This trainer is different. Everyone knows it, but no one can explain it. Nominations - February fic of the month 2012 (pokecommunity) - March fic of the month 2012 (pokecommunity) - Best dark fic (bulbagarden) - Senori for best protagonist (bulbagarden) - Best journey fic (bulbagarden) - Best pokémon chaptered fic (serebii) - Most original overall (serebii) - Most heartbreaking fic (serebii) - Best trainer fic (serebii) - Kuiora for best non-human main character (serebii) - Senori for best non-human main character (serebii) - Sai for best human supporting character (serebii) - Senori for best supporting character (bulbagarden) - Best character development (serebii) - Ezrem/Kuiora for best non-romantic relatonship/interaction (serebii) - Best human villain (serebii) - Best pokémon-centric fic (serebii) - Ezrem for best non-human supporting character (serebii) Awards - May fic of the month 2012 (pokecommunity) - Best writing style (serebii) - Best pokémon-centric fic (serebii) - Most heartwarming scene x2 (serebii) - Best dark fic x2 (bulbagarden) - Atis for best pokémon character (Bulbagarden) - Sai Luart for best character (bulbagarden) - Best story (bulbagarden) PM List - Sidewinder - The Great Butler - Dragonicwari - Jazz14456 - Sid87 - Janovy - Crimson Penguin - pokerock4 Index 1. all or nothing [senori] 2. suppression [kuiora] 3. anxiolytic [senori] 4. frush [atis] 5. logistics [kuiora] 6. escalate [atis] 7. oracle [senori] 8. belong [kuiora] 9. suspended [senori] 10. grounded [ezrem] 11. stranger [rennio] 12. influence [atis] 13. automatic [rennio] 14. chance [senori] 15. unfettered [ezrem] 16. connection [kuiora] 17. resolute [atis] 18. crescendo [senori] 19. ephemeral [rennio] 20. mentality [ezrem] 21. cynosure [atis] 22. epitome [kuiora] 23. armageddon [senori] 24. stand my ground [sai] | part one | part two 25. phoenix [ezrem] 26. memory [atis] 27. scald [senori] 28. unanimous [kuiora] 29. finality [rennio] 30. epilogue [ensemble] SURVIVAL PROJECT Mind led body to the edge of the precipice. They stared in desire at the naked abyss. If you love me, said mind, take that step into silence. If you love me, said body, turn and exist. — "Vertigo" by Anne Stevenson chapter 1 ; [SENORI] all or nothing * I never saw him coming. Perhaps my tail wasn't yet long enough to help me stand higher and watch for danger. Younger sentret are always vulnerable to such restrictions, but my clan didn't have a concrete idea of age—just loyalty and ability. I wish age could be a pronounced concept in the pokémon world, but I don't choose what's important. Who was to say that my tail would grow any more? I only knew that I was old enough to be shunned by my clan due to a catastrophe that was out of my control. It could have been sleep deprivation. There was no one to switch shifts with, because no one wanted to defy the clan and end up in my position too. When you're alone for so long, you can doze off without realizing it. But I'd trained for much of my life to do this, to protect. Sleep was never an issue, not even when I failed—once. After standing guard almost all day, every day, nothing as pathetic as that should have interfered. Every aspect of my life has been opposed by a larger, impenetrable force. Fate was trying to show me how things fall somewhere between completely right and completely wrong. I never questioned this, not until that time, when I thought that I should have felt his presence or smelled him or seen him. He still would have attacked. He still would have taken and given... everything. The situation would have made some sort of sense if I had anticipated something, anything. And yet— I never saw him coming. * It's funny, I guess. Humans are supposed to make some kind of mark when walking through a forest. They're supposed to snap twigs, leave footprints and mess with tree branches out of boredom. Even though he did none of this, I should have seen his shadow with the sun's rays pouring through the tree canopies. Instead, a simple blur appeared as he ran behind me. He was fast, so very fast. He swung his one leg out, hit my feet as hard as he could. I lost my balance and fell face first into the ground. As I fell, I was expecting to see claws. Paws. Not flesh caked with dried dirt and blood. He wasn't a fellow pokémon coming to get revenge. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. Not only had he gone undetected, but also I had never seen a human attack a pokémon. I didn't know how to react to this new situation, so I remained where I was, silently hoping against hope that he would walk away. And then it hit me. This human was a threat to my clan. If he was willing to hurt me, then he would be willing to hurt other pokémon. The worst part of it all? My clan didn't know he was there. Of course this would happen to me. And of course I was choosing to just... lie there. Though my intentions were true, my security was gone. There was no one to cheer me on from the side, no one to notice my efforts, no one to assist me at times like these. Not anymore. What could I do? If I screamed, my clan would ignore me, thinking I was looking for attention. I could have run, but I might have accidentally led the attacker straight to them. Unacceptable. But I couldn't attack, that much was clear. I didn't know how to track him, I couldn't see him move properly and I didn't believe that pokémon should fight humans. In that moment, I wanted previous experience with fighting humans, but that seemed to be the same as wanting more attacks on the clan as an excuse to battle. I pushed the thought away. I realized that time had passed with me getting lost in my own mind. The human had done nothing else, as he was most likely waiting for me to acknowledge his existence. I lifted my head slowly. Mud clung to my face. Leaves swayed in the wind while the trees watched, as they always did, hushed and calm. Nature was peaceful and easy to deal with, unlike this blatant challenge. The stream in front of us was no different. Water moved gently in the only direction it knew. I tend to believe I was imagining this scene, because if it were real, that would mean we were near my clan and I didn't want that. I must have wandered in that general area out of subconscious desperation, but I couldn't be sure. I had to focus on the present moment. There were no signs of the human's presence when I looked from the front. Fate had sent trouble my way and didn't want me to see it, apparently. I assumed he was still behind me. I stood up, clenched my tiny hands. I turned around, intending to use my tackle attack to get the upper hand, but I swung at the air and missed. Had he left, I would have been relieved, but disappointed that yet another living creature deemed me as a waste of time. I stopped pitying myself when, from the corner of my eyes, I saw him kicking at me. I didn't have enough momentum to escape quickly. He pinned me down, and then he tried to pick me up with his hands in a way that wouldn't let me wiggle free. I made an honest effort for once and bit him. I bit him hard and he didn't yell at me. He stopped trying to pick me up, pressed me deeper into the dirt. Sharp pains flowed throughout my body so effortlessly, yet in deformed rhythms. I sank further and further into the mud, an everlasting reminder of what defeat really is. And I cried. I wailed. My cry echoed and echoed and the lull that passed between the two of us broke my heart. My clan wasn't coming to rescue me. I certainly wasn't going to rescue myself. Finally, finally, he removed his grip, stepped over me, and turned to face me. Blood seeped down his right hand to his elbows and inevitably onto the grassy floor. His face was tense. His dark eyes showed no feeling. He probably thought I was too slow to break away, and he was being kind by giving me this false reassurance. I gave in, but not truly. He could have me, as long as my clan was safe. He shouldn't have given me a second chance, but he did. I didn't take it. His fist collided with my stomach. My knees buckled and my vision went askew. The forest bed was my friend once more. How could a human have this much power? Before fainting, I swore I heard him sigh and look... disappointed. That was the first emotion I ever saw from him, and I will always remember it. I didn't know what he had envisioned, though. Pokémon can't predict human movements. Not that I was trying. Maybe I hadn't spent enough time with him at this point, but there was nothing else out of the ordinary with this boy. He wasn't wearing shoes, but that could be normal, right? He looked like a new trainer with his unkempt black hair, his plain black t-shirt, and frayed shorts. Had he not attacked me, I would have thought he was just like everyone else. But his mobility was stunning, quiet and able to shake the reality I had come to know. His thoughts were unreadable, but if I could have heard them, I'm confident when I say they would have been stronger than any punch or kick. There was nothing left to ask as I slipped into unconsciousness. * When I woke up, I felt a dull, soft pressure on the side of my head. Dizziness initially accompanied the pain, but I focused on the fact that I could no longer feel mud on my face and that I was propped up against a tree. I opened my eyes when the dizziness faded. I had to blink a few times before I could see clearly. The first thing I noticed was my attacker sitting next to me, staring into the distance, supposedly unaware of my awakening. For some reason, he had cleaned my face and put me into a more comfortable position. I didn't know what he was going to do next. I relaxed when I came to understand that the rest of the forest was untouched. My clan wasn't sprinting by, panicking while they prepared to flee or die. If they had found me in my current predicament, however, they might have hated me even more for allowing this menace to run loose. I wanted to disappear. Physically, I didn't know if it was possible. I was also mentally drained, lacking in motivation, and I was convinced he could readily catch me. I wanted to fix that look of disappointment I saw. I wanted to tell him it wasn't his fault that I didn't defend myself, and that it wasn't his fault I deserved to be battered the way I was. Not all humans could understand pokémon, anyway. In the end, all would be done in vain. Realizing this, I sighed. The slight motion had interesting consequences. Overall, he had seemed all right. Serene, even, and the nice actions he performed gave him points. But I sighed and the noise made him snap his head up and grasp his right wrist, the one stained red. When his knuckles started turning whiter than white, he wrapped his arms around his legs, holding his knees close to his face. His expression tensed, and I should have been scared. Anyone else would have been scared, but all I could think about was how he was ruining the circulation in his hands and, somehow, it was my fault. “You're awake,” he said after a few more moments. I jumped when he spoke, because I'd never had a human communicate with me. His voice sounded both hollow and childish. The combination seemed impossible, but that was the best way to describe it at the time. Now I wanted to reply. If I said what I wanted to say, I would go unheard. What would I have taught the children from my clan to do? I would tell them to play along. Get on his good side, act cheerful, and leave whenever the opportunity presented itself. “Stating the obvious, are we?” I said. I grinned, ignoring the pain in my jaw. If I was lucky, I could make him smile or chuckle. "Yes, I guess I am.” “Look, I—” I cut myself off after calculating his words, deciding they were a direct response to what I had said. This human was odd, more so than I initially thought. Nothing made sense again. “Why... Why do you understand me?” I managed to ask, though he was examining me. “Am I not supposed to?” I paused, then went on to ramble. “You're... not supposed to know what I'm saying, no. New trainers come by here with their starters all the time. They have to read their pokémon's body language and gestures, and the language itself will come in time, I assume, since I've seen older trainers come by too... I don't get it...” “If it helps you, I can pretend to not understand.” “If it helps me do what?” I asked, shifting uncomfortably against the tree trunk. “Become stronger.” Well, that explained why he confronted me earlier. He wanted to test my strength. The outcome: I was weak. That was true, at least, but there was something missing. “Why would you need me to get stronger?” He wouldn't look at me as he answered, “We're going on a journey. We're going to get the badges here in Johto. They told me to capture the first pokémon I saw, and... that wasn't you, I admit, but you'll have to do.” “What are you—” “You're my first pokémon, Senori.” The human sounded so sure of himself, but I wasn't sure of anything. This would mean leaving my clan. They didn't want me, but they still needed me. All of them. They just didn't know it. If I left and came back to find them maimed, eaten, burned with the rest of the forest... I could never forgive myself if that happened. No, no, no. And who was Senori? That wasn't my name, but here it was, directed at me as if I had possessed it since birth. Still. His declaration almost made everything seem okay and real. I chose to start here as I told him, “I'm sorry, but that's not my name. I'm usually called—” “I don't care what anyone's called you. Your name is Senori,” he said, his gaze focused on me once more. “Fine. It doesn't matter. I'm not going anywhere with you.” My quick temper was going to get me into more trouble if I wasn't careful. Usually, if I acted angry with a member of my clan, the other pokémon would feel guilty and apologize. This boy, he smiled, as if what I said meant nothing. I smiled, too, and continued, “You didn't even catch me in a pokéball. Trainers get their starters in New Bark Town, anyway, which is nearby. I don't know who works with all that, but you can ask around.” The human's eyes widened. “But that's not what they told me to do. I just listened. I just tried to listen...” He trailed off, then came up with his own version of an appropriate response. “You're coming with me, and I'll get a pokémon in New Bark Town too. That way, I'm doing it right for everyone.” Why didn't this boy know how to start his own pokémon journey properly? Every kid who passed by babbled on and on about their tenth birthday and how they would travel through Johto and make new friends. They talked about becoming free, independent and strong. I wondered if his parents kept him sheltered, but that seemed silly. He would have learned about it somewhere. If his parents forbade him to go and he went in spite of that, he could have been feigning innocence... That was my problem. I thought too much, and I knew next to nothing, though I believed otherwise. I didn't know whether or not I was going to depart from my home for him. I didn't know why I was the one he picked. There's always someone who wants to hold another person's hand until they're ready to let go. That someone, during our first conversation, wasn't me. “Okay,” I said. It was wrong of me to say, as his eyes brightened. “I'll go with you to New Bark Town. I'll see what I can do about getting you a real first pokémon in a pokéball. But then I'm out of here. I have family and friends to stay with.” This was wrong of me to say too. His face contorted with fury. “You can't go,” he said firmly, peering down. “You can't do this to me. You can't.” “What? There are plenty of sentret on the other side of Cherrygrove, if you really want one. It... can't be me.” “It has to be you. There is no one else but you.” He reached into his pocket, causing me to flinch. He pulled out a small object shaped like a cube with smooth, rounded corners. It was mostly white with varying amounts of black dots on each side. I didn't know what the black parts meant, but it seemed harmless. He handed it to me and I took it. “What's this for?” I asked, struggling to hold it. “It's a standard six-sided die. Roll it.” “Excuse me? Roll it?” “Yes.” “I don't know what you mean.” “Roll it. Throw it. Whatever. I can't do it for you or it won't mean anything.” When I thought of rolling, I thought of taking a bath, moving my body around in the water until I was clean... “It's been with me for years. It's survived every obstacle in its way, only to end up in your hands. So roll it.” He pushed my paws toward my chest. The pressure was similar to when he foot was pushed against my head. My bones ached. “There is no one else but you,” he repeated. “What happens when I roll it?” I asked, not quite ready to give in. I couldn't get caught up in lies or bad intentions twice in a row. I believe there is good in everyone, but that didn't make me less wary of him. “You'll see that I am right.” Despite my stubbornness, I couldn't gather the courage needed to keep up the argument. I thrust my paw forward, my fixation on the object never wavering. It rotated in the grass, then determinedly landed on the side with a single black dot on it. I didn't comprehend the results, but the boy reacted joyfully. “See? You're number one. There is no one else but you. Even if that pokémon from New Bark Town is supposed to be my first, it won't be.” He grabbed the object with delicacy, though it didn't appear breakable. “I'll keep it in my pocket so you'll always know, Senori. And so everyone else will know. Let's go.” Reluctantly I sat. Ever since that terrible incident, I wanted to feel useful and loved. Being called number one fit into those desires. But I wanted to be needed by the family I grew up with, the family that considered me a leader. Torn, the verdict came to me. My family wasn't here, and there wasn't any indication that they would be there in the future. This wasn't their shot at redemption. It had to be mine. “Yeah. Let's go. By the way, I don't know your name.” Stay optimistic. Stay happy, believe in fate—for them. “Should I decide it for you?” I surprised myself with sarcasm. I was hesitant toward him and figured I didn't want to leave because, deep down, I didn't want him to wrongly view me as worthwhile. “My name? My name is Sai.” * We walked away from our battlefield and away from my clan. I planned to say my goodbyes as we circled back to Cherrygrove, and by then I would be more firm with my decisions. I turned, as if this was my last chance to see the stream from which we drank and the trees we climbed to get closer to the sky. Sai was blocking my way. “I'm going to carry you so it will go faster,” he said, and promptly scooped me into his arms. I didn't complain. I was aching all over, but it did annoy me as he held me with his bloodied hand. I already hated seeing him hurt. “So. Why can you understand me already?” I said, refusing to protest against him any further. “That doesn't matter. Are we there yet?” He was an impatient one. I had to distract him. “It sounds to me like you just don't know.” Sai halted mid-step, turning me around to face him, obviously not caring about inducing more wounds. He frowned. His eyes seemed darker than before and I thought he was going to explode. Instead he ordered me to keep leading the way. If I was being honest, I had never been inside New Bark Town. I could have very well been leading him down the wrong path. It was unfortunate that he came from the north and had no knowledge of the area, and so I had to rely on fate to take us there. “This way,” I said. He listened, as if I were the trainer. “What pokémon are you gonna get, anyway?” “I don't know.” “Well... There's different types, which have different strengths and weaknesses. Some specialize in attack while others specialize in defense. There's a lot of things to account for.” Sai didn't say anything. I shrugged him off, thinking he was daydreaming, like most new trainers do. I didn't know then that he had no clue as to what starters were available. I didn't know that his lack of awareness could go this far. “And you're going to help me, right?” “Help you do... what, exactly?” I asked. "You'll tell me about each of them. The pokémon. And then I'm going to watch them and I'll choose from there. The one with the most potential will join us." "The most potential for what? Actually, never mind that! You can't just... watch them!" I took a deep breath. "Most trainers go in, knowing who they want, and they take that pokémon along with any other items the person gives them, and that's that. They're so excited about it and they talk about it for hours when they pass this forest. It seems like it's all a part of the journey. Why are you making this so complicated? Why are you the only one who doesn't know what to do?" There went my temper again, and I waited for the aftermath. But nothing happened. "As long as I get the pokémon, it shouldn't matter, right?" he said. "It's still starting out the correct way." "I suppose that's true," I said unsure of whose rules he was intending to follow until the end. "And you're going to help me, right?" he said with that same hollow and childish voice, like he was embarrassed to ask for my support. I didn't know why he needed my support. I mean, trainers count on their pokémon, but not like this. I wouldn't know why for most of the journey. Once, I thought I accepted his offer because of my penchant for protecting others, or because he'd attack me more if I said no. Later, I would come to know him better, on an intense level that would teach me how perfectly wrong I was. He was special, the kind of treasured person you want to keep around. "Don't worry. I'm going to take care of you," I told him. I undertook this task dubiously, and this uncertainty grew into sincerity and devotion soon enough.