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Seasoned (2018 gift exchange one-shot)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by diamondpearl876, Dec 30, 2018.

  1. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Written for @JFought for the 2018 Serebii Holiday Fanfic Gift Exchange! I ran with the prompts of using Meltan in a fic, as well as the prompt of featuring a Pokémon ranger.

    Enjoy. <3

    SEASONED

    Keahi's copy of Icicle Plateau's Encyclopedia rested on the cheap, particle board desk he'd bought when Tapu Village's library closed and left him with no place else to study. Haphazard notes covered the white space in the margins. But still. He had yet to digest the inordinate amount of folklore surrounding even the common ice-type species. Why would Kanto's own Lorelei bother with fiction when it would inevitably combine with information compiled from her research in future pokédex updates? Clearly, a page quota and a grab for more buyers had led her to expand her book with nonsense.

    But still. Imagine if the folklore wasn't nonsense. It should be imagined precisely because he didn't. If anyone else can imagine it, that means that he can, too, under the right circumstances, and if he wills it. Then he might better understand the folly of living among creatures who possess so many otherworldly powers that humans have to exaggerate the truth to undo their shame. Then he might not have become overwhelmed by all that was in his own power to do when a snorunt came rapping on his door.

    The snorunt, she'd had to risk her life to do this. Opening her coat and extending her spindly hands allowed Alola's warm, humid air to slip in and sap out of her the last bit of ice-type energy she'd been trying so hard to preserve. Nighttime offered her some reprieve, at least; the harsh sunlight searing into her body during her trek down Mount Lanakila's wintry summit could've easily killed her. And if she'd knocked on a door belonging to someone prone to sleeping through even the most urgent emergencies, leaving her to fend for herself until past sunrise, when Tapu Village's residents would greet the day vehemently but rarely consider stopping to help a passerby in need on the rush to wherever...

    Well, there's no need to imagine that part.


    *

    The muscles in Keahi's jaw twist into a scowl as he contemplates the details of his next ranger mission. It's simply habit for him to jump to the worst conclusions, to suspect an ulterior motive out of his superiors, to guard himself from harm at the potential expense of others. A dangerous feat in his line of work, really, when digging humans and pokémon alike out of trouble—Keahi hates the self-aggrandizement of the words saving and rescuing—is the expected norm.

    This mission seems especially far-fetched. But still. He'll do it. What right does he have to say no? The Tapus are watching. So says his parents and neighbors and every textbook from his school days. He was all too happy to ditch the preaching in favor of experiencing nature for himself after graduation. If he's being honest with himself, rangering remains his sole way to connect to others, by sharing each other's dissatisfaction and actively working to make things the way they needed to be once more.

    Keahi sits in his plush office chair, which may not be his too much longer. He doesn't have a right to say no, either, because even though his desire to take action rather than sitting on the sidelines earned him the title of Head Ranger, he's at risk for being fired if he doesn't shape up. The Ranger Association simply isn't impressed with the increasing number of days he's called out sick to take care of his ice-type pokémon, all of whom exposed themselves to danger in such a hot region from the day they decided to accept them as their trainer.

    Keahi needs money to get off this godforsaken region and move elsewhere to raise his ice-type pokémon in a less threatening environment. His gaze shifts toward Lilinoe, his snorunt. She's busy splashing around in her daily ice bath. He'd had the small tub installed in his office using one of his bonus checks, years ago. Seeing her coat grow stiff again and her breathing evenly again, he can't bring himself to regret that one.

    But still. He's sure the Ranger Association will regret struggling to find a replacement for him, especially one who'll want an ice bath in their office. They opposed the idea to begin with, but Keahi found a loophole in his Head Ranger contract. The frost rotom in the far corner was a gift from his family, although it can move from room to room on demand, and really, mini-fridges are a staple in a building like this if you want to keep your employees hydrated enough to focus.

    Keahi puts the tips of his fingers together, the indexes slipping past each other. "Okay," he says, sighing. He can't appear lost in thought forever. "Why you're choosing me to travel through one of the hottest parts of Ula'ula... Well. Never mind. What else do I need to know?"

    His boss sits before him, appearing to slouch in his chair, but no, he's just short, though that doesn't mean anyone taller like Keahi intimidates him. "Like I said, there's only been sightings of this meltan pokémon. You may not find the creature itself, but I expect a detailed report anyway, all right? Whatever seems relevant, goes. Hell, even things that seem irrelevant, you can shove in there. We just don't know enough to say what'll help us and what won't."

    Most bosses, Keahi thinks, would not send their about-to-be-fired employees on a trip they're destined to fail. Not that his boss is a bad person, but the situation before him seems more than a tad unfair. He sighs again. Maybe this is the break he needs to get out of here, even if he won't fully be prepared when the time comes.

    Lilinoe hiccups, snapping the anger right out of him for but a moment. She goes on chirruping happily, and he remembers he wasn't really prepared for her, either.

    *

    Keahi wiped the sleep from his eyes. And then again. But still. The snorunt before him wasn't a shape he falsely saw in the snow, or a hypnopompic dream persisting even after several solid seconds of body movement, or anything of the sort. The snorunt shivered then, securing his alertness and confidence that this was, in fact, an ice-type come to his door, probably having felt an energy pull from his pokéballs. He knew everyone in Tapu Village and neighboring towns who owned ice-types, after all. That is to say, he knew no one.

    Stupidly, he took one step out onto his front porch, then looked back and forth, wasting time to confirm the streets stood empty. He picked up the snorunt in his arms, frowning when she held her coat closer to her hidden skin, not to make herself warmer, but to prevent her cold from reaching Keahi's skin.

    "It's fine," he said, pulling the snorunt closer. "I'm used to it. And I had to like it to get to... this point. Alola's way too damn hot, huh?"

    The snorunt blinked, her black eyelids seemingly receding into her coat. Keahi already knew what was underneath, and it didn't scare him. Most people thought snorunt were cute until they saw their coats off. With how eerie its evolutions are, though... Well, Keahi thought that assumption foolish, knowing only he had the interest and adamance to learn the nuances of any ice-type species.

    "Let's go inside. My apartment is small, but pretty cool." He paused. "Pretty cold, I mean."


    *

    He takes his time getting ready the day his boss wants him to set out. Lilinoe hops around the hardwood floors of his apartment, creating a small block of slowly melting ice beneath her. She hadn't understood the implications of his mission, unsurprisingly. The only voice she responds to, or even acknowledges, is Keahi's—probably because of the disdain he shows for others, but he likes to think of it as a standard part of the pokémon-trainer bond.

    "I hate to break it to you, Lili," he starts, laughing as she just keeps on pattering away, "but you can't go with me on this one. In fact..." He trails off, fingering the pokéball belt slung over a dining room chair nearby, his backpack on the table, close to overflowing.

    Lilinoe stops. Her head tilts quizzically, although Keahi guesses she gets it now and doesn't believe it, because for once, he can't take any of his pokémon. He'd come to rely on them too much to the point where he chooses to forsake the responsibilities of his Head Ranger job more often than not. Now he has to prove himself, by himself. If he wants to end the financial struggle to accumulate more and more appliances and resources to keep his ice-types cool, even in the winter months... then he can't fail.

    His eyes rest on Lilinoe, instinctively inspecting every part of her coat to make sure nothing is amiss. She's been tolerating the heat less and less these days. Keahi's suspected the best way to safely have her endure the stress of the heat until they move is to evolve. Dawn stones are ridiculously expensive is the problem, plus battling in this climate is likely to push her body past its breaking point.

    Understandably, he's preoccupied. But still. He's been researching this meltan, as any competent ranger would before diving in to the heart of their mission. A supposed mythical pokémon, it absorbs a wild amount of iron into its body, and only recently has it come out of whatever metal-filled hidey hole that allowed it to drop off the map for thousands of years.

    Maybe he could—should—bring Lilinoe after all. The sun doesn't necessarily have to be an ice-type's enemy, doesn't have to instantly mean melting levels of heat. So. Maybe he—

    Well. Keahi's aware he's made a lot of mistakes. He's trying to forgive himself for them but not forget lest they sneak back into his life or he devises worse ones. He remembers Akamu, an avalugg whose back made for an amusing funhouse-esque mirror. Akamu used to carry him up the side of Mount Lanakila for his yearly trek, and up there waiting for him was Tua, his seel. She flipped between which home to stay at, but one thing stayed unchanged: she challenged Keahi to run on the ice and race her to the other side of her cavern every time he visited.

    His ranger perks let him alter their pokéballs, which sufficed for a while. Infused with the power of fresh occa berries every six months, he could bring them to Tapu Village and live a normal-ish life with them in the winter, then hand them off to the safety of Mount Lanakila during summer, always having promised they'd have a better, permanent home with him soon. Except soon never came, and they got antsy, and he got poor, and suddenly they didn't belong to him anymore. He's since broken their pokéballs to free them, though there's a pile of fragments sitting on the bottommost part of his nightstand drawer alongside a tightly sealed bag of rotted occa berries.

    The truth isn't lost on Keahi, not completely. That he still owns and trains any ice-types at all is proof of his enduring mistakes.

    So. What's there to contemplate, then? He gathers the rest of what he needs. It's not much, not with the mission site nearby, but his backpack feels heavier than usual. He walks out his apartment door anyway. Whether or not he's ready, it's time to go.

    *

    Usually, things happened the other way around. This was the first time an ice-type had ever come down from Mount Lanakila to visit him. Lilinoe... She was completely wild, too, unknowing of Keahi's existence until she'd tumbled down the mountain on her small two feet into the warmer breezes of Tapu Village.

    He'd tried, he really had, to bring her back to Mount Lanakila without catching her in a protected pokéball for ice-types. But still. She'd catch up to him again not far from its base. And because she would overheat if she remained exposed to the Tapu Village air for too long, he had no choice but to catch her and care for her. He didn't trust himself much—in fact, he seemed to trust himself less and less as the years went on—but he certainly trusted Alola's Aether Foundation far less.

    A few years would pass and Lilinoe would be older, naturally. Old enough to not handle the heat as well, to respond less to occa berries because her body had grown to tolerate them at any dose. But still. She would not return to Mount Lanakila, no matter how many times Keahi promised his return for her.

    Keahi couldn't understand her words, only her adamant determination shown through body language. Because he didn't know her reasoning, he didn't know how to solve the problem. Even if he'd battled with her all these years like real trainers do to strengthen their pokémon's resilience, she'd still have gotten older. More fragile, in this climate. As she is now. That was the only solace he had, for all the good it did him.


    *

    Keahi takes his first step into Route 14 less than two hours later. The short distance from Tapu Village confirms to him that if he gets an emergency call about his apartment or his pokémon, he can turn around and finish his mission to find the mythical meltan at a later date. Yet the short distance also confirms how... reserved he's been, for as long as he has. Route 14's got history as an old trial site where trialgoers worked alongside steel-types to mine then smelt iron, if he remembers his studies right. Now it's just a black sand beach, deserted for the health hazards posed by the increasingly large iron concentrates. The stories he remembers feel just as foreign to him as the real deal.

    What feels real, however, is how hot it is. And not just hot, but hotter than hot, when Keahi's not particularly accustomed to Alolan heat despite a grand total of twenty-three years of living alongside it. He used to order castform services to induce wintry weather around his apartment temporarily, and he's accumulated at least a dozen ice stones said to be taken from Regice's body itself and that's why they never melt, and he's even considered taking on Alola's trials to earn an icium-Z and power up his pokémons' ice-type energy. He discarded that last plan, though, when Lorelei's research revealed how ice-types being susceptible to heat is not so much a matter of stamina as it is sheer biology.

    In other words, he's adapted to the ice-type lifestyle as reasonably as he could. But still. It's benefited just about everyone except him.

    The tanktop he wears hangs loosely on his body, armpit sweat trailing down his sides and staining the shirt in odd patterns. His sun hat, too, is ringed with sweat on the inside, but the protection from the sun is necessary. In one of his backpack pockets is a half-empty bottle of sunscreen. He hopes he has enough to keep reapplying it every thirty minutes, even though it's overkill, even though any other local wouldn't bother. Route 14 would be an exception, probably. Anyone who treads barefoot on Route 14's black sand beach is bound to burn in a few minutes flat, at which point swimming and volleyball and whatever pastimes people have would need to be replaced with a hospital visit.

    No wonder the beach is always deserted.

    Keahi fingers Lilinoe's pokéball at his side nearly nonstop. If he instinctively removes them to avoid being burned, he knows it's become too dangerous for her. He talks to her through the translucent top of the ball, his mouth trying to form words resembling reassurance past his panting. There's no need for this, he knows. She trusts him. That's how he was able to convince her to stay put in her pokéball until the end of the mission, without trying to break out or fuss about it in the meantime. But still. He does it for himself just as much as her.

    His search feels ridiculous from the get go. At this point, his choices are to risk Lilinoe's health further to search for an elusive steel-type or be fired. The former is his fault, as usual. Neither seem even remotely appealing. But still. He does have an idea, if he finds the meltan, the chances of doing so exceedingly low, and anything feels like it's worth a shot at this point. He's always had to think outside the box, all the while ignoring peoples' skeptical looks about his choice of specialization and desire to move to another region—a concept considered treason by the Tapus, supposedly, with all the regions standing in competition to one another.

    Keahi considers it treason that a beautiful beach such as this is wasted and considered too hot by Alolan residents, and that no one is trying to pick up the pieces, just trying to prevent the situation from escalating with a steel-type potentially adding to the iron statistics. That can't be all there is to it, though. A mythical pokémon is bound to be taken in for research, or at least caught and examined, at which point Keahi has no idea how they'd decide the fate of it afterwards. With the Tapu legends in which the Tapus cannot be tamed, only befriended into a mutual contract with trial captains, Keahi knows that the Ranger Association wouldn't bother sending anyone out on any mission to find a mythical creature if they didn't know it was possible to contain it even temporarily.

    Peering down, his sneakers aren't exactly what he'd call beach attire, but they cover his feet enough to prevent the black sand from seeping in and burning his skin. He could spend the mission marveling over how his feet slowly sink into the black sand, counting the seconds it takes for them to be submerged after all; that's how fruitful he expects his search to be, and it's best to stick to himself, in his own mind, relying only on himself as he always has.

    He wishes he didn't remember the folklore from his studies as well as he does. Those stories only remind him of the disappointment he was set up for.

    Sighing, he peers around, just to be able to say that he did. That he tried. If it matters.

    *

    He asked her once, blatantly, knowing it wouldn't matter. Her childish nature didn't seem to lend to self-awareness or analytical thought of emotions, like some evolved pokémon he'd owned in the past. But he wanted to at least try.

    "Lilinoe..." he started, unsure of what phrasing would be best. He lay on his back, arms crossed behind his head and Lilinoe jumping up and down on his chest. The couch beneath them creaked with how stiff and cold it was. Keahi had turned down the thermostat another two degrees, just to be safe.

    Whatever her reasons, Keahi knew she was at least happy. She'd been this playful since the day she came to his door, and what else could that mean?

    "Why?" he asked anyway, and Lilinoe stopped jumping, blinked at him more than a few times. "Why'd you leave Mount Lanakila? Why won't you go back? Or go anywhere near it, even?" The last few yearly visits had resulted in Lilinoe running frantically to the heart of Tapu Village, too scared to realize she was leaving Keahi behind, too. Once, she'd been missing for over a day, and Keahi, in his desperation, had even considered calling the Ranger Association for help.

    As expected, he received no answer to his question. Lilinoe wore a contemplative expression, more so from sensing his confusion and sadness than from proper thinking. Then she resumed her jumping session, because those had never failed to cheer up Keahi before, and she had no reason to believe he wouldn't be cheered up now.


    *

    He makes an oversight, consuming all of his water bottles long before the end of his mission. This is what happens when his thoughts are preoccupied elsewhere; he becomes an amateur ranger all over again. Listening to the percussion sounds of the waves, he moves closer to the shore, the least likely place for the meltan to be hiding. A little to the west is a sea cave, half of its entrance blockaded by notched rocks just as black as the sand. Even with the immense sunlight blanketing the beach, the inside of the sea cave is impossible to eye.

    But still. That's fine. The waves dampening the black sand make it easier for him to scoop it up in his hands and create a mound of it where the current won't reach. His fingers cool down slightly with the water washing over them, and he watches as the iron-filled sand he collects dries quicker than he thought it might. Then he realizes it might be cooler inside the sea cave itself and that he'd be better off doing... whatever he's doing there, instead.

    What he's doing, he's not entirely sure of himself. It could be the dehydration setting in. It could be the years of folklore hammered into his head and wanting to believe in it all this time but never finding the faith for it. Teachings about Solgaleo in particular made little sense to him, with its half steel-typing being weak to fire. But still. The combination was possible, with the true sun's core being partly comprised of iron—the meltan's specialty, if the initial reports are believable.

    The heat. Iron to help trap the sun and create one of the more popular means of evolution out of it. The workings of a mythical pokémon, thought to have incredible powers. And one snorunt, who needs, specifically, a dawn stone to evolve.

    Maybe he could—

    Well. There's no maybe about it. Lilinoe needs to evolve at her age, even if she's not too sick or far gone yet; he'd like to keep it that way for as long as he can.

    And the meltan. Would he truly feel comfortable handing it over simply because of its rarity? No. No, he wouldn't.

    He makes his way to the sea cave entrance, using the path free of rocks, then starts piling up more black sand with his empty water bottles to protect his skin. He's not even sure the meltan would be here, if one exists at all. But still. He wants to believe. And if he were the meltan, he'd want to be left alone, so he avoids the sea cave proper.

    "Um, so, this is awkward," he says. Trying to raise his voice so it will reverberate throughout the sea cave, he goes on, "I don't know if you're real. Is meltan even your real name? Well, whatever. Point is, I know nothing except you've probably had a damn good reason to hide all these years. So I don't... want to find you, for that reason. It's not my business, even if I get fired for it."

    Keahi takes a deep breath. It's not like the meltan would have any clue as to what he's talking about, if it's listening. If it exists.

    "Okay, let me just... get to it, huh?" he says. "I'm not saying you have to do this for me or that I'll turn on you if you don't. But I'm not going to properly search for you, like I was sent out here to do. I just know it's possible... or I think it's possible... for you to make an evolution stone. If not you, well, they have to come from somewhere, right? Anyway, I guess what I'm asking is for you to create a dawn stone for Lilinoe, my snorunt.

    "She's very sweet. Almost too sweet, really. I don't deserve her, and the Tapus know it. I'd like to give her a better life—I owe her that much—but I just... can't. Not yet. And if I'm forced to too soon, then I want to make sure she'll make it." He pauses. "Ice-types are thought to be the weakest of all pokémon, so they’re not too popular. But I think they’re beautiful because they wield energy that creates more than it destroys, if that makes sense? Ice sculptures, winter festivals, snow, the holidays… I mean, Alola might not offer these things. But most places do, places I want to go to, places we wouldn’t be so alone. If everyone here let down their guard a little, I think they’d be able to find something to appreciate about ice-types.

    “The Tapus know they complain enough about the constant hot anyway,” he adds, rolling his eyes.

    But still. He didn’t come here to be bitter. He came here to see if he could find contentment in being alone, to see if it’d offer some reprieve. He’s not sure he’s been successful in his endeavor straightaway, so he pulls a thick blanket out of his backpack and spreads it across some black sand close to the outer sea cave wall, sitting and listening. Hours later he’s heard no sign of meltan’s existence—not a scrape on the rocks, not a shift in the sand, nothing—but then again, he doesn’t know or care how deep the cave goes. He rolls Lilinoe’s pokéball in his hands to pass the time when thinking gets to be too much, but eventually she wants to take a nap. The paranoia in him tells him this means she could be getting sick, so he calls it a day and heads home.

    His cold apartment is inviting, as usual, but he admits he wants a few more minutes of the quiet, this time giving himself permission not to overthink. Or even think at all. So it isn’t until a little later that he peeks at his snorunt’s pokéball again, this time to release her, but he does a double take before he presses the button. Through the translucent top, he sees Lilinoe the froslass, smiling contentedly in her sleep.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2019
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    This is really sweet. I like these kind of … how would you say it, I guess characters who are kind of grouchy and flawed and easy to dislike but who worm their way into your affections anyway. It's a type of character you do really well, I think, and Keahi is a great example; it's so clear that most people who meet him probably don't come away with a good impression, and also that much of the time he's kind of a killjoy, but equally so much of this fic revolves around how driven he is to help his partner that it's hard not to like him, in the end.

    I liked all the scraps of folklore, too – although I felt like some of them could have been a bit better integrated into the story; lots are crammed into like, half a sentence, which gives rise to these really dense, awkward sentences that don't flow as well as the rest of the prose. They're definitely interesting enough, and long enough, that they could be given their own sentences, and I think they'd read better as a result.

    I also always like these sorts of quiet stories where someone hovers around the edge of some kind of momentous occasion for a while like this – and you know, I even like it when nothing at all comes of it and they just leave again, but this kind, where a miracle did happen, really quietly and completely offstage, is absolutely great. It fits the world you've created here so well, and it's really satisfying to read.

    Anyway, a couple of nitpicks:

    Pastimes has just one T.

    This seems kinda awkwardly phrased to me, but I'm not sure what you could replace it with.

    Other than that, not much else to say! It was pretty short, but very sweet indeed. I hope your Yuletide recipient liked it, because I certainly did!
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.
  3. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Now that you mention it, I do tend to write these characters. A lot. Sai, Ezrem, Annie, Kephi, Markus... lmao. In my head, Keahi was the complete opposite of grouchy and unlikable, when when I actually started writing, well, things never go as planned.

    Fair enough! I didn't have my beta check this one, what with the gift exchange deadline and them working overtime for the holidays. They usually keep my wordy and confusing writing in check, so I'm not surprised some of it slipped through here. Doesn't seem it was overwhelmingly bad, though, which is good.

    Thanks! I'm happy you enjoyed it. I wasn't sure if the miracle happening would feel like a cop-out ending or not, heh.
     
  4. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    [Copied from elsewhere]

    Aww, now this was a nice little read! I don't have a whole lot to say about this overall, but I thought that the standout features of this work--having zero knowledge about what you write under normal circumstances--was the relationship between humans and Pokemon as depicted here. And on a second note, the relationship between Ice Types and Alola, when they aren't isolated up on the one icy area of the whole region.

    I thought you did a good job at depicting the central conflict here of actually trying to find Meltan, and the moral ambiguity of what that would mean if it was found. Would it be contained and then disposed of? Or just studied in a more cooperative manner? Since it was a completely unknown species, there was no telling how it would actually behave.

    Stylistically, though, this was a bit hard for me to find a good anchor point in until the very end. There is very little dialogue in this story, and unfortunately for me, I tend to anchor myself in moments that are either with direct interactions or are actually dialogue. Without those--and most of that is simply because for the most part, the characters aren't able to effectively communicate with one another--it was hard for me to delve into a scene as if I was right beside the characters, so to speak.

    That last paragraph can just be me and my style of comprehension, though. I did think that the "climax" of the story--which I think was intended to be the one-sided chat with a Meltan that may or may not have been listening--was done well. It basically summarized the buildup toward that moment, and then had the little payoff that perhaps Meltan was listening. It was a very Christmasy ending, where the gift-giver is never seen, yet the presence is strongly implied after a good deed. I thought that was a nice touch~
     
    diamondpearl876 likes this.

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