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snowstorm on the yellow sea (V.2)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by roule, Jan 28, 2018.

  1. roule

    roule take it all or leave it... I Feel You

    Hey folks! So, I took a little hiatus from this fic because I was busy with school and college applications. And while stuff hasn't really eased up quite yet, I started writing a little more recently.

    However, I noticed after reading through snowstorm that I had massive structural problems present in the original version that I really couldn't fix through editing, and that I had no idea how to pace this fic. I feel like the fact that I had to write a whole extra episode that described the events between two chapters is evidence of both of these things.

    So, I decided to re-write most of my fic! I really do like telling Marie's story, and snowstorm is still my baby, but I just felt like there were so many things wrong with it...

    So, here we go!

    CHAPTERS

    ONE: GASHINA

    TWO: EMPIRE ANTS

    THREE: WASTE
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
  2. roule

    roule take it all or leave it... I Feel You

    CHAPTER ONE: GASHINA



    Wind pounds on my face as I stand at the back of the boat, cold and brisk with the winter air of the North Pacific. The ocean spans in front of me, a pale blue in the bright midday sunlight, and spray flies past my face. I'm shivering, gloves clutching the railing as I squint into the distance, looking desperately for any form of land. However, it evades me.

    I don't know where we are exactly, right now. Sure, I'm on the ferry that's been taking me to South Korea for the past three days, but I'm not sure where it is in the ocean at this exact moment.

    The captain's voice had come on the speakers this morning and told us that we were on route to South Korea. That we'd be able to disembark tonight, as planned before the trip. There was an air of excitement at breakfast after the news, my friend Addy and I had talked excitedly about it between bites of cereal

    "I bet Marie's already thinking about gym strategies," he had said, "tryin' to a little overachiever and beat two leagues in six months. Just like her dad!"

    He was smiling brightly, dressed in a bright red hoodie, His buneary, Adele, was resting in his dark hands and glared at me threateningly.

    "Eeeh," I had gestured, as my clefairy Jessica screamed loudly and reached towards Adele, "I don't think I'm going that far. Like, what if I burn out?"

    Addy nodded, but I noticed Sarah, a pale, practically stick-thin girl rolling her eyes at me. I raised my eyebrows, then shook my head. No use. I already knew that she wasn't fond of me at all, because of my father. It was better to just ignore it.

    "So what are you going to do then?" Akira, a boy about two years younger than me, said, as I wrangled Jessica back, "Instead of battling the gyms?"

    "Probably just alternate between training and resting… I've always wanted to see Seoul. And, we haven't gotten together in a while! We should just have a day to ourselves, touring around the city… I think that'll be nice."

    "Oh really? No TV appearances?" Addy smiled, nudging my shoulders.

    "Oh, no, no, no… I.. uh, don't really like the attention. At all, actually."

    Addy started to laugh hysterically, his shoulders shaking.

    "Better get used to it, Wonder Girl!"

    I had rolled my eyes with a smile at the comment and left for my sleeping compartments to feed my pokemon breakfast.

    Wonder Girl… The nickname's been rubbing me the wrong way ever since this morning.

    I'm really no different from any other starting trainer if you discount my father's presence in my life. Other than my unnatural empathy for pokemon, which is more like reading body language and cues than anything too special, I have no real savant-esque talent in pokemon training. I think Addy knows this, but I just worry sometimes that he thinks that he's in my shadow.

    I hate living with the expectations of a group of people on me. That I'm going to be the exact copy of my championship-winning father. It's been following me since childhood, a massive cloud of inflexible goals and people's wishes for me. It's preventing me from being a normal trainer, forcing me into becoming the absolute Perfect Trainer, who will win the Chinese League with ease.

    There are tons of people better than I am. Akira beat me fair and square with his dewpider, Addy could probably do the same as well. He's the one with actual talent. I'm just run of the mill mediocre.

    I shake my head. The late-January cold is making me gradually lose my mind. I'm overthinking things once again, nothing is seriously that complicated. It's just a compliment, nothing malicious meant to me.

    So, I walk back inside, making sure I'm holding onto some sort of railing or wall so I don't lose my balance as I climb into the dark red hallway. I slowly make my way through the boat, stray waves sometimes bouncing me from wall to wall with a thump.

    Finally, I manage to hobble towards the wooden door of my cabin, pulling it open, and flopping onto my dark bed. As I rest my head, slowly taking off my long black parka, I hear the waves splashing against the hull of the boat. Looking over, I see Jessica fast asleep on her bed, snoring ever so softly. I smile a little at the sight of the clefairy sprawling out on her little bed, mouth hanging open.

    Jessica isn't my only pokemon, of course. I have a tepig and a nidorina at home, but I can't exactly bring them on the boat with me.

    It was due to space issues, Mr. Moreau, our supervisor, said. We could only bring one pokemon with us, and the rest would reach us after the trip by using GTS services in either South Korea or China. Everyone else was pissed when they heard about it, but I understood. If we brought all of our pokemon, the boat would've probably tipped over at this point. Like, pokeballs exist, but there's always been a two-day limit for pokemon to be in there, or they start to suffer adverse effects. They'd have to be taken out.

    And while I love Nina and Luhan a lot, I couldn't have brought anyone but Jessica with me. The two of them can actually function while being apart from me. While Jessica...

    I rub the bridge of my nose. I'm not going to think about that. That'll just bring bitter emotions to the surface, or whatever. So I just look at her and smile, reaching a hand over to her pink belly, and I tickle it softly. She squirms in her sleep, placing her arms on her belly, and making a little squeaking noise.

    I giggle, before rolling over onto my side. Grabbing my phone, I flip through my Twitter feed, looking at pictures of pokemon being cute before my eyes start to droop. I try to remain partially awake, so I won't miss dinner and deployment, but in a matter of minutes, I fall asleep.

    I snap awake an hour later to Jessica slapping my face, and screw up my face at her. She's standing over me, frowning, and says something in her toddler-like babbling.

    "Jessica, you know I have no idea what the f*ck you're saying, right?"

    She starts babbling louder, gesturing towards the door. I groan, and sit up, feeling my bones creak as I wobble towards the door. Pulling it open, I see the slumping form of Sarah, who is staring at me underneath her bangs.

    "Mr. Moreau told me to get you," she says bluntly, her voice tight with irritation, "It's time."

    "Oh. Thank yo…" I say slowly, before she abruptly slams the door in my face.

    Alright…

    I groan, reaching over and gathering all my things together from my bedside. There are my 3DS, my new copy of The Shining, an anthology of Far Side cartoons, some Aero bars for snacking, pokeballs… All that good stuff. I also grab my blue suitcase, which has most of my clothes, some hand warmers, and my sleeping bag.

    The sleeping bag is a precaution, even if I manage to hit the coast close to Seoul, it's another good day or so of walking my *ss off until I reach the actual city. I will, most likely, have to sleep on the path to Seoul, and I don't have enough money to rent a motel. It's a pain, but life would be saccharine nonsense without any suffering. Makes it worthwhile or whatever.

    Yeah, that's it. That's something my therapist would agree with.

    I gather all of my stuff together, putting any loose items into my massive black backpack. Jessica is standing on the bed, staring at me with wide eyes as I sling the bag on my shoulders. A light comes over her face as if she realizes what's going to happen, and she squeals loudly. With a running start, she jumps and floats into my arms.

    "Ready to get off of this boat?" I laugh, and she squeals in response, "I'm ready, too."

    With that, I walk over to the cabin door and take one last look at my living space. I'm not going to see it until June, when we go back to Victoria after the championship. I look it over, a dark brown, practically empty room. There's coarse green carpeting on the floor, sort of a turf-like texture, and there's a porthole in the center of the back wall, but other than that, nothing.

    So, I walk outside and shut the door. The boat's sitting still in the water, so the waves don't rock the boat as bad as before. I'm actually able to walk, instead of hobbling awkwardly down the hallways, admiring everything for the last time.

    Halfway down towards the bottom of the boat, I run into Addy, who is hauling a massive suitcase down the metallic stairs. It makes a loud clang every time it goes down a step, and Jessica yowls in anger each time, trying to free herself from my arms.

    "Hey-o," I smile lopsidedly, "This starting to feel real to you?"

    Addy smiles weakly at me, his hands visibly trembling.

    "You know it, man."

    "It still doesn't feel like it for me," I say, rubbing my nose with my thumb, "maybe I'll realize it when I get on the boat…"

    He laughs but says nothing more. He's focusing more on making sure his trunk makes it down without falling down the stairs and destroying everything inside. Which is fair.

    The two of us make it down with our luggage safe, with Jessica napping now, head against my chest. The room we're in now is suffocatingly small, even for only having five people in it. Most of the space in here is taken up by the four metal fishing boats in the center, and the whole room reeks of sea salt. Which makes sense, since, towards the back, the boat opens up towards the glittering ocean. I can hear the crash of the Yellow Sea hitting the boat, louder now.

    Mr. Moreau stands in front of the two other trainers towards the end of the room, just before the water. He's a tall, gangly man, with greying hair and always wearing a turtleneck of some sort.

    "Marie, put Jessica away," he scolds, and I feel shame bubble in my throat, "it'll be dangerous keeping her out on the ocean."

    I nod firmly but feel Sarah smirking at me as I fumble for my pokeball, retrieving Jessica with a click, and put her back in my bag. He nods back at me, mouth in a thin line.

    "We're all here now, so let us begin. You have all had at least four months of training on how to handle these boats, correct?"

    We all nod.

    I hated those stupid f*cking training sessions. I had to do them because Mr. Moreau wouldn't take me any other way.

    "It's tradition," he said when I told him I had no idea how to operate a boat, glaring at me, "the first trainers from Victoria did their journeys by boat, and while we can't exactly do the whole thing by boat anymore, we'll still do the first half that way."

    "I'm not going to break tradition just because you don't know how to boat, Marie. If you have a problem with it, be a delegate of Vancouver or Nanaimo."

    Normally, I would've taken him up on that offer. Vancouver and Nanaimo probably would've loved to have me, Marie Guangyu Jones, the "potential legendary trainer", well, until they discovered that I wasn't as good as they thought. However, I knew that Addy was already going as a delegate of Victoria. He'd insisted that we'd be together, and I didn't want to be separated from my friend to join a group full of kids who hadn't been my friend since childhood, and who would've probably not cared that much for me.

    So I'd wake up at six in the morning, and force myself to take the ferry to Vancouver instead of playing hooky. It was an hour and a half in good weather, but I could wait longer if it was delayed. And that happened at least five times for me. I just gritted my teeth, sitting at the ferry stop, thinking about how much fun Addy and I would have in Seoul.

    Then, I'd have to do five hours of boating on the ocean, which was incredibly dangerous, even in August. All I thought about while whipping around on my little metal boat, hot summer sun beating down on me, was that crash from a few years ago. A freak wave had hit a wailord-watching boat full of tourists, off the coast of Vancouver Island, and the whole thing capsized into the ocean. By the time a fishing boat got to the wreck, five people had died from hypothermia due to the water.

    "That's why you've got to be careful out on the sea," my father had said to me, the television screen reflected in his glasses, "the water out by us is so cold, it can kill you in mere minutes. Even in the summertime."

    Even though I struggled with my boat multiple times, and was consistently the one person who needed the most instruction from my group of fifteen students, I managed to pull through. I passed my boating qualification test, and I got into the delegate group from Victoria. Addy was happy, and I was too.

    Mr. Moreau briefly refreshes us for the thirtieth time on boating stuff, how long we'll have to boat for (six hours at the most) and how to legally enter the country. I almost fall asleep standing up. However, after a few pinches to keep awake, he moves on.

    "The weather tonight is supposed to be clear, with no signs of possible severe winds or precipitation."

    That's nice, I think to myself, hopefully I won't have too much trouble moving my boat around in the water. Don't want to go too off course, especially in an area like this.

    And also, that was another issue I had with the boating thing. Mr. Moreau wanted us to boat to South Korea, and somehow, he'd gotten this idea approved by both the Canadian and South Korean governments. I'd taken Korean in high school, so I knew that Seoul was only about fifty-six kilometers away from the Demilitarized Zone. That wasn't really far, only about an hour away or so.

    Still, I listen on.

    "I want each and every one of you to be on your best behavior in South Korea. You are all not just representing Victoria, but the entirety of Canada itself. I don't want to hear about any of you getting into trouble, and having the police getting involved."

    I nod again, itching at my knuckles.

    "Also, if any of you run into trouble, use your flare gun as soon as possible. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, you know this region is extremely unstable. A powder keg, waiting for a match to light it. Try your best not to be that match, and stay as far south as possible."

    He pauses, rubbing his mouth in some sort of tic.

    "Alright, I think I've yammered on long enough," he sighs, looking over at his watch, "Let's get moving."

    With that, he guides us to our individual boats. I put my bag in and tie it down, under the tarp made of some sort of tough tan fabric. I manage to slide it into the Yellow Sea waters, and gingerly step inside. My nerves are buzzing around in my stomach, the realization that I'm putting my life on the line for my journey. If this boat capsizes, I'm done.

    While I steady myself on it, I look over to my right, where Addy is practically lounging on his boat, more comfortable on that thing than I'll ever be. My lips quirk up into a smile, and I wave at him. He responds in kind, and I open my mouth to say something, but at that moment, Mr. Moreau suddenly pushes me out to sea.

    "Not even gonna let me say goodbye to Addy, huh?" I mutter bitterly to myself, "fine, then."

    There's only an hour or two left of visibility, I think to myself, as I start up the motor. I glance wistfully back at the boat as the currents move me farther away. I shake my head, as the motor sputters to life, and with a lurch, I'm quickly on the move.

    About an hour into the boat ride, my anxiety is mostly gone. Replacing it is excitement and adrenaline, my messy ponytail whipping against my neck as my boat flies forward. I swear that I see a school of finneon pass me by, their pink stripes standing out in the ocean.

    "Your lips, no no no, your eyes, no no no," I sing in Korean, a grin on my face, "From head to toe, you know you can't den…"

    I cut myself off after feeling something wet hit my eyelid. At first, I just think it's spray from the motor, but as I focus, I can see dark clouds moving in, and snow starting to drift down from the sky.

    "No precipitation, my *ss!" I shout over the motor, to no one in particular, "What a f*ckin' joke!"

    Still, I think nothing of the sudden snowfall. It's January. Snow tends to fall in January, especially in Northern Asia. And it's just flurries, no big deal! It'll just pass over quickly, and I'll be on my way.

    Well, it doesn't pass. In fact, it starts coming down real f*ckin' hard. And then the wind starts up with it, and then suddenly, I'm boating through a massive snowstorm.

    What the hell happened to clear weather?

    After a few minutes of boating through a blizzard, I kill the motor. It's no use, I can't see sh*t. If I keep going in this, I'll more than likely crash into land and die. So, I dive under the tarp and fumble around in the emergency box for a flare gun. I find it after a few moments, a bright red little pistol, and I load a round into it.

    Uncle Rich's shooting lesson seven years ago didn't end up being pointless after all, I smile to myself.

    I stand up and fire the gun. It makes a loud popping noise and I hear a clink as the metal round lands in the boat. I look up to see the red light flash above me and fade out softly. After about ten minutes, I fire another round, watch it crackle, and wait again.

    I groan, sitting back down. Mr. Moreau better get me before exposure comes first. I turn my head to look down at the water for a second and looking back up, before my eyes widen, and I look back into the water.

    Something massive is under the waves by the end of my boat, spreading as far as the eye can see. To my best calculation, it's about the size of a Boeing 747. It's bright white in color, but I also swear I see some sort of dark blue scales on its back. Its coloring is almost like a dewgong's, but it's way too big to be one. They're usually about the size of an average Zodiac dinghy, maybe smaller. Not this massive. It looks like some sort of… whale or dragon or… bird even, and it looks like it's moving towards the surface, about to breach.

    Wait…

    F*ck! I scramble, lifting up my motor, and tying the tarp down to the hull. I hunch down over my bag, face first so I don't slam my head back into the hull and die of blunt force trauma.

    I've seen the waves after a wailord breach, how they displace water and force boats away. But they're only sixteen meters long where I live! This thing is much larger, about seventy meters long, so the water displacement would be massive… And I'm practically under it, so...

    F*ck.

    I'm f*cked. I'm so f*cked.

    What the did I do wrong to die like this? I've always been nice to people, trying my best not to get on people's nerves… What was it? What?

    God, Jesus, any deity listening, please have mercy, forgive me, and let me live… How does the Hail Mary go again? Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee... blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death…!

    With that, I hear something that sounds like a pokemon roaring, water crashing against something, and then I feel my boat fly up into the air. My stomach drops as it sails for what feels like a few meters as I clutch onto the metal seat to prevent myself from falling into the frigid ocean. I feel my legs lift in the air with the boat, almost like some sort of disturbing amusement park ride. Well hey, I think to myself, as I fall, at least it's looking like I'll land bottom first. That's a start…

    Then the boat slams back into the water, and I lurch with it. I'm able to catch myself before I do any injuries to my head, but my knees throb in agony, and I scream the loudest I have in a while. For a long time, I just lay there, clutching my knees and grimacing. I don't think it's anything too serious, but they're definitely bruising really bad. D*mmit.

    I'm never boating again, I decide, as I pull the tarp up and look around, this is the last time I pilot one of these things. It's freezing and still snowing really hard, the wind blowing me northward. I'm probably off-course by now. However, I can actually see what's in front of me, which is just water, but that's a start in the right direction.

    I decide to unfold the motor again, and boat to the southeast. I'm jittery with that 'just-survived-something-that-probably-should-have-killed-me" brand of adrenaline, my hands shaking violently, and I just know I'm gonna end up passing out from exhaustion in an hour or so. I need to get on land before that happens.

    Thankfully, within that hour, I manage to spot some sort of natural beach, full of trees and plant life, which doesn't look like anyone's private property. Bingo.

    I kill the motor, fold it up, and pull out two wooden paddles from the bottom. With some arm work, I manage to push my boat onto land. I step out, tie a bit of rope to the bow, and pull my boat onto shore. I stop moving it up the beach at about a half meter, as far from the ocean as I can lug the hunk of metal. Sure enough, exhaustion begins to set in, and I crawl back into the boat. I pull the tarp over my head and grab some hand warmers, a pillow and my black sleeping bag from my suitcase.

    I slip into my sleeping bag and stuff some hand warmers in there, so I don't freeze. I rub the base of my nose and groan.

    Well, I didn't die! That's better than nothing… Sure, I'm having a sh*t day and all, but tomorrow, I'll wake up, and set out for Seoul… And when I get there, I'm gonna sleep for forty days straight in a warm, comfortable bed. Well, not forty, but still.

    I'm gonna rest every day that I'm in Seoul, I think to myself, as I fall asleep, no strain, nothing super hard.

    How wrong I was...

    Gashina: (가시나) song by Sunmi, translates roughly to "going" or "leaving"

    "Your lips, no no no, your eyes, no no no / From head to toe, you know you can't deny": heavily paraphrased lyrics from DDD by EXID (don't watch if you have epilepsy), the "no no no" (덜덜덜덜) can be translated as onomatopoeia for trembling.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I never reviewed this the first time around, did I? Well, here's a chance to put that right. Snowstorm is really interesting, and while it's been long enough since I read the opening of its first incarnation that I don't really remember it, this feels like it's been updated a little. I'm not sure it's quite as strong an opening as Element, but it's definitely a good one: it starts, and we're immediately embroiled in character drama that we have to figure out as we go. I quite like that as a start.

    I like that you take pains to establish right away at the start that there are limitations to poké ball technology, and that there's good reason for pokémon to be out as much as not – it's always a good sign when you see someone thinking critically about what that kind of machinery really means, and deciding that the games' presentation of it needs to be altered. The GTS, the Chinese League; there are all these glimpses of systems, and possibly I'm just a nerd but I always like systems. They imply human activity and all the intricacies of society, and that makes settings like this much stronger.

    I'm in two minds about the way you introduce the various bits of information. Some of it's done well; the discovery that Marie has been in therapy is good, for instance. It comes in naturally, the point isn't laboured, and as a result it's really effective. The information about her being stuck in her father's shadow is a little more heavy-handed. The conversation with Addy, and a line or two of musing afterwards, would be enough to give a sense of this, which is all we need at this early point; as it stands, the big detour from the main action kinda just slows things down a bit much for my taste.

    But! Generally, as an opening, it really works – it's pacey, it has ominous vibes (the emphasis on the volatility of the region, and so on), it has a nice mix of set-up, drama and action. I just have a few other little things I noticed as I read through to point out:

    That should be 'en route' rather than 'on route'; it's one of those borrowed French phrases.

    Two things here – firstly, this is a comma splice, where two complete sentences are joined together with a comma. It's technically grammatically incorrect, but sometimes it's elegant enough that it doesn't matter; I think, on balance, that this one is probably not one of those – like, the rhythm of the splice doesn't do enough for the sentence to justify itself, if that makes sense. (As an example of splices that I think do have merit, there are a few lines later on when Marie is musing about being her father's daughter that work much better.) Secondly, this sentence is missing a full stop.

    There seems to be a word missing here – maybe 'be' in between 'to' and 'a'?

    Based on the capital letter, I'm assuming that comma after 'hoodie' is meant to be a full stop.

    This is a mistake you make quite often – if you have a line of dialogue followed by an attribution and then afterwards there's more dialogue, you only use a comma after the attribution if the two pieces of dialogue make one continuous sentence. Otherwise, you use a full stop. As an example:

    versus:

    The Shining should be italicised, as the title of a book.

    'Retrieve' seems like an odd choice of word here. Possibly something like 'recall' would be a better fit?

    And that's it! I'm looking forward to see what you plan to do with this story this time around. Should definitely be interesting!
     
  4. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Hey, so I haven't gotten the chance to check out the last version of snowstorm, so this is a good opportunity for me to do so. I'm liking the set up you have so far. Like Cutlerine I too thought your take on pokeballs was cool and makes sense if you don't headcanon pokeballs having the necessities for the Pokemon. Since Marie mentions about being pressured to be in her father's shadow I wonder how much that will affect her journey.

    What happened to Marie at the end is why I find it a bit odd Canada's Pokemon League didn't fully go against boating on your own. This is why Olympians take the plane to the hosting country lol. The part where Marie was in the middle of the snowstorm I like the frenzy "oh my gosh" thinking going on there.

    Looking forward where you take this!
     
  5. roule

    roule take it all or leave it... I Feel You

    Funny that these reviews were posted when they were, but I had just finished up on my second chapter when I read them! Thanks for the support on my new version, Bay and Cutlerine, and I'll be fixing up my errors shortly...

    I hope you enjoy this chapter!

    Chapter Two

    EMPIRE ANTS

    When I wake up the next morning, all the adrenaline from last night is gone, and all I know is pain. My legs are aching something fierce, throbbing and itching. I pull up my pants, and look over my legs. They're swollen, and large dark patches of bruises cover them. Even the faintest of touches on them causes me to grimace in pain.

    I rummage through the emergency box, and grab two ibuprofen capsules, small round orange things. I swallow them, chasing it with water from one of my water bottles. Hopefully that will keep me from collapsing until I can get actual treatment in nearby civilization.

    I groan tiredly, rubbing at my scalp quickly. God, what a start to my journey.

    I get caught in a massive snowstorm, and then get launched across the ocean because some unknown pokemon the size of an airplane decided to breach right under my boat. Great. Great!

    Slowly, I peek my head out from under the tarp. It's almost completely white outside, with occasional specks of beach peeking through the white curtain of snow. Loose snow drifts from the massive pines over my head. Everything seems serene and silent, except for the loud "tap-tap-tap" of a few pikipek drilling into far-away trees. It's still rather cold out, but warm enough for me to endure.

    I slip underneath the tarp again, and stuff the emergency box's contents into my backpack, and put away my pillow and sleeping bag. There's a good chance I'll need everything in that box, judging by how my journey is going so far. I fumble around in the boat, until I find a small notecard and a small pencil towards the front of the boat. The card lists my name, and three phrases, each with a little box to check off.

    [] REACHED DESTINATION

    [] LANDED IN INCORRECT AREA

    [] DID NOT COMPLETE BOAT JOURNEY


    I check off the second one, because I'm pretty sure I'm a decent ways off course, and sign my name at the bottom. With that, I step out of the boat, and tug it down to the ocean. I push it out to the ocean, and watch as it floats away.

    When the boat is no longer visible, I reach into my bag, fumbling for Jessica's pokeball. I release her onto a patch of dry ground in a stream of red light, the beam forming into the sleeping clefairy. Slowly, she sits up and stretches her stubby arms above her head, yawning.

    I sweep her up in my arms and stuff her in my jacket to keep her warm. She makes a small squeaking noise as watches me grab a protein bar from my bag, but her eyes visibly droop. I smile softly and tear a chunk off of my bar. Jessica reaches out for it, and I gingerly set it in her claws.

    With that, we start our trek towards whatever form of civilization lies nearby. The part of Korea that I'm in now is mainly deep forest, full of large pine trees and underbrush. It's kind of relaxing in a way, the silence of it all. Reminds me of hiking on the outskirts of Victoria at fifteen, looking aimlessly for a pokemon that can beat that ******* George-Michel's mareanie…

    I never did find anything, but well, maybe the experience was worth the trouble.

    Occasionally, Jessica wakes up when I walk a particularly bumpy stretch and starts to whistle a tune, but most of the time she's dead asleep. She rustles in her sleep sometimes, but other than that, she doesn't really move.

    It takes another hour and a half for any form of human civilization to appear. It shows itself as an overgrown hanok of some sort, snow, and plant life covering the curving roof and yellowing walls. There's a massive hole in the middle of the roof, and for a brief moment, I wonder if I'm looking at a remnant of the War. But, doubt kicks in a few seconds after, words like "massive bombing campaign" and "flattened entire cities" coming to my brain.

    If it were a bomb, the building wouldn't be there, would it?

    I slowly walk over, conscious of anyone that could spot me. Peeking in through the open door, it's pretty obvious no one is living in here. The interior is crumbling, white walls yellowing with age, and it smells of rot. On the floor, which is practically falling to bits, a bunch of newspapers, books with the covers gone, and a little pin of some sort of flag.

    Curious, I pick the pin up first, looking it over. The flag is red, with a portrait of the old North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung. I frown at it as Jessica tries to reach for the pin.

    Bizarre that a pin like this would be in South Korea. Well, I reason, maybe it's someone's collectible. Perhaps they want to feel closer to their family living in the north? Maybe they bought a replica off of the internet, and lost it here?

    Who knows.

    I grab one of the books and flip through it aimlessly. I initially start to read it, but I give up. It's nearly intelligible, and I'm wasting time.

    So I walk outside, and further and further into the woods. I eventually stop to rest a little and eat a minimalist lunch of bits of swiss cheese, ham, and off-brand crackers. Other than that, it's mostly uneventful. The pokemon here appear to fear me, and don't show their faces, which is bizarre… You would think at this point, some pikachu or rattata with a lot of guts will smell Jessica, and run at me, like they do in Canada, but they don't.

    Maybe this is what culture shock feels like, I contemplate, as Jessica starts singing something that sounds like 'Careless Whisper', this is how it starts. First I notice the pokemon, and then, suddenly, everything is different. Like that French culture shock disorder, Paris Syndrome or whatever, but in Korea. Seoul Syndrome?

    After a few paces, the forest clears out into a massive, winding rural highway. It's incredibly wide, more like an airport runway than an actual highway. Entire sections of it are falling apart, asphalt cracking and chipping away. No cars are present, which shocks me. There should be some businessperson rocketing down the street, racing to Busan or Seoul or Daegu... Where exactly in Korea am I?

    Probably one of the rural small towns on the coast, I venture. I must be really far from Seoul now…

    What a pain.

    I keep walking regardless, either by the road or on it, when I'm feeling particularly brave. My ibuprofen runs out, so my legs start to ache halfway down. I eventually can't endure it anymore, and I stop at the side of the road to sit down. Jessica crawls out from my jacket and stares up at me with a fearful expression. She hits my leg to try and get me to stand, but I just grimace and make a hissing noise.

    "Don't hit me there," I grunt, and she makes a sad squeaking noise, "it hurts a lot."

    Jessica makes a tearful noise and waddles over to me. She rests against me, arms wrapping around my chest. I pat her back and smile a little.

    "It's okay, Jessica," I sigh, rubbing her head and scratching between her ears, "it'll go away in a few days, I just need proper rest."

    With that, I reach into my bag and take another dose of ibuprofen. I wait a few moments for the medicine to start taking effect, then start my walk down.

    It's another hour until I see an actual human being.

    In that time, I'm close enough to a small city that I can see the buildings peek up from the trees. I'm walking on the road, which is now more stable, probably due to the city being nearby. The ibuprofen is kicking in, so I'm not in much pain anymore.

    "We could've been so good together! We could've lived this dance forever," I sing loudly to Jessica, who is clinging atop my backpack, "but now who's gonna dance with me…?"

    Before I sing the next line, I hear a car rushing behind me, distant, but still coming very fast in my direction. I rush off the road onto a green hill, pulling Jessica into my arms and laying against the grass.

    Peeking my head out, I watch the car zoom past. It's an old white truck, paint peeling off to reveal patches of rust. However, what I notice the most about it is the cargo it's carrying. On the back, about twenty or so young soldiers are hanging onto the rails, most of them looking over the road. But, I notice something about them that deeply unnerves me.

    They aren't wearing the camouflage uniforms of regular South Korean forces, or the grey uniforms of soldiers on the Demilitarized Zone. Instead, they wear matching olive jackets and pants, with red and gold accents. I recognize the uniform from years upon years of watching military parades and provocations from the North Koreans.

    How were they here? This is South Korea, right?

    Had the North invaded while I was asleep…?

    No, impossible… I would've heard something, like bombs going off or the firing of guns. I would be most likely dead, blown up in my boat. An invasion of this scale would never end peacefully.

    Maybe this is like some TV show sketch. Show a bunch of people reacting to actors wearing North Korean uniforms, and have them mess around this city. Have them pretend to invade and stuff. Like some Eric Andre skit. I can't imagine it'll be popular, at all, but if it makes them money…

    After a few more minutes of walking, I decide to cut through the small forest by the road. That truck getting too close to me scares me off of walking on it, the thought of a car sneaking up and flattening me is unnerving, to say the least. So, I wander through the snowy forest, relatively silently. Jessica is swiveling her head around in my arms, looking for any pokemon to battle.

    I walk another few meters silently, the only noise being the distant cawing of birds and the crunch of my footsteps in the snow. The silence of the forest and the lack of any real action forces me back into my mind, and I try my best not to overthink this. It's all probably nothing, just a joke or some sort of movie shoot, you'll be fine! You're not actually in North Korea, that's ridiculous!

    Suddenly, I hear the noise of children chattering excitedly. They're close by, running towards me, but I can't see them. Jessica chitters, mimicking the loud noise of the children babbling to one another.

    Finally, I see one of these children run past me. She's a short, scrawny girl, about five or six years old, her hair in tight pigtails. She's wearing a white blouse, dark skirt, and a red sash across her shoulders. She doesn't notice me, screaming happily as she dashes further into the forest. But, as she leaves, the image of her stays in my mind.

    I've seen that outfit before, in childhood pictures of my mother. She wore a similar uniform when she went to school in Beijing. She told me that every student in China had to wear it, that the red sashes were hallmarks of schools in communist countries. So...

    I swallow around a lump in my throat and walk forward. The forest is beginning to peter out, into a large snowy clearing. I'm trying not to panic, but it's really hard not to. All the signs are pointing towards… Towards…

    I step out from the forest, bitter winds blowing at me as I freeze in place. I can't bring myself to say anything or do anything, just stare forward.

    Peeking over the hill, I see clumps of cookie-cutter apartment buildings, some in bright colors, some in black or white, and others are crumbling, hiding their colors. At first, I feel a little better, that it's maybe just my mistake. I see tons of buildings like this all around the world, so maybe I'm in China! Or some run-down South Korean city!

    But, in the distance, I see the blue, triangular form of some massive skyscraper, jutting upwards. In a few seconds, I recognize it as the incomplete Ryugyong Hotel...

    ...The tallest building in Pyongyang.

    I fall to my knees, and cover my face. I rub the base of my nose, trying not to burst into tears. Jessica makes a sad noise, and hugs my arm tightly.

    What have I gotten myself into, I think to myself, what am I going to do?

    Empire Ants: the chapter name is from a gorillaz song!

    The badge Marie found: Here!

    Ryugyong Hotel: photo here!
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2018
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I missed out on this one earlier, but a reboot is the perfect time to get into things! I've definitely been interested in this story based on the premise for a long time, and I'm excited to see where you're going to take "Pokémon trainer in North Korea."

    Marie seems like a fun protagonist to follow, too. There's a lot left unsaid about her so far, little details like her stint in therapy raised briefly even though there's clearly more going on there, her relationship with her father, Marie's pokémon empathy abilities... There's a lot left to learn about her yet, and I get the sense she has a lot more depth to reveal as time goes on. Her teenage disaffected done-with-this-crap attitude is fun, too, and feels very genuine.

    I like the little musical motifs that run throughout the story. You haven't even mentioned what Marie's connection to music is, although I know it's going to play a very large role in the story, so it's cool to see that theme coming through already. And clefairy is a great choice of a musical pokémon--I guess jigglypuff would be more classic, but in addition to being known for singing, clefairy is almost-literally a star.

    The little that we get about the Korea League is really intriguing, too. Pokémon training in general, in this universe. It feels like kind of a fusion of the game's "small children in the wilderness with murdermonsters" with a more normal life-progression path for people living in a world like our own, more political and complicated, with people from Canada going off to journey in Asia, and more regulated, with all the prep Marie had to go through. I don't know if we'll get to see much of how the league proper works, since Marie's journey's already gone so far off the track, but the worldbuilding you have in here already is intriguing.

    I'm really surprised that Marie didn't have any sort of navigational aid with her and seemed like she was just kind of... guessing what direction she was going at various points? Like, it would be super unsafe to send anybody off on a boat trip like that and just hope that they land in the right spot, without any way to know their actual position or heading. Even if they say no GPS for some ******** reason like the whole boat trip itself is a ******** tradition thing, even way back in the day they would still have had compasses and seriously, not having something is hella unsafe. Likewise, having some sort of GPS beacon in the boats themselves would be a literal lifesaver in cases like we have here, where a sudden storm appears out of nowhere, so there's at least a chance of them being able to find and rescue the people who've gotten blown off-course. I get why you don't want Marie to have access to any of this stuff, but there's ways to make it malfunction/otherwise have it be unavailable to her that would make it sound less like they were expecting some percentage of trainers to just die during this whole boat fiasco.

    Also, one thing that did strike me as a little off in the first chapter, especially, is how detached Marie seems. You did mention that she's been to therapy, so perhaps that's part of whatever made her decide to go, but if not, it seems a bit off to me. Like, it's one thing to be a sarcastic, snarky teenager, but it's another to still be snarking when you're lost at sea and some huge unknown pokémon appears below you and knocks you even farther off course. Like, lines like "Mr. Moreau better get me before exposure comes first" sound more jokey than I'd expect from someone who was honestly afraid they might die. "What did I do wrong to die like this?" also strikes me as more melodramatic and somewhat humorous than what I'd expect someone fearing for their life to actually say. All in all it makes the encounter come off more like, "Oh, lovely. Just what I need," rather than an actually serious situation where Marie fears for her life.

    Some of this, I think, might be your focus on Marie's thoughts while the whole Lugia and snowstorm bit is going on. A lot of what brings emotion home in writing is the actual physical feeling of it, how it actually impacts characters' behaviors more than just their thoughts. Marie does stuff here, but it's all narrated very dryly, just, "I do this, I do that." Not a lot of focus on the physicality of Marie's emotions; none of her mouth going dry, her fumbling through tasks that should be second nature, her quick, panicked breathing. The disconnect from the physical reality of what's happening to Marie is a large part of what makes her read as distant from what's going on around her, I think.

    Another contributing factor might be your heavy use of filter words. These are things like, "I feel," "I see," "I think," etc. When you're in first person, it's always more immediate to have the character simply experience things. Like the sentence, "My stomach drops as it sails for what feels like a few meters..." Sentences like that put us directly in the character's head, experiencing what she experiences. Whereas sentences like, "I feel my legs lift in the air..." are narrated. They remind us that there's a character here who's feeling these things, rather than putting us directly in the action. This creates a sense of distance and detachment from the narrative. Look at how differently this paragraph reads with the filter words removed. Before:

    And after:

    If you're trying to create a sense of distance, like I said if it's an intentional facet of Marie's character, then you're obviously doing a good job! Otherwise, you might want to look at ways to inject some more emotion into your emotional scenes.

    The second chapter also felt a little short to me; I think you could have combined it with the first chapter if you want, although there is a natural stopping point with Marie going to sleep there. What I really liked here was seeing a little of that detachment I mentioned earlier falling away. With Marie's increasingly desperate insistence that OF COURSE she's in South Korea, clearly they're filming something or whatever, up until the point where she finally has to accept that she's in really huge trouble. Here I think you do a better job of bringing home how affected Marie is by this. She really reacts to her situation; she swallows lumps in her throat, falls to her knees, tries not to cry... And there's no more joking around. Maybe it's only becoming real to her now and she really was just kind of detachedly snarking at things earlier, idk. In any case, I can totally feel Marie's shock and horror here, and it's great.

    Curious that Marie finds no mon in the woods here. Does NK take a dim view of them and slaughter them for some reason? Or are they all in hiding because Lugia passed nearby recently and they're afraid, or something?

    One way or another you've obviously set up an exciting situation here. How's Marie going to survive in North Korea? Does she have any hope of escaping capture? And one way or another my impression is we're going to be seeing a lot of the Korean idol scene in future chapters, which is something I'm definitely looking forward to. It's cool to see you working on this story again, and I hope to see more in the future.
     
  7. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    I like that you have the children still going about their lives despite them being in North Korea. Sure there’s stories of North Koreans not living as well off as South Koreans, but I like that different focus. But yeah yelp should be interesting how Marie handles being in North Korea.
     
  8. roule

    roule take it all or leave it... I Feel You

    ngl its been a long one. im being worked to the bone in college. please forgive the gap


    CHAPTER 3


    WASTE



    After the initial shock of “oh my god, I’m in North Korea” wears off, I find myself sitting at the edge of the forest floor, just staring at the skyline of Pyongyang with wide eyes. My hands shake while reaching around Jessica, who looks up at me with a pout on her face. I aimlessly run my hands through her fur, staring at the horizon blankly.


    Terror rushes through me, painful, itching terror. It settles in the pit of my stomach, in some sort of heavy mass, crushing my intestines.

    Oh, I think, this is how it all ends. I end up in North Korea, make some sort of mistake, go to prison, and die. My journey is over, and now I have, at the most, a few more days until my food supply of crackers, cheese, and ramyun runs out and starvation starts to set in.


    Futility swirls around in my head like someone is shaking me violently, and I feel nausea begin to creep in my stomach.


    There’s no point, no future for me anymore. I have so much **** in my bag that could be contraband here, that could get me put in jail. And everyone knows that jail time in North Korea is a one way trip to torture and maybe even death, with no way of defending yourself… And how could I defend myself?? I saw a gigantic white bird pokemon that threw me off course? No one would believe that there, even if they give me an actual legal defense!


    So, why don’t I just go to one of those sky-rise apartment buildings, a disgustingly seductive part of myself purrs, and beat them to the punch?


    Then, I think of my family, left in limbo, not knowing if I was alive or dead, and Jessica, all alone, unable to fend for herself. She’ll end up likely starving to death if I do it. And… I can’t bear to cause that to her, leave her in pain again.


    I bury my head in my hands and pull at my scalp. Jessica squeals, reaching up and trying to peel my fingers off of my head. I look down at her, my vision blurring her into a bright pink blob because of stress. She pats my head softly in an attempt to comfort me, and I let go of my scalp slowly, flexing my fingers.


    I have to keep moving on, keep going. I can’t fall into despair, there’s always a chance that I can survive… Maybe there’s the embassy, maybe I can sneak on a plane… Whatever it may be, there’s still hope, because I’m still free, for now.


    So, I sit up and start walking down the snowy hill, towards Pyongyang. My footsteps crunch in the thick layer snow covering the park as I walk silently, looking around me. It feels almost like I’m in an almost picturesque setting, the snow covering making the world around me a bright white, letting the darkness of the barren trees stand out. Halfway down, I grab my pokeball and retrieve Jessica, nervously fumbling as I place it back into my bag.


    The air feels grim and heavy, as if the mere presence of wrongness, being somewhere I shouldn’t, weighs me down, and the sky is a slate grey. There’s not a whole lot of people walking around the grassy hills, the people I do see seem to be older civilians, about my parent's age, who don’t seem to pay any attention to me as I walk past. They wear button up shirts of various colors, with similar red flag pins on their breasts, some with Kim Jong-Il’s face, some with his father’s face, some with both. The glimpses I get of their faces are of haggard, tired people, always either looking away from me, never noticing. It unnerves me, how out of place I feel walking around. I nervously pin the flag to my breast, my hands trembling slightly.


    After a few more paces across the snow, I manage to slip into the streets of Pyongyang through a large crowd of people passing by, mostly girls my age. They all look very similar to me, tan skin, dark eyes, and casual dress, so I blend in rather well. They’re deep within their own conversations about something relatively inane, ignoring me. To be fair, I’m trying to be forgettable, so I don’t mind.


    However, I still feel uncomfortably out-of-place. Unsafe, like I’m sticking my head out on top of a trench, opening myself up for danger. I fidget with the lining of my jacket as I walk further down the street. In the distance, I hear music blaring over some form of a loudspeaker, a group of women singing a cheerful little ditty with lyrics chirping about how great the North Korean military is, how they’ll smite their enemies and all that. It sends a chill up my spine, and the cold seems to bite at my face even harder.


    We’re in some sort of residential section of the city, apartment complexes in bright, eye-popping colors seeming to dwarf everything else. It makes me feel like an insect, small and meaningless, and I wonder if the girls around me feel similarly. Snow lines the sides of the walkways in large hills, and I see children scampering around in it, laughing, playing, and chattering. I feel my lips twitch into a smile at the sight, a slight flicker of warmth burning in my belly. It almost feels like I’m back home, minus the fact that there’s no pokemon to be seen anywhere, there are only about five cars on the massive highway, and I’m a fugitive from the law here.


    After a few more paces, the group of girls enter a massive semi-mall, called the ‘First Department Store’ judging by the small red lettering above the door, and I choose to stay back in the cold. Sure, the building may have heating, but I can’t run the risk of getting caught inside. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide…


    So I keep pushing forward. I wander around the city for the next few hours, mingling with other crowds, looking for possible ways out. There are groups of tourists, mostly Chinese, but some appear to be from the West, either Europe of the Americas, but all of them have a female tour guide, some wearing traditional dress, some military uniforms, so I chicken out of my original plan to sneak in.


    I end up just staring at them from the corners of my eyes as I pass by them. I analyze them carefully, noticing that most of them are around my age, mostly men. One of them looks over at me, glancing at my clothes and bag as if I were a citizen. I panic, thinking about what to do in this situation, any wrong moves could expose me. So, I just face forward, not reacting to the person looking me over, and speed up my steps in an attempt to lose the tour group. I manage to lose them without anyone calling out to me. Either I did nothing wrong, or what I did wrong wasn’t enough to warrant someone coming after me.


    Another hour of walking passes me by, and I spend it under the heavy cloak of resignation to death. If I can’t sneak in with tourists, really, where else can I go? I could stow away on a flight, but that runs the risk of getting caught. The same goes for the embassy, I may be somehow able to manage to tell my story and get flown to China, but that’s a slim-to-none chance. Plus, I have contraband on me already, I’m pretty sure that The Shining is a forbidden book here. Something about how it displays inappropriate behavior, I bet.


    So my best option — my only option — is to leave the city, travel up north, and cross the Chinese border. I could die along the way, but there’d still be that chance I could make it across the border while remaining relatively unknown to the Kim regime. And, if I did die, I’d die as a free woman, not as a prisoner.


    But, I think to myself, I should wait a day. Gather up supplies from the trash or elsewhere and then start my slow trek towards China. Find some empty building to stay in for most of the night, before I freeze to death in the cold.


    So, where?


    I stop in my tracks, having been wandering around Pyongyang aimlessly at this point, looking around me for an answer. The crowds surrounding me are all heading towards a massive building, which I couldn’t really see at my current position. I walk forward through a crowd of families, with young children peering up at me, squinting my eyes all the while. After a few more steps forward, I’m able to see all of the building and a laugh of confusion bubbles in the back of my throat.


    It’s a massive, sprawling group of buildings, with forest green buildings glinting in the afternoon sunlight. It’s not as tall as the apartment buildings, so I doubt it’s a residential complex. However, the entrance is what befuddles me the most. A gigantic head of an incineroar, its mouth full of fangs open wide, letting people into the building. Signs nearby alert me that this is the “Korea Central Zoo”, and that access is free due to the “kindness of the Respected General”.


    I stare at the sign, my eyebrows furrowing. Despite my best efforts to remain above it all for my safety, I’m curious about what is inside the zoo. Usually, zoos in Canada have rare pokemon that are in trouble and need protection. Would it be the same here? Plus, it’s free, and the inside is bound to be warm… Why not?


    So, despite my best efforts, I fall prey to my curiosity and follow a crowd inside. Through the massive maw, I walk into a giant white room, the walls full of salt-water tanks with aquatic pokemon swimming around, including a milotic in a small round center tank, circling aimlessly. The tank itself looks to be only eight or nine meters high, while the milotic is around six meters in length at the least, which causes my stomach to sink in sadness.


    I heard my father’s low voice starting to lecture in my head. I imagined being eighteen again standing in front of our own large saltwater tank, sitting towards the end of our yard, his kingdra swam up to greet him as he stood with his hands folded behind him, staring intently at the tank.


    “Large aquatic pokemon like Alexandre need at least forty or more meters of free space, Marie… Without space, they start to stress themselves out, and they don’t end up lasting long, only about a handful of years, sometimes even only months.”


    I remember nodding, and my eyes never left the tank. Alexandre swam up to me next and looked me over with his bright red eyes. He’d been with my father since he was caught off the coasts of California as a horsea, which was a good thirty years ago, so he knew what he was talking about...


    I come back to reality, frowning at the sight of the poor conditions, sucking on my teeth. The people around me look at the poor pokemon swimming in circles in amazement, their eyes wide at the sight of something so beautiful. And yet, this is torture for the milotic, living in a close space until stress takes its toll on its body.


    I keep moving further down the hallway, trying my best to ignore the sickness spreading in my gut. A group of schoolgirls walks with me, only about sixteen years old or so. Looking over briefly, I can see them staring at me with curious eyes, as if I were some sort of attraction or pokemon in a cage. One of them, a short, pretty girl in square glasses, walks up to me, wearing her school’s uniform of a dark skirt, white dress shirt under a dark blazer, with a red sash draping across her chest.


    She greets me, bowing, and I bow back. I stare blankly at her, unsure of what to do next. The girl looks me over with interest in her bright eyes, brushing a strand of her short hair behind her ear.


    “Why do you have such a large bag, comrade?” she asks, seemingly innocently enough.


    Quickly, I think of an excuse to give, that won’t require showing the contents off.


    “Just groceries,” I say without smiling, in a low, rough tone, “I don’t like carrying them in my hands.”


    The girl blinks up at me, her eyes wide in curiosity. The others around her stare at me as well, bunching together and chattering amongst themselves. I look at them for a few more moments, before I turn around slowly, and walk further through the zoo.


    The exhibits further on quickly become more depressing to witness. There’s a big exhibit towards the center, full of about twenty or so ursarings. This would normally be impressive, if not for a large amount of pokemon in the exhibit. With all of them, there’s really not a whole lot of space for each individual to be alone like they want, really.


    Looking down at the exhibit, full of light rocks imitating a rocky mountainside, usarings looking up at me and sniffing about, I wonder if they may end up needing to replace them. I imagine that there will be fights between the bear pokemon in the future, some probably resulting in deaths.


    I shake my head in response to that thought and click my tongue. My mind's going to some pretty dark places today…


    Every other exhibit I see later on is the same, concrete floor, chain-link fence, miserable pokemon at one end of the exhibit. There’s the rare pokemon that are rather normal in Canadian zoos, like electabuzz, rhyhorn, and skarmory. Rare pokemon that are rarely seen with trainers, let alone in the wild.


    But, the oddest thing I see is a little pavilion after these animals, full of small pens and young children with their parents. Looking into these tiny pens, I see rather common pet pokemon, like rockruffs, mightyenas, and persians, all of them standing at the front of their pens, eyes gleaming at me. I glance back at a bright sign, that reads “PET PAVILLION”, and I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Then, reality hits me, and I furrow my brow. Of course, pokemon ownership probably isn’t legal here, so an exhibit in a zoo is the only way to see typical “Western” pet pokemon in this country.


    I walk forward, grabbing a handful of tan pokemon treats of some sort from a large container off of the side path. Looking back, I can see the schoolgirls from earlier following behind me, chattering excitedly with treats in their hands as well. They look back over at me, grinning wide.


    “Aren’t they cute, comrade?” one of the girls says, this one with slightly longer hair, about halfway down her neck, and an oval face.


    I nod, smiling faintly. She walks over to me, and stands close, shoulder to shoulder. I feel my throat close up, and my hands quiver, as I look over at her through the corners of my eyes. Why is she so close to me, what is she doing? What does she want from me?


    “What is your name?” she asks, looking up at me with a smile.


    “Gyeong-hui,” I say roughly, trying my best to sound like I wasn’t lying between my teeth.


    “Gyeong-hui, huh?” she says, her voice curious and high, “What a nice name!”


    “T-Thank you,” I stammer, trying to avoid any further conversation.


    The girl seems to see that I don’t want to talk anymore and returns to her group to chatter about the exhibit. I tune it out quickly and let my mind wander as I trudge down the pathway.


    A sinking, sick feeling of depression runs through me as I slowly walk over to the cages, like cold water seeping into my bones, my flesh, my very being. I blankly stare at the rockruff in one cage runs up to me, barking and wagging its tail rapidly, and thoughtlessly throw it some snacks with a jolt of my arm. Most of them land by its feet, and it eagerly huddles down to eat all of it quickly with sniffing noises between bites. Afterward, it looks back up at me with wide, begging eyes, wagging its tail. However, by then, my gaze is unfocusing, and a chill runs up my spine.


    What’s the point of lying anymore, I think to myself as I continue to walk along the path, further towards the exit, what’s the point? Why am I even bothering to wander around this city, where every step takes me further down the path to getting caught? There’s nowhere for me to run, nowhere to hide. I’ve given up the only chance of escape, and now I have to pay the price for my lack of intelligence. Can’t I just say to one of the girls, “oh I lied to you, hahaha, I’m a Yankee spy named Marie” and just give myself up to die already?


    God, part of me begs, just give me some reason to keep on going further… Please.


    Suddenly, I hear a scream, pushing me out of my thoughts of giving up. The girl next to me is stiff with shock, her complexion a ghastly white, and her mouth wide open. I follow her glance with an expression controting in confusion, stepping forward to observe the scene closer, and my mouth tightens.


    There’s a young boy lying across the pavement, about five or so, sitting forwards with his legs flung forwards as if he fell backward. In front of him, I can see the dark form of an umbreon, it’s red eyes and yellow rings standing out against its black fur. It must’ve broken out of its exhibit somehow, but I can’t see any open cage doors or other ways to get out. The fox pokemon hisses angrily, ears pressing close to its skull, slinking closer to the boy. Behind me, the fearful chatter of the girls is almost deafening, and I grimace at the noise, unable to concentrate.


    One of the people nearby, an older looking woman with shorter hair and a round face, is completely hysterical, eyes heavy with tears, probably the kid’s mother. However, she stays stationary, off to the side, in fact, no one is really rushing over to intervene in this. Why aren’t they…?


    “I-I’m going to get someone to help!” one of the girls shouts, running back towards where we came.


    How long will it take for someone to come, I ask myself, the kid could get seriously hurt by then. And why are we just standing around? Why isn’t anyone intervening?


    Nevermind, stop speculating, my rational mind snaps, there’s a kid in trouble. You look like the only one who’s willing to help, and the umbreon doesn’t look rabid. Just very, very angry. Take a chance and do it.


    So with a silent prayer, I adjust my backpack straps and slowly walk towards the boy. Terror streaks through my body, and I take large, gulping breaths in some attempt to calm myself. The fact that the crowd is screaming my fake name and telling me to run doesn’t help me, and the umbreon snarls in agitation. I kneel down halfway through, looking at the umbreon at the same eye level in an attempt to calm it down.


    Finally, after a few more slow and cautious steps forward, I reach the boy. He’s sobbing hard at this point, his body shaking with each breath out, and I grab him gently. He looks up at me with wide brown eyes and opens his mouth in an attempt to speak.


    “Run,” I say sharply, looking him straight in the eyes, “I’ll hold it back. Go!”


    He stumbles forward, sort of in a daze, before dashing forward to his mother. The umbreon dashes forward with a snarl, and I throw myself in front of it, preventing it from attacking him. It sinks its claws into my jacket arm, which I feel sting painfully, and I grab it’s head firmly before it puts its teeth into my shoulder. It struggles for a few moments, trying to snap at my hands.


    I shush at it, in some desperate attempt to make it calm down, and I stiffly try to reach my bag with my arm, grabbing a fistful of crackers. I waggle one in front of its nose, and it’s ears perk back up, and it stares at the cracker with curious oval eyes. I give one to it, and it releases its claws from my arm and chews it up quickly.


    After eating, it stares at me with wide red eyes and sniffs at my hand expectantly. I quickly throw the crackers as far as my arm can go, and watch as the umbreon eagerly bounds towards it, in the middle of the stone pathway. It eats loudly for a few moments, before turning to look back at me, it’s red eyes boring into my soul. I sit absolutely still, looking back at the creature, expecting it to run at me again. My body feels like it’s made of ice, and I feel nausea creeping in my stomach, making me feel woozy.


    Instead, it turns its head in a swift, sudden motion, and runs quickly into the underbrush of the zoo. In an instant, it appears to just melt into the shadows of the shrubbery, vanishing completely from my sight. Suddenly, I’m hit with a sharp pain in my arm, and a hot, sticky feeling when my sleeves rub up against it, and I let out a whimper. My legs are also throbbing painfully, the painkillers out of my system, and I genuinely feel like curling up and dying on the spot.


    As I shakily get to my feet, suffering from my aching legs and arm, I hear someone run behind me. I swivel around, my face pulling into a painful grimace as I clutch at my arm and try not to burst into tears. When I turn to look at the person approaching me, my stomach drops, and I almost vomit onto my shoes.


    A young soldier, probably in his late teens, stands a few paces back, directly in front of me. From here, I can tell that he’s rather tall for his age, around to my breastbone, but his clothes seem somewhat baggy, almost like a child dressing in his father’s clothing. He’s wearing the standard olive green uniform of the troops in the city, with a ceremonial cap on top. His face is square, and his dark eyes stare at me with a wide look of shock, mouth slightly open.


    I stand still, every tendon in my body tight with shock as I stare with wide eyes at the soldier. Quickly, I glance around the park, trying to calculate the fastest exit route. I’m not going to go out like this…!


    “Ma’am,” he manages to choke out, “could you come with me?”


    My body goes stiff, and ice runs through my veins. Part of me wants to back away, to make a mad dash towards the exit, but I can’t bring myself to. He’s a soldier, so he probably has some sort of weapon on him, right? What’s the use?


    “Why… Why?” I choke out, clutching at my arm harder in some sort of protective gesture.


    The soldier stares at me, his eyebrows furrowing.


    “You’re bleeding through your jacket,” he states, and, sure enough, I slowly look over to see a growing dark stain on the jacket’s arm, “please, let me escort you out.”


    “I’ll be fine. I’m very sorry for making you worry, sir,” I stammer, waving my hands in front of me, and stumbling forwards, “I’ll be on my wa-”


    As soon as that leaves my lips, I step forwards to leave the zoo and get some distance between me and all this bullshit. The instant I put pressure on my ankle, a searing bolt of dizziness comes over me, nausea ripping tearing at my throat. Every inch of my body feels like its concrete, and I barely notice that the asphalt is slipping from my feet and rising up to meet me.


    I pass out mere seconds before I can feel anything else.


    “Marie’s a good kid, she’ll keep out of trouble.”


    Pain buzzes in my head, throbbing in time with my quick heartbeat as I lay against something stiff and metal. Everything itches, crawls on the surface of my skin, as I shift slowly, trying not to hurt myself. My shirtsleeve is wet and clinging to my body, and something uncomfortably cold warm trickles down my left forearm, then across my palm. Looking around me, I can barely make out that I’m on the boat that took me to this hellhole, but the hull is split almost in a horizontal line. My right arm is lying limp and unfeeling by my side, part of the sleeve is torn off, and what is visible… I avert my eyes away, nausea pricking at my throat. My backpack presses into my chest, and some tension leaves me at the thought of Jessica being safe from harm.


    “Fighting and defeating the enemy / By learning from our history / On the US imperialists' banner of temper / We trampled splendidly”




    The air smells of salt, mixing with the foul stench of the gasoline leaking from what’s left of the engine and the copper scent of blood leaking from my body. I try to stand up, but my legs are stiff and unmoving as if they’re part of the hull now. So I just lay at the bottom of the boat, watching rivulets of my blood drip into the seawater, almost like a river.


    “Eyes are but a pain, roses in my veins, sorry.”


    There’s this emotionless void where my heart should be as I watch myself bleed out. I can’t bring myself to cry or laugh, just stare emptily at the churning water. I hope that this boat doesn’t sink, that the rescuers can get Jessica out from under me before the frost kicks in. That’s all I want. I wish I could do more to protect her, wish I could’ve done more with my life, but there’s no use.


    “Daddy, those pokemon are hurting! Why won’t you do anything?”


    As my vision begins to fade, a loud flapping noise catches my attention, my ears aching. I look up, eyes blinking repeatedly to regain focus. All I can make out is a massive pokemon, some sort of white bird or dragon, flapping its massive arm-wings, staring directly at me with dark eyes. Something akin to panic unfurls in my chest, and I try to force myself to move away, to protect Jessica somehow, but I can’t move. All I can do is stare with wide eyes at the pokemon, and brace for whatever it throws at me.


    It opens its mouth to screech at me, and then…



    I jolt up in an unfamiliar bed in an equally unfamiliar room, panting heavily. I’m wearing just my shirt and jeans, my jacket and backpack slung over a wooden chair. Before I can examine the room in further detail, I’m hit with a violent surge of nausea, and I jolt out of bed. My bare feet hit the hardwood floor, and I half-jog, half-fumble out into the hallway, searching desperately for a bathroom. When I manage to find it, only registering the baby blue walls surrounding me and the toilet, I slide down to it, hunch over with my hands clutching the white rim, and vomit into the bowl. My body shakes with heaves for five minutes afterward, even when there’s nothing left for me to throw up, my clammy fingers reaching to flush the toilet. I lay against the cold grey tiles of this random bathroom I’m in for a few moments, groaning lowly and too dizzy to stand up before I hear a voice call out to me.


    “H-Hey! Are you alright?”


    My eyes widen, and I jolt up to attention. The door behind me opens, and standing in the door frame is the soldier from earlier. He’s out of his uniform now, wearing a grey t-shirt and some slacks, and without the hat on his head, I can make out that his hair is in a buzz cut. He stares at me with wide eyes brimming with concern, but I still quickly scuttle as far away as the room will let me, making a choking whimpering noise subconsciously.


    At the sight of me cowering, he loosens his stance and holds his hands up defensively.


    “Woah, woah, woah,” he says quickly, slowly moving closer, “you’re okay, you’re fine. I just brought you here so you could rest! You’re not in trouble..”


    “Where am I?” I croak, still staring at him and staying close to the wall.


    “Uh… M-My apartment.”


    “Your apartment?” I ask, a tremor running through my voice, “Why?”


    “Well, I thought… I thought that you’d want to rest somewhere… more... charming? The base would freak you out even more, and you didn’t seem to need medical attention, well… beyond bandaging your arm, so here we are!”


    The soldier laughs loudly and nervously, the corners of his smile twitching. He doesn’t look as intimidating out of uniform, and he seems more nervous and shy than malicious. But, he still looks like he’s hiding something...


    “I passed out,” I say incredulously, “and I just vomited for like, ten minutes. You don’t think I need medical attention?”


    “Well, I think you might just be exhausted from overexertion,” he says, walking closer to me, “you had a bit of a temperature when I brought you here, and you did some serious damage to your legs. You’re very lucky you didn’t break them.”


    I nod, biting nervously at the corner of my lips.


    “I… injured them in a fall,” I lie through my teeth, fidgeting with my shirt sleeve.


    “At the zoo?” the soldier asks, his eyes wide.


    “No. Elsewhere. I… I don’t want to talk about it. Could you help me up?”


    He doesn’t question me further, instead of rushing to my side and lifting me onto his shoulder. His skinny frame is deceiving, I thought to myself, as I felt his tight bicep muscles against my arm. My defenses are falling slowly, but I’m still distrustful of the soldier. What if it’s all an act? What does he really want with me?


    “What’s your name?” I ask, as he leads me down the hallway, the walls a creamy brown color.


    “Oh, uh, my name is Joon-ho. Nice to meet you!”


    He beams at me, so endearingly that I find myself smiling as well.


    “Nice to meet you as well,” I croak out, as he leads me back into the room.


    Now that my mind is able to focus on my surroundings, I note how empty the room feels. Other than a wooden desk, the desk chair all my stuff is hanging on, and the bed, there’s nothing here. Well, other than the portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il looming over the bed, but right now… I want to pretend they’re not there.


    However, I notice the closet door towards the back, how it bulges open ever so slightly. I can barely make out an odd almost rectangular shape poking out of it. Instantly, a flash of icy terror rushes down my spine, as my imagination pictures cattle prods, electrical wire, guns, anything to torture or kill me with. I raise my eyebrows and turn to him.


    “What’s that?” I say, pointing to the closet door.


    “What’s what?”


    “What do you have in the closet?” I say, biting at the corner of my lips, my nerves knowing this is the easiest way to get Joon-ho attempting to kill me, “You… didn’t do a good job of hiding it.”



    “H-Huh? Oh… uh, that’s… That’s…” he stammers, choking on his words.


    His face is almost entirely pink, and he looks at me with an expression of… fear? Why is he afraid? Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to strike me down and get an easy kill? Instead of reaching for my neck for the perfect angle, his free hand clutches his chest, and he nervously looks back at me, back at the closet door, then back at me.


    Slowly, he begins to speak, in a lower, shakier tone. His eyes are brimming with tears, and his body is shaking against me.


    “Miss… I’ll-I’ll show you, but please, please don’t tell anyone…”


    I nod slowly, falling limp against his shoulder.


    “You kind of have my life in your hands, Joon-ho,” I murmur, and he barks out a nervous laugh, loosening up a little.


    He walks me towards the closet, his large hand on my back to make sure I don’t fall to the floor and break my head open. As we reach the pale white door, Joon-ho pauses, breathing out a shaky breath, then pulling the door open with a shaky hand. When I look in, I feel the tension leave my body, and a small smile burns at my lips.


    Inside the room, my fears of like, a horrifying dungeon of infinite creative torture methods or the weapons he was going to use on me, are quickly dismissed. Instead, there are posters on the walls advertising the Korean Cup, a large pokemon competition that happens every year, and pictures of different trainers are on the walls below them, some with their pokemon, some not. Scattering all around the small floor space, are small children's toys, their designs making them look like pokeballs. At the end of the room, there’s a portable DVD player, about the size of a laptop, with stacks of DVDs in their cases right beside it.


    I stare at the contents, a giddy sensation itching at me. However, I turn to see Joon-ho looking at me in terror, his face deathly pale, and I feel the urge to smile sapping from me.


    “I know I’m not supposed to like it,” he stammers, his voice quivering with every word, “I know it’s imperialist propaganda, b-but I… my friends… when I was y-young, they showed me videos of these trainers, and these pokemon battles… and I… I’ve always wanted to be like them… Forgive me!”


    I find myself shaking my head against him, before reaching out to the wall to steady myself, standing upright. I hobble over to the desk chair, Joon-ho quick on my heels, babbling out an explanation and begging me not to say a word. When I reach my bag, I reach in, fumbling for Jessica’s pokeball before I finally pull it out. Joo-ho stops dead, mid-sentence, staring at me with wide eyes.

    “Is…” he chokes out, staring at me with wide eyes, “is that a-a real one?”


    I hold up my arm in front of me and press the white button on the pokeball, releasing Jessica with a flash of white light. The pink star pokemon looks around at her new surroundings for a few moments, before noticing Joon-hoo and crying out, running between my legs and pulling on my pants. I stare at Joon-ho stoically, who seems to have this bright, childish glee in his eyes.


    “Can you keep my secret?” I ask solemnly, dropping my arm to my side.


    Joon-ho stares at me, seemingly starstruck by Jessica, who is crying into my pant leg. For a few seconds, he stands still, staring at me, before he comes back to reality, nodding his head fervently.


    “O-Of course! Of course, I will!”


    “Then, let me tell you my story.”

    chapter title: WASTE by Brockhampton, a lyric is used during marie's dream

    “Fighting and defeating the enemy / By learning from our history / On the US imperialists' banner of temper / We trampled splendidly”: from this song
     

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