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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

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 7: Station Search

    Originally published on June 20th, 2017

    [​IMG]

    A soft jingle came over the train's intercom system.

    "Thank you for riding with Silverline today! We have just arrived in Aughrim, two minutes ahead of schedule! The time now is 6:03 PM, and the weather outside is a cool and refreshing 16°C. If you are--"

    Andrea filtered out the announcement; her attention was buried in yet another game of Tetris. She worked at a feverish pace to move the colored blocks around the screen in a desperate attempt to continue, but the pace was starting to overwhelm her. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple and white tiles piled up too fast for her to deal with, but a lucky string of well-timed and well-placed tetrads cleared a majority of the board, bringing her back from the brink of failure.

    Level 29!!! flashed on the screen as her score past the 290 line mark.

    "Yes... Yes!" she aggressively cheered to herself as she continued to focus on the falling blocks. "I just might do this!"

    Despite her joy, she continued on with unparalleled concentration. The colors flashed before her eyes as she moved each incoming tetrad into position, or at least attempted to. Red... red... green... blue... Row complete! Red... purple... Row complete! Yellow... yellow... yellow...

    "Come on, give me something else..." her thoughts begged.

    A white line appeared on the screen next, a very welcome sight to her. She positioned it perfectly and cleared four rows at once, giving her some much needed breathing room. The piling up of mismatched tiles resumed; red... purple... blue... purple... Row complete! Yellow... red...

    "Excuse me, Ms. Andrea?" a voice called from beside her.

    Her concentration was shattered and she looked up. "Huh?" The game continued without her; while she was lucky to clear another row without moving any of the tetrads on her own, they quickly piled up and reached the top of the board afterward. "Oh! Kimberly! Sorry, I was, uhh, a little..." she bleated as her attention returned to her phone. She was heartbroken to see the words 'GAME OVER' taunting her from the screen. "Oh... great..."

    "A little distracted?" Kimberly said with a giggle. "The train has been stopped for a few minutes now and most of the passengers have gotten off. Aughrim was your destination, correct?"

    She placed her phone into her left stocking, something that earned a strange look from Kimberly. She did it for her own sake, as past experience told her that the upcoming walk through the train station had the potential to be dangerous; if any thieves tried to swipe her purse, at least they wouldn't get the most important thing she carried with her as well. It hadn't happened to her, but she had seen it, and she was determined to make sure it didn't happen.

    A look around the train showed it to be mostly empty. "Oh! Yes, it is. I probably would have completely missed my stop if it weren't for you, thanks." She gathered up her belongings, slung them over her shoulders, stood up and let out a long and relaxing stretch. As she looked around, she noticed that Kimberly's Skitty was missing. "Where's your Skitty?"

    Kimberly reached down towards the ribbon that dangled from her waist and grabbed a pink Pokéball that was hooked to it. The strange Pokéball was adorned with fuzzy, faux-fur ears, and the central button resembled a feline's nose; while she wasn't very familiar with designer Pokéballs, this one was completely new to Andrea.

    "She's safely back in her Pokéball. I anticipate the arrival platform to be quite crowded and I don't want to separate myself from her."

    "Good call, but I'd put those Pokéballs of yours somewhere more secure if I were you. Someone could yank them right off of that ribbon... Especially that purple one, that's a Master Ball, right?"

    Kimberly reached down and grabbed the purple, gem-studded Pokéball that hung next to her pink Feline Ball. "It is!"

    "Yeah, you're going to get yourself killed flashing that thing around here. This station can be a little dangerous, much more so during the evening rush hour."

    "Dangerous, you say?" Kimberly asked. Without waiting for an answer, however, she followed the advice; she detached both of the Pokéballs from her ribbon and placed them into her purse.

    "No, no, I wouldn't put them in your purse, either," she warned. "Too easy for someone to grab a hold of that and run off with it."

    Kimberly retrieved the Pokéballs from her purse, but struggled to find a place to put them. "Umm... I don't have pockets, friend."

    She pointed to the very ribbon that they dangled from in the first place. "How tight is that thing around you? Could you put them inside your dress without worrying about them falling out?"

    Kimberly returned them to her purse once again. "I'll take my chances. I appreciate your advice, however."

    The two began to walk to the door together. "It hasn't happened to me, but I'm in this station often enough to have seen it. Lots of thieves and scammers around here. They'll rob you blind before you even hit the floor. Hell, they might even strip that fancy dress of yours off of you and disappear into the crowd before you realize what happened."

    "Oh! Oh dear..." Kimberly answered with a wavering voice. "Perhaps it would be wise if we stuck together?"

    She shrugged. "I was about to suggest it, but I don't know if you've got the time to hang out around me. It could take me awhile to find this lady I'm supposed to meet... This is the biggest and busiest train station in the country and I don't even know where the hell I'm supposed to be meeting her."

    "I have some time to spare."

    "Suit yourself, then!"

    As they stepped onto the arrivals platform, they two were immediately assaulted by the roaring ruckus of the evening crowd. A sea of densely packed, impatient people covered large sections of the platform, making it difficult not just to exit the train, but to move deeper into the station as well. Despite the fact that she barely knew her, Andrea could tell that this was the first time that Kimberly had visited Camden Station, and she felt it was her civic duty to guide her new acquaintance safely through the station; she wrapped her arm around Kimberly's shoulder and pulled her in close, then led the way as they fought through the endless horde of busy travellers.

    "This is intolerable!" Kimberly protested as she was jostled left and right by the crowd. With every bump, she checked to make sure that nothing had been pickpocketed. "How are you so calm right now!?"

    "It helps that this is actually kind of tame compared to the last rush hour I experienced," she replied. "You don't travel much, do you?"

    "On the contrary, I travel a lot... But I usually fly on a private jet if it makes sense to."

    It took a moment for the comment to register in her mind. "...private jet?"

    "Yes. My father, he..." Kimberly started, then held her tongue. She eyed the people around her with suspicion before leaning in and continuing with a lowered, intimate voice. "My father is a wealthy businessman. I usually have access to his private jet, since he doesn't use it much anymore."

    "Oh... that's interesting... That does explain the Master Ball and that fancy silversilk dress of hers..." she thought to herself. "Why not just fly into the city then? Beats sitting on a train for... however long you were on it."

    "There was no airport where I spent the last few months of my life. Besides! I wouldn't give up a chance to see the countryside now that it's in bloom. The shades of green in the Northcountry are lovely this time of the year..."

    "Can't argue with that."

    It took some time, effort and many half-hearted apologies, but they finally managed to make their way to the main hall of Camden Station. The crowds were thinner than they were on the platform, but only slightly so. Andrea quickly realized the difficulties of finding her business partner among the masses; she knew vaguely what Tamara looked like, but there were thousands of faces to scan and study, with hundreds entering and leaving the main hall every minute. She lamented the fact that there wasn't a more solid plan when it came to meeting Tamara. 'Just go, you'll find her! Have fun!' seemed like a terrible waste of time, but it was the only plan that she had.

    Kimberly suggested they reach a higher vantage point and they ventured to the second story promenade. While it helped her to investigate the crowds more quickly, the finer details of the people they were looking at were now lost on both of them. Kimberly dropped her backpack to the floor and began to dig through it; she retrieved a small pair of binoculars and offered them to Andrea.

    "Oh, yeah! I won't look like a terrorist at all with these!" she joked before raising the binoculars to her eyes. Every now and then, she'd lower them to focus on another group of people, then raise them again for a closer inspection. She was making very little progress in finding Tamara in the crowds and it was starting to frustrate her. A few more minutes of searching were fruitless. "I sure am glad to know what I'm looking for! " she began to rant; the sarcasm in her voice was clearly obvious. "Why do I always get stuck with--"

    "Who are you looking for, exactly?" Kimberly asked.

    "Some girl named Tamara Dahl."

    "Oh! I've heard of her! The world famous Pokémon trainer, correct?" Kimberly wondered.

    She nodded.

    "You're going to be working alongside her?"

    She lowered the binoculars one last time and handed them back, then pulled her phone out of her purse. She started to dial Dr. Reiland's phone number. "That was the plan..."

    "That's quite an honor! You're lucky, Ms. Andrea!"

    She stifled a laugh as she sent the call. "Something tells me I'm not so lucky... I'm just a punk kid, there's no way she's going to have the patience to deal with me."

    The phone rang five times before it was finally answered. "Hello?"

    "Yes, Dr. Reiland? It's Andrea, your new employee!"

    "Ah, yes! Ms. Dennison!" Dr. Reiland jollily answered. "You should be in Aughrim by now, correct?"

    She nodded. "Indeed I am."

    "Good! How was the train ride?"

    She peered over at Kimberly, who was still examining the crowds below them. "It went well, but I slept through most of it."

    "Heh, sleeping on the job, huh?" Dr. Reiland asked, then let out a long sigh. "To do that again... I envy you! Have you met with your partner yet?"

    She hesitated for a moment. "Uhh... I haven't. That's what I called about. I've been looking for over half an hour now, but I can't find here anywhere."

    "Oh, is that so?" Dr. Reiland asked, intrigued. "Ms. Dahl's employer tells me she is usually very punctual... Have you tried the main lobby, under the grand clock?"

    "That was the first place I looked." She took another casual glance in the direction of the large clock tower that stood in the center of the lobby. "She wasn't there, and I don't see her now."

    "Huh... That's where I was told she would be..."

    The fact that Dr. Reiland apparently knew where Tamara was supposed to be waiting made it difficult for Andrea to contain her frustration, but she tried her hardest to be respectful about it. "It would have been nice to know that! It feels like I came here without a plan."

    There was a momentary pause before Dr. Reiland spoke again. "...Did I not tell you about that? My sincerest apologies, Ms. Dennison. This medication I use can... affect my memory sometimes."

    "Don't worry about it, I can't be mad about that... Whatever the case, I can't find her. I don't know where she could be hiding, I've looked almost everywhere."

    "Almost everywhere?"

    "There's no way I'm going into the men's restroom to look for her, because I know I'm not going to find her there."

    Dr. Reiland let out a hearty laugh, but that joy quickly gave way towards a more somber tone. "That's... worrying. Again, I've been told that she's always punctual... Can you give me a moment?" There was a long pause in the conversation, and the sounds of her struggling to lift something in the background came over the line. A few moments later, she continued, "I want you to call this number, it's Ms. Dahl's personal line. 12-1-105-6734. Please, don't share that number with anyone. She has gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from the public."

    "12... 1..." she mumbled quietly as she took note of the number in her short term memory. "Got it."

    "While you get on with that, I'll get in touch with his employer. It may be as simple as a flight delay, he may know. My part will take some time, though... You caught me on my way home. If you find her before I call you again, let me know!"

    "Thank you, doctor. Will do."

    "Keep searching. You'll hear from me soon." The phone clicked, then went silent.

    She let out a sigh, then began to dial the number that Dr. Reiland had given her.

    "Any answers?" Kimberly asked.

    She shook her head. "Just crossed wires... My boss is a little bit forgetful, so she never told me where to meet this lady... but even then, we walked by and she wasn't there. So I'm calling this lady's personal number to see if I can get through to her." She clicked the send call button and puttered around in a circle. "You don't have to stay around, you can go and get ready for your competition thing."

    "Hmm, I should prob--"

    She put her finger up to quiet Kimberly down when the phone stopped ringing. An automated voicemail message began to play: "Greetings, you've reached Tamara! I can't answer the phone right now, so leave me a message and a number. I'll get back to you." A loud beep followed shortly after.

    She grumbled angrily and began to mutter obscenities under her breath before she finally composed her message. "Uhh, hello! This is Andrea Dennison, Dr. Reiland's assistant. I'm supposed to accompany you to Doranshire to investigate some of the strange happenings that are going on there. I'm here at Camden Station but I can't find you anywhere. There's way too many people here! Get in touch with me so we can figure out where we're meeting. My number is 7-1-210-7240. See ya soon!" She ended the call and sighed loudly.

    "I don't like the sound of that sigh, friend. Is everything okay?"

    She shook her head and spoke in a melancholy tone, "It's fine..."

    "It does not sound fine."

    She leaned up against the railing and slid down to the ground. "It's... it's just been stressful, you know? This new job I mean. It's only been a few days so far, but... First that Miltank, then the swamp, all this travel, and now--" She caught herself muttering almost incoherently when she saw the strange look on Kimberly's face. "Maybe she just can't hear her phone, this is a pretty loud place... or maybe she's in a call with someone else, she must be a very busy person. And speaking of busy... how about you? I interrupted you, do you need to leave?"

    Kimberly offered her hand out to Andrea and smiled. "I can stay a little longer. I shouldn't leave you alone here, this place looks quite dangerous to the solitary traveller."

    She laughed and accepted Kimberly's hand, then pulled herself back to her feet. "You don't have to stay, but if you want to, two sets of eyes are better than one. Let's keep looking."

    In spite of the nagging thoughts that it would be pointless, Andrea planned on sweeping the station once again in a more thorough manner; rather than just amble by, half-distracted as they had done previously, she wanted to pay attention to the details around her as close as possible. Part of it was her interest in browsing the shops present in Camden Station, something she'd never taken the opportunity to do, and the other part was that she just wanted to kill some time before Dr. Reiland contacted her. She could think of little else to do.

    Their search led them across the main lobby and nearly every person they came across was meticulously studied, at least as much as time allowed. No luck, and they moved onto the relaxation lounge next. The dim lighting in the lounge was anything but helpful when it came to searching for Tamara.

    "I can barely see anything..." Kimberly remarked.

    "Hold on," Andrea said, her attention fixed on a brunette that was seated at a bar in an establishment known as The Conductor's Cabin. "I think I see her! Right there, in The Conductor's Cabin."

    "I don't think--" Kimberly started, but Andrea had already wandered off.

    She cut across the promenade, taking care not to bump into anyone, as she approached the entrance to The Conductor's Cabin Bar & Grill. A few steps later, she arrived at the bar, next to the person she had been looking at. She cautiously reached out and tapped them on the shoulder. "Excuse me, miss?"

    "Wot," the figure said in a burly, masculine voice as it turned around. "Need somethin'?"

    A look of shock came across her face; she had mistaken a man with long hair for Tamara! "Oh! Uhh, my mistake, sir. You're not who I'm looking for."

    "Mmm. That so..." The man eyed her up and down. "Just so happens I'm lookin' for a pretty lady to spend the evening with. You'll do, how 'bout I buy you a drink?"

    Her face turned bright red, and she politely shook her head despite the situation calling for anything but a polite response. "Uhh, uh-uh. Good bye!" She rushed out of the bar and back into Kimberly's presence, nearly knocking a distracted traveller over in the process. "Well... That was awkward."

    Kimberly politely covered her mouth as she laughed. "I can tell! The look on your face when that man turned around... I tried to warn you!"

    "Did you see the look on my face when he propositioned me? It took a lot of effort not to slap him."

    "Oh dear, did he really? I'm glad you didn't."

    "Yeah, that would have been a bad idea... let's keep looking around. I want to put as much distance between myself and that creep as I can..."

    The next section of the station they searched was the economic heart that attracted more visitors than any other: the commerce center. There were lots of alluring distractions scattered about; another bar, the Gilded Kilt, had various sporting games on TV. The scent of freshly prepared Shinikari-styled seafood wafted from a restaurant just next to it. A public Dance Dance Arcade! match between two seasoned veterans was taking place just outside of Fynnster's Arcade. A jewelry kiosk filled to the brim with silver, gold and precious gems glinted in the overhead lighting.

    They all fought for the girls' attention, and eventually the distraction proved successful. They quickly found themselves browsing the merchandise around them, rather than the people. The first distraction was the loud rave music that came from the Dance Dance Arcade! display, and Andrea found herself drawn in like a moth to a flame. The two blended in with the crowd of cheering spectators that had gathered to watch the heated competition that was taking place.

    "Yeah! Ya got 'em, Lao, ya got 'em!" one of the spectators shouted as the match progressed.

    The screen was crammed to capacity with flashing arrows that passed by at lightning speed, each corresponding to a specific dance move. Both competitors were able to keep up with the ludicrous pace and remained evenly matched for several minutes, but eventually one of them missed a step, a mistake that threw off his entire rhythm. The crowd erupted with boisterous booing and cheering as the young man stormed off in defeat before the song had even finished.

    "Would you be interested in giving it a go?" Andrea asked as the crowd started to jostle back and forth and two new competitors emerged.

    Kimberly raised her eyebrow. "Me? Sorry, I'm not the type."

    "Doesn't matter. I'm well out of practice, and out of shape, too. You could probably take me."

    Her words of encouragement earned a giggle from Kimberly. "I wouldn't want to ruin my high heels before my big night."

    "So take 'em off, silly!"

    "I'll pass. We have something more important to focus on, remember."

    She smiled and playfully said, "Coward!" As the two contestants argued over what the next song should be and what difficulty they would compete at, she felt a deep rumbling against her leg. She pulled her phone out of her stocking, looked at the screen and felt her heart drop.

    'Incoming call from Dr. Rebecca Reiland'

    She stepped away from the hollering crowd and answered. "Hello?"

    "Hello, Ms. Dennison, it's Dr. Reiland again. Have you heard from Ms. Dahl yet?"

    "I haven't. I called her phone and left a voice mail, but she hasn't gotten back to me. I kept looking for her, too, but I haven't found her. I don't think she's here."

    "I see... I was just in touch with her employer, Dr. Belmonte. He hasn't heard from her, either. The airline company that she booked her flight into Aughrim with said that she boarded the plane before it took off, so we do know that she's in the country. However, when we reached out to the hotel that she had rented, she hasn't checked in."

    "Where the hell could she be, then?"

    "I couldn't say... and I'm starting to grow a little worried. According to Dr. Belmonte, who has worked with Ms. Dahl numerous times in the past, this is unlike her."

    "You don't think..." she started.

    Her mind quickly drifted to the recent news reports that she watched on TV, complete with scary capital letters and sensationalist, even if they were fact based, claims: 'VIOLENT CRIME ON THE RISE', 'HUMAN TRAFFICKING RING OPERATING IN LANARK?' and 'VULNERABLE: CRIME AGAINST YOUNG WOMEN SKYROCKETS'. Growing up, she always thought of Lanark as a safe country, and it truthfully was; disappearances were a rarity during her youth, and violent kidnappings and murders even rarer, but that was evidently no longer the case. A recent article she read stated that in April alone, there were nearly 400 reported cases of missing persons, ten times the yearly average.

    On top of that, she'd read stories over the years about famous Pokémon champions such as Tamara, and how dangerous their lives had become as a consequence of their achievements. The story of Brendan Odamaki, champion of the Hoenn League, came to mind; after years of harassment from his loyal 'fans', including a nearly fatal encounter with a female stalker, he eventually disappeared from his public life altogether and went into hiding. Such stories were common among accomplished competitive trainers, especially league champions, and perhaps that was Tamara's typical experience while out in public. The fact that something tragic could have happened was an easy leap of logic for her to make.

    "Is it possible that she ran into trouble somewhere in the city?" she asked.

    "As much as I don't want to... I'm starting to think that."

    She sighed and shook her head. "So what should I do?"

    "I'm not sure there's much you can do at the moment. Find a hotel and check into it, I'll let Mavis down in Accounting know to cover the costs for you."

    "Oh! You don't need to worry about that. I still have my apartment here in the city, I can just hang out with my room mate for the time being."

    "Ah, do you? That's very handy, that'll save the institute some money. In any case, it's much too dangerous for you to be travelling the roads at night, especially alone."

    "Yeah, this city can get pretty rough at night..."

    "In the meantime, I'll keep in touch with Dr. Belmonte and sort out a missing person report."

    "Understood."

    "Look after yourself, Ms. Dennison."

    "I'll try." She hung up, placed her phone back into her stocking and then fell against the wall beside her, letting out a long groan in the process. "Son of a..."

    "More bad news, I'll assume," Kimberly said.

    "Yeah. I can't get in touch with her, my boss can't get in touch with her, her boss can't get in touch with her... so we're giving up for the night and reporting her missing. I'm cursed, one bad thing after the other..."

    "Oh no..."

    "What else can we do?"

    A moment of silence overtook the two as they thought over the situation. They both wanted to speculate wildly to themselves about how it could have happened; Andrea's imagination ran wild with dozens of possibilities ranging from Tamara being kidnapped by traffickers to having a violent confrontation with the gangsters that typically loitered in the streets around the airport. Kimberly knew it wasn't her place to speculate, so she refrained from it too much. The worry that Tamara had been targeted stuck in her mind, however, and she was concerned that perhaps Andrea may be in danger as well.

    "Hey," Andrea started in an effort to break the silence. "Thanks for sticking around and making sure I'm okay. You're a good person."

    Kimberly joyously accepted the compliment. "I try to be!" She looked down at her watch and the joy quickly faded from her face. "Oh! I suppose I really should be going now. These coordination contests take some time to prepare for..."

    "I shouldn't keep you any longer, run along now."

    "I do want to stay, to make sure you're okay, but... I know this may sound insensitive, regarding the current situation, but will you be attending the show? It'll be a nice distraction from your troubles. You'll also be in a public place, safe from danger."

    She shrugged. "I'll think about it."

    "Very well. Will you be alright here by yourself?" Kimberly asked.

    She made a dismissive gesture as she nodded. "I'm leaving, no sense staying here. I'm going to head home and figure out what to do next. Good luck with your contest."

    "Good. Stay safe, and good luck to you as well, friend. It was nice meeting you, Ms. Dennison!"
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2018
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    And there I was looking forward to my first glimpse of a real trainer in your world, huh. Not that I'm complaining; what we've got instead is plenty interesting enough. It certainly seems like Andrea has found some weird events, albeit not quite the ones she was looking for. Guess I'll have to wait till next time to see what that's all about – or later still, perhaps, since I get the feeling that we've got a contest in store for us in the next chapter. Which will itself be very interesting: contests are a strange thing in the games, all combo-heavy and rife with sabotage in a way that battles aren't, and people have a lot of different ways of interpreting them when translating them into real-world terms. So it'll be cool to see another take on the format.

    As Andrea arrives back in the big city, I find myself struck again by the social reality of your Lanark, for want of a better term. You made it clear at the outside that your goal here was to write a drama much more firmly rooted in the real world than is perhaps common in this fandom, and I think you've managed that admirably. Appropriately enough for a fic whose usual subject is human relations and encounters, you set your people in a world that feels like it's mainly made up of human connections: power relations, entitlement, respect (or the lack of it), all the different ways that people can interact with one another. That gives it a distinctive feel that defines it as much as that cool map you put up at the top of each chapter (have I complimented that yet? I feel like I must have done, but if I haven't it's great). City life, endless distraction, advertising, even that particular twenty-first century metropolis kinda feeling of being jaded about the threat of terrorist attacks in train stations. It's all there. And it's a perfect backdrop for characters who are so strongly human themselves – like, they're all a little exaggerated now and then for comic effect, but I can't think of a single person in the story who doesn't mess up in some way with some regularity, and that's kind of special.

    I think at this point I'm starting to ramble, but you get the point. Nice work! And as ever, I'll be looking forward to your next update.
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  3. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    The situation regarding Tamara has unfortunately turned out to be a big nothing, at least in terms of Andrea's side of the story. I'm almost at chapter 30 and this still hasn't been resolved, as it was intended to be a seed for a different sideplot I just haven't had the time or energy to focus on yet. It'll definitely be resolved at some point, it's not something that I've forgotten. Just... pushed aside too much. Just a fair warning. :\ It's something I'm aware of, but can't really fix all that much (without branching off and needing to rewrite part of the plot as a whole) as these chapter edits come through.

    And yes, the contest is next. The next four chapters focus on it; two for the run-up to the contest, and then two for the contest itself.

    It's so relieving to hear this! Thanks! :D
     
  4. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 8: a 'Cèilidh Gailearaidh

    Written with minor assistance from Caitlin Wintersbite

    [​IMG]

    "She has to be fine... There's no way someone like her could just... just become a victim. A statistic." Andrea told herself quietly. "Surely a master Pokémon trainer like her could defend herself from anyone who'd want to hurt her." Thoughts about her business partner's whereabouts and situation were beginning to flood through her mind; as much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, she couldn't help but feel that something sinister had happened. "What if she was targeted? Could I be--"

    Her thoughts were interrupted as she was knocked to the cold granite floor below her. A large man towered over her with a look of bitter anger on his face. He was dressed quite sharply, sporting a brown tweet suit that had been the unfortunate victim of a careless coffee spill. "Hey, what's the big idea, lady!? Watch where you're walkin'!" he roared as he wiped at the stain with his hand.

    "I-I-I'm sorry, I was... I was just--"

    "Ya know what, don't even say it!" he shouted. Before offering to help her up or even allow her to explain herself, he stomped off in anger. "...ruin my god damn day, dumb broad..."

    It was just as well that he left without hearing her out; he clearly wouldn't be interested in any excuses she offered.

    She picked herself up off of the floor and looked around. Nobody had stopped to offer to help her, or even taken just a moment to see what had happened. That brief encounter, the careless people around her, the situation regarding Tamara, it was all starting to bottle up and bubble relentlessly in her mind. "I need to get out of here before I run into anyone else..."

    With one last look at the lobby of Camden Station, she put it all behind her and stepped outside into the chilly evening air. The breeze made her shiver, yet at the same time, it was comforting. It was a familiar feeling; the breeze of Aughrim, the city that she had called home for the past four and a half years of her life.

    As she navigated the walkways towards the city, the gentle tones of a tenor saxophone began to fill the crisp air around her. She'd heard this same enchanting sound nearly every time she visited the train station, and just as it had many times before, it lured her in. A man with a bowler hat and a fancy waxed mustache stood in the center of a crowd of spectators, playing his own rendition of a popular tune from the 1980s. The case in which he carried his saxophone was drowning under a pile of bronze and silver coins, with more being added by passersby.

    The music calmed her nerves as the saxophonist moved onto the next song. She generally wasn't a fan of upbeat ballad music and in fact usually abhorred it, but she felt at ease in its presence. The soothing notes of the music began to melt her anxiety away, and thoughts about Tamara's wellbeing started to slip into the back of her mind. After awhile, she even found herself following the crowd as they sung the song's lyrics:

    ♫ ...I'll take that chance.
    I don't know when that will happen,
    Maybe today, but longer, I imagine. ♫

    ♫ Where ever you are,
    I don't care what you do.
    Just come to me, I'm waiting for you.
    Whatever it takes.
    Every day my heart breaks,
    Still here, waiting for you. ♫

    ♫ Waiting... Waiting here, for you... ♫


    Eventually, the music came to a conclusion and the saxophonist thanked the crowd for stopping to listen. As he packed up his belongings and the crowd began to disperse, she lingered in silent contemplation; she realized that the lyrics didn't apply to her current troubles, but they brought about feelings of hope and serenity nevertheless. She quickly dug through her purse and scooped out a handful of coins. After sorting through them for a pair of silver roses and depositing the leftovers back into her purse, she approached the man and offered them to him.

    The man studied her for a brief second, then accepted the coins in a gracious manner. "Thank you, ma'am. That's one of the most generous tips I've gotten all week."

    "No, thank you," she insisted. "Your music always helps clear my mind as I walk by this spot... it definitely has tonight."

    "That's just how I do," he answered with a nod before taking his leave.

    "You have a good night!" she called out.

    She kicked at a crack in the concrete walkway as she thought about what to do. Returning to her apartment for the night seemed like a good idea, but at the same time, it didn't; Kimberly's suggestion about attending the coordination contest came to mind, as did her comment about how she'd be safer in a public place. It begged the question: if Tamara had indeed been targeted by someone, was she possibly in danger as well? If that were the case, returning home would certainly be a bad idea. An even worse thought entered her mind: her room mate, Webster. Not only did she have herself to worry about, but him as well.

    "Great..." she mumbled as she reached down towards her stocking. With her phone in hand, she typed out a message to him:

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:07 PM
    'hey webster, you home?'

    Fr: Webster, 7:08 PM
    'I am. 'sup?'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:08 PM
    'hi! everything okay over there?'

    Fr: Webster, 7:08 PM
    'Bit lonely here without you, but yeah. Why?'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:09 PM
    'aww, ya miss me? how cute!'
    'well good news is that im back in aughrim for an assignment. ill be staying the night'

    Fr: Webster, 7:08 PM
    'That's good!'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:09 PM
    'bad news, a problem came up and my partner has gone missing'

    Fr: Webster, 7:09 PM
    'Oh.'
    'Shoot.'
    'That's not good.'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:09 PM
    'yeah im a little bit worried and wanted to make sure everything was alright'
    'i dont know if im in danger too but i dont want you to get hurt'

    Fr: Webster, 7:10 PM
    'Oh god, what trouble have you gotten yourself into this time? jk jk'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:10 PM
    'im probably over thinking it but it might be a good idea for you to find something out of the apartment to do just in case'
    'some girl i met on the train gave me some tickets to see her coordination contest. you interested?'

    Fr: Webster, 7:10 PM
    'Coordination? Nah. I don't like that stuff.'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:10 PM
    'at least find something to do then i dont want you staying home alone tonight'

    Fr: Webster, 7:10 PM
    'Like you said, it's probably nothing. But thanks for the heads up. Guess I'll go visit some friends.'
    'Get in touch with me when you're done, we'll go back home together.'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:11 PM
    'sounds good see ya later'

    She was disappointed that Webster wasn't interested in attending the coordination contest, but she figured he would say no, as Pokémon in general barely interested him. At the very least, her mind was at ease that he took her request to leave the apartment seriously, especially considering the fact that he rarely ever left the comfort of his bedroom.

    With the evening still young, she thought about how to spend it. She couldn't return home, so she had to find something to do with her time. She mused about joining Webster and his friends, but she rarely saw eye to eye with any of them. Her own list of friends was depressingly small, and aside from Webster, not a single one of them lived in the city. While she could think of a few other night time activities that she'd rather do, she did feel a nagging pull towards attending the contest anyways, even if she'd do it alone. She buried her hand back into her purse in search of the VIP tickets she was given. With one in hand, she began to read from it:

    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!

    "West Armory, huh? At least it's not too far away..."

    - - - - -​

    It was a quick and uneventful walk towards the city's Olde Town district. Despite spending several years of her life living in the city of Aughrim, Andrea had never taken the opportunity to visit the area; she felt overwhelmed as she attempted to navigate the winding alleyways that made up the core of the city, a fact made worse by the insufficient lighting that the antique street lamps provided. Ever concerned for her safety, every person she came into close contact with was watched like a hawk, and anyone who looked even the slightest bit suspicious, angry or drunk was given a wide berth.

    To avoid the thoughts about Tamara clouding her mind again, she tried to imagine the coordination contest that she was about to attend. She knew very little about them, and Kimberly's earlier description did little to paint any particular images in her imagination.

    It involves flashiness, showmanship and stunning visuals! It's a lot of fun!

    What did that even mean? She wondered what to expect. Fire juggling? Ice carving? Acrobatics? Horticultural displays? Feats of strength and endurance? Time would tell.

    At last, she had arrived at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh, a large and imposing stone building that could grab the attention of even a blind man. Four brick spires towered into the sky, each tipped with crenellations and decorated with grisly-looking gargoyles from ages past. Enormous stained glass windows that depicted important events in Lanark's history lined the roughly chiseled walls. She'd never seen it in person before, and now she was kicking herself for never taking the time to.

    Her heart dropped as she approached the entrance of the building, and she quickly began to reconsider how she would spend the rest of her night. "You've gotta be kidding me..."

    A seemingly endless sea of people were gathered in front of the main entrance. At first, it looked like there was little order to the crowd, but closer inspection revealed a long, orderly queue that was penned in with red velvet ropes. She tried to count the number of people who were waiting, only to lose track somewhere around 65.

    "Am I really about to wait in the cold..." she asked herself. Luckily, she noticed that the line of guests was clustered along the right side of the main entrance, while a much, much smaller line was stood outside of the left side. A large banner fluttered in the wind, emblazoned with the words 'VIP TICKET HOLDERS ENTER HERE', a warm welcome.

    "Hello! Welcome to the Cèilidh Gailearaidh!" an attendant said as she approached. "Please have your VIP ticket ready!"

    With the ticket already in hand, she handed it over.

    The attendant grabbed the ticket and held it up to a scanner. "Let's see... Yep, this is right! Welcome to the show!" He grabbed a small pamphlet and a lanyard that was decorated with silver roses and handed them to her. "Here is your VIP access pass and a schedule for tonight's show. Enjoy!"

    She slipped the lanyard around her neck and entered the building. She was quickly beckoned over by a sharply dressed young man who carried himself in a stately and dignified manner. He offered to escort her to the VIP section, an offer she accepted. As they walked through the lobby together, they passed by the concert hall; the seating area was nearly filled to capacity already in preparation for the upcoming show, and there simply weren't enough seats left for the people waiting outside. If it had been overbooked, she reasoned, then the night would at least be memorable even if she didn't enjoy the show.

    The young man who was escorting her was awkwardly silent and rebuffed every effort she made at speaking with him, so she studied her surroundings instead. The marbled halls were home to numerous paintings and works of art, from renaissance masterpieces to modern trash. Displays of renaissance and medieval arms and armor decorated the empty spaces between the paintings. Important documents and books from the city's history were housed in glass containers. A lot of history called that hallway home, history that she was interested in learning about, but now wasn't the time.

    Eventually, the two stopped at an unmarked doorway and the attendant knocked on the door.

    "Yes?" a voice called from the other side.

    "Someone has arrived, do you want me to send them in?" he replied in a deep voice.

    "Oh!" the voice said. A short pause followed. "Yes, send them in!"

    The man opened the door and motioned for Andrea to enter. She stepped inside and immediately recognized it as a green room, much to her surprise. "Uhh, I'm not here to compete, sir, I'm--"

    Kimberly was standing behind the door, browsing a selection of dresses that hung from a wheeled rack. "Ms. Dennison! You came!"

    "I did. I figured that if something bad happened to Tamara, whoever did it might be looking for me, too... You were right with what you said earlier, it's probably best to blend in with the crowd, especially where nobody would expect to find me. I can't think of a better place than here."

    "Indeed."

    "Of course, I don't know why that guy brought me here of all places, but here I am." The confusion in her voice was obvious; she expected to be taken to the seating area, not the private room of one of the contestants.

    Kimberly quietly nodded to herself as she pulled a simple-looking sun dress from the rack, then brought it over to the vanity table. "That is one of the perks of being a VIP ticket holder, friend. You get to visit the contestant who gave it to you before and after the show!" She undid the ribbon on her current dress and began to take it off in plain sight.

    "Oh my god! What is this girl doing?!" she thought to herself. She averted her eyes as Kimberly's white dress fell to the floor. "So..." she sheepishly started. "I tried inviting my room mate to attend the contest as well, but he wasn't interested."

    "I trust that you warned him that you might be expecting trouble, correct?"

    "Yeah, that's why I invited him. I was hoping he'd come, but he doesn't like coordination I guess. He's hanging out with some other friends instead, at least."

    "Ah! That's a shame, but I'm more than happy that at least you decided to come."

    "Yeah..." she said, sneaking a quick peak; she saw more than she expected and returned her vision to the floor beside her. "Well! I'm kinda glad I didn't bring him along, considering, uhh..."

    Kimberly slipped her new dress over her shoulders. "Considering what?"

    "Considering you're getting changed in front of me. It'd be pretty awkward with a guy around, I imagine. It's awkward enough..."

    "Oh! my apologies if I made you uncomfortable! I didn't think! Where have my manners gone?" Kimberly looked around the room. "Unfortunately with all of the money that was spent on this event, the organizers did not provide these rooms with panel dividers..."

    "It's okay... At least I've seen enough of myself over the years to not be offended by a girl in her unmentionables."

    Kimberly turned her attention to her makeup next. As she started to apply her eyeshadow, she asked, "I take it you haven't heard anything about your business partner, correct?"

    "Nope... Unless she really is just running late, or is busy with something, I don't think I will tonight." she answered. "Oh, on that note, if I do hear from her, I'm gonna bounce on this competition of yours to go meet with her. I hope you understand."

    Kimberly nodded. "Mmm. I'd be disappointed, but I'd also understand." A few minutes passed by in relative silence as she brushed away at her eyelids and daintily applied the crimson tones she was working with. "Ugh! I'm so bad at this!"

    "Bad at what?"

    "Makeup application! I never learned how to do it properly by myself..."

    Andrea approached from behind to get a better look in the mirror. "I think you did okay." Her compliment was met by silent skepticism, almost as if Kimberly was waiting to be told otherwise. "...okay, I guess it's a little sloppy near the corner of your right eye. It shouldn't be hard to fix."

    Kimberly took another close look at herself in the mirror, but she could see more than just a sloppy application. She reached for a white cloth that was stained with nearly a dozen black smudges and began to rub away at her makeup. "Sloppy won't do... Not tonight... This may be a strange question, but... Could you perhaps help me with this?"

    "Help?"

    Kimberly offered the makeup brush to her. "Don't take this as an insult, as I don't mean it that way. You seem like you're much better at this makeup business than I am."

    "Well... she's not wrong..." she thought to herself, taking a moment to ponder the situation. "That won't break any competition rules, with it?"

    "No. As I was arriving, I noticed that several of the other contestants had their own assistants. It's a common practice in these competitions."

    She sheepishly accepted the brush and wondered where to begin. She considered herself a veteran of eyeshadow application and had spent years perfecting her own look, but all of that knowledge and confidence went out the window now that she was working on someone else. "I'm going to screw this up, and then it'll be on me..." she thought to herself. "I'll try something subdued. I really only know how to do the princess of darkness look, but I doubt you want that. I don't think it'd fit the look you're going for."

    "And what look would that be?"

    She took a step back and studied Kimberly's appearance more closely. She was wearing a simple shamrock green and minty white pinstripe sun dress, embroidered with a dozen roses down the right side. Her outfit was anything but complex and gave off an 'I'm fun, yet classy' vibe. Her chestnut brown hair, on the other hand, was a complex mess of braids, twists and pastel green ribbons, yet it carried a sense of sophistication with it. She didn't know what to make of it. "You know, I'm not sure. I was never into fashion much."

    "At least you understand the basics of color coordination."

    She got to work on Kimberly's eyeshadow; she wasn't sure which color to choose, so she decided on a neutral brown. "Color coordination? What color coordination? All I do is black! There's no need to mix and match colors when you're a goth!"

    The two shared a laugh.

    "Heh, you've got a good point," Kimberly said with a smile. "I do have the colors down... but the rest of my outfit has me worried. Like you, I don't know what to make of it, which has me slightly worried... I got a sneak peak at one of the other contestants as I approached my room, she was in the most gorgeous red dress I had ever seen! What I'm wearing simply can not compete."

    Andrea was confused. "What you're wearing and how you look can't be all that important, can it? Aren't these shows all about the Pokémon and the tricks they do?"

    Kimberly tried her best to remain still as she laughed. "Oh, bless your heart! You really do know so little about this sport... You'll soon see what it's all about!" A few minutes passed by in which she sat in silence, waiting for Andrea to respond, but she never did. The silence bugged her, so she asked, "What will you do if you don't meet your business partner?"

    Andrea took a step back and studied her work; she found it satisfactory enough, but wasn't sure if it matched the look that Kimberly sported. "I honestly don't know. I'll probably have to head back to Loch Alstan... I can't travel the roads alone, it's way too dangerous."

    "Indeed, travelling the roads is not for the timid."

    "You can say that again, I learned that the hard way before I came here... Even ignoring the issue of travel, this job I'm working on relied on her expertise, not mine. I'm screwed without her."

    Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. The door swiveled open ever so slightly and attendant's voice said, "Five minutes until the show begins, Ms. Fairbrooke."

    "Thank you!" Kimberly called out. She stood up and made some last minute adjustments to her hair in the mirror. She noticed that her hand was shaking lightly and tried her best to calm herself. "Oh dear... Nervousness is setting in... This is my first big competition."

    "Heh. Just have a little faith, you'll do fine." Andrea said.

    With a few deep breaths and a few repetitions of "Confidence is key..." she nodded. "Even if I don't do well tonight, I'll have learned some valuable lessons for next time."

    "If you don't mind, I'll get out of your hair. I have to find my seat, still..."

    "By all means. Thank you for stopping by, friend!" Before Andrea could get far, she approached the door and called out into the hallway, "Oh! One last thing! I'll be returning to this room after my performances. Would you care to join me?"

    Andrea stopped in her tracks and paused for a brief moment. "Sure, why not? See you soon."
     
  5. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Author's note: This one's a bit fillery, I guess. Little did I know that allowing eight characters to briefly introduce themselves before a coordination contest would turn into one of the lengthiest chapters yet. I feel it was worth it, though, as all but one of these characters will be seen again.

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 9: The Eight


    [​IMG]

    The stage went dark. A live orchestra began to play a rendition of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. As the dulcet tones of the music filled the auditorium hall, a young woman in a crisp white suit began to approach the center of the stage, still cloaked in darkness. When she reached the center, spotlights turned on and focused on her position. The orchestra carried on with its music, but began to soften in preparation for her speech.

    "Thank you all for coming tonight, and welcome to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest, hosted here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh! My name is Emma Welton and I'll be your host for the evening, as well as a member of tonight's judging panel." She made a motion towards a table that sat in front of the crowd, beckoning the two who were already seated to come on stage. "Please, give my colleagues a warm welcome!"

    The crowd cheered as a regally-dressed elderly woman and an equally sharply dressed young man climbed the steps to the stage.

    The man bowed before the crowd. "Saluti! It is an honor to be here in Lanark." he said in a thick, nearly unintelligible accent. "I am Leonardo Bertucci, connoisseur of fine arts, fine wines and fine women!" His laughter encouraged the crowd to do the same. "I have been judging these contests for nearly ten years now, and every one of them is a treat filled with new experiences. This is a fantastic opportunity, not just for me, but for you as well! Tonight, we will be captivated by some fresh talent and witness the birth of many promising careers!"

    The crowd could barely understand him, but cheered anyways.

    The elderly woman stepped forward and waved to the crowd with a warm smile. "Hello! Big crowd tonight! We barely had a dozen guests when I used to participate in these events, all those years ago..." she said. "I suppose you're wondering who I am! My name is Rosemary White, and I've been a coordinator for nearly fifty years now... Even won myself a few Ribbon Cups in my day. 22 of them, in fact!"

    The crowd erupted with delight.

    She let out a bemused chuckle and motioned for the crowd to be quiet. "Thank you, thank you. You humble me! As one of the early pioneers of coordination, I am very passionate about this sport, and it warms my heart to see that are you as well. But! The thing that warms my heart the most are our eight contestants that will be performing tonight. To see the traditions of old carried on by our newest generation is all I could ever ask for!"

    "Well said, Mrs. White! Now, with us out of the way, let's welcome the true stars of the night, our contestants!"

    A roaring cacophony echoed through the concert hall as the crowd eagerly awaited the beginning of the show.

    "Our first contestant is from the city of Steelport, Simone Reed!" A young woman with fiery red hair and a matching red ballgown approached from the left side of the stage. As she did so, Emma continued, "Mrs. Reed has a distinguished eight year career as a Royal Navy subcommander. She's served as a coast guard reserve for the first four years of her career, which was followed by two tours of duty as an ordnance officer aboard the HMS Purity during its lengthy patrol of the Ranaa Gulf. Let's give a hand for this brave woman!"

    "Thank you," Simone said in a reserved manner.

    "Let me start by thanking you for your service. I understand that you've just recently finished the long road to recovery after sustaining a battlefield injury, correct?"

    "Yes... This last year has been pretty tough. Hospital visits, extensive physical therapy, countless restless nights spent contemplating both my luck and my mortality..."

    "I can only begin to imagine how terrifying it must have been to serve in an active combat zone."

    "Terrifying is putting it lightly... I'll never forget that night. The hull of our cruiser was breached by an explosion and we were forced into a hostile port for emergency repairs under heavy fire. It's not easy to pick up a rifle and protect your fellow engineers when you've been promised a relaxed patrol assignment..." She took a moment to study the crowd before her, then took a deep breath. "But the men and women in this room remind me of why I went out there in the first place. Gods, it's good to be home, and I'm happy that chapter of my life is finally finished.

    "What a humble hero! Let's hear it for her!"

    The crowd roared. A group in the rear of the auditorium, clad in the Lanark Royal Navy's dress uniform, were among the loudest supporters.

    As Simone stepped off towards the back of the stage, Emma continued with her introductions. "Our next contestant also has a military past. From the frosty steppes of Kanetsk, please welcome Senna Kros... Kr... Krostovj? Yes, Krostovj!" She looked down towards a card she held in her hand. "She is a retired colonel from the Peoples' Liberation Army of the Great Republic of Kanetsk, 32nd division of the General Infantry. I hope I've said all of that correctly."

    A spotlight focused on the right side of the stage and the crowd began to cheer, but nobody emerged from behind the curtains. Emma quickly studied the card in her hands once again, then made a beckoning gesture towards the side of the stage. After a few brief moments of confusion, a woman in a striking black jacket and matching knee-length skirt approached the center of the stage. Her outfit was easily identified by just about anyone as the formal uniform of the Kanetsk General Infantry. Long, crimped blonde hair flowed out from under the peaked hat that sat atop her head. There was a rigid efficiency in her movement and her posture was stiff as a board.

    "There she is!" Emma said.

    Senna offered the crowd a sharp salute. "Sorry. Understanding of your language is... uhh..." she said, stopping for a moment to think. "Is not very well."

    "Are you enjoying this country so far?" Emma asked.

    "Da," she said with a nod. "Lanark very hospitable. Very generous. Much nicer than motherland. Much warmer, too."

    "I'm glad to hear it!" Emma said. "Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?"

    "I am accomplished trainer of Pokémon. I have earned eight... badges, is word? And I have competed in Kanetsk League challenge and earned championship. There not much left to learn, so I have move onto new branch of Pokémon ownership. Like in League challenge, I will bring glory to Kanetsk!"

    "Well! This should be interesting to see! Thank you!" She made a motioning gesture towards the back of the stage. "That was Senna Krostovj, everyone!"

    The crowd was energetic, but there was a distinct and noticeable difference from the reaction that Simone recieved; there was little audible cheering, though most clapped.

    "Onto our next contestant! He has come to us all the way from Kalos! Unlike the rest of the competitors here, this is not his first official coordination contest in this skill bracket; he has competed across his home country and earned two ribbons during his travels. Please, give a warm Lanark welcome to Jean-Luc De la Rivière!"

    A man in a sharp-looking burgundy tuxedo emerged from behind the curtains on the left side of the stage. There was a jolly spring in his step as he waved towards the cheering crowd. He stopped in the center of the stage and doffed his towering burgundy top hat. "Bonjour!" he said in his native tongue, tinged with a heavy Kalosian accent. "Thank you for the warm welcome to your country! I look forward to achieving many great things with your support!"

    "This isn't your first contest, as I've noted, yet you're still here in the beginner's circle. That was your choice, and you are allowed to make it, but... I'm curious... Why? Why not move onto the next tier?"

    "I do not feel that I'm ready for the next step of the journey," he said. "I'm sure you're familiar with the corruption scandals that plague the Kalosian Coordinator's Guild. Many top coordinators of the beginner's circle were disqualified following the investigations, and since I was one of the few not linked to the scandal, I was given the ribbons as an honorary gesture. I didn't earn them, and that's a terrible way to start my career. I am here to prove my worth and earn them fairly."

    "That's understandable. Let's just hope that your prior experience offers a fair competition for the rest of the contestants!" she said.

    "Let us hope. I'm not here to crush dreams unfairly." After a courteous bow, Jean-Luc joined Simone and Senna at the back of the stage.

    "Jean-Luc De la Rivière!" she announced as he left the stage.

    There was a notable lack of enthusiasm from the crowd at the Kalosian's presence, though most of it could be attributed to the intense rivalry between Kalos and Lanark throughout history. Still, he had his avid followers who cheered him on.

    "Next on the list is a wealthy heiress right here from our home country of Lanark! Her father is a world class chef and the owner of the Gilded Rose, one of the country's most highly rated restaurants! Her mother coordinates the relief efforts and charity work of the Valenzi Foundation, with their most recent work focusing on those displaced by the devastating Cold Harbor earthquake in Glastonfell this past December. Please, give a round of applause for our next contestant, Kimberly Fairbrooke!"

    Kimberly emerged from the right side of the stage. As she approached the center of the stage, she blew a kiss towards the crowd, causing an upsurge in cheering.

    "I've heard your name before, Kimberly, but I don't know anything about you," Emma commented. "Your parents are very famous, and rightfully so, but you've slipped under the radar somehow. Tell us a little bit about yourself!"

    "I'm not sure what there is to say, really. I'm just a privileged young woman looking to make her mark on the world. I haven't figured out what that mark may be... Coordination is my next attempt to find my purpose in life."

    "Why not follow in your parents' footsteps?"

    "First, I'm a terrible cook. My specialty is a pile of ashes, seasoned with disappointment."

    The crowd livened up with laughter.

    "Second... while charity work with my mother is certainly rewarding, it's not for me. She spends a lot of time in some of the worst places in the world. If the circumstances aren't heartbreaking, they're terrifying and fraught with danger. I can't do it. However, if I do succeed at this as a career, any proceeds I earn will go to my mother's organization."

    "Understandable, and you'll still be doing good work if you succeed. Thank you for coming tonight!" With a wave of her arm, she dismissed Kimberly towards the back of the stage with the other competitors. "Let's give her a hand, folks!"

    As she joined the other contestants at the back of the stage, Kimberly paid attention to the crowd's reaction to her; it was more than she expected, yet she worried about the lack of enthusiasm shown for her.

    "Now, our next contestant left a lot of information on her application blank, so she's just as much a mystery to us as she will be to you folks in the audience. Please, welcome Chrysanthemum!"

    The spotlights focused on the left curtains and a young woman with a black trenchcoat, black boots, black visor sunglasses and icy blue hair walked on stage. Glowing neon lines that matched her hair color ran along the contours of her clothing and boots. Unlike the other contestants, her interaction with the crowd was minimal, which may have been responsible for the mixed reaction she received.

    "Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Chrysanthemum? We're all a little in the dark here, and I'm sure the audience would like to get to know you." Emma commented.

    Chrysanthemum stood in the center of the stage like a statue, completely silent. She didn't even turn to acknowledge Emma's presence.

    "I guess the silent treatment is part of some sort of gimmick?"

    After another brief moment of silence and further murmuring from the crowd, she broke character and turned her head towards Emma. She lifted her black visor to show off a pair of amber eyes. "Yes." Her voice was distorted heavily by the device strapped around her neck and sounded almost robotic. Just as quickly as she broke character, she returned to her statuesque pose quickly afterward.

    "Gotcha! It's not often we have... 'characters' such as yours show up at these events, but it's still lovely to have you!"

    With a smirk and a shrug, Chrysanthemum took her place at the back of the stage with the other contestants. The spectators were mostly silent, murmuring quietly amongst themselves as they tried to figure out what they had just seen.

    "Next up, we have Chelsea Griffith!" She looked down at the card in her hand and paused for a moment. "She's a... uhh... a professional dancer, and... umm... and she's a common sight around one of Aughrim's most popular night clubs! Let's hear it for Chelsea!"

    There was a mixed reaction from the crowd as a scantily clad, poorly dressed young woman walked out onto the stage from the right side. Most seemed perplexed by her presence and her abnormally casual appearance, a sharp contrast to the other contestants who wore suits, dresses or formal uniforms. Still she had a rather vocal following within the crowd; they were few in number, but they chanted her name loudly, made obscene gestures and professed their love for her.

    "C'mon lady, you don't gotta say it like that. Introduce me properly!" Chelsea demanded.

    She was caught off guard by Chelsea's brusque mannerisms and retreated to the card in her hand for safety. "Oh, uh..." She adjusted her posture, put a smile on her face, took a deep breath and motioned towards the angry young woman. "This is Chelsea Griffith, but she's more commonly known by her stage name, Twinkle. She's the star dancer at the... oh lord... Tit for Tat Gentleman's Club. She usually works between the hours..." she paused, then stood her ground. "Look, I'm not going to advertise for a stripper. Not on national television."

    "Whatever, ya stuck up bint," Chelsea chided before taking her place at the back of the stage. All along the way, raucous hooting and hollering continued from the front row of the crowd.

    "I love you, Chelsea!" one of them loudly shouted.

    Emma clasped her hands together, happy for the encounter to be over. "Right! Moving on! Next, we have an actress joining us tonight! Many may know her for her breakout performance as Ophelia in the Grapewood Theatre rendition of the classical play, Hamlet! This is the first coordination contest of her budding career as a cultural superstar, so let's give a round of applause for Samantha Ashwoode!"

    Another young woman entered from stage left to a storm of applause and raucous cheering. Her outfit was easily the most opulent among the other contestants; a white silk dress flowed elegantly around her and the ornate gold detailing on it caught the light perfectly. Around her wrists were glittering golden bangles, decorated with rubies and ornate celtic knots. A crown of bright white orchids rested atop her long, braided red hair.

    "I recognize that outfit," Emma said. "That's Ophelia's wardrobe from the play, isn't it?"

    Samantha nodded. "Almost. It's a replica some friends and I put together in our spare time. It's not quite perfect, but it's close enough."

    "I wouldn't have known otherwise! Well! Tell us a little about yourself!"

    "I've wanted to be an actress all my life... I grew up in a little town just outside of Aughrim, my parents owned a tavern there. I was usually entertaining the guests with my stupid stories or my singing... my mom told me I had a real talent for it, so she put me through the Lanark Center of the Arts' rising star program. Fast forward a couple years and I'm headlining one of the most popular plays in all of theatrical arts."

    "Are you looking to expand your horizons here?"

    She shook her head. "Nah, this is just a hobby. I don't know if I'll take it seriously. My real place is on the stage at the Grapewood Theatre." Without a prompt, she joined the other six contestants at the back of the stage. The crowd was restless as they cheered her on loudly and almost endlessly.

    "And with that, we come to our last contestant. War in his homeland has brought him and thousands of his countrymen to our shores as refugees. He came to this land seeking peace, prosperity, and the chance to rebuild what once was. I present to you the founder of the Durandas Relief Fund, Hoster Burnett!"

    A man in a simple outfit of blue jeans and a tucked in white button shirt approached the stage from the right. He waved to the cheering crowd and bowed gracefully when he reached the center.

    "So tell us a little bit about yourself, Mr. Burnett."

    "Thank you. My name is Hoster Burnett, and as you've just heard, I run the Durandas Relief Fund. We are dedicated to retaking and rebuilding my homeland, to ensure that war is a quaint footnote in history and not our eternal future. My group has unfortunately struggled to gain recognition or support from the international community... Like my fellow contestant, Ms. Fairbrooke, any proceeds I earn from these competitions will go directly towards helping my people to reclaim our homeland and rebuild what once was. That is all I want from this venture, fame and glory are unimportant. Thank you for your time, and thank you, people of Lanark, for showing me that there is still some good left in this world."

    "You'll be glad to know, Mr. Burnett, that this competition is being televised across the country. Perhaps someone watching out there will be moved by your story and agree to help?"

    "I would be most grateful."

    "At last, all of our contestants have been introduced and allowed an opportunity to speak about themselves, so now let's move onto the action!" Emma announced.

    The crowd went wild.

    Leonardo stepped forward and began to lay out the rules. "This competition will be divided into two brackets of four competitors each and it will follow single-elimination rules. Each contestant has agreed to a static team of three that they're working with. If a contestant calls on a Pokémon that is not on this team, they will be immediately disqualified."

    Rosemary continued the explanation. "Scoring will be on a scale of one to ten and based on execution, 'wow factor' and originality. Each of a contestant's three Pokémon will show off their best moves. They may do this on their own, with the assistance of their coordinator or with the assistance of props. After each performance, we will give our scores before the opponent's turn begins."

    Emma nodded, then added her own caveat, "There will be some minor alterations to the rules, since not all of our contestants have three Pokémon to work with. Those below the limit of three must still perform three times to qualify for the next round."

    "Yes, that is correct,"

    "Now, let's move onto the brackets. In our first bracket, we'll have Ms. Krostovj paired up against Ms. Fairbrooke, and Ms. Griffith paired up against Mr. Burnett. Our second bracket will see Mrs. Reed pitted against Mr. De la Rivière, followed up by Chrysanthemum and Ms. Ashwoode. We'll be right back with the first match after this quick commercial break!"
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2018
  6. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Name's Adam.

    Review For Chapters 1-3

    Well, this story looks interesting so far if the first chapter is anything to say about it. I like Andrea's character, and how her clothing habits clash with her overall personality. So far, she seems like just your average adult, aside from her exceptional college accomplishments. There's no elaborate backstory here, no criminal background, nothing too spectacular, and that makes her quite believable and relatable to an extent.

    I like how you referenced the Silph Co. Incident by having the building have some ridiculous amount of levels of security. It actually makes sense that other research centers would do the same to avoid becoming the next evil organization's victims.

    Ch 2 gave us a brief look around the research center, and the kinds of things they do. And wow, it looks to me like they do quite a good number of things. It was funny seeing just how excited Andrea was about the whole thing, and I chuckled when Patrick commented on how someone with her getup is usually the moody type.

    We also got to meet this doctor to-be Emily character, who apparently has a long history with Patrick. I'm sure we'll see more of her soon.

    Ch3 showed us our first Pokémon battle. It wasn't much, but what I did like about it is that it tells us more about Pokémon behaviors, with her locking eyes with a Donphan can deter it from attacking. It's little bits like these I like to see in a Pokémon story.

    Honestly, there's not much else for me to say about the story from the first few chapters as they've been kinda slow paced and not much is happening. However, I expect things to kick up once they truly get down to solving the dying miltanks mystery.
     
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  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    The Gailearaidh feels very familiar to me; it reminds me of one of those London venues that used to be a church, or some other kind of building whose architecture tends towards the spectacular, and which has since been converted into a performance space. Although in this case it seems like it was purpose-built, which is rather interesting; I don't know if I've ever come across a concert hall built to that kind of plan.

    … so I say, as if I'm some kind of concert hall expert. Anyway: the show! It does seems slightly odd that there aren't, like professional make-up artists on hand – it feels like a big enough occasion that this would be a reasonable expense for the organisers to go to – but it's nice to see Andrea making a friend for once, instead of starting arguments about politics. It also seems strange that Emma wouldn't have read her prompt cards and made sure of how to pronounce “Krostovj” (or, for that matter, have read Chelsea's description) before heading out onstage, but I guess maybe she's not a particularly professional compère. Anyway, it's definitely a pretty interesting roster; you take us right up and down the social scale, and give us a look into Lanark's classism along the way, in comparing the way Kimberly and Chelsea are introduced.

    It's interesting too that Lanark and Kalos are rivals in this fic; Scotland and France have historically had quite good relations (hence the Garde Écossaise), mostly because they both hate the English. Which, honestly – fair enough, all things considered.

    Here are some line-by-line responses – some of which are me pointing out typos, some of which are just me expressing opinions:

    “Tweet” looks like a typo for “tweed” here.

    Andrea has some strong opinions there, huh. C'mon, Andrea! There are plenty of good modern artists. Presumably the ones here are good, or they wouldn't have ended up in a building so central to Aughrim's sense of its own history and culture.

    That should be “peek” rather than “peak”.

    Same here.

    Having these two descriptors of Chelsea's clothing right next to one another is a little confusing, I think, especially since they each conjure up different mental images. (They should also probably hyphenated, since noun phrases used to modify nouns like adjectives should be hyphenated, but that's by the by.)

    Overall, I think the pace of this fic has been a little slower than usual of late, which is a slight concern given that it was already fairly slow to start with, but it looks like things will definitely pick up next chapter – I remember your battles were pretty good, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how you handle a coordination contest, especially since you're going with the interpretation of these contests where people face off against one another as if in a battle tournament.
     
  8. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Actually, this was intended to be an old armory (hence being on Armory Street) that was later converted to a performance center during times of peace. I based it off of my city's old national guard armory that was built in 1905, which has plenty of room for conventions, concerts and indoor sporting. It is a curious thought though, I'm actually not sure most centuries-old structures could support a music hall in them now that I think about it... I think my next similar location will probably need a little bit more thought put into it.

    This is probably something I should have touched on in the chapter itself, but in my world, coordination is struggling to catch on (maybe a thousand tickets sold on a good day) compared to competitive battling (tens of thousands of tickets sold for most major events), so cost is definitely something that event organizers have to be mindful of. There's also the fact that, and I'll (hopefully, if I remember to) be hinting at this the next time coordination takes the main stage, is that it's mostly a hobby for the wealthy who can afford these things themselves.

    Hmm, that's a very good point. Ms. Welton is indeed meant to be a professional media personality, so something like this likely wouldn't happen. I'll put it on my list of things to fix.

    Funny thing about this, these coordination chapters are probably the first thing I've written for this project, and the Lanark/Kalos rivalry stems from when I was still drafting Lanark as the modern UK, moreso England than Scotland/Ireland. We'll see later in the future why Lanark and Kalos are still such bitter historical rivals through the use of background details.

    Actually this is a bit of my own opinion slipping in. I'm sure there's good modern art out there (just as there's good rap, good country, good happycore), but not enough for me to be exposed to it, I think. Even then, as I walk through my own city's historical, cultural and government buildings that are loaded with art displays, most of it just isn't good in my opinion. It seems like it's only displayed because the person who bought it had a limitless design budget and decided to help a starving artist. Just my opinion, of course! :)

    Awesome, thanks. Looks like these are all out of chapter 9, which I don't remember if I ever properly proofread. Doesn't seem like I did.

    Pacing is a bit of a problem for me, unfortunately, and I'm not sure it speeds up any (apart from the next two chapters), based on feedback I've received elsewhere. It's just a consequence of my previous writing project which employed similar pacing structure that was hardly ever criticized over the four years I worked on it. I'm not sure it's something I'll ever be able to fix, as my style is pretty much set in stone now.

    Still, I aim to at least offer an entertaining story, even if it's a little slow, and I do hope that I always will. It seems I have if feedback I've received is any indicator!

    Anywho, thank you for your continued support and reading! This goes for all of you, as well, whether you leave feedback or not. It means a lot to me.
     
  9. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    All right, been a while since I checked in here. It was fun getting to see Andrea head out of the lab and take on her first real job. Although there have been a lot of quiet scenes in the story so far, you do a nice job with the action when it comes up. The battle against the donphan was nice in that it showed some great strategy in a pokémon battle, rather than having brute force win the day. And like Patrick said, it could have ended badly... there's a lot more tension there than a friendly match where you know everyone's going to walk away fine! The fight against the mystery monster, likewise, played out really well. Patrick's super lucky Andrea was there to save his hide several times over this arc.

    I'm still having some trouble taking Andrea and Patrick seriously as scientists, because, like...

    aaaaaAAAAAA WHY ARE NEITHER OF YOU WEARING GLOVES

    They came all the way out here to analyze what they thought was probably some disease, and they didn't bring anything to actually collect samples in? Patrick would at least need to label the now-gross water bottle and note the location, time of collection, etc.

    See, this kind of thing would be more par for the course for some kind of amateur investigation team, but would definitely put you in danger of being fired if you worked for an actual science lab of some sort. Andrea is 1000% correct about what they should be doing here.

    Yergh. DDDD: That definitely puts Patrick's weird hugginess in an unpleasant light. Especially considering recent events, "Some of our female employees are uncomfortable around him, but really he's just friendly!" takes on suuuuuper skeevy undertones. And whether or not he actually tried to get Andrea to sleep in the single bed with him, the fact that he stealth changed the room reservation so that might potentially be in the cards is just really gross. Like, there are innocent explanations, but yeah. If you didn't want to make Patrick come across as a huge creeper, you might want to tone down his behavior a little bit.

    idk, perhaps it would make more sense to have Andrea be part of a paranormal investigation team or something like that, or perhaps part of some agency that doesn't normally do these kinds of jobs? Just in general the way Andrea and Patrick handled this would be pretty hair-raising for a scientific enterprise, like, this is how you get yourself killed and/or contract a horrifying disease that you then spread to everybody because you didn't wear gloves.

    The blastcap itself is a fun idea, though, and it's nice to see pokémon getting treated as a real part of the world, with their ecology and relationships with other species. The core of the mission is fine, but the way it was carried out kind of drove me mad, as a former science grad student.

    Oh NO, floofiest skitty ever! So cute!

    It would be nice to know what that historical significance is!

    Well, yeah, that is... pretty danged hair-raising. D:

    A "purveyor" is a supplier, and I don't think he'd be joking with this crowd about being a provider of fine women...

    Overall, the story is moving along a little slowly for me. It's kind of hard to say what the pace should be for a story like this, which kind of has a slice-of-life feel to it, but either way I think a whole chapter spent on looking for a character in a train station or introducing a bunch of extras who are going to appear in a contest is a bit much. Both those chapters did have interesting things to offer--the contestants, for example, gave some nice bits of worldbuilding with their introduction--but I don't think they needed quite as much attention as they got. Like, I feel as though you could introduce the general danger of the train station, and the worry that something Bad has happened to Tamara, in a pretty tight, snappy, maybe 2000-word scene rather than an entire chapter.

    By contrast, the first arc where Andrea goes to investigate the miltank mystery works quite well, I think; it forms a nice little intro to how Andrea's job works, how she handles herself on the job, has a bit of action and drama, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Kimberly's clearly going to be an important character, and I think the contest will be fun, but it's kind of been holding up to what is presumably the next major part of the plot, the spooky ghost stuff. I'll be honest, I'm never going to remember all eight of those coordinators' backgrounds by the time the next chapter rolls around, and if we're only going to see one of them again, a lot of those words feel wasted to me.

    What might help a bit would be a little more insight into what Andrea wants out of life, here. She wants a job, obviously, and she has an interest in science, but bigger than that--what does she really want? Again, it's harder for more slice of life, but usually stories are fundamentally structured around some goal a character has, and the story itself is all the ways life gets in the way of that goal or desire. Having a clear idea of the protagonist's drive makes it easy

    Which isn't to say that Andrea's a bad or uninteresting character. She feels like a pretty realistic young woman, pretty down to earth and a bit prickly but kind of just fumbling her way along the way people do. She's an easy protagonist to like, and I enjoy her dynamic with Kimberly. It's been fun to see them together, and Kimberly herself (and the CUTEST SKITTY) were pretty much the highlight of the most recent ~4 chapters for me. You do well on the atmosphere and on the characters; to me it just feels like the plot isn't really gelling yet, and after nine chapters I'd hope to be feeling a little more direction. The spooky stuff sounds like it'll be pretty fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of that, as well!

    Anyway, I know you're way out ahead of this point in terms of what you've actually written, but I hope your writing and revisions go well. I'm curious to see where this story goes![/quote]
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2018
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  10. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Hello, welcome back!

    All of these are very good points, and the only real answer I can offer for some of these is that I'm not a scientist by profession; furthermore, my education in scientific procedures was disgustingly lackluster (I spent the majority of my youth in a school rooted in religious orthodoxy and literal backwards thinking, so no surprise there). I've been trying to fill the holes in my education as I go, but there's a loooooot to cover in terms of proper procedure just for biology, let alone chemistry, physics, etc.

    That said, these are very flagrant issues. I'll prioritize fixing them before the next chapter is out, it shouldn't take a lot of effort.

    Admittedly, it does paint Dr. Reiland in a bad light. I'll be trying to explain Patrick's role at the institute better as time goes on; he's intended to be a core part of the staff that is keeping a lot of projects afloat with his dedication, and losing him would be a crippling blow that Dr. Reiland isn't ready for, especially now that her health is starting to fail her.

    This is actually intended. There's going to be little hints throughout the chapters that maybe this guy isn't quite right and that we should keep our eye on him.

    Huh, good point. Looking through my notes, I don't have any historical significance written down for them... I'll definitely have something ready later on in the story, I intend to spend a lot more time in Loch Alstan and the surrounding countryside.

    Whoopsie! I guess the source that introduced this word to me got it wrong, too, then. Will fix.

    Pacing is a weird issue for me, especially since I'm approaching this story from a slice-of-life angle. It's not something I've ever done before, nor had much exposure to (both in reading and television), so I'm kinda winging it in points. I feel like I've been doing an okay job with keeping things somewhat snippy and moving on, but at the same time, I'm not entirely sure. The general concensus I'm getting from feedback here and elsewhere about pacing is relatively positive with a few hangups, so I must be doing something right at least! :p

    Though I consider Kimberly to be a main protagonist (as opposed to a supporting deuteragonist), the coordination side of the story is effectively the B-plot. Unfortunately, due to the nature of coordination (big contests, minimal duels, minimal training), it's something that'll have to be dealt with in chunks, so it'll always get in the way of the main plot when it takes the spotlight.

    Ah, I might have written the author's note backwards: just one of them will not be returning, the other seven will. That said, seven rivals might be a bit much for a coordinator character, so I'll probably only focus on a few of them after this point.

    There were a few goals with the train station chapter:
    • The most important goal was to set the stage for Andrea and Kimberly's upcoming friendship.
    • The second, somewhat less important goal was to show how Andrea dealt with annoyance and uncertainty in her plans not working out as well as they should.
    • The last goal was worldbuilding and atmosphere, to show what the major cities are like, as well as the people in them.

    Andrea and I share one thing in common: neither of us really knows what she wants. She wants success, but what does that mean? Happiness is important but a convoluted monster. When I started this story, I didn't want answers to those, I wanted something open ended so that I didn't feel locked in too harshly while navigating my way to the planned finale. But:

    I realized that this is important. Since then, I've been looking to pin down her desires a bit more clearly and have have settled on success and happiness as her motivating factors. I didn't drive it too hard at the time, but after the contest, she'll start to show that motivation for being a success by going out of her way to investigate things, dig for answers and prove she can punch with the heavyweights at the institute.

    I hope they go well, too! Unfortunately some of the more critical flaws can't be adjusted with the revisions, but they're being kept in mind as I start season 2 (directly after spooky ghost village).

    Thank you for reading! :D

    General sidenote: The next two chapters may take some time to revise; they're quite complex in their own right. That, and I'm dreading touching them. :p
     
  11. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Alright, the problems brought up in the previous posts have been sorted! Chapters 4, 5 and 9 have received minor edits to fix problems and clarify things. And now, onto chapter 10, which didn't take as long to edit as I feared!

    Author's note: All commentary by the judges is written in italics. The intended effect is that they are commenting to a television audience and the reader is a viewer at home, and anything they say can not be heard by the contestants. If it's too difficult or jarring to read, let me know.

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 10: Wintersong


    [​IMG]

    "Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest! Our contestants have been introduced and the rules explained, so let's dive straight into the action! Our first match up is between Senna Krostovj and Kimberly Fairbrooke. The match is set to begin, so let's see what happens!"

    The lights faded, leaving only two spotlights. One focused on Kimberly who stood at the left side of the stage, while the other focused on Senna, stood on the right side like a chiseled statue. The two began to approach each other; as they did so, the orchestra started a short piece to build the suspense of the upcoming face off.

    "Udachi," Senna said in her native tongue, Kanestka. "It means good luck. I will not regret."

    The statement confused Kimberly. "I think you mean relent?"

    The cogs in Senna's brain went to work as she reviewed her shaky understanding of Glastonian vocabulary. She nodded in agreement. "Mmm."

    "Good luck to you as well, friend," Kimberly said with a curtsy. "The stage is yours, your performance is first."

    "Da."

    As Kimberly walked away, Senna reached into the chest pocket of her uniform. She pulled out a small black, cube-shaped object that was covered in pulsating red lights and lines, then dropped it to the floor. With a loud click, the tiny object flared open and scattered into a dozen tiny pieces, and a pale red light began to shine above them. The vague shape of a crystalline creature appeared, glinting with a shower of static-like glittering red sparks.

    "A fantastic and... positively strange entrance! I've never seen something like that." Emma commented.

    "A common sight in her homeland, Emma," Rosemary added. "It's a relic from the Cold War, not many people in Kanetsk use Pokéballs. Instead, they favor the Capture Cluster. Quite an interesting little piece of technology they've developed, and a reminder of our past."

    As the red static faded, the Pokémon inside began to take shape. The creature's body resembled the vague shape of a flower, but it was composed entirely of shimmering ice shards. A rounded crown of white and blue chunks of ice gently floated above a central pillar of green-tinged crystal shards. A thin fog swirled around the base of the creature, and as it moved around, the shards that made up its 'stem' rumbled about like stones caught up in the current of a raging river.

    "For her first Pokémon, Senna has chosen the mysterious creature known as Snowbelle, which is also a common sight in her homeland. Let's see what she does with it."

    Senna pointed to the center of the stage and her Snowbelle tumbled in that direction; as it did so, she issued a lengthy command in her native language. Several of the ice shards that made up the creature's body split away and swirled through the air until they eventually came to rest a few feet above the stage, neatly lined up in a row.

    "Nachat," she ordered.

    A bitterly cold wind blew through the auditorium as the largest shard began to vibrate aggressively. With that vibration came a deep, resonating tone that carried throughout the auditorium as if it were playing through the loudspeakers. The next largest shard vibrated next when the previous one stopped; the process continued from left to right until the smallest shard let out a high pitched squeal. After a few seconds of silence, Senna made some somatic gestures reminiscent of an orchestra conductor and the shards began to vibrate together in a manner that resembled chiptune music.

    "Ooh! This is interesting! But what is the song, I wonder?" Leonardo asked.

    "I could be wrong, but is that the Iron March of the Union I hear?" Emma suggested.

    "I believe so," Rosemary added. "If it is, it's quite sloppy."

    Snowflakes formed in the frigid air as the music continued. Senna started a march across the stage with a rigid gait, and when she reached the edge of the stage, she stamped her foot down hard and offered a salute to the crowd. As she did so, the Iron March hit a crescendo and the snowflakes fluttering through the air whipped about in a flurry. She began her march back across the stage, and once again the music grew louder and the wind grew colder when she stopped to offer another salute.

    "A very patriotic performance! You don't see much like this these days!" Rosemary said.

    The crowd was hardly amused and remained silent for much of the performance.

    "I don't think the crowd is buying it, Rosemary," Emma commented. "Not surprising, considering the current geopolitical climate. Not many people have a high opinion of Kanetsk these days."

    "A shame, really. I think it's well executed for what it is." Leonardo added.

    As the music ended, silence filled the auditorium. The crowd was a sea of murmurs until one brave soul stood up and started clapping. However, Senna and her Snowbelle had already stepped off of the stage by the time the crowd's reaction took its upswing.

    The judges held up score cards to grade the performance. Emma gave the display a score of six, Leonardo rated it an eight and Rosemary offered a neutral score of five.

    "And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, our first performance of the night! Senna and her Snowbelle wowed us with a bizarre yet enchanting musical rendition of her homeland's national anthem! Let's watch and see how her opponent, Kimberly, counters that display."

    A spotlight fell on Kimberly as she took a deep breath to ready herself for her first ever professional coordination performance. She reached down towards the red ribbon that dangled from her waistline and grabbed a gem-studded purple Pokéball, then held it aloft.

    "Is that a Master Ball I see!? I have her marked down here as only a hobbyist..." Emma gawked.

    She tossed the Master Ball into the air and it exploded with a radial burst of giant bubbles. A large blue turtle-like creature appeared above the stage and crashed down with an audible thud. Gleaming chrome cannons jutted from the top of the creature's shell, just above its broad and muscled shoulders.

    "And it's a Blastoise! I think this is the first time I've seen one of them compete in a coordination contest, and I've been covering these events for years!" Emma commented.

    "Yes, it's not a popular choice," Rosemary added. "I remember seeing just two in all of the years I spent as a coordinator myself. I must admit, I don't see why Blastoise is not a more common sight, it's a very versatile species."

    "Perhaps it is the imposing and powerful appearance it commands. In a competition based around appeal and style, a Blastoise is an odd choice in my opinion." Leonardo offered. "In any event, let's see what tricks it has hidden away in that shell."

    Kimberly timidly approached her Blastoise and rested her hand on his shell. "Juliano, I'm in the mood for bubbles. Are you?"

    Juliano dropped to one knee and the cannons sprouting from within his shell began to calibrate themselves to a new position. A thin, glossy film formed at the end of the left cannon; before long, a large bubble had formed and drifted out of it. The bubble gently tugged upwards until it broke free from his cannon and floated into the sky; as it did so, it slowly started to take on the shape of a fish. Afterwards, another bubble formed on the right cannon; when it lifted off, it morphed into the shape of a bird in flight.

    "Interesting approach with the Blastoise... I've never seen something like this before." Rosemary said.

    More shapes began to form. A star. A Pokéball. An apple. A heart. Some more complicated shapes took shape next, including the likes of a ring, an open clam shell, a rounded pyramid and a sailboat. The crowd was eating it up!

    "One more bubble, just like we practiced," Kimberly said.

    She stood in the center of the stage as Juliano exerted himself to form the largest bubble of the batch with both of his cannons at the same time. The bubble was round in shape and lacked any special features, prompting the crowd to wonder what was so special about it. The bubble gently floated above Kimberly, then began a soft descent over her. She tried her hardest to stand completely motionless like a statue as the bubble dipped over her head; her hair shined with moisture and her dress became somewhat damp as the bubble slowly made its way downward until it reached her feet. She ended the performance by spreading her arms out wide before the orb shattered into a refreshing mist.

    "Incredible!" Emma lauded. "Not only did she come up with a routine that I haven't seen before, she compounded it with an old favorite! I've never seen a successful attempt at the bubble wrap trick before in the novice league!" She raised a card with the number eight on it.

    "Indeed, quite impressive!" Rosemary said while adding her own score of seven.

    Leonardo offered no commentary, but offered yet another score of seven.

    "With the first two performances out of the way, our contestants move onto their second Pokémon! Senna is up next, let's watch."

    With her characteristic rigid gait, Senna stepped forward with another of her Capture Clusters in hand. The cluster was dropped to the floor and like before, it popped into a shower of pieces and gave off an eerie red light above it. This time, the outline of another turtle-like creature appeared; the bluish-green creature sported a jet black shell that was covered in algae, barnacles, numerous battle scars and pockmarks. It slowly pulled itself towards the center of the stage with its leathery flippers.

    "Is that... a Tirtouga? Now this is unexpected!" Rosemary commented.

    "I thought they were extinct..." Emma added.

    "As far as I know, they're supposed to be. This should be interesting."

    "Pretty girl take plan routine..." Senna said with a tone of annoyance in her voice. "No matter, Rakushka. We improvise." She took a step back and issued another lengthy command in her native language.

    Rakushka the Tirtouga perked up and pushed himself as high as his front flippers could take him, then spat streams of water high into the air. Before the water landed on the floor, he took aim at each and shot a concentrated beam of bone chilling air at each; a few missed, but those that made contact froze the water instantly. The chunks of ice rained down onto the stage and smashed on impact, each dispersing with a puff of bitter fog.

    Emma started the analysis. "This is shaping up to be an icy performance!"

    "I don't like it, it's getting a little cold in here," Rosemary added as she huddled behind the judge's table.

    The crowd reacted favorably to the display, although the energy dispersed rapidly as Senna offered yet another of her country's traditional salutes.

    "Ouch. She isn't playing off of the crowd very well, is she?" Leonardo commented. He raised a card with the number seven on it. "What did you think, ladies?"

    Rosemary offered a scathing score of four. "She said she wanted to improvise that one, and you could tell she did just that. It was nothing special, and her Tirtouga's accuracy was sub par."

    "I..." Emma started before holding her tongue. She raised a card with a score of five on it. "I don't think it was that bad for something improvised on the fly. But I think we can all agree that we'd have much rather preferred she stuck to her original plan, regardless of the other contestant's performance."

    With the stage clear, Kimberly approached the center once again. In her hand was her Skitty's custom-made fuzzy Feline Ball, which she gently tossed down to the floor. The ball exploded with a bright flash of white light and a shower of cartoonish rainbow stars. Telandra appeared on the stage and studied her surroundings, but her attention was immediately captured by the braided tuft of fur at the end of her tail.

    She turned around to get a closer look, but was surprised to see her own tail elude her. Intent on capturing her elusive tail, she bounced around in circles in a playful manner, chasing and chasing endlessly; she dove, she tackled, she rolled and she lashed out with her claws, but her efforts were ultimately fruitless. Her adorable display drew out an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd and judges alike.

    "Look at that adorable Skitty! And look at how... purrfect it looks! This contestant has clearly put in a lot of effort towards grooming her Skitty's luxuriously soft fur!"

    Kimberly courteously covered her mouth as she giggled, then made a motion towards the crowd. "Please, settle! This isn't her performance!" She knelt down and called out to Telandra.

    On the verge of finally capturing her elusive tail, Telandra dropped her chase as soon as she heard her name. She trotted over to Kimberly, then aggressively head butted against her master's ankle.

    "This is your first performance, Telandra, so it's important that we do well. Let's do our ring routine, just as we practiced. Remember: have confidence in yourself."

    Telandra returned to the center of the stage, then paced around in small, tight circles. Her tail twitched and glowed with a frosty white light and the air around her cooled rapidly. A thick haze surrounded the Skitty and started to coalesce into individual shards of ice. The shards hung in the air like fluffy dandelion seeds, and with a deep growl, they took the shape of a ring.

    "More ice? There's a definite theme here tonight, folks!"

    Kimberly nodded. "Very good, Telandra. Now, time for some tricks! Start off simple."

    Telandra shuffled off to the right side of the stage and turned around. With a running start, she jumped high into the air and tumbled through the center of the ring. She landed gracefully on her feet and twirled in place before turning around to line up another jump. With a deft leap into the air, she somersaulted through the hoop. Another jump was followed by a back flip, while yet another involved a barrel roll.

    "And now for the finale! You can do it, Telandra!"

    Electrical sparks flashed through her fur as Telandra took one last running start. She jumped with all of her might, and when she reached the center of the ring, she discharged a massive bolt of electricity outward. A concussive blast blew throughout the auditorium and the ice crystals that once made up the hoop lay shattered on the floor.

    "Classic, but impressive! It takes a lot of guts to perform something so simple in a contest like this, but it also takes a lot of skill to pull it off so flawlessly!" Emma said. She gave the performance a score of nine!

    Rosemary held up a card with an eight on it. "That one brings me back to my youth, when these kinds of tricks were the standard. I wouldn't say it was flawless, but it was certainly very well done."

    "It was well done, admittedly, but it was just an old circus trick," Leonardo added, with his own score of five. "Let's see what Senna has in store for us for her final performance of the match."

    Senna stepped forward one last time with another Capture Cluster in her hands. With a drop to the floor and a resonant metallic humming sound, the outline of a large aquatic creature that resembled a plesiosaur appeared on the stage. The creature's scaly skin was mostly black, but it also featured a white underside that ran from the tip of its lower jaw down towards its belly, and more white spots around its eyes. On its back sat a wickedly sharp spiked shell, encrusted in a thick sheet of ice.

    "If I'm not mistaken, that's a Lapras..." Emma theorized. "But I've never seen one like that before."

    "This majestic sea creature is out of its depth..." Rosemary added. "Oh! Pardon the pun! How will it perform on dry land? Let's watch."

    Senna placed her arm on the Lapras' neck as it listened closely to her softly-spoken command. With an understanding between the two, the Lapras flopped her way towards the center of the stage at a snail's pace. When she finally reached the center, she closed her eyes and opened her mouth. A gently flashing pink light formed in the back of her throat and slowly grew in brightness. She let out a calming hum as the light surged out of her mouth in a wide arc.

    It was a slow process, but the light took on a physical presence in the shape of the aurora borealis, gently wafting from side to side in a ribbon-like manner as it pulsed through numerous colors of the rainbow. Glittering stars of all colors formed within the ribbon of light, following the ebb and flow of the movement at times and being absorbed back inside at other times. The crowd watched with amazement.

    "So colorful..."

    With the light show over, Senna approached her Lapras and took a bow before the cheering crowd. She instinctively raised her hand for a salute, but stopped herself halfway. Instead, she rolled the sleeve of her uniform jacket up to reveal an odd device on her wrist that shared a similar color scheme to her Capture Clusters, then placed one of them into a slot found on it. With a press of a button on the device, a red beam of energy shot out towards the Lapras and it disappeared with a puff of digital smoke.

    "How do we feel about this one, ladies?" Leonardo asked, scoring the performance with a nine.

    Emma held up a card with an eight on it. "Very pretty. I was thinking of giving this performance a seven, but she stuck to a consistent arctic theme, so I'll throw in a bonus point."

    "I could list a number of problems with that performance, from the time it took to the mismatch of colors. Green does not flow well into pink, I'm afraid." Despite the problems she had with it, Rosemary scored it with a six.

    With Senna off of the stage, Kimberly patted her Blastoise on the back and they both walked to the center of the stage. She calmly reminded herself that this was the final performance of the first round and her last chance to earn a decisive victory. She was nervous about what her and Juliano were about to do, however.

    "And here is Kimberly's final performance of the match, accompanied yet again by her Blastoise. She's one of the two contestants tonight who does not have three Pokémon of her own, so let's see if she can pull anything interesting out of her sleeve."

    "She's not wearing sleeves, Rosemary," Leonardo commented.

    "It's a figure of speech, Mr. Bertucci."

    "This is it, Juliano. Let's win this. How about we show them your impressive strength?"

    Juliano nodded as she motioned for him to lower his arms. He cupped his stubby, clawed hands together and allowed her to step into them. With her footing secure, he effortlessly lifted her into the air above his head.

    "Hmm. A typical start..."

    "Now for a flip!" she called out.

    Expecting to see Kimberly do the flip herself, everyone in the auditorium was surprised to see something different; with a hefty toss, Kimberly went soaring into the air and Juliano himself performed an expertly crafted back flip. With an earthshaking thud, he landed on his feet perfectly and held his arms outward. He looked up for a brief moment to find his master and caught her before she fell to the floor. He let her down and joined her in extending their arms outward as the crowd began to cheer.

    "Did I just see that?" Emma asked. "Blastoise is one of the least dexterous Pokémon around, I never imagined I'd see one flawlessly perform a back flip like that! You can tell that a lot of time was spent practicing this simple routine." She gave the performance a score of eight.

    "I'm really appreciating this down to earth style of hers," Rosemary said. "Sometimes simplicity is all that is needed in situations like these, especially if they're jazzed up as we saw with Juliano's back flip." She ended her analysis with a score of nine!

    Leonardo, on the other hand, wasn't as impressed. "Simple is a good way to describe it, yes. I'm afraid that simple doesn't work these days, Rosemary. We haven't been in the 1900s for a very long time." he said. He half-heartedly raised a card with the number four on it.

    "To each their own," Rosemary responded. "Well, with their performances complete, let's join the contestants on the stage, shall we?"

    The three judges, the two contestants and their Pokémon all converged at the center of the stage, taking the time to wait for the sluggish Tirtouga to flop over to them.

    Emma stepped forward. "There you have it, folks, the first match up of the night! Let's hear it for our two contestants, Kimberly Fairbrooke and Senna Krostovj!"

    The crowd began cheering, with large sections of the audience offering a standing ovation to the two competitors.

    "Those who are joining us on our televised broadcast already know the scores we've been giving out, but let's recap for those of us here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh. Can we have the screen display the scores, please?" A massive screen at the back of the stage turned on and showed the portraits of both Kimberly and Senna on opposite sides. "We'll start with the scores in the order of the performances."

    Rosemary stepped forward and began with the scoring. "Ms. Krostovj, for your Snowbelle's performance, your scores were 6, 8 and 5. All together, they average out to 6.3." She turned to Kimberly next. "And you, Ms. Fairbrooke, earned an average of 7.3 for your Blastoise's first performance, with scores of 7, 7 and 8."

    Kimberly simply nodded at the numbers, while Senna crossed her arms and shifted her weight back onto her left leg, as if the judgement had annoyed her.

    Leonardo offered some analysis next. "For the second part of this round, Senna, your Tirtouga scored 5, 4 and 7, which averages to 5.3"

    Senna looked off to the side in anger, but she held her tongue.

    "And you, Kimberly, your Skitty's scores were 9, 8 and 5, an average of 7.3."

    A smile appeared on her face, but she tried to subdue it as much as she could for fear of being rude to her competitor. Instead, she simply nodded once again. "Understood."

    Emma stepped up for the last of the scores. "Your final score, Senna, following your Lapras' performance, was a 6.3, the average of 7, 7 and 8. You really shined with that final performance." She motioned towards Kimberly. "Kimberly, your Blastoise earned a score of 7.6, averaging individual scores of 8, 6 and 9."

    Rosemary offered some final commentary. "We determine the winner by averaging the scores of the three rounds together. When all is said and done, Senna's average was a 6.3. A solid performance, but it was dragged down by the improvised display your Tirtouga gave us."

    "Perhaps Rakushka and I should have stuck to plan," Senna responded. She had already done the math in her head and knew what was coming next.

    "Kimberly's final score was 7.4, which means she is the winner of this round! Congratulations, Kimberly, you're moving on!"

    Kimberly tried to contain her excitement as best as she could, adhering to the tenets of sportsmanship. "Thank you! Thank you... I... I don't know what to say!"

    "You don't need to say anything, if you don't want to."

    She turned to Senna and offered to shake her hand. "It was fun competing against you! I was worried for a bit that I might lose, you're really good at this!"

    Senna shook her hand, as well as her head. "Not good enough. But this is learning process. I will be ready next time. I wish you best of luck."

    "That's it for our first match! Up next, we have Hoster Burnett and Chelsea Griffith competing against each other, so stay tuned! We'll be right back after a word from our sponsors!"

    - - - - -​

    Kimberly was seated in her wardrobe room, watching the beginning of the next match up of the night: Hoster vs. Chelsea. She clutched a sleeping and purring Telandra in her arms in an effort to keep herself calm; she was visibly shaking, both from the excitement of moving onto the next round and the nervousness of knowing she'd have to step out onto the stage again. "We did well, Tela..." she said. "I can only hope that the next round goes as smoothly."

    There was a knock at the door.

    "The door is unlocked! Enter!" she called out.

    The door swung open and Andrea stepped in. She extended her arms out in excitement. "Hey! Congratulations for making it to the second round!"

    "Thank you, friend!" she said. "Thank you for stopping by again... I was worried you might have left..."

    "Hell no, I was there cheering you on. I wasn't sure at first, but this has really caught my attention. I figured I'd stick around and see what else people do with this stuff, you know?"

    "I'm grateful. This would be a boring hour and a half without someone to chat with."

    Andrea pulled up a chair next to her and sat down. As she began to pet the resting Telandra, she asked, "Hour and a half?"

    "The second round doesn't begin until after 10 PM," she started.

    Her attention was quickly grabbed by what appeared on the TV screen; Chelsea was just beginning her performance, accompanied by a Machoke seated on a chair in the center of the stage. As the camera focused on the Machoke, Chelsea entered from the left side of the screen and began to sensually rub her Machoke's shoulders. Within seconds, she was grinding up against him and rubbing all over his lap. Before long, the broadcast cut towards a view of the judges, and all three of them had looks of horror on their faces. A few seconds later, the screen went blank and 'WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK!' appeared on the screen.

    She quivered at the sight. "By the gods, what is that lady doing?! Is this contest a joke to her?!"

    Kimberly's horror was contrasted with Andrea's amusement. "Ha! That's one way to advertise what you do for a living!"

    "That's not funny! Coordinators have been struggling for decades to achieve mainstream recognition, and she may have just undone so much of the progress our predecessors made..."

    "I'm sorry, I really shouldn't laugh, but I can't help it. That was... unreal."

    Kimberly tutted and turned her attention to a notebook on the vanity beside her.

    "What do you want me to do, change my sense of humor?" she asked. As soon as the last word escaped her lips, she realized she shouldn't have escalated it. "Ugh, sorry. And I mean it. This is obviously important to you, otherwise you wouldn't be doing it. I'll try to be more respectful."

    Silence. She couldn't tell if Kimberly was angry or simply concentrating on her notes.

    "Hey, you're going a good job with it! You realize that, right?"

    Kimberly looked up from her notebook. "Really?"

    "Well... I think, at least. I don't know anything about these contests but the crowd loved you!"

    "What do you think? Are you enjoying it?"

    "Yeah, I am! I was skeptical, but I'm glad I came tonight... it's been a nice escape from what's been going on."

    She motioned towards the TV, which was still displaying an intermission. "Hopefully we can continue to enjoy the show... when it returns."

    - - - - -​

    Author's note: Translations (Kanetska/Russian):
    • Udachi: "good luck"
    • Da: "yes"
    • Nachat: "begin"
    • Rakushka (Tirtouga's nickname): "shell"
    • Rassvet (Lapras' nickname): "dawn"
     
  12. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Name's Adam.

    CHAPTER 4 REVIEW

    Well, the post mortem scene wasn't as irritating as I imagined it would be, but that's a good thing lol. Not all that much happened in this chapter, but you did introduce a few new fakemons, the most prominent one being the Blastcap fungus. Though its introduction was info dumpy, you managed to make it sound pretty neat on a conceptual level.

    Good job b)'')b
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Well, I was wondering how you'd handle contests, and there's my answer! I quite like this interpretation; it's very much like the games' presentation of them, with competitors taking it in turns to display their moves to the judges, only more fully fleshed out. And there's a lot of variety in what they do, as well – not only using their powers in very creative ways, but also just plain old acrobatics. It's really cool, although sometimes this chapter does raise more questions than it answers – like how Chelsea got to this stage of the competition if the people behind it don't actually like what she does, since presumably she did have to audition at some point.

    I do think that if the rest of the contest plays out at this pace, though, it's going to distort the pacing quite a bit; one round per chapter would make this thing pretty slow. Still, it looks like you're going to be cutting segments of it out to bring in backstage action, and I think that's definitely a good way of breaking things up and keeping the action moving without stagnating too much. I'll be looking forward to seeing how all of this pans out!
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  14. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Hmm, good point. I figured, since this is the beginner's league, that it'd be a "sign up and have fun" type deal. I'd rather the organization in charge of these events not discriminate against a stripper's participation, as someone could genuinely be trying to get out of that world with a career in coordination, and I'm sure most people would welcome that.

    Don't worry, it's not going to be that bad. I tackled a coordination contest in my previous story. In that one, it was out of four contestants and I covered the routines of each character. I've learned to never do that again, the focus will solely be on Kimberly's matches and nobody else. I do want to drag Andrea into at least one contest herself at some point, but keeping that in mind, it's probably for the best that I don't, otherwise that'll just balloon the contest arc needlessly.
     
  15. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Ugh! Sorry this took so long to edit and get out, been so busy!

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 11: A Charitable Duel


    [​IMG]

    "Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest! If you are just joining us, we've moved onto the second round of competitions! The first round was certainly something, full of breath taking performances... in one way or another!" Emma announced.

    "Yes, I'm still trying to scrub my mind of the filth that I saw during the match between Mr. Burnett and Ms. Griffith." Rosemary commented.

    "Yes, for those of you joining us via our televised broadcast, Chelsea broke the rules of the contest and was disqualified for her appalling display. We apologize to those who were subjected to that!" Emma explained.

    "Indeed. As a result, Mr. Burnett has been pushed into the second round. Joining him in the second round is Kimberly Fairbrooke, his upcoming opponent. On the other end of the bracket, we have Samantha Ashwoode and Jean-Luc De la Rivière, both of whom have passed into the second round with decisive victories." Rosemary said.

    Emma nodded. "Quite a stunning performance out of Jean-Luc, right? I'd argue that he was the star of each of his performances, more so than his Pokémon! I've never seen the human body bend and move like that!"

    "Not surprising, considering his history as a circus performer. While Mr. De la Rivière broke from coordinator tradition by being the main attraction of his routine tonight, he hasn't broken any rules. Let's see if his strategy continues to pay off here in the second round."

    "I quite liked Samantha's performance myself," Leonardo said. "While the rest of our contestants seemed more comfortable sticking to distinct themes, Samantha was much more varied in her approach. I'll be looking forward to seeing more from her tonight."

    "Agreed! It's shaping up to be a great night here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh! The next match between Kimberly Fairbrooke and Hoster Burnett is set to begin, let's watch."

    The two competitors were stood in the center of the stage. After a quick wave from the both of them to the cheering crowd, Kimberly offered her hand towards Hoster for a friendly shake. "Good luck, Mr. Burnett."

    Rather than shake her hand, he grabbed it and raised it, planting a kiss on the back of it.

    The surprising gesture caught her off guard and her cheeks glowed red with nervousness. "Oh my! Such a gentleman!"

    He smiled. "Best of luck to you as well, Kimberly."

    The two parted ways; Kimberly returned to the left side of the stage while Hoster adjourned to the right. The crowd started to cheer once more as a spotlight focused on Kimberly.

    "Oh! Am I up first this time?" she thought. With her prized Master Ball in hand, she took a few steps out onto the stage and daintily tossed it forward. A shower of sparkling bubbles preceded the appearance of Juliano the Blastoise, who dropped down onto the stage next to her.

    "Here's Kimberly's Blastoise once again, let's see what she does with him."

    She rested her hand on his shell and spoke softly, "The crowd loved our acrobatics routine, should we give them more?"

    After a second of thought, Juliano nodded.

    "Very well!" she said with joy. "Butter the crowd up with our fourth routine, I'll join you momentarily."

    Juliano dropped to all fours and readied himself for a running start. With an impressive burst of speed, he blitzed across the stage, leapt into the air and followed with an impressive array of acrobatic feats; he tumbled to the ground with a somersault, smoothly transitioned into a cartwheel, then proceeded with a springing front flip which he landed with a light stumble.

    "Holy... That's quite an entrance! I had no idea that a Blastoise was capable of such moves!"

    With Juliano waiting on the other end of the stage, Kimberly took a deep breath; what she was about to try to do had never been practiced in the flowing fabrics of a shin-length dress before. A tug of the ribbon at her waistline loosened the bottom of her dress and allowed it to flow more freely and loosely, and with her own running start, she performed her own acrobatics. A cartwheel was first, followed by a 720 aerial twirl and finished with springing back flip. She landed in the extended arms of her Blastoise to the cheers of the crowd.

    "Good execution, but... It's more of the same. I do hope that Ms. Fairbrooke realizes that coordination is more about variety than being a one trick pony." Rosemary commented. A card with the number five on it was held above her head.

    "Agreed, what a waste of my time," Leonardo added, scoring the performance with a lowly two.

    Emma gave the performance a six. "Easy there, Leo. Remember, this is only the beginner's league. Our contestants might not be the most comfortable with a wide array of routines yet."

    "Surely she has more than three tricks up her sleeve. Most beginners are past that stage before they even participate in their first sanctioned contest." he noted.

    As Kimberly and Juliano returned to their side of the stage, she caught a glimpse of the judges' scores in the corner of her eye. "That... that's a worrying score..." she softly said.

    "Since his previous partner was disqualified for a breach of the rules, up next is Hoster's first performance of the night! He's the true wildcard to watch, nobody here knows what to expect... and he has had time to alter his strategy to better counter Ms. Fairbrooke's performances."

    "For this demonstration, Hoster has requested the use of props, and here you can see the stage crew setting them up."

    A team of men and women in black clothing descended on the stage. Split into teams of two, the twelve member crew carried with them bales of hay decorated with archery targets. When the six targets were in place across various points of the stage, they returned backstage and appeared with even more targets. By the time they were finished, a total of eighteen targets sat on the floor or hung from cables above the stage.

    Hoster readjusted his belt as he approached from his side of the stage. He pulled a standard red and white Pokéball from his pocket, tossed it toward the center and watched as it exploded with a cloud of windswept sand that came to rest over the irritated front row. A short tan and brown creature no taller than his hips appeared. Large black eyes bugged out of its tiny head and dozens upon dozens of long, pointed quills jutted out of its back. Two wickedly curved talons hung from the end of each of its arms, while equally long but broader and flatter claws sprouted from the end of its feet.

    "A Sandslash? They're not a common sight in coordination... but with archery targets on the stage, I can tell you that we're in for a show, ladies and gentlemen!"

    "Show them your battle capabilities, Sandslash!" Hoster ordered. "Spike Cannon!"

    It was a simple command, but one that the Sandslash carried out with ruthless efficiency. With a twirl, he let loose a barrage of eighteen spiked quills; a loud roar ripped through the auditorium and echoed around as the needles cut through the air at the speed of sound. Before anyone could process what had happened, each of the quills were already resting in the center of a target with unerring accuracy. The crowd roared with delight!

    "Mother of--"

    Before the judge could finish their commentary, the Sandslash spun around rapidly once again and unleashed another salvo of quills. Just as before, the hall roared as the needles split the air like a hot knife through butter. A second later, the sound of shattered quills dropping to the floor followed; every single one of the previously shot quills were split down the center by the new arrivals. The crowd began to cheer again!

    The cheering was drowned out for a brief moment with one final volley; it may have been the noise of the crowd, the fact that he was getting dizzy or some other factor, but the Sandslash's accuracy was not as flawless. Only fifteen of the quills hit a target this time, and of those fifteen, just six were a bulls eye.

    "Oof! I'm still trying to catch my breath from the shockwaves! That's some incredibly accurate shooting! And the speed... It's downright terrifying! I would not want to get on Hoster's bad side..." Emma commented. She gave the performance a high mark of eight.

    "Indeed, very, very impressive. Worryingly impressive." Leonardo added. He raised the night's first score of ten above his head.

    "I don't think this country has seen accuracy like that since the last of the longbow units were disbanded from the Royal Lanark Guard nearly a century and a half ago," Rosemary added with a score of nine.

    As the stage crew began to haul the pierced targets away, Kimberly and Juliano discussed their next routine. "We should figure something else out... I'm not sure that another bubble display will wow the judges. Would you agree?"

    Juliano nodded.

    "What to do, then..." she wondered. "There are a few other things we've been working on... would you feel comfortable with the Frost Shell display?"

    He shook his head.

    "Hmm, yes, that is a bit complicated... We can't do the rock breaking routine, as we haven't arranged for it ahead of time..." She groaned with worry as she struggled to come up with a display they'd both be confident in. "How about some simple mimicry?"

    Juliano's head tilted to the side as his eyes wandered in thought. He nodded, but there was no confidence in his heart.

    "Great! Let's do this, then!"

    As the two approached the center of the stage together, Emma commented, "Looks like Kimberly is calling on her Blastoise again. I wonder what's in store for us this time?"

    "If we get more bubbles, I'm going--"

    "Quiet, Leo, they're about to begin!"

    The two stood in the center of the stage and faced each other. She raised her left hand, a gesture that he mirrored without delay. She lowered her hand and stomped her right leg, which he echoed flawlessly. A clap was met with a clap, twirls were met with twirls and arms outstretched were met with arms outstretched, the two performing within an instant of each other.

    "Ah, mimicry! This is a very tough routine to master, and it's off to a good start." Rosemary commented.

    The two turned away from each other. Once again, she raised her left hand, a motion met without delay or variance. However, while she raised her left hand next, he responded by waving his hands side to side. Another mismatched move followed; Kimberly stomped with her right leg, while Juliano stomped with his left. The timing between their gestures was slowly growing.

    "Oh dear, this is falling apart..."

    The two twirled in unison. She followed up with a second twirl, but he jumped and clapped instead.

    "Juliano!" she whispered loudly. "I think we should cut this short, we're not doing this right. In three seconds, let's turn to the crowd and finish, just like we practiced."

    After their three seconds were up, they both turned to the crowd and blew a kiss. There was a mixed reaction from the crowd, with only small pockets of it clapping while the rest sat in silence or spoke softly amongst themselves.

    The silent stares from the crowd felt like a punch in the gut to her. "Oh no... If the crowd didn't like it..."

    "That was... it was okay, but more work definitely needs to be done to smooth out their interactions and their timing, especially once they turn away from each other." Rosemary said. She gave the performance a score of six. "However, you can tell that these two have very strong chemistry with each other if you look at how they started that performance."

    "I don't know if it's ignorance on my part on how difficult mimicry can be, but I must admit, I expected better execution," Emma said. She held a card with the number five on it above her head.

    Leonardo held a score of three up. "At least she was original this time, even if it was poorly done."

    With the stage clear, Hoster started his journey to the center with another Pokéball in his hands. With a toss, the Pokéball exploded with a bright flash of light, and once again, a swirling cloud of sand accompanied the appearance of a long, serpentine beast. The creature's body was tan in color and stretched to a length of nearly seven feet. The underbelly of the snake was bright white in color and was segmented by thin brown stripes every few inches. Near its head was a diamond-shaped hood, inside of which were tribal markings that resembled a skull.

    "That's a beautiful Arbok, I've never seen one like it before." Rosemary commented.

    With a simple gesture of his arm, Hoster's Arbok started its display. The tip of its rattling tail emitted a soft, icy white glow as a thick haze of obscuring fog formed around it. The crowd began to wonder whether anything would happen at all as the Arbok disappeared within the cloud, stood completely still in statuesque silence.

    Then, a bright orange light and the hissing of flames flashed through the fog. Shortly after, the buzzing of high electricity filled the auditorium as a bright yellow light followed. A bright white light was next, and the front row of the crowd was overcome by a blast of frigid wind. The cloud quickly faded and the Arbok reappeared in the same statue-like pose.

    "Ooof! Chilly!" Emma commented. She gave the performance a score of seven.

    "Excellent," was the only thing Leonardo said, giving a similar score of seven.

    Rosemary nodded and held up a card with the number eight on it. "Hoster is very comfortable with mixing his moves up into unique displays. He's doing very well tonight."

    The Arbok bowed its hooded head before slithering off towards Hoster's side, leaving the stage clear for Kimberly's final performance of the round.

    Behind the curtains, Kimberly knelt down beside Telandra. "This doesn't look good, Tela... But it's possible we can still win if we perform strongly and our opponent drops the ball. We can't give up yet."

    "Murrrr?" Telandra purred.

    "The illusion technique that aunt Nicole taught you about, back when you were just a kitten... It's been a few weeks since we practiced it, but do you think you can do that?"

    Telandra forcefully nodded, then took her position in the center of the stage; a soft wind blew around her as she sat down and closed her eyes. Her silky fur was pushed to and fro by the wind as a pallid white glow began to form around her.

    Emma leaned forward on the judging table. "Now what do we have here..."

    The light eventually became bright enough to completely shroud her from view and after a few seconds, two bright white blurs of light shot outward. The light of these blurs quickly faded into nothingness, and before long, the light around Telandra faded as well. Instead of standing tall, she had collapsed to the floor, struggling to catch her breath.

    Kimberly gasped in fright. "Telandra!" she called out as she rushed out onto the stage. She scooped the Skitty up into her arms and rocked her back and forth in a gentle manner. "Telandra? Are you okay?"

    Telandra meowed weakly.

    "I-I... This was a bad idea... You..." She stood back up and looked at the crowd for a brief moment before silently walking off towards her side of the stage.

    "That's not good..." Emma commented. "Perhaps what they were going to do was simply too much for the little Skitty to handle."

    "Unfortunately, it looks as if this performance was over before it began. According to the rules, Ms. Fairbrooke receives no points. Considering the scores from her Blastoise's other performances, this round has easily been decided."

    "That doesn't mean we're going to deprive you of Hoster's final performance, though! Let's watch."

    A Pokéball soared onto the stage from behind the curtains and popped open with a burst of flames when it hit the floor. A small and fuzzy bat-like creature with bright orange fur flew out of the flames, leaving behind a trail of ethereal embers with each flap of its relatively large wings. Thin, floppy ears, much like those of a rabbit's, bounced around at every change in direction it made.

    "Hmm... never seen that one before. Hoster's registration lists this as a Vampyre. Must be native to his homeland."

    "Vampyre, write us a message to show our appreciation for those who've come to see us tonight."

    The Vampyre swooped to the left side of the stage, then zoomed across towards the right with an incredible burst of speed. A long, flickering trail of flames lingered in its wake. It circled around for another pass, leaving a much shorter line behind, and with a twirl, it added a vertical line of flames just below it.

    "T..." Emma started. "H... A... N... Thank... Thank what? I like where this is going!" The first few letters the Vampyre had written faded by the time it started on the next one. "Y... O... U... And an exclamation point to round it off! Isn't that adorable?"

    "It is!" Rosemary added, with a score of nine. "I've seen this trick many times before over the years, and contestants usually use it to taunt their opponents. I'm glad that Mr. Burnett has taken the high road on this one."

    "Fantastic display!" Leonardo added. He held up a card with the number nine on it as well. "The thing that impresses me the most is how long the letters lingered in the air. I've tried this myself many times and I could never quite master it... Not to say that Hoster has, of course."

    "Agreed," Emma responded, giving the performance a score of eight. "That's it, the last performance of this match up! Let's get up on stage with our contestants and break down the final scores."

    The three judges left the comfort of their table and approached the center of the stage. Hoster walked forward, flanked on both sides by his Sandslash and his Arbok, while his Vampyre was perched on his shoulder like a parrot. Kimberly was slower in her approach, taking care not to jostle the exhausted Skitty in her arms.

    "And there it is, ladies and gentleman, the conclusion of the match between Kimberly Fairbrooke and Hoster Burnett!" Emma announced. She walked up to Kimberly and said, "Before I lay out the scores, I want to check in on Kimberly's Skitty. She took quite a tumble at the end there! How is she?"

    Kimberly looked down at Telandra with a loving smile on her face. "I shouldn't have pushed her to try that... The trick she tried to perform always took so much out of her when we practiced it, and that was after a long night's rest. To throw in another demanding routine before that..." she said as she shook her head. "By the goddess, she just needs some rest."

    Emma gently rubbed Telandra's head. "Get well soon, you cutie!" She joined the other two judges once again and motioned towards the screen at the back. "Now, onto the scores!"

    The screen at the back of the stage turned on; on the left hand side was Kimberly's portrait, followed by Hoster's on the right. Scores for the first pairing were already displayed, and between the two, there was already a clearly defined winner.

    Emma began to break down the numbers that appeared on the screen. "The first match was quite rough on you Kimberly, even if your performance was superbly executed. You were scored a 6, a 2 and a 5, which averages out to a 4.3." She turned to Hoster and explained his scores next. "For you, Hoster, 8, 9 and the night's first 10, which averages to 9. You and your Sandslash have certainly earned it, well done!"

    Hoster nodded with a smile on his face.

    Rosemary stepped up next as the scores for the second match were displayed. "The second match was between Ms. Fairbrooke's Blastoise and Mr. Burnett's Arbok. Once again, Ms. Fairbrooke struggled to earn high marks and achieved scores of 6, 3 and 5, averaging to 4.6. Meanwhile, Mr. Burnett's Arbok gave us a strong performance and earned 7, 7 and 8, for a combined average of 7.3."

    The final numbers appeared on the screen; Kimberly felt a weight crash through her body like a falling anvil as she saw the large zero on the screen. Even if the score were justified, she started to feel a little bit dizzy about it.

    "Lastly, the final match," Leonardo started. "With the failure to put on a third performance, Kimberly was given zeroes across the board, and because of it, her final score averaged out to just 2.9, a record low in the Majesty of Aughrim's twelve year history. I'm not sure she had any business being here tonight."

    Kimberly's throat began to close up as the words cut through her deeply. "How dare he?!" she thought. She began to quiver, and before her emotions could get the better of her, she stormed off of the stage towards the left curtains.

    Juliano took a single menacing step in Leonardo's direction and leaned forward. Through squinted eyes and with a snarl, he glared a hole into Leonardo for a brief moment before rushing off to comfort his master.

    "Leo! What's the matter with you!? It must feel bad enough, you don't have to ridicule her!"

    "It is negative reinforcement. If she intends to take this sport seriously as well as be taken seriously, she must improve. A lot." he stated. "Hoster, on the other hand, had strong scores in the final match. His Vampyre performed admirably and earned scores of 9, 8 and 9. His final score for the entire round is 8.3, and he moves on with a decisive victory! Let's hear it for him!"

    As the crowd cheered, Hoster watched Kimberly push her way through the stage crew and leave the auditorium in a hurry. He shook his head and waited for the crowd to die down a bit before saying, "I don't think that was called for, Mr. Bertucci. Not only have you made my own victory feel hollow, you may have just crushed that girl's dreams. You are a terrible human being and a disgrace to the lovely tradition of coordination." He too walked off the stage, leaving the three judges alone.

    Emma tried her best to maintain the cheerful attitude she'd presented all night. "Uhh... Right! We're going to take a... a quick commercial break... After that, we have the anticipated match between Jean-Luc De la Rivière and Samantha Ashwoode. See you on the other side!"


    - - - - -​

    Andrea took a deep breath and held it in for a few seconds before letting it go. "Welp... here goes..." she said as she knocked on the door. There was no response. "Are you in there, Kim?"

    After a few more seconds of silence, a sad sounding voice came from within. "Come in."

    She opened the door and stepped into the room. The first thing she noticed was the pastel green dress that Kimberly had worn was carelessly tossed to the floor and she was back in the clothing she wore earlier in the day. The TV that usually showed a live feed of the contest had been turned off. "I'm not very good with empathy, but... ummm..." she started.

    Kimberly sighed and turned to face her. Several dark streaks of what was once her delicately applied eyeshadow ran down her cheeks. "You don't have to say anything..."

    "I don't?" she asked.

    "It's obvious, isn't it?" Kimberly said as she turned around again; she began to gather up her makeup supplies. "I'm terrible at this! I... I thought... that perhaps..." she struggled to say. "That perhaps I had found something I could be good at... But I was wrong."

    "Hold on, don't say that so quickly," she replied. "You did well, the crowd loved you."

    "But... the judges..."

    "Okay. You got a few low scores, so what? This is--"

    "A few? You heard that man, I smashed the record! I'll be remembered for years as a joke! I was hoping to start a career tonight, but now I can never show my face at another contest again... This is so typical of everything I bloody try to do!" she shouted.

    She kept quiet; partly because she wasn't sure of how to respond, but mostly because she was shocked by Kimberly's quick shift towards anger.

    "...Sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you..."

    She shook her head. "I'm used to people yelling at me, it's fine."

    "It's just... I've been struggling to find something to do with my life. I've bounced from hobby to hobby, trying to make a name for myself with each one, only to come up short... Pokémon Coordination was my next passion, a dream that I'd been looking forward to starting for nearly a year... but that man..."

    She approached, rested her hand on Kimberly's shoulder and turned her around, then looked her deep in the eyes. "Hey. **** that guy, you hear? He doesn't matter. I don't think his head could be buried any further up his own ass. You heard how he's been treating the other contestants tonight, and how he's been comparing them to himself. He didn't just single you out." she reminded her. "I'll be surprised if he's ever invited back to be a judge after how he's been acting tonight."

    Kimberly tried to respond, but it didn't happen. Her emotions were too shaky and her focus was spent on fighting her tears.

    "If it means anything at all, anything, I think you did a good job, and that's the honest truth. I enjoyed your performances, regardless of whether they worked or not."

    Kimberly offered a weak smile, then returned to her makeup kit. "I appreciate it, friend, but your comforting words don't change the fact: I thought I was ready, but I clearly wasn't."

    "Maybe that's true, I don't know. But don't you think you also show a bit of promise?" she asked. "That Kanetska girl, what was her name... Senna! You mopped the floor with her!"

    Kimberly latched her makeup kit box closed and looked up. "I don't believe that's accurate, but... what are you trying to say?"

    "When she was introducing herself at the start of the show, what did she say? She said that she's a league champion in her homeland."

    Kimberly nodded.

    "That would mean that she has a lot of experience as a competitive Pokémon trainer, right?"

    Another nod.

    "I don't know a lot about being a Pokémon trainer, a coordinator, or how much any of that stuff overlaps. But you still beat an accomplished league champion! That has to mean something."

    With another sigh, Kimberly returned her makeup kit to her backpack. All she had the strength to say in response was a half-hearted "Perhaps."

    "You've stumbled once. Don't let this be the only time."

    "I'm sorry, friend, I really wish I were in better spirits... Perhaps I'd be more enthused by what you're saying, but..." Kimberly groaned as she packed up the rest of her belongings. "Did you want to watch the rest of the contest?"

    "I don't know..." she said as she rolled up her sleeve to check the time on her R-Kit. 10:50 PM. "Without anyone to root for anymore, it does seem a little pointless... But if you want to watch it, I'll stay by your side."

    Kimberly shook her head. "I don't have the heart to continue... I just want to go to bed."

    "Going to bed sounds like a good idea, actually," she started with a chuckle. "I need to start going to bed at a responsible time, now that I've got this new job... No more staying up until 5:00 AM for me!"

    Kimberly exhaled sharply as a smile appeared on her face. "I don't know why, but that tickled me. Thank you."

    "Any time," she said as she offered her hand for a shake. "It was nice meeting you! Best of luck in the future, eh? This dream is yours. You got this."

    Kimberly hesitated for a moment as she stared at Andrea's outstretched hand, then quickly leaned forward and grappled her into a hug. Andrea was repulsed by the sudden display of physical affection, but was too surprised to try to pry her way out of the girl's tight grip.

    "Mmm. You're a good person..." Kimberly said. "Thank you for stopping by, and best of luck to you, too. I hope you get to meet your business partner tomorrow."

    "Same... Good night!"
     
  16. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Straight away, we're back to the contest, I see! And it looks like we're just following Kimberley, rather than seeing the entire thing. That's a good move; it'd feel a bit vague and directionless if we abandoned all pretence of following a protagonist and entered fully into the whole “we're watching the show on TV” thing. Also, we have more of Juliano the incredible acrobatic blastoise, it seems! That's always good. I'm not actually sure if even a bipedal tortoise thing would have the requisite musculature to pull this off, but you know what, let's just say he's a pokémon, he can do it if he wants. Besides, it's too cool to argue with. It's a really simple idea, but a very good one – there's a lot of very striking visuals in these contest bouts, and it feels to me like you had a good time coming up with all this creative stuff, because it's all really entertaining.

    I like the hint of Lanark's history, with the longbow thing! It was historically a big deal in the UK, for England and Wales at least – though am I to understand that there were longbow units still in use in the mid-nineteenth century? That seems a bit late. Crossbows, and later guns, made the longbow obsolete pretty quickly, even for nations that were really dependent on longbow usage.

    I also like the distinct personalities you've created with the judges, even though they don't actually say much. You almost come to say quiet, Leo with Emma, you know? His grudging acknowledgement of Hoster's skill is a great touch, too.

    One thing I'm not so sure about is whether we need a full paragraph of description for every new pokémon we encounter, though. In the same way as an original fiction author doesn't feel the need to describe a horse because they can assume their readers will know what it is, you can assume that your readers know what a sandslash is. A couple of the most important details will suffice, and you can save a more detailed description for a moment when it's actually necessary – like with the arbok, since it's a different form or subspecies, though I'd say there's still slightly more information there than is necessary to create the picture you want to communicate.

    Finally – it's rather cool that Kimberley uses. I did wonder if you might do that, but – and this is much to your credit – I never really knew whether Kimberley was going to succeed or not. Like, she did poorly, but you kept raising the possibility that she'd turn it around, and I couldn't be sure if that was misdirection. Really well done! And to cap it all off, it looks like Andrea managed to say the right thing, for once. Nice. It's about time she made a proper friend.
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  17. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Yep, many lessons learned from previous attempts at contests. It makes natural sense to just follow Kimberly, as she's the one that introduced the whole idea in the first place.

    Fun indeed! But also very mentally draining. Unless I cover old ground again, I have a feeling I'll have trouble filling out the next contest, as I started running out of ideas even here...

    I admit, I didn't put too much consideration for competing technologies and practicality into this one. I just like the idea of an elite guerilla unit running around a WWII-esque battlefield with longbows, weakening key targets with their accuracy and silence before they disappear into the wilderness and behind the line of general infantry. Crossbows would probably work for that, but I've also thought as a little detail about the world, that the crossbow could have been viewed as a crutch by these elite archers, who would look down on using them even if they're the superior weapon.

    Fair enough. Describing pokemon is something I do out of habit for the benefit of a single reader I have, since he doesn't actually follow pokemon closely and as a consequence, he doesn't know what they all look like. I could probably just start making minor edits for him, and drop the description a bit for people who already know all this stuff.

    Thanks :D
     
  18. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Interlude 2: Moving On


    [​IMG]

    The clock beside Andrea's bed flipped to 7:30 and the radio automatically turned on; the soothing tones of smooth jazz filled the room. The room was a dark dungeon, lit only by a long string of dim lavender fairy lights that hung from the ceiling in an intricate pentagram pattern. Golden sunlight bled into the room at the window, filtered through the heavy black curtains.

    "Nnnnnnggghhh~" Andrea let out a long and contented groan as she stretched. She opened her eyes, pulled the covers off of her and sat up. It took her a few moments to wake up, moments she spent enjoying the music, yawning and stretching some more. "Nice to be home again..." she murmured to herself, still partially asleep. "Probably won't last long, though..."

    The light bleeding in through the curtains prompted her to leave the comfortable warmth of her bed. She unraveled them to a wonderful view of the city that she called home for the past five years, the shining jewel of Lanark, Aughrim. The majesty was spoiled a bit; a single puffy cloud acted as a blemish upon an otherwise picture perfect, clear blue sky. In the distance, an airplane drifted just a few hundred feet above the ocean, making its final adjustments as it approached the airport on the northern edge of the city.

    The smell of the morning air rushed in as she slid the thick glass door open. A cautious step was made out onto the balcony that hung outside her seventh floor apartment, still aware that she was dazed and groggy and could tragically lose her balance at a moment's notice. The petals of her pet rose bush, snuggly wrapped around the railing, gently danced in the cool breeze. The comfy chair beside the door called out to her. It all combined to form a relaxing atmosphere and it put her at ease.

    That relaxing atmosphere only lasted a few moments; energetic shouting, loud enough to overpower both the music in her room and the altitudinous winds, erupted from the living room behind her. Curious, she wandered back inside to have a look.

    "C'mon, c'mon, we've got this. Center lane, form up!" the voice shouted. "Did you see if that Mewtwo managed to snag the Berserker Gene?"

    She leaned up against the door frame to the living room and watched a slightly overweight young man with silky, long hair sitting before a computer screen. Colors danced across the screen as the man's avatar wandered about aimlessly in a darkened field, partially obscured by jungle trees. He barked commands to his team through his headset, visibly shaking and jittering with excitement as his avatar sparred with another player. The other player exploded into a gory pile of meat, prompting an excited cheer of joy.

    "Right, Salamence is down. What's the status on that Mewtwo, did he get the Berserker Gene or not?"

    Out of the darkness and well off his screen, a bright beam of light blazed in the direction of his avatar. The screen shook as his health bar plummeted from full to empty in an instant. He ripped his headset off and angrily threw it onto the desk.

    "Unbelievable!" he roared. He continued to speak loudly so that his team mates could still hear him through his distant headset, "Mewtwo's Hyper Beam is on cooldown, chase him down and destroy him!" The surviving members of his team flew across the screen in the direction the beam came from, only to be systematically slaughtered one by one by the opposing team. "That's absolutely unfair! Broken hero!"

    "Isn't it a little early for Defense of the Legends, Webster?" she asked.

    The man turned around to look at her. "Oh, uhh... I didn't wake you up, did I?" he said as a lengthy respawn timer popped up on the screen behind him. "I guess I got kinda loud."

    "No, I was already up. I was curious of what all the noise was, should have figured you were playing that dumb game again."

    Webster laughed. "I do need to find something better to do with my free time... I'll never go pro with these jokers I team with."

    "Maybe you could go outside for once? I don't feel safe walking in the park alone, and we both need to start exercising..." she said, stretching again. "That business in Nettlefield opened my eyes, I'm in pretty bad shape. I could barely walk when I got back to town."

    Webster put his headset back on. "So what's the deal with that new job of yours? You gonna move out?"

    "I don't know what I'm going to do... I obviously can't catch a train to and from Loch Alstan every day, but I couldn't hope to afford any apartments over there by myself..."

    "You boggle my mind sometimes, Andrea. You never have a plan, it seems."

    She sighed.

    "Kay, guys, I've respawned. Let's group up and make sure that Mewtwo doesn't get us again." With that, Webster tuned her out again, much to her annoyance.

    She knew not to interrupt him too much during his personal time, so she decided to start her day rather than try to grab his attention again. She sauntered into the kitchen and found herself in front of the stove. She turned one of the burners on, grabbed a pan that hung from a rack above, then placed it on top. She turned the TV in the corner of the room on for a bit of background noise, then reached into the fridge for a carton of eggs.

    In the corner of her eye, she noticed what was on the television and her drone-like routine was interrupted; the TV had been tuned to a twenty four hour news broadcast and the main headline emblazoned across the bottom of the screen grabbed her attention: 'ACCOMPLISHED POKÉMON CHAMPION MISSING: FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED'. She grabbed the remote again and turned the volume up.

    "...many details yet, but local police have not ruled out the possibility of foul play," a reporter said.

    "Have they given any details as to why this may be treated as a kidnapping?" the news anchor asked.

    "The police have told me that several of Ms. Dahl's personal effects were discovered abandoned at a convenience store just a few blocks from the Colwyn International Airport, including the likes of her purse, her identification, her collection of Pokéballs and a large amount of silver and bronze roses. The fact that nothing appears to be missing is leading investigators to believe this was a kidnapping rather than a robbery gone bad."

    Andrea leaned back onto the counter beside the stove in shock. She'd mused about the possibility the previous night, but she also realized that it was unlikely and was just her mind wandering too much. She had even completely discounted it when she returned home and found that everything was in order, compared to her initial worry that someone had been targeting both of them. The fact that it was actually happening began to weigh down on her. "Oh... That's bad..."

    "And what about the rumors going around that Team Rocket may be involved in her disappearance?" the anchor asked. "Our viewers may remember that, last year, her heroic actions put an end to one of the largest trafficking rings in history, a ring that was spearheaded by Team Rocket. Is it possible that this is a form of payback?"

    "There's no evidence of that so far. The fact that her Pokémon were left behind, Pokémon that she used to dismantle that trafficking ring, has led the police commissioner to surmise that they may not even be involved, but it's still too early to have any hard facts."

    "Team Rocket?" she asked. "I hope not... I sincerely hope not..."

    Thoughts rushed like a river through her mind. Though Team Rocket was a likely suspect, they weren't the only enemy that Tamara had made over the years. Rivals, the former champion of the Asperia League, numerous criminal organizations, even politicians in her homeland, all had suffered defeats at her hand... but if she was indeed confronted by one of them, why would they wait until now to harm her?

    She felt bad for even thinking it, but she vocalized it anyways, "At least they got to her before she met me, I guess..."

    The more she thought about it, the more she reasoned that it'd be wise to get in touch with Dr. Reiland. She turned the stove off and placed the eggs back in the refrigerator, then returned to her bedroom and pulled her phone out of her purse. There was a single unread text message waiting for her.

    Fr: Rebecca Reiland, 6:26 AM
    'Good morning! Police commissioner got back to me about Ms. Dahl, doesn't look good. Said more details are coming soon. Message me back when you get the chance.'

    She began to type out her response:

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 7:39 AM
    'yeah just saw the news'
    'terrible!'
    'what should i do?'

    She sent the message, then crashed down onto her bed. She sighed as she buried her face in her hands and rubbed the stress away. "Darn it. I was actually looking forward to starting this assignment... now I can't do it..."

    Several moments passed by in relative silence as her mind wandered. She was snapped back into reality when her phone started to ring. She grabbed her phone again and checked the caller ID: 'Incoming call from Kimberly Fairbrooke'.

    Concern for both Tamara's wellbeing and the future of her assignment were replaced with confusion. "Wait... what? How the hell did she get my number? I'm unlisted..." The thought of ignoring the call crossed her mind, but she felt it would be unfair to do so. She needed something to distract her from the swirling torrent of thoughts about Tamara, and she knew that Kimberly likely needed a friend's reassurance after her disastrous performance at the Majesty of Aughrim the other night, even if she didn't consider herself a friend yet. She answered. "Hello?"

    "Good morning, Andrea!" Kimberly's voice responded.

    "Yeah..." she answered back. "I'm going to come right out and ask, how'd you get my number?"

    There was a long paused before Kimberly's sheepish voice spoke. "Umm! Well... This might sound a little odd, but... When you called your business partner last night, you gave her your phone number. I... kind of memorized it. It took me a few tries to get it right."

    "That's not creepy at all!"

    A faint and nervous laugh came from Kimberly's end. "How are you?"

    She hesitated to answer, mostly because she didn't know how to answer. "Uhh... I'm okay, I guess. How about you? You were down and out when I left last night, are you feeling any better?"

    "A little. I took quite a tumble last night, it'll take some time before I'm on my feet again."

    "Like you wouldn't believe..." she said, starting to trail off. "I'm curious... are you still in Aughrim, by any chance?"

    "I am."

    "Would you be interested in joining me for breakfast? I'm leaving the city today, this might be our last opportunity to see each other. I completely understand if not, though."

    "Uhh... I don't -- Hmm..." she bumbled. Something about the way that Kimberly asked her questions felt awkward and even insincere, and she was tempted to shoot down the suggestion right away. Yet at the same time, the tone with which she spoke told a different story: it sounded like a plea for the comforting presence of a friend. She wasn't sure if she was in the right frame of mind to be a shoulder to cry on, but she figured that her morning was free. "Sure, why not? Beats burning my finger on my stove again. Did you have anywhere specific in mind?"

    "Oh! I half expected you to say no! Umm... I'm not in Aughrim as often as you are, perhaps you have a recommendation?"

    "Anywhere but the Crimson Crawdaunt is fine with me. I used to work there and I've got some bad blood with one of the waitresses." she started with a laugh.

    "Good, I'm not a fan of seafood."

    "How about noodles? Rice? We could visit the Golden Lantern."

    There was an audible gasp from Kimberly's side of the line. "That name sounds magical! We have to go there!"

    She laughed at the enthusiasm. "You sure? Shinikari cuisine is notorious for being extra spicy..."

    "I can handle a little spice," Kimberly answered defensively. "Where can I find this place?"

    "You got a map of the city? It's on the northern end of Zhuan Street, just on the edge of the Little Shinikara district. You'll know you're in the right place when you can't read the signs anymore."

    "Zhuan... Little Shinikara... Understood! I'll see you there!"

    "Hold on, hold on! Do you mind if I bring a friend? I was about to make him breakfast before you called... he doesn't take care of himself as well as he should, so I'd rather he not go hungry for the morning."

    "Umm..." Kimberly said with a hint of hesitation in her voice. "I don't mind! The more the merrier!"

    "Alright! See ya soon." She hung up, slipped her phone into her stocking, grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder. "Memorized my number, huh... Good memory on her." She returned to the living room, then hammered her fist against the door frame to grab Webster's attention again. "Hey, Webster."

    He lowered his headset and looked up at her. "Yeah?"

    "I just got invited out to breakfast by a friend. You wanna come?"

    "Since when do you have friends?"

    She smiled. "Very funny."

    "Well, where we going?"

    "The Golden Lantern."

    He physically wretched at the thought. "Blech. I don't do Shinikari. You go enjoy yourself."

    "Thanks. I'll try."

    - - - - -​

    "Welcome to the Golden Lantern!" A young lady of Shinikari descent stated just as sharply as she was dressed. "Table for one?"

    Andrea approached the hostess, taking in the sights of the delicately crafted lobby around her. "I'm meeting someone, actually. Is someone named Kimberly here?"

    The hostess looked at the registry on the podium in front of her. "We have a Kimberly Fairbrooke and a Kimberly Kensington. Which are you looking for?"

    "Fair...brooke? Yes." she cautiously said, genuinely unsure if she remembered the name correctly.

    After grabbing a menu from beneath her workspace, the hostess beckoned for Andrea to follow with a courteous nod. "Very well. Follow me."

    At a table in the more affluent section of the restaurant, Kimberly sat in patient silence as she waited. In front of her was a notebook, covered from top to bottom in words, doodles and quick thoughts. From her vantage point, Andrea couldn't decipher the exact meaning of the ink on the page, but the drawings painted the picture of a coordinator hard at work, designing a new routine. At least Kimberly still seemed dedicated to her craft.

    What caught Andrea's attention the most, however, was how stunning Kimberly looked compared to the previous night. While she herself had just rolled out of bed and walked to the restaurant with her hastily applied winged eyeshadow, Kimberly was the opposite; her hair was neatly combed in some places and tightly braided in others, her eyelashes were well manicured, her eyeshadow was broad and masterfully applied and her lips were covered in a thin layer of coral red gloss. She looked as if she had just returned from a professional makeup artist.

    Kimberly broke her attention away from her notebook and looked up, the warmest and friendliest of smiles gracing her face. "Andrea!" she said with excitement. "Where is your friend?"

    "He wasn't interested in coming. He doesn't socialize much, or like noodles."

    "Ah. Well." she said, closing her notebook. "It's so good to see you. It means so much that you came!"

    Andrea pulled out the chair across the table. "Does it? Or are you just being polite?" she asked.

    "I do mean it, friend. And I must admit, I'm happy that your friend didn't come... I guess that sounded a bit rude, I apologize."

    The hostess interrupted the greetings as she pulled out a small notepad. "Are you two ready to order, or do you need a moment?"

    "I'd like to browse the menu some more, thank you," she said.

    "Me too," Andrea added.

    "Very well, can I start you off with some drinks?"

    "Starfruit juice," Andrea answered.

    "And a mug of..." Kimberly started, quickly browsing the list of available drinks. "Pink lotus tea, please," Kimberly added.

    "Pink lotus tea and starfruit..." the hostess said as she wrote down the requests. "I'll be right back with them."

    Silence overtook the two as they browsed the menu. A frequent customer of the Golden Lantern, Andrea was already certain of what she wanted, and her attention quickly drifted away from the menu. Before long, she found herself 'browsing' Kimberly's oddly polished appearance instead. Curiosity got the better of her and she cautiously approached the subject. "Couldn't help but notice, but... I thought you said you were bad at this makeup business."

    "Hmm?"

    "You look incredible! It's barely 8 AM and you look like you've had a professional working on you for hours."

    Kimberly looked up for a brief moment, offered a smile, then returned to the menu. "Oh! Thank you... Maybe I am better at it than I thought. When I'm nervous, I lose faith in myself, I suppose. Last night was... well, it was a nerve wracking disaster even before I made a mockery of myself."

    "Why doll yourself up so much?" she curiously asked. "You got a date planned with someone later today before you leave?"

    Kimberly giggled. "I wish. The truth is, I do it to hide my imperfections, of which there are many. I didn't do myself any favors last night by going out on stage looking as badly as I did."

    "Hold on, as badly as you did? That's my work you're talking about!"

    "I didn't mean it like that. My dress. My hair. The work I did before you arrived, I meant."

    "Ah," she awkwardly offered. She disagreed and wanted to vocalize it, but realized that an argument probably wasn't in either of their best interests. Instead, she internalized her thoughts about what Kimberly had just said. "So she's one of those types, huh? She's already better looking than most of us put together, yet it's still not enough for her..."

    More silence, silence that she wasn't comfortable with. Much to her relief, however, the hostess returned with a tall glass of thick golden liquid in one hand and a mug of candy pink tea in the other. She placed them on the table, then pulled her notepad out again. "Are you ready to order yet?"

    She nodded. "I'll have a bowl of lo mein noodles with a side of pao cai."

    "Excellent choice," the hostess said, turning to Kimberly next. "What would you like?"

    Kimberly politely folded her hands on the table and said, "I would like the veggie dumplings over white rice with some jamanga curry on the side, please."

    "I'll be right back with your orders, ladies!" the hostess said before grabbing the menus and returning to the kitchen.

    Kimberly opened her notebook again and began to write down some more thoughts about potential coordination routines. "So... I'm a little hesitant to ask this, since you agreed to breakfast... Would it be safe to assume that you haven't heard from your business partner yet?"

    She shook her head and buried her gaze in her glass of juice. After a brief moment of silence, all she could say was, "I haven't."

    Kimberly was concerned about the melancholy tone with which she spoke. "Is there trouble?"

    "I'm hoping it's nothing, but... They found her belongings abandoned in a convenience store on the north end of the city, just outside of the airport. Money, Pokéballs, ID... It's like she just disappeared into thin air."

    "Oh dear! Do the police have any clues as to where she may have gone, or if anyone was responsible?"

    She shrugged. "I don't know. They said it looks like another kidnapping, but they don't have any idea of who did it."

    "That's terrible! I hope she's safe."

    "Yeah... Hard to believe, isn't it? You'd think a three-time league champion would command some powerful Pokémon, right? And she couldn't defend herself? That's a scary thought."

    "Maybe they caught her unawares? She might not have had the opportunity to call on a protector."

    "Surely she put up a struggle, then? Wouldn't the store employees have noticed something? Something's definitely fishy."

    Kimberly shrugged. "I suppose the only thing you can do is wait until more details are released."

    "Well, in any event, she's missing, and I'm stuck here waiting to hear from my boss about what to do. Hooray..." She took a big gulp from her juice and was ready to move onto a lighter subject. "So what's in store for you, now? Are you still going to try this coordination stuff?"

    Kimberly looked through her notes and sighed. "I'm not sure. I still have to think it over. I do want to remain dedicated, but after last night..."

    "Hey, we all stumble, right?"

    "We do. There's a novice training program being hosted in Rustlode Bluffs next week that I've already signed up for. If I don't do well at that, perhaps it's time to find something else to do with my life... yet again." she said, then let out a light chuckle. "Heh... Never thought I'd be back there..."

    Andrea tilted her head inquisitively. "You got some history with that city?"

    "Not much, no. I've visited once before, but it's not the city that I'll be back to. It's the unofficial competitions, I mean. I took part in one just before I joined my mother for her work in Glastonfell and I decisively crushed my competition, but..."

    Andrea waited for an answer, but never got one. "But?"

    "I'm well loved in my hometown, where that competition was hosted. There is always the nagging feeling that perhaps I did not fairly earn that victory."

    "Don't even think of it that way, otherwise you'll never be satisfied with how you do."

    "That's a good point. That contest was six months ago... Perhaps I've just... gotten rusty in that time?"

    Andrea snickered.

    She was mystified. "What? Did I say something funny?"

    "You've gotten rusty, so you're visiting Rustlode Bluffs?"

    "Oh!" she said before they both burst into a fit of laughter. "Oh dear... that was dreadful!"

    "Sorry, continue."

    "Umm... yes, that's my plan, to visit Rustlode Bluffs. I'm not sure that there is anything else to say on the matter."

    "I've always wanted to visit Rustlode myself, to be honest. The place used to be a big mining town over the past few centuries, won Lanark quite a long list of wars and conflicts with its material production... but most of their mines are tapped by now. They give tours of the old smelteries and processing plants as a way to bring in some money, that's something I've been wanting to look at."

    "Really? You don't strike me as the type of person to be interested in things like that."

    "I'm a bit of a gear head in my free time. I love old technology, I even studied it for a bit when I was at university."

    "Neat! Perhaps you could tag along for my visit, then?"

    It was a tempting offer, but she had responsibilities to see to. "Nah, I can't. I need to stay here until I hear from my boss. The most likely outcome is that she'll probably pull me back to Loch Alstan if Tamara isn't found soon." She sighed heavily at the thought. "Not looking forward to that train ride again..."

    "That's a fair point. It's a long walk to Rustlode and you could be called back at any moment..."

    Despite the circumstances, curiosity about the possibility of visiting still swirled in her mind. She turned her R-Kit on and looked for a map. "Where is Rustlode, anyways? I know it's on the southern coast, but I can never keep the towns and villages down there straight."

    "It's south of Sonetta Mountain, if I recall?" Kimberly answered.

    After finding the location of Rustlode Bluffs on the map, she asked it to plot a course for her. To her surprise, the map plotted a route directly through Doranshire, her and Tamara's intended destination.

    [​IMG]

    "Oh! That's a coincidence."

    "What is?" Kimberly asked.

    "Says here that you'll be passing through Doranshire? That's where I was headed."

    Kimberly paused for a moment to think. "I hadn't planned on it. I was going to follow the coast and pass through Tradewind. Why, is Doranshire a quicker route?"

    "According to this it is. Saves a day and a half worth of walking."

    "A shame that you'll be waiting here, we could have gone together!"

    "Yeah..." Andrea felt a deep rumble against her leg and grabbed her phone from her stocking. "Oh well. Maybe I'll get to visit Rustlode some other time." A look at her phone's screen showed that the incoming call was from Dr. Reiland. "Oh! Speaking of, it's my boss. You mind if I take this?"

    "By all means," Kimberly answered, burying her attention back into her notebook.

    Andrea accepted the call and placed the phone to her ear. "Morning, doctor."

    "Good morning, Ms. Dennison," Dr. Reiland's voice replied.

    "I take it you're calling about Tamara? Have you heard anything new from the police commissioner yet?"

    "No, not yet. It's only been a few hours." Dr. Reiland said. A long pause followed. "Here's what I want you to do. Until we know what's going on, I want you to stay in Aughrim for the next few days. It's quite obvious that something's not right, but I fear its worse than anyone realizes at the moment. The circumstances of her disappearance are... they're just too bizarre. Don't worry about finding a place to stay, I'll get your hotels sorted out."

    "I do still live here in Aughrim, don't forget! I've got an apartment I could stay at."

    "Oh! Right, yes. That makes things easier then."

    "And after that?"

    "If she hasn't been found, I'll get you back to Loch Alstan for another assignment."

    She realized she would have to do it eventually, but the idea of spending another day on a train so soon haunted her. As a new hire, she was cautious about suggesting it, but figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. "Is there any possible way I could... ya know, get started on this job on my own?"

    "What are you suggesting?"

    She looked up at Kimberly. "What I mean is... what if I found someone else to take me to Doranshire? I don't mind laying the ground work for Tamara, or god forbid, someone else."

    "I appreciate your enthusiasm, dear, but I'd rather you didn't. With rumors of paranormal activity amongst the villagers, I'd like someone who has experience with that to be there. You weren't intended to be the expert in this matter, Ms. Dahl was. You were to assist her."

    A voice of caution in the back of her mind urged her to drop it, but she refused. "You said it yourself, doctor, this isn't something that can wait for too long. Lives could be at stake here if there's actually something wrong in that town."

    "I suppose that is true..."

    "And even if I don't know a thing about that stuff, what if it is something as simple as a gas leak or something in the water, like you suggested? Problem solved, with or without Tamara. Lives saved."

    "But if it isn't that, you've wasted your time, then."

    "I'd rather be wasting my time there than here," she replied. "I'm not going to lie, while Aughrim is a nice place, I'm kinda sick of this city. But if you want me to stay here for a bit, I will."

    There was another long pause and the sound of papers being shuffled in the background. "You might have a point, actually. There's definitely something wrong in that village... it might be something that you could handle yourself. You did well enough in Nettlefield, perhaps you can surprise me again."

    "Thank you for trusting me."

    "Now, before you get ahead of yourself, I'll only give you the green light if you can find someone trustworthy. And I need you to clear them with me before you go anywhere."

    "Actually, I have someone here who's heading towards Rustlode Bluffs. If we travel together, she could bring me to Doranshire on her way there." She lowered her phone for a second. "You're up for it, right?"

    Kimberly did little more than offer a nod, her attention still stuck to her notebook.

    "She seems interested."

    "Tell me a little bit about her, then," Dr. Reiland said.

    She paused at the realization that she didn't know much about Kimberly other than she was an aspiring coordinator who'd just recently returned from a trip abroad. Trustworthiness hadn't even crossed her mind. Yet Kimberly felt like she incapable of harming anything, not even a fly; she was too charming, too friendly and even came off as a bit naive about how the world worked. "Hmm..." she started. "Well, she's right here. Maybe she can tell you better than I can. Want to talk to her?"

    "Very well. Put her on the line."

    She handed the phone across the table. "Here, my boss wants to talk with you. Her name is Dr. Reiland."

    Kimberly nodded and grabbed the phone. "Hello, Dr. Reiland."

    "Who am I speaking with?" Dr. Reiland asked.

    "Kimberly Fairbrooke."

    There was a short pause in the conversation. "That name is familiar..."

    "My parents, Richard and Annabelle, are well known. That might be where the familiarity comes from."

    "Ah, yes! Annabelle Fairbrooke! That's where I recognized the name... I did some relief work with her charity organization a few years ago. I forget what for, exactly... Heh, I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be. Anyways! My employee said she's interested in travelling with you. Would you be okay with that?"

    "I am. It sounds like it could be fun!"

    Dr. Reiland let out a chuckle. "I don't know about fun. Ms. Dennison will be doing a lot of sample gathering and in-depth analysis of her findings... She could be staying in Doranshire for quite some time, a week at least, probably longer. Are you okay with staying for that long?"

    Kimberly paused to think. "That might be cutting it a little close with the schedule I'd like to keep... I have prior obligations I need to attend to in Rustlode Bluffs."

    "I suppose you don't have to stay with her for the entire time... The biggest problem is that she doesn't have any Pokémon of her own. I don't want her travelling the roads alone. But if you can get her to Doranshire safely and perhaps assist her with her analysis of the nearby reservoir, you can be on your way well in advance. I'll send another one of my employees to pick her up when she's finished."

    "Whatever happens in the end, I'd be happy to help!"

    "Do you have much experience with travelling yourself?"

    "I do! I spent a little over a year with a friend of mine while she pursued a career as a competitive Pokémon trainer."

    "And are you familiar with the area?"

    "Yes ma'am! My friend and I passed through Doranshire at the tail end of our time together. I think I remember the town well enough to show her around."

    "I'll assume you have your own Pokémon, otherwise my employee wouldn't have suggested you. What are they? Their capabilities? Can you promise her safety?"

    Kimberly nodded. "I can. I have a Blastoise who is exceptional at personal defense. A Skitty as well, but she's not a very proficient fighter yet. But my Blastoise should be able to take care of whatever problems we may run into."

    "Ah, Blastoise. A good, solid defender." Dr. Reiland said. "Well then, you sound like a good candidate for getting Ms. Dennison started. Unfortunately, I might struggle to pay you for your time... Finances are usually tight around research centers such as these, as I'm sure you'll understand. But I'll--"

    She made a negative hand gesture as she shook her head. "Don't worry about payment, Dr. Reiland! I would be doing this because I want to, not for the money."

    "Are you sure?"

    She nodded. "Positive, ma'am."

    "Very well, then. Thank you. Could I speak with Ms. Dennison again?"

    She handed the phone back to Andrea.

    "So what do you think, doctor?" Andrea asked.

    "She's very polite, and from the sound of it, very experienced with both travel and the areas you'll be visiting."

    "Are we good to go, then?"

    There was another short pause. "Do you trust her? This may just be a bit of paranoia, considering the circumstances regarding Ms. Dahl's disappearance, but... She seems a little too good to be true. I worry about the fact that she doesn't want to be paid."

    "From what I understand, she's a wealthy heiress..." Andrea looked up at Kimberly and received a warm, friendly smile from her. "Yes. I do trust her."

    "I'll take your word for it, then. You two can get started whenever you're ready. But do keep in mind: if Ms. Dahl does resurface, she'll be taking the reigns from you, understood?"

    "Understood, and thank you, doctor. You'll be proud of my work, I promise!"

    "We'll see. Talk to you soon."

    "Good bye!" She ended the call and put her phone back into her stocking. She tried to contain her excitement. "Yes! This is going to be great, I'll show her what I'm capable of!"

    "I'm glad you're excited to be travelling with me!" Kimberly said with a smile on her face.

    "Well, safety in numbers, too. It's a bad idea to travel alone, which it sounds like you were about to do. Especially considering the nationwide murder rate skyrocketing in recent months."

    Kimberly's eyes widened. "Excuse me?"

    "We've had a sharp increase in violent crime since the year began, a large majority of it targeted at young women like us. Murders, kidnappings, rape, robbery, you name it."

    "Oh... Umm..." Kimberly mumbled, her voice wavering.

    She tilted her head slightly. "You... don't watch the evening news much, do you?"

    Kimberly shook her head. "I make it a point not to. It's so depressing! It's a constant cycle of fear mongering, hatred and rabble rousing designed to pit us against each other! Besides, I haven't had much of an opportunity to, I've been busy working alongside my mother in Glastonfell."

    "Oh right, you've been out of the country..." she started. "Maybe I shouldn't have said it like that. It's not as bad as I made it sound, just... something to keep in mind. Besides, if we stick together, statistics are on our side."

    "Hmm... I will keep that in mind when I set off for Rustlode Bluffs, yes. But until that point, we're stuck together, and we'll look out for each other."

    "Of course!"
     
  19. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Ah, it looks like we're picking up the missing Dahl thread! I have to admit, after the extended contest sequence I kinda forgot what the main plot was doing right now. The threat of kidnapping has got a lot more pronounced now, and it certainly feels like the stakes are getting higher: we've come quite some way from ostensibly innocuous field research, although temporally I'm not sure we have come that far – this is still be one of Andrea's earlier missions, if I remember right. Anyway, Andrea is bearing up rather well, all things considered – she's worried, yeah, but not incapable of presenting her usual effervescent self to the world.

    It looks like she and Kimberley are now heading out to the south coast, too. That's cool! I like the south coast, although of course I suspect there'll be a world of differences between Lanark's south coast and the one I'm familiar with. It'll be interesting to see how that gets treated in this fic – as it will to finally get to grips with this case that Andrea's been sent to investigate. That's been teased a whole bunch, and it'll be good to finally get a hint as to what kind of “paranormal” problem this actually is.

    Anyway, there's not too much plot progression to comment on here, though I guess I don't expect that of a chapter explicitly marked as an interlude. I'll confine myself here to one last quick note:

    Nicely done, Andrea. Anyone who can hastily wing their eye make-up is not to be trifled with.

    Finally, here are some little nitpicks and things I noticed as I read through:

    Is this a construction that people use in speech? I've never come across it before; I'd say “about” rather than “of”, but like, if that's a real speech quirk you're representing, then that's fine.

    Two sentences in a row beginning with “She turned [item] on” is a bit much, I think.

    If that second part is meant to be a dialogue attribution (“she said”, etc.), then that full stop after “waitresses” should be a comma – and also, “started” isn't a dialogue verb, so I think maybe that's a typo for “stated”? Not quite sure here.

    “Thick” seems like an odd choice of word – it sounds like you're describing golden syrup or something, rather than fruit juice.

    Wrong kind of rein here – you want “reins” rather than “reigns”.

    “Fearmongering” is usually one word, or at the very least hyphenated.
     
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  20. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    I think it's worth mentioning that this thread is going to be dropped just as quickly as it was picked up in this chapter, unfortunately. I recently put together a chart for myself to keep track of plot threads and this is the one that consistently gets left in the dust. It's a long shot, but it's something I might be able to fix as the polishing continues. At the very least, I've been putting a few hours every few weeks into a spin-off short story that focuses much more heavily on this side of the story. I'm not sure when the first chapter of that will be ready, though. Should have been ready when I originally published chapter 24 >_>

    At this point I'm just rambling, enough of that! :p

    Correct, this is meant to be her final probation assignment. Just three days have passed since she was hired. Quite a lot has happened already! Too much, actually... That's something worth noting, this story doesn't employ time skips longer than a few hours/overnight very often, but in the future, days and weeks will pass between chapters.

    Can confirm, I recently did my first attempt at applying an eyeshadow design... I must have spent half an hour on it and it came out garbage. But she's been doing this daily for years, it's her true medium; she's a master.

    I actually hadn't thought about emulating Britain/Cornwall's southern coast too much, and I'm only just getting into it in the chapters I've writing at the moment (chapters 30+). Would you be willing to answer a few questions about it and describe it for me over PM? It sounds like some important information I could use to my advantage.

    I must admit that I don't pay enough attention to the people I talk to (or rather remember it, to paint myself in a better light) to have a solid answer, but it's something that I personally say a lot.

    Noted. Will fix soon-ish.

    I get the feeling that this rule was never properly explained to me. I've always been told that it's only a comma if the punctuation comes after the first dialogue sentence of a line and it's attributed by an action. Anything else was meant to be a full stop. Could the rule have been mistaught? Probably. I only learned it after I'd graduated from school, and it was never even hinted at before then. Just as it was before, this'll be a tough habit to break... A habit I still haven't broken, admittedly, years after I learned it.

    Ah yes, in this case it was a typo! Noted for fixing.

    However, I do typically use 'started' as a dialogue verb, particularly when I'm breaking up a sentence in two parts ("Maybe..." he started, thinking it over. "Maybe that's true..."). It's a shortening of "started to speak" or such. Incorrect? Maybe, but that's just my style.

    Hmm, opaque may have been the better word here. Also thrown on the fix pile.

    Grrr, this is one of those words I tell myself to be extra careful with. Figures even in my carefulness I still mess it up :p

    I've at least gotten this right in some later chapters; I can blame this one on the fact that I hadn't looked up the word when I originally wrote this chapter, and copy pasted that specific line when I was polishing the chapter. Gonna fix this one, too!
     

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