lived up to your expectations! The scene where Nate finds out the protagonist can translate his pokémon's speech is one of my favorites. Good to hear you found the eyeball bit creepy, too; that was another fun part to write. And I hope you enjoyed the little backstory extra with Nate and Poochyena as well. Thanks a ton for the review, it gave me all the warm and fuzzies.

    Anyway, here at long last is Chapter 24! This one is somewhat unusual among the next batch of chapters in that I wrote the majority of it after I posted 23--it wasn't written during NaNo. I only decided that I ought to add a battle here after looking over my material at the end of last November. I have a good head start on the next several chapters, but unfortunately I also have some nasty RL deadlines that are going to keep me busy in the near future. You can probably expect 25 sometime in August.

    Chapter 24

    "So you'd be the great Nathaniel Morgan, then?" the referee asks.

    "Huh?" He tears his gaze away from the stands. "Oh, uh, yeah, that's me."

    The boy on the far side of the field tries to hide his smile by glancing down, kicking at a clump of grass in the corner of his challenger's box. "Yeah, real fucking funny, ain't it?" the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. "Asshole friend of mine thought it'd be funny to help me fill out my entry form."

    Your opponent laughs and doesn't bother hiding his grin this time. "Ouch. That's rough."

    He turns to shout something up at one of the spectators, and the referee's engrossed in entering information on his tablet, so you consider it safe to lean in close to the great Nathaniel Morgan and hiss, "I am not your friend."

    "Damn straight," he mutters out of the side of his mouth. He's scanning the bleachers again. There's a big gang of teenagers sitting together, loud and laughing and hollering down at your opponent; a marill family messily sharing a tub of popcorn; a few more people in scattered ones and twos, trainers with pokémon. Nothing out of the ordinary. What's he so worried about?

    "Okay," the referee says, "let's get this started. Trainers ready?"

    "Ready," the great Nathaniel Morgan says.

    Your opponent laughs and throws a cocky salute to his friends, then turns back to the battlefield. "Ready."

    "This is a fourth-round match between Carlos Wright and the Great Nathaniel Morgan," the referee says, and the great Nathaniel Morgan winces. "On my mark, then. Ready... throw!"

    Graveler's up first, taking in the situation with her usual uncaring composure. A burst of whistles and cheers greets Carlos Wright's lucario, and the fighting-type twists around sharply, searching for the source of the noise. He waves uncertainly at his trainer's friends, then turns back to Graveler to a renewed wave of hoots and teasing.

    "Lucario versus Graveler," the referee says. "The first round will now begin!"

    "Stay back, Lucario. Aura sphere."

    "Dodge it. You know what to do."

    Lucario bows his head and cups his paws in front of him while Graveler tucks her limbs in tight and spins on the spot. Clods of dirt spray in all directions as sheer friction digs her into the ground. Rock polish. Okay.

    Lucario lets fly with a glowing blue orb of energy, which strikes Graveler dead center to no apparent effect. You whisper a quick criticism of her dodging ability to the great Nathaniel Morgan, but he doesn't reply. He probably can't even hear you over the horrible grinding, crunching noise of Graveler's acceleration. Before Lucario can pull together another sphere, the rock-type careens straight at him with a rollout.

    He leaps lightly aside, launching another aura sphere in the process. The attack curves neatly to follow Graveler as she swerves and charges straight for the edge of the field. The rock-type turns aside at the last second, and the aura sphere can't compensate fast enough, colliding with the energy barrier and dissipating in a flash of light.

    Lucario keeps hurling aura spheres, but Graveler keeps rolling, faster and faster, and jinking around his projectiles so they crash harmlessly at the arena's edge. Soon Lucario's doing more running away than attacking, trying to stay ahead of Graveler with small bursts of extreme speed.

    "Stand your ground, Lucario. Knock her back with strength!"

    "Break out and attack," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. For some reason he's watching the referee instead of the fight.

    You'd watch, too, and try to catch whatever he's waiting for, but you're more interested in whether Lucario can stop Graveler. The fighting-type braces himself in a low stance, paws held up at chest height. You're sure Graveler's going to roll right over him, that he'll get ground into the dirt, but then she swerves to avoid him instead. You only hear the beginning of Lucario's disgruntled exclamation before Graveler extends her arms and legs and tumbles through one final revolution, each limb striking the ground in turn and setting off a burst of seismic waves.

    The earthquake knocks Lucario off his feet, and his trainer scrambles to give new orders. "Extreme speed into force palm, quick! Throw off the spin!" Graveler's already tucked and revving up again.

    Lucario wobbles back to his feet, planting them wide as he rides out bone-rattling aftershocks. Then he leaps forward, only to let out a shout of dismay when his palm passes through a cloud of red energy.

    "Switch. Infernape, you're up."

    You look up at the great Nathaniel Morgan, startled. What just happened?

    "Well?" he growls, tipping his head towards the arena.

    You knuckle forward slowly, still not really sure what's going on. The electric buzz of the energy shield passes over you, and then you're on the battlefield, the sod cracked and crumbling under your toes and the air heavy with the smell of bruised grass.

    "So are you going to stand and fight, or are you going to run, too?" the lucario asks. He's young, maybe started with his trainer a year or two ago. He's got a long scrape up his leg and a clump of grass stuck above one eyebrow, but mostly he just looks mad.

    The referee raises his flags. You read the signal without even realizing it, and then all of a sudden it clicks--ah, right. The great Nathaniel Morgan never wanted Graveler to fight Lucario. He was just running down the clock until the referee gave the signal for open switching. Now you have a minute and a half before Carlos Wright can withdraw Lucario himself.

    You grin at your scowling opponent. Plenty of time.

    "Infernape versus Lucario. Begin!"

    You're charging before the great Nathaniel Morgan even opens his mouth, and Lucario races forward to meet you. "Bone rush, Lucario!"

    "Overheat!"

    A glowing femur appears between Lucario's paws, the same eerie blue as his aura sphere. You duck under his first swing, then reach up and grab the bone yourself. Lucario snarls and tries to wrench it away, but you are, after all, much stronger. Your flames blaze white and tongues of fire lick down your back and arms. "Lucario, get away!"

    Lucario lets go of the bone, and you reach for him as it flickers out of existence, hoping to catch him before he can get out of range. You grab one of his aura sensors, and he yelps and lashes out at you, slashing with his hand-spikes in a flurry of uncoordinated movements. Your flames roar higher, and an incredible wave of heat sets the grass around you alight. Lucario howls, and now the metal spikes coming at you are glowing orange-hot. One cuts a long gash down your cheek, and you return fire with with flame-trailing fists.

    "Fire spin! Fire spin, go!"

    Lucario's aura sensors twitch, and he hits you with a wave of psychic energy that snaps your head back. The fighting-type shoves you away and retreats towards his trainer while you're drifting uncoordinated. You sway, or maybe it's just the world tilting in front of your eyes, but grit your teeth and leap at where you hope Lucario actually is with another fire punch.

    "I said fire spin, for--come on!"

    You wobble to a halt and shake your head, then move your hand in circles, conjuring a swirling wall of fire around you. An exclamation from Lucario's trainer makes you glance his way, and you get a glimpse of him with pokéball raised, staring in dismay, before a curtain of flame sweeps between the two of you.

    Fire spin blocks a pokéball's recall beam. Not many attacks do that, not legal ones. But if Carlos Wright was going to switch--has it been that long already?

    Lucario's fist slams into your jaw, and you topple over, vision sparking green and yellow. "Dig! Dig! Get out of there! Dig!" Carlos Wright yells.

    "Hold him!" is the great Nathaniel Morgan's response.

    The fire spin crackles on all sides, penning the two of you in a narrow, sweltering circle. Lucario kneels to dig, and you make a flopping lunge for him, knocking him into the fire spin's wavering edge. He yells and struggles as he's battered by whipping flames, but though you're lying half in them yourself they do no more than tickle through your fur and fill your nostrils with the warm neutral scent of energy fire.

    Lucario kicks you, and you grunt, air backing up in your throat. He's fighting to get away, not hurt you. He wants to crawl to the other side of the fire spin, where his pokéball's beam can reach him. You're too dazed to do much about it, but at least your dead weight is making life difficult for him. You close your eyes and let the fire spin warm you, the heat of your own flames building into a boiling core of energy that you release in another heat wave attack. Lucario howls so loud you almost can't hear his trainer yell, "Yield! I yield!"

    You let go of Lucario and release the fire spin, a wonderful relaxing feeling like sighing out a long-held breath. The whirling flames scatter and disperse, and Lucario, on hands and knees, only has time to growl at you before he flashes red and disappears.

    "Lucario is unable to battle," the referee says, and you sit back on your haunches and rub your aching head while Carlos Wright's hand moves over his pokéballs. He grabs for one, stops, then makes a different choice.

    "Pidgeot," he says, and you sit up a little straighter as the bird takes shape in front of you.

    "Blue corner switches?" the referee asks, and you get back to your feet without waiting for the great Nathaniel Morgan's reply. Like he said earlier, you can't switch without being called knocked out, and you've got plenty of fight in you yet. You give your forehead one final rub and settle into a ready stance. "Pidgeot versus Infernape. Begin!"

    "Agility, Pidgeot!"

    "Stop it with vacuum wave, then toxic."

    Pidgeot sweeps into the air with a trilling cry, then chokes and crashes when a burst of fighting energy hits her in the throat. All good so far. But toxic? What on earth is the great Nathaniel Morgan thinking?

    Jagged rock spires lance up from the ground under Pidgeot, knocking her on her side. "What the f--what? Hey!" the great Nathaniel Morgan yells.

    You bound towards Pidgeot, but she sweeps a wing over the broken earth and sends a cloud of dust into your face. By the time you blink the gritty tears from your eyes she's taken flight again and is well out of range.

    "Air cutter, Pidgeot!" Carlos Wright says, and the flying-type brings her wings down with a sound like a thunderclap, releasing a blade of compressed air and flying energy. It slices a deep furrow in the ground beside you as you leap out of the way, straight into a roll to avoid a second attack. Pidgeot keeps throwing out more, sure to land a hit eventually.

    "Fine. Dig," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and you hunch your shoulders and let out an exasperated grunt. You won't even be able to hit Pidgeot with that attack. You have to get close, close enough to grab her, or find a way to knock her out of the sky. To reach her, though... You smile as an idea takes shape.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's howling something, but you ignore him and make a full-on sprint for the edge of the arena, glancing briefly up at Pidgeot to gauge the distance. No time for more than that. You've got to be fast, or else you won't hit the energy barrier hard enough to trigger its resistance and go flying straight into a ring out. You can do it, though. It's time for everyone to see just how strong you are.

    Another air cutter passes you by, so close that you're stung by the spray of dirt and pebbles its impact sends flying. You pay it no mind, drop to all fours and pour on more speed. Flames flicker around your hands and feet, your mane streaming out in a whipping contrail as you summon a flame charge to add extra force to your run. Then you're at the edge, flames tinging your vision a hazy, rippling orange, and you jump--and there's the energy barrier, solid under your toes and humming like something alive. You won't have more than a second's purchase, and you need to move fast, change the direction of your momentum and push off caddy-corner to hit the other wall a little higher up.

    But that precious sliding second holds all the time in the world. You feel each muscle tighten in your legs, fire hissing in your ears as you pivot, jump, soar. Then the barrier's under your feet again and you're can feel everything, see everything, feel like you have an hour between each racing heartbeat. You can feel each individual muscle tighten in your legs as you jump, with fire hissing in your ears and a floating sensation in your stomach before your feet hit the barrier again. And you jump, and you jump, back and forth, up and up and up.

    You're still drifting when you reach Pidgeot's height and kick off for the last time, flipping around to face her in midair. She's on the far side of the arena now, hanging back, and you realize that for her this all happened in a matter of moments, that she still doesn't understand what's going on. She still doesn't realize, as the last scattered embers of your flame charge flare up again, what it is you're about to do.

    You can't see the heat wave spread out across the arena, but you can see Pidgeot react, ducking her head and narrowing her eyes against the blast of hot air. You draw more energy for another attack, afraid she'll recover and climb even higher before you can reach her. You're still trapped in your bubble of crystallized time, and it feels like it's going to take a thousand years for you to cross the arena, like you're inching along even going top speed. You have the time to appreciate every one of Pidgeot's individual feathers, the way the light dazzles from them as she raises her wings high. You watch the starting flitter of energy sparks traveling along her pinions, matched by the glowing aura of fighting energy that builds around your hand. When you release another vacuum wave you can even see the energy traveling through the air, a red-brown glow that, even in your dilated vision, is gone again in an instant.

    This time the vacuum wave doesn't catch Pidgeot off guard. There's a flash of glittering white, a roar of noise, and then you're lying on your back in the dirt with the breath knocked out of you and your fur all over sticky and wet. "Dig!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars. "Dig, you--just do it!"

    Your fall must have jarred time back into its proper shape somehow, because you never even see the next air slash coming. It crushes you into the dirt and rips open another long gash, shoulder to hip, forming a sloppy "X" with the wound the last one left. You dig your fingers into the dirt and strain to get up, because there's no way you can afford to take another air slash head on like that.

    "It can't hit you if you're underground! For God's sake, dig!"

    You pull yourself to a painful crouch, let the air slash crash and dissipate against a protect, and then scoop up a handful of dirt. You hurt too much to do anything but what you're told. You rip up handful on handful of sod, carving out a long, narrow tunnel that winds down and down until the arena's just a speck of light overhead.

    With Pidgeot out of sight you allow yourself a moment of wincing pain, gently touching the oozing cuts across your chest. They're fouled with dirt now on top of everything else. You don't need to worry about infection, but all that muck's going to sting coming out anyway.

    "Stay up there and work up!" Carlos Wright says, distantly.

    "Slack off."

    You can barely make out Carlos Wright's grunt of annoyance. "Never mind, Pidgeot. Can you blow a gust down there, or maybe ominous wind?"

    You lean back against the crumbly tunnel wall and wrap your tail around your ankles, ignoring brief flashes of dark as Pidgeot passes low over your tunnel's entrance. It's not really relaxing, slacking off, just forcing as much energy as you can into healing, but it means a break in the battle at least. The pain in your chest recedes, the steady drip of blood sealed off under big, crusty scabs. They itch like mad, and you pick at them halfheartedly, too tired to take more initiative than that.

    It feels like the battlefield overhead belongs to a completely different world, one that can't touch you anymore. Now and again a sudden downdraft ruffles your fur and tickles the tender skin on your chest even worse, but Pidgeot's having some trouble aiming her attacks straight down.

    You hear her muttering about it as she shoots past overhead, mismatched snatches of sentences that topple into your tunnel. The flybys grow more frequent, and Pidgeot's voice closer, as she circles down and down, hoping for more luck with a closer target, you suppose. Finally a distant bump tells you she's landed. You sit up, putting one hand against the side of the tunnel. She's on the ground. You just need to get to her before she takes off again.

    A shadow stretches over the lip of the tunnel, light gleaming from Pidgeot's eyes as she peers in. "Are you going to hide down here all day?" she asks.

    "Now use rock--no, what the--?"

    Pidgeot ducks out of sight just before the column of fire reaches her, and you cut the flamethrower off and dig your fingers into the tunnel wall, pulling yourself up hand over hand. You hear wingbeats overhead. Pidgeot's airborne again, but that's okay. You just need to get her before she gets too high...

    You burst back into sunlight in a shower of dirt and spend only a second to figure out where Pidgeot is before you jump, throwing all the power you can into your leap.

    Pidgeot squawks as you grab her around the middle, tearing out handfuls of feathers as you struggle to get a grip. The bird barely wobbles, strong flier that she is, but once you wrap one arm around her neck and slam a thunder punch into her side, she plows into the ground, crushing you beneath her.

    "Get away from there!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says at the same time Carlos Wright's yelling, "Get it off you, Pidgeot!"

    There's no way you're going to let go, not after you worked so hard to get ahold of her, not when she's going to fly off again the second she's rid of you. You cling on as hard as you can and hit her with another thunder punch, and another, again and again on any part of her you can reach.

    You're still trapped, though, with Pidgeot's talons positioned right over your chest. She digs them in hard, clutching and twisting and letting her weight force them deeper. She goes to work with her beak, too, ripping into your head and neck while her wings beat at whatever part of you they can reach and knock your punches wild. You attack with fire and electricity both, not even thinking, letting your instincts handle that. All the attention you have is focused on stopping Pidgeot from getting away, on keeping her on the ground, even though it means she screams and struggles and sinks her talons even deeper.

    By now her claws don't even hurt. They're just cold, like metal spikes hammered straight through your bones. You've gone all chilly and exposed, like there's a cold wind blowing through every bit of you that should be sealed up under skin. But heat builds to counter it, a surge of fire-type energy that makes your mane leap and fills you with the strength to smash another thunder punch square into Pidgeot's face. You grab her throat when she cringes and hold her head up and away while you gather fire energy, your own blood dripping back onto your face from the curve of Pidgeot's beak. Your crown spits random bursts of flame and the air fills with the gassy stink of burning feathers, Pidgeot shrieking and tearing at you all the harder. Your vision wavers red and black, from your injuries or the gathering flames you don't know. But nothing hurts, it's all fire and feathers and wavering darkness.

    At fist you think the shrill noise is just a hallucination, a nonsense ringing in your ears, but then Pidgeot croaks, "Let go, you idiot. Can't you hear the whistle?"

    All of a sudden you remember where you are, what you're doing. You remember the great Nathaniel Morgan, whom you've thankfully gotten very good at ignoring. And you remember the referee, who's blowing his whistle for all he's worth because, because--you squint at the flags--because you're out?

    You let Pidgeot go and sit up fast, so fast the world spins and your stomach churns. You clutch at the grass until your head stops swimming, then turn to the great Nathaniel Morgan. He forfeited? You screech with all the strength you have left, wishing you could put words to your anger, tell him just how much of an idiot he is in front of the entire audience.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's face is set in a grim expression. "I said you're out. Get off the fu--ieeeld. Get off the field." He jerks his head towards the referee.

    You were winning! One more attack and you would have won. You grit your teeth hard, from anger, not the pain of standing, and snarl at Pidgeot for want of a better target. She clacks her beak in return, then goes back to preening. At least you have the satisfaction of knowing she won't last long if her trainer decides to leave her in. Her feathers are singed and blood-smeared and sticking out every which way; you doubt she could even get airborne.

    You hobble over to the sideline to accept a full restore from the referee, hunched over the wounds on your stomach. You sit down right next to him and fumble with the spray bottle while he gets the battle underway again.

    Carlos Wright doesn't recall Pidgeot, but it's hardly a minute before he has to bring in his azumarill. You look up briefly as a particularly enthusiastic surge of applause greets the water-type's arrival, but don't bother paying attention farther than that. Instead you occupy yourself with making sure you get every last scrape with the full restore's spray. Your eyes water as injuries flare up with antiseptic burning, like you're misting yourself with acid, but then the pain medication takes over and everything turns blessedly cool and numb. A few seconds later even the largest gouges are closed and covered in a downy layer of new fur. Sudden movements still leave you dizzy, though, gumming up the back of your throat with nausea. You probably ought to go to the Pokémon Center after the battle just in case.

    You have no desire to join the great Nathaniel Morgan in the challenger's box, so you settle in to watch just where you are. Raticate's getting the chance to make good on his boast about how easily he could beat an azumarill--and not exactly enjoying it, by your estimate.

    "Double-edge," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and a bruised and dripping Raticate grumbles skeptically to himself before sending Azumarill flying. You imagine a cartoon bwoing as she rebounds from the energy barrier, but there's nothing funny about how she shoots straight back at Raticate, a ribbon of chilly fog drifting from one hand as she prepares an ice punch. The great Nathaniel Morgan blurts out his next command as fast as he can. "Assurance the hole now!"

    It doesn't mean much to you, but Raticate groans loudly before leaping into the air. He spins to bring his tail down atop Azumarill, and the assurance attack dunks her neatly into the hole you dug earlier. The water-type's a bit pudgier than you, and she wedges in tightly.

    She also unloads a hydro pump on Raticate the second he comes back to earth, but the recoil of the attack forces her deeper into the hole. Raticate rolls back onto his feet, a mess of sodden fur and waterlogged whiskers, but he has the advantage now. He darts in and out, nipping at Azumarill in short bursts while she alternately flails at him and tries to pull herself free. By the time she gets unstuck she's woozy and bleeding, and a particularly vehement hyper fang ends up being all it takes to end the battle.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan hardly waits for the referee's verdict before releasing Graveler next to him and pulling a potion out of his backpack, spraying down the hairline cracks Lucario's aura sphere left behind. They glow the deep orange of molten rock for a few seconds, then cool off into thin bands that show up smooth and dark against the rest of her rough, chipped skin.

    "Nice work," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, rubbing the ridge of rock above her eyes. Graveler makes a noncommittal grinding noise.

    Carlos Wright's friends descend on him, some with conciliatory words but more apparently hoping to mock him into laughing off the loss. His azumarill, no doubt fresh off a potion herself, is chatting with her family off to one side. And meanwhile the great Nathaniel Morgan is--settled atop Graveler and already well on his way back to the street.

    You start to shout for him to wait, remember you're an infernape at the last second, and turn it into a smoky cough that earns you an alarmed look from the referee. The great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't even turn around, of course. You catch up to him with a quick, blazing burst of speed, then fall behind again while you shiver on hands and knees, bending all your concentration towards not throwing up. By the time you catch up to Graveler, moving at a studied walk, she's nearly to the street. "Where are you going?" you hiss. Your irritation must make it come out louder than you wanted, because the great Nathaniel Morgan's gaze snaps around to you immediately, and he raises a hand to shush you.

    "Pokémon Center," he growls, "and then I'm going to sleep for a thousand fucking years. Good Christ I feel terrible."

    He's slumped over on Graveler, head hanging, but you're feeling less than empathetic. It's not like he was out there fighting. "You are not even going to go lie to Carlos Wright about having a good battle? People always do that."

    "Fuck no."

    "But that is something you are supposed to do! You cannot just walk away! Do you really want to screw this battle up worse than you already did? Do you really--"

    "Would you shut the fuck up already?" And you can't get any more out of him, not the whole way to the Pokémon Center, not even when you get in Graveler's way and demand he say something. He doesn't even have to tell Graveler to punch you in the stomach and shove her way past.

    --​

    You return to the apartment reeking of shampoo from the bath the nurses insisted on giving you, like you couldn't have gotten the blood out of your fur yourself. The great Nathaniel Morgan's here, asleep on the couch, instead of waiting for you in the Center's lobby like a responsible trainer. Raticate's curled up next to him with face tucked under paws. The normal-type raises his head when you climb up on the back of the couch, but the great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't wake up until you reach a foot down and kick him.

    Raticate tumbles to the ground in a flail of claws and tail as the great Nathaniel Morgan curls in on himself, clutching his side. "Ah! Fuck! Jesus Christ, what the fuck was that for?"

    You try to look baleful, staring down at him while you finish off the cookie they gave you at the Center. It probably has medicine in it or something, but it tastes pretty good. Raticate draws up on his hind legs and hisses at you, and you lean forward, ready to leap on him if he tries anything. Graveler's moving in your peripheral vision, still halfway across the room but no doubt ready to back Raticate up. You're ready for her, too.

    "Stop!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "For God's sake, you can't fight in here!"

    Raticate stops hissing, but his fur stays bristled out as he climbs onto the arm of the couch by his trainer's head. Graveler stomps up beside him, wedging herself between the couch and the wall. "We're not going to forget about this," Raticate says. You dismiss him and his teammate with a flick of your tail and keep your focus on the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    He spends a while just clutching his ribs, breathing hard, but at last he looks up at you with watering eyes and says, "Okay, let's go back to 'What the fuck do you want, asshole?'"

    "Your performance in that battle was unacceptable," you say.

    "My performance? You going to sit there and act like I'm the one who fucked up?"

    "You gave completely unreasonable commands, and even when I managed to work things out by myself you forfeited before I could win!"

    "Oh, so you were gonna win, huh? 'Cause to me it looked like you'd rather let that pidgeot tear you into a bunch of fucking tiny pieces."

    "One blast burn and it would have been over!"

    "Yeah, sure. Look, I thought you wanted me here because I was like the sickest battler on the planet or some shit. So when it comes to an actual fight why in all fuck would you throw it out the window and ignore every goddamn thing I say? I got eight fucking badges, you asshole. You gonna obey me or not?"

    "That is not how it works, and you know it. I am not going to do what you say if what you say is stupid."

    "This from the guy who thinks 'punch it til it dies' is a fucking great--" the great Nathaniel Morgan winces and breaks off for a moment, holding his side. When he recovers, he locks eyes with you, abruptly angry. "Okay, you know what? No. You want to do this, let's fucking do this. How were you thinking you were gonna beat that fucking pidgeot?"

    "Infernape have a lot of attacks that are good against flying-types. Like stone edge. And thunder punch."

    "Who gives a shit? It can fucking fly. Your attacks ain't worth dick if you can't hit with them."

    "But I can hit with them. You saw me. I bet you never knew I could climb the barrier like that!"

    "Okay, yeah, I didn't know you could do none of that parkour bullshit. And it was kinda badass. But looking badass don't win battles, Freak. Sure as hell didn't stop you getting turned to birdseed."

    "Like your ideas were any better. You kept telling me to dig, when that cannot even hurt pidgeot."

    "Yeah, and here's why, you fucking moron." The great Nathaniel Morgan shifts around, gingerly pulling himself into an almost sitting position. "So you're playing somebody who's got the advantage, right? Their best attacks are the ones that hurt you most. And worse, they can fly, so they can just sit up out of your reach and spam air slashes at you, while the best you can do is, I dunno, swift or some shit. You can't even go after them, because they'll snipe you way before you reach them."

    "I reached her without getting sniped."

    "If that's what you call taking an air slash to the fucking face and landing on your ass thirty feet down, fine. But what you really want to do is make them come to you, get me? So you go underground. Now they can't hit you, and you can't hit them. Stalemate."

    "Exactly! You cannot win if you run away and hide!"

    "Not winning but not losing's still better than losing for sure. And it's easy to turn it into a win. All you gotta do iiiis..." He trails off, making a circling motion with his finger and giving you a mocking smile.

    "This is stupid."

    "Toxic!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says cheerfully. "Pidgeot ain't got no real way to deal with status, so as long as you can jam it, it should stick. And then the birdy's fucked, right? It can't just hang out up high, 'cause it's gonna be taking damage all the time, and anything it hits you with you can heal off no problem. It'll have to come down eventually, either to try and get you or to roost or rest or whatever the fuck. And when it does, bam!" He punches the back of the couch. "You drop a rock tomb on it, and then you hit it with all the fire you got until it goes down. Easy win. And none of that getting your guts ripped out crap."

    "You wanted me to wait around the whole time? That is boring."

    "No, I wanted you to wait for a good opportunity to attack. Look, Freak, spamming your strongest moves works great if you've got the advantage. Like, if you're a fucking dragonite or whatever, sure, go nuts. But if you're at a disadvantage? You can't just go around blasting shit and expect to win. Like, stone edge is good and all, but it's just one move. Pidgeot's got way more flying attacks to work with, and better ones, too. Plus it's using with its own element, which makes them even stronger. So if you get in a straight damage race, you're always gonna lose.

    "That's why you gotta fight smart, see? You don't open with your best attack, you make them think you got nothing, you make them think they got you on the run, and when their guard's down, when you see the moment, that's when you hit them with every fucking thing you got, understand? You gotta make it count."

    "I suppose you would have experience being the weaker one in a fight," you admit sourly.

    "Damn straight," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. Raticate chuckles, then rubs his head against the side of his trainer's face, and the great Nathaniel Morgan smiles and reaches back to scoop him off the arm of the couch. Raticate settles in beside his trainer and rests his head on the great Nathaniel Morgan's chest while the human scratches his back. "So what I'm saying, Freak, is let me do my fucking job, okay? I ain't gonna tell you every little thing you gotta do in a fight, but if I say something, it's fucking important, okay? Like with that fucking lucario. The other guy was gonna recall it, see, and if he did we'd be pretty fucked--either Graveler or Raticate would've had to deal with it, and that would've been real dicey. You kept waiting on that fire spin, and if you'd put it off any more, it woulda fucked the whole team over. That's why you gotta do what I ask, get me? We're supposed to be in this together, and I sure as hell ain't trying to lose. Plus I don't want to get bitched at by no fucking nurse because you won't even listen to 'get away from it before it rips you a new one.'"

    "So that is what happened. Is that why the nurses told me you had to leave?"

    "Yeah, I got a goddamn earful about how fucking irresponsible I am for letting you get all banged up and shit, and how if you can't control yourself in battle I oughta cram you in a pokéball for your own fucking safety. And then she acts like I'm way out of line for not just standing there and taking her shit. And the fucking chansey were always gonna take her side, of course."

    "They always go on about that stuff if you go into the Center with a lot of battle injuries. How you should not push yourself so hard, even if your trainer tells you to, and how to report your trainer if they make you do dangerous things or things you do not like, all of that stuff. It is annoying."

    "Really? They do that?"

    "I just said they do," you snap, though you're more annoyed by remembered lectures than by him. "They should mind their own business."

    "Tell me about it," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Anyway, point is I don't want to be catching no heat for your fuckups, get me? I ain't got time for that shit. You do what I say and we all win. I mean, I'm pretty fucking sure none of my guys has ever had to sit through the 'you look like fucking death, have you considered your trainer might be a shithead' talk."

    Raticate blinks sleepily and stretches one of his paws, splaying the claws wide. "Well, I did once."

    "Raticate did," you say, and feel warmly smug at the look of shock on the great Nathaniel Morgan's face. He can't seem to decide whether he should be looking at you or Raticate, head jerking anxiously back and forth.

    "What? When?"

    "Oh, it was a long time ago. With my other trainer."

    "Oh." The great Nathaniel Morgan goes very still. "Your, uh, other trainer."

    "Yeah, it was just a dumb thing. He was new, you know, didn't have a clue what he was doing. I didn't either. That sort of thing can happen, sometimes." Raticate yawns and rubs sluggishly at his nose while you repeat his words for the great Nathaniel Morgan's benefit.

    "Yeah. So, I was kind of wondering," the great Nathaniel Morgan says after a lengthy pause, "about your other trainer. What they were like, you know?"

    "What he was like?" Raticate says. "Uh, I dunno. Kinda dumb, really enthusiastic. The usual, I guess." He blinks drowsily and frowns at the great Nathaniel Morgan's hand, which for whatever reason isn't petting him. He nudges it with his nose, and the great Nathaniel Morgan reflexively scratches under his chin. "I was only with him for a few weeks, anyway. Why?"

    "Oh, I dunno." The great Nathaniel Morgan stares up at the ceiling, absently combing his fingers through Raticate's fur. "I was just kinda wondering whether you ever, like, missed them, you know? Or if you ever felt like you wanJESUS CHRIST!"

    Raticate topples to the floor again, and you double over, gasping at the sudden cold gripping your chest, like someone hit you with a bucket of icewater. The great Nathaniel Morgan probably feels the same, since it's his chest the sableye landed on after phasing through yours. From the wide-eyed stare the great Nathaniel Morgan's giving you, her popping out of your torso must have been quite the sight.

    Eskar smiles innocently at the great Nathaniel Morgan, like she doesn't notice the chaos around her. "Hello, Lazurite-eyes."

    "What the fuck?"

    Raticate leaps at Eskar, teeth trailing ribbons of black. They snap closed on empty air, and a dark squiggle zips down the side of the couch and across the floor. Eskar pops out of the shadow sneak not half a second later, perched on the edge of the kitchen table with one leg crossed over the other, leaning back on her hands with her huge smile still in place.

    Meanwhile, the great Nathaniel Morgan's groaning over Raticate landing on him, which must have jostled his broken ribs, and there's a loud crunch as Graveler rips up a hunk of floor. She transmutes it to rock as she hefts it overhead, then hurls it at Eskar, who jags out of the way in a lightning-fast flicker of motion. The rock sails on and smashes a cabinet to bits, littering the kitchen floor with long splinters of wood.

    The noise startles you into taking a deep, chilly breath, which at last brings to back to the moment. A sharp crack announces Graveler reloading, and you realize there's an actual battle going on. "Stop," you gasp, and then again, louder, when Graveler's second rock smashes a deep hole in the wall. "Stop!"

    Raticate's creeping up on the ghost while Graveler readies another rock. "Stop, it is okay! I told her to be here!" You wince, and the lights flicker, as the rock throw misses. "She is not going to hurt anyone!"

    "Hey, hey! Stop!" the great Nathaniel Morgan hollers. "Knock it the fuck off!" He drags himself to a sitting position with one arm, the other clamped across his chest. Graveler grumbles and shifts her latest rock to a two-handed grip, but you have no doubt she's ready to chuck it on a second's notice. Eskar's still lounging on the table, though she's had to shift a bit to accommodate a gaping hole left by one of Graveler's rocks. "What the fuck?" the great Nathaniel Morgan repeats into the tense silence.

    "This is Es--Sableye. She is going to battle with us until the tournament is over. So we have six pokémon now."

    "Oh, this is gonna be fucking great, ain't it?" the great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles as he fumbles his pokédex out of his pocket. "So it's wild?"

    "She has a trainer," you say. "She is just going to fight for us, too."

    "Really? How the hell is that supposed to work?" the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokédex chimes. He glances at the screen and raises his eyebrows, then bangs it against the arm of the couch a couple times before pointing it at Eskar again. "Sableye, you know what the fuck's going on here? The freak give you a rundown?"

    "Oh, yes, Lazurite-eyes!" Eskar says, glitteringly. "The League finals! So exciting!"

    "And you're okay with it?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks. "And your trainer? They're okay with you joining us?"

    "Yes, of course, Lazurite-eyes. No need to worry."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan looks back down at his pokédex, rubs his eyes, and sighs. "Sure. Great. Welcome to the fucking team, I guess. You gonna hang out with us, or are you gonna stay with your trainer?"

    "Oh, I'll be around, Lazurite-eyes," Eskar says, waving a claw vaguely. The great Nathaniel Morgan looks up at you, and after a moment you realizes he wants you to translate.

    "Sure. Fine. Whatever," he says once you do. "Just make sure you're back here when we go training, okay? So tomorrow morning at..."

    "Eight," you supply for him.

    "Nine. Got it?"

    "Most certainly, Lazurite-eyes." Eskar drops lightly to the floor. "And I look forward to working with you. And you." She nods to Graveler, who's still watching her closely with rock in hand. "And you." Her head snaps around 180 degrees to face Raticate, who's lurking behind her in the dark. He yelps and jumps backwards and gets tangled in the legs of a chair. Eskar turns back to the great Nathaniel Morgan while the normal-type swears and struggles to get free. "Until tomorrow, then, Lazurite-eyes." She steps back into the shadow under the table, and her gemstones glimmer a moment more before she fades away entirely.

    In the silence that follows, the great Nathaniel Morgan turns to you. "Okay, what the fuck?"

    "What? You told me to find another pokémon for the team, so I found one. She is strong, is she not? She will do great."

    "I ain't said she's on the team yet," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "This whole thing stinks to high heaven. Where the fuck did you even find her?"

    You shrug. "Indigo Town. What do you think is wrong with her?"

    "It don't make no fucking sense." The great Nathaniel Morgan looks down at his pokédex and rubs his forehead. "I mean, hell. You ain't got a pokéball for her neither, do you?"

    "No."

    "Of course not. Of-fucking-course not," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters.

    "We need another team member."

    "Yeah, I know." The great Nathaniel Morgan slumps back into the couch and covers his eyes. "I'll see tomorrow, okay? We'll see what she can do. But I don't like it." He surveys the destroyed cabinet, the holes in the walls. "Guess there's a reason we're not allowed to keep you guys out in Base. Shit."

    "Seriously, Graveler, what the hell," Raticate says.

    The rock-type's brow furrows, rucking up like a carpet into craggy ridges and deep fissures. She looks almost petulant. "She attacked you," Graveler says to the great Nathaniel Morgan.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you another significant look, and after a second you relay their conversation. The human sighs and pats a jut of rock above Graveler's shoulder. "Ah, well. Dunno what I'm even worrying about anyway. Ain't like I was gonna see security deposit on this place anyhow. I mean, after ripping off the fucking Champion in front of fifty thousand people I'm getting right the fuck outta dodge, ain't gonna be coming back to turn in my keys or nothing." He chuckles and shakes his head, his gaze distant. "Like, yeah, after pissing off the entire goddamn League, I'm totally going to show up to check out. And Team Rocket, haha, Team Rocket, like I'll bet they'll be stoked to see me all fuck you swiping Mewtwo like that, but it's cool, I'm totally gonna hang out all polite and shit, make sure I don't inconvenience nobody, like be a fucking upright citizen and all. I'm gonna, gonna..." His chuckling gives way to full-on hysterical cackling that goes on and on for what must be a minute at least, until tears stream from his eyes and he gasps for breath between bouts of uncontrollable giggles.

    "Oh God, that hurts," he wheezes. "Goddamn. Fuck me. Oh, fuck me."
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2016
  17. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: Not quite August, but here's Chapter 25 nonetheless! Also my thousandth post. I'm pretty much going to be on lockdown for the next three weeks or so with work and then a brief vacation, but I'm hoping I'll have Chapter 26 ready to go when life finally gets back to normal around August 12th. My vacation will be internet-less, which is always good for productivity. XD

    As always, hope you enjoy the chapter.
    Chapter 25

    The great Nathaniel Morgan clutches a cheap cup of coffee like it's the only thing keeping him halfway upright, eyes barely open as he perches on top of Graveler. "Real great job, Freak," he croaks. "All that fuss over some fucking crazy ghost, and then she can't even be assed to show up for training. You sure can pick 'em."

    "She will show up," you snap, even though you wouldn't be surprised if she didn't. Team Rocket, after all. How could you ever have thought she'd keep her word?

    "Next battle's four on four, but after that it's all sixes," the great Nathaniel Morgan says grimly. "So if this fucking sableye don't work out we're gonna hafta take some time off to go catch--holy shit!"

    He twists around to swat at his back, then desperately fumbles his dropped coffee back upright when it starts dumping scalding liquid in his lap.

    "Good morning, Lazurite-eyes," Eskar says, hands on his shoulders and hind claws digging into his back. The great Nathaniel Morgan wrestles the top back onto his coffee and flicks liquid from his fingers, then turns his head to try and get a better look at the ghost. You hold your breath, inwardly cursing Eskar and her stupid pranks. He's got to recognize her now, he must remember, you can't believe she'd risk that.

    But all he does is shake his head and turn away again, fiddling with the coffee. Eskar drums her claws lightly on his shoulder and murmurs, "Not yet, Lazurite-eyes, not yet."

    "Could you maybe not keep trying to give me a fucking heart attack?" The great Nathaniel Morgan grumbles.

    Eskar tips her head sideways. "You wanted me to come here this morning, yes? And here I am, Lazurite-eyes!"

    "Well, yeah," the great Nathaniel Morgan grunts after you translate. "But it would be nice if you just walked over like a normal fucking pokémon instead of popping out of fucking nowhere and jumping on me."

    Eskar makes a clicking noise that must be some kind of dismissal, then climbs over the great Nathaniel Morgan's shoulder and down his front, apparently oblivious to how he has to juggle it so she doesn't knock it out of his hands again, and takes a seat at the edge of Graveler's domed head. Her feet hang nearly in Graveler's eyes. Eskar scratches at Graveler's brow and examines the marks she leaves with interest. The great Nathaniel Morgan scowls and starts to say something, but Eskar talks right over him. "Hello, Obsidian-eyes! I don't believe we've been properly introduced. It's a lovely fabric you have here. Are these olivine inclusions, really?"

    Graveler rumbles uncertainly. She never slows, but her eyes roll up as far as they can go, and she tips back, presumably to try and see Eskar. The great Nathaniel Morgan grabs for a hold and yelps, "Hey!"

    "Wonderful, wonderful," Eskar purrs. "Do you mind?" She snaps off one of Graveler's scales and pops it into her mouth, chewing with a series of horribly loud popping, crunching noises. "Amazing! Is that pyroxene I taste? With traces of ilmenite, hmm, and in that bright silicate background I have to say--garnet, yes?"

    "Yes." Graveler sounds dazed. A couple heavy footsteps more, and she says, "It's sericite."

    "Ah, yes, of course! Of course, Obsidian-eyes, how silly of me. Sericite, yes, that would be the texture. But that's the mountains, isn't it, the eastern range? I've been to Lavender often enough myself, you know, what ghost in Kanto hasn't? Lovely place, absolutely gorgeous strata."

    "Yes," Graveler says again. "It's an exciting place. Always changing. One of the greater chambers above the river collapsed. About three hundred years ago." Her sentences come out slow, with the same steady, plodding rhythm as her footsteps.

    "Oh! How thrilling. I find it difficult to keep on top of all the most recent news. But what do you think of the sandstone here? Awfully soft, isn't it? I've heard the local geodude consider it quite refined, but--"

    Graveler cuts her off with a contemptuous snort.

    "The fuck're they talking about?" The great Nathaniel Morgan asks, watching in bald confusion as Graveler gets drawn into a discussion about the relative merits of the geology of different parts of Kanto.

    "Rocks."

    Mightyena's dropped back to pace beside Graveler, watching Eskar intently. You wonder what she makes of the ghost; she can't have heard anything good. She looks over at you when you speak up, then puts her ears back, lips drawing up in a snarl.

    "What?" you ask sourly. Is she mad that you're even speaking to her trainer now? He was the one who asked you a question!

    She's not looking at you, though, and when you turn you find Absol keeping pace alongside you. "Absol!" You start to ask her how long she's been there but manage to change it mid-sentence. "How l--what are you doing here?"

    Absol gazes at you with her inscrutable red eyes. "This is dangerous."

    "What?" Your fur bristles as a chilly tingle spreads across your skin. There's something about Absol's voice, that quiet, altogether too calm tone, that gives you the shivers even when all she's got for you is a vague warning like that. "What's dangerous?"

    "That sableye." Absol's gaze shifts to Eskar. "She is not trustworthy."

    You slow down and wait until Graveler and the others pull ahead. "I know that, Absol," you hiss. "But I need another person to battle with us in the tournament, especially because someone won't help. And she's not going to do anything to me. She likes me. And she likes my plan. And it's working, by the way, no thanks to you. You haven't gotten Mewtwo back all by yourself, have you?"

    "No. But this is dangerous."

    "I know!" You can't help yelling, and it doesn't matter anyway. You could scream straight in Absol's face and she wouldn't even blink. "I know, and I'm tired of you telling me that! If you actually care about it being dangerous, then help me. Don't just show up and act like I'm stupid because I don't always do everything you want without an explanation. Tell me what's wrong."

    "The sableye is wrong. She is not your friend."

    "Well, what do you want me to do, then? Get rid of her? She won't go away, and I can't be fighting her all the time. If she actually battles, she'll have helped out way more than you. And at least she doesn't make fun of me all the time."

    "Do you think I'm making fun?"

    You don't think she even knows what making fun is. You're sure she doesn't understand why you're mad at her. But that doesn't make it better. "You aren't helping, and you don't want to help. You just want to be right. So just go do whatever you're doing. It's not working, but my plan is. And if you're so worried about danger, maybe you should try actually stopping it for once instead of just warning me about it."

    She actually shows her teeth at that. "You know I can't do that."

    "Of course! Of course I know that! So what good are your stupid warnings anyway?"

    "That's for you to choose. I can only tell you what I know. It is your responsibility to decide what to do with it."

    "You obviously think you know what to do better than me. But I made up my mind. You can agree with it or not, I don't care. But I don't want to listen to you go on about danger and Fate and all that stuff anymore. If you want to help me, you can battle with me in the tournament."

    You speed up, and Absol matches you, but she doesn't say anything. She just watches you the whole time. She's way too good at that. She knows you're not going to be able to leave it alone, that you really want to ask, you really want to, you can't keep it--"Please, Absol," you say at last. "Please, it's only three more battles and a little training, too. It won't take long, you can go off by yourself the rest of the time. I really need your help. Please?"

    Still nothing. You try to talk around the heat rising in your throat, the flames boiling up within you. "At least I'm trying to do something! Maybe it's stupid and it won't work, but it's the best thing I can think of and I'm trying. So if you aren't going to help then just go away already. I don't want to see you again until after the tournament."

    Absol walks, and walks, and you tell yourself you're not going to say another word to her, no matter what, no matter that there are tears pricking at the corners of your eyes and fire tickling the back of your throat. You'll just keep walking and when you look up again she'll be gone.

    "Very well," Absol says at last.

    Now you really do have to say something and end up choking on your fire, coughing up a scattering of embers. "You mean--you'll do it? You'll join the battles?"

    "Yes."

    You don't even know what to say. You must have heard wrong. You stare into Absol's face, looking for some hint of what she's feeling, but of course she looks the same as ever.

    Absol's waiting, she's expecting some kind of response, and it can't be a joke, Absol doesn't joke, so she really, she really will...

    "Thank you," you gurgle, then hack again and spew out a gritty cloud of smoke. And as shock fades, more words come bubbling out. "Then--then we should catch up! And we're supposed to train this morning, so you should... You should come! Because there's a battle tomorrow, and the great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't know you at all, and he'll want to see what you can do!"

    Somehow Graveler's patient steps have taken her out of sight, and you race to catch up, not really worried that she'll leave you behind but too eager to go slow. You remember almost immediately, though, and stop with such abruptness that you stumble forward and have to put your hands out so you don't land on your face. But a desperate glance over your shoulder finds Absol trotting up behind you, unhurried. She gives you a blank look like she has no idea why you stopped, and you grin back, not even caring if she thinks you're an idiot.

    "So that one actually showed up, did she?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks when you come up beside him again.

    "That is right. Just like I said she would. So we have six pokémon and we can do all the rest of the battles and we do not have to worry about it anymore!"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes narrow. "You sound pretty damn relieved there, Freak. Funny, 'cause you were going on like it was a done deal fucking ages ago."

    "Well, it was," you say. "You just didn't believe me. But now everybody is here, so you cannot act like I did not do my job anymore."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan rolls his eyes and gives Absol a critical look. She stares back as levelly as ever, until he has to turn away. You smile and skip a little as you go along. No way a human could win a staring contest with Absol.

    It doesn't take long to reach your usual usual training spot. Fissures, scorch marks, scattered rubble, and distended, overgrown vegetation mark places where trainers have let their pokémon go wild, but your particular battleground is the only one with its own dark-glinting swathe of black glass.

    "Okay, we're gonna split up, then," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "You two with me. I want to see what you got."

    "Oh, yes, Lazurite-eyes. Of course," Eskar chitters. She sounds like she thinks it's funny for some reason.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at her but goes on. "The rest of you, I thought we'd try something a little different today. Freak, since you're the motherfucking god of battle or whatever the fuck, why don't you show these clowns a thing or two? Teach them an attack."

    "You want me to teach them?"

    "I thought we'd try with substitute first," the great Nathaniel Morgan says blandly. "That's a useful one, and everbody can learn it."

    Mightyena looks up at the great Nathaniel Morgan and makes a squeaky, uncertain sort of growl. He rests his hand on her neck. "Just give it a try for me?"

    The dark-type grumbles and shakes out from under his hand, but she stalks over to you anyway. Raticate glances between her and the great Nathaniel Morgan, then slowly follows after. Their trainer shifts himself to a seat on an inanimate boulder, leaving Graveler free to join in.

    "This is a stupid idea," you say, giving your pupils a skeptical look. "They cannot possibly get good at that attack in just a day. They will not have time to practice."

    "Anything's better than nothing, Freak. It don't gotta be perfect. Call it an experiment, okay? And I promise you you'll get the chance to have your ass kicked by them afterwards. This ain't all we're doing today. I just gotta pay some attention to your new recruits, that's all."

    "Look, it's not that hard," Mightyena says. "Raticate managed, and he's not exactly the brightest."

    "Hey!"

    "Raticate?" You give him a skeptical look.

    "Right. I learned super fang from him. And I'm the one who taught him his swagger."

    "Please. You can't teach talent like this."

    "So that's where you learned all those weird attacks from," you say. "Like yawn and iron tail and stuff."

    "I always knew yawn. But iron tail, sure. I got that from Steelix. Raticate and I both did."

    "Yeah, Nate has us do stuff like this all the time. So quit whining about it and get started already. Then we can get it over with and all do something else."

    You stare at Raticate for long seconds, just to make it clear you don't take orders from him, then put your hands on the ground and concentrate.

    There's nothing to it, honestly. It's just like softboiled, but the opposite: instead of making a vessel that can barely contain its energy, that will burst at the slightest touch, you want something sturdy, something that keeps its energy hidden deep inside.

    Energy gathers, then flows out of you, leaving your arms trembling and achy as it drains away. There's another infernape in front of you, standing slack, flames teased by plateau winds.

    You spread your hands. "There you go. See? That's how you do it. Does that make sense?"

    Mightyena walks up and sniffs the substitute, then nudges it with her head. Raticate wanders up next to her and prods it in the side. The substitute doesn't react, doesn't move beyond what's necessary to stay upright.

    "Okay, but if I do this..." Mightyena jumps at you, jaws open to attack. You step back instinctively, but the substitute comes to life in an instant and throws itself into Mightyena's path. The two of them go over in the dirt, a tangle of limbs and flame.

    "Fancy," Raticate says as the substitute picks itself up. It returns to its resting posture, eyes distant and unfocused. "Never seen one in real life. Should be handy."

    "Yes. Do you know how to do it now?"

    "Uh, no," Raticate says. "It's some kind of energy. But you gotta bind it to something to make it stick around like that. Sort of like pay day, right?"

    "Yes!" The full force of your delight surprises you. "Yes, it's almost exactly like that. So you know how to do it?"

    "Nope. Don't know pay day neither. Mightyena?"

    She's circling the substitute, seeing how close she can get to you before it moves to block her. "No idea. How does it work?"

    You shrug. "You take some normal energy, and then you combine it with some life energy, but not too much. And then you put it outside you and make it the right shape, and then you're done."

    Mightyena and Raticate exchange a look. "Uh-huh," Raticate says, his tone alone is enough to set your flames dancing with irritation.

    "It's simple," you snap. "You take your energy and you make the substitute. That's it. Now go on and do it so we can be done with this."

    Raticate sighs. "This is gonna take a while."

    --​

    The tumorous lump twitches whenever Raticate gets close, irregular ripples spreading across its oily black surface. "Maybe you oughta just stop here. That's definitely too creepy for me to want to fight," Raticate says. He jabs a claw at the substitute, watching it ooze away as though repelled by a magnet.

    "Better than yours," Mightyena says.

    "Mine was perfect."

    "For about half a second."

    "And then it became a perfectly good bomb," Raticate says with great dignity. There's a scorched place where his last substitute attempt once stood.

    You rise from a defensive crouch adopted out of instinct even though your substitute stepped in to shield you from Raticate's incendiary adventure. The construct's standing at attention again, oblivious to the holes carved out of its chest, which drip rusty plateau dust instead of blood.

    "They aren't supposed to blow up. I told you, you shouldn't treat this like a damaging attack. Do it again."

    "Yeah, yeah." Raticate blows out his whiskers and turns to Graveler. The rock-type's substitute is perfectly formed, a miniature version of herself done in red plateau stone with eyes like winking diamonds. It's also completely inert, waiting patiently to be ground to dust instead of moving to defend itself or its creator. "What's your secret over there, huh? How do you get it to stay together like that?"

    "I know how to work with rock," Graveler says.

    "Great. Real helpful, Graveler."

    "Do it again," you insist. "All of you. You are not trying hard enough."

    "Uuuugh," Raticate says. "Seriously? How long are we going to spend on this, anyway?"

    He turns an imploring look towards the great Nathaniel Morgan, who's decided he's more interested in watching your group fail to learn anything than Absol and Eskar's sparring. The two of them are still going at it in the background, filling the air with the hiss and crackle of dark energy and the occasional roar of thunder. "What? What's that look supposed to mean?" the great Nathaniel Morgan asks Raticate. "Go on, make another one. I want to see it blow up."

    "Oh, that's it, you--" Raticate jumps on his trainer, who falls backwards off his rock with a hoot of surprise.

    "Raticate! Fuck! Get off! No seriously, that hurts, oh God, cut it out!" Raticate plants himself on his trainer's stomach, perhaps in deference to the human's injured ribs, and casually smooths his fur while the great Nathaniel Morgan glares up at him from his new posistion spread-eagled on the ground.

    "Okay, I get it, you're done with this shit," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Whatever. Good work, guys. Let's call it a break and pick this up again later."

    "It was not good work. They have no idea how to use substitute. It was pointless trying to teach them."

    "Wasn't expecting them to, dumbass. This shit takes time. I just wanted to see how it was gonna go. Now move it, lardass." He pokes Raticate in the side, and the normal-type swipes at him. They carry on like that, the great Nathaniel Morgan trying to get a jab in without Raticate catching him, until Mightyena bowls Raticate over in her eagerness to get her share of the attention.

    "All right, all right, you assholes," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, pushing the two of them away and gingerly getting to his feet. "Now, lessee, let's get you guys some water, and then we can move on to other stuff. Oi, you two! Come on, break time."

    "Do I get to fight the infernape thing now? Because I am so ready for that," Raticate says. The great Nathaniel Morgan attempts to get the water out of his bag while Mightyena tries to shove her snout inside, apparently convinced it holds something interesting and possibly even edible.

    "So I know you don't like the Freak and it don't like you," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He's trying to open a water bottle with both arms wrapped around Mightyena's neck, ostensibly holding her back, but you're sure she could break free with hardly any effort. She seems content to stay where she is for now, though, wagging her tail and looking pleased with herself. "But remember, it knows a lot of shit. If there's an attack you've been wanting to learn, it can probably teach you. So think about it, right? Might as well take advantage while you can. Stop that." He shoves Mightyena away when she steals a quick lick on his cheek, and she bounces around in front of him, begging him to play.

    "Yeah, I think I'm gonna pass on more lessons from that asshole," Raticate says.

    Eskar wanders over, trailing wisps of purplish ectoplasm from the dark rents covering her body. The source of all her injuries stands several feet away, watching. You wave to her, but Absol stays where she is.

    "And what have the rest of you been doing?" Eskar asks. "I was having a boring battle and getting told I'm sloppy about how I use dark energy. Very wrong, but amusing, you see? Humans, they think they know so much." She's recovering while she talks, ghostly flesh knitting back together in fast-time.

    "We were wasting our time on that one's nonsense," Mightyena growls.

    "Oh? But Cordierite-eyes is so strong, yes? It is a privilege to train with one so powerful!"

    "Strong, maybe, but it sucks at teaching," Raticate says.

    "Does it?" Eskar taps a claw on her chin. "Or are you simply too stupid to learn?"

    You laugh, and Eskar flashes you a glittering smile. Mightyena puts her ears back, and Raticate starts to say something, but Eskar turns away from him and says to you, "Cordierite-eyes, it would be an honor to learn from you. Would you teach me?"

    "What, you want to learn substitute?"

    "Yes, Cordierite-eyes! Very much, yes!"

    "Of course," you say right into the glowering faces of the great Nathaniel Morgan's pokémon. "I would be happy to. I bet you will get it really fast."

    "I hope so, Cordierite-eyes," Eskar says humbly. "But perhaps not now. I believe we are about to be asked to do more pointless exercises. Real training later, yes? I think for now we should try to keep the clueless human happy."

    Mightyena's mane bristles up, and she looms huge and spiky over Eskar. The ghost grins straight into her snarling face, like she hasn't the faintest clue why Mightyena's angry. "Mightyena, whoah," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "What's up?"

    "She is just mad because Sableye knows how to recognize a good trainer, that is all," you say, and the great Nathaniel Morgan never gets the chance to work out what that means since he decides he needs to break you and Mightyena up right away, even though you weren't even going to hurt her that bad, probably.

    --​

    After lunch you all retire to the apartment, the great Nathaniel Morgan sprawling on the couch with Mightyena on the floor next to him. Raticate claims the chair, where he sits and worries at his fur, putting every lock in order. You come through the door stewing over a wasted morning soon to be followed by an afternoon of lazing around, but once you settle in on the arm of the couch you start to feel like starting an argument would be too much effort. You lean back agains the couch and relax muscles still buzzing with residual energy. Towards the end of training the great Nathaniel Morgan distracted you with questions about how strong you could make your hyper beam, and you couldn't help showing off a bit.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan sighs and stretches hugely, then rests his hands on his chest and turns towards his pokémon. "So, what do you guys want to do this afternoon?" he asks. "There's a ton of shit going on out there. They got stuff from the team doubles tourney today, that oughta be pretty good."

    "Sure, Nate, after fighting all week what I really want to do to unwind is go watch more fighting," Raticate says.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan prods you with his foot and gestures at Raticate. You consider ignoring him, but it's not like you've got anything better to do. Absol stayed all the way through lunch, but of course she had some mysterious business to attend to after that, and Eskar took off, too, so you don't have anybody else to talk to. The great Nathaniel Morgan's face after hearing what Raticate had to say is worth it anyhow. "That was all single battles, though. This is doubles, it's completely different," he says, sounding a bit hurt.

    "What about a contest? They usually have contests alongside the League tournament, don't they?" Mightyena asks.

    "Contests? Yeah, sure, they got some kind of festival thing going on." The great Nathaniel Morgan drags out his pokédex and pokes at it a bit. "It looks like it's a kind of beginner thing? Like the actual tournament, I guess. Lots of kids."

    "Trying to vicariously live your dream of dressing up in bows and crap and prancing around on stage?" Raticate asks.

    "More like checking out all the cute guys," Mightyena says. "You know, that contest career would have had some serious perks."

    "Or they got, like, I dunno," the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on. "There's like a science museum, Graveler, and they must have rocks and shit. Plus they're showing some movie about volcanoes." The rock-type makes an uninterested rumble and stumps off towards the bedroom. "Okay. So, uh, you want to stay here, or...?"

    "It's kind of sweet of you to offer to take her to see rock porn, but she thinks it's weird that humans are so interested in that stuff," Mightyena says once Graveler's out of sight.

    "What? No." The great Nathaniel Morgan peers at Mightyena. "You're fucking with me. It ain't no rock porn. It's like some bullshit educational movie."

    "I never said it wasn't educational. Where did you think baby rocks came from?" she says. "I mean, think about it. All those grinding faults... heaving plates... spurting lava..."

    "You're full of shit, they hatch from eggs like everything else," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He looks up at the ceiling. "Steelix, you--"

    "Yeah, that's right, can't go running to Know-it-All for help," Raticate says as the great Nathaniel Morgan stares dumbstruck into empty air.

    "Oh man, can you imagine if Steelix actually was here?" Mightyena says to Raticate. "The big guy might about die of embarrassment."

    "Are you kidding? More like Nate'd better strap in for a two-hour lecture on how mating actually--no, shhh, you weren't supposed to say that part!"

    "Well, how am I supposed to know you don't want me to translate something?" you ask.

    "Ha! I fucking knew it!" the great Nathaniel Morgan says, jabbing a finger at Mightyena. "Huh. Rock porn. You two are full of it, you know that?" He cheerfully goes back to fiddling with his pokédex while the pokémon shoot you dirty looks. "Or we could go to an actual movie. Anything you guys want to see? There's, like, some dumb comedy thing about a bunch of bank robbers, and, oh, there's the latest Action Jack flick, ain't there? That just came out."

    "We should go see the Trainer Max movie! It is supposed to be awesome!"

    "Sure, you do that," the great Nathaniel Morgan says without looking up. "Or, hey, there's that sci-fi kinda movie, Interstellar Virus or whatever. What about that?"

    "That might be good, but Trainer Max is better. We should go see that one."

    "'We' ain't gonna see nothing, Freak. Go watch it yourself if you're so goddamned keen."

    "What? I thought we were trying to decide what to do this afternoon."

    "We are. But we don't include you, get me? You ain't invited, dumbass. Now," he turns to the other pokémon, who are making no effort to conceal their amusement, "seriously, guys. Pick something."

    They're going to just waltz off and leave you by yourself? They should be grateful you'd even consider hanging out with them. "Fine. I never wanted to do whatever stupid thing with you idiots anyway," you snarl, your flames hissing and crackling your irritation.

    "Uh-huh. So, Raticate, what... movie? Okay, that's one vote for movie. Mightyena? What? No, she fucked off, she doesn't get a vote. Now what would you--?"

    He's interrupted by a rap at the door and turns to stare, words draining away into a mutter. The knock comes again, louder this time, and the great Nathaniel Morgan hauls himself off the couch and approaches the door cautiously, like he's afraid it might open suddenly to let whatever's on the other side drag him through. The pokémon creep up after him, and you along with them.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan peers through the peephole, then jerks back like whatever he saw burned him. He mutters something to himself, then yanks the door open and sticks his head out. "The fuck do you want?"

    Standing in the hall is a woman in official League uniform, a deep blue with gold accents and the pokéball-P on the breast. A nidoqueen looms behind her, a sash in the same colors stretching across her chest. The poison-type's watching with the most intimidating sort of quiet interest.

    "Are you the great Nathaniel Morgan?" the woman asks.

    "Who the fuck is asking?"

    "We're with the League. We're here to inform you that your license is on temporary probation due to a suspected violation of the League's code of conduct. This is a summons--"

    "What the fuck?" The great Nathaniel Morgan's face reddens, his fingers curling into claws around the edge of the door. "I didn't do shit! What the hell--"

    "This is a summons," the woman goes on in a studiously calm voice, "to appear at a disciplinary hearing tomorrow at 10 AM." She holds out a piece of paper covered in tiny type. It looks very legal.

    "But I didn't do nothing! You can't just--"

    "You are suspected of using false credentials to participate in League activities," the woman says.

    "False what? What the fuck are you talking about? You and your--" He opens the door a bit wider, like he intends to step out into the hallway. The nidoqueen makes a coughing sound, still standing at all-too-relaxed attention, and he freezes.

    "You will have the opportunity to plead your case at the hearing. Failure to appear will result in the revocation of your license and a lifelong ban from League activities."

    You're leaning forward on your toes, ready to rush over and drag the great Nathaniel Morgan back inside if he decides he doesn't care about the nidoqueen. But all he does is snatch the paper out of the woman's hand. "Oh, I'll be there, and I'll tear your fucking League a new asshole for fucking with me over some stupid shit."

    "Have a nice day," the woman answers, ignoring the great Nathaniel Morgan's response of "go fuck yourself with your nice day" as she turns to take her leave.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan slams the door and stares helplessly at the sheet of paper for a few seconds, then tosses it at the couch as he goes past. You snatch it out of the air and scan it over, struggling to make sense of the legalese. "They say your pokédex is stolen?"

    "I don't fucking know!" The great Nathaniel Morgan paces around the kitchen, his pokémon watching in tense silence, eyes following him back and forth, back and forth. "I dunno, I ain't, what the fuck."

    "Well, it is not, is it? You can just tell them that at the hearing. It must be a mistake."

    "Of course it's stolen, you fucking moron. You got any idea how much one of those bastards costs? The point is they shouldn't be able to tell."

    "What? You entered the tournament with a stolen license? You are going to ruin everything!"

    "Fuck you, it was your fucking idea. And they shouldn't be able to tell, ain't like it caused trouble at any of the gyms, did it? I mean, fuck, I don't know, it should have been fine, what the fuck."

    "Well, what are we supposed to do now?"

    "I don't know, why the fuck are you asking me?"

    "Because it is your fault! We have to do something, you cannot get disqualified now!" But he's right, of course. He would probably only make things worse if he tried to fix them. You put your chin in your palm, tail lashing fitfully at your side. You don't know, you don't know, and if you asked Absol--she would just tell you you're doing something dangerous again. You snort and thump your tail particularly hard.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan grabs a chair and leans on it, wheezing. Mightyena slinks over and grumbles up at him. The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head. "Fuck it," he gasps. "Ain't nothing we can do about it right now anyway."

    "What? What do you mean, cannot do anything? You cannot just give up!"

    "I don't got the first fucking clue what's going on here, and I ain't gonna try nothing until I do. Whatever's up, it can wait until tomorrow when we find out exactly how much shit we're in." He looks down at Mightyena, and she tries a tiny, hopeful wag.

    "Well, what happens after that?" you ask while he bends down to pet her. "What are you going to do if they disqualify you right there? What if they find out about me? What if they figure out you're from Team Rocket? What if they drag you off to jail?!"

    "Then I lock you in the room with the fuckers and pray for no survivors," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. "Come on, guys, let's get out of here."

    "But wait! That would never work, we need to think of a real plan!" You would have made it to the door first, but Raticate gets under your feet and then squirts away again while you're picking yourself up.

    "Try not to flip out and set anything on fire while we're gone, would you, Freak?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says while he and the pokémon crowd out the door. "I know the place is half fucking destroyed already, but I like the couch the way it is, you know?" He has to rush a bit to get all the words out before you make it across the room to strangle him, but ultimately the door bangs shut a second before you reach it. You screech and pound on it but don't bother opening it, don't bother chasing after them. What would you even do if you caught them?

    You hammer on the door a couple more times for good measure, breath coming ragged and smoke streaming between your teeth. He's right, you probably shouldn't burn anything, but something has to go, there's flames, and heat, it's burning you up inside and it has to go somewhere. It's not right, they can't do this. You were winning! You were winning, and the great Nathaniel Morgan managed to screw it up without even losing a single battle!

    You grab the letter again and try to make sense of the funny big words and the weird sentences, but they're darkening before your eyes, flame-rimmed holes spreading across the paper until it all falls to flaky black. You drop it on the carpet, seething and clenching flame-wreathed fists and not satisfied yet, no, not at all.

    Then you shriek when the fire alarm starts blaring and shoot a fireball at it without thinking, so it bursts and melts and stops its hideous wailing and leaves you finally in peace. You sit down, panting, and wait for the cool air you're taking in to overcome the heat of your fire. Stupid humans and their laws and fancy words and everything. You wish you could fight the League the way you would any pokémon that got in your way. That's how people ought to settle things. And you're strong, so if you got to fight you would win.

    You run a hand through the hot, ashy remnants of the summons, grinding it to gray powder between your fingers. You'll still win. You're not going to let a bunch of clueless humans screw this up for you. Like the great Nathaniel Morgan said, you can learn more tomorrow, see what it is they're really up to. And if he's not going to do something about it, then you will.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2016
  18. Starlight Aurate

    Starlight Aurate Just a fallen star

    Hey! It's nice to be back :p

    Chapter 24
    I like the little part at the beginning. You really keep consistent with the child's total blindness to sarcasm.

    HA! Sucks :p

    Oh dang. I KNOW that something bad is going on...

    Was there a set if time rules established earlier? Sorry, I can't remember ifyou had mentioned them before or not.

    I really like the description here. Anytime my body is in a sort of free fall (like on a trampoline) or I'm doing something that intense, everything really does seem to be of greater magnitude and I feel like you wrote that to a good effect.

    Ughghgh >_<

    Ha. Nice. Another great quote from the great Nathaniel Morgan :p

    Aww, that was the marill family from earlier, wasn't it ? Cute ^_^

    What a good, loyal, loving Pokemon.

    I really like how the great Hanthaniel Morgan details battling. It opens up another avenue of his personality, and I get the feeling that it's something that he really enjoys. Even if he is typically a "weaker one," like the child says, I can easily believe that he managed to win all 8 badges.

    Niiiiice. This got a chuckle out of me.

    Heh, at first I read the "pokedex chimes" as a dialogue tag, so I thought that the pokedex was saying it XD Seems like it would have taken after its trainer!

    I enjoyed this chapter. IT felt fairly low-key, what with only one battle happening and the little bit at the end with Eskar showing up. It's nice to see her back so soon! And it's interesting to see how you portrayed ghost-types, with the abilities (at least for Sableye, and I don't know if it was ever canonically explained) to swivel their heads around and travel through shadows (though you said that that was a dark-type ability, yes?). I don't have much else to say on this, excep that I hope that the child will start listening to the great Nathaniel Morgan soon. Their arguing does get tiring.

    Chapter 25
    I mean, it probably IS the only thing keeping him upright.

    "Recent news"? How old are these Pokemon? I always figured that certain ones could be older than others, but still. Dang.

    Awwww!

    I just wanted to point out that having three speakers and not many dialogue tags makes it difficult to tell who is speaking. I had to go back a couple of times to get an idea of who was saying what.

    Little typo on "recovering."

    Geeze, Mightyena o_o
    Ughgh and the following lines are worse. Why >_<

    Dang. That woman's got some serious guts to stay professional when he's acting like that. I guess he'll be getting enough in the morning though.

    You proooobably could have found something better to burn than that paper >_<

    Nice chapter! It was good to see the great Nathaniel Morgan try to get back into battling, and the part where the child tried teaching the Pokemon the move substitute was really entertaining. Admittedly, the part at the end where we found out that the great Nathaniel Morgan has a hearing makes me feel like the plot is just dragging on and being stretched out; perhaps some plot-relevant stuff will come from this, but some of the story recently has felt like filler or padding. That's just my opinion, though. Can't wait to see how the great Nathaniel Morgan handles his hearing XD
     
  19. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    But another snarky characters that opposes everything it does is exactly what it needs!

    I really like this description of Victory Road and the little worldbuilding that was put in. For some reason I rarely see Victory Road used as a setting or even mentioned in trainer fics. Maybe I'm reading the wrong fics? At any rate, it fits in perfectly here, and not just because they're participating in the League. A strong... thing... like the child wouldn't want to look for a partner or train anywhere else.

    Nate would most definitely realize the difference, though. He may be part of Team Rocket, but he knows and loves his pokemon quite a lot. I almost wished the child had tried to trick Nate that way, but now that I've caught up, I like the semi-cordial interactions they're having now compared to past total chaos.

    I'd quite enjoy Absol being around more often... I think her interactions with the child are my favorite next to Nate/the child's interactions. Though they're getting a bit repetitive like the latter as well.

    Somehow I wasn't expecting Nate to reply like that, but it was a perfect response. I like how even though his vocabulary mostly consists of curse words, he never ceases to surprise me with the **** he says.

    Kind of a sad thing you'd never expect someone to say, but it's also perfect for Nate. Can't say I blame him, really.

    The image I got was pretty terrifying, Nate, I'll give you that. The child doesn't give a damn, though. Surprise.

    While catching up there were a few times I thought "omfg I love this team, I could read about them forever". This was one of those times.

    I was thinking the same thing. Me and the child were on the same page for once, until I realized I'd probably do the same thing after getting out of the hospital so whatever.

    I thought this was going to be another scene where the team tries to kick the child out entirely, but it was nice to see Mightyena let the child stay, even if it was with the condition of not waking Nate up. Making progress here, yay!

    There's been a fair bit of lighthearted stuff during these chapters I've been catching up on, and then there's the sad passages like these that remind me that a lot has gone wrong, and that a lot probably will continue to go wrong. This passage set a perfect tone for the chapter right off the bat and was gripping to read.

    Yeah, I don't see this ending well, sorry. It's not so good at disguises, and it's even less good at doing what's expected of it.

    this is a creepy but fascinating scene and i can't stop reading it why?

    You just made me love sableye ten times more than I already did. Also digging her dialogue quite a bit - it's a perfect mixture of her being sinister and her being "friendly", for lack of a better word, I guess.

    Now here's something you don't see a lot in pokemon fics, surprisingly: strategies being discussed intelligently. It's also interesting to see that the tournament reveals an opponent's team beforehand, though if they tried to hide rosters, I imagine there'd be fairly easy ways to get around that anyway.

    Anddd I'm going to die from cuteness overload now, bye.

    Now... I guess I risk looking like a really incompetent reader, but it never really hit me - or it never really bothered me - that they all weren't able to understand each other or respond to each other properly. Their interactions have always been perfectly written and written with a nice flow that it just never crossed my mind. Given the change in conversations after this reveal, I'm guessing this was intentional, but I guess I'm not sure.

    Mightyena's pretty adorable when she's not snarling at everything in her path. She might be taking Raticate's place as my favorite.

    The timing of this side piece also makes me think the dialogue confusion was intentional.

    Heh... Good thing Poochyena's still young and naive enough here to not take his horror to heart. Nate loves her to death now!

    When I read this, I stopped to re-read it a few more times, then just kinda stopped altogether for a minute. The naivety struck me hard for some reason. Take from that what you will, lol - it's certainly not a complaint. :)

    I suppose my only complaint about this side piece might be the obvious contradiction between Poochyena claiming she knows everything about the world, then saying things like this, but a kid's logic doesn't always makes sense in humans, either. I guess it depends just how childish or mature you wanted her to be as a one-month-old pokemon cub.

    Loving her voice in this. You have a knack for writing more child-like voices even when the overall story is fairly dark. Sometimes - and it's like this in the main chapters, too - the description can be a bit odd, like the part where the den "breathes". I like poetic description and it can work well at the right times (at least, I think so - I know not a lot of people agree with me), but too much of it and it breaks flow.

    This is hilarious. If only everyone knew what was really going on, then I guess it wouldn't be so hilarious but rather a reason for real chaos to ensue...

    The child's certainly going to get an earful from Nate, but honestly I wasn't shocked that the child didn't listen and, with the way this scene is written, I'm glad it didn't. This part in particular stands out. I was slightly - but pleasantly - surprised that the child even considered Nate's commands.

    Lol, I'm sure not trying to not cuss in front of a huge audience is fairly painful for Nate.

    Is this conversation actually almost going pleasantly? And they're agreeing on some thngs? Character development here is pretty nice, if a little late given how many chapters we are in the story now.

    Anddd loving more of that subtle character development. You have a knack for ending chapters, too, I must say. I'm never disappointed by the endings.

    This is strange but fascinating... That might just be how I'll think of Eskar in general from now on.

    I lol'd.

    Anddd I am all caught up now. I can't say I would've thought their fake credentials would've gotten them caught up in legal shenanigans, but I'm sure there's something else going on that we're of course not aware of yet. I kind of wished I had had one more chapter to catch up with so I would know what was going on, but alas. XD That just means I'll be keeping an eye out for updates.
     
  20. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Starlight Aurate

    Hi! Thanks for stopping by again.

    I do have a bit of fun with it, yeah. XD I just hope that it doesn't get old.

    I have been waiting SO LONG for this kind of payoff on the dumb name joke.

    I don't thiiiink so. Something may have been mentioned back in the Viridian City gym battle, but I'm feeling too lazy to check.

    The timing rules are just things I came up with when trying to figure out how you could actually make pokémon battling work as a competitive sport. If there were no time limit on switching, you could get into endless switch wars with people just recalling their pokémon and sending out new ones without any attacks even being used; someone with good skill/reflexes could even do stuff like send out their pokémon, let it get off a fast attack, then switch it before there could be any counterattack, which would get to be pretty unfair and put more of the battle's focus on the what the trainers are doing, which I didn't want. So, a time limit on how often you can switch (with the first one of the match being free, which is a whole other can of worms in terms of strategy).

    ...and yeah, I could go on for a few more paragraphs about my Thoughts on "realistic" pokémon battle mechanics, but the actual answer to your question is no, I don't think they've come up earlier. They'll reappear a few times in the tournament arc.

    Thanks, I really wanted this part to feel like it was in slow motion, so it's nice to hear it had the right effect. And that it wasn't too overdone. :p

    He wants to curse here so badly. XD

    Yup, they came out to the plateau to watch their daughter fight.

    Graveler prefers to show her affection by punching people out. :p

    Glad you liked it! Battling is definitely something Nate enjoys a great deal, and he's actually quite good at it.

    Nate didn't get all eight badges, though. There were six on his pokédex when the protagonist met him, which is why it still had to do the Cinnabar/Viridian gyms before heading to the tournament.

    Heh, that would be pretty funny; I've done talking pokédexes before in RP's and so on, and they're always a lot of fun. I also ran into the same momentary confusion reading over this part during editing, so it would probably be better for me to reword this line...

    Great, glad to hear it! And yeah, all reasonably powerful dark-types can travel through shadows like that. Most of Eskar's freakiness is a ghost thing, though; they don't really play by the same rule as living creatures.

    Ah, that unfortunately won't be happening, though. These two are pretty bicker-y by nature, and there's no end to that on the horizon. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

    Pretty old! Rock- and steel-types generally live a very long time. Graveler is a few hundred years old, which is about middle-aged for a member of the golem line. In terms of maturity, she's the oldest member of Nate's team. Steelix is around 3,000, but that's still quite young for a member of his species--he's basically Nate's age in "steelix years."

    Ghosts also tend to live a long time; no one's really sure how long. Eskar is very, very young for a ghost at around 50. She's making a joke here, since to her Graveler's news isn't "recent," but Graveler doesn't notice because she thinks about things on a very different timescale than Eskar.

    Fair enough. I had a feeling that might happen; no big deal to go back and add some in.

    Yergh. Fixed.

    Haha, yeah, I didn't think that part of the chapter would appeal to you much.

    Unfortunately, she's probably dealt with a lot worse when being the bearer of bad news. =/ Dealing with assholes is unfortunately an important skill to learn when you're in that sort of position. But yes, I'm sure she can console herself with the thought of what Nate's going to catch if he pulls that kind of thing at his hearing.

    Ah, you think so? I was hoping the ending there would be a pretty clear indicator of "plot ensues." The past couple chapters have been more setup than I'd like, and perhaps on a rewrite I'd find some way to condense them a bit, but we should be moving along from here on out. The next chapter is where I think the rising action for this story arc starts up properly, and I hope you enjoy it. I guarantee some plot advancement, if nothing else.

    Thanks so much for the review! It's nice to have some feedback on this arc.

    diamondpearl876

    Hey! I (finally) finished my response to Starlight Aurate's review, and when I showed up to post that I was totally surprised to find your review here, too! Great timing! XD

    Oh God, another snarky character would be exactly what this story as a whole needs. :p

    I don't see it much, either, but I think that's mostly because most trainer 'fics start at the beginning of the journey and peter out way, way before they reach Victory Road. I'm glad you liked this little look at it.

    That's good. She has a much bigger role in the next couple arcs. I do agree that she's been doing some repetitive stuff in this arc, which unfortunately is a result of some last-minute changes I made that meant I had to alter her scenes a bit. One of the things I'd retcon if I were to go back and redo this chapters is to change what she's up to earlier on in the arc, with a better understanding of how I'd be handling her later.

    Heh, I guess it is kind of a dark line. I admit I wasn't thinking of it that way when I wrote it; it's also a gentle Homestuck joke. :eek:) But a literal, somewhat bleak reading of it is also totally appropriate.

    Haha, I'm glad you enjoyed reading these more lighthearted bits about Nate and his team; I definitely enjoyed writing them. I'm pretty sure that anyone who brought me food after I'd been in the hospital, especially incredibly unhealthy but really tasty food (and most especially Hostess cupcakes, which is what I was getting at in that first line you quoted), would have my undying loyalty.

    Well, she did kind of kick it out--not all the way to the curb, but she definitely wouldn't let it stay on the bed with them, and it ended up having to go sleep by itself in another room. Overall I would say its standing with Nate's team is actually lower than its standing with him right now; not only are Mightyena and the rest mad at the protagonist over what it did to their trainer, it's consistently been a jerk to them ever since they met... They really don't like it at all.

    Yup, this arc is probably the happiest of any in the story (it's also the longest, so there's that, at least), so enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose. I'm glad you liked this little bit; I enjoy bringing in some of the darker elements even while the majority of the in-chapter events are fairly positive.

    Glad to hear you like Eskar; I'm pretty pleased with how she turned out, since she's another character that wasn't in the original plan for the story. I'm glad the eye-gouging scene wasn't too creepy either, heh.

    The tournament doesn't reveal teams as such; it just tells you the name of your opponent, and you can find out what pokémon they have by looking them up in the trainer database. If they have, say, fifteen pokémon total, then they might bring any six of them to the match, and there's no knowing which ones ahead of time. In a three-on-three match like the one in this chapter, you also don't know which three they're going to send out, either. It's also not required that trainers only use pokémon licensed to them in battle--as long as the pokémon agrees to fight for someone, then they can use it in battle. That's why Nate's able to use the child and Absol (no trainer) and Eskar (actually belongs to the boss). So your opponent might bring a wildcard like that, although it's very rare; most people actually capture the pokémon on their team. Nate knowing what team the other trainer has isn't a result of what the League itself told him; he was using outside information, but that sort of thing is also very common practice for trainers in tournaments like this.

    Anyway, I'm a huge strategy nerd, so that's part of why there's more discussion of battle strategy (and battle rules) going on than in some other stories. I can get a bit grumpy about stories where some character is supposed to be a battle genius and there's no indication that they spent even two seconds coming up with a battle plan before starting a fight. XD

    I liked this bit a lot, glad it came across well. :)

    Nah, it wasn't something you were supposed to pick up on. There wasn't a ton of interaction between Nate and his pokémon that we saw before the little reveal here, and he has a good relationship with them as it is; it's not like he can't get even the gist of what they're saying or anything. The point isn't so much that they can't communicate at all under ordinary circumstances, but that there are certain things it's really hard to talk about when you don't literally speak the same language. For example, it's usually easy enough to convey how you're feeling to somebody in broad terms--good, bad, sick, excited, whatever--but if you can't actually talk to them, it can be much more difficult to convey why.

    Heh, well, she's also a bit cuter as a puppy than as an adult, which is true for a lot of people, I think.

    It's a little different here than in the main story, since Nate and Poochyena really don't know each other at all. They've known each other for a few years as of Salvage, so they've figured out how to communicate well enough that it's not a real struggle anymore, whereas here they're at a level of trying to answer basic yes-or-no questions. The parts where they totally misunderstand each other are more for contrast with the main story than anything (and to show how the fact that they ended up together at all is essentially based on a series of misunderstandings).

    Yup, if Poochyena'd had a better understanding of what was going on, she would have totally run the other way, no question. In this case it worked out pretty well for her, but in general it's not a good idea to take off with that guy who explains he's totally going to steal you and join up with Team Rocket. :p

    Huh, interesting. I'm glad you found this line arresting, in any case, even though I hadn't expected it to be.

    She basically thinks she knows everything important; Poochyena's aware that there's a lot out there she's not familiar with (like the wild, for example), but considers it irrelevant to her life and/or generally unimportant. I was trying for a very childish perspective here, and thinking you know everything about everything (even if you clearly don't) is something that's always struck me as a very childish way of thinking.

    I'm glad you think I do child-like characters well, since I somehow seem to have ended up with a lot of them in this story, haha. I'm 100% guilty of getting a bit fancier in my description than the POV warrants, that's true, probably because I kind of have a weird divide between the description of something and how the character reacts to it and don't think of the description bit as being from their POV as much. Which is definitely something I need to work on. =/ I'm a bit too attached to my pretty words about things.

    I liked this bit quite a lot myself, so it's nice to hear that you did, too!

    So painful, he is in distress.

    It went pretty non-terribly, that's for sure. I'm glad you picked up on the shif in how they deal with each other; I was worried it might be too subtle yet.

    Strange but fascinating? Sounds like a fair assessment to me.

    You're right, this little twist has nothing at all to do with Nate's license and is instead some payoff for something earlier in the story. XD Thankfully you won't have to wait too long to find out what's up.

    Thanks for leaving such a wonderful review! It was an awesome surprise, and I really enjoyed reading it. In particular I'm glad you've been picking up on and liking the character development over these chapters, since that's what this arc is all about. It's been pretty slight so far because the early parts of the arc are more moving everything into place and establishing a baseline, but it'll ratchet up quite a bit over the next few chapters. Hopefully you enjoy where that all goes.

    Meanwhile, my work on chapter twenty-six obviously didn't go as well as hoped. A surprising amount went on with me this summer, and I didn't get my nice internet-less vacation that I'd been expecting. However, I'm finally closing in on the end of editing the beast, and I'm definitely going to have it up by the end of the week. For real this time. It's! Going! To happen! RAH!!!
     

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