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[T] Land of the Roses

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

  1. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    [​IMG]

    Welcome to the Land of the Roses! This story is set in the fictional region of Lanark, a land inspired primarily by Scotland and Ireland. Influences from Wales and England are also common, but less so. The story follows the adventures of a young field researcher, a novice coordinator and their assorted friends as they journey across the land in search of answers and personal discovery. The story blends a modern, technologically-advanced society with elements of both traditional and high fantasy, combining the two into (hopefully) a fairly unique world. Despite the advances of humanity, the world remains a beautiful and mysterious place, ripe for exploration and adventure.

    First and foremost: This story is about the human characters; it is more of a drama set within the Pokémon world rather than a standard Pokémon story. As such, Pokémon themselves might not appear as much as one would expect. This story also focuses on issues one might not find often in other fanfics. As the story progresses, things might get a little heavy. Reader discretion is advised.

    Land of the Roses could probably be described as 'not your average' fanfic. It focuses entirely on original characters in an original region, features original Pokémon (fakémon), and tends to throw the rulebook established by the games and anime out the window. References to canon characters, locations and concepts will appear from time to time, but there will be relatively few. If you're looking for a more familiar setting which follows established rules and precedents, it may be worth looking elsewhere, but you're still welcome to have a gander!

    Content warnings:
    This story is written by an adult and aimed at a more mature audience. As per the rules, I have slimmed back some of the heavier topics and censored some of the worst bits; I will do my best to keep this friendly while maintaining the original feel of the story in its purest form. If I do step over the line, please let me know!

    April 15th, 2018: I've bumped the rating back down to T, as the coarse language (which is censored here on Serebii) was the main inspiration behind setting it to M in the first place. It might change back in the future, depending on which routes I take with certain plotlines in the future. Stay tuned.

    The following topics will crop up at one point or another:
    [ violence ] [ animal cruelty ] [ mental health issues ]
    [ minor drug/alcohol abuse (nothing heavy or hard) ] [ mildly suggestive content ]
    [ strong language, but most have been censored ]​

    Table of Contents

    Currently, 27 chapters, 2 interludes, 3 shorts and a summary of all of the above have been published elsewhere. I will be posting chapters every few days until I catch up. As each chapter becomes available, a description of it will appear under it to avoid spoiling people who want to read the story as it continues to be rolled out.

    Season 1: Land of the Roses
    • Chapter 1 - Dr. Reiland (originally published Nov. 30 2016)
      The professional career of an aspiring researcher begins.
    • Chapter 2 - Where It Begins (originally published Nov. 30 2016)
      An aspiring researcher is introduced to the mundane reality of science.
    • Chapter 3 - Remember, A Rose Has Thorns (originally published Dec. 4 2016)
      Even the most peaceful looking countryside has its hidden dangers, and Lanark is no exception.
    • Chapter 4 - A Grim Task (originally published Dec. 8 2016)
      Having arrived in Nettlefield, Andrea and Patrick begin their investigation into the mysterious deaths that are sweeping through a Miltank herd.
    • Chapter 5 - An Invasive Threat (originally published Dec. 11 2016)
      With a possible cause for the problem plaguing the Miltank herd in their sights, Andrea and Patrick explore the swamps north of Nettlefield in an attempt to find the culprit.

    Interlude

    The Majesty of Aughrim
    • Chapter 6 - The Rails (originally published Dec. 30 2016)
      Andrea had hoped to spend her time on the train to Aughrim in peace and quiet, but things don't always go according to plan.
    • Chapter 7 - Station Search (originally published Jan. 12 2017)
      Andrea has arrived in Aughrim and is ready to get to work... but first, she has to find her business partner among the crowds of busy travellers.
    • Chapter 8 - a 'Cèilidh Gailearaidh (originally published Jan. 20 2017)
      In need of a distraction from her problems, Andrea takes the time to visit the city's cultural district.
    • Chapter 9 - The Eight (originally published Jan. 22nd 2017)
      The eight competitors of the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest are introduced.
    • Chapter 10 - Wintersong (originally published Jan. 24th 2017)
      The first matchup of the night commences with a very frosty theme shared between the two competitors: Senna vs. Kimberly!
    • Chapter 11 - A Charitable Duel (originally published Jan. 25th 2017)
      Both came to the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest to make a positive change in the lives of those less fortunate, and now it's time to see who can make that a reality: Kimberly vs. Hoster!

    Interlude
    • Interlude 2 - Moving On (originally published Feb. 4th 2017)
      After a disappointing night for the both of them, Andrea and Kimberly meet one last time to discuss what the future holds for both of them.

    The Rosencoast
    • Chapter 12 - Sacred Garden (originally published Feb. 24th 2017)
    • Chapter 13 - Obstacles (originally published Mar. 25th 2017)
    • Chapter 14 - The Spritewood (originally published Apr. 10th 2017)
    • Chapter 15 - Darkest Night (originally published Apr. 16th 2017)
    • Chapter 16 - Fact and Fiction (originally published May 6th 2017)

    Doranshire
    • Chapter 17 - A Quiet Village (originally published May 27th 2017)
    • Chapter 18 - Sickbay (originally published Jun. 3rd 2017)
    • Chapter 19 - A Day To Myself (originally published Jun. 19th 2017)
    • Chapter 20 - She's Got The Look (originally published Jun. 20th 2017)
    • Chapter 21 - Loch Fiodhbòcan (originally published Jul. 30th 2017)
    • Chapter 22 - Heart to Heart (originally published Aug. 16th 2017)
    • Chapter 23 - Unusual Findings (originally published Aug. 18th 2017)
    • Chapter 24 - Dance of the Orbs (originally published Sep. 22nd 2017)
    • Chapter 25 - Candlefire (originally published Oct. 26th 2017)
    • Chapter 26 - Doubt and Fear (Season Finale, originally published Nov. 29th 2017)

    Season 1 Wrap-Up
    Various in-world reports and snippets aimed at wrapping up some of Season 1's mysteries that might not be touched on otherwise.
    • S1 Wrap-Up #1 - The Stolen Tome (originally published Nov. 29th 2017)
    • S1 Wrap-Up #2 - Spare Parts (originally published Nov. 29th 2017)
    • S1 Wrap-Up #3 - The Spread (originally published Nov. 29th 2017)
    • Season 1 Recap (originally published Jan. 24th 2018)
    • The Day of Lovers' Remembrance (Christmas special, originally published Dec. 31st 2017)

    [​IMG]
    Season 2: Cladachfadh (The Long Shore)
    Separate Paths: Kimberly
    • Chapter 27 - The Big Goodbye (originally published Jan. 27th 2018)
    • Chapter 28 - The Things That Give Me Strength (originally published Mar. 12th 2018)
    • Chapter 29 - Liquid Starlight (originally published Apr. 30th 2018)
    Separate Paths: Andrea
    • Interlude 3 - My Shining Light (originally published May 14th 2018)
    • Interlude 4 - Rain Clouds (originally published June 14th 2018)
    • Chapter 30 - Loch Alstan Blues Part I (originally published June 30th 2018)
    • Chapter 31 - Loch Alstan Blues Part II (originally published July 7th 2018)
    • Chapter 32 - The Offer (originally published July 14th 2018)
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  2. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 1: Dr. Reiland

    Originally published on November 30th, 2016

    [​IMG]

    May 12th, a spring afternoon like any other in the land of the roses. Cloudy. Rainy. Cold and miserable, with a slight touch of gloom. A blanket of rolling, grey clouds covered the entire country that day. A sharp wind blew through the grass-choked stone valleys, bringing with it the lingering bitterness of a winter that refused to go away.

    Despite the dreary weather, life went on as usual. The echo of a train horn blared across the peaceful, untouched countryside. High up in the stony foothills of east Lanark, the source of the horn blast slowly made its way across the narrow cliff side, carefully navigating the winding rails, stone-cut tunnels and rickety, rusted bridges ahead of it.

    Aboard the train sat a young woman, completely disconnected from the world around her. Her attention was sunk in her smart phone; between the power metal that blared through her headphones and the game of Tetris that she was wrapped up in, the outside world was little more than an afterthought to her. She tried desperately to keep up with the pace of the colored blocks that raced across the screen, but it eventually proved to be too much and the game ended.

    "Come on!" she grumbled to herself. "Almost made it to level 30 again..." She was tempted to start another game, but instead decided to gaze out the window at the passing countryside, an opportunity she rarely had. In the foggy, rain swept distance, the northern mountains loomed above the landscape like eternal sentries. The valley below was bathed in a rich, verdant green as the foliage finally began its yearly, spring-time return. "The view would be perfect," she thought, "if it weren't for this damned rain."

    The peaceful atmosphere was spoiled by her phone ringing loudly and unexpectedly. The screen lit up: 'Incoming call from Dad'. She adjusted her position on her seat as she slid her finger across the unlock bar on the bottom of the screen, then pressed the button to answer the call. The screen quickly faded, then displayed a video of a man seated in a leather armchair in a dimly-lit room.

    The man's face lit up with excitement. "'eeeeeey! There's my girl!"

    "Hi," she quietly responded.

    "Just thought I'd call to check in on you. Today's the big day, right?"

    She nodded.

    "How's the train ride? Smooth?" her father asked.

    "A few minutes behind schedule, but the trains always are," she answered. "I think I should be arriving in Loch Alstan soon."

    "Just in time for your interview!"

    "Don't remind me," she commented.

    Her father's joyous demeanor was dented by her words. "Oh? You're not nervous, are you?"

    "That's putting it mildly. The last four years of my life are going to be judged, and hard. Something from my past is going to slip through the cracks and sink this opportunity for me, I know it."

    He dismissed her concerns with a shake of his head. "Unless there's something you got involved in that you shouldn't have, you'll be fine. You're too hard on yourself, you know that?"

    She sighed. "Maybe. It's hard not to be, sometimes..."

    Her father leaned in closer to his webcam as he folded his hands on his desk. She knew this body language well, and could almost predict what he was about to say, word for word: "Remember, Dr. Reiland invited you to visit her research center instead of outright dismissing you. That alone says something. You really think she'd drag you across the country just to tell you you're not good enough?"

    "That would be pretty cruel of her..."

    "I don't know Dr. Reiland personally, but I do know that she is a well respected, professional woman. She wouldn't do that to you." he said. "I can understand if you're nervous. I was when I graduated from the academy. Felt like the world was about to come crashing down on me, but you know what? It didn't. You'll be fine."

    "I know..."

    "You're a very capable young woman--"

    "Ugh, stop it," she said with a smile. "You're going to make me throw up."

    "You are, though! Ten golden roses says that she'll hire you today."

    The young woman jolted forward a bit as the train slammed on its brakes, signifying that it was arriving at its destination. The speaker system on the train blared with a catchy jingle before the conductor began to speak.

    "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for riding with Silverline today! In a few short minutes, we'll be arriving at Alstan Central Station. At this time, we ask that you retrieve any personal--"

    "The train's arriving... I'm going to make sure I have everything in order, okay?" the young woman said.

    "Sure thing. Call me if you have any trouble."

    "I will."

    "Keep your chin up, eh? You've got this."

    "I hope so... Good bye!"

    "See ya, sweetie!"

    The screen faded to black and the young woman put her phone back into her purse. While she did so, she made sure that she had everything she brought with her for her stay in the town: identification, some spending money, a backpack stuffed with unhealthy snacks, a spare change of clothes and paperwork related to her upcoming job interview.

    It dawned on her that this was finally happening. After four years of hard, grueling work and study, she finally had her shot at the career she always dreamed of, and it was so close she could almost feel it. What she felt wasn't excitement or joy, however, but uncertainty and anxiety. To think that a simple rural girl could end up working at one of the most prestigious research centers in the country seemed too good to be true.

    The train came to a complete stop and the doors began to slide open. The young woman stepped out onto the rain-soaked platform and the biting cold winds instantly snapped her back into reality. She quickly approached a map of the town that was posted on the terminal wall and began to study it. Much to her dismay, the map was anything but helpful; while it displayed a few of the town's sights, Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research wasn't labeled.

    "Already, the world conspires against me..." she lamented.

    She retreated to the warmth of the terminal building and tried to find another map in the hopes that it might be labeled properly, but she had no luck. She approached numerous strangers about where to go, but their either didn't know, or flat out ignored her presence. Instead of trying to ask more people, she approached the ticket salesman for help.

    "Good day, welcome to Silverline! Buying a ticket?" the salesman asked.

    She shook her head. "No. I just got here, you see, and I have no idea where I'm going. Would you happen to know where Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research is?"

    "Yes, it's hard to miss. When you step outside, you'll see a giant windmill in the distance. Just walk towards it, you'll find what you're looking for."

    "Thank you."

    "Enjoy your visit! Stay warm out there!"

    - - - - -​

    It was a long and brutal slog through the rainy streets of Loch Alstan. The howling wind and the chilling rain were relentless, but they only motivated her to carry on as quickly as she could. With the giant windmill looming out of the fog above her, she knew that she was close. "Just a couple more blocks..." she muttered to herself as she shivered uncontrollably.

    At last, she had arrived. The large brick complex before her was far less glamorous than she imagined it would be; it was just a giant square building that was separated into six floors. There were absolutely no unique features about it other than the fact that it was so boring, a clear contrast to the rest of the town's Edwardian-styled architecture.

    "Here it is..." she muttered. She took a deep breath to reassure herself, then pushed the door open and stepped inside.

    The lobby was unlike anything she expected. The first thing that caught her attention was the large fountain in the center, which featured four seahorse-like creatures sending jets of water into the air. As she wandered over to it, she noticed that nearly the entire floor of the fountain was littered with coins. Accompanying the entrancing flow of the water was the alluring sound of smooth jazz that played throughout the lobby. Both served to calm her nerves a bit.

    She timidly approached the service desk and was greeted warmly by the receptionist.

    "Hello! Welcome to Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research! How may I help you today?" the receptionist asked in an almost pre-programmed manner.

    "Umm... I'm here for a meeting with Dr. Reiland," she answered.

    "Name, please?"

    "Andrea Dennison."

    "I'll need to see some form of ID."

    Andrea dropped her purse on the desk and dug through it. She retrieved a student ID card from the University of Aughrim and handed it to the receptionist.

    "A moment, please," the receptionist said as she started to furiously tap away at her keyboard. "Dr. Reiland doesn't meet with many people these days. You're quite lucky."

    "As if I needed to feel any more nervous..."

    The receptionist continued to tap away. After a moment, she continued, "Here you are! Andrea Dennison, meeting scheduled for May 12th, 2:30 PM. Right on time!" She picked up the phone beside her and spoke into it. "Dr. Reiland's guest is here. Want to come and escort her?"

    "Escort?" Andrea asked.

    "We take security here very seriously," the receptionist said as she handed the ID card back. "We're not as big as Silph Co., but Dr. Reiland refuses to chance it after what happened to them all those years ago."

    "Good point."

    A few minutes passed by as Andrea patiently awaited her escort, until finally a door deeper into the facility opened. A young man with strikingly bright red, wavy hair entered the lobby and waved towards the receptionist. "Is this our guest?" he asked.

    The receptionist nodded silently as she tapped away at her keyboard.

    The man extended his hand forward as a sign of good will. "Andrea, right?"

    "Yes."

    "Welcome to our research institute. My name is Patrick Adelaide, I'm one of Dr. Reiland's senior staff members. If you're ready to see her, follow me."

    Patrick led her through the secured door and into a hallway that seemed to stretch into eternity. Lining the sides of the hallway were doorways into small rooms, each filled with racks of Pokéballs, bulletin boards blanketed with papers, baskets of berries, bottles of medicine and scientists hard at work. Other rooms were locked down tightly, sealed behind reinforced doors and biometric scanners. The level of security almost seemed excessive and Andrea could only imagine what was behind them.

    He broke the silence with some small talk as they climbed the stairs towards the second floor. "Those clothes of yours..." he said as he shook his head.

    She looked down at her clothing and concern began to wash over her. Her attire was simple, yet kept to a strikingly dark theme; a black minidress with long, lacy sleeves, paired with black and grey striped stockings, all rounded off with thick, shin high leather boots. Strange, by the average person's standards, but by no means outlandish. The fact that some of his first words were about her clothing put her on the defensive. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Most people don't dress like they're going to a midnight rave when they have a job interview."

    "T-this is the best I had!" she stammered. "I'm fresh out of university, I can barely afford the clothes I'm wearing, let alone get something fancy. And the--"

    "Relaaaaax, it's not me you have to impress! Besides, you honestly don't look that bad, just... a little strange." He let out a polite chuckle. "Anyways, I've heard a bit about you from Dr. Reiland."

    "Oh, have you?" she asked. To her, the fact that Dr. Reiland had been talking about her meant that she had already made an impact. The question begged, however; was it praise, or disapproval? "What did she say?"

    "I heard that you have a bachelor's degree," he said.

    "I do, in biology."

    "And yet you're only twenty years old?"

    She nodded.

    "Impressive. You must have quite the powerhouse in that ol' noggin of yours."

    "That's debatable," she said. She was curious to know more about what Dr. Reiland had been saying, but it would have to wait.

    The two stopped in front of Room 237-B. A plaque adorned with golden letters spelled out the name: Dr. Rebecca Reiland, Ph.D. The door was closed, locked and protected by a keycard scanner, something Andrea thought of as strange at first, but then remembered what the receptionist said about security. Patrick knocked on the door, and after a brief moment of waiting, the door opened.

    The two were greeted by an older woman with greying hair and a warm smile. The woman immediately recognized Andrea and welcomed her. "Ah! Andrea Dennison, we meet at last!" she said. She rested her left hand on a cane as she extended her right hand outward.

    "The pleasure is mine," Andrea answered as they shook hands.

    She took a moment to critically analyze Andrea's rebellious looking appearance. The faint look of worry drifted across her face. "You look... different than I expected."

    Andrea looked down at her clothing and started to worry again. "I-I assure you--"

    "But, as they say, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover," Dr. Reiland motioned into her office. "Please, come. You as well, Patrick."

    The office was a cozy mess. Almost every available square inch had been filled; nearly a thousand books about hundreds of subjects lined the bookcases and shelves. Honors, awards and newspaper articles gobbled up what little space remained on the walls. An unorganized bulletin board, covered in old papers dating back as far as twenty years, hung behind the ornate oaken desk that sat at the center of the room. The desk itself was covered in a wide array of loose papers, handheld equipment, framed photographs and a dozen bottles of medicine.

    "Do not mind the mess," Dr. Reiland suggested as she walked over to her desk. "It does become difficult to tidy up around here sometimes."

    "I have offered to help, doctor," Patrick commented.

    "I can take care of it myself, I just need a little free time," she said as she sat at her desk. "Please, have a seat."

    The two did as they were asked.

    Dr. Reiland began to dig through the papers that adorned her desk, categorizing them neatly and quickly as she did so. "I have your application somewhere around here, Ms. Dennison... Ah! Here it is." she said. "Before we begin, I would like to thank you for coming on such short notice. I understand that the train ride from Aughrim is a long and exhaustive one."

    "Nearly seven hours, ma'am," Andrea answered.

    "The fact that you made the journey in the first place shows your dedication. I don't think many people who would travel across an entire country on the vague hope of a job offer."

    Andrea laughed nervously.

    Dr. Reiland lifted a pair of reading glasses to her eyes. "Very well, let's begin... I've looked over your application many times, Ms. Dennison, and it's quite impressive for someone your age. A bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Aughrim, a published thesis on the effects of pollution on marine and shore life, two years of course credit in mechanical engineering, a 3.7 grade point average, top marks in high school, four years as a part time waitress... I will get right to the point, I don't receive many applications from people of your caliber."

    "All good words so far..." Andrea thought to herself.

    "Yet, personal accomplishments are not the only metric by which man is measured. Drive, personality and the ability to work with others are all equally as important."

    "She's got a degree, doctor," Patrick chimed in. "I think she's got the drive."

    "Perhaps she can answer that herself? Andrea, why did you apply to my research center?"

    Andrea thought about and chose her words carefully. "I've learned a lot during my studies. I could always learn more, but I feel like I need a change of pace for awhile. I was thinking of putting my knowledge to practical use, perhaps solve some problems instead of just read about them. Your research center here would give me the ability to work with others towards that common goal."

    Dr. Reiland and Patrick looked at each other briefly before nodding.

    "Fantastic answer, Ms. Dennison," she said. "Next, I want to ask you about... well, you! Things such as personality do not come across in a job application, and I need to get to know you a little better before we start talking about a position for you." She leaned over her desk and studied Andrea closely. "I know I said that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but... your clothing worries me, admittedly."

    "Why does everyone have a problem with the way I dress?!" she shouted in her thoughts. "It's just a style I like, nothing more."

    "So you won't be spending every waking moment realizing that your life is an endless torrent of agony?" Patrick asked.

    "No. Life is to be enjoyed, rain or shine."

    Dr. Reiland and Patrick met eyes once again, only this time neither of them nodded.

    Dr. Reiland began to flip through Andrea's application. "Have you done any volunteer or charity work? I noticed a distinct lack of it on your application..."

    The tone with which Dr. Reiland spoke made Andrea nervous. "Umm... I didn't have the time. Between the demanding hours of my studies, my job as a waitress and what little social life I had, I could never find an opportunity to make an impact like that."

    "Hmm..."

    "Surely you remember your own years at university, doctor," Patrick added. "Did you find yourself with much free time?"

    "Whose side are you on?" she smiled. "But you're right. Pursuing a degree is time consuming work and offers little room for distraction."

    Andrea breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the words. For a moment, she thought her future was ready to slip through her fingers.

    Dr. Reiland continued the questions. "How do you deal with others around you, Ms. Dennison?"

    "If someone needs help, I'm happy to lend a hand. If I need help, I'm gracious enough to accept it. Part of progress is learning to work with others to achieve something greater than ourselves." she said. "However, for smaller projects, I find that I work best alone in most circumstances. It's much easier for me to focus."

    Dr. Reiland leaned back in her chair and absorbed Andrea's words. "I like what you have to say, Ms. Dennison. Confident, yet willing to compromise. I can feel the honesty in your words." She looked towards Patrick for his opinion. "What do you think, Patrick?"

    "I see little wrong with her," he said. "I think she could go far in a place like this, while remaining a valuable asset to us."

    "I'm thinking the same," she nodded. She grabbed her cane and pushed herself to her feet, and extended her hand across the desk. "Very well, Ms. Dennison. I look forward to working with you, welcome aboard!"

    Andrea quickly and excitedly rose to her feet and nearly yanked Dr. Reiland's arm off as they shook hands. "Thank you, thank you, thank you for this opportunity! You won't regret it, I swear on my life!"

    "Good! You start tomorrow, if there's no problem with that!"

    "No, no! Not at all!" The thought hadn't even registered in Andrea's mind that she had no connection to the area; no friends, no family, not even a place to live. She didn't stop to think about the circumstances that had brought her to this moment, and how utterly unprepared she truly was for a successful outcome. All she could think of was getting started. "What's my first project?" she asked.

    "That's a good question," Dr. Reiland commented, then turned to Patrick for ideas. "Perhaps Patrick here could be a dear and find you something to do in the morning while we look for a longtime position for you to fill."

    "I've got some ideas," Patrick said. "Will that be all, doctor?"

    Dr. Reiland nodded. "For now, yes."

    "Very well! Follow me, Andrea, I'll give you a little tour of the facility, then fill you in on your first project."
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
    DreamSayer likes this.
  3. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 2: Where It Begins

    Originally published on November 30th, 2016

    [​IMG]

    "You're going to like it here," Patrick said. "We have a very laid back atmosphere. Everyone's friendly, nobody feels like they have to one-up anyone else... When I first started here, it was like a dream."

    "Is it still a dream?" Andrea asked.

    "You bet."

    He led her down the hallway that stretched into eternity. As they passed by each room, he took a moment to inform her of what kind of work was done within. Room 232 was dedicated to the research of shallow, salt marsh environments. Across the hall in room 231, researchers focused on rocky tide pool environments, and even further down the hall, room 227 focused on simulating the environment found in a lowland, freshwater swamp. Overwhelming heat drifted off of the door to room 213, which was dedicated to the research of desert flora and fauna.

    "We could spend all day going up and down these hallways, so I'll just sum this up as our environmental research wing. Based on your studies and your thesis, this might be where you spend a majority of your time."

    "This isn't all you focus on, right?" she asked.

    "Correct," he said. He pointed down the hallway behind him. "The west wing is where our staff works on its medical research. Biochemistry is over that way, too. In the northern wing, we have a radiology department, genetic research, a hatchery for our various research subjects--" He paused to study Andrea, only to find her lost in wonder. "Bored yet?"

    "Hunh? No, no! Not at all! This place is fascinating!" she said.

    He nodded happily as he heard it. "Good. Most people would probably feel like they're dying of the plague in a place like this."

    They continued down the hall towards the east wing, passing by more rooms along the way. An arboretum for the study of jungle plantlife, a dimly lit room for studying cave moss, even a pressure chamber for studying the potential of life in the vacuum of outer space. Andrea had heard about the environmental research that took place here, but never dreamed that it'd be as diverse as it was.

    As they moved along, Patrick couldn't help but ask, "Do you have any experience with training Pokémon?"

    She shook her head. "No. It hasn't interested me all that much."

    "No?" he asked, clearly surprised.

    "Is that a bad thing?"

    "Maybe it's not. Many among our staff, myself included, are hobbyist trainers in our spare time. It makes our jobs as researchers, especially in this department, so much easier. When we're working with subjects that trust us and understand our goals, they're less likely to fight the process."

    Worry crept over her. She recalled the struggles of being taken seriously by her professors and fellow students during her time at university. "Will the same thing happen here?" she thought. "That won't be a requirement, will it?" she asked.

    "No. If you're not into it, you're not into it, it's that simple." he answered. "Speaking of requirements, there's some stuff that we need to take care of before you get started. Follow me."

    - - - - -​

    "Ooooh, this is so exciting!" Andrea's thoughts screamed. "I can't believe this is happening!"

    Patrick looked back and noticed the look of bliss on her face. "You're kinda strange."

    "Excuse me?"

    "In a good way, I mean. You're the first new hire that I've met with a smile that wide on their face," he commented. "Most people around here look pretty grim or overwhelmed when they walk these halls."

    "I try my hardest not to look grim, especially when I'm in a good mood," she said.

    "Based on how you dress, I thought grim would be the look you'd go for," The sunshine on her face faded, and the sharp glare he received from her garnered a laugh. "That's more like it! I think you and I are going to get along well."

    The two entered a cramped storage room that was filled to capacity with overburdened metal shelves, cardboard boxes, plastic bins and glass containers. Patrick encouraged Andrea to stay behind as he squeezed his way through the tightly packed corridor towards the back of the room. Loud banging, the sound of boxes falling and a few angry obscenities were muttered before he returned with a small wooden box in his hands. "We really need another storage room for our equipment..." he muttered.

    He opened the wooden box and grabbed a small, pink device from within. Measuring approximately 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches, the device featured a large touch-sensitive screen, a standard cable input port and a headphone jack, as well as a wrist strap. He handed the device to Andrea. "Here you are, standard issue to each member of our research staff."

    Andrea grabbed the device and studied it closely. She turned it on and was greeted with a welcome message, which quickly faded to an app selection screen that featured numerous useful programs, including the likes of a map, e-mail, weather forecasts and even a digital radio. She found herself overwhelmed by the potential capabilities of the device and asked, "What is it?"

    Patrick was shocked. "You haven't seen one of those before? What the bloody hell are they doin' over there in Aughrim?" he scoffed. "Well... It's a researcher kit, manufactured by the Catrianna Corporation of Storm Island. Most people call them R-Kits for short."

    "Oh, an R-Kit! I read about these, but never got a chance to use one. I think Professor Burke at the university had one... I didn't have any classes with him, so I never got to see it." she mused as she wrapped it around her left wrist.

    Patrick reached into his pocket and grabbed a red and white spherical object, then offered it to Andrea. "Here's your first test. If you can properly scan this Pokéball, you pass."

    She grabbed the Pokéball and started to tap away at the apps on the screen of her R-Kit. "And if I can't?"

    "Then you're in for a few rough first days as you learn how to use it."

    She clicked through the apps until she found one named Accu-Scan, which seemed like the right first step to take. However, the next step was a mystery to her, as she was greeted with several dozen options, configurations and methods of scanning just about anything imaginable: air quality, magnetic fields, physical data, even color data. She took her sweet time to sift through the useless junk until she found what she was looking for. She activated the Pokéball analysis mode and pressed the scan button.

    Without delay, a holographic blue beam of light shot out of the R-Kit and began to scan the Pokéball back and forth. After a few short seconds, a drab-sounding, robotic voice came from the R-Kit. "Name: Fang! Species: Flareon! Registered trainer: Patrick Adelaide, ID LA-24522! Gender: Male! Height: 2'7''! Weight--"

    "Not bad. One of our recent hires couldn't figure that thing out." he said as he held his hand out, expecting his Flareon returned to him. "I don't see why, R-Kits aren't all that difficult to use."

    Andrea handed the Pokéball back and began to explore the other apps available to her. "I can see why people might be flustered when they first use one, there's a lot of stuff on here!"

    "Just like the apps on a phone, most of it's garbage. The Catrianna Corporation is marketing those to scientists and engineers, why does it have an entire section on coordination strategies?"

    "Maybe they're looking to expand their market soon?" she asked.

    "Hmm, whatever the case..." He placed the wooden box back onto a shelf and closed the door to the storage room, then pointed down the hallway. "Just at the end of this hallway is what'll be your favorite room here once you get settled. Let's have a look."

    Patrick pushed open the double doors and the two entered perhaps the largest room in the entire facility, the employee lounge. The entire room was brightly lit by the massive array of windows that flanked the northern and southern sides of the room, windows that offered a glimpse of Loch Alstan's skyline, and the murky lake the town was named after.

    Throughout the room were comfy looking couches and chairs, circled around tables and television sets. Large art installations that depicted famous Pokémon such as Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise were suspended from the rafters above them. Bookshelves were stuffed to the brim with all sorts of scientific publications. A solitary snooker table, host to a game that was already in progress, sat in the middle of the room.

    At the far end of the room was an extensive cafeteria. About a dozen tables, all filled to capacity by chatting scientists and researchers, stood before the impressive array of on-site restaurants: the Mountain Rain Coffee Shop, Jackpot's Potato Shack, Shinikara Noodle, Gyroskope, Halfhill Market and the Crimson Crawdaunt.

    "Oh boy, you have a Crimson Crawdaunt here?" Andrea asked. "I used to be a waitress at the one in Aughrim..."

    Patrick nodded. "We do, and a lot of other options as you can see. Even international stuff. Dr. Reiland really spoils us." He motioned for her to follow and began to lead her along a long row of lockers that lined the wall beside them. "Let's get you a locker of your own. That way you don't have to lug that big ol' backpack with you everywhere you go."

    It wasn't long before they found an unclaimed locker, #47. She waited patiently beside it as Patrick ran off to retrieve the key, and she took the time to study her fellow coworkers situated about the lounge. The atmosphere was warm and genial, as people of all ethnicities mingled together over a cup of coffee to discuss what they were working on, or share a laugh about stories of their personal lives.

    As she waited, a young woman approached locker #45. As she unlocked it, she noticed Andrea waiting patiently and said, "Haven't seen you around here before. You new?"

    Andrea nodded politely.

    The young woman offered her hand out. "Welcome aboard. The name's Emily."

    "Andrea," she said as she shook Emily's hand.

    "So, which department are you with?" Emily asked as she opened her locker and dug around in it.

    She shrugged. "I'm not sure yet, but it looks like I'll be in environmental research."

    "I've always been curious about what happens over that way... I'm over in medical all the time, I hardly ever get to visit."

    "Medical? Are you a doctor?"

    "Not yet. Just a couple more months of hands on work and I will be, though!"

    Patrick returned with the key to locker #47 and handed it to Andrea. He nodded respectfully towards Emily. "Look who it is! And you're not covered with blood this time!"

    "Careful, I might get yours on me," she joked. "It was nice meeting you, Andrea, but I've gotta run." As she walked away, she called out, "Treat her better than the last one, Pat!"

    Andrea turned to him with a look of confusion on her face. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Don't worry about it, Emmy and I go way back. We're always bustin' each other's balls." he said. "So... you hungry or anything?"

    She shook her head as she inspected her brand new locker.

    "I'm gonna grab some coffee. Why don't you have a seat and I'll be with you in a minute."

    Andrea found a comfortable, empty couch to sit on and tried to take a moment to let the situation sink in. She struggled to focus her thoughts, but they buzzed about in her mind in a haphazard fashion. All she could think about was getting started, and she wondered what she'd be working on first.

    A few minutes later, Patrick returned with two cups of steaming hot coffee and sat down next to her.

    "Coffee?" he asked as he offered her a cup.

    She politely declined. "No thanks."

    "Even after walking through that ice cold rain out there?" He gently shook the cup again, filling the area with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. "C'mon, I went through the trouble to get it for ya."

    She sighed as she accepted the coffee, even though she didn't like it. "I could use some warming up, I guess." Just a single, bitter sip was enough to send a shiver radiating throughout her entire body, something that Patrick found amusing.

    "I think that's about it. Gave you a tour of the wing you'll be spending most of your time in... assigned you your locker and your R-Kit..." he said, trailing off. With the introduction over, he realized that he had very little else to talk about, and silence crept over the two as they awkwardly sipped at their coffee.

    Not even a minute passed before Andrea was fed up with the silence. "So..." she started. "What do you think my first project will be?"

    He took a moment to think. "That depends. Usually we have our new employees bounce between other peoples' projects, to see what they're best suited for. I'm thinking the same is going to apply in your case."

    "Let me know what you need help with. That's why I'm here."

    "You said something about wanting to solve problems. As luck would have it, one of the local farms has come to us with a problem that needs taken care of. Sooner rather than later, ideally." he said.

    Her face lit up. "What are we dealing with?"

    "You familiar with the Gates Dairy Farm? One of the largest dairy farms in the country, based in Nettlefield. It's not that far from here. Over the past few weeks, they've had nearly thirty of their Miltanks die of unknown causes, including their prize winner, Bessica. They're clueless, and they're worried that there's some sort of outbreak going through the herd. They want us to find the source of the problem."

    Andrea took a moment to think of some obvious problems that could be affecting the farm. "Maybe the grain they're feeding the Miltanks is tainted somehow? Or maybe a virus?" she pondered. "We'd have to get a closer look, of course."

    He nodded. "We would. I was going to head over there myself to see if I could figure it out. It'd be a good first project for you, I think. Not too demanding, not too frazzling, and it'll get you out into the field."

    Her eyes glinted at the thought. "Sure! It'd be nice to get back to my rural roots for a change, I've been stuck in the big city for too long."

    "Oh yeah? I think you'll like Nettlefield then, corn fields as far as the eye can see. A bit too boring for me, that's why I live here." He downed a big gulp of coffee before continuing. "I actually wanted to make the trip to the place right now, but since you're starting tomorrow--"

    "How long do you think it should take to get there?" she asked.

    "Before sunset most likely. It's not that far away."

    "Let's get started, then!"

    He tilted his head, confused by her enthusiasm. "You sure about that?"

    She looked down at the table and sheepishly said, "I don't exactly have a roof over my head tonight..."

    Patrick stared at her blankly for a second. "You're kidding, right?"

    She shook her head. "I thought I'd be on my way back to Aughrim by now! I didn't think I'd get this job, if I'm honest..."

    "You don't have a lot of faith in yourself, do you?" He took a minute to finish the last of his coffee, then continued. "Whatever the case, let's get started."
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
    DreamSayer likes this.
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Welcome to the forums! And you've made quite an entrance; this is a really cool and interesting start. It's always kind of liberating to read a fic (or part of a fic) some time after it was originally written – like, detailed critique of chapters written over a year ago is sort of pointless since they probably don't represent the skill level of the author at present. Which kinda just frees you up to really get into the story and enjoy it, and this is definitely a really enjoyable story. I like character-driven drama, and there isn't as much of it as there might be set in the pokémon world, possibly because the source material kind of leans towards plot-driven narratives rather than character-driven ones, so I'm always happy to find a new one to follow.

    That certainly sounds like a first visit to Scotland, yes. And yet it's an interesting mixture of Scotland and not; parts of Andrea's education seem distinctly American, though I'm assuming she's from elsewhere in the region analogous to real-world Britain. I'm looking forward to figuring out more about your setting as things go on, and I think Andrea is a great character to follow as we learn that; she seems to have that combination of enthusiasm, naïveté and idiosyncrasy that makes this kind of character work – and certainly something that will make her an interesting character to test, when things get bleaker, as you suggest they will. It's a little early to comment further on character and plot, I think (it's a relatively slow start, though I don't think I mean that as a criticism in this case), so I'll hold off on that for now. But like it's fairly clear that the role of these first two chapters is mainly to establish where we are and who we're following, and I feel like they do that very well. They certainly get me into the rhythm of the story, and I'm left both looking forward to more and with a sense of confidence that the story's going to deliver the satisfaction I think it will. Which is definitely a good thing, for first chapters.

    Okay, despite what I said, I think I do have just one note of criticism – I feel like your prose is sometimes a mite overwritten. When a character does something, the action is described in more detail than is necessary, sometimes to the extent that it really slows things down – right at the start, for instance, Andrea takes close to fifty words just to answer her phone, which feels excessive, and then at the Institute, she 'timidly approached the service desk and was greeted warmly'. There's nothing wrong with adjectives or adverbs, but you don't necessarily need one for every single noun or verb going. When you do that as consistently as you do, it can lead to the prose getting sort of clogged up, to the detriment of the flow of both the action and individual sentences. But that's my only complaint on a prose level, and it bodes well – given the time scales involved here, I suspect future chapters are probably yet more polished than these early ones, and I look forward to seeing how your writing has evolved over the past year and a bit as we catch up.

    A final thing: posting one chapter every few days might be a bit much for people to keep up with – I understand the urge to get caught up quickly, but I feel like a barrage of chapters at that speed would put people off, and given the quality of the story, that would be a real shame! Obviously, it's your decision as to how quickly you want to bring this fic up to speed, but I thought I'd mention it anyway, just in case.

    But yes. This is a great start, and I'm definitely looking forward to more. There's a lot of potential here, and from the quality of the writing here at the start, I'm sure that future chapters will live up to that.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
  5. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Thank you! It's nice to get a nod so quickly, especially from someone I've heard so much about!

    Just a quick little comment on this, and you'll notice it a lot as the story progresses, I do tend to throw in a lot of American mannerisms and colloquialisms as it's what I know and am comfortable with. When I tried making everything distinctly UK-feeling, I found it more difficult to write than it was worth.

    Regarding her heritage, and I can't remember if it's touched on a whole lot in the later chapters, she is from the same country that Loch Alstan is in. It'll be a bit more clear where things are as I get to ten posts and can start adding images to my posts; every chapter starts with a drawn map of where the characters, but I can't post those yet.

    In some cases, this disappears in the later chapters. In others, it might get even worse :/ Something I'll keep in mind as I work on chapters 28 and beyond or edits to older chapters. Thanks!

    Thanks for the advice, I hadn't considered it but it makes sense. I'll probably just opt for weekend releases, then! Gives me a bit of time to finalize edits I've been doing, anyways.

    Hopefully!
     
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Hey, welcome to the forums! It's cool to see a story about someone living in the pokéworld but not being a trainer/coordinator/some other profession where their lives basically revolve around pokémon. We don't get those very often, and it's always fun to see how someone interprets the pokémon world outside the insular trainer sphere.

    First off, I have to say I love the title of this story. It's simple but really evocative, and it works very well for the nickname of a region. To me it conjures up images of a kind of misty, gray, wild place. Very high fantasy. (Well, okay, so in the story you describe it as being pretty miserable and unlovely, but I like damp, cloudy places. :p) Seems like both a very fitting and very eye-catching title for the story.

    I also like the glimpses we've got of Lanark so far, too. It feels a bit more like our world than the high-tech quasi-utopia the pokémon world is usually presented as, which is weird because you obviously have super high-tech devices like the R-kit, but nevertheless. I guess I get the impression that it's more rural and wild than a lot of the canon pokémon regions, which is also conducive to the more fantasy-esque, rather than sci-fi, feel.

    On the topic of the R-kit, I thought it was cute how its statements are punctuated with exclamation points. I had to picture a kind of robotic voice that was just really! Super! Excited! about these mundane facts, which was cute. Not sure if that's what you were going for, but it made me smile.

    I wonder if there's something to all the security at the research institute? I'm probably just seeing things.

    I really like the glimpses we get of Lanark in this chapter--makes me excited to see Andrea go out and see more of it! I feel like worldbuilding is going to be one of the highlights of this story, and you've been doing a good job of it so far.

    The interview in the first chapter didn't really work for me, though. Generally speaking job interviews aren't all that interesting or fun for anyone involved, and likewise reading through one isn't going to be a good time unless the characters have such chemistry that you'd enjoy reading about them doing something that mundane, simply because of how they play off each other. Your characters here are fine, but they don't play off each other in ways that are inherently entertaining. The interview questions also seem a bit like an excuse for you to infodump stuff about Andrea's life and personality, which would really be more interesting if we got to see it come up through how Andrea actually acted. It can be interesting to see contrasts between how characters describe themselves and how they actually are (for example

    I do also agree with Cutlerine that you have a tendency to overwrite things. For me it's less the structure of the sentences themselves, whether you use adverbs or adjectives or so on, and more on what you choose to write sentences about at all. The story has a lot of stage direction in it, a lot of words devoted to how the characters move about in and interact with their environment. For example, when Andrea answers her phone, you describe every step of the process: swiping to unlock, pressing the "Accept Call" button, the screen fading out . Unless that's all extremely significant somehow, I'd skip it. "Andrea answered the phone" is at least as good and takes up far less space. What does it add to describe the process in so much detail? If it's not helping the story out in some way, it shouldn't be there.

    It's a similar thing with the interview. I'm not sure what purpose it serves for the larger narrative, and it goes on for a while. Likewise, say, the part where Andrea's getting her locker and seeing the break room. Maybe it's important that she meet Emily, but you could cover that without e.g. describing Andrea picking out a locker, standing around waiting for Patrick, etc. It's not a bad scene, but it takes up a lot of space, I'm not sure to what end. And while on the macro level there's the question of why we're seeing something happen at all, on the micro level there are also more subtle sentence-level things having to do with why you devote so much attention to the way in which Emily came over and noticed Andrea, for example. There's kind of just a bit too much. So what I'd say is you might want to work on choosing what information is and isn't important, both at the sentence level and at higher levels as well. Right now the chapters just feel a bit crufty. All in all I think that you could cut a lot of extraneous detail and be left with a single chapter, about the size of the current Chapter 1, that would be nice and tight without losing anything of significance.

    It may be somewhat of a nitpick, but "my cows are sick" isn't really the kind of thing that a research institute would normally handle. Research isn't about solving problems, at least not directly; it's like how people working on a "cure for cancer" aren't doing that by literally taking people with cancer and trying to cure them. If a farm has a problem with sick miltank, then a pokémon epidemiologist at a research institute might agree to provide resources for whoever's investigating that--processing samples and maybe writing a paper about it after the fact--but it's not going to be their job to actually figure out what's wrong with the cows and try to fix it. That'd be a job for a vet, or perhaps the pokéworld equivalent of the FDA.

    It's too early to say a great deal about the characters, but Andrea seems like a solid protagonist; she's a believable and normal-seeming person, with some obvious strengths but also room to grow. I think it'll be pleasant to follow her through the story. I get the feeling that the other people we've met so far probably won't be super major characters, but they make a decent supporting cast.

    All in all, I'd say this is a solid start. You've set up an interesting premise and given a nice glimpse into what sounds like a fun region to explore. The only substantial criticism I have is that I think these chapters could use a little more focus. Since you've already written quite a few chapters already I don't expect to see a big change in that anytime soon, but it might be something to keep in mind for what you write down the line. For now, I look forward to seeing where you take the story.
     
  7. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Thank you for the welcome! I already feel at home! :)

    Thanks, I spent almost a month agonizing over it to see if it felt perfect for me :p

    A bit, and we'll see how I'm approaching civilization vs nature in the next chapter. I've been told it doesn't make the most sense... but I feel like it's the best way of making the world interesting for characters to explore despite it being the 21st century.

    Yep, that's what I was going for! It's a new piece of tech, the designers don't know how annoying it is yet.

    A very, very early draft considered bringing Team Rocket into the plot, but I dropped that. It's actually a bit of a nod to a previous project I worked on, nothing more.

    Yep, worldbuilding is what I pride myself on, so be on the lookout for it!

    Yeah, I completely understand this... I've been in two minds to just rewrite the first chapter so that it's not an interview, but her first day... but I feel like that'd torpedo the narrative in the rest of the chapter and I don't want to completely rewrite it from scratch. I've also thought about adding a couple questions in to hopefully throw some more chemistry between Andrea and Dr. Reiland/Patrick, but taking what you said about info dumping, I might have to reconsider.

    I'm in the process of rewriting and polishing some of the chapters due to a recent deluge of feedback I've received elsewhere, I'll add some of the most egregious examples of stuff like this to the list of things to fix. I don't want to get rid of it all, however, as this is a style I've purposefully worked towards... whether that's to my writing's benefit or detriment, I'm not sure yet! But this is definitely noted, thank you.

    Maybe this is something I'll have to clarify going forward, as the two major projects that Andrea takes on so far would probably be best handled by a problem-solving group rather than a research group. Guess I could just explain it away that while it's a research center, they've also got engineers and scientists to solve problems?

    I know for a fact that the next three chapters are very focused on one issue, but it's also something I'm looking at for the pending polishing of future chapters!

    Thanks for reading!
     
  8. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 3: Remember, A Rose Has Thorns
    Originally published on December 4th, 2016

    [​IMG]

    Barely half an hour had passed since they left the warmth of the research center, and the cold had already begun to get the better of Andrea. She refused to give up, though; she had been raised to give everything she had when it came to first impressions, and quitting so soon into her first real task would have reflected poorly on her work ethic. However, her burning desire to prove herself was only in her mind and did nothing to warm her. She shivered uncontrollably as she huddled her arms together in an attempt to keep her spirits up, but it did very little against the biting wind and the icy cold rain.

    "Perhaps you should have brought a jacket?" Patrick asked. "Those clothes you're wearing look pretty thin. I mean, I can see your skin through those mesh sleeves of yours."

    "It's May!" she shouted as she continued to rub her arms to combat the cold. "It's not supposed to be this cold!"

    "Usually is, at least in our neck of the woods," he shrugged. "Cold mountain air always comes over the loch this time of the year."

    She looked to her R-Kit and turned the screen on. A quick weather report awaited her on the main menu: 10°C, heavy clouds and a 90% chance of light precipitation. "This is ridiculous... It was sunny and 21°C when I left Aughrim this morning..."

    Though he felt bad about it, he couldn't help but chuckle at her misfortune. "Speaking of Aughrim, I'm curious... How often have you left that city? You ever get a chance to travel the roads?" he asked.

    "No... My only real experience with the wilderness was when I visited a couple beaches up in the northern reaches of Glastonfell for my studies."

    "Really," he stated, clearly surprised. "Didn't you say you lived in a rural area before you attended university?"

    She nodded. "I did, I grew up in Goldwheat."

    "And you never tried to explore the countryside?"

    "Of course not, it's dangerous out here! I listened to my parents when they told me not to, and I'm glad I did! One of the village boys was put in a wheelchair by a wild Pokémon... his doctor said that he was lucky to survive."

    "Oh... Jeeze..." he blustered. "Well, I was going to warn you about the dangers of travelling the countryside, but it sounds like you already know about them."

    She nodded quietly.

    "Don't let it scare you, though. Since this is your first real trip into Lanark's countryside, you're in for a hell of a show, and this is one of the best areas for it! Untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see."

    "Untouched? I find that difficult to believe. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw some fenced off footpaths going over the hills while I was on the train."

    He conceded to her point with a nod. "Okay, mostly untouched, at least up here in the Northcountry. The Ministry of Wildlife doesn't open much of the land up here for agricultural development, as much as it might help feed our poor... But that's a debate for another day! Most of this area hasn't been heavily developed since the mid-20th century."

    As they rounded the bend in the road ahead of them, the skyline of Loch Alstan disappeared behind the trees: they had officially entered the wilds of Lanark. Despite the advancements of society and the rapid development of the country's urban centers over the past two centuries, the wilderness did indeed look as if it were untouched by human hands for hundreds of years; aside from the winding cobblestone road that snaked its way through the foothills, nature was at its most pristine, unhindered state. To the north were the Dornoch Mountains, still capped with winter's snow; to the south lay the Ivory Steppe, its usual bed of flowers absent in the presence of the cold weather.

    "Bet you don't get vistas like these over in Aughrim!" he proudly said.

    "I could get used to this..." she said as she studied the graceful shape of the mountains.

    Eventually, the road before them ended at a sea of tall grass that fluttered in the cold wind. "Now comes the most annoying part of travelling on foot, as far as the Northcountry is concerned at least." he said as he looked up and down the wall of grass in front of him. His search for a way around the grass was met with failure, which prompted him to dive right in. "Huh... the trail seems to have faded..." he quietly murmured to himself. His voice loudened with his next words, "Hey! I hope that clothing of yours isn't too delicate! This grass can be a little sharp sometimes."

    Andrea studied the grass with a grimace on her face. The grass reached up to her chest and was so thick that she couldn't see the ground underneath it. "You're kidding, right? The roads up in Glastonfell were never this bad."

    "If you think this is bad, you should see the road on the other side of Nettlefield. I don't think you can even call that a road."

    She muttered quietly to herself as she took her first steps into the grass. "I hope there aren't any of those big bugs in here... I hate bugs!"

    It wasn't as bad as she first imagined. While she could feel the grass snagging against the delicate fabric of her stockings, it wasn't as sharp as Patrick warned. Even more, the grass wasn't as wet or as cold as she expected, despite the gloomy weather. Most importantly, there wasn't a single giant bug in sight, but that meant little considering she couldn't see through the thick blanket of tangled grass around her; they could be hiding, ready to leap out at her. But before they knew it, they had emerged on the other side of the grass.

    "That was surprisingly uneventful," he commented.

    "And just what is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

    "You of all people should know that tall grass like this is the best spot for wild Pokémon as they either await their prey, or hide from their predators."

    "I do know that!" she protested. "I also know that it's pretty darn cold out here. Combined with the rain, not many Pokémon will be out in the open if they can help it. They're smarter than us."

    "Fair..." he admitted. "You can never be too careful, though."

    "I understand. I mean, it's hard not to be worried when you hear all the stories..."

    "You don't need to worry though, I'll keep us safe. You have my word." he assured her. "I may not be the most capable trainer in the world, but I've got a powerful Pokémon at my command. He can usually handle himself."

    "Usually?"

    "Against the wild stuff? Yes. But I don't think I'd stand a chance against a dedicated trainer."

    "Think we'll run into one of those?"

    He looked to the sky in thought, then shrugged. "Probably not. But if we do, I can always just tell 'em to sod off. Trainer's code is to leave people alone if they've only got one Pokémon by their side, and most people stick to that."

    "Yeah, most..." she thought. "That's what has me worried..."

    - - - - -​

    A couple of hours had passed and the terrain around them shifted. They no longer found themselves in the sparsely wooded aspen meadows that bordered the city; the road they followed had taken them up into the stoney hills, until they eventually reached a grassy plateau flanked by moderately tall cliffs. From their vantage point, they could just about see the tiny village of Nettlefield in the distance, but the weather made it difficult to know for certain.

    Conversation between the two of them had been relatively light, something that Patrick felt disheartened by. His attempts at prodding her for info about her social life while at university failed, so he talked about his own; he wanted to bridge the gap between himself and her, so his first anecdote was about his own rebel phase.

    "You?" Andrea questioned. "No..!"

    "You better believe it, I was a wild kid when I was your age," Patrick answered with a smile. "Long hair, leather jackets, a love of black metal and more time spent at raving than studying."

    She laughed at the thought. "I'd have never known! You look so... so boring!"

    He chuckled. "Yeah..."

    "You still listen to any of that stuff? Go raving?"

    He shook his head. "I listen sometimes, but I'm pretty much past that phase of my life these days. I'm not 'cool enough' anymore and I get cranky if I'm out past my bed time."

    "Aww, that's a shame... Would have been nice to find someone who knows about all the good spots in town, maybe even a rave buddy."

    "You didn't get to meet him today, but one of our guys down in the geology department--"

    Their conversation ended abruptly with a high pitched, bellowing sound that carried across the countryside. It didn't take long for either of the two to pinpoint the source of the noise: atop a rocky outcropping sat a stubby, black and grey elephant-like creature. Most of its body was a uniform, scaly grey, but a thick, black set of armored plates ran from the tip of its extensive trunk, across its back and ended with its short tail. Deadly looking curved tusks jutted from its mouth and a clear look of agitation shined in its eyes.

    Patrick held his arm out to slow Andrea down. "A Donphan..." he said. "Careful."

    "Uh oh... Those things are nasty..."

    "Move slowly and maintain eye contact. Let it know that we know that it's there." he warned. "They're creatures of opportunity, they only strike when they know they have the upper hand."

    "Yep, that's usually the case... but that doesn't always work, though. We might be in its territory, we need to have a plan--"

    In that instance, maintaining eye contact didn't work. The Donphan pounded its padded foot into the ground and bellowed loudly, a universally understood signal that it was enraged and ready to attack. The attack was swift; it hopped into the air and curled up, protecting itself with its dense armor plating, then began to roll down the hill towards them.

    "Look out!" Patrick shouted as he pulled Andrea out of harm's way.

    The two tumbled to the ground as they narrowly avoided being steam rolled, while the Donphan roared past and slammed into a massive oak tree just off of the path. The trunk of the tree shattered from the force of the impact, sending the rest of it toppling with a booming thud.

    Patrick responded quickly by helping Andrea to her feet. "Find somewhere to hide!" he shouted as he reached into his pocket. He pulled out his trusted Pokéball and tossed it into the air.

    The Pokéball exploded with a burst of hissing flames and a slender, orange canine-like creature appeared in its place. Luxuriously bushy white fur formed a mane around the creature's neck and rested atop his head, with more covering his long tail. The Flareon dropped to the ground and readied himself for battle as he locked onto the Donphan.

    "Fang, we need to overwhelm that thing quickly, before someone gets hurt!" Patrick ordered.

    Fang immediately leapt to action and rushed over towards the fallen tree. He cautiously searched the area in an attempt to find the Donphan, but found it difficult to see through the fallen leaves and branches. His continued search yielded nothing; no movement, no sound, nothing out of place. It was almost as if the Donphan had simply vanished.

    Patrick slowly approached the downed tree, but remembered to keep his distance. "Find anything?"

    Fang let out a deep growl as he paced around the tree.

    "Maybe we should take the opportunity to leave?" Andrea suggested as she peered out from behind a large boulder.

    Before they could react, the shrill cry of the Donphan echoed out again and the tree rustled with activity. It rolled out of the leaves and straight for Fang, hoping to catch him off guard. Fang, quick on his feet, managed to dodge the attack. He took in a deep breath and tracked the Donphan's movements, then let out a stream of flickering flames in its direction. The flames bounced off of and had little effect on the Donphan, who continued to roll about, tucked away in its protective armored shell.

    "Keep it up, Fang!" Patrick ordered.

    Fang continued his relentless gout of fire breath, but it seemed pointless. All he did was tire himself out while the Donphan shrugged off each attack. Instead, the Donphan was only getting started, with the speed and accuracy of its rolling attacks increasing with each miss. Even worse, the Donphan was becoming more and more unpredictable, bouncing between aiming for Fang and Patrick at random.

    Patrick narrowly scrambled out of the way of the Donphan as it rolled straight at him, then picked himself up off of the ground. "Bloody hell..." he muttered. "Umm..."

    Andrea had been analyzing Patrick's strategy from afar and could plainly see that it wasn't working. "You need to find a way to get through that armor!" she called out.

    "And how in the bloody hell are we going to do that?! The bugger just keeps rolling!"

    She took a moment to study her surroundings as she formulated a plan. She wanted to find a way to stop the Donphan from rolling around within the protective embrace of its armored plates, and figured a good way to do so would be to knock it off of its feet somehow. The tree that it had knocked over at the beginning of the fight gave her an idea; if it were to smash into something hard enough, perhaps enough time could be bought to seize the upper hand. The fallen boulder that she took cover behind seemed like it would do the trick. She left her hiding spot and rushed over towards Patrick to tell him her plan.

    "What are you doing out here?! You're gonna get hurt."

    She pointed to the boulder. "Listen to me. See that boulder? If that Donphan smashes into it, it'll probably come out of its shell and your Flareon can actually do something useful."

    He was skeptical of the plan. "You sure about that?"

    "Yes! Do it!"

    "You heard her, Fang!" Patrick called out. "In front of that rock, now!"

    Fang followed the order without a second thought and positioned himself in front of the boulder. He kept a close eye on the rampaging Donphan, ready to move at a moment's notice. Exactly as planned, the Donphan began to circle around and aim for him, and with a swift leap to the side, he lured the Donphan right into the trap. A large crack formed down the center of the boulder as the Donphan smashed directly into it. Andrea's plan proved effective; the Donphan uncurled and wobbled about, dazed by the impact.

    "Hell yeah! Light 'em up, Fang!" Patrick ordered.

    Fang let loose a stream of white hot fire in the Donphan's direction and was absolutely relentless with his attack. As the flames burned into the exposed underside of the Donphan, its hostile nature shifted towards terror, and it spared no energy in an attempt to escape. Fang pursued mercilessly, maintaining both his laser-like focus and his burning breath of flames on the escaping Donphan.

    "Stop, that's enough!" He raised his hand and the fire subsided, then took a moment to catch his breath as the Donphan scurried up the rocky hills. "That... that could have gone really, really badly. Those things are vicious when they're pissed!"

    "Yeah... I'm just glad it's gone." Andrea said as she searched her surroundings for more trouble. "We need to keep moving, all that noise probably attracted more of them."

    Patrick nodded. "Yeah, come on." He motioned forward and called out, "Fang, lead the way. Keep us safe, ya hear?"

    It was a much more cautious journey for the two after that. Chatter was kept to a minimum. Every small movement in the roadside bushes or in the trees was heavily scrutinized. They kept within an arm's reach of Fang, who led the two forward quickly. Neither of them hoped for it, but both Patrick and Andrea were ready for the Donphan to return, only this time with friends; it was behavior that both of them had learned about during their studies, behavior that most trainers were unaware of. As the landscape changed from rocky hills to open field, however, the possibility of that began to diminish, and the aura of worry dissipated as they continued on towards Nettlefield.

    "Not bad back there, by the way," Patrick commented.

    "Hunh?" Andrea asked.

    "That strategy of yours... I didn't even think of something like that."

    "Oh! Uhh..." she laughed nervously. "Why, was that good?"

    He couldn't tell if she was downplaying the praise or truly clueless. "Hell yeah, that was incredible! I know you aren't a trainer, but you ever spectate any of the top tier competitive stuff? You know, like the Rose League finals or anything like that?"

    She shook her head. "I'd catch a match every now and then when there was nothing else on TV, but I never paid much attention to it. It was just background noise to me while I worked on my projects."

    "Ah, a shame. You seem like you'd be good at it. Looks like you already know a thing or two."

    She stopped in her tracks and their eyes met. "If your intent is to get me to embrace the idea of becoming a trainer, you can stop right now."

    "Oh, no! Nothin' meant by it, lassie!" he reassured her. "Just... I find it a little strange. You got into biology as your major and yet you have no experience with handling Pokémon?"

    "I do have some experience, just very little," she answered. "I have a hard time respecting competitive training as a career... An old friend ruined it for me, and after that, I just relied on lab partners and study buddies to look after the Pokémon we researched."

    "Oh? Is it story time?"

    She sighed. "Maybe some other time. It's not a nice story, and I'm not ready to get into it right now." Her attention was grabbed by the loud, shrieking call that came from a large bird that circled above them like a vulture. "Let's keep moving, shall we?"

    - - - - -​

    The sun had set by the time that Andrea and Patrick had reached the outskirts of Nettlefield. As they pressed onward, darkness threatened to envelope them before they even reached the center of the village. They knew they wouldn't be able to get started on the task at hand, so the subject of lodging came up between them; much to Andrea's relief, Patrick informed her that they already had a room reserved for them at The Roost, Nettlefield's only motel. Even better, she wouldn't have to pay a cent, as Dr. Reiland's staff had already covered the cost beforehand.

    "Standard procedure for all official field business, you'll be happy to hear," he explained.

    Her joy quickly faded when they arrived at The Roost. The place had certainly seen better days. Half of the neon sign that announced its presence to the world was broken off and missing, with the remaining half barely functional. The once pristine white paint that adorned the sides of the building was cracked and peeling off. The windows were filthy and looked as if they hadn't been washed in nearly a year, and thick weeds sprouted from the foundation of the building. At the very least, the staff who managed the motel were friendly and accommodating as they pointed them to their room.

    As they entered, the first thing that hit them was the overpowering stench of mildew that wafted towards the door. Andrea covered her nose with her hand. "Eww, gross!" she shouted. "It smells like a gym locker in here!"

    Patrick was unphased by it. "Yeah, it's... it's definitely pretty bad... But I've been in worse." he said as he ventured further into the room. "You'll get used to it before the night's over."

    She studied the wall beside her and noticed the dark splotches that were spreading up the water-damaged wall. "I don't think so."

    "Trust me, you will," he said as he dropped his backpack onto a table. "I'd hate to say it, but we could be here awhile. We could get lucky and figure out the problem within a few hours, but it's more likely that we'll be stuck here for a few days while we work out what's happening at that farm."

    "There's mold growing on the walls!" she protested.

    "Yeah, I can see it! If you want to camp outside, be my guest, but at least it's warm in here." he said. He realized his words meant very little as he watched her timidly inspect the room, so he tried to reassure her. "This is part of the job, Andrea. You're not at your university anymore. When you're out in the field doing real work, there is no sterilized lab, no properly maintained dorm room to return to at night. This is the real world, and unfortunately it's not all that great sometimes, so you have to make do with what you've got."

    She sighed as she tried to put the sorry state of the room out of her mind. "I guess... I still have a lot to learn, don't I..."

    "You do. They don't teach you street smarts in those lecture halls." He wandered over to the couch in the corner of the room and gave it a swift kick. The cushions lurched upward and then outward, exposing a lumpy mattress that sprawled across the floor. He shook his head as he laughed. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you've got the bed tonight! This'll do for me."

    "Good. I was wondering how that was going to work... I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing a bed with my new boss."

    He chuckled at the thought.

    "That's not something you should laugh about! I still don't see why we couldn't get separate rooms..." she commented as she sat down on the bed. Much to her surprise, it was nice and soft, perhaps the only appealing thing about the room.

    He crashed onto the couch and tried to get comfortable. "Dr. Reiland runs a tight ship, and one of the corners she has to cut in order to keep all of our projects funded is stuff like this."

    "That's not the most reassuring thing to hear..." she muttered. "But I guess I won't be on the road much..."

    "Hopefully not. It's true, the Reiland Institute does a lot of contract work, and a lot of that is out in the field... but most of our employees spend a majority of their time at the lab."

    "Most?" she asked.

    "That's why I said that you should get used to it. You never know when you'll be out of town." he said. "Well, I'm hoping to get an early start tomorrow, so I'm gonna get some shut eye. You'd be wise to do the same."
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
    DreamSayer likes this.
  9. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

    I'm aware that a fair amount of time has passed since these chapters were originally posted. And, well, Negrek and Cutlerine probably brought up the biggest things (because they always do; they're just way too good at that). So, if anything feels redundant or annoying, you can just skip it, I suppose. I won't mind. I guess I should also offer some congratulations; I know this story's gotten some accolades and awards where it was originally posted, which is always something to be proud of, in my book. ^^

    Let's get into it, shall we?

    Ch 1
    Even though there's a fair bit of unfamiliarity with the whole prospect of your story (made up region and all that jazz), there's a lot that feels familiar with the opening on the train. Full disclosure: never been to the UK or Ireland, so all I know is what I've seen. Rain is certainly the stereotype. As are lusher, greener environments. But I'm more talking about the whole nervousness about the interview and uncertainty with stepping out into the "adult world," so to speak. I can't say I didn't feel exactly like Andrea did in her scenario. If I had to fault anything, it feels to me like you really didn't need to withold Andrea's name until her arrival at the lab. Because it led to a lot of instances of referring to her as "the young woman." I've made similar decisions and gotten called out on having it feel too disjointed and too clinical, so I thought I'd bring it to your attention. Likewise, this is nitpicking, but having Patrick greet Andrea with "Welcome to our research institute," felt really wooden. Though, for all I know, maybe greetings are a bit more formal overseas. In which case, ignore me. I'm stupid. @.@

    I liked the minor nod to Team Rocket's attack on Silph Co., too. I personally think little canon nods like that are fun to see in these kinds of stories. The interview definitely felt like an interview. In some regards, Andrea's answers felt like they'd been rehearsed. But the bits of narration offering insight into what she was thinking made her replies fill a bit more genuine, which I think is a plus. The "banter" between Patrick and Dr. Reiland felt a bit off to me in places. Like, I know about trying to create friendly environments for interviews, but the side comments about Dr. Reiland's university life and the "Whose side are you on bit?" threw me off, because it felt sort of unprofessional. Not a huge deal, I suppose. Again, just thought I'd point it out.

    Ch 2
    Ah, so Andrea has no Pokémon of her own to speak of. Interesting. Not every fic starts with Pokémon, but I think this is the first I'm reading where the protagonist has avoided being a trainer, for one reason or another. That said, I should probably say I'm surprised with how candid Patrick is about the way Andrea's dressed. Maybe it's just me, but that feels like inner monologue type of stuff. XP

    The rest of the chapter is – how to I phrase it? – pretty standard introductory/exposition fare. Nothing wrong with it, at all. If you're writing a detailed story, you're going to cover the whole "welcome to the workplace" setting. It doesn't get too bogged down for my tastes, and Patrick doesn't spend too long droning on about any one subject. We get a quick glimpse of the not-Xtransceiver/Pokétch/etc. of the region. As someone who's been in large-scale bio/medical labs, the security installations there don't actually surprise me, personally. No idea if they're going to get touched upon in the future. But I'm used to seeing big ol' electronic locks and hazmat symbols and whatnot. Lastly, we get a sense of direction for Andrea with the Miltank herd. This sounds more like something that the government should be investigating, but maybe Dr. Reiland's lab is actually affiliated with whatever passes as the government for this region. In any case, her eagerness shows through well, and has good chemistry with Patrick so far... at least from what I'm seeing.

    Ch 3
    See, I'm still rather new to all this fanfic stuff. The chapter starts on some interesting worldbuilding, I think? Not sure if that's the right word. It gives me a bit more details on the backcountry, and how it stands in contrast to the more established cities in Lanark. But it is put out there as a large chunk of exposition. For all I know, this stuff may get toned down later. And, I suppose, they have to talk about something as they're walking. Still, it kind of felt like, rather than cutting to the chase, this part was put in there as an extended means of saying "backcountry's very dangerous." In contrast, I prefered the short conversation about Patrick's rebel phase, since it gives him a bit more character.

    We get some excitement in the wild Pokémon battle with Donphan. You can definitely see Patrick's hobbyist trainer tendencies showing. He's not very good, to put it politely. And I'm not just saying that 'cause he's foolishly raising a Flareon. And there's definitely something more going on with Andrea. I think it goes beyond just some sort of incident with an old friend, and that it's certainly going to factor into things eventually. Likewise, the arrival at the motel is, I guess, a very healthy dose of reality ensues for Andrea. Had to happen at some point, I guess. I can't help but wonder why this seemingly well-endowed lab couldn't have some sort of mobile van thing they could use for this sort of stuff. Are they really going to investigate this Miltank herd with little to no equipment? Seems like that could cause a bit of an issue. Or, rather, I'll have to see how you end up handling it.
     
  10. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Things pick up a little here, huh? I like this battle; it does the things that battles in fic do really well – that is, show more of the trainer's thought process, and bring in the environment. I do feel like time sort of pauses to let Andrea come up with her strategy – there's a stretch while she's thinking where the donphan doesn't seem to do much attacking – but other than that, it's a really solid battle. Interesting to see people's pokémon being introduced at last. I don't feel like I got a solid handle on Fang's personality from this chapter (this is a thing I do, I'm always interested to see how people handle animal characters alongside human ones and make them feel alive) but I'm sure we'll see more of him as time goes on.

    I also like the little details of the broader political picture that Patrick drops into the conversation. Every chapter, the world gets a little bigger and richer, in ways that make you want to hear more, and it's a really effective way of drawing you in alongside the pull of the character interactions. (And the desire to see how exactly Andrea is going to deal with everything, because she is simultaneously the kind of person who knows the value of first impressions and also the kind who turns up to job interviews dressed like that, and that's kind of amazing.)

    Couple of minor things that seemed off to me: one, as a wildlife researcher, I'd imagine Andrea would be more precise with words like 'feral', which usually denotes a domesticated animal that's gone wild again, like pigeons or feral horses, rather than purely wild animals; two, I feel like it's weird that the 'I'll come back with all my friends to stomp on you' behaviour is something that most trainers aren't aware of. Maybe rookie trainers don't know, but I imagine once they actually get out into the world and start meeting wild pokémon they'd learn it the hard way pretty quickly. Unless of course that isn't how training works in your world. I guess I'll have to wait and see about that!
     
  11. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    No better way to keep engaged with a new community than to respond to stuff like this, and I don't mind doing so!

    I've got my eyes on a few prizes here, too >:) Look out, everybody!

    This can be attributed to the fact that Andrea appeared in a previous story of mine that I cancelled. I wanted her reveal to be a bit of a surprise to readers of that project (and I remember it working), but it probably doesn't serve much purpose anymore. This chapter is scheduled to get a rewrite like I've already done for chapters 3, 4 and 5 (and the rest, as I get to them) so this'll probably go on the chopping block?

    I don't get many comments about hiding character names until they introduce themselves, a style I've picked up and kept consistant over the past decade; what do you usually see about it that people say, and is it really as irksome as they make it out to be?

    I think it's worth going back and looking over this whole interview. I really didn't know what I was doing with it. :p I've had other complaints that the environment around the institute is too friendly and loose, I'll look at that as well.

    I was pretty weak on internal monologue early on. It's safe to say that it improves in the later chapters.

    Quick little blurb about this, probably not. Time spent at the lab will likely be kept to a relative minimum and I don't have any plans to have it sieged by a group like Team Rocket. Might throw in a scene here and there like "hey here's a security card, you can access level 2 rooms with it!" or something.

    Ding ding! ;)

    It doesn't. I just loooooove going into lengthy paragraphs about the world in general and the immediate surroundings, and I doubt that'll ever change.

    Heh, seeing this line a couple days ago inspired me to add a little note to that in the next chapter. I really need to expand on the place of vehicles in this world. As it stands, personal vehicles just kinda don't exist for most people (outside of motorcycle enthusiasts), as public transportation is so well set up and convenient, and culturally, people just don't mind walking. I don't know where I can put it in without feeling like I'm taking too much time to explain something that has little impact on the story, it feels.

    I imagine it not as a time stop, but maybe a small step back through time where she's analyzing the battlefield from her safe spot as it continues.

    I'll be honest right now, Fang doesn't have much of a personality assigned to him. I never thought to give him one.

    I actually didn't know there was a difference! I guess this can be attributed to living in America, where most problematic species you hear about were introduced by European settlers, so the difference between wild and feral kinda blurs to most common folk like me.

    Note and fixed!

    Hmm. I'll have to expand on this at some point, didn't think of it that way.

    Anywho! Thank you all for your continued reading! I'm really enjoying all of the feedback, even if it's for older content. It's nice to get fresh perspectives!
     
  12. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Author's note: I feel compelled to issue a warning about this chapter, due to how uncomfortable it made me to write it. If you're squeamish about the idea of characters performing a post mortem analysis of a deceased Pokémon, feel free to gloss over the middle section of the chapter. You'll know when you find it. You can ctrl+f for "Where have I seen this before..." to skip it entirely and return to the chapter as normal.

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 4: A Grim Task


    [​IMG]

    "Cuckawwwww! Cuckawwwww!"

    The crowing of a Taillow rooster, a sound that Andrea hadn't heard in nearly five years. For the first sixteen years of her life, it signaled the start of a new day, and just like the old days, it served that same purpose once more. Despite the terrible condition of the room, she felt well rested as she rolled out of bed. She wandered over to the window and peaked through the tattered blinds; the golden glow of the rising sun bathed the area with welcoming warmth, and not a cloud was visible in the sky.

    Patrick, on the other hand, looked as if he hadn't slept a wink the entire night. His bright red hair was an utter mess and dark bags rested under his eyes. He placed his hand on his forehead in a failed attempt at relieving his suffering, and a barrage of obscenities flowed through his mind like a river. "This bloody room. There should be laws against this." he thought.

    Andrea looked down at him as he rubbed his head and groaned repeatedly. "You look terrible..."

    "Nothing's new, then. I always look terrible." he said in attempt to inject some humor into his suffering. He groaned heavily as he sat up. "How'd you sleep?"

    "Well enough, I think."

    "No, how?" he asked. He remembered the speech he gave the previous night about making do with what he had, then decided to drop the subject. He stumbled to his feet and tried to put on a stoic face. "Nevermind. Ready to get started?"

    She crossed her arms as she gave him a glaring look. "Are you?"

    "I'll just be a little tired, that's all," he said.

    She began to dig through her backpack and retrieved her spare change of clothes. "If you don't mind, I'd like to have a shower first."

    "Suit yourself," he said with a shrug. "I'm gonna go for a little walk and get some fresh air... this room is making me dizzy."

    - - - - -​

    Breakfast passed by quickly and uneventfully. Both ordered the same thing: cinnamon-seasoned toast drenched in butter alongside a generous helping of sugary apple chutney, further complimented with scrambled eggs and two strips of bacon. Andrea ate like a queen; her usual meals over the past four years, be they breakfast, lunch or dinner, were rarely anything other than the blandest and most tasteless ramen imaginable. Such was the fate of a university student, she always told herself, and that she should be happy she had even that.

    "Jeeze, slow down there!" Patrick mused. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say this is the first time you've ever eaten in your life."

    She giggled, then noticed that his plate was still mostly full. "What about yourself? You don't seem to be enjoying it as much as I am."

    "Still dizzy. If we're staying the night again, I'm definitely going to do what I can to get us a better room."

    "So, you're done, I take it?"

    He pushed his plate across the table towards her. "Want it?"

    She shook her head. "Oh! No! I just wanted to get started."

    With breakfast out of the way, the two started their day with the short walk across the village towards the Gates Dairy Farm. The dairy farm was larger than either had expected; both knew that it was one of the largest in the country, but they were surprised to see how just expansive it was. An impressive array of pipes, wires, machinery and storage tanks, a small factory in its own right, were the hallmark at the center of the property. Ranch hands were already hard at work on the property, inspecting the machinery, maintaining the land and interacting with the livestock.

    As they approached, they passed by the Miltank pasture. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at a quick glance; the 250-member herd grazed peacefully on the muddy grass, blissfully unaware of the fate that potentially awaited them.

    "Look at 'em all..." Patrick commented.

    One of the Miltanks approached the fence as they passed by and mooed loudly to grab their attention. The creature was covered from head to toe in filthy and gnarled pink fur, with dozens of black spots, speckles and stripes adorning its massive, rotund body. Two blunted horns sat atop its black head, and its deep blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight as it awaited their attention.

    Andrea couldn't contain herself as she passed by. "Awww! Aren't you just adorable!?" she squealed as she offered her hand out. "Look at how pretty you are!" She quickly devolved into gibberish as she patted and rubbed the overjoyed Miltank all over.

    Patrick looked as if he was dying of the plague as he watched the two. It was such a strange sight to him to see a girl clad in black clothes and heavy makeup interact so lovingly and energetically with the Miltank in front of her. "Dr. Reiland was right... you shouldn't judge a book by its cover..."

    She turned around and stared a hole into him. "What was that?"

    "Nothing, nevermind," he said.

    As she rubbed the cheeks of the Miltank, she curiously started, "So... This is probably a bad time to bring it up, but I've been thinking..."

    "About what?"

    "Did we... maybe... forget something? We barely brought any equipment with us! How exactly are we meant to figure out what's going on here?"

    "Hey, don't worry. We've got gloves, we've got surgical masks and we've got sample collection kits... But the most important thing we need is right here." He rolled up the sleeve of his jacket and revealed his R-Kit. "I don't expect us to be able to fix the problem, we're mostly here to gather information and forward it to the owner of the ranch, and if need be, the Ministry of Wildlife."

    She inspected her own R-Kit closely. "So, the R-Kit will tell us everything we need?"

    "It won't give us a guaranteed answer," he said, pointing to his head. "That's up here."

    The sound of iron hooves racing across the gravel pathway crept up behind them. As they turned around, a large, white equine creature was blazing towards them with blurring speed, leaving a trail of glowing orange sparks in its wake. A thick mane of gorgeous, fiery red hair ran down its neck, across its back and down its tail. Atop the creature was a rugged looking man, adorned from top to bottom with tattered and patched denim clothing. His look was complimented by a bright white felt cowboy hat.

    "Woah there, girl, settle down!" he said as he pulled on the Ponyta's reins. The creature came to an abrupt stop and circled around the two as the man studied them with a critical and sharp glare. "Any reason you folks are on my property? You did see the signs, right?"

    "Your property?" Patrick asked with a raised eyebrow. "Mr. Gates, I presume?"

    "That'd be me," he said with a polite nod and an offer of his hand. A thick, rural drawl hung over his words, yet there was the unmistakable charm of a country gentleman surrounding him. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance. Now, care to answer my question?"

    Patrick shook his hand and immediately felt the crushing grip of a vice. "I'm Patrick Adelaide," he said before he motioned towards Andrea. "And this is my assistant, Andrea Dennison."

    "Hi," she quietly chirped as she shook his hand. She too was put off by the rancher's strong grip and retracted her hand defensively, tending to it with the soft caress of her other hand.

    "We're scientists from the Reiland Institute and we're here to investigate the problem with your Miltank herd."

    "Oh, good! You got here earlier than I expected!" Mr. Gates said with excitement. His demeanor shifted rapidly, marked with a sigh. "Poor girls... I just don't know what's been going on with them."

    Patrick nodded. "That's what we're here for, but I have to warn you: it could take some time for us to figure out what's going on, but we will. In the meantime, you might lose a few more..."

    Mr. Gates nodded at the warning. "That's life, ain't it? I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect to lose at least a dozen more. Whatever it is, it's just burning through them."

    "We've got a few early ideas... My assistant here is thinking it might be a problem with the cattle feed."

    "The feed, you say?" Mr. Gates scratched his chin in thought, then shook his head. "I don't know 'bout that. Problem's only come up in the past couple weeks, and we've had that feed since the harvest last year."

    "It wouldn't hurt to look, would it?" Andrea quietly asked.

    "I 'spose not. I'll take you to the main storage silo. Stuff could'a gone bad over the winter..." He dismounted from his steed and patted her on the side. "You head back to the stable now, ya hear? I'm going to show our guests around." The Ponyta neighed loudly and began to trot away as Mr. Gates led Andrea and Patrick deeper into the farm.

    "What do you use to feed them?" Patrick asked.

    "Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Wheat chaff, grass clippings, soy beans, corn... I see 'em pickin' at the nettles on the stone walls on the edge of the pasture all the time, too."

    "Nettles? How long has that been going on?"

    "Since I was your age, son."

    "Huh. I doubt they're the problem, then."

    Mr. Gates shrugged. "I'm not convinced it's a problem with their diet. If it were, I'd have probably lost over half of the herd by now."

    - - - - -​

    It was a quick journey to the grain silo that sat at the heart of the Miltank pasture. Along the way, Patrick and Andrea questioned Mr. Gates about the day to day happenings on the farm. He hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary in the weeks leading up to the first Miltank's death two weeks ago, or anything since. When asked about the other Pokémon kept on the farm, Mr. Gates informed them that the problem had only been plaguing the Miltank herd; the Mareep flock was as healthy as could be, the Swannas were perfectly content and the Ponytas at the stables were in similar condition. They didn't have any answers yet, but they were starting to narrow down their early theories.

    Mr. Gates unlocked the maintenance hatch on the silo and swung it open. The musky smell of damp, old wheat billowed out into the field; the stench drove the Miltank herd into an excited frenzy, but the group was protected by a ring of barbed iron fencing. "I don't know what you're gonna look for, but have at it." he said.

    Patrick patted Andrea's shoulder. "I'm gonna let you handle this one, Andrea."

    Anxiety bubbled to the surface as she looked at him with puppy eyes. "M-me? All alone?"

    "Consider this your first major test, I want to see if you can figure this out. If you start feeling like you're in over your head, let me know. I'll give you a hand."

    "You're making a mistake. I already feel like I'm in over my head, but... I'll try." she said. She slipped her latex gloves on, then grabbed two big handfuls of cattle feed and dropped them onto a workbench beside the silo. "Let's see..." she muttered to herself as she brought up the Accu-Scan app on her R-Kit. She clicked through the various options until she found a physical data scan and began the process. Just as it had done before, a holographic beam shot out of the top of the R-Kit and began to scan the grain in a rapid and orderly fashion.

    "Working..." the R-Kit said in a robotic voice.

    "That's a fancy gadget you got there..." Mr. Gates gawked. "What is that, one of those fancy holo-whatsits from those science fiction movies?"

    "That's the easy way to explain it," Patrick laughed.

    "Compound mixture detected, broad analysis. Displaying detected components: 67% wheat, 17% corn, 10% grass, 6% soy protein. Detailed breakdowns of these components can be found below. Analytical information can be found even further below." An impressive array of information about the cattle feed appeared on the screen, though a majority of it felt useless to the problem at hand. She scrolled through the mountains of data looking for anything that, to her, looked out of the ordinary. Eventually she came to something that seemed useful:

    MICROBES PRESENT: Large quantities detected.
    MICROBE WARNINGS: None. Levels are ordinary.
    FUNGI PRESENT: Trace amounts detected.
    FUNGI WARNINGS: Inconclusive. Thorough lab analysis required.
    TOXINS PRESENT: N/A
    TOXIN WARNINGS: N/A
    CHEMICALS PRESENT: Somatotropin
    CHEMICAL WARNINGS: Unusual somatotropin levels detected. Thorough lab analysis recommended.


    "Somatotropin?" she asked. "That sounds familiar, but I can't quite remember..."

    "Growth hormone. Ya know, put a little extra milk in the udder. There's a lot of them..." Mr. Gates paused and his eyes narrowed. "...hippie types... they say it's bad for the cows, but it's perfectly harmless, far as I know. Hasn't hurt 'em a bit in the thirty years I've been doing this."

    She continued to scroll through the data, but nothing stood out. "Maybe I was wrong... Any ideas, Patrick?"

    "It happens," Patrick answered before turning to Mr. Gates. "Can we take a look at one of the recently deceased Miltanks, Mr. Gates? We might find something useful."

    "Sure can! We've had most of them hauled away, but we had another pass overnight... Come along, she's in the barn. I'll take you to her."

    Andrea pulled Patrick aside and objected quietly. "You're not serious, are you?"

    "You did ask for ideas, right?"

    She shook her head, then sighed. "I was hoping you had something else in mind..."

    "Don't blame ya if you're a little squeamish 'bout it, missy. It's not a pretty sight. But if it's any consolation, you'll have the freshest one to work with."

    - - - - -​

    "Here she is, the most recent one," a rancher announced as he led Mr. Gates, Andrea and Patrick through the barn. They stopped at one of the holding pens; inside, a deceased Miltank was slumped over a pile of hay. Despite Mr. Gates' assurances of it having recently passed, a horde of buzzing insects were already at work, and the stench of decay hung heavily in the air.

    "Don't worry, girl, you won't have died for nothin'. These people will figure out what happened to you and protect your sisters." Mr. Gates said as he knelt down beside the deceased Miltank.

    "She looked healthy last night..." the ranch hand started. "Then when I came in this morning? She was gone."

    Patrick shook his head as he looked at the deceased Miltank, then strapped a surgical mask around his mouth and nose. "Hopefully she didn't suffer much. Let's get started."

    Mr. Gates tipped his hat. "You need a hand with anything, you give me a shout. Me and 'arry've got some Mareep to check in on, so I'll be over there for awhile if you need to find me."

    "Thank you, Mr. Gates," he said with a polite nod. He knelt down beside the Miltank, slipped his gloves on, and began to give it a closer inspection. After a minute, he looked up towards Andrea, who had kept a sizeable distance. "I'm going to need a hand with this."

    "I... I don't know about this..." she started. "This is..."

    "It's gross, I know," he answered back. "I can think of ten thousand things I'd rather be doing right now, but... look, you going to help or not?"

    She sighed, took a deep breath, blocked her nasal passages, then timidly approached the Miltank. Her preparation was almost useless, as the smell still forced its way through her mask and into her nostrils. She dropped to her knees, slowly rolled up her sleeves and readjusted her gloves, trying to put off what she was about to do for as long as possible. "W-what should I... I never..." she sheepishly bleated.

    "I guess this is more medical than biology, huh..." he said. Truth be told, he didn't know what to do either. "Let's just give 'er the once over, see if anything looks suspicious." He pointed towards the Miltank's head. "Try to lift her head up."

    She thought carefully about how to proceed with his request. Worried about irking an increasingly impatient Patrick, she bit her lip and dug her left arm between the Miltank's head and the hay that it was resting on. The creature's head was massive and surprisingly heavy, forcing her to lift with her right arm as well. She tried her hardest to ignore everything around her and gazed up towards the rafters of the barn. Patrick slid his finger into the Miltank's mouth and lifted its upper lip. A blast of noxious air escaped the creature's mouth and was nearly enough to make her sick.

    "Nothing seems out of the ordinary here..." he commented as he inspected the creature's mouth. 32 well-worn molars, divided into sets of eight, rested within healthy looking gums. "Alright, you can put her down now."

    She weezed heavily in an attempt to catch her breath as she let the creature's head go.

    He let out a chuckle. "You know, this is the side of science they don't tell you about in school."

    "I really wish they did," she said. "If I knew that I'd be doing this one day, I'd have focused on that softball career instead."

    He peeled back the Miltank's flap-like ear and began to study it for any potential irregularities. "Softball, huh?" he asked. "Never was a big fan of it... such a boring, slow game. Were you any good at it?"

    She shrugged. "It got me a scholarship, at least. They took it away after the first year, though... I never did join the team. I focused on my degree instead."

    "If we ignore what we're doing right now, I think you made the right choice. Softball isn't that big in this country... Besides, a career like this could be lifelong. People who get into sports are lost when they have to retire, and they do it early."

    The small talk helped to ease Andrea's nerves. She still found the work she was doing to be utterly detestable, but she also found it easier to cut through her apprehension. "Find anything?"

    He shook his head as he dropped the ear. "Nothing."

    "What next?" she asked, in the hopes that they were done.

    He grabbed a large tuft of the Miltank's fur and began to dig his fingers through it. "We're going to have to start digging deeper."

    "Gross... Let's just get this over with, then..." she mumbled as she did the same.

    "That's the spirit!"

    Minute after agonizing minute passed by as they dug through the Miltank's pink fur. Each tug of the fur released more and more of the horrid smell, and all for nothing; they weren't even sure of what they were looking for, but whatever it was, they weren't finding it. Patrick mused at the idea of returning to Loch Alstan and dragging the medical assistant they had met at the research center along for the job, but only as a last resort if they couldn't find anything themselves.

    Just as they were about ready to give up, Andrea found a particularly unsightly white blister hidden beneath the Miltank's matted fur. A thick, syrupy substance that was lavender in color oozed from it. "Ewww... what the hell is this?"

    Patrick perked up. "What is what?"

    She pointed out the blister. "This thing..."

    Patrick inspected the blister, but he was uncertain of what exactly it could be. "Let's look for more of these. I think you might have found what we're looking for."

    It didn't take long before the two found similar blisters all across the Miltank's lower body, hidden from sight just below its fur. They all looked identical to the first.

    "Now to figure out what the hell these things are..." he said. He reached into his messenger bag and retrieved a set of cotton swabs, gently collected some of the lavender liquid and deposited the swabs into a sealable plastic bag. "I'll run these by medical when we get back."

    The blisters looked vaguely familiar to her. "Where have I seen this before..." she murmured. "I remember... reading about something... second year's ecology unit..."

    "What is it?"

    She raised her R-Kit and began to flip through the apps. "During my second year of university, we focused a lot on the delicate balance of ecosystems across the world. I remember reading about something... uhh... Darn it! I can't remember its name!" she shouted. "It was some sort of fungal infection brought on by contact with toxic spores, I remember that much."

    He shrugged, unsure of what she was talking about.

    "This thing is able to categorize Pokémon species by subtype, right?" she asked as tapped away at her R-Kit.

    "It can," he said with a smile. "Sounds like you're onto something."

    "I'm probably completely wrong, but maybe if I see a name I recognize..." she mumbled. A lengthy list of thousands of Pokémon appeared on the screen, far too many for her to sort through in an efficient manner. She filtered the list selectively based on what she remembered: a fungal Pokémon that thrived in a forest habitat. To her relief, the new list was only twenty-three entries long. She began to whisper to herself as she scrolled through the list. "No... Foongus... I remember you, but you're not it... no... not Mayandus, either... is that... no... Ah! I think this is what I'm remembering! Blastcap!"

    "Never heard of it."

    "Blastcap, the Toxplosion Pokémon!" the R-Kit's voice began to drone. "Blastcap is a colony Pokémon composed of many parts. Unlike other colony Pokémon such as Dugtrio or Exeggcute which operate in hivemind-like groups, all of the thought processes and decision making happen in the largest mushroom, while the rest focus on nutrient gathering, defense and expansion. When a Blastcap reaches the end of its adult life, each mushroom in the colony erupts with a cloud of spores that spread through the area and settle on dead or dying trees. These spores then spread their roots and new colonies form."

    "It's a prime example of why a species shouldn't be introduced to a new environment," she said. She began to read from the information that her R-Kit displayed about the creature:

    Blastcap is a species that is native to the jungles of the Mangada region's Andalla Basin, though it has a worldwide range today. In many areas, it is seen as an aggressive invasive species, due to a lack of natural predators and its reproductive methods. While there is no solid consensus as to how Blastcap was introduced to other areas, many ecologists point towards the sharp rise in international trade that the Mangada region initiated following its liberation during the Great War as a likely cause, a sentiment backed up by numerous historians.

    . . .

    The first reports of Blastcaps within Lanark were made in 1957, when several colonies were discovered in the forests north of Steelport. By 1963, the Blastcap infestation had reached peak levels as it made its way north into the heartland. In the following year, several thousand acres of farmland were overrun by Blastcap colonies, being the main contributing factor to the Goldwheat Famine, which claimed the lives of about 20,000 people and Pokémon. Blastcap's presence was officially declared a national emergency, and an extensive campaign spearheaded by the newly founded Ministry of Wildlife aimed to contain the Blastcap population. On January 1st, 1967, the Ministry declared its campaign a success, with the last reported sighting of a Blastcap in the autumn of 1966.​


    "And what does any of that have to do with this Miltank?" he asked.

    She continued to read from the R-Kit:

    While interactions between Blastcaps and other species of Pokémon are poorly documented, recent evidence suggests that the spores it releases during its reproductive cycle are highly toxic to certain other species that are not found within its native range. in 1992, researchers in Kalos linked Blastcap spores to an outbreak at a Pokémon daycare facility that killed eight and left dozens crippled and chronically ill. The outbreak, termed 'White Pox' due to the appearance of numerous white pustules on the afflicted, was limited to Stantlers, Swinubs, Linoones, Zangooses, Tauri and the lone Slakoth at the facility, none of which share a natural range with Blastcaps.

    However, other Pokémon at the facility that shared historic ranges with the Blastcap, as well as the human staff and visitors, were completely unaffected. Theories about evolutionary acquired defenses to the toxic effects of the spores have been put forward by various researchers and ecologists, but there is no concrete evidence to back these theories at this time.​


    "But that doesn't make sense," he suggested. "Why would something like that be happening when Blastcap hasn't been seen in this country in decades?"

    "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to completely eradicate an invasive species?" she asked. "The Ministry may have said their program was a success, but there's no way to be certain that they completely wiped it out, especially in a country this large."

    "Yeah, good point... especially since the Ministry is doing everything it can to maintain the untouched charm of nature outside of the cities and farmland. Who knows what the hell is festering out there..."

    "Exactly." She adjusted the settings on her R-Kit and began to scan one of the blisters with it. "Perhaps I can prove my theory..."

    "If you're right about this, we have a bigger problem than a few dead cows."

    It took a moment for the R-Kit to complete its analysis. "Significant concentrations of fungal growth of unknown origin detected. A more detailed lab analysis will be required to determine a source." it droned.

    "Is there any way we can figure this out without going back to the lab?" she asked. "Can this thing scan more effectively?"

    "Unfortunately not, there's limits to this technology," he said. He rubbed his neck as he thought about what to do next. "What kind of environment does this Blastcap thing live in? Maybe we can look for it before we think about heading back to Loch Alstan."

    "It says here that they're found in temperate forests, swamps and rainforests for the most part."

    "A swamp, huh? That basically describes this entire area. Want to check it out?"

    She shook her head. "I don't think I'm dressed for a hike through a swamp."

    "If you want to stay here and hang out with the dead cow, that's cool."

    "No!" she protested. "A swamp sounds fine when you put it that way..."

    - - - - -​

    Author's commentary: This chapter... ho boy, it was a struggle to write. Not a difficult struggle, but an uncomfortable struggle. Never did I think I'd write about a post mortem, and never did I think that the mental images associated with it would be so horrifying and so physical, despite the fact that it's just words on a screen. Hats off to coroners and autopsy technicians, I could never do such work. Here's to the next chapter being a little less gruesome.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2018
    DreamSayer likes this.
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    This is an interesting one! I was waiting to see what kind of form your fakemon were going to take, and as it turns out, they're kinda cool. The best pokémon work conceptually as well as aesthetically, and blastcap, as a kind of puffball that also draws on the way whole fields of mushrooms can actually be a single organism, is a cool fusion of different types of fungus. It's conceptually pretty neat, and it also has an excellently punny name, which is of course one of the most important requirements for any pokémon. While we're on the subject of expanding canon and all, I also like the little details about how dugtrio are diglett that have collected together and mind-melded. Makes you wonder if they might potentially be separable again, or whether they remain connected no matter how far they wander from one another.

    That said, the giant wall of text about blastcap, while interesting in an abstract kinda way, is maybe a bit much all at once; I get the desire to establish and fully describe a fakemon that you're inserting into the world, but it's a lot of raw information to take in at once. I couldn't help but think that maybe it could have been cut down – maybe more information could be brought in as and when it becomes relevant, or as part of a discussion while they walk out towards the swamp in search of the blastcap itself.

    Also, for a giant dairy farm, I kinda feel like the Gates farm is a bit empty. There doesn't seem to be anyone around but Mr Gates himself – you'd maybe expect farmhands to be the ones who stumble across unexpected visitors while out on their rounds, and as they go around the farm, there seem to be no workers around at all. It seems a bit lifeless, is all, especially for what's meant to be one of the largest farms in the country.

    It is, however, neat to see Andrea and Patrick finally get to work! The dynamic between them is developing quite nicely; they bounce off each other really well. It does seem a little strange that Patrick ends up being the one complaining though, after his lecture about getting used to the real world the night before; if it was meant to be a joke, I'm not sure it comes across as one – it didn't occur to me that it might be one until I reread it for the review. I'm guessing we've got even more interesting times ahead, with the hunt for the blastcap now on, so that's something to look forward to; it seems like the kind of thing that'd be difficult to directly engage with, should that be what needs to happen, and it'll be cool to see how you handle that.

    Other than that, just one minor thing:

    The way your simile is set up here, you're basically saying that a stream flowed like a river, which is a bit redundant.
     
  14. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    :D

    Hmm... maybe this is an idea I can touch on at some point. Hadn't thought about it, but it's an interesting concept!

    This is definitely something I'll keep in mind in the future (and I currently have no plans to info dump like this with any future fakemon), but I do feel comfortable with the amount of information presented in this case. I might be able to cut one of the paragraphs and put them into the next chapter, but at the same time, I feel like it's all relevant to explaining what Blastcap is both to the reader, and in the voice of Andrea telling Patrick what it is.

    Hmm. I didn't intend for it to be a joke, mainly for it to be a "he's not so tough and stoic after all" kinda thing.

    Noted and fixed, though nothing major; I added a few mentions of farmhands and gave one a speaking role, and changed a word in relation to Patrick's sentence. Thank you!
     
  15. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 5: An Invasive Threat


    [​IMG]

    "Are you sure we won't get lost?" Andrea asked.

    Patrick wanted to reassure her, but he honestly couldn't be certain. The pair had been trudging through the murky swamp north of Nettlefield for nearly an hour. They initially followed a well-marked trail into the reed-choked thicket, but that had ended long ago. They were in the center of uncharted wilderness, surrounded on all sides by cloudy water, muddy islands and densely packed rows of tall, featureless trees. Between the low hanging branches, the tangled grasses, the snagging brambles and the frigid, knee deep water, fighting through the marsh was a constant and carefully fought battle.

    "What exactly do these Blastcap things look like, again?" Patrick asked.

    She revisited the Blastcap article and studied the photographs that accompanied it. "There's two parts of it. The central colony is a dense cluster of red, orange or yellow mushrooms, speckled with white dots... and then there's the outlying parts of the colony, which looks similar to lichen. That part is rusty brown or orange, with white slimy tendrils weaving in and out of it." she answered. "I haven't seen any of that, have you?"

    He shook his head. "Nothing. It feels like this whole swamp is completely devoid of life."

    "At least I've been hearing a few birds. Keep in mind, it's still a little cold out here."

    "Ehh... maybe. I just don't like it being this silent. I've seen enough horror movies to--"

    "Don't even!" she chastised aggressively. "I am not spending all day looking over my shoulder! Let's just focus on what we came here for."

    "My apologies," he said.

    As they continued along, Andrea began to realize just how little of a plan they had, and it made her very uncomfortable. "Do you know what we're going to do if we find this Blastcap that's been causing all this trouble?"

    "Not a clue."

    She stopped in her tracks and was ready to scream. "Are you kidding me?!" she roared. "You lectured me about the dangers of entering the wilderness unprepared, and now you're saying you don't have a plan?"

    "We're prepared. We've got snacks, water, first aid supplies, a Pokémon to protect us, and eight hours of sunlight." he said in an effort to ease her nerves. "Besides, it's a mushroom we're dealing with. How bad could it be?"

    "It would be a good idea to--" she rapidly shot off before she stopped herself. "Sorry. I can get a little impatient sometimes. I've dealt with a lot of idiots in the past--"

    "Are you saying I'm an idiot, then?"

    "No! No, it's nothing like that. I just... I'm a little worried. Swamps scare the hell out of me, so much can go wrong in them if you're not careful."

    He wrapped his arm around her and brought her in closer for a light hug. "Well, we're just gonna have to be careful, then! Don't worry, I've got your back. Nothing is going to happen to you while I'm by your side. You can count on that."

    She forced his way out of his grip. She had a hard time believing him, but decided to accept his words regardless.

    "We're just here to find the source of the problem, and if we can, deal with it as well. If we can't, we'll find someone who can. Does that sound like a plan?"

    "I guess..."

    "Good! Let's carry on!"

    - - - - -​

    After another half an hour of marching through the mud and the muck, the two found something that was very out of place within a swamp: thick, orange sludge had coagulated on top of the water, with more oozing down from the trees like spider webs. Andrea wandered over to one of the trees to get a closer look; the faint sound of hissing and intermittent bubbling came from the branches. In the distance, a branch crumbled and fell to the water below, landing with an audible splat as it collided with the sludge. She instinctively backed away from the tree and put as much distance as she could between it and her. It wasn't just that single tree that was covered in goo, either; a large chunk of the surrounding swampland was bathed in various shades of orange and brown.

    "This looks... bad..." Patrick gawked.

    "I think that's the understatement of the century..." she added as she raised her R-Kit. Scans of the sludge that rested atop the water indicated that it had a relatively neutral pH balance of 6.7, something that she found odd. The goo was eating away at the tree as if it were some sort of powerful acid, yet it wasn't. "What in the world is this stuff?"

    "I'm going to take some back to the lab, get a closer look at it." Patrick reached into his backpack and grabbed a sterile glass bottle covered in measurement scales. He knelt down and cautiously scooped some of the goo into it, being careful not to contaminate it with his fingers. With his sample collected, he scrawled a few notes on the bottle: time, location and approximate volume collected. "Before we do that, let's try to find where this stuff is coming from. That Blastcap can't be far."

    "Are... are you sure we're prepared for this?" she asked. "This seems a little out of our league. No, very out of our league."

    "We'll be fine. Come along."

    More time passed. They intended to circle the affected swampland, but they quickly realized the scope of what they were dealing with. In the half hour that they had been walking in nearly a straight line, there weren't any signs of the environment around them changing for the better. The two bickered for a moment about what to do; Andrea continued urging for caution and wanted to return to town to formulate a proper plan for what to do, while Patrick insisted that they scout the environment out and study it closely to help them better plan the best course of action.

    "I don't feel comfortable with this," she said, standing her ground. "We should head back to town before one of us gets hurt. I can't see either us spending a couple hours dragging the other back to town."

    "Aren't you just the least bit curious about this place? We need to study it closer... We'll know what we're up against, and what we can do to fix it."

    "Look at this place, it's dying! We can't fix this!" She started to plot a course back to the Nettlefield with her R-Kit.

    Having reached an impasse, Patrick decided to take matters into his own hands and took a few brave steps into the sludgy water. The filthy water soaked into his boots and was oddly warm to the touch, unlike the rest of the cold bog. He motioned for Andrea to follow, but she hesitated.

    "Don't do this to me," she pleaded.

    "Don't do what?"

    "You're giving me a no-win scenario here. If I follow you into there, there's a good chance that I could get myself seriously injured. Maybe even killed."

    "I think you're blowing it of proportion. We're just here to scout. The second we run into any trouble we can't handle, we're out."

    "We have no idea what the hell is out there!" she shouted. "We could be breathing in toxic spores right now for all we know!"

    "Didn't the R-Kit analysis explain that there was no risk of that?" he asked.

    Her blood boiled at his stubbornness. "Look, you might be confident that you can handle anything, but I'm not. And my other choice is to just leave you to wander off alone. If you get hurt, I'm getting fired, no doubt about that. Don't. Do this."

    "Relax... Help me with this and I'll put in a good word for you. Dr. Reiland trusts me to take care of myself, and she trusts me to take care of you." he said as he took another few steps into the marsh.

    "This guy is completely insane..." she thought. "I'll never make it back to town alone, either... This is gonna suck..."

    "C'mon, it's not that bad. In fact, it's warm and lovely!" he joked.

    "If I get hurt..." she grumbled. She took her first step into the water and her boot was immediately flooded by the warm, slimy water. "Ugh... this is so gross..." she started. "You owe me new boots after this. And some new stockings, too. In fact, a new dress, too, and this thing wasn't cheap... These will never come clean..."

    He bellowed with laughter. "Everything's gross to you, isn't it? Bugs, dead cows, murky water. Which has been the worst so far?"

    "Definitely the cow..."

    He took a moment to let his surroundings sink in. "I don't get it... How can a Pokémon be this destructive? It doesn't seem possible. It doesn't seem natural."

    "I couldn't say," she said. She grabbed her phone and began to snap pictures of the swamp with it. From the decaying trees to the bubbling orange sludge, she began to reconsider her initial theory about what had been plaguing the Miltank herd. "I might be wrong about this, you know. I'm pretty sure we found what we're looking for, but this seems like something far worse than a simple mushroom infestation."

    "Speaking of, we haven't even seen any of the bloody things yet!" he commented.

    They continued their trek through the swampland, but very little changed as they ventured deeper in. The overwhelming shades of bright orange began to give both of them headaches, and the rank air did little to alleviate their suffering. Frustration began to set in as they slogged onward through the muck, all for naught; no mushrooms or lichen were found, their feet were growing sore, and a cold afternoon wind had begun to blow between the trees.

    Patrick rolled up the sleeve of his jacket and began to tap on the screen of his R-Kit. He set a short alarm with it. "Fifteen more minutes, and then we turn around. That sound fine?" He didn't get an answer. "Andrea?"

    She was about twenty paces away from him, pressed up against one of the smoothbark trees. Her attention was fixed on some motion in the water ahead of her.

    "Find something?" he asked as he approached.

    "Do you see that log over there?" She pointed towards a fallen log that was submerged in the water in a clearing beside them. The log was rolling gently in place.

    "What about it?"

    "Wait for it..." she said as she watched the log. As the log spun some more, a glob of moss-covered material clung to the side of it. Upon closer examination, the moss appeared to be choking a cluster of mushrooms. At last, they had found what they were looking for!

    "Well bugger me! It looks like we found it!" he said with a laugh. "Let's get a closer look at it."

    She placed her arm out to stop him. "Hold on..." She raised her R-Kit and pressed a button on it to initiate another scan, but the scanning beam couldn't find its target.

    "You're not going to get a good scan from that distance. We're going to have to get closer."

    As they carefully approached the cluster of mushrooms that rested on the log, eyes resting atop the largest cap opened! They kept their distance, as they were unsure of how the creature would react. At the very least, it would have difficulty reaching them if it tried to defend itself. The water around them rippled with movement before the sunken log began to slowly rise out of the murky water. A vaguely humanoid looking figure began to take shape as the creature stood taller and taller; moss covered wood formed the core of its body, with root-like tendrils making up its arms and legs. Small red and orange mushrooms rapidly bloomed across almost every inch of the wooden figure.

    She jumped in fright and hid behind Patrick as the creature rose from the water. "What the hell is that thing?!"

    "A big problem," he said as he shielded Andrea.

    She began to scan the creature with her R-Kit. She wasn't sure what it was; the large mushroom at the top certainly looked like the various pictures of a Blastcap that she'd seen earlier in the day, but a wooden body and the ability to actually move about weren't mentioned anywhere in the article about it. "Since when are those things mobile?"

    "Unknown species detected. Caution is advised while in its presence." the R-Kit said in a robotic voice.

    "Unknown species?" Patrick asked. "This thing isn't a Blastcap?"

    The ground shook and the water churned as the swamp creature lumbered forward with uneven and wobbly steps. As it continued forward, green light began to glow within the twisted tendrils at the end of its extended arm, and a giant root-like spike shot upward out of the water just a few feet in front of them.

    "Stay back!" He pushed Andrea back as he reached into his pocket and grabbed his Flareon's Pokéball. With a forceful toss into the air, the ball exploded into a cloud of flickering flames and Fang appeared. Fang dropped into the knee-high water with an audible splash. "It's cleanup time, Fang! Focus your fire on the largest mushroom at the top!"

    Fang found it difficult to carry out the order due to the water around him. Despite it only being knee-high for Andrea and Patrick, it reached up to his mane and he had difficulty keeping his head above the water. Tried as he might, he could do little more than flounder hopelessly. The creature simply ignored Fang and continued to lumber towards Andrea and Patrick.

    "This isn't going to work..." he said. He turned to Andrea and pointed out one of the largest trees that jutted from the water. "Take cover behind that tree. Fang! We need to lure this thing to some high ground."

    The two went in different directions; Andrea rushed towards the tree and put it between herself and the creature, while Patrick slogged through the water in an attempt to rendezvous with his Flareon. The creature slowly followed him, once again raising its arm towards the sky. It teetered backwards, then threw the full weight of its massive body forward, nearly stumbling in the process. A long and flexible vine shot out of the creature's arm and wrapped around Patrick's waist, and he didn't get much further before the vine had reached its limit. With a forceful tug, the creature knocked him off of his feet.

    Andrea watched in horror as her partner was dragged through the muddy water. She thought as quickly as she could of a possible way to to intervene and looked around her, but all she could find were a few waterlogged pieces of wood. She grabbed the chunks of wood and began to throw them in the direction of the creature in an attempt to distract it. Most of them fell short, but the ones that struck the beast only bounced off to no effect.

    "I don't think that's going to work!" he shouted as the creature slowly reeled him in. In a last ditch effort, he grabbed ahold of the vine and sank his teeth into it. He snarled as he tried his best to shred it, but it did very little against the hardened surface of the vine. "Could really use a hand right about now, Fang!"

    Andrea refused to sit by and watch what was unfolding. With Fang hopelessly outmatched by the environment, she reasoned that it fell to her to save the day, somehow. She took a moment to calm her nerves and steady her thoughts, then charged towards Patrick's position. She dashed through the water as fast as she could, almost appearing to run on top of it at times.

    "What are you doing, get outta here! Save yourself!" he gestured wildly as he fought against the vine some more.

    "I'm not leaving without you!" she shouted as she put her hands to work. The vine was wrapped around Patrick's waist numerous times, but no knot held it in place. She struggled against the crushing grip of the vine, and little by little, she made progress in unwrapping it from around him. Second by second passed as the creature drew closer, until she eventually freed him from its grasp. Arm in arm, the two scrambled for safety. "We can't take this thing on! We need to leave!"

    He growled as he eyed the creature, still pursuing them. He reached for his Pokéball and gripped it tightly. "I've got one last idea..."

    "No! No more ideas, we're leaving!" she said as she nearly yanked his arm off and stumbled into the water.

    He spotted Fang desperately struggling against the water and aimed his Pokéball carefully. A red beam of light shot out of the center button and ended on Fang's head. Fang's motion stopped on a dime and his body began to fade with a red glow, then deform into an amorphous blob of energy as he was recalled back into the Pokéball. With his Flareon safely returned, he waited a few precious seconds, then dropped the Pokéball to the ground. The ball exploded and released Fang once more; this time, Fang was in his element and on dry land.

    Fang rushed towards the edge of the water and zeroed in on the central mushroom that rested atop the wooden creature. Flames began to flicker across his fur as he readied himself for an attack by taking in a deep breath.

    "Give it all you've got!" he ordered.

    The surrounding area heated up rapidly to sweltering temperatures as a torrent of blazing fire erupted from Fang's mouth. Andrea's vision faded to white as a wide arc of burning flames swept across the swamp and before long, the hissing sound of boiling water began to overwhelm her sense of hearing. The attack was over in a few short seconds, and their senses had returned a short time after that. All that remained of the creature was a charred lump of wood that bobbed on the surface of the steaming water. The trees in the surrounding area had been blackened by the attack, but none appeared to have caught fire. Fang had fallen over and struggled to return to his feet, completely exhausted from the powerful attack.

    Patrick tumbled to the muddy ground as he caught his breath. "Bloody hell... that... was too close." He looked towards Andrea and motioned for her to approach. She knelt down and tried to look him over for any injuries, but he wouldn't allow it. Instead, he grappled her with a forceful hug. "You've got a lot of guts, you know that? Thanks for not leaving me... You okay?"

    "How do people deal with this nonsense?" she asked.

    "It's wild, isn't it?" he asked as he flopped over. "This is an exception to the rule... I've been doing this for nine long years, and this is the first time I've ever run into real trouble like that."

    Her attention drifted to Fang, who was wheezing loudly, heavily and rapidly. She crawled over to him and gave him a quick inspection, but she couldn't find any obvious cuts or scrapes on him. "Is he going to be okay?"

    Patrick pulled himself up to his feet and grabbed his Pokéball. "He'll be fine, we just need to get him to a PokéCenter." As he recalled his Flareon, he asked, "What do you think? Did we take care of the problem?"

    "I hope so, but I really doubt it."

    He wandered up to the charred remains of the creature that had attacked them and knelt down for a closer look. As he ran his finger across the scorched wood, he noticed that a large chunk of it had been turned to ash. "Well, this one certainly won't be a problem. There's not much left."

    "Pardon me for asking a stupid question, but..."

    "There are no stupid questions."

    "Did you really have to... you know... kill it? I mean... yeah, i-it was attacking--" she stumbled. "It was still a living, intelligent creature. It didn't deserve that."

    He stood up and kicked at the water. "Of course it didn't. But it's a fuzzy line, sometimes, and you have to be willing to cross it if the situation demands it." he said. "You saw what that thing was capable of, and what it's been doing to those poor Miltanks. If we left it here, there's no telling what damage it could have caused."

    She sighed and shook her head, then took a few steps out into the still-warm water. "What do we do now? It looks like half of this swamp is infected, and there's gotta be more of those things out there."

    "I'm going to listen to your advice. We'll let someone more qualified handle this. We did what we could, but this is beyond our capabilities." He patted her on the back, then began the journey back to Nettlefield. "Come on, let's go home. Dr. Reiland will be interested to hear about what we found."

    She shook her arms and hair around, sending large gobs of orange goo everywhere. "I need another shower before I go anywhere."

    "Heh. Good idea."
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2018
  16. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Interlude: A Job Well Done


    [​IMG]

    It was a bright and early morning in Loch Alstan, and a busy one, too. Nearly a hundred staff members were gathered in the employee lounge of the Reiland Institute, chatting away as they readied themselves for another day of work and study. Andrea was present as well, seated alone at one of the tables; to the left of her was a half empty mug of mint tea, and to the right was an empty plate, speckled with biscuit crumbs. In front of her was the local newspaper, the Daily Loch, opened to the housing section. Row upon row of houses, apartments and other rental properties were on display, with giant red X's crossed through most of the cheaper offers.

    "How am I going to afford any of this and pay off my student debts..." she muttered to herself. As she continued to search for living arrangements, a coffee cup appeared an the end of the table. She looked up to see who had placed it there.

    Patrick yawned heavily. "Morn'." he said. "Sleep well?"

    She shook her head. "I don't think I'll ever get used to motels... I need to find a proper place to live, and quick."

    He laughed. "I still can't believe you came here without a plan."

    "Yeah, yeah, very funny..." she said as she crossed out another housing candidate. "This is depressing."

    "You'll find something. Check the south side of town, lots of cheap stuff down there. Lots of riff-raff down there, too, but at least you'll have a roof over your head."

    "That's where I've been looking..." Two more giant red X's appeared on the page. As she looked back at it, nearly the entire page was awash with red ink, and it was enough to frustrate her deeply. "I need a break from this..." she grumbled with a sigh. "So what am I doing today? Will I be put on another project, or do we still have unfinished business regarding what we found in Nettlefield?"

    He scratched his neck as he thought it over. "Not sure yet... I've got some administrative paperwork that I need to fill out before I can get started on what we found."

    "Need any help?"

    "Uhh... Thanks, but no thanks. It's a one man job. You know, calls to make, papers to write." He downed another gulp of his coffee.

    "I don't mind doing that."

    He smiled. "Don't worry about it. I'll find you something more interesting than sitting in my office for the next few days. Anyways, I'm about to visit Dr. Reiland and discuss our findings. You should come with! I'm sure she'll want to hear about your first day."

    - - - - -​

    Dr. Reiland was seated in her office, valiantly struggling with a small orange bottle of medication. With every failed attempt, she shook her frail-looking hand and breathed in and out to dull the pain of her crippling arthritis. "The nerve of these pharma companies..." she growled. Another attempt was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Yes? Who is it?"

    A muffled voice came from the other side of the door. "Good morning, doctor! It's Patrick!"

    "Ah, just a moment," she called out. She dropped the bottle of medication onto the table, then reached for her cane. With a brief countdown, she wobbled to her feet and approached the door, then entered a passcode into the door that locked her away from the outside world. She opened the door and greeted her guests with a warm smile. "Ah! If it isn't Patrick! And Ms. Dennison!" she said as she returned to her desk. She motioned for the two to have a seat. "You've returned sooner than I expected."

    "We're already done," Patrick answered.

    "Done? Already?" she asked. There was a distinct tone of disbelief behind her words.

    "Yes ma'am! You can thank our newest hire for that." He patted Andrea on the shoulder rather roughly, if not enthusiastically.

    Dr. Reiland glanced at her with a quick and studious look before returning her attention to Patrick. "I'm interested to hear what you mean by that... and what you've found, of course."

    "We're pretty certain that we locked down the cause of the illness that's swept across the Miltank herd at the dairy farm. We've ruled out that it's a problem with the feed, it's not a contagious illness, nor is it a hereditary illness."

    "Then what is it? And how is it spreading?"

    Patrick looked towards Andrea in an effort to encourage her to speak up.

    She was nervous, but took his cue. "Are you familiar with a Pokémon by the name of Blastcap?"

    "Blastcap... Blastcap..." Dr. Reiland muttered to herself as she searched the depths of her memory. "I believe I've heard of it, but the details are quite foggy..."

    "It's an invasive fungal species that reproduces with clouds of spores. These spores are very toxic to Pokémon that don't share its native range." she explained. "Blastcap was an ecological nightmare in the 1960s, but they were also contained and eradicated... however it looks like some might have slipped through the cracks. We found a big infestation a couple miles north of Nettlefield."

    "How big?"

    "A picture is worth a thousand words, and we've got dozens of pictures... show her, Andrea." Patrick said.

    Andrea retrieved her phone from her purse, navigated to the photos she took the previous day, then handed it to Dr. Reiland.

    "I'd say we walked at least an hour and we didn't even find the end of it! It must have been spreading out there for years." he added.

    Dr. Reiland's eyes widened quite rapidly as she flipped through the pictures. "Oh... oh dear, that's... that's quite something..." she said. "This is... problematic, to say the least."

    Patrick nodded. "It is. I'm going to get in touch with the Ministry of Wildlife to see what they can do about it. They've dealt with this problem before, surely they can deal with it again."

    Dr. Reiland handed the phone back. "How many of these Blastcaps did you find?"

    Andrea and Patrick glanced at each other in silence for a brief moment before she answered. "None, actually."

    Dr. Reiland tilted her head to the side. "None? I'm afraid I don't follow."

    "The swamp was pretty quiet. This infestation... it must have killed everything in its path. We heard birds, but that's it. No insects, no woodland creatures, nothing." Patrick answered.

    "We did find something out there, though, but the R-Kit couldn't properly identify it." Her voice began to crack as she continued; she wasn't confident in the words she was about to say. "It said that it was an unknown species?"

    Dr. Reiland lit up. "Unknown species, you say?" she asked.

    "I'm wondering if it's the evolved form of Blastcap... the only problem is, Blastcap doesn't have one."

    "Did you capture it, by chance? This could be big!"

    Once again, the two glanced at each other until Patrick spoke up. "Unfortunately I had to, umm... destroy it..." he said in a sheepish manner. "It posed a considerable threat not just to us, but to the village as well. Very violent little bugger. Well, big bugger. Much taller than me."

    Dr. Reiland leaned back in her chair, deep in contemplation. "Ah... I see..."

    "The damn thing nearly killed me, and we didn't even provoke it. I wasn't going to just leave it out there."

    "We may have lost a rare chance to document a new species... I may need to start contracting professional trainers to assist in matters such as these, perhaps it would have ended a bit less tragically."

    "Trust me, doctor, I didn't want to, but I had to. I owe Andrea my life... That thing snared me with a vine and started to reel me in like a fish, her quick thinking was the only thing that saw me untangled. She's got quite a pair on her, I'll give her that!"

    "I'll assume you mean I'm brave," Andrea said. Regret instantly gripped her. "Idiot... keep your jokes to yourself..."

    "Hmm..." Dr. Reiland hummed with a knowing smile and a bemused chuckle. "You may want to make a note of that in your report to the Ministry. We don't want anyone getting injured or killed while they investigate and deal with this problem."

    "Yes ma'am."

    "Also, I want a detailed report of just what this creature was. There will be some gaps that we'll have to fill in later, but this could be groundbreaking. It's not often that we get to announce a new species of Pokémon!"

    He nodded. "I was going to going to write that up later today. I have some physical samples I brought back to analyze, I'll send those down to the medical and chemistry labs when I'm done here. I'll include their findings in the report."

    "Is there anything else noteworthy about the creature you've found, or the problem with the Miltank herd?"

    "We told the owner of the dairy farm what's going on... I don't know if there's anything he can do about it, though. His best bet is grabbing a bucket of water and scrubbing his entire barn down, and I hope he does that."

    "It may be too late for that..."

    "Probably..." He shook his head. "Anything you want to add, Andrea?"

    "I think you summed it up pretty well," Andrea answered.

    "Very well, get started on this as soon as you can, Patrick. I look forward to reading your report and getting in touch with Ministry officials."

    He leaned over towards Andrea and spoke softly. "Mind emailing those pictures to me? I don't think the Ministry will take this seriously without some sort of evidence. Pretty unbelievable circumstances, if you were to ask me."

    "Sure thing."

    "Send them over to padelaide@reilandinstitute.org, I'll get the report taken care of later today."

    As Andrea began to tap away at her phone, Dr. Reiland asked, "Would you mind stepping outside for a moment, Ms. Dennison? I need a moment alone with Patrick."

    "uh oh..." she thought. She knew that Dr. Reiland was about to ask about her job performance, and it worried her. She knew that she did a decent job, but would that be enough? Would Patrick bring up his concerns regarding her stubborn unwillingness to blindly follow him or take his orders? These thoughts and more swirled in her mind, but she covered them with a smile. "Of course!"

    "Don't go too far, however! I'd like to speak with you as well when we're done!"

    She stepped outside and closed the door behind her. She wanted to respect the privacy of her superiors, but she also couldn't resist trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. She felt it was her right to know how Patrick viewed her performance; after all, how would she improve if she didn't know there was a problem? She pressed her ear to the door and listened carefully.

    "--you rate Ms. Dennison's performance?" Dr. Reiland's voice asked.

    "I think she did very well! Nine out of ten, easily." Patrick replied. "A bit hesitant to do some of the things that needed to be done, but when she got around to doing it, she did a good job."

    "Aaagh..." she grumbled.

    "Hesitant?" Dr. Reiland asked.

    "It's probably nothing. It was pretty grim for her first job. A post mortem on a dead Miltank, then we practically swam through a pool of slime... Were I in her shoes, I'd have probably hesitated as well."

    "Understandable."

    "But, outside of that, she was wonderful. I let her do most of the analysis, to see if she was up to the task. She already seems well acquainted with the R-Kit and knows how to use it effectively."

    "She's a quick learner, then?"

    "Yep. And her intuition saved us a lot of time. It didn't take her long to figure out what we were looking at. It just... sorta clicked in her head that maybe we should look at the Blastcap as a potential cause of the problem. She learned a lot during her studies, and I'd wager that a lot of it stuck with her even if she's forgotten the finer details. Something like that could be invaluable."

    She smiled at the praise as she continuned to listen.

    "So you would say that hiring her was a good decision?"

    "It's still early, but I think we might have struck gold."

    The positive remarks were a load off of Andrea's shoulders. She knew that she did well in Nettlefield, but the haunting specter of doubt lingered above her regardless. She stepped away from the door for a little celebratory dance of happiness and, breaking away from the traditions of years past, she began to feel confidence in what she was doing. Her dancing stopped as the door handle began to jiggle.

    "Your turn!" Patrick said. "It was nice working with you on this project, Andrea. I think you'll do fine here."

    "Thank you!" she said.

    "I'll catch you later! Dr. Reiland wants to see you now."

    Andrea entered the office and cautiously returned to her seat. She began to think about what the doctor might want; once again, doubt began to flood over her, so she put it all out of mind and masked her thoughts with a warm and patient smile.

    Without a word, Dr. Reiland began her struggle with her bottle of medication again. It took a few awkward moments of silence before she offered it across the desk. "Would you be a dear, please?"

    Andrea grabbed the bottle, opened it with relative ease, then handed it back to Dr. Reiland.

    "Damned arthritis medication. What sense does it make to put it in such an impossible to open bottle?" she said as she poured two round pills onto a small tray. Afterward, she grabbed five other bottles of medicine and placed them at the edge of her desk. "While I have you here, perhaps you could open those as well."

    Andrea happily obliged and began to work on the first bottle. Curiosity about the large amount of medicine that Dr. Reiland appeared to use on a daily basis started to get the better of her. The question begged to be asked; what was it for? However, she insisted on being respectful. "I'll assume you didn't ask me to stick around just to open your medication."

    "You would be correct," she replied before she swallowed the two pills. "Patrick's review of your work yesterday was... glowing! And I must say, I'm impressed... if what he says is true."

    The caveat that Dr. Reiland added at the end worried her greatly. "Excuse me?"

    She leaned back in her chair and studied Andrea's reaction. She smiled. "What I'm about to say, I speak in confidence, and it does not leave this room. Understand?"

    "Loud and clear."

    "Please don't take this the wrong way, Ms. Dennison... Patrick is one of my most trusted and valued staff members, but he has a nasty habit of embellishing the truth a bit when it comes to our female employees. It's usually harmless, but it can be quite alarming at times, and I fear that this is one of them."

    "I... Umm..."

    "As I was going over some finances this morning, I noticed that the second room my secretary rented at the motel in Nettlefield was cancelled. He didn't act inappropriately with you, did he?"

    The question seemed out of left field to her. "What? No! He was a perfect gentleman!"

    "Is that the honest truth? If you feel pressured to cover for his actions, I want you to know that there will be no consequences for being honest."

    "Yes," she answered, matter-of-factly.

    "Good! He has not gotten into trouble with our HR department, but sometimes I worry... As I'm sure you've noticed, he as a very friendly personality and some of our employees are a little uncomfortable with it."

    "So... I should keep an eye on him?"

    "Yes. Establish your boundaries with him, as well. I want you to feel comfortable here."

    "I think I might have felt more comfortable not knowing that, but... thank you."

    She readjusted her posture and accepted the opened bottle from Andrea, then handed over another. She could tell that Andrea felt nervous about the subject and decided to ease up. "I apologize if it felt like I was accusing you of something, that wasn't my intention. But, let's move onto another subject: your next task. I had a job lined up for one of my other new employees, but his work ethic has been shaky at best. He's a smart one, but he's also lazy and tends to cut corners if he thinks that no one is watching. This might not be something that we can cut corners on."

    Andrea placed another opened bottle onto the desk and got to work on yet another. "What do you have in mind?"

    "Are you familiar with the village of Doranshire?" she asked.

    Andrea tried to think. She knew that it was the closest village to the town where she grew up, but that alone summed up her knowledge about it. "I know of it, but don't ask me any trivia about it."

    "It's been in the news a lot recently. Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some strange incidents reported... flickering lights in the woods, odd and 'unexplainable' sounds late at night, that kind of stuff. It's been causing quite a stir with the locals, and the village council is starting to demand answers."

    "Bumps in the night?"

    "Among other things. I know this isn't your area of expertise, being a student of biology and all... but I need someone reliable. Someone who can find answers. From what Patrick has told me about you, you fit that description well."

    "You want me to go chase a ghost?"

    She downed the pills, then handed another bottle to Andrea. "Heh. It does sound a bit outlandish, doesn't it?" she asked. "But we are women of science. We know there are no such things as ghosts, not in the traditional folklore sense, at least. There is always a logical and physical explanation for everything, a few bumps in the night should be no different."

    Andrea objected to the idea. "If I'm honest, doctor, this sounds like a waste of time."

    "It may very well be. But it is our duty as scientists to uncover the truth and to help those in need where we can. There may be something more serious at play here than just a few ghost stories."

    Andrea thought for a moment about how silly it all sounded, but she realized that she wasn't in a position to argue the matter. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that complaining about the work she was receiving, on her second day no less, would almost certainly be career suicide. She gave in with a sigh, but tried to conceal her hesitation. "If you think that this is worth the time, and that I'm the right person for this job, then I'll do it."

    "Good to hear! I can understand if you're hesitant to take on this kind of work, but it warms my heart to see you accept it."

    "Doranshire's a long way away, though..." Andrea noted.

    "It is!" Dr. Reiland began to type away at her keyboard. "It's much too far to walk, so you'll be taking the train! Unfortunately, there isn't a direct line to Doranshire, so there will still be some light footwork for you."

    "Where's the nearest station?"

    "Aughrim."

    "I wouldn't exactly call Aughrim to Doranshire 'light' footwork..." she said. She began to think about what would be involved with reaching the village of Doranshire from Aughrim; a couple of days of travelling the roads, at least, and that would be if nothing happened on the way. "Hold on. Patrick's going to be analyzing the samples we brought back from Nettlefield. You don't expect me to do this alone, do you? Things got pretty ugly on the road, I was lucky that he was there to protect me!"

    "There is no need to worry, you won't be doing this one alone. I have an associate who is also interested in the happenings in Doranshire, and he'll be sending one of his contractors to investigate as well." She turned the screen on her computer around to let Andrea see; the photo of a young woman with long, chestnut brown hair and strikingly blue eyes was on the screen. The woman's face was grim and emotionless, almost as if the photo was a police mug shot. "The lady in question is a master Pokémon trainer. There will be no trouble on the road, I assure you. You'll be meeting her in Aughrim."

    "What's her name?"

    "Tamara Dahl. Are you familiar with her, by chance?"

    Andrea shook her head.

    "She's a two time champion of the Kalosian League, champion of the Asperia League, master of the Silver Conference, and has earned 44 gym badges and 12 coordination ribbons from across the world."

    The woman's achievements were impressive, even to someone as ignorant about Pokémon training as Andrea. "You weren't kidding when you said a master trainer..."

    Dr. Reiland let out a bemused chuckle.

    "So... what will we be looking for in Doranshire, exactly?"

    She downed the last of her pills and gathered up the bottles in a neat and orderly manner. "That's up to you and Ms. Dahl, there could be any number of causes. However, I would suggest getting a closer look at the local reservoir."

    "Think something's in the water?"

    "It's possible. If the water is contaminated, lives could be at stake and an evacuation would be logical. Of course, it could be something else entirely! Use your brain, you'll figure it out." she said with a smile.

    Andrea shook her head as she thought over what was asked of her. "Will that be all?"

    "Yes. Stay safe out there!"
     
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    I've really fallen behind with this, haven't I? Which is a shame, because the encounter with the blastcap (or not, as the case may be) was as neat as I anticipated; I like a battle in an interesting environment, and the swamp is definitely an interesting environment, with water that slows everyone down and prevents Fang charging up an attack while he's in it. Interesting, too, that the swamp creature turned out to be much more of a mobile presence than anyone was expected – and that Andrea immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was intelligent based on the fact that it was vaguely humanoid. It didn't seem to display much intelligence to me; it says a lot about Andrea that she thought it did.

    Her next task, too, looks like it'll be an interesting one. I'll be curious to see if there really is something in the water, or whether we're looking at a ghost-type or something – which, going on the distinction Dr Reiland made between folkloric ghosts and some unspecified other kind, is something that I think she considers a possibility accounted for within the scientific explanation of the world, so if that's the case, it'll be interesting to see how, exactly. It also looks like we might get a little more insight into Andrea's past experiences with training, given that her companion for this next job is a professional trainer, and that will definitely be intriguing.
     
  18. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Response below:

    I'm glad you liked it! It's definitely been the most fun battle I've written across all my stories, at least in terms of strategy and environment.

    In my interpretation of the franchise, all pokemon are at least as intelligent as a human child, regardless of whether they look, sound or act like it. True what you said about her knowing that, that's her knowledge shining through; other trainers might simply not understand that they're all intelligent.

    I don't want to spoil the surprise too much, but I also don't want you to be disappointed either, so I'll comment on this. I'm currently rewriting and polishing some of these earlier chapters so I may have room to slip in details about this somewhere, but currently this goes pretty much unexplained, much to my regret. If I don't find anywhere logical to add it in as the edits go on, the earliest you'll see it is... oh dear, chapter 31. :|

    - - - - -

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 6: The Rails


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    The sound of a train horn echoed across the skyline of the town as a Silverline railcar began its departure from Alstan Central Station. Inside, Andrea was fighting to maintain her balance as the carriages jolted to life and began to move; she had just barely made it onto the train before it departed, and she was the only passenger still on her feet. As she stumbled her way to the back of the carriage, she noticed that there were very few passengers aboard; an elderly couple, a man in a snappy suit and a man about her age in a salmon pink polo shirt and brown cargo shorts. Of the 48 seats available, only four were taken. Thoughts began to swirl in her mind.

    "Will they actually notice... the guy already checked my ticket..." she mumbled to herself as she debated whether or not to try stealing a seat on the first class carriage. She realized that it wasn't, but she tried to justify the fact that it was owed to her after previous bad experiences while riding the train. She cautiously looked around to see if any railroad employees were watching, then threw her backpack onto the soft, luxurious seat when the coast was clear. "What's the worst they can do? Throw me into economy where I belong?"

    The comm system resonated with a pleasant tone and a gravelly voice followed soon after. "Welcome aboard, this is the conductor speaking! This train is currently departing from Loch Alstan and will arrive in Redfern Crossing in approximately two hours. Passengers who are crossing the border into Glastonfell or are en route to Silvergarden or Goldwheat Meadows will be switching trains upon arrival. Passengers en route to Silverstream, Aughrim and Tradewind will remain on this train for the remainder of their journey. If there are any questions, you may speak with me on carriage #2. Thank you for riding with Silverline today, and have a pleasant journey!"

    She had a look through the window as the train began to pick up speed. The view today was much nicer than it was when she had first arrived in Loch Alstan; not a cloud was in sight, allowing the sun to pour down onto the fertile valley around her. The majestic Dornoch Mountains to the north that separated Lanark from Glastonfell continued their eternal watch of the forests and fields around them. She knew that they were just mountains made of stone at the end of the day, but she felt a deep appreciation for the historical significance they carried. The beauty of nature that they represented, beauty she rarely had an opportunity to revel in, also came to mind.

    It didn't take long before her view was interrupted by a sweet sounding voice behind her. "Would you care for some tea, miss?"

    She looked up to see one of the railway employees standing beside her with a tea cart in tow. She tried to mask her nervousness with a smile, further drowning it with politeness. "What kind do you have?"

    "We only have Old Stone."

    "Old Stone sounds lovely. Thank you!" She watched as the hostess poured the freshly brewed tea into a porcelain mug, blissfully unaware that she was seated in the wrong section.

    "Would you like some sugar, milk or cream with that?"

    "No thanks."

    The hostess nodded, balanced the mug on a saucer and handed it to Andrea. "Enjoy! Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you."

    "That's it for now, thank you," she said. A smile crept across her face as the hostess moved onto the next passenger. "I might actually get away with this..."

    It was a long ride ahead of her, so she decided to do a little investigation into what was being reported in Doranshire. With her R-Kit at the ready, she began to sift through the headlines of Lanark's regional newspapers, looking for any articles about the village. Dozens of articles from the past month popped up, including topics such as a charity bake sale, the death of a movie actress who was born in the area, a house fire that left two families homeless and the results of a local referendum. Just as Dr. Reiland had noted, dozens more that covered strange sightings within and around the village were available as well.

    One article detailed the 'crazed ravings' of an elderly woman who swore that demons were trying to enter her house, but when police arrived to investigate, no substantial evidence to prove the woman's story was found. Another article focused on reports made by several people of a ghostly apparition that walked up and down Mill Street, but key differences in witness testimonies led investigators to believe it was most likely a poorly coordinated hoax. Another article mentioned that the walls of the first grade classroom at the local elementary school oozed with blood, but this was later attributed to water leaking from rusty pipes.

    Other articles discussed strange noises heard throughout the village late at night, floating orbs of light that zigzagged through the nearby forest and small dolls made of woven reeds and burlap being discovered about town, mutilated beyond recognition. One common theme that bonded all of these articles was that they were all dismissed as harmless pranks that were leading to mass hysteria, with calls for the public to remain calm becoming increasingly common in recent days.

    The more she read the articles, the more she began to feel like she was in over her head; she had spent the past four years studying to become a biologist, not an expert in the paranormal. "What would I know about any of this?" she wondered. "I really hope that lady I'm meeting knows what to do..."

    Even though she had been told that she wasn't going to tackle this task alone, she was nervous. To think that Tamara Dahl, one of the world's most respected and skilled competitive trainers, would be working alongside her filled her with near-crippling anxiety. She repeatedly told herself that she wasn't worthy enough to be in the presence of such a legend, and the feeling that just about any lowborne thing she did would annoy Ms. Dahl lingered over her like a thick fog. "Hopefully she'll be patient..." she thought to herself. "But something tells me she won't. Not with how successful she is. I'm just a punk *** kid who earned a degree a couple years early."

    Curious, she began to look up information about her upcoming partner. Dr. Reiland had been looking to save time when listing out Ms. Dahl's accomplishments earlier in the day, as they were more extensive than she imagined. Not only had she earned the position of champion of two leagues and dominated most of the tournaments she participated in, she also participated in nearly a dozen Grand Festivals, winning the top position in three of them. Even more, she was instrumental in helping to dismantle an international Pokémon trafficking ring run by the feared criminal syndicate, Team Rocket. She'd made accomplishments in the world of politics as well, bringing to light some particularly shady government corruption in her homeland that eventually led to the downfall of the sitting president.

    Something that caught Andrea's attention more than anything else was that she was widely regarded as one of the world's most knowledgeable experts in paranormal Pokémon. In her fourteen year career as a competitive trainer, the paranormal was what she lived and breathed; she put together an unstoppable team and developed unparalleled strategies that had been the subject of intense debate and study. If a woman of her caliber was interested in investigating the happenings in Doranshire, she thought, perhaps there was more going on in Doranshire than just a few mean pranks. The thought worried her.

    She checked the time on her R-Kit. Only 25 minutes had passed since the train had departed from Alstan Central Station, and nearly seven hours remained on her journey to Aughrim, so she decided to pass the time with a little sleep. It didn't take long for her to find a comfortable position and drift off.

    - - - - -​

    Nearly six hours had passed since Andrea drifted off to sleep. She slept peacefully and deeply, more than making up for the terribly restless and agonizing night she went through at the motel. That peace was soon interrupted by a piercing squeal as the train's breaks locked in preparation for an upcoming swerve through the foothills of Crown County. She jolted forward in a panic, almost convinced that the train had just derailed, but a look through the window soothed the worst of her fears.

    "Ugh... These seats looked comfortable..." she mumbled to herself as she stretched, then tried to find a comfortable spot again. Another jolt as the train rounded the first bend snapped her back into the realm of consciousness.

    She looked around and much to her joy, her tea was still upright and waiting on the table in front of her. Much to her disappointment, however, it was lukewarm and unbearably bitter. Still, she was thirsty and she wasn't about to complain; as she took another sip, she noticed a feline creature walking down the center aisle in her direction.

    The creature was small in height, reaching up to her knees at most, and was covered with a thick, glossy coat of black and brown fur which extended downwards towards the ground. Dainty little feet poked out from beneath its fur and carried it forward with an elegant stride. Even fluffier fur sprouted from its long tail, bobbing and waving with every movement it made.

    She recognized the creature immediately: a Skitty. However, the specific breed of it eluded her, so she raised her R-Kit to scan it, hoping that it would have the answer.

    "Skitty, the kitten Pokémon!" it droned. "Skitty is among the first Pokémon to be domesticated by humans in ancient times, often serving as garden protectors or as caretaker assistants of the sick and elderly. Now, they are a popular choice as house pets due to their aggressively cuddly and loyal behavior, and are a good choice for novice Pokémon trainers, due to the ease of raising one once trust is established."

    "Well... that doesn't tell me what I wanted to know..." she grumbled. She began to scroll through the extra information that appeared on the screen; perhaps the information would be there, she thought.

    The Skitty approached, then stopped in its tracks before it invited itself up onto the table in front of her. It was instantly drawn to the strong, bitter scent wafting from the tea mug and rushed over to investigate.

    "Oh! Hello!" she said. She cautiously extended her hand towards the Skitty and began to pet its luxuriously soft fur. "Aren't you pretty?" The Skitty began to purr softly as it rubbed all over her hand. "And friendly!" She reached for her purse and began to dig through it for her phone, intent on taking a picture. Before she could, however, the Skitty had bolted and started running down the aisle again.

    A young woman soon followed after. "Telandra, sweetie! Come back!"

    Andrea watched the scene unfold with amusement. The young woman chased after the Skitty as it employed impressive gymnastics to escape her grasp time and time again. Slow approaches, quick grabs, diversion tactics, none of them worked. There was a hint of mischief on the Skitty's face as it avoided the woman, and while Andrea couldn't be certain, she thought she saw a smile briefly shine on the woman's face. One final attempt to grab the Skitty was met with failure and sent it returning in Andrea's direction. She figured it would be a waste of time, but positioned herself in the path of the approaching Skitty, and with some quick timing, was able to snatch it before it could get any further.

    As the young woman approached, she offered the black and brown Skitty outward. "I believe this is your cat."

    "Thank you," the woman said as she grabbed ahold of the Skitty and began to rock it back and forth in her arms. "She can be quite the handful sometimes. She wandered off while my attention was buried in my work."

    "She seemed pretty anxious to get away from you," she couldn't help but note.

    "She entered my care only recently. Obedience can be a bit of an issue at times... But she's generally well behaved! My apologies for bothering you."

    "No need to apologize..." she said as she extended her hand outward towards the Skitty. "May I?"

    The woman nodded.

    She ran her fingers through the Skitty's soft, cloud-like fur again. "She's very beautiful."

    "Thank you! I put a lot of effort into making sure that she is."

    "Oh yeah? What breed is she? I've never seen a Skitty that looks like this before."

    The woman invited herself to the seat across from Andrea and placed the Skitty onto the table between them. "Kalosian Forest. She's a pure breed."

    "Huh... I wish I could say I was familiar with Skitty breeds, but I'm not," she pondered as she glanced over the Skitty's features. "What's her name?"

    "Her name is Telandra."

    "Telandra?" Gears turned in her head as she thought about it. It was definitely familiar to her, but she couldn't come up with a face to associate with the name. "Where do I know that name..."

    The woman bowed her head with respect. "She's named after our late queen, may she rest in peace."

    "Ooooh! Okay, no wonder I couldn't figure it out. One of those stupid, good for nothing royals..."

    The woman's eyes widened a bit. "Oh dear, that's a very strong opinion."

    "I'm sorry, I just can't respect those people. They expect us to fund their lavish lives and what do we get in return? Nothing." She looked up and read the expression on her guest's face and found it to be a negative one. "Okay, I get it, I've got a minority opinion that few people agree with, yourself included it seems. It's not a big deal. But I do think it's a bit of a silly name for a cat, no offense."

    "But it's not!" the woman protested. "It describes her perfectly! Look at how regal she looks!" She raised a finger towards the sky and continued, "Telandra, show me some pride!"

    The Skitty closed her eyes, and with a twirl, she straightened her posture and raised her head upward. Her eyes opened a small amount, and that look of haughty mischief returned to her face. She approached Andrea and began to strut about in a bid for attention. Andrea gave the Skitty what she wanted and in return, she melted into a loud, purring puddle of happiness in front of her.

    As the young woman watched over her Skitty, she studied Andrea closely. "I must say, that clothing you're wearing--"

    The joy of the situation quickly faded and a vague shroud of anger began to bubble within Andrea upon hearing the woman's commentary. "Ugh, again? Why does everyone hate the way I dress?!" she asked as she shook her hands rapidly with frustration. "Why? It's not like I'm some sort of stereotype! I'm not always--"

    The only response the woman across the table could offer was a look of confusion.

    "Look, lady, nothing personal, but... Just don't go there, okay? I get a lot of mean comments about how I look, it gets annoying real quick these days."

    The woman let out a polite giggle. "Oh! No! I didn't intend to be mean!"

    She sighed. "Sorry. I can get a little... Let's just move along."

    "Now hold on, I'm curious! That's a Misfit Angel dress you're wearing, correct?"

    She looked down at her black dress, then back at the woman and raised her eyebrow. "Yes... Why?"

    "My childhood friend happens to be the creator of the Misfit Angel clothing line. I helped to design that dress last year!"

    Her face lit up. "Really? You know Nicole Spencer? What's she like?!" Excitement began to wash over her and she continued without allowing the woman to respond. "I'm jealous, that's so cool! She's such an inspiration! I haven't met her, so this will probably sound weird or creepy or something, but... she really helped me to break out of my shell a few years ago! Oh, I am such a big fan of her work!"

    "I can tell!" the woman said with a giggle. "It seems that we have something in common, then. She's been a pillar of strength for myself as well."

    "Oh? How so?"

    "She's... Uhh... Hmm..." the woman stumbled. "I suppose that's a bit of a personal story. I'm not comfortable talking about it. I shouldn't have brought it up. All that really needs to be said is that she's been very supportive during some of the toughest times I've faced, and I can't thank her enough for it."

    "Fair enough, I won't pry."

    "On the other hand, she can be a bit problematic... She's very selfish at times and quick to anger. But her heart is in the right place most of the time." she added. "I hope I haven't shattered any illusions for you."

    She shrugged at the commentary. "Not at all. She sounds just like me. That only makes her better in my eyes!"

    The woman smiled, then offered her hand across the table. "I don't believe I caught your name. Mine is Kimberly. Kimberly Fairbrooke."

    She nodded and shook Kimberly's hand. "Andrea."

    "No surname? I prefer to be polite when speaking with people I don't know well."

    "My first name is good enough. I won't be offended."

    Another smile. "Very well, Ms. Andrea. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance!"

    "Likewise, and I don't say that often."

    "So, where are you headed, friend?"

    "I'm off to the city of Aughrim."

    Enthusiasm swept over Kimberly. "Oh! That's my destination as well! What brings you there?"

    She grabbed her tea and took another sip from it, taking a brief moment to shudder in horror at the taste. "Work. I have some business to attend to in a little village called Doranshire and Aughrim is the closest stop on the rail network. What about you?"

    "I'm getting started as a coordinator... I'll be participating in my first national competition."

    "Coordinator?"

    "You haven't heard of it?"

    She shook her head in silence.

    "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised... not many people take it seriously as a career. Hmm... How do I explain it..." Kimberly began to mutter to herself as she thought it over until she eventually spoke up again, "Are you perhaps familiar with 19th century circus shows?"

    "Considering it's the 21st century, no."

    Kimberly laughed. "Right, that was a silly question... It's a sort of stage performance that coordinators such as I engage in with our Pokémon. We compete against others in a variety of different styles, but the most popular one, and the style that I hope to get into, involves flashiness, showmanship, and stunning visuals."

    The concept seemed vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She'd halfheartedly watched many Pokémon competitions over the years, but couldn't remember if any of them were coordination contests. "I don't think I've ever seen that kind of stuff before..."

    "It's not as popular as competitive battling, that may be why. It's starting to gather a following, but... Personally, I blame the fact that its seen as a woman's sport for its lack of popularity."

    She shrugged. "So... it's a light show, huh? Sounds interesting enough."

    "It's much more than that! There's music, there's dance and there's dozens of other odd talents that coordinators bring to the stage. I don't know if you have the time, but if you do, perhaps you'd be interested in coming to see it? I'm sure you'd love it if you tried it, and you'll get to see what it's all about." Kimberly placed her purse on the table and began to dig through its contents. "I have a pair of VIP tickets available, but nobody to give them do. Would you be interested?"

    She sheepishly looked at the time on her R-Kit. She was already certain that she couldn't take the time to see the performance, but asked anyway. "What time?"

    Kimberly pulled her hand out of her purse and dropped a ticket onto the table. "The show starts at 8 PM."

    "Oh... I don't think I'll be able to make it. I'm meeting a business associate when I arrive in Aughrim, and she'll probably want to hit the road as soon as possible."

    "Ah, that's a shame, but I understand. Still, I'd like you to have it. If you do stay in the city tonight, your evening entertainment is sorted!"

    She grabbed the ticket and gave it a quick look. "Sure, why not? I'll see if I can convince my partner to stay in the city overnight... I'm sure she'll be just as sore from her flight as I am from this train ride."

    Kimberly grabbed another ticket from her purse. "Here, one for your partner, too. That might make it easier to convince her."

    She couldn't help but let out a laugh. "Man, you really want people to come tonight, don't you?"

    Kimberly nodded. "It wouldn't hurt to have a couple of fans cheering me on, would it?" She looked down at her watch and saw that the time had just ticked over to 5:30 PM. "Oh! Time certainly flies, we should be arriving in Aughrim soon!"

    "Assuming the train is on schedule, which it never is..."

    Kimberly laughed. "Indeed. It was a pleasure to meet you, Andrea, but I should make a few last minute preparations for my routine tonight!" Kimberly tapped on the table to wake up her napping Skitty, then extended her arms outward. The Skitty jumped up into her arms and perched on her shoulder like a parrot. "That means you, Telandra! I have to make sure your fur is absolutely perfect!"

    Telandra meowed with joy.

    "I hope to see you tonight! But if I don't, best of luck with your business in Doranshire, and stay safe on the road!" With that, Kimberly stood up and wandered back to her original seat.

    Andrea placed the two tickets down onto the table and began to read from them:

    Witness the performance of a lifetime, the biannual event that has taken Aughrim by storm for twelve straight years! This ticket admits one visitor to the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest, scheduled for the 14th of May and held at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh on West Armory Street. Prepare to have your breath taken away as eight coordinators compete against each other for glory and the chance to be crowned the Lad or Lass of Aughrim!
     
  19. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    That's some service! Tea served in a cup and saucer, on a railway line? There's something so quaint about that; I like it. You rarely seem to get refreshments on trains nowadays, even on six-hour cross-country ones like the one Andrea takes here, and if you did I'm guessing you'd get them in a cardboard cup. That's not really a critique or anything, it's just kind of cool that this is apparently how railway operators work in Lanark.

    Also, man, is Andrea bad at social situations! She meets a stranger and almost immediately starts expressing political opinions and questioning her taste in naming their pets; it's kind of endearing, honestly. You do a great job of communicating exactly how young and inexperienced she really is, even in these everyday situations. Such a dork. But like in a good way.

    And so we meet Kimberly, too, who I assume is the coordinator you mentioned in the introduction! Given their opposing politics and differing temperaments, it'll be interesting to see how the two of them interact with one another going forward. Which is broadly what I think you meant to achieve with this chapter – it's set-up for something yet to come, and you've left me looking forward to it, so that's your job achieved.
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  20. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    This is something I can confidently say you'll probably enjoy! Commentary elsewhere has been very positive about how these two characters interact and it's probably my #1 focus in this story, so there's definitely much, much more to come.

    Speaking of more to come, I've been sidetracked getting the chapters updated and edited, so despite them being already written, there's been a drought recently. I'm working on fixing that!
     

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