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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

    Apologies for this being posted three months later despite already being written... I had hoped to edit these chapters as I was going, but time constraints and problems in my personal life prevented that. Since those constraints and problems don't seem to be going anywhere over the short term, I'll just start posting the chapters as they are currently written. Up next, chapter 12!

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 12: Sacred Garden


    Far in the distance, cloaked in the blue haze of the distant sky, stood perhaps Lanark's most well known and recognizable natural landmark: the Oak of Ages. The massive tree, thought to tower over 600 meters in height, was a curiosity to the people of Lanark; while most oak trees throughout the country stand tall for just under two hundred years, the Oak of Ages has been known to exist for at least a thousand years. It may be even older, in fact, as cave paintings dated to 6000 BC detail the tree, and it may yet be even more ancient. Whatever the case, it is a remarkable sight to behold and an easy landmark to spot from just about anywhere in the West Country.

    "Are you familiar with that tree in the distance, Andrea?" Kimberly asked.

    "I am. It's the Oak of Ages, the tallest tree in the world. When I was studying at the university, I could see it from my bedroom window on a really clear day."

    "Oooh! You were quite lucky!" Kimberly said with excitement. "Have you ever visited it?"

    She shook her head. "No, I never got the opportunity to. Always busy with my studies and my work... Have you?"

    "I have! About nine months ago, in fact. It's so... breathtaking! To imagine something so large, so ancient... You'll be happy to know that we'll be passing by it on our way to Doranshire!"

    "Will we? I should see if we can get up close and have a look at it. Maybe I can find something for Dr. Reiland to take a look at back at the lab."

    "That may be difficult... There's a conservation group which owns the land it sits on, and I don't believe that they allow visitors to approach it. When I last visited, my friend Nicole and I were passing through the area on our way to Aughrim and we were denied entrance. In fact, I remember them treating her very poorly, as if she'd done something to offend them. She'd never visited before!"


    "I know, isn't that strange?" Kimberly wondered. "Perhaps things have changed in the past year. When we get there, we'll have to see if they'll allow us to visit."

    "Yeah, you bet."

    Andrea took the time to study her surroundings a bit more. Apart from the previous few days, it was the first time she had left the metal and concrete confines of Aughrim in over a year. It was much nicer than the muddy and rocky wilderness outside of Loch Alstan; rows of oak and fir trees stood tall, guarding the land behind them from the crisp ocean breeze that blew in off of the bay. Flowers of varying shades of red, pink, white and lavender sprouted from the land around them, and the heady aroma of honey was carried on the wind around them.

    "The countryside sure is beautiful, isn't it? Hard to believe I've never been out here..."

    "Never?" Kimberly asked.

    "Never. If I wasn't too busy, I was too scared. I'm sure you've heard the stories."

    "I have, but I don't believe them to be true. I've travelled these roads a lot, and I have not run into trouble as much as the media likes to claim."

    "Hmm," she mumbled. All throughout her childhood and into her teen years, she'd heard horror stories of people being mauled, paralyzed or killed by feral Pokémon, at least once a month, sometimes more. For those stories to be so quickly dismissed seemed silly, yet Kimberly did have quite a bit of first hand experience that shouldn't be dismissed either. She wasn't sure what to believe. "So, you travel a lot, do you? Where exactly have you been?"

    "All over! I spent a few years in Kalos, as a child... My junior year of high school was spent abroad in Romatti as part of a student exchange program, as well. And then there was the time I vacationed in Kanto for a few weeks..."

    Andrea's eyes began to widen as she listed off more locations: an ill-fated meeting with the representative of a charity organization in Kensacola, a brief visit to the country of Cordona with her father and her attendance of a wedding in the Isles of Alola, to name a few.

    "...and most recently," she continued, "I spent a few months in the northern reaches of Glastonfell. It gets quite cold up there during the winter, dreadfully cold! I don't know how they do it, especially when they're wearing those tartan kilts!"

    "I... kinda meant specifically here, in Lanark," Andrea laughed.

    "Oh! I've been to most places. The only place I don't recall ever visiting is a little town called Goldwheat Meadows. I wanted to, but Nicole saw no need to, so we went around it."

    Andrea chuckled. "That's where I grew up. You didn't miss much."

    She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at her friend's words. "Really? You don't have a very strong accent for someone who grew up in Goldwheat."

    "Blame my parents, they never had much of an accent either. Those two are practically the only people I ever spoke with as I was growing up."

    She paused for a moment before she cautiously edged around the self-disparaging remark. "I'm sure there's something interesting about Goldwheat that would be worth visiting for!"

    "There are only two things that Goldwheat is famous for: the famine that killed over 20,000 people and that ****ing asshole who made it worse by refusing to help the poor. I don't remember his name and I don't care to."

    "That's an awfully dour outlook on the town you grew up in!"

    "It's also true. If you ever do visit, you'll see what I mean. The town never recovered... Entire suburbs were abandoned after the famine and most of it's a ghost town... Wonder why my parents chose to settle down in that **** hole..."

    Her interest in the town that Andrea grew up in was piqued and she wanted to know more, but she found her friend's language crude and distasteful. She could sense annoyance in Andrea's voice about the town, so she shifted subjects. "If I may ask... do you always swear this much?"


    "You've been swearing an awful lot since we've met. More than I'm used to. Is that normal, or are you annoyed about something, or..?"

    "What's the matter, does it bug you? I can try to tone it down, if you want."

    "Thank you."

    "Personal objections about it?" Andrea curiously asked.

    "In a way. When I was on the road with Nicole, she swore like a sailor. Worse than you, even! I tried to get used to it, but it was always so excessive... Day in, day out... Every sentence, an F here, an S there... I found that I started to pick up on that filthy habit myself, and it's unbecoming of a young lady such as myself."

    Andrea let out a subdued laugh. "So she's one of them 'holier than thou' types... This should be an interesting few days..." she thought.

    "Is there something funny about that?"

    "No, no! Just... I'll give it a rest." Andrea answered. "So, you said you've been on this road before. Anything here I should know about? Landmarks, rest stops, any of that?"

    She took a look at her surroundings. "I can't recall if we've passed it already, but there's a hidden garden somewhere around here that I've been itching to visit."

    "Hidden garden?" Andrea checked the time on her R-Kit. "How long would this visit take? I don't remember much from my days in the Scouts... I'd probably freeze to death by morning, so I'd like to get to the next town by nightfall."

    "Not long. An hour, perhaps?"

    "Mmm, that might be cutting it a little close, but... Let me know when we get close to this place."

    "I shall."

    - - - - -​

    Kimberly emerged from a thick row of shrubs and looked behind her. She let out a smile and motioned towards herself. "Come along now! It should be just through this thicket."

    Andrea struggled against the snagging branches of the shrubs until she eventually stumbled through them. "What should be? You're not giving me an awful lot of information."

    Kimberly scouted ahead through the thick grass, waist high grass. "It's a surprise! I'm sure you'll like it."

    Her patience was beginning to thin. They had spent the last twenty minutes venturing into unmarked wilderness, and for what? A garden? She wondered what kind of garden would even be out this far. "You're testing my patience. Shouldn't we be following some sort of trail?"

    Kimberly pointed towards a tree beside them; several feet up was a green square hastily painted onto its bark. "We are following a trail, but it's one that requires a keen eye."

    She shook her head in disbelief as she continued to follow Kimberly through the thick forest. "Can you at least tell me where we're going?"

    There was a brief moment of silence before Kimberly answered. "Have you ever heard of the Peace Gardens?"

    "I haven't."

    "How do I word this and make it understandable..." Kimberly muttered to herself. "They're places that hold special meaning to certain people. Visiting these gardens allows us to get in touch with our inner selves."

    A light bulb flashed in her head. "Oh! You're one of those religious types, aren't you?"

    "I am."

    "Interesting... Strange, but interesting."


    "I haven't really met many religious people. These days, most people don't bother with such antiquated thoughts."

    "I would argue that they're not antiquated ideals, and in fact, they are just as relevant as they ever have been."

    "I don't know about--"

    Kimberly stopped in her tracks and turned around with a stern look on her face. "I can appreciate if faith is not your cup of tea, but please, don't start belittling my beliefs if you know nothing about them. I will not tolerate that."

    She was surprised by the sharp criticism. "Fair enough."

    Before long, they had arrived at a small nook in the wilderness that seemed to be perfectly manicured by human hands, yet looked completely natural at the same time. Thick, moss covered willow trees shielded much of the area from direct sunlight. Water cascaded over a nearby cliff, providing an ample supply of fresh water to the largest feature of the area, the pristine, lily-covered pond. A small stone pillar stood in front of the pond.

    Andrea was immediately drawn to the stone pedestal and studied it closely. It appeared to be covered from top to bottom in mysterious glyphs that she had never seen before:


    "What does this say?" she asked.

    Kimberly joined her at the pedestal and briefly studied the writing on it. "I couldn't tell you. It's not a language I'm familiar with."

    "Huh..." she wondered as she studied the writing some more. She could see an obvious pattern in the glyphs, but the meaning was totally lost on her. She pulled her phone out and began to take pictures of the pillar from all sides. "Surely someone back at the lab might have an idea of what this is..."

    As she did so, Kimberly wandered a few steps closer to the shore of the pond and dropped her backpack to the ground. She grabbed a small, square blanket from within and spread it on the ground in front of the pond.

    "What are you doing?" Andrea asked.

    Kimberly sat down on the blanket, crossed her legs and rested her hands in her lap. "I thought I'd take the time to reflect a bit."

    There was a clear look of confusion on Andrea's face. "Reflect?"


    "Meditation..." She let out an annoyed chuckle. "Gee, thanks for telling me that this was the reason we came here."

    "Would you care to join me?"

    She shook her head. "No. I don't meditate. Besides, do we really have time for this?"

    "Of course we do! This doesn't take long."

    "Couldn't you have meditated this morning? Before we met for breakfast? Or maybe when we got to the next town?"

    Kimberly kept her eyes closed as she responded. "Doing so would have been a misuse of my time. I intended on visiting this place with or without you."

    "That doesn't answer my question."

    Kimberly opened her eyes. "Meditation is important to me. It helps me to find happiness and clarity of purpose, my inner peace. Doing so in a hotel room would not have been as effective as doing it here, surrounded by the beauty of nature." She closed her eyes again and resumed her meditation.

    "Not as effective?"

    "I'll be happy to explain later, but please, allow me to begin. We'll be on our way quicker if you do."

    She wanted to interrupt Kimberly's meditation with some further confrontational questioning, but realized there was little advantage in doing so; she was relying on this woman to get to Doranshire, and angering her could potentially jeopardize that plan. Instead, she stomped off to another section of the garden. "Hmmph... Stuffy religious types. It's always about them, isn't it..." she muttered to herself. She turned around to look at Kimberly one more time, then wandered further into the garden.

    "She should have told me she was going to waste my time," she muttered to herself. "I might have been okay with it. But no, she had to keep it to herself until I couldn't say no."

    Regardless of her feelings at the moment, she couldn't help but appreciate the peaceful atmosphere of the garden around her. The birds singing their songs in harmony, the sound of rushing water cascading over smooth rocks, the gentle breeze caressing the leaves, it all combined to sooth her spirit. Perhaps Kimberly was right, and that there was something to this place, but she didn't want to admit it. She wanted to continue to be angry over the bait and switch tactic her friend employed.

    The calming atmosphere distracted her from her chief concern: staying safe in the wilderness. She found herself drawn further and further away from Kimberly, further from security. Before she knew it, she has passed many alluring landmarks, each leaving her wanting more; a ring of bright purple mushrooms nestled around a fallen log, a massive tree stump nearly five feet in diameter, a narrow gorge with a babbling brook at the bottom of it. She crossed over the gorge with the aid of a log that spanned the length of it and continued further into the unknown.

    The noise of fluttering wings grabbed her attention and snapped her back into reality. Just above her was the largest bird she had ever seen, definitely larger than herself. Draped in golden feathers, the bird hovered gently towards the ground and landed in front of her. Its head turned a perfect 180 degrees, allowing its deep amber eyes to study her inquisitively. Horns similar in shape to a trident jutted from the creature's head.

    "****!" she shouted as she stumbled backwards. After putting a sizable distance between herself and the massive bird, she quickly picked herself up off of her feet and got ready to run.

    The bird did little but stare at her.

    She cautiously raised her R-Kit and began to scan the creature before her. "Please don't attack me while I'm distracted..."

    "Noctowl, the Great Owl Pokémon!" the R-Kit began to drone as she kept her attention locked on the bird. "Among all of the birds of the Pokémon kingdom, Noctowl is generally regarded as one of the most intelligent. It appears to have complex problem solving thought processes typically unseen in most other species, displaying the ability to open doors, disassemble basic mechanical devices and navigate mazes with little backtracking."

    The Noctowl extended its wings and flapped them before returning to its regal pose. Andrea instinctively took a step back, but lowered her guard a bit once it showed no intent to attack her.

    "Noctowl is culturally important in Lanark," the R-Kit continued. "From ancient times to renaissance times, it was regarded as the guardian spirit of intelligence. Partially translated ancient texts spoke of it being a key of some sort, while more modern accounts described it as a moral and spiritual guide for royalty and those of noble blood."

    "I don't understand what any of that means..." she muttered as she kept her eyes on the Noctowl. "You're not going to hurt me, are you?"

    Once again, the owl was silent. All it did was stare.

    "Maybe I should get back to Kimberly..." she thought. She took a few cautionary steps backwards before turning around, still keeping her vision locked on the Noctowl. In the brief second she took to watch her footing, the Noctowl had disappeared in complete silence. "Ooookay, I don't like where this is going."

    Her journey back to the pond was the same as before: quiet and lonely. Over the log, above the gorge, around the tree stump, beside the mushroom circle. As she passed along, she looked up towards the sky and there it was; the Noctowl had followed her in absolute silence. Perched in a tree, it continued to stare at her.

    "Go away..." she whispered to herself.

    At last, she had made it back to the pond. Kimberly appeared to have completed her meditation and was in the process of folding up her blanket.

    "Ooof... Am I glad to see you!" she called out.

    "Really? You seemed quite annoyed when we last spoke... I should apol--"

    Andrea bulldozed the apology with a warning. "There's a giant bird out there and I'm pretty sure it's stalking me! We should get out of here."

    Kimberly reached down for the Master Ball that dangled from the belt of her dress and looked through the tree tops around her. "Giant bird?"

    "A Noctowl, I don't know if you're familiar with that one."

    Kimberly's cautious demeanor melted. "Ah! Yes, I am! I've seen a few during my travels. They're fairly peaceful creatures."

    "I don't know... I don't feel safe around here, that thing was freakishly huge... Can we leave now?"

    "Yes. Let's be on our way."
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Oh, I'm glad to see another chapter of this! Let's get right into it, shall we?

    You know, these two have a real issue with being able to talk to each other without getting into an ideologically-motivated argument; Andrea in particular seems to have a stubbornly bullheaded kind of streak that comes out very strongly in her conversations with Kimberly. Or at least, I don't recall her being this argumentative and judgemental with some of the other people she's met. Possibly that's because she didn't have as much to disagree with when she spoke to them – or possibly something about the class divide is annoying her and making her particularly prone to finding fault with Kimberly. Not that Kimberly is blameless, of course. Dragging someone along on your personal spiritual journey the way she does isn't an entirely blameless action.

    Anyway, the two of them go back and forth between very friendly and at complete loggerheads all the time, and it's rather interesting: if they're travelling together, this is either going to become more and more of an issue, or it's going to even out a bit as they each start learning to deal with each other. Though given how argumentative Andrea seems to be, I'm not sure what the chances of that second one are. I guess either is fine: I'd be up for seeing fireworks, or a story about contradictory viewpoints reconciling.

    Aside from that, this chapter focuses quite intensely on – for want of a better term – the beauty of the natural world. Which is fine by me; I feel like it would be hypocritical for me of all people to take issue with a story where people talk about their feelings and look at landscapes, and honestly I rather like it.

    Couple of minor notes:

    This starts in past tense, like the rest of the fic, then goes into present tense mid-sentence; I guess I can see why, given that this is a thing that is presumably still true, but conventionally that would be in past tense too, and it would certainly read more naturally if it was placed within the time frame of the story by being past tense.

    Two things here: that should be 'had', rather than 'has', and a colon rather than a semicolon.

    Anyway! Glad to see this is updating again. I'll be looking forward to their eventual arrival in Doranshire with interest!
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  3. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Author's note: This one was actually rewritten. I wasn't proud of the original version and I'm still kinda not. I'd rather just delete it, but too many important plot seeds are planted in it that can't be done elsewhere.

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 13: The Ancient Giant


    As time goes on, we understand the finite nature of our world, and that is no more apparent than now, after this devastating conflict. This is a world we all share, and in doing so, we must learn to coexist in peace; among the nations represented at this summit, I see that we are capable of it.
    ~ Arthur Wicke, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Constantia (September 2nd, 1945)

    - - - - -​

    It was another early May morning in Lanark. The sun ascended in the eastern sky, covering much of the Westcountry with its warm golden light. One spot, however, was still bathed in darkness: the village known as Oak of Ages. The massive 600 meter tall great oak that the village was named after completely eclipsed the tiny hamlet for nearly a quarter of the day, with only small speckles of light breaching the densely packed branches. For most, it would be a strange sight to see a bright blue sky while shrouded entirely in shadow, but for the village, it was just another day.

    At the edge of a rocky cliff that overlooked the ocean, meter-wide bubbles would float up into the air every now and then, catching the faint glimmers of light that poked through the tree. Kimberly was seated in a garden behind a little brick house, studying in silence as she took notes, drew diagrams and brainstormed ideas for new coordination routines. "You're doing well! Very well, in fact!"

    Juliano nodded happily. He knew it wasn't just sugary praise.

    She sighed. "Though... I wonder what the point is. We practice and we practice, but I can't shake the feeling that we're not progressing. We may very well just not be cut out for coordination."

    He retracted his cannons, crossed his arms and glared at her intensely.

    "Allow me to reword that. You very much are progressing, but I am not... and my contribution to our routines is just as important. I'm hoping that the workshop we'll be attending will help, but I'm not confident that it will, unfortunately."

    Her phone rumbled to life, and she checked to see who had sent her a message:

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 8:25 AM
    'im awake and ready to go, wanna get on the road again?'

    Fr: Kimberly Fairbrooke, 8:25 AM
    'I am! But I would like to explore a bit before we leave, if that's okay with you?'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 8:26 AM
    'i have always wanted to visit this place so may as well'

    She sighed and closed her book. "Whatever, that's enough for now. Come, let's go visit our new friend."

    - - - - -​

    On the other side of town, Andrea was seated on a bed in a small motel room that could only be described as cheap yet cozy. Her phone was in her hands, flashing brightly with a smattering of colors as she enjoyed another round of her favorite pastime, Tetris. She effortlessly juggled the pieces as they came down, slid them into place and watched them pop into a satisfying rain of colored sparks when a row was completed.

    LEVEL 21 ! ! !

    "C'mon, this is easy," she said, adjusting to the increased speed at which the blocks dropped. Her concentration was broken by a knock at the door. "Aaagh!" She grumbled and turned her phone off, then left it on the bed. "This better not be that noisy asshole from last night..." she muttered as she wandered to the door. She stopped just beside the door and called out, "Yes? Who is it?"

    "It's Kimberly!"

    "Makes sense..." she said softly as she undid the chain lock and opened the door. "Morn'." she said, peering over Kimberly's shoulder into the darkened village. "...I think."

    Kimberly giggled. "Yes, the darkness in this village is a little unsettling, but it's certainly something, isn't it?"

    "I could get used to a place like this," she commented. "Can I get a minute? I need to gather my stuff up. You can come in if you'd like."

    Kimberly poked her head into the room and looked around. Coming from a wealthy family, the motel room was barely a room to her; it was dimly lit by a single light bulb, the stale air within was choked with the aroma of heavy cigarette use and the carpet on the floor was stained with mud. "You slept in this? It smells like a run down biker bar in here!"

    "You saying you visit biker bars often? Looking for a little fun?" she joked.

    "That's not funny."

    She brushed over Kimberly's lack of amusement and answered the question. "Yes, I did. Unfortunately, I have to live on a tight budget, even when I have the institute looking out for me. Besides, I actually did sleep somewhere worse a couple nights ago." She returned to her bed and began to gather up her belongings. "What about you? What was yours like?"

    "It was a lovely bed and breakfast run by an adorable elderly couple. Their back garden was simply enchanting and had access to the beach!"

    "Sounds expensive..." she quietly muttered under her breath.

    Kimberly shrugged. "Perhaps a little? That does make me think, however. When you and I arrive in Doranshire, I would like to pay for your room and board. Circumstances such as these..." she trailed off, inspecting the room one last time. "...no one should suffer them."

    She stopped what she was doing and looked up at Kimberly. "You sure about that?"

    "Of course!" Kimberly said with an enthusiastic nod. "A drop in the ocean for me, no need to worry."

    "I'll try to be a cheap date for ya, then."

    Kimberly giggled. "Well! I'm ready when you are."

    She swung her backpack around her arms and grabbed her purse. "Are you? Don't have to do your meditation or anything like that?"

    Kimberly nodded. "Already taken care of, friend. I noticed how annoyed you were that I sprung my meditation on you so unexpectedly, so I figured I would get it out of the way early, rather than make you wait yet again."

    "Is that an every day thing? The meditation?"

    "Most days, yes."

    "Hmm. Seems like a waste of time to me, but... Maybe I just don't understand. Let's go see what this town has to offer."

    - - - - -​

    The Oak of Ages

    Despite records of the giant oak stretching from the neolithic era all the way to today, the Oak of Ages remains a complete mystery to the average men and women of the modern age. How old is it? What species is it? Why is it so large? All of these questions and more have been put forward by scholars, scientists and even kids like you, but the answers still elude us.

    Andrea looked towards Kimberly with a raised eyebrow. "Kids like us?"

    "You must remember that this town was a large destination for tourism until a few years ago. Children from across the country would often take field trips to see the Oak."

    "Why'd that stop?"

    Kimberly shrugged. "Another item on our list of things to ponder. Perhaps the rumors that the tree is dying are true? Park rangers may be trying to keep people away to hide that fact."

    "It'll be hard to hide that fact once the leaves start falling off of it... I'm not convinced of those rumors, but maybe we can find out."

    The two continued reading from the plaque in front of them:

    A Place of Peace

    Despite the mysteries of its origin and continued presence, thousands of years of records have shown us that the Oak of Ages has been a cultural icon since antiquity. Archaeological evidence from across Lanark indicates that the ancient tribes often fought bloody and violent wars against each other, but there is no evidence of fighting in the lands surrounding the tree. Rather, some of the earliest written records indicate that the tree was a sanctuary, often visited by rival warrior kings to discuss terms of peace. In fact, it was here that the ancient tribes eventually banded together to form the first alliances that would later lead to the founding of the Kingdom of Lanark.

    Throughout Lanark's troubled and messy history, the Oak of Ages has been a constant beacon of peace. Many violent conflicts throughout history were resolved in the shadow of the Oak. Notable declarations of peace that were signed at this location include:

      • Solas an Lae, signed somewhere at the end of the 9th century, formally ended a civil war fought between rival clans for dominance of the heartland. It is here that the Greybell Clan established their millennia-long dynasty that remains in power to this day.
      • Pax Rosa, signed in 1472, ended the third and final attempted conquest of Lanark by the Romatti Empire.
      • The Eiffel Accords, signed in 1591, ended the seven year war fought between Lanark and Kalos, resulting in the acquisition of all Kalosian overseas colonies.
      • Treaty of the Clans, signed in 1683, granted independence to Storm Island, a former colony of the crown, after three costly years of naval confrontations.
      • The Prophet's War of Independence, a religious and political conflict between Lanark and the Divine Provinces of Columbia, formally ended on December 22nd, 1814.
      • Highlands Independence Agreement, signed on the 1st of August 1933, formally granted independence to the Kingdom of Glastonfell after two decades of negotiations. The decision to grant independence during the Great War was quite controversial and resulted in a physical confrontation between three lords, the only recorded instance of violence at the Oak of Ages since records began.
      • The Great Accord, signed on the 2nd of September, 1945, ended the 25 year conflict known as the Great War. Dignitaries from nearly sixty nations came together to bring an end to the deadliest conflict in human history.
      • Colonial Release Act, signed into law on the 1st of July, 1977, formally granted independence to all major overseas territory owned and protected by the crown. Several small islands remain as Lanark's territory.

    "Hmm. A lot of history took place here. I never knew." Andrea commented.

    "Really? What did they teach you in school?"

    She began to fidget. "Well... I'm sure they taught us about history, but I barely paid attention to any of it. It is now, but when I was a kid, it wasn't very interesting." She turned to look at the shaded trail that led out of the village center and up towards the great oak. "The Oak is up that way. What do you say we poke around and get a closer look?"

    Kimberly hesitated as she looked at the dark passageway ahead of them. "I don't know. It feels like a bad idea."

    "C'mon! Where's your sense of adventure? I'm probably not going to visit this place again, and I want to try it."

    "It's just... the dark makes me feel uneasy, that's all. Thankfully much of the town is brightly lit by the walkway lamps, but the lights up to the Oak are all disabled... It gives me a sense of foreboding, like we shouldn't be there."

    "Exactly!" she said. She dropped her backpack to the ground, unzipped it and began to dig through it. Before long, her hand returned with a bundle of glow sticks, one of which she passed to Kimberly. "Knew I'd use these at some point..."

    "A glow stick?"

    "Yeah... back from my days as a rave girl. I don't get to do that anymore and I'd like to use them before they go bad, they're actually pretty bright." She snapped the base of one of the glow sticks and shook it vigorously, bathing her pale skin in a bright neon green light. "Well, you coming?"

    Kimberly frowned as she idly spun the glow stick around in her fingers. "I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?"

    "Probably not. I just want to see how close we can get. I'm hoping that I can gather some sort of data for Dr. Reiland. If I start coming back to the lab with all sorts of extra research materials on top of what I actually need, that should reflect well on my work ethic."

    Kimberly sighed and snapped the base of her own glow stick, generating a bright pink light. "Very well. I'll call on Juliano to protect us as well, if you don't mind. I don't trust the darkness and we don't know what could be lurking out there."

    "I was about to suggest that."

    What little light that bled through the branches of the Oak of Ages quickly disappeared as the three navigated the winding trails. The light of the glow sticks was enough to guide them, but it wasn't without difficulty; the lack of color definition made it easy to trip over roots, bump into firm branches and walk straight through the silky strands of a Spinarak web. The squeaking of Zubats far above them, faintly visible against the small specks of light, unnerved Kimberly, who insisted that they turn around and be on their way to Doranshire.

    Andrea stubbornly refused. "Didn't expect it to be this dark..."

    "We're not going to get lost, are we?"

    She snapped the base of another glow stick, increasing the amount of light around them a tiny bit. "I think we'll be okay as long as we take it slowly." She felt Kimberly latch onto her arm like a parasitic sucker fish, giving her a slight shock and causing her to wave her glow sticks around in search of something, anything, that would have spooked her friend. "What is it? Did you see something?"

    Kimberly shook her head. "No, I just don't feel very comfortable."

    "I don't blame you, it is pretty spooky around here. I just want to look around a little more, then we can turn around."

    The path they had been following towards the Oak involved several uphill hairpin turns with little to protect them from tumbling down to the bottom, terrain that Juliano was having a bit of difficulty traversing effectively. They wondered why the terrain was so treacherous, assuming that the path to what was once such a famous and popular landmark would be much easier than they had experienced. In short order, they found out why: the 'path' that Andrea had been guiding them through wasn't a path at all, and instead led directly to a chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

    "****! My bad." she lamented. On the bright side, a fence meant that they were getting closer, likely much closer. She scanned the fence for any sort of weakness, but couldn't find any; it simply stretched out into the darkness in both directions. "Right... I think we can turn around then."

    "Perhaps we can find the real trail before we do so?" Kimberly suggested.

    "Yeah... Let's uh..." she stammered, trying to pick a direction, until eventually settling on taking a right turn along the fence. "...Let's go this way."

    Before long, a bright, blinding light appeared on the other side of the fence, followed by a barked command from a deep, gravelly voice. "You there! Stop where you are!"

    The two turned towards the source of the voice and looked like stunned deer; Juliano took a position between them and the light.

    The light inched closer towards the fence before lowering somewhat. As the light bounced off the moss-blanketed ground, it illuminated its source: a man in dark green and brown camouflaged clothing, carrying what looked like a military grade rifle. The features of his face were obscured by the darkness, but Andrea could still tell from his body language that he was not happy with her presence.

    "You are trespassing in a restricted area protected by the crown of Lanark."

    "Holy ****, armed guards... Restricted area?" she thought. She pleaded with the man as she raised her hands to the sky. "Don't shoot! We're just a little lost!"

    The man took a few steps towards the fence, keeping his weapon half-ready should he need to use it. He eyed Andrea critically, then shifted his attention towards Juliano. "You there, hiding behind the Blastoise, show yourself."

    Kimberly peeked her head around Juliano's shell for a moment before doing as she was ordered.

    He stared her up and down just as he did Andrea, then grabbed his radio and grunted. "Huh... CP, this is Summers. I've got two suspicious women here trespassing around Section 3 of the fence, they say they're lost. What should I do?"

    The radio buzzed with an incomprehensible voice.

    "Understood. I'll be there in a minute." Summers placed his radio back into his pocket and pointed in the direction that the two had been travelling previously. "A couple hundred meters up that way is an entrance checkpoint. Recall your Blastoise and follow me."

    With much hesitation, Kimberly finally did so. "Andrea... I'm scared... This could be bad."

    "Yeah, I am too... Let's just take this simply and slowly."

    The two followed the guard closely as he lit the way with his rifle's flashlight. They tried to ask him a few questions related to the Oak, but he either deflected them or ignored them. They both got the feeling that he didn't know much and that he was just a patrolling guard of some sort, assigned to provide security for something he knew little about. Regardless, his enthusiasm for protecting the Oak was extremely apparent; he kept a very close eye on them, especially Andrea, while he escorted them. Eventually, they reached a gap in the fence that was surrounded by a heavily fortified checkpoint.

    "Are these our 'trespassers'?" one of the men at the checkpoint asked.

    Summers saluted. "Yes, sir."

    The guard commander frowned. "Now why did you go and tell them that? Section 3 of the fence isn't even on royal lands, they weren't trespassing!"

    "They said they were lost, and I have reason to believe that they were intending to trespass," Summers explained. He pointed towards Andrea. "Look at this one... She's dressed like and looks like one of them."

    The guard commander approached the two and circled them like a hungry buzzard, studying their appearance meticulously as he did so. Of particular interest to him was Andrea's jewelry; he reached out and grabbed the silver Celtic knotted chain that dangled around her neck, fluttering it around in his fingers. "This necklace of yours... It's beautiful. Silver?"

    "I-It is. Argentium silver, in fact. It was a gift from someone who was very special to me."

    He smiled and looked back at Summers. "One of them, huh?" He turned back to the two girls and circled them again, as if he were ready to give them a military-style dressing down. "Now, I get the feeling that you two aren't actually lost. It's very difficult -- not to mention dangerous -- to get lost in this village. Tell me why you're really here."

    Andrea took the opportunity to answer. "I'm a researcher with the Reiland Institute passing through the area. I was hoping to see if I could visit the Oak to gather some research materials, and the honest truth is that we did lose the trail on our way here. We weren't trying to break and enter."

    He thought her answer over, nodding slightly as he did so. "The Reiland Institute, huh? You're a long way from home. I'll need to see some ID."

    "Uh oh..." she thought as she dug through her purse. "My expired student ID..." She handed it over, ready to explain why her ID was expired and why she hadn't gotten a new one. As he looked it over, the thought buzzed in her mind: the ID wouldn't be enough to prove that she was an employee of the Reiland Institute, so she unlatched her R-Kit from her wrist and offered it over as well.

    He accepted the R-Kit and studied it inquisitively. "What's this?"

    "It's an R-Kit, Dr. Reiland gives them out to all of her staff. Check the personal information section on there."

    Catrianna Corporation R-Kit Firmware v0.87a
    Contract: The Reiland Institute, Loch Alstan, Lanark
    Registered: Dennison, Andrea; Junior Researcher

    "Hmm." He handed the R-Kit back, grabbing his own touch screen device from a satchel at his waist. He tapped on the screen, taking care not to allow either Andrea or Kimberly to see what he was doing. "Here you are: Andrea Dennison, a recently hired analyst with the Reiland Institute. Twenty years old, 5'3" tall, 163 lbs..." he paused as he looked deep into her eyes and nodded. "Blue eyes. Naturally brown hair, but often dyed blonde. You were born in the city of Azure Ridge on Storm Island to Marvin Dennison and Meredith Kalinzki... Well, your identity matches your physical description." He handed her ID back and turned to Kimberly. "And you, young lady?"

    Kimberly presented him with her Rose League Trainer Identification card. "Kimberly Fairbrooke, sir. I am merely her recent travel partner."

    He took the card and looked it over. "Kimberly Fairbrooke, huh? You're Richard's daughter, aren't you?"

    She nodded. "I am, yes. Do you know him?"

    He shook his head. "Not so much anymore... Your father and I used to go to school together. How's he doing?"

    "I couldn't say, unfortunately. He's a very busy man, and I've been out of the country for nearly half a year."

    "Ah. Hope he's well, he was a good man when I knew him." As he did with Andrea, he tapped on his screen a few times and brought up information on Kimberly. "Kimberly Fairbrooke, an unemployed heiress. Twenty-two years old, 5'0" tall, 91 lbs. Brown hair with violet eyes. Born --"

    Andrea interrupted. "How do you know so much about us?"

    He paused for a moment. "You'll sleep better at night if I don't tell you."

    "Ugh. The surveillance state strikes again, huh?" His refusal to answer was all she needed to confirm her suspicions.

    "Right, you two look pretty harmless, but I'm going to have to ask you to turn back and be on your way. My men and I are under strict orders from King George himself to guard the Oak. If the Reiland Institute wants access to the Oak, they will have to speak with him directly."

    "Which means it's never going to happen," she surmised.

    He nodded. "Precisely."

    "May I at least ask why the Oak is closed to the public and being guarded so heavily? I've heard rumors that the Oak is dying."

    "A very persistent rumor put forth by the scum of society... The reason the public is barred from approaching the Oak is classified information. I can't share it."

    She grumbled at the stonewalling but knew she wasn't going to break through. "Fine. We're leaving."

    As Andrea and Kimberly disappeared into the darkness, Summers crossed his arms. "You're absolutely certain that she isn't one of them? She looks awfully similar to the woman we've been asked to look for."

    The guard commander nodded. "I am. That silver necklace of hers was a dead give away."

    "Silver... right. My apologies, sir, I should have spotted that sooner."

    "Mistakes happen, Summers, but I think I'll put you in for more training, there's a lot at stake here. But for now, return to your post and let me know if you see anything else."

    He saluted. "Sir, yes sir!"
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  4. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 14: The Spritewood


    For he is a man both smart and bold, clad in silk robes of crimson and gold. Yet make no mistake, trust him not an ounce, or your life... he will take.
    ~ Excerpt from The Son of The Woods, published 1672

    - - - - -​

    Coastal plains gave way to thick forest as the two continued south along the Rosencoast. As the forest canopy grew thicker around them, they took one last opportunity to stop and have a look at the Oak of Ages, the towering and mysterious guardian of the Westcountry. Both lamented that they weren't able to get a closer look at it, but both realized that it was time to move on. Andrea had more pressing matters to attend to in the sleepy rural village of Doranshire, while Kimberly was intent on keeping to her scheduled appointment in the nearby seaside town of Rustlode Bluffs.

    It wasn't long before they came across the Coedwfynn River, a peculiar waterway that split the forest in two; across the river was the most peculiar looking forest, its canopy awash in colors of gold, pink, purple and red. The bark of the trees was white and silver in color, notched with black spots, stripes and knots. Every now and then, in the far distance, a glimmering light would flash somewhere amongst the tree trunks, then fade quickly.

    "Hey, wait a minute, is this the Spritewood I've heard so much about?" Andrea asked.

    "It is. It's very beautiful, especially in late summer when the leaves have finished growing." Kimberly explained. "I think you'll like it here, it's very relaxing and peaceful."

    Andrea marvelled at the trees. "I could get used to this... It's like it's autumn, except the weather doesn't suck."

    The followed the trail along the banks of the Coedwfynn until they reached the crossing, and ornately carved bridge that almost seemed suspiciously out of place. In the middle of nowhere, nearly two hours away from the village behind them, sat the most beautifully crafted bridge that Andrea had ever seen; the support pillars along the sides were delicately engraved with intricate celtic knot designs, while the planks that made up the walkway were fashioned out of twisted, polished tree roots. Hanging from the central arch on the bridge was an old faded sign.

    "Never thought I'd say it, but I want to hear the story behind this bridge," she commented.

    Kimberly giggled. "I don't believe there is one. If there is, I haven't heard it."

    As they crossed the bridge, they got a glimpse of what was on the sign:

    Now entering the Spritewood

    Yonder this point lie the Spritewood,
    Home to the spirits of good!
    Bring peace and harmony with you,
    Or fortune will bid you adieu!

    "Well, that confirms it. How about the forest, does it have a story?" she wondered aloud.

    "Many. I don't know how true they are, but when I was a young girl, I'd often read folk tales and stories centered around this forest. Legend tells of the fairies..." Kimberly said, her eyes glistening with child-like wonder.

    "Fairies? You mean like Jigglypuff and Clefairy?"

    "No, actually! Little magical people with wings supposedly live in this area, but they haven't been seen for some time."

    She rolled her eyes at the suggestion. "C'mon, don't tell me you actually believe that sh -- that stuff."

    "Not particularly, I must admit. I've been to this forest many times and I've yet to see a fairy with my own eyes. But why would such stories be made up if they weren't true?"

    "Tourism? To scare the nearby children?" she suggested.

    "But fairies aren't scary!" Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.

    "They also aren't real."

    Kimberly attempted at length to explain the local folklore about fairies, but Andrea clearly wasn't interested; her nose was buried in her phone, responding to some messages she'd received earlier in the morning. Realizing that she wasn't being paid any attention, Kimberly gave up and muttered quietly, "Fine. Live life without any wonder in your heart..."

    Andrea ignored the snide comment and focused on her text messages.

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:07 AM
    'Just had a look at the photos you sent me. Interesting! Don't recognize those pictograms at all. I've forwarded your findings to someone who might know more. You're very proactive, keep up the good work!'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 1:12 PM
    'good to hear!'
    'im trying my best to impress you guys'
    'i promise ill have something to show you when i get back too'

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 1:16 PM
    'Oh yeah?'

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 1:17 PM
    hoping itll blow your mind'

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 1:17 PM
    'You're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting, are you?'

    She groaned loudly as she read his last message. "What is with this guy?" She couldn't tell if he was joking, but she realized it didn't matter; it wasn't something he should joke about in the first place. She wanted to respond angrily, but felt it was best to just let it slide until she calmed down a bit. The last thing she wanted was to fall into some sort of trap, or 'confirm' his joke with an angry defense. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to be calm about it; thinking about it only stewed her resentment.

    Kimberly could see her friend coming to a boil and was curious about why. "Is something the matter, friend?"

    She snapped back into reality. "Hunh? Oh, no, it's just my supervisor. I told him I wanted to show him something when I got back to the office and now he thinks I'm going to flash him my tits."

    A mischievous smirk appeared on Kimberly's face. "You're not going to, are you?"

    "No!" she protested loudly, prompting a giggle from her friend. "Ugh! Can we not talk about this?!"

    "We could talk about fairies again," Kimberly jokingly suggested, but it only resulted in a frustrated groan. "I have an idea. You said you're a biological researcher, correct?"


    "Do you happen to have a Pokédex? Something in this forest may interest you. It certainly interests me."

    "If it's your stupid fairies --"

    "It's not, I assure you."

    Andrea pulled her sleeve back and raised her hand to head height, showing off her R-Kit. "I don't have a Pokédex, but I've got this. It's actually so much better. My boss said that these things are likely to replace those old things in the near future, once all of the design bugs are worked out of them."

    Kimberly narrowed her eyes as she glanced at the R-Kit. "That? All this time, I thought it was some fancy smart watch."

    "Heh, well... I usually use it as a watch."

    "Can you do a search for a Pokémon by the name of Eevee?"

    "Eevee, huh? Yeah." she answered with a nod. She tapped on the screen of her R-Kit, but it wasn't responding; rather, the screen was a garbled mess of static and junk pixels with no pattern to them. She fruitlessly tapped on the screen a few more times, then unstrapped it from her wrist and gave it a customary violent shake, all to no avail. "Uhh... maybe I can't. This thing seems to be a little bit broken."

    "Reliable," Kimberly sneered.

    "It usually is! Maybe I need to reset it somehow..." She held down the power button on the backside of it and waited a few seconds, then turned it back on. When it had finished its restart process, it showed the same jumbled garbage on the screen. "Fuck... This... isn't good."

    "In any case, do you happen to know that this is one of Eevee's few natural habitats?"

    "I do! They're not a common sight, as far as I'm aware."

    "They're not. But when I was in this area with my friend Nicole last year, we had the fortune of spotting one! I tried to capture it, but I... I was less than successful..."

    "Hey, maybe we'll find one and you can have another shot at it," she idly said as she strapped her R-Kit back to her wrist.

    Excitement welled within Kimberly. "Yes! That's my hope! However, they're quite elusive creatures... we may not be lucky enough to find one."

    "I remember when I was studying the concepts behind conservation efforts, Eevee came up as an example of something that's considered 'near-threatened' in the wild, but thriving in captivity. Maybe you could arrange with a breeder to buy one? It'd be better than just plucking one out of the wild, even if it's not illegal."

    "It has crossed my mind to just buy one... But they're quite expensive, even for me."

    "How expensive, exactly?"

    Kimberly dug through the depths of her memory to come up with a number. "It's been about nine months since I last checked, but I recall the price being somewhere around 740 golden roses."

    She blinked at the thought. "S-seven hundred... Is that a serious number?"

    Kimberly nodded.

    "That sums up my student loan debt and then some, and I was told I wasn't going to pay that off for at least 30 years... How can people justify spending that much money on a Pokémon?!"

    "Not to mention the waiting lists."

    "I guess that's why you hope to just catch one."

    Kimberly nodded. "My only worry is finding one..."

    She paused to think about the situation. "Hey, when we get to Doranshire, you can come back and look for one! I don't think I'll need you by my side once I make it to town."

    "Me? Alone?" Kimberly asked, then shook her head. "That won't work. I... It just wouldn't work."

    Kimberly's vagueness perplexed her, but she didn't want to push the subject; the tone with which she spoke and her choice of words told Andrea that she was embarrassed about something, possibly a fear of being alone. "There might be someone in town who can help you, then. I wouldn't mind doing it myself, but... I've got work to do, unfortunately."

    "If we don't find one by the time we reach town, there is always another time. I'm still young!"

    - - - - -​

    Before long, they found themselves shrouded entirely within the Spritewood, far inland from the coastline that they had followed since they left the city of Aughrim. Sunlight bled through the golden and pastel-colored foliage, bathing the area in a warm glow, but a deceptive one. A crisp and chilling breeze blew across the forest floor, which caught the two off guard: both had dressed lightly, on the expectation that it would be warm. They both wondered why it was chillier than they had planned, as the morning weather forecast had called for temperatures to linger around 21°C. Andrea instinctively looked to her R-Kit for an explanation, only to be disappointed when she realized it wasn't working.

    The two began to brainstorm some reasons for the sudden change in temperature. Kimberly jokingly suggested that it was the work of the fairies that supposedly lived in the forest, bringing the area to a temperature of their liking. Upon receiving a snide remark about it, she theorized that perhaps a certain species of Pokémon that is often associated with the cold, such as Swinub, had been through the area recently. Once again, Andrea shot down the idea, but was civil about it this time; she simply explained that Pokémon such as Swinub do indeed have the ability to manipulate the air temperature around them, but not to the degree that they can change the local weather.

    Andrea had her own ideas. Based on her shaky geographical knowledge of Lanark's Westcountry and its neighboring heartlands, she pointed out that the oft-snowcapped Sonetta Mountain was to their east, and that chilly mountain air was being pushed downward and out to sea. Another theory was simply that the weather forecaster was wrong, as they have a tendency to be in the late months of spring. The two debated so energetically that they almost started shouting at each other and decided that it was best to remain quiet for awhile.

    All along the way, they continued to watch for signs of an Eevee. They found little to go on, but something else caught their attention instead: the flickering orbs of light that they had seen amongst the trees before they crossed the Coedwfynn were becoming a common sight. Andrea gingerly approached one of the trees to get a closer look at the mysterious orbs; it didn't react to her presence at all and instead continued to gently bob up and down as it circled the tree. Once again, disappointment filled her as she raised her R-Kit to scan the anomaly, only to find that, to no surprise, it still wasn't working. To stop herself from trying again, she unstrapped it from her wrist and placed it into her purse.

    "You've been to this forest before. Any idea what these things are?" she asked.

    Kimberly shook her head. "I haven't the foggiest idea. When I was last in Doranshire, an elderly woman told me that these are the spirits of the town's ancestors, but I'm not sure I'm ready to believe something like that."

    "You sure it's not one of your fairies?"

    "I understand if you don't appreciate the majesty of the unknown," Kimberly said with frustration. "But you don't have to be so difficult about it."

    She got the sense that her partner was rapidly growing impatient with her. "I'm not being difficult, it's merely a joke. But if it bothers you, I'll stop." She looked back up at the orb of light as it gently danced around the tree above her; after a few moments, the orb flashed with a bright light and evaporated into nothingness, leaving nothing but a faint shower of blue sparkles. "Maybe we can come back out here sometime. When my R-Kit is fixed, I'm definitely getting a closer look at these things, because I want to know what they are. We can hunt for your Eevee, then, too!"

    "Are you thinking that these lights may be related to your work in Doranshire?"

    She shrugged. "Who's to say? Dr. Reiland told me about people seeing lights in the forest. I see lights in the forest right now."

    "Sounds like you've found your first lead!"

    "Whatever the case, we should focus on getting to town. I'll feel much better knowing I have someplace safe to work from."

    - - - - -​

    Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

    That had been the march for nearly six uninterrupted hours, and yet the two were still deep within the Spritewood with no sign that they might be close to reaching the village of Doranshire. Exhaustion was beginning to take root within Andrea's sore legs and she pleaded for a bit of rest. She found a nice, large boulder to take a break on and breathed a sigh of relief when her feet left the soft earthen trail. "Man, I'm out of shape. I could do this last summer, no problem..."

    Kimberly pointed out the low-hanging sun that hid among the trees behind them. "Your fancy watch... It's capable of navigation, correct?"

    She shook her head as she reached into her stocking and grabbed her phone. "If the damn thing worked. I've got a map on my phone, at least."

    "Can it tell us how far away we are from Doranshire? We're going to run out of sunlight before we reach the village."

    Andrea turned around and located the sun amongst the trees. "Shit..." she muttered softly. "Yeah, give me a second." She opened the map on her phone and plotted a course from their current location to their destination. After a few seconds of the app analyzing the most efficient trails to take, her heart dropped. They had only made it about half way.

    "How far?" Kimberly asked.

    "Uhh... eight hours?" she sheepishly said, with a tone of panic in her voice. "This isn't good... I don't know anything about wilderness survival besides 'don't die'."

    "I did figure that, based on how... lightly you've been travelling..." Kimberly commented.

    "Why didn't you tell me this was going to take more than a day?!" she shouted.

    "I did try to, but you --"

    "What are we going to do?!" she asked. "I-I can't start a fire, or-or-or create a shelter! I don't know how to--" A faint Pokémon call echoed through the forest, causing her to spin around rapidly. "What was that?!"

    Kimberly approached gingerly and grabbed ahold of her to calm her down. "Try to relax. I know enough to get us through the night, but I'll need your help."

    Her eyes met with Kimberly's and she began to feel at ease. She never imagined that such a posh, spoiled and likely sheltered girl could know anything about surviving the wilds, but the more she thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed. Most of her stories over the past couple of days were about her travels with her childhood friend in the previous year; while it was likely that her friend did most of the hard work, surely this girl must have learned something from watching. She took a deep breath to steady herself and nodded.

    "Thank you. Let us start by finding a place to set up our camp. Quickly now, we don't have much time."

    The two started their search by wandering off of the established trail. Kimberly explained a good spot to look for: flat, near a shady tree, and if possible, in an area without a lot of underbrush. Proximity to the Coedwfynn would be a bonus, but wasn't a necessity. It didn't take them long to find such a spot, and the two made some initial preparations for their campsite by flattening the grass around them and setting up a small circle of stones for their fire pit.

    Next came the problem of the campfire. Unfortunately for them, it was unseasonably chilly in the area, but on the bright side, it hadn't rained in recent days. Kimberly told Andrea to look for a few pieces of dry, fallen wood, ranging in size from small to large. "Don't stray too far, we don't know what's out there. I want to be able to see you at all times."

    While her friend made some further adjustments to the campsite, Andrea started her search. There were lots of broken branches littered across the forest floor, and the possible reason for there being so many both intrigued and haunted her. It was most likely a wind storm that had knocked these branches to the floor, but the possibility of a large species of Pokémon being in the area crossed her mind. As she continued her gathering, she tried to put the thoughts out of mind, as they would only serve to distract her. After a circular sweep around the campsite, she returned with what she could find.

    "That should do," Kimberly said. "Do you know how to actually start a fire?"

    "I've seen it in the movies, at least. With a couple sticks and a shoelace..." she started, lifting her left foot up. "Unfortunately, my boots are buckled, and your... are those high heeled sandals?! How did I only just notice that?"

    "They are not ideal for travel, I admit, but they are all I have at the moment," Kimberly answered with a laugh. "Don't worry about the fire, I can take care of that." She reached down towards the ribbon that dangled from her hips and grabbed Telandra's decorative Feline Ball, then dropped it to the floor. With a bright flash of light, Telandra appeared in a puff of cartoon-like stars.

    Andrea was confused. "How is a Skitty going to get a fire started for us?"

    Kimberly knelt down beside Telandra and pointed at the pile of kindling. "We need fire, Telandra. Can you help us?" She stood back up and placed her arm in front of Andrea, guiding her backwards a few steps.

    Telandra arched her back and growled. Sparks danced all throughout her bristling fur, and with a bright flash of light, a bolt of lightning arced between her and the pile of kindling. Smoke billowed from the sticks and a glowing, orange ember flickered at the bottom.

    Andrea shook her head in disbelief and blinked a few times. "That's... rather fortunate for us, I suppose..." she started. "But you're going to have to tell me one of these days how your Skitty can do something like that."

    Kimberly dropped her backpack to the ground and took a seat beside the growing fire. Telandra instantly claimed her lap and curled up on it. "What do you mean?"

    Andrea took a seat near the fire as well. "When I was working on my biology degree, we covered the capabilities of different Pokémon in very deep detail. Skitty is an example of a Pokémon that doesn't... doesn't really..." She began to stumble with her words as she tried to explain it. "Take Charmander for example. Everyone knows that it breathes fire. What is Skitty known for? Clawing and biting people. What I want to know is... how is yours able to control forces such as ice and lightning?"

    Kimberly tried to think of an explanation, but couldn't. "You're the one with a scientific background. If anyone should know, it should be you."

    "Unfortunately, it's beyond me," she said. "I've heard of Pokémon displaying remarkable abilities that they shouldn't have, but there has never been any actual scientific research on the subject. It's always been relegated to folklore."

    "No research? Why not?"

    "There hasn't been an opportunity. In the past hundred years, there were only two or three recorded instances of this that I've read about, and none of them could be verified. Your Skitty could be the first --"

    Kimberly raised her finger to stop her friend. "If you're suggesting you'd like to take my Telandra back to your lab and experiment on her, you can forget it. I swore to protect her, just as she protects me."

    "No! That's not what I was suggesting! That would only take a few days to do, most likely, but I don't want to take her from you." she explained. "It's just... maybe I'll keep my mouth shut, it seems I've been making you angry all day."

    "I know you don't mean anything bad by it all, but perhaps we can save this discussion for later," Kimberly said with a yawn. "I am growing a wee bit tired and it would be wise to get an early start tomorrow. I think it's time for bed."

    She nodded. "Good idea."
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I think I can see why you're not too happy with the Oak of Ages chapter; it feels a little bitty, and the middle part is kind of a transparent excuse to track how the history of Lanark's world has diverged from (or stayed the same as) that of our own. Which, these are fun details (this fic is always great for fun details), but they're kinda disconnected from the narrative – like, I'm not entirely sure what the relevance of them to the story you are telling might be. Of more interest is the part at the end, where it becomes clear that something is amiss in Lanark, and that that something bears an unfortunate resemblance to Andrea. Given Andrea's consistent misjudging of situations and general difficulty meeting other people halfway in conversation, I can definitely foresee that becoming something of an issue as the story develops!

    I like the kind of … sorta nonchalant, sorta outraged emotion that the evidence of widespread state surveillance elicits; that feels very real. The guards are maybe a bit less convincing, though; they say things like 'rumours put forth by the scum of society', which stands in stark contrast to the much more lively and realistic dialogue that characterises the rest of the cast.

    Anyway, the Spritewood chapter is a lot more successful, I think! It struck me as slightly odd that Kimberly didn't try harder to tell Andrea this was going to be an overnight trip – she's definitely proven herself capable of being as forceful as Andrea when she wants to be – and also that she started that conversation by asking how long it would be till they reached the village as if she didn't know it herself, but maybe she was trying to ease into the conversation in a diplomatic sort of way? Anyway, these things aside, it holds together as a narrative much more than the Oak of Ages chapter does. And there are lots of those excellent little details, too! It seems like TMs aren't a thing in this world, with Telandra's ability to manipulate electricity coming as a surprise; at the same time, though, it's clear that humankind's long association with pokémon has left people aware that pokémon can end up with unexpected moves, even if they don't understand why. I guess serious move research must be in its infancy if it hasn't yet grasped that there's a kernel of truth to these old wives' tales. I wonder how it happened that it took off so late?

    Anyway, here are a few notes I made as I read through:

    Interesting! A motel is a very American thing; it seems a bit out of place in such an obviously British Isles-inspired setting. They don't really exist here.

    Possibly “Aaagh!” and 'She grumbled' are actually meant to be two different sentences here, but if they're not, then 'she' shouldn't be capitalised.

    This reads a little weirdly – I think because it would be natural to say that she muttered it quietly, or that she muttered it under her breath, but the redundancy in using both descriptions seems weird.

    This seems like it'd be pretty easy to tell with modern technology/understanding of plant classification, honestly; either it's an anomalous specimen of a regular species of oak, or it's its own thing.

    This sentence only needs one 'both'; either one could be removed and leave it reading more naturally.

    Having both 'these things' and 'those things' so close to each other in the same sentence is a bit jarring.
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  6. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Sorry for the length between updates! This is a chapter that I wanted to touch up on but I've been quite busy over the month... Unfortunately, I didn't even have much to alter, so I feel even worse about it. Oh well, on with the show! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 15: Darkest Night


    Indeed, this is a world filled with unimaginable wonder... but it is also a world filled with terrors that would shake your soul.
    ~ Dr. Robert DeLance, Académie d'Archéologie d'Illumis

    - - - - -​

    The crackling sound of a dying campfire was all that could be heard in the silence of the darkened forest. Flickering flames lashed out at the sky and glowing sparks showered down to the ground with every pop of the wood. The warmth the fire provided against the chilly backdrop was immensely comforting, but Andrea couldn't enjoy that comfort in peace; swatting away at the growing cloud of gnats and flies, she figured that the fire attracted the attention of just about every insect in the entirety of Ardaigh County. She lamented the fact that she hadn't brought a can of bug spray with her, and further chastised herself for being wholly unprepared for a night in the wild.

    She was having difficulty sleeping thanks to the horde of insects, but that wasn't the only reason. Due to her lack of preparation, she could only rely on her backpack for use as a pillow, and it was woefully inadequate. She'd tried numerous positions, but nothing felt right.

    Several minutes passed by in relative silence until a faint sound came from somewhere in the forest: the slow and repetitive sound of old crunchy leaves crushing underfoot and the snapping of fallen branches. A deep, guttural moaning followed afterward. Andrea opened her eyes and cautiously peered out into the darkness, but she couldn't see anything. She figured that it was just the stress of her first impromptu camping experience getting to her, so she closed her eyes once more.


    The sound presented itself again, and as before, deep moaning accompanied the sound of the snapping branches.


    This time, Andrea sat up to look around, but it did little to help the fact that the forest was too dark to see anything. "H-hello?" she sheepishly called out.

    No response. Just a dark, empty and silent forest; nothing more.

    She reached for her purse and opened it, then grabbed her R-Kit from within. On the faint hope that the problems it was having earlier would have resolved themselves, she turned the screen on to check. Unfortunately, it was just as useless as before, if not more so; the screen flickered as if there were a power surge within the inner circuitry of the device.


    Her nerves were beginning to shake and she worried the camp was about to be attacked by something. She crawled over to Kimberly's side of the camp as fast as she could, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her violently. "Kim?! Kim, wake up!"

    Kimberly stirred in her sleep and opened her eyes. "Huh? Nicole?" she asked, tilting her head to the side in thought. Her words were slurred with exhaustion. "Wha' 's it you want."

    "There's something growling out in the forest, and I don't know what it is!" she said as her head darted around like a paranoid drug addict.

    Kimberly sat up and stretched. "What're you talking about..." she groaned, with a tinge of annoyance in her voice.

    "Listen carefully!"

    Kimberly let out a yawn as she tried her best to wake up; several moments passed in silence, and eventually, another branch snapped and echoed against the trees.

    "What the hell is that?"

    Kimberly dismissed her thoughts, based on nearly a year of practical prior experience. "Ugh, it's just some wildlife... and I've never known a wild Pokémon to approach a campfire." She laid back down and found a comfortable position again. "You have nothing to worry about, go back to bed."

    Andrea crawled back to her side of the camp and began to dig through her purse for her phone. "...nothing to worry about..." she muttered quietly. "...gonna get us killed..." As she did so, another deep, rumbling groan rang out from the darkness.

    This time, Kimberly heard it too and immediately sat up. "That's... that's no wildlife I've ever heard before." she coldly said. She reached down for the Master Ball that dangled from her hip and gripped it tightly.

    "Then what is it?"

    Kimberly shook her head. "I don't know, but I don't like it." She unlatched her Master Ball and tapped the button on the front of it; Juliano appeared with a burst of bubbles that glistened in the firelight. She rubbed her face deeply and blinked her eyes rapidly in an effort to heighten her senses. "Sorry for doubting you."

    As terrifying as the unknown sound was, it captivated Andrea's curiosity. While her practical knowledge of Pokémon calls was less than stellar, she was confident in Kimberly's assessment that whatever made the sound wasn't local to the forest. The question begged: What was it? Was it a threat at all? Could it be the mind blowing discovery she promised to deliver to Patrick? With Juliano by her side, she grew more confident. "Think we should check it out? Your Blastoise can keep us safe, right?"

    "Absolutely not," Kimberly adamantly stated. "We should stay by the fire. It's safer here and we can actually see what we're doing."

    "That's probably a good idea..." she concluded. "You're certain you don't know what's making that noise?"

    "Yes. I've never heard a sound like that in my life."

    "Great..." She shook her head as she thought of what to do. She thought that Dr. Reiland might have some valuable advice, but plans to call her were immediately dashed since it was quite late at night. She defaulted to Patrick as her next choice. As she dialed his number, more branches snapped in the distance, followed by another deep and drone-like groan. Her heartbeat quickened and she waited impatiently for an answer.

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

    "Hey, Patrick?" she asked.

    "That's me. Who is this?"

    "It's Andrea, your new employee."

    "Oh! Right, yeah. Still getting used to your voice." he said. "Why are you calling this late? It's a bit late to discuss work, so... You were actually serious ear--"

    "Now is not the time!" she snapped while whispering to keep her voice down. "I need some help."

    "Sure, what can I do for you?"

    "I'm camped out in the middle of a forest called the Spritewood... I need some information about it. I'm hearing some pretty scary sounds out here." she said.

    "You do remember that you can find information pretty easily with your R-Kit, right?" he asked. "I'm sure whatever you need can be found with it."

    "It's not working! The screen is flickering and none of the buttons are doing anything!" Another branch snapped in the distance, this time much louder than before. A gurgling moan followed soon after. "Just help me, please. I need to know if there have been any strange sightings in the forest."

    "Yeah, yeah, give me a minute," he said. There was a long pause in the conversation. "What do you need? I need to know what to look for."

    She watched as Juliano approached the edge of the camp, inching closer to where the sounds had been originating from. "There's something stalking our camp, and it doesn't sound friendly... Sounds like what you'd hear in a vampire movie out there... The girl I'm with is convinced that it's not the local wildlife, and I'm not either. I need to know if anything strange has been sighted in the forest recently."

    "Let's see... Strange sightings... Spritewood..." Another long pause. "Nope, nothing out of the ordinary in any of the news publications. The wildlife you'd be encountering out there is mostly birds... You know, Pidgeys, Hoot-Hoots, Taillows. Mammals are common too, such as Stantler, Eevee, Sentret, Cubone... There's not much else out there."

    "And none of those make moaning sounds like what I'm hearing..." she mumbled.

    "That girl you're with, she's a Pokémon trainer, right?"

    "She is."

    "What's she got with her?"

    "A Blastoise."

    "A Blastoise? Yeah, I think you'll be fine then, but do be careful. Call me when you get to town and we'll look into getting your R-Kit fixed then."

    "Can't we do it now?" she asked. Another chilling moan echoed through the forest. "I'd really like to know what the **** I'm up against."

    "I'd like to help, but it's a lengthy process and you don't have the tools on hand," he said. He could almost sense that his words did little to comfort her, so he added, "If you happen to find whatever is making your mystery noise, document it the old fashioned way. You're perfectly capable of doing that."

    She sighed.

    "Anything else I can help with?"

    "No, that's all."

    "Stay safe out there. Get in touch soon." The phone clicked and the call ended.

    She lowered her phone into her lap. "Well! He was no help." She stood up and gingerly approached the edge of the camp, then strained to see through the darkness around her, but the lack of ambient light made it impossible to see anything. "What are you..." she whispered.

    The gurgling moan returned, this time ending with a gravelly howl. For a few seconds, the forest was deathly silent, silence that was broken with a very loud cracking noise. Before she knew it, her left leg had buckled under her and sent her tumbling to the forest floor. Sharp pain coursed throughout her lower body in radiating waves, centering around her inner thigh.

    "Aghh!" she shouted. "The ****?!"

    Her painful shout prompted quick action from Kimberly, who rushed over to help her back to her feet. Another loud crack echoed through the forest and the sound of a fast moving projectile whizzed past their heads, ricocheting off of the tree behind them.

    She instinctively pointed out a large tree just a few feet away. "Quick, we need to get behind that tree!" she shouted. "Go, now!" She nearly threw up from the pain of rushing on an injured leg and collapsed behind the tree as soon as she arrived.

    Kimberly called on Juliano to position himself beside them and he charged over as fast as he could; he stood firm next to the tree they had sheltered behind and turned his hardened shell towards the source of the gurgling noise. More projectiles bounced off of his shell, with another making a satisfying ringing sound as it pinged off of one of his steel cannons.

    Though she couldn't see it, Andrea felt a deep cut about halfway up her right thigh as she felt around in the darkness. When she pulled her hand back, she found that it was covered in blood. "Ffffff--fudge!" she struggled to squeeze out. "Ahhh... we gotta get out of here..."

    Kimberly caught a faint glimpse Andrea's bloodied hand and took a brief moment to formulate a plan. "No. We have to stand our ground against whatever is out there. You're in no condition to go anywhere!"

    She compressed her wound as best as she could, shaking from the pain. "You sure you and your... ahhh... your Blastoise can--"

    "Hush with those thoughts, friend, and let me take care of this," Kimberly said. She noticed Andrea's heavy shaking and grabbed her by the shoulder. "Come now! Try to keep your breathing steady! That'll help with the pain."

    "Don't think it will," she sputtered.

    Kimberly stood up and looked towards her Blastoise; their eyes met and they both nodded at each other. "Shield me, Juliano, I need to grab something." She set off towards her side of the camp and he matched her movements almost perfectly, protecting her from any potential attack as she made her way towards her suitcase. She reached down and opened the suitcase, then frantically raked away at the contents until she found what she was looking for: a box of first aid supplies. She knew it likely wouldn't be enough to fix up her friend, but it would have to do given the circumstances.

    As they rushed back to the tree, another projectile shot out from the darkness, but was no match for Juliano's thick shell. He turned around and roared in the general direction that the projectiles came from, still making sure to shield his master from further attack.

    "Stay focused, Juliano, and don't leave our side!" she ordered as she knelt down and opened the first aid kit.

    He obeyed the order and took his position next to the tree, turning his shell back towards the source of the projectiles.

    She returned her attention to Andrea and rolled up the hem of her dress to get a closer look at the wound. Whatever had hit her sailed straight through and left a precise, almost surgical cut about half an inch deep into her skin. "Get ready, I'm about to apply some disinfectant." she said as she poured a bottle of clear liquid onto a small piece of cloth.

    As soon as the cloth made contact with her skin, Andrea jumped in pain. She tried as hard as she could to contain it, but a stream of vulgar obscenities and insults directed at Kimberly escaped from her mouth. Despite the outburst, she was grateful for the assistance. A thick layering of gauze was wrapped around her leg several times; a sloppy job, but Kimberly was far from an expert in first aid.

    She shook her head. "I did the best that I could, friend. We need to get you to a real doctor tomorrow."

    Andrea wasn't interested in the platitudes. Instead, a peculiar sound held her attention: the sound of nearby footfalls. "You hear that?" she asked as she struggled her way over towards Juliano's side. What she saw sent chills down her spine. "Uhmm?! What is THAT?!"

    A humanoid figure, roughly four feet tall, lumbered out of the shadows, dimly lit by the light of the campfire. The fragile-looking figure appeared to be constructed entirely out of old and mismatched bones. Where its arms should have been were two wickedly curved blades, fashioned out of sharpened bits of bone, all held together by a twisting network of glowing purple tendrils. Bits of dead flesh hung from the joints in the creature's frame, and the stench of decay that lingered in its wake was ferocious and overpowering.

    Kimberly shrieked in horror as her eyes met the gruesome creature's figure and toppled over like a tree in the wind, fainting before she even hit the forest floor.

    The creature's crooked jaw hinged open and it let out a shrill screeching sound, then leapt through the air with surprising agility. Juliano responded with his own uncharacteristic burst of speed and placed himself between the bone creature and its target, his incapacitated master. The abhorrent creature landed on his back and raised its scythe-like arms, then let loose a barrage of quick and wild strikes. The creature's attacks were completely ineffective as it slashed away at his hardened shell, and they did very little besides leave a few cosmetic scratches behind.

    Andrea fought against the pain to crawl over towards Kimberly, but it proved too much for her. "C'mon, c'mon... gotta... gotta get her outta here..." she wheezed. Even through a surge of adrenaline, the agony was simply too much to bear and she flopped onto the ground in defeat.

    Juliano tried as hard as he could to reach the creature, but his stubby arms couldn't reach behind his head. Instead, he went with the next best plan: with the creature still flailing wildly on his back, he dropped to all fours and blitzed forward towards a tree about ten meters in front of him. With a running leap, he spun around in mid air and slammed into the tree at full force, dashing the creature to pieces. The faint purple light that glimmered on the tendrils that held the creature together flashed brightly before fading altogether. With the threat of the strange creature taken care of, he let out a breath of relief, then hurried to his master's side to check on her.

    "I get the feeling that... aaah, my god damn leg!" Andrea shouted. She tried to mentally block out the pain and found moderate success after a few moments. "H-How is she?" She watched as Juliano picked Kimberly up and brought her over to the campfire, and she felt an immense sense of relief wash over her; she could see no sign of injury on her new friend, save for a minor scrape on her arm that may very well have been there the whole time.

    She tried to crawl back to her side of the camp but had difficulty fighting the pain. After a few moments of struggling to drag herself back to the comfort of the campfire, she called out, "Can I get a little help here?" The Blastoise looked over at her for a moment before finally walking over to her. She winced with pain as Juliano picked her up off of the forest floor. "Over there, by my backpack, please."

    She looked back at the tree that Juliano had smashed the creature into it and saw that it was still splattered with a chunk of decaying flesh. A bone fragment hung loosely from it, attached by one of the tendrils that bound the creature together. "What the hell do you think that thing was?" she asked of him. "I've never seen anything like it, never heard of anything like it in all of my studies..."

    Juliano could do little more than shrug. He, too, had never experienced anything similar.

    "Think there's more of those things out there?"

    Again, all he did was shrug.

    She let out a deep breath as she rested her head on her backpack. Thoughts began to race through her mind: What was that hideous abomination? Where did it come from? Years of study had hinted at nothing like the broken heap of flesh, and none of her professors, textbooks or independent reading spoke of such a thing. The closest thing that came to mind, outside of fictional writing about the walking dead, was a peculiar and little-known species by the name of Duskull, but that clearly wasn't a Duskull. Whatever it was would have been of great interest at the Reiland Institute, and she remembered what Patrick had said:

    Document it the old fashioned way. You're perfectly capable of doing that.

    Unfortunately, any documentation would have to wait. She was worried about the injury she received and how severe it could be. The amount of blood that was still on her hand despite dragging herself across the forest floor was alarming and she worried about the possibility of bleeding out. She gingerly ran her other hand along her leg, carefully dabbing away at the thickly-wrapped bandages. Thankfully, it appeared that the worst of the bleeding had stopped, but the thought did little to ease her pain.

    She did what she could to empty her mind of her thoughts; between the exhaustion of the day and the excitement of the past half hour, her mind was rapidly devolving into a torrent of confusing nonsense, and she knew it was a waste of effort to try to form any conclusions about what she saw. Instead, she closed her eyes and hoped that she might fall asleep until she eventually did.​
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Sorry it's taken me so long to get to this! Man, between there being fewer threads displayed per page and more activity than before, fics keep vanishing off the front page before I've realised they even updated. Glad I thought to check on this one, or I'd have missed quite an interesting chapter, huh! Our spooky forest interlude gets a whole lot spookier here; Dr. Reiland did promise ghosts, and ghosts, it seems, we have received. Which is excellent. I always find ghost-types have a lot of potential when you translate them into a fic setting, and I'm looking forward to delving deeper into this mystery as Andrea and Kimberly try to investigate.

    And yours is an interesting ghost. This chapter twists around a lot; I found myself constantly being surprised. Like I guess I'd kinda thought that we were so deep in horror territory that the phone wouldn't work, just like the R-kit, but then it did – and then Andrea got shot, which was absolutely not what I was expecting at all; there are plenty of missile-type pokémon moves, sure, but it seemed unusually physical. Something that'll be interesting to learn more about later on. Then we got a turn straight back to spookiness with the ghost – some kind of ghost-type puppeting stolen bones, perhaps? At any rate, it seems that Andrea isn't going to have to look very hard for clues about the supernatural stuff she came to investigate; it's pretty much come to her.

    Anyway, here are a few other little things I noted down as I read through:

    'Hoothoot' is one word, unhyphenated.

    This jump to Patrick's POV is a bit jarring – I feel like it might work better to stick with Andrea and say that she gets the impression that Patrick senses he isn't being much comfort.

    It seems weird to me that Andrea doesn't even wait to see if Kimberly's okay or anything – especially given that Kimberly just went to some trouble to help her out. Just ignoring your friend who passed out and trying to go to sleep is an odd thing to do.

    Anyway, this was certainly an exciting return to this fic! I'll have to try harder not to fall behind in future. Looking forward to the next chapter!
    Misfit Angel likes this.
  8. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Whoops, been awhile since I've been here. I've been hoping to get back to editing my chapters for posting here, but it's been a few tough/busy months for me. If the struggles persist, I'll just post my unedited, previously written chapters... even if that presents minor problems such as inconsistencies between my previous writing and the ongoing edits.

    When it comes to potential, I feel the same. Hopefully my current and future interpretations are up to the task of being interesting~

    Huh, so it is. Have I really gone nearly twenty years not realizing this?

    Ah good point. I believe when I originally wrote this chapter, it was before I standardized my approach to points of view as being locked to a chapter's focus character (indicated by the head on the map graphic). This must have slipped by the edits.

    Hmm, this is a good point. The "oh I can see she's okay from here" really doesn't cut it, does it
  9. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 16: Fact and Fiction

    With special thanks to Beth Pavell for giving me a few ideas


    Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

    Juliano's slow, rhythmic heartbeat was all that Kimberly could hear as she rested her head against his chest. The sound had been a constant for nearly six hours. Such a repetitive sound would drive most people mad, but it was the only thing keeping her sane. It distracted her from her thoughts, from the horrible sights and sounds of the previous night. Every time she closed her eyes, even briefly, she saw it: the eldritch, unexplainable creature, shambling out of the darkness and fixing its piercing, hollow eyes on her.

    Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

    She had been trying for hours to find a way to calm herself down. Her usual method of dealing with traumatic events was to meditate, but her mind was too foggy and too fatigued. Even hours later, she had a difficult time trying to steady her erratic breathing. The only thing that brought her peace were the dancing flames in the dying campfire and Juliano's steady heartbeat.

    Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

    There was movement from the other side of the camp: Andrea silently stirred in her sleep. With a stretch, a yawn and a groan, she struggled to push herself up off of the ground. She shielded her eyes from the light of the rising sun as she looked around. The first thing she did was grab for her phone and check the time: 7:17 AM.

    "Morning," Kimberly said.

    Andrea looked across the camp. "How are you feeling? You don't look so great."

    She lifted her head off of Juliano's chest. "You just answered your own question." she quietly said.

    Andrea nodded. "How'd you sleep?"

    She rested her head back on Juliano and searched for his heartbeat. "I didn't. I couldn't."

    "Yeah, I didn't sleep very well, either..." Andrea said as she leaned up against a nearby tree.

    "How is your leg?" she asked.

    Andrea rolled the hem of her dress upward and studied the bandage that was wrapped around her leg. It was now a deep burgundy in color and stiff as a board, but at least it was dry. She stood up and put her weight on the leg; it was nearly enough to send her crashing to the ground in agony, but she held the pain inside. "I-I'm fine. Fine to walk. That's what matters." she strained.

    "No, you're clearly not."

    Andrea stumbled against a tree. "Okay, you're right. But we can't stay here and wait for a rescue. I need to see a doctor, and sooner rather than later."

    "Juliano will carry you."

    A tempting offer, but she still had work to do. She did her best to fight the pain as she reached down into her backpack and grabbed a small notebook and pen, then began an agonizing journey across the camp to inspect the remains of the strange creature. With some sunlight, she could get a better look at it, but just the sight of it sent chills all throughout her body. "What the hell are you..." she whispered to herself as she covered her nose.

    "Do you have any idea what it is?" Kimberly called out.

    She knelt down and poked at the remains of the creature with her pen, pushing the bones about. She recognized the structure of most of the bones, and that worried her; no creature she had ever encountered or read about matched what she saw in the creature's skeletal structure. The physical arrangement of the bones simply made no sense. She used her phone to take some pictures of the mangled corpse.

    "No. Never seen anything like it, or even heard of anything like it." she answered. She took down some basic notes about the creature, or at least what little was left of it: size, body structure and the way it moved the previous night. "My best educated guess?" she started, then paused to think. She shook her head. "No. Nevermind. I've got nothing."

    Kimberly tapped on Juliano's chest and looked up at him. "Come, Juliano, let's get up."

    Juliano helped his fragile and shaky master to her feet, taking special care to make sure that she was capable of walking on her own. He knew that she was exhausted not just from the previous night, but from the full day of hiking beforehand. He offered his arms out to carry her, but she shook her head and declined. Instead, all she did was kick some dirt onto the dying embers of the campfire.

    "Are you ready to leave?"

    "Not yet," Andrea answered, scribbling down some quick notes. "I want to document this thing a little more."


    She began a very rough and poorly done drawing of the creature's 'head'. "Don't forget, I'm a biologist. This is my job, and this could be a big find... My colleagues back at the institute are going to want to hear about it. They probably won't believe me... hell, I don't believe it and I saw the damn thing. But if someone actually believes this and wants to investigate further, I want to give them as much information as I can."

    "It won't take long, will it? This place makes me feel uneasy..."

    "Yeah, I know what you mean... Judging by the fact that we weren't attacked again overnight, we're probably safe... but who really knows if another one of these things is out there... Give me ten more minutes, maybe?" she guessed, making a rough estimate based purely on nothing.

    "Do hurry, friend..." Kimberly said before putting as much distance as she could between herself and the battered remains of the creature.

    Several moments passed by as she tried to draw the creature from memory. It was clear that she wasn't an artist by any stretch of the definition; what appeared in her notebook looked very little like the creature as it truly was. The proportions were wrong, the overall body shape was misaligned, and her skills didn't allow for any finer details. She grew frustrated with what she saw and flipped her notebook closed.

    "As gross as it is..." she thought, grabbing one of the small bones and yanking it with enough force to break the tendril that bound it to the rest of the remains. "A physical sample might come in handy..." She emptied one of the pockets of her purse of its contents and slipped the bone fragment into it. "Now... to find someone who will believe me."

    "Right. I'm ready. Let's go."

    - - - - -​

    At first, she didn't want to admit it. She refused to admit it. Her injury, while painful, couldn't have been that bad, she thought. She spent the first few minutes of the second leg of their trip to the village at Doranshire muting the pain her onward march brought her. Kimberly, annoyed at the slow progress they had been making, made frequent offers for Juliano to simply carry her the rest of the way. Andrea stubbornly rejected the offer until it was no longer her choice; eventually, Juliano took it upon himself to lift her off of her feet.

    "I don't understand why you insist on tormenting yourself so much," Kimberly commented.

    Andrea sighed. "I don't, either... I guess I just don't want to look weak... I spent the last six months living that."

    "Accepting help when you need it isn't weakness, it's strength."

    "I know. I keep forgetting that."

    Her phone buzzed, indicating that a message had come in:

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:06 AM
    'Good god, what the hell are these pictures you sent me? Looks like a mangled corpse!'​

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:07 AM
    'no idea. never heard of or seen anything like it, was hoping you might know'​

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:07 AM
    'I couldn't say. I don't recognize that bone structure. Why are you sending me pictures of a long dead Pokémon anyways?'​

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:09 AM
    'because that thing attacked us last night and i want to know what it is!'​

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:12 AM
    'Attacked you? What are you talking about?'
    'You're not seriously suggesting that you were confronted by the walking dead, are you?'​

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:13 AM
    'im having trouble believing it too'​

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:14 AM
    'It's probably because you're making it up. There's never been any credible documentation of the dead coming back to life, and there never will be.'​

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:15 AM
    'so youre saying you dont believe me?'​

    Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:17 AM
    'Look, I get it. You're new, you're nervous, you want to prove yourself by discovering something interesting. That's cool. But... come on, you have to admit, it's a hard thing to believe.'
    'Until I physically see this thing walking around, I don't buy your story.'​

    She grumbled as she read the message, but she honestly wasn't surprised by his reaction. She had hoped that, as a man of science, he would keep an open mind. But he was right: a walking corpse was definitely difficult to believe. However, she still wanted someone to believe her story; rather than continue trying to convince him, she turned to someone else:

    Fr: Andrea Dennison, 9:19 AM
    'morning, dr reiland! have you had a chance to look over what I sent you?'​

    A few minutes went by as she patiently awaited a response from her boss. She didn't expect the silence of the forest to be shattered by her death metal ring tone, and it was even enough make the ever vigilant Juliano jump in shock; the caller ID indicated that it was Dr. Reiland.

    "Morning, doctor!" she answered.

    "Good morning! I hope that this is not a bad time for a conversation. These arthritic fingers of mine... I'm afraid they don't get along well with long text messages."

    "Oh! No! That's not a problem at all. I'm actually happy to talk. My travel companion here isn't very sociable."

    Kimberly looked back and glared at her for a moment before returning her attention to the road.

    "To answer your earlier question, yes, I did get a look at the photos you sent me. I'm not quite sure what to make of it... Perhaps you could explain to me what it is that you found?"

    "That's the thing... This is going to sound really hard to believe, but--"

    "Ooooh, I love conversations that begin this way!"

    Her boss' apparently enthusiasm put her at ease. "Umm, well. I'm not sure that makes it any easier to explain what happened... Simply because I'm not sure what I believe." she started. "Before I -- Are you aware of any strange circumstances in the Spritewood, by any chance? Not necessarily the village at Doranshire."

    "I've heard of some strange things over the years, yes," Dr. Reiland answered. "Livestock from local farms going missing, trees suffering from unexplained blights, odd weather shifts. I'm not sure that any of those would explain that... unsightly corpse that you sent photos of."

    "First, do you have inkling of what it could be? I'm stumped." she asked.

    "No. I don't recognize the anatomical structure at all, and the placement of the bones is... It's like someone put together a jigsaw puzzle incorrectly. There's nothing natural about it."

    "I thought that myself, too... That's not the bizarre part, though."


    For a brief moment, she was hesitant to explain further, but realized that she had already cornered herself into doing so. "That creature, whatever the hell it was... it attacked us."

    "Attacked you?" Dr. Reiland incredulously asked. There was a short pause, as if she were studying the photos more closely. "That thing... attacked you?"

    She chuckled nervously. "You don't believe me, do you."

    Dr. Reiland let out a long and thoughtful breath. "Pardon me if I'm a little skeptical... There have been stories over the years... Mostly superstitious folk tales from other parts of the world, mind you."

    "So... You don't believe me."

    "Ah -- let's not go that far!" Dr. Reiland said with a reassuring tone. "Do you remember in the early years of your studies, when you touched on taxonomy? Specifically the major kingdoms of life?"

    She nodded. "Yes. Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia."

    "I notice you left out Spiritae."

    She scrunched her lips together, wondering if she'd just made a basic error. "Well... isn't there still a debate raging on about that?"

    "There is. Did any of your professors discuss it at all?"

    She thought back on her lectures, but only one popped out in her head. "Professor Burke, but he was very brief about it. He told us to be aware of it, but to not put much belief in it."

    "That is fair. The reason the debate continues is due to how rare the creatures that best fit into the proposed Spiritae kingdom are. They're so rare and difficult to study, so not much is known about them! The only thing we definitively know is that, while closely related to Animalia, they don't fit the taxonomic requirements perfectly."

    She nodded. "Yeah, that's what I remember hearing in my lectures."

    "In fact, a specific species of Pokémon comes to mind: Duskull. Science doesn't have an explanation of what a Duskull is, since one has never been studied closely before. Pokéball technology is currently inadequate to contain one, which further complicates the matter. Some scientists in the field -- in fact, the colleague that sponsored your work in Doranshire, Dr. Belmonte -- have put forward the theory that Duskull is not unlike the undead in old folklore... the spiritually reanimated remains of a deceased creature. Now, it's likely that this theory is erroneous, but there's also a chance that it's not. Only ongoing attempts at research will explain for certain."

    "That sounds insane, but it also sounds like the creature I encountered last night," she said. "I wish I had an explanation."

    "Searching for an explanation is why we do what we do. Despite our scientific advances -- placing a man on the moon, even -- our world is still wrapped in plenty of mystery, Ms. Dennison, and there is still very, very much to learn about it. We in the scientific community discover new things every week, sometimes every day. In fact, just last week, you and Patrick may have discovered a previously undocumented species of Pokémon! Of course, we might never know if you did, since you two... nevermind that!"

    "I still feel bad about that..."

    "Back to the matter at hand, you say this creature attacked you. Are you okay?"

    "I got hit in the leg... I could show you, if you're not squeamish with blood."

    "I am not," the doctor returned.

    "Okay," she said, pressing a button on her screen. The camera activated, converting their conversation into a video call. "Regardless, I apologize if this is a little gruesome." She aimed her phone downward towards her lap and gently brought the hem of her dress upward until the bandage on her leg was exposed. Burgundy streaks had escaped from under the stiffened bandage and soaked into the top of her stocking, a clear indication that she had been injured. "Now do you believe me when I say that I was attacked by something?"

    "Oh my!" Dr. Reiland called out. "How bad is it?"

    She aimed her camera up towards Juliano, who stared down into it. "Bad enough to keep me off of my feet... my travel companion's Blastoise is carrying me the rest of the way to town. But, it wasn't bad enough to kill me, so... That's good, at least."

    "I am so sorry that this happened to you."

    "It's okay. It's just the nature of travelling in the wilderness though, isn't it? I hear stories about it all the time... even seen it with my own eyes when I was a kid."

    "I suppose..."

    "There's a silver lining, at least. Whatever it was, I've... learned first hand that it has a ranged attack of some sort. That's where the cut on my leg came from." She gently ran her middle finger along the edge of her bandage. "The rest... it was kind of a blur. It was over so quick, and I was cowering behind a tree the whole time."

    "You're quite fortunate that this creature didn't get in close. Those -- I would guess they function as the arms -- they look... Well, I'll assume you're familiar with the Scyther species and its famously sharp bladed arms."

    She hung her head solemnly. "Yeah... Last night could have gone a whole lot worse, couldn't it... I'm very lucky."

    "Is there anything else about how this creature behaved that you can shed some light on?"

    "I'm afraid not. As I said, I was hiding the entire time."

    "If what you say about this creature is true, I don't blame you! I'd have probably run from it, myself... Well, if I was capable of running these days, that is! What about the noises it made, how it moved? Anything out of the ordinary will be helpful."

    "I have some notes that I took down, I'll start writing a proper report about what I saw when I get into town. I figure I'll be off my feet for a few days, so I may as well focus on this."

    "I admire your sense of duty, but by all means, take your time. Don't be afraid to take it easy, your recovery will be important." There was a lull in the conversation. "Ah... I knew that assigning you to the Doranshire investigation was the right choice."

    She chuckled nervously. "Uhh? I haven't really done anything yet, other than nearly get myself killed!"

    Dr. Reiland shared in the laugh. "Oh, but you have! I love the enthusiasm that you've been showing, in spite of your inexperience. That's a key skill that I hope you continue to nurture."

    "I'll try."

    "Good. Anyways, I do have a meeting that I need to get ready for with the head of the biochemistry department, so I'll be going now. I'll leave you with this: your information, while fascinating and unbelievable, intrigues me. I'll see if I can find dig up some information that might help you to identify what that creature was."

    "You're serious?" she asked. "I sent these findings to Patrick, too, and he immediately dismissed me as a crackpot."

    "I don't blame him. He's very grounded in reality, and stubborn as a mule to boot. Years of experience, experience he doesn't quite have yet, have taught me to be more open minded, even with the unbelievable. That's what science is, after all: finding ways to prove or disprove that which we can not believe." Doctor Reiland explained. "Anyways! If there's nothing else..."

    "There is, actually. I... took the liberty of grabbing a physical sample of the creature as well."

    "A physical sample, you say?"

    "I yanked a bone fragment off of it. Now, I don't want to carry this thing around for too long, so... how would I get it to you? Or whoever'd be willing to examine it."

    "I imagine you'll be visiting the Pokécenter when you arrive at the village to treat your wound. When you can, call me again and I'll walk you through the process of sending it back to the lab for analysis."

    "Will do!"

    "Good luck out there, Ms. Dennison, and be careful. There may actually be something to these wild stories coming out of Doranshire. It would certainly explain Dr. Belmonte's interest..."

    The warning encouraged her to ask, "So you're sure I'm up for it, then?"

    "While the absence of Ms. Dahl will certainly hinder you, I'm growing more confident in you. Anyways, I really should be getting to this meeting. I'll speak to you later!"

    "Understood. Talk to you, doctor." she said as she hung up. She let out a giant sigh of relief as she slid her phone back into her purse. "Well, at least someone believes this crazy story of ours."

    Kimberly looked over her shoulder at her again. "I suppose that's good news... but that does not make me feel any better about it."

    "I didn't think it would," she replied. "I'm sorry for putting you through this. I shouldn't have pressured you--"

    "You didn't pressure me, I wanted to come along. Besides, it's a good thing that I did. What if Juliano wasn't here to protect you?"

    She looked up and studied Juliano as he continued to carry her through the forest. She realized that Kimberly was right; Juliano was the only reason that she was still alive.

    "I'd feel much, much worse than I do right now if I found out that you never made it to Doranshire."

    "I suppose I should thank you, then."

    Kimberly stopped in her tracks and took a deep breath to calm herself. "Perhaps we can talk about this later? This is not a topic I'm comfortable discussing..."

    "Fair enough. Back to silence?"

    "I think so."

    - - - - -​

    Author's note: As I went through editing this chapter, I did a bit of research on kingdom classification as part of the process. A lot seems to have changed and been in heavy flux since I learned it in school, so I'm not sure what's fully accepted by the biology community at the moment. So, I've settled on 1969 Whittaker classification model, which was apparently out of date already when I learned it. Please don't send me hatemail plzkthx :p
  10. Misfit Angel

    Misfit Angel Vengeful Ferret

    Okay, I said I'd be back to (semi-)weekly releases, only to make that promise on the chapters that needed the most work. Unfortunately time has been getting the better of me so I haven't had the chance to edit these next two chapters (primarily switch them around each other), so here they are in their originally published state, from May 2017.

    Land of the Roses
    Chapter 17: A Quiet Village


    "Thank the goddess..."

    Kimberly, with Juliano and Andrea lagging shortly behind, passed by a sign that welcomed them to the village of Doranshire, population 276. They had finally made it, and just in time; the retreating light from the setting sun had caused the automated lighting along the road to flicker on, a welcoming sight in the growing darkness. Before long, the scant glow of the outdated street lamps had given way to the bright lights of the village's heart, Lord's Square. For the first time in nearly twenty four hours, they felt at peace.

    At a glance, Doranshire seemed just like any other small town; brick and mortar buildings, clean streets, chatty locals and the sweet scent of handmade success. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No strange sights, no strange sounds, nothing to indicate that any of the bizarre reports over the past few weeks were true. If anything, the only strange sight in the town was the injured young woman being carried by a Blastoise.

    Brief discussions with the locals revealed two things: Doranshire lacked both a proper hotel and a proper doctor, the two things the girls needed the most at the moment.

    Andrea was stumped. "So what do we do know?"

    "The last time I was here, a lovely elderly couple ran a bed and breakfast. I wonder if they're still around?" Kimberly suggested.

    "Do you remember where they were?"

    "I do. Come, Juliano, let's take her there."

    - - - - -​

    The television in the lounge was tuned to one of the country's many 24 hour news networks, the Crown News Network specifically. The major headline of the night focused on the disappearance of Tamara Dahl, Andrea's intended travel partner; furious debate erupted between a panel of 'experts' as they wildly speculated about what had happened to her, and what her disappearance might mean for the once safe atmosphere the Kingdom of Lanark had been known for. The host had difficulty controlling the discussion and requested a commercial break.

    "It's all panel shows, now..." an elderly man said as he shook his head. "What happened to the simple days when a single anchor reported on the news? No opinions, no speculation... just... news."

    "What happened to the simple days when you didn't watch this crap?" an equally elderly lady quipped as she focused on a crossword puzzle in front of her.

    He chuckled. "That's a very good question." As he raised the remote to turn the TV off, the soothing chime of the doorbell bounced throughout the tiny house. "I'll get it."

    The elderly man grabbed a cane from beside his chair and pushed his way to his feet. He slowly made his way from the cozy and cramped lounge, down the narrow hallway and through the heavenly-smelling kitchen to the door. He opened the door and was greeted by the sight of two young women who had just turned around to leave. "Ah!" he called out, hoping to grab their attention again. "Good evening! Is there something I can help you with?"

    Kimberly turned around. "Yes, Mr... Holdt, was it?"

    His face lit up. "Ah! You know my name!"

    "Yes! I visited this town sometime last year and stayed with you. Do you and your wife still operate your bed and breakfast?"

    "Till the day I die," he said. He opened the door further and motioned for the two to enter. "Nadine, my dear! We have guests!" He wandered over to the stove and took the top off of the still-warm pot of vegetable stew, then reached for two bowls. "Tell me, what is your name, young one?"

    "Kimberly Fairbrooke," she said. She pointed to Andrea. "And this is my friend, Andrea Dennison."

    "I have many guests, so unfortunately I don't quite remember you. I'm honored that you remembered little ol' me, however!" He put the two bowls of vegetable stew on the table and offered the girls a seat. "If you're looking for lodgings, you'll have to share a room. My son is currently renovating one of our two guest rooms and it's not quite ready for use."

    She turned to Andrea. "Sharing a room, huh? That won't be a problem, will it?"

    "I don't see why it would be."

    The three took their seats at the table and began to negotiate payment. Mrs. Holdt made a brief appearance, as if to check to see that her husband was actually talking about business, then disappeared into the lounge again when a few coins slid across the table.

    "So, what brings you two to town? Just passing through, or do you have business here?"

    "I'm passing through, yes," Kimberly answered.

    "Work," Andrea added.

    Mr. Holdt's left eyebrow shot up and nearly popped off his head. "Oh really? What are you doing, if you don't mind my asking? It's been awhile since an outsider came to town simply to work."

    Andrea looked over at Kimberly, then back down at her vegetable stew. "I'm here to investigate some of the strange things that have been reported in town."

    "An outside investigator... ah, yes... It's good that you're here. The village council isn't taking what's happening as seriously as they should."

    She shrugged. "It seems that you do... What do you know about these reports?"

    "There's a lot to talk about. Anything specific you're interested in?"

    She reached into her backpack and grabbed a notebook and a pen. She had compiled a list of subjects she'd read about and started from the top. "I read an article about an elderly lady who claimed that a demon was trying to enter her house. Sound familiar?"

    "Yes, actually. That would be Mrs. Miggins." he said before making a spiral motion with his fingers at the side of his head. "That lady... she's certified nuts, if you ask me. She's been making claims like that for nearly twenty years, after her husband passed. Most people have learned to tune her out."

    She began to jot down some basic notes. "Where does she live? Even if she is crazy, it might be worth my time to talk to her."

    "I would not waste your time with her. But if you insist, you'll find her house on Whetstone Lane. You'll know which one it is when you find it. It's choked by vines, the stone walls are crumbling and there's a giant willow tree looming over it."

    "Whetstone... Willow tree..." she muttered as she continued her notes. "Got it, thank you."

    "You take care around her, you hear? She's been... known to lash out at people, even get physical from time to time. She's a frail, old flower, so you could probably handle her with ease, but..."

    She nonchalantly dismissed the warning. "I'll keep that in mind."

    "I'm serious, lassie."

    She looked over at Kimberly for a brief moment, then returned to the next item on her list. "I also read something about a ghost walking up and down Mill Street?"

    "I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it myself," he said. "Supposedly it's the spirit of the old mill owner, people say he's wearing a tuxedo and has a stovepipe hat."

    "Anything else?"

    He silently shook his head.

    She took down some more notes and nodded. "I already know to look at the school..." she muttered. "Oh yeah, how about those lights in the forest west of here? Do you have any idea of what those are?"

    "No idea. Whatever they are, they come and go peacefully, and they're rarely seen in town." He leaned back in his chair and looked toward the ceiling, as if he was searching the depths of his memory. "We had a talented young man with a mind for science who lived in this town a few years back, those orbs were his passion. His life, even. He spent days, sometimes weeks camped out in the forest, trying to figure out what they were. Don't think he ever figured it out."

    "Had? Is he not here anymore?"

    He shook his head. "He packed up and left about three years ago. Said something about heading home and joining his brothers and sisters. Far as I knew, he didn't have any family, but..." he shrugged. "Maybe he did. I didn't know him closely."

    "What was his name? I'll see if I can track him down."

    "I don't think he's even alive anymore, honestly. When he left, he said he was heading for Verdant Vale. That was just a couple months before... well... you know."

    "Oh, I see..." she said as a somber tone enveloped the room. She paused for a moment before continuing, "I'll take his name anyways, just in case. He might not have been there at the time."

    "William Selkirk. If he is still alive, you'll have trouble finding him. That boy was from up north. Common family name."

    She grumbled quietly as she took note of the name. "Figures."

    "Anything else you want to ask about?"

    "I also read something about burlap dolls?"

    Mr. Holdt dismissed the idea readily. "Oh, that's just the kids. Every year in the spring, Mrs. Pashka, the second grade teacher, has her students make them and decorate the town with them. They're some sort of cultural icon from her homeland."

    She nodded. "Doesn't sound all that strange then. But the news article I read mentioned that the dolls are usually mutilated."

    "Again, probably the kids. They aren't taught manners these days."

    She laughed. "That's definitely true." She was hesitant to ask about it, but pushed herself to. "Have you seen any strange creatures in the forest?"

    Mr. Holdt shook his head. "I haven't left the village in nearly a decade. There's nothing for me out in that forest, I'm afraid there's nothing I can say about it."

    "Fair enough..."

    A knocking sound rang out from behind them; Mr. Holdt's wife was stood in the doorway leading into the lounge. "I don't mean to interrupt, Len, but it's nearly midnight. Don't forget, you have a gathering to attend in the morning!"

    He grumbled and shook his fist playfully. "Thank you, dear! She's right, I do need to get to bed. I do hope you got the information you were looking for, Ms. Dennison."

    "You've been very helpful, thank you."

    "Good. Now, let's show you two to your room!"

    All four headed up the stairs. Mrs. Holdt broke away from the group and entered the master bedroom, while Mr. Holdt led the two down the hallway towards the room they'd be staying in for the night. As he opened the door, they got a feeling for just how small the room was; the room was barely wide enough for two people standing shoulder to shoulder, a fact amplified by the furniture that was pushed against the walls. The room was equipped with everything they would need: a table to work from, a vanity, a pair of padded wooden chairs and a window view of the village below.

    However, one thing stood out: there didn't appear to be a bed anywhere in the room, let alone two of them. Andrea was dismayed by what she saw, but her worries faded somewhat as Kimberly approached the back wall; with a tug of the curtain that hung from the wall, she revealed a small bed, set in its own cozy little alcove.

    "Just as comfortable as I remember it!" Kimberly said with a smile on her face.

    "If you two need anything, let me know," Mr. Holdt said. "Good night."

    "Rest well, and have fun at your gathering in the morning!" she called out as Mr. Holdt left. She sat down on the bed and took her heeled sandals off, then leaned backwards and let out a long groan of relief. The soft and welcoming allure of the bed, coupled with the fact that she had just completed a fourteen hour hike, nearly put her to sleep right then and there.

    Andrea, on the other hand, approached the table and took a seat, groaning in pain as she did so. As much as she tried to hide it, the wound on her leg worried her; it had been a roller coaster of pain ever since she'd gotten it, and at that point it had just crested a large hill. She tried to make the pain go away by rubbing at it briefly, but it didn't work, and she began to accept that the pain would be a constant throughout the night, a constant she'd have to live with. She motioned towards the bed. "You mind handing me one of those pillows?"

    Kimberly grabbed the largest pillow, then handed it over. She watched the entire scene unfold as Andrea first struggled to put the pillow between her and the chair, then close her eyes and fidget endlessly as she searched for a comfortable position. "You're not going to sleep like that, are you?"

    Andrea opened her eyes and looked up. "I'm going to try."

    She patted the spot on the bed next to her. "There is a bed, you know."

    Andrea dismissed the notion and closed her eyes again. "You already claimed it, you can have it."

    "I don't remember claiming anything, and I don't mind sharing."

    "Share? Look at how tiny that thing is!" Andrea answered. "Besides, it'd be a little weird, I guess."

    "Weird? Why would it be weird?" she asked with genuine curiosity. "Besides, if anyone needs a bed tonight, it's you. I'm not letting a friend suffer while I benefit. I wouldn't even let a stranger suffer."

    Andrea opened her eyes and glared at Kimberly, studying her. She thought it was out of the ordinary for a person she had only just met to be so open and so friendly with a stranger and wondered if she might have some sort of ulterior motive. Dr. Reiland's warning of finding someone trustworthy to travel with whispered in the back of her mind; she studied her body language and her facial expressions, but she couldn't find anything untrustworthy about her, just strange. Nothing sinister, no ulterior motives, just someone who cared perhaps a little too much. "If you insist."

    "It's no trouble!"

    With great pain, she stood back up and silently sauntered across the room towards the bed. She didn't know why, but the whole situation felt incredibly awkward to her, to the point that she wanted to excuse herself from the room. But at the same time, she was tired and just wanted to get some sleep. She sat down on the bed, paused for a moment to appreciate the cloud-like softness, then began the laborious process of unbuckling the dozen or so belts that strapped her boots to her feet. "No funny business, you hear?"

    "Funny business?" Kimberly asked, curious of what her friend meant. A few seconds later, it dawned on her. "Oh! No! Don't worry, it's nothing like that. I just want you to wake up well rested. From the sound of things, you have a big day tomorrow."

    With her boots removed, she leaned back onto the bed and rested her head on one of the pillows, then began her search for a comfortable position, preferably one that faced away from her friend. "I don't know if I'll be doing anything tomorrow besides getting this cut looked at, honestly. If I even can. How does a town like this not have a practicing doctor? What happens if people get sick, do they just ride it out or die?"

    Kimberly giggled. "No, silly! I'll take you to the Pokécenter in the morning, they'll take care of you."

    She turned to look at Kimberly, a look of bemusement on her face. "Pokécenter? Look, I'm not--"

    "It's not as odd as it sounds! While it's true that they specialize in caring for Pokémon, the nurses who work at the Pokécenters across the country are also trained to handle human patients as well. If the injuries aren't too severe, that is."

    She turned away once again and sighed. "That does make sense... And I guess I have to go there to deliver something to Dr. Reiland, anyways."

    There was a long pause before Kimberly asked, "I suppose I see now why you were so interested in documenting that creature this morning."


    "It never crossed my mind to think of why you were coming to this village, but now I know. I had assumed your business here was something... normal!"

    "I probably should have told you, shouldn't I... Sorry."

    "On the contrary, I should have asked. I blindly agreed to whatever it was you were doing, that was very careless of me." She waited patiently for a response, but one never came. "If you don't mind, I'd like to help you with your work tomorrow."

    "What is with this girl? Why does she insist on being a part of everything I do?" Andrea thought.


    "Huh? Oh, uh... I dunno. An extra pair of hands would be useful, but... Look, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's get to bed, okay? I'm exhausted, and I'm sure you are, too."

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