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  1. #61
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - What Lies Within [Chapter VI]

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Kyuu!

    Yes, but just because a character can make a return doesn't mean that the said character will make a return. I guess everything will be revealed eventually. I'm really happy you liked it, though. Oh, and yes, Riley won't be a generic character - actually, the deconstruction might just start happening in the next chapter.

    On the next chapter, I can only say that it's in progress of being written.

    I'm sorry for taking so long, I hope you guys keep reading.

  2. #62
    Wordsmith unrepentantAuthor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - What Lies Within [Chapter VI]

    Review: Prologue

    Decent opening here. Hooks the reader well enough to compensate for the incoming birthday scene, ha.

    You have some awkward phraseology here: "the dreadful puberty" / "go to the bed". These would sound more natural if you cut out the "the" in each case.

    Interesting that the narrating character is so overtly morbid. That's a mild hook for me, I like unconventional characters with concerns other than being the very best like no one ever was. Depression or trauma are often good subjects and this should be interesting. I do think you could pull it off better, though:

    "My mother would often tell me how after my father died, I seemed to have changed. She said I lost my former enthusiasm over the silliest things I used to posses, I began questioning life and the very meaning of life itself. My brother called me cynical, I preferred the term realistic."
    Now, that segment there? (And others.) You're telling the reader things, but not showing them. You would probably be better off demonstrating the above by having the protagonist be told he's lost his enthusiasm and actually question life, rather than remarking on how these things are the case. That style of narration doesn't necessarily detract from the story, but writing is often considered richer and more sophisticated if such things can be inferred from the text.

    Intriguing premise and a decent method of revealing it. My expectation at this time is that Gabriel will have some sort of fulfilling experience in his final months, but I'm ready to be surprised.

    One last note: the syntax of the final sentence implies that Gabriel's brother is the one with six months to live. Better change that to "How do you say to your big brother that you have six months left to live?" or something similar.

    Looks good so far, and I'd welcome further exchanges as progress on our fics continue.

  3. #63
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - What Lies Within [Chapter VI]

    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    You have some awkward phraseology here: "the dreadful puberty" / "go to the bed". These would sound more natural if you cut out the "the" in each case.
    Ah, I understand. Yeah, I kinda have this annoying habit of adding 'the' too much. :/

    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    Interesting that the narrating character is so overtly morbid. That's a mild hook for me, I like unconventional characters with concerns other than being the very best like no one ever was. Depression or trauma are often good subjects and this should be interesting. I do think you could pull it off better, though:

    "My mother would often tell me how after my father died, I seemed to have changed. She said I lost my former enthusiasm over the silliest things I used to posses, I began questioning life and the very meaning of life itself. My brother called me cynical, I preferred the term realistic."
    Now, that segment there? (And others.) You're telling the reader things, but not showing them. You would probably be better off demonstrating the above by having the protagonist be told he's lost his enthusiasm and actually question life, rather than remarking on how these things are the case. That style of narration doesn't necessarily detract from the story, but writing is often considered richer and more sophisticated if such things can be inferred from the text.
    I understand, yeah, you have a very good point.

    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    Intriguing premise and a decent method of revealing it. My expectation at this time is that Gabriel will have some sort of fulfilling experience in his final months, but I'm ready to be surprised.
    Oh my, I hope you don't end up shocked by what's going to happen. :<

    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    One last note: the syntax of the final sentence implies that Gabriel's brother is the one with six months to live. Better change that to "How do you say to your big brother that you have six months left to live?" or something similar.
    Gah, I have so many mistakes. Thanks for pointing it out!

    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    Looks good so far, and I'd welcome further exchanges as progress on our fics continue.
    Hey, it's no problem. Even though I seem to have much more issues with my writing than you have with yours, I hope my reviews will aspire you to keep on writing and not to give up. I know it well because each review (or even comment) I get drives me even more, it motivates me giving me the will for writing. Your criticism is really helpful and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can improve in my story as there are obviously many flawed things.

    Nevertheless, I look forward to your next review. I hope you enjoy it!

  4. #64
    Wordsmith unrepentantAuthor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - What Lies Within [Chapter VI]

    Quote Originally Posted by Tsutarja View Post
    Oh my, I hope you don't end up shocked by what's going to happen. :<
    I assure you I won't be. It's essentially impossible to shock me. That's not tempting fate, it's just true.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tsutarja View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by unrepentantAuthor View Post
    Looks good so far, and I'd welcome further exchanges as progress on our fics continue.
    Hey, it's no problem. Even though I seem to have much more issues with my writing than you have with yours, I hope my reviews will aspire you to keep on writing and not to give up. I know it well because each review (or even comment) I get drives me even more, it motivates me giving me the will for writing. Your criticism is really helpful and I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can improve in my story as there are obviously many flawed things.

    Nevertheless, I look forward to your next review. I hope you enjoy it!
    I'm glad my review was both helpful and motivating; I assure you that yours was similarly encouraging.
    I'm happy to continue reviewing EoL, provided you review DE, but judging from your review-positive demeanour, I have no need to confirm this.
    Thanks and welcome, Tsutarja.

  5. #65
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Post Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    I'm finally done with this chapter. Let me know what you guys think of it!

    Tag List: (if you wish to be added, let me know!) @Starbrow; @SaFE;



    Chapter VII: Inferno (2)

    -
    Sometimes, I wonder whether I really am cursed.
    -


    In the complete mayhem of what seemed to be our journey, my journey, I had managed to forget, even if it was only for a second, how it came to this situation. I had forgotten about my illness as well as the indisputable argument I had with my mother; the sole reason I went along on this adventure, the choice I made when deciding to accompany Riley. And now I was going to end up consumed by flames without even getting my chance to say goodbye to the people I loved?

    “No,” I convinced myself surprisingly easily. That wouldn’t happen.

    One way or another, I wouldn’t allow it.



    I coughed deeply, one time after another, while suddenly slowing down the already rough path. The burning feeling in my lungs was unmistakable - I knew it had derived from the smoke I inhaled as I rushed, no, as I ran for my life through the burning forest, avoiding paths blocked by the consuming fire or panicking colonies of wild Pokémon. It occurred to me on the way how we witnessed a great number of Pokémon – all of them forced to flee under unwanted circumstances they never wished for to happen. It also occurred to me, though, that I never wished to discern so many different species in such terrifying circumstances.

    “Of course! I’m such an idiot!”

    His voice echoed in my head as I turned to him, subtly wiping the increasing drops of sweat over my forehead. Riley’s face expressed surprise much like his tone.

    “Wha-what’s wrong?” I asked dumbfounded trying to get the hang of situation.

    “Quickly, try and grab the Poké Ball from my belt!”

    I should have arrived to that idea quicker than him but such matters were irrelevant at that point. I immediately turned myself backwards, slightly stuttering, in order to reach for the item, with what was left mobile of my hands. It only needed a thrust, a simple push in order to release Charmander whose claws could easily set us free easing things to a greater degree – if it was still conscious, that is. I barely extended my fingers beginning to move them across the smooth surface of the belt until I reached the solid matter. I poked strongly across the surface of the Poké Ball until I could feel the deepening within. I exhaled in relief as I thrust my finger with excitement. Sudden outburst of light moved between Riley and me, revealing Charmander once again and much to our luck – looking in a better shape than before.

    Charmander widened his eyes in the surprise of witnessing what was happening around him. He shook his head a few times before focusing at Riley’s words.

    “Quick! Use your Metal Claw and cut the rope!”

    The creature nodded unleashing its claws and thus unleashing us to freedom. We sighed in the short moment of relief, as Riley withdrew Charmander, before suddenly running off again. We knew that there was no time to waste. The trees, the bushes, everything was covered in seemingly inextinguishable flames.

    The sultriness of the violent fieriness remained unbearable giving me the feeling that we were stuck in a never-ending labyrinth of pain and suffering. I could swear that I was beginning to hallucinate but as I suddenly tripped over a soft substance, I snapped back into reality. I shortly gazed at the ground spotting an injured bird lying between my hands wide spread. It was a Pokémon; a bird-like creature of medium-sized body lying with its burned wings and somewhat colorful feathers spread over the ground.

    “Wait … wait, wait!” I barely yelled, but Riley didn’t seem to hear me. He suddenly stopped as if he was looking for me; his face turned furious.

    “What are you doing, you idiot? We gotta get out!”

    “It needs help! Quickly, give me one of your Poké Balls!” I remained persistent.

    My body petrified as a large, flaming branch crashed next to me – I could hear something crack behind me as the flames swallowed the branch.

    “Give me a Poké Ball, now!”

    “Just take it and go!”

    I caught the item and hastily aimed it towards the feathered Pokémon I recognized under the name Pidgeotto. As soon as the bright light sucked the creature in, I ran off with all my might unbeknown to the falling tree behind my back. I shortly gazed at the Poké Ball while running knowing that I have managed to save someone else's life, a life of an innocent Pokémon. And as we ran through the infinite hallway of devouring wildfire, there was really only one possible conclusion I could make.

    It was a living inferno.

    -



    “Where the hell are they? Why isn’t anyone coming to put out the fire?”

    We stopped at a clearing as Riley desperately dialed the same number all over again but to no avail. I could feel the desperation and hopelessness of the moment rising as he suddenly gave in to the weakness – he must have felt it more than I did. Much to my initial shock, he furiously threw his phone against the tree shattering it in pieces followed by three direct punches against the tree; they seemed to be quite painful for his knuckles. A tear streamed down his face as he suddenly clapped both of his hands against his face.

    I simply gazed at him in silence.

    “Riley,” I repeated his name once again. “We need to move. If we wanna get out of here alive, we need to move!”

    He didn’t respond; strange essence was in the smell of burning air.

    “How did it come to this? It wasn't supposed to happen this way!”

    Shivers ran past my skin as he exploded in his rage directly towards me. His face quickly turned mild again with a trace of soft sadness in his eyes. My whole opinion on Riley suddenly began shifting, changing - it's as if there was a whole new side to his personality - the emotional, non-jerkily one.

    “Riley … what's wrong?”

    He shook his head and ignored my question as if nothing happened. I exhaled in discomfort as I rushed after him in complete state of confusion and mild shock. What the heck just happened?





    The deadly protectors of the green forest …

    I was aware and yet I had completely forgotten about the group of wild Pokémon who were known for transforming their immortal love towards the forest, their utopia, into mindless, brutal force going as far to eliminate any threats in order to keep the Viridian Forest a safe and harmonic place. That’s why it shouldn't have came as any surprise to me once we ran into two thugs from before being chased by those same species who were completely agitated by the intensity of this dangerous situation.

    They were the creatures known best for their long scythes, scythes sharper than sharpest blades. The large, human-sized insects were able to move agilely and at fast pace thanks to the fast pair of their cream-colored wings – they were mighty warriors in the world of Pokémon combats and thus very reliable partners.

    The two men screamed in terror, their bodies were bleeding from various spots from where the cuts have been made. My heart began raging as I turned towards the opposite direction tenaciously pulling Riley for his arm.

    “Run! They’re gonna kill us!”

    The first intimidating creature extended its forearm elegantly slicing through the neck of the one of two men; a severe amount of blood sprinkled from his neck as Riley yelled in terror. I would have yelled too if I wasn’t doing my best to hold out without crying. I glanced back at Riley breathless; his white shirt had been soaked in crimson red spots as two of the Scyther encircled the last man standing. He was weeping like a baby and begging for mercy, no, they had no mercy.

    Another, albeit somewhat smaller, Scyther suddenly emerged in front of us, I screamed loudly upon witnessing its terrifying face. Before I could even make a movement, Scyther’s body suddenly dematerialized becoming the familiar blob of red light as the Poké Ball from behind me sucked Scyther into it.

    “What are you doing?” I asked Riley in panic.

    “Buying us time!” He pushed me evoking me to keep on running.

    I gulped twice doing my best to keep myself from crying.

    It was the first time I ever witnessed a human die, the first time I witnessed a Pokémon killing a human. My heart pumped at an innumerable rate as I witnessed upon the unimaginable, thoroughly inhuman sight. It was brutal, ruthless and heartless – each and every bit of my belief I had in undisputable kindness of these creatures slowly began fading away. I refused to believe it, but I had to accept it. I could feel my ten-year old self crying in agony while its untarnished heart confronted the dark reality.

    And the reality was unmistakable.

    I almost instantly thought of my soon-to-come death. A death I would have never expected if I hadn’t gone to the doctor on my birthday. Death was constantly after me, even now, in the inferno of what my life has become.

    Perhaps, I was fated to die.

    “Gabe!”

    My body suddenly collapsed as everything turned upside-down to me. The one final thing I could see was Riley dropping on the floor upon being caught by the Scyther. The bestial creature passionately pierced its long, bloody scythe through the middle of Riley's body forcing him to yell in pain, he soon began coughing out blood.

    My eyes slowly locked themselves as I pounded in the back of my mind whether the scene I just saw was true or simply my hallucination. In the back of my mind, there was nothing but scenery of endless blood.




    “Help me! Someone, please help me!”

    I am deluged with fear and seemingly never-ending sadness; unable to move my body, I tremble in the darkness of the mesmerizing space - it is unlike anything I have ever seen before. I perceive the cleanliness of the area with my eyes, I realize that the space is completely white. Cold steel embraces my hands and legs as I continue shivering. It’s cold.

    I’m scared.

    The only thing that gives me comfort - his voice – surprisingly seems to be the one thing that frightens me the at the moment.

    “I’m sorry,” he says with his eyes tearful, “but this is all for your sake!”

    Unusual yellow light blinds me as I feel a sudden rush of electricity streaming through my body, as if some sort of energy is rejuvenating my heart and soul. I scream until my heart stops beating; the light envelops me.

    Suddenly I’m not scared anymore; I don’t feel cold anymore.

    Miraculously, I open my eyes.




    I woke up in a state of surprising relaxation. The torrential rainfall from the sky already completely diminished the threatening flames as the bits of water ran down my face. I looked to my right. There was Riley, soaked in blood, sitting against a tree with a Poké Ball tightly gripped in his hand - he seemed perfectly healthy. He looked surprisingly calm, though; his shirt was shredded in many large pieces entirely and I could only assume likewise for his mental state. I could assume for both of us, such event wouldn't go down without consequences.

    Feeling pain in the back of my bones, I lightly rose myself up from the ground.

    Three still bodies lied on the wet ground, three Scyther completely defeated.

    “How did you …?”

    He glared at me as if he found something suspicious about me. Riley showed off his Poké Ball. “We were lucky … Charmander, it triggered its Blaze ability. The rest you can imagine.”

    There was uncertainty in his voice.

    “But, I saw a Scyther stab you! There was a scythe running through your body!”

    Riley smirked arrogantly.

    “I don’t know what you saw, but as you can see, I’m still alive. You could say we were saved by a strange power.”

    “Are you okay?” I asked utterly confused.

    “No, I am not okay. And neither are you.”

    “What do you mean?” His enigmatic words kept bringing out more confusion out of me.

    He stood up on his feet reaching for another Poké Ball from his belt. Much to my surprise, he took out two of the red and white spheres throwing each at one of the bug types. The captures easily succeeded as Riley handed me over one the Poké Balls.

    “Here. You need a Pokémon,” he still seemed to glare at me.

    His courtesy left me with my mouth wide-opened.

    “No,” I refused at first, “I don’t need a Pokémon who is ready to kill a human.”

    “You don’t know anything, do you? Scyther was merely defending its home. If you truly want to be a trainer, you will accept a Pokémon with all its strengths and weaknesses and work with it until both of you reach the top.”

    I remained motionless unable to think straight. "Take it!" He repeated it but much slower than before.

    I simply nodded accepting his act of generousness.

    “Heh, seems like you’re not as smart as I thought you were. Let’s go now!”

    “But, didn’t the other Scyther come?” At that point I realized I was just being annoying.

    “No, they didn’t,” he glanced at me before walking off.

    The rain kept on falling. As we walked out of the forest, we had witnessed how much damage had been made. It was such a stark contrast to the woodland we saw this early morning. Instead of the amazing, lively green trees and bushes – all that was left was grayness – grayness of something that was once colorful home. Grayness that reminded me of the reality, I knew that men did this solely for men. They endangered hundreds of lives for the sake of their own greed, how was that alright? They destroyed an iconic staple of this region, nothing would ever be the same again.



    “Oh my, oh my, are you two alright?”

    We were greeted by a houseful of people; spectators, journalists, even the police – everyone had gathered in the outskirts of the mountainous Pewter City because of the panic which ensued over the wild forest fire. The lovable, brown-haired nurse accepted us in the ambulance of the Pokémon Center as we managed to escape the crowd from the lobby. I knew that more questions was waiting for us, especially from the police, but for now - I only needed a moment to reflect on the events and take a well-needed rest.

    It was a spacious area – completely clean and smelling after berries.

    “Let me check you and your Pokémon out, here.”

    I checked Riley once again as another; much older nurse took our items away from us. His shirt was drenched in blood, but there were no visible damages made to his body – he wasn’t injured at all. Was what I had seen back then just an imagination or a figment of it caused by exhaustion?

    I wondered.

    -



    It was a routine check-up.

    After having a shower, we both received a new pair of clothes as the nurse we’ve come to know as Joyce placed us in one of the dormitories residing within the clinic. My Pokémon, well, the Scyther Riley gave to me and the injured Pidgeotto I stumbled upon were currently being taken care of. Anxiety was killing me as I decided to check with the nurse, to see how they were doing.

    I glanced at Riley – he was already sound-asleep.

    I stepped out of the room heading straight through the long hallway; this place had some sort of comfortable atmosphere about it – it felt really good. Passing by the cafeteria on my right, I turned left finally reaching the ambulance which resided right next to the lobby. Nurse Joyce was still in charge.

    “Good afternoon,” I whispered but my appearance seemed to have startled her. She was a pretty, young woman – her brown hair was tied up in a long ponytail.

    “Gabriel, go back to bed!” She whispered in annoyance.

    “I will, I will!” I grinned. “I just wanted to know how my Pokémon were doing.”

    Her face was unsettling; I had a bad feeling about it.

    “I’m … I’m so sorry Gabriel,” her voice was soothing, deep and compassionate. I lost myself in the moment after she spoke out those words, carefully expressing each word in the necessary tone.

    “I’m sorry, your Pidgeotto didn’t make it.”


    To Be Continued ...
    Last edited by Tsutarja; 5th June 2012 at 12:22 PM.

  6. #66
    It wasn't much! Flaze's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    Poor Gabe can't catch a break can he?

    One thing I didn't like in this chapter was the transition between the Gabe and Riley running away after getting freed by Charmander and the Scyther attack, mostly because the guys that were chasing them appeared kind of unexpectedly and made it kind of confusion.

    Overall I think it was a good chapter, and the end of it was kind of surprising since you rarely see a pokemon die.

  7. #67
    ^^ Safe-T's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    I fell like this is were the plot starts to reveal itself, and I can sense it will be good.

    Your characterization is still great and you're description too. I'm very interested to see more of Riley.

    COMING SOON!

  8. #68
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    Quote Originally Posted by Stellar Haze View Post
    Poor Gabe can't catch a break can he?
    I've been just thinking about it and I think I may have gone too far, he does need a break, doesn't he?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stellar Haze View Post
    One thing I didn't like in this chapter was the transition between the Gabe and Riley running away after getting freed by Charmander and the Scyther attack, mostly because the guys that were chasing them appeared kind of unexpectedly and made it kind of confusion.
    Ah, I see. :S

    Quote Originally Posted by Stellar Haze View Post
    Overall I think it was a good chapter, and the end of it was kind of surprising since you rarely see a pokemon die.
    Well yes, I know it's rare - but let's be realistic. For example, the Pokémon Tower in Lavender isn't just there for some decoration - it's the place with hundreds of graves of deceased Pokémon. That pretty much implies that they are capable of dying.

    Quote Originally Posted by SaFE View Post
    I fell like this is were the plot starts to reveal itself, and I can sense it will be good.
    Actually, if you pay more attention to the past chapters (or specifically chapter five which many didn't really like) there are many hints. In fact, I've spread at least one hint per each chapter with the number of them slowly increasing as the story progressed. ;)

    Quote Originally Posted by SaFE View Post
    Your characterization is still great and you're description too. I'm very interested to see more of Riley.
    Yeah, Riley is quite unique, isn't he?


    The next chapter is almost done and I'll warn you guys immediately. It does not revolve around Gabe but instead - we get a proper introduction of the girl who previously escaped from the facility (again, in chapter five). She's completely plot-related and has mysterious connections to Gabriel and Riley.

  9. #69
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    ...Finally, I got around to reading the chapter. I've been so busy with school that I haven't had enough time to do much of anything nowadays.

    Anyway, great job with this chapter, its great and the description is simply superb. I eagerly await the next chapter.

    Sorry about the horribly short comment. hehe

  10. #70
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Inferno [Chapter VII]

    Thanks for the compliments, Starbrow! :D

    Oh don't worry about it, real life takes priority!

  11. #71
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Post Re: Essence of Life - Marissa [Chapter VIII]

    Author's Note: This my longest chapter yet! I hope you guys enjoy it. :D
    Tag List: @SaFE; @Starbrow;

    Chapter VIII:
    Marissa


    ///


    One day remained forever marked in her memory.

    It seemed to drizzle all day, the rain was pouring hard as an anxious little girl glued her face to the chilly window of her father’s car. It’s been a long ride from Celadon to Pewter and although she couldn’t manage to understand, her father had made the choice of him and his family moving together to the city built in the near of rocky mountain Moon. She hadn’t questioned his actions and although she was confused as any other person would be, feelings for her parents remained intact. The eleven year old girl called Marissa settled down in her new home starting to get accustomed to the new lifestyle. Soon enough, she had even managed to befriend a couple of other girls of her age, which seemed like a shock to her.

    Never would she have guessed that she’d find new friends so quickly.

    Several days after their arrival and inevitable settlement, her parents had found her a nanny. Having been promoted and moved to a better paid work position, Marissa’s father decided to celebrate the success with his beloved wife by taking her to a fancy dinner. The woman they picked out for babysitting clearly seemed like a reliable person with an enjoyable personality along with it. They had no problems leaving Marissa alone with her; they believed they were safe – finally away from troubles of the past. The past had yet to knock on their door, though.

    Marissa complained at first, she protested, using her newfound “maturity” upon turning eleven as an excuse for being able to stay home alone but to no good. Soon she would realize that she would have been better off on her own.

    In the next few hours, she’d be gone.

    And no one would ever find her again.

    ///


    Memories overwhelmed her.

    A tall and slender teenage girl woke up swamped by the memories of previous events, hazy flashbacks and startling nightmares – all of them apparently pertaining another life, a life she never truly had. Marissa screamed from bottom of her lungs and being unable to adapt herself to the situation, she leaned herself against the wall in a rushed pace; her breathing becoming heavy and irregular.

    Unanticipated, her eyes perceived someone; presence of a person whose identity was concealed by the obscurity of darkness. All she could recognize was a shadow, a short silhouette present in the room.

    Losing no further time, Marissa took a brief look around the room, moving around like a wild Pokémon, touching everything she could touch with her instincts running wild. She quickly came to conclusion that the tall walls were made out of chopped wood; everything in that structure was made out of same material, in fact. The bed she woke up in wasn’t even an actual bed; it was more of a thick sheet with a pillow covering the wooden floor.

    Thus she concluded that she must have been in a lodge of some sort.

    Her eyes moved vigorously across the room as she looked back at the bed where she previously came to her senses. Sudden release of light forced Marissa’s pupils to dilate; a short figure had removed the curtains in order to let more light inside the room. An elderly woman emerged in her sight looking quite elegant despite the approximate age of seventy; Marissa identified the dark outfit she wore as a kimono – a traditional dressing piece in the neighborly Johto region.

    “Who are you? Where are they?” Marissa let out, bewildered by the entire situation.

    The women’s unusually calm behavior unnerved her; she couldn’t understand how she could simply stand there and make no reaction whatsoever. She seemed harmless enough Marissa figured, but she wasn’t sure. She could have easily taken the woman out and escaped but something kept Marissa at distance from her, it seemed like an aura was surrounding her.

    “Who the hell are you?” she roared in slight animosity.

    In response, the woman simply sat herself at the same spot from before.

    “No need to worry, you’re safe here.”

    Her voice was unnervingly calm and although she seemed wise somehow; something about her behavior reminded her of a person she used to know.

    “Sit,” the old lady made the gesture, “and have a cup of tea with me.”

    The old lady grinned at once, focusing her wide, icily blue eyes at Marissa; she reminded her of herself back in the young days – even the long, dark shade of her brown hair used to be once hers. Marissa looked back at the old lady in a likewise manner; her hair which was tied up in a knot was as white as the purest snow.

    Her instincts told her to kill, to simply annihilate the possible threat and to keep running for her life. The monster inside her spoke but she remained calm, feeling a soothing aroma satisfy her sense; she looked down cautiously paying attention to the cups of green tea. The elderly woman glanced at Marissa for a moment while taking the other cup, slowly, proceeding to drink the tea out it.

    Marissa took a step back fearing that she might throw the hot cup at her. Her darkest expectations didn’t come true however, as the old lady simply neared the object to her mouth whilst still keeping her focused at the girl.

    “See?” She took a sip. “It’s perfectly fine.”

    “Drink… from the other cup too.”

    The woman proceeded as Marissa desired drinking the tea with no harm whatsoever. Temptations of reality, temptations of dreams; she was unsure of what was happening back then. Was she really not one of them?

    It took her another moment to get clear on her actions but once she did, Marissa wasted no time on drinking the tea out of the hot cup. Not even seeming fazed by the hotness, she drank it out as if it were simple water – her thirst took the best of her. The woman gazed at her in intrigue and unusual astonishment.

    “You sure are thirsty,” she remarked. “I’m Liv. May I know your name?”

    Spontaneously throwing the cup at the floor, Marissa backed away from the woman. Her question caught her by surprise. Why did she want to know in the first place?

    She looked down at her body. It took Marissa some time to realize she was actually dressed in a kimono much like the old woman – Liv must have put it on her before. Nevertheless, it felt comfortable; Marissa’s emotions grew wild as a change of heart began pursuing her mind. Why would a bad person, someone who would harm her, give her such comfortable clothes? Why would such person let her enjoy a cup of delicious tea? Not to mention that Liv would have attacked her before - if she meant any harm.

    She grabbed her hear indecisively.

    It was hard. It’s been a long while since she was in company of a normal person thus finding it hard to make a difference between reality and dreams. Marissa kept gazing at Liv in curiosity. Her memory suddenly flashed to her; it occurred to her that she fainted outside while running through the mountain.

    “How about telling me your name?” Liv repeated the question eagerly.

    So they could find her again? So they could restrain her again? So they could drug her again? Marissa’s heart and brain kept interfering; she found it hard to trust her. Perhaps she did seem nice, but people weren’t always like they seemed. Marissa was forced to learn that the hard way.

    “Did you save me?” Marissa barely, almost hesitantly, blurted out. Liv smiled upon finally getting to hear something normal coming from her lips.

    “Yes, I found you lying outside in the rain. Naturally, I had to help you.”

    Marissa remained apprehensive.

    “By yourself? Or did you let them help you? You’re in this with all of them! Right? Am I right? They paid you so you could trap me in here? HUH?”

    She instantly began yelling hoping for the woman to confess; her instincts had once again taken control over her actions. Liv shivered slightly but she really felt as if Marissa wouldn’t harm her – she simply needed help.

    “No, I had my Pokémon help me,” Liv tried explaining carefully.

    Liv’s answer calmed her down. Marissa was getting paranoid – she was forced to admit it. It was time to let go of her past, she was finally a free person.

    “Is everything alright? Can I help you with anything?”

    Marissa moved away from Liv in the corner of the room, her trust in others remaining weak, almost nonexistent. Liv remained desperate and hopeful in her wish to be of some help to the poor girl.

    “Talk to me! I can help you.”

    “I can’t talk to you,” Marissa whispered softly. She couldn’t talk to anyone; she couldn’t profess her feelings to anyone. She didn’t know anyone.

    “I can’t talk to anyone,” she continued.

    She was all alone.

    ///



    “Yeah, the brat is here. Yes, yes, it’s the Original. Just hurry up!”

    Marissa strained her ears to hear more but to no avail. She did know however, that the tall, nicely dressed woman was talking about her - unaware of her presence. She didn’t like the lady, she still would have vastly preferred if she stayed home by herself, but her father remained strict.

    “Understood,” she hung up.

    The woman ended the conversation over the phone as Marissa ran off towards the living room. The woman she came to know as Linda appeared, she looked pretty – Marissa had to admit. Her hair was golden and curly albeit short which suited nicely her casual style of clothes which consisted out of simple jeans and a cream colored sweater.

    “Marissa, how are you feeling right now?” She asked nervously.

    “I’m feeling well. And you?” Marissa answered nonchalantly.

    “Doing good as well,” Linda smiled uncomfortably. “Let’s play a little game.”

    “Nah, I’m good,” she answered making herself comfortable at the couch.

    The frown on Linda’s face was obvious making it clear to Marissa that Linda really was a no-good babysitter. Quite contrary from what she claimed when she talked to her parents, though. Linda sighed in annoyance; she didn’t like her either.

    The door suddenly opened widely.

    ///


    “Vul-pix!”

    Marissa’s body twitched in sudden shock; a fox-like creature licked her face. Getting themselves startled both Marissa and the six-tailed fox Pokémon stepped back in suspicion. Marissa took a closer notice of the Pokémon, its pelt looked smoothly colored in an intense mix of red and brown colors. It was an appealing Pokémon indeed; Marissa took a liking to it the moment she saw it.

    A wide smile spread across Liv’s face upon the sight. Somehow she managed to lure out a smile out of Marissa as well.

    “She seems to like you too,” Liv remarked.

    “Does she belong to you?” Strange force prompted Marissa to ask her a question. Liv shook her head indecisively. “Well, yes and no.”

    “It is true that Vulpix visits me often, but she’s in no way under my possession. In fact, if you look at it this way, I don’t own any of my Pokémon. They all willingly live with me. One is Vulpix whom I met long time ago; she helped me when I got lost at the mountain and the other one is Machop who often helps me with tough work around the house. Of course, they aren’t the only wild Pokémon who I take care of.”

    Marissa gazed at Liv in genuine respect; she couldn’t help but feel anything but awe for Liv and her considerate deeds. After what she had witnessed in the facility where she was kept, she felt glad that in the world there was still someone who wasn’t treating Pokémon as heartless monsters without souls. Knowing the full risks coming with her decision, Marissa decided to fully trust Liv, this time fully convinced that she meant no harm.

    “Why do you live here all by yourself?” She tried engaging into a conversation. Speaking itself felt odd to her; she didn’t have a normal conversation in years.

    Much to Marissa’s surprise, Liv frowned and looked down at the floor. She shifted her focus at Vulpix, the fox-like creature had her brown pupil-less eyes peered into the girl – it was as if the fire Pokémon was staring at her soul.

    “Would you care to tell me your –“

    “Marissa! My name, it’s Marissa Fanning,” she said straightly, albeit weakly, without hesitation. It felt good, for a reason she couldn’t explain she started feeling cheerful again. The muscles on her face moved unusually, she moved her fingers over her cheeks only to realize it.

    She was smiling.

    “Are you hungry, Marissa?” Liv asked.

    Liv seemed to avoid Marissa’s question. Either that or she felt too uncomfortable talking to a complete stranger who several minutes ago didn’t even trust her. Nevertheless, hunger prevented her from further thoughts. Before she could realize, Liv reappeared in the room again with a handful of plates. A delightful and exquisite aroma filled out the room.

    “Mmm, so good!”

    Both Vulpix and Liv found themselves shocked by the amount of food Marissa could swallow, she ate more than any other person they knew. It made even Liv wonder for how long that girl endured without eating or drinking properly or whether she ate at all? Nevertheless, she felt happy to see Marissa satisfied and happy, she contrasted heavily the girl who previously woke up at her home.

    After she was done with her meal, tense silence broke out. Vulpix made herself comfortable by Marissa’s side.

    “She likes me too,” Marissa muttered to which Liv simply nodded.

    “They took me away,” she continued suddenly.

    Liv stared at her in curiosity; she wanted to know more, but was too afraid to ask.

    “That day, we had just moved to Pewter city together - my mother, father and me. I couldn’t understand why Dad was so eager about the idea of moving from Celadon, but he said something about a promotion so we all happily agreed to go.”

    Marissa gazed at Vulpix’s mysterious eyes; strange power seemed to be emanating from them. She knew she shouldn’t blab too much to some stranger, but at the same time, she felt like she needed to let someone know. Even if it was only one person, she wanted to share the terrible weight of her past with someone else – she wanted someone feel sorry for her, she desired sympathy even if only slightly.

    “I didn’t find it hard to get accustomed to Pewter Town,” she continued reluctantly. “The air was fresh and I very much liked the pleasant change of environment after being surrounded by buildings and the unhealthy smog of Celadon city. I even found some friends, but, everything changed that night.”

    “You said someone took you away?”

    ///



    A loud bang was heard as the door opened widely, wind from outside spread itself across the living room as Linda cautiously stood up. The man was quite tall and dressed in classy black attire. He looked classy however and seemed sly with his short, styled black hair, Linda ran over to him exchanging a short kiss before she looked back at Marissa.

    “Ugh, this child is such a nuisance. I’m so glad you’re here.”

    “This is it? This girl is supposed to be the final Original? We’ll see about that.”

    A Pokémon suddenly emerged in a flash of blue light in front of her as if it had just teleported itself there. It was of human-like structure with the most notable feature being the red star-shaped symbol on its forehead. It played around with a spoon of some sort while levitating in the air; it was a peculiar Pokémon – one she had never seen before with her own yes.

    “Kadabra, Confusion!”

    Marissa screamed but as she intended to run she found herself trapped in the air like a marionette with the living room starting to spin around her. She felt as if someone was sticking thick, sharp needles through her skull which caused an immense amount of pain, so much pain that she wished she was dead.

    “C’mon, more power, Kadabra!”

    Kadabra’s spoon spun around much faster until even greater force consumed Marissa in pain. She could feel blood trickling from her nose and ears until she felt as if she could release all the pain from inside of her out.

    She suddenly did it embracing a feeling of freedom.

    Falling on the floor, a sudden outburst of energy wave destroyed everything on its path. The man kneeled down in shock as the wave slammed the woman and Kadabra brutally against the wall. Kadabra barely stood up as Linda remained lying on the floor, her several bones being fractured.

    No sooner than this happened, the man began laughing madly. He grabbed Marissa with his own hands in order to fully convince himself it was really happening. She really was what they claimed for her to be – a peculiar human being, a perfect weapon in their war against monsters.

    As the man walked towards his Kadabra, she kept her eyes focused at the ceiling. She couldn’t help but to fall asleep now, she was too tired to resist. She was too tired to fight back, too tired to call for help.

    She was dead beat.

    ///



    “Yes, and that is all I can remember. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow, I knocked that woman out,” Marissa took a deep breath.

    “So many drugs and strange experiments, ah, it’s unfair you know,” she failed to realize she began sobbing, “I mean, I was only eleven and I was sedated most of the time. What they did to me isn’t fair!”

    Before she could realize, Liv had already embraced her.

    “And I never saw mommy again. I never saw daddy again, they were gone. I was all little when that happened, I should have stayed with her parents, someone should have saved me from the evil man,” she kept on talking unusually, her personality starting to resemble the one of a little girl.

    “You poor girl,” Liv said starting to get teary-eyed.

    “I’m sure they’re looking for me, they need me. They said I was a special girl, that I was a special girl. I’m a special girl …” she kept repeating, subduing her heavy breathing.

    “You say that you’re in danger?”

    Marissa nodded upsettingly.

    “What about your parents?” Liv asked in a concerned manner.

    “I don’t know. Maybe they’re still in Pewter, I have no idea.”

    Silence shortly ensued.

    “Marissa, let me help you.”

    Marissa looked at her in awe.

    “Listen to me now! I have two offers for you. One is that you stay here and continue living with me. The other one … is that I help you find your parents again as much as I can,” Liv continued with slight hesitation upon making her second offer.

    It was such a heartwarming offer, for the first time after a long, long while, Marissa felt like she could truly trust her heart and soul to someone. Why was Liv being so kind to her? She always believed misery was going to follow her life from that day on. And now, things were actually looking bright for a change.

    “Y-you would really do that?” Marissa asked in tearful tone to which Liv nodded.

    “So, which one will it be?” Liv asked staring directly in her eyes.

    “I want to see my Mom and Dad again.”

    Liv smirked and nodded to hear words. “Just like I expected.”

    “Come with me then,” Liv headed to another room.

    Feeling energetic enough, Marissa got up as well. Vulpix loyally followed her as if she was her partner for years. That made Marissa slightly uneasy since she never exactly had a Pokémon under possession.

    She soon entered a much more spacious and cleaner room, it was the bathroom. A bathroom, she had almost forgotten how it looks like. She looked at Liv who was pointing at which chair Marissa should sit. Finally, Marissa found herself in front of a big oval mirror over the desk.

    Five years, she was five years older. Five years have passed since the last time she looked herself in the mirror, she confronted the power of time as she observed her outer appearance. She couldn’t possibly be satisfied with her outer shell, she wasn’t cute anymore nor attractive. Her eyebrows were too hairy, too much hair covered her forehead and her lips were bruised.

    She couldn’t exactly call herself pretty.

    “No need to worry about that,” Liv seemed as if she could hear thoughts, “it’s time for a grand makeover!” She shouted loudly enough to even startle Marissa.

    What was the meaning of “makeover” anyway?

    ///


    “It’s like magic!”

    Marissa gasped once, twice and even a third time. Two hours have passed ever since Liv brought her into the bathroom and since she started working on the so-called “makeover”. After taking a bubble bath which smelled amazingly, she was back sitting at the chair where Liv started to work on Marissa.

    “You really used to work once as a hairdresser?”

    “Oh yes, it was a popular business back then, I even took care of Pokémon. Why do you think Vulpix looks so beautiful, huh?”

    She chuckled at Liv’s sudden pride and confidence.

    “Alright, you can look now!”

    Upon opening her eyes, strange feelings took over Marissa. Red hair, no, it was more of a slightly darker shade of red. Her hair wasn’t as messy as before which Marissa couldn’t imagine even in her wildest dreams, it was entirely straight and much shorter with slight curly points at the ends. Her eyebrows were also taken care of; she even had a light, almost unnoticeable pinkish lipstick on her.

    Though what stood out most of her were her glowing, golden-like irises. She could properly gaze at her own eyes and admire the beauty hidden behind them. For the first time in many years, Marissa thought of herself as pretty.

    “Ah,” she turned around in disbelief; her long black hair was gone. “I feel so much lighter right now.” Her new hair style had the hair going slightly past her neck; the overly long fringe was gone as well.

    “Do you like it?”

    Liv was shocked herself at how beautiful of a girl Marissa Fanning was. She could actually run for a top model herself, the woman was actually a bit envious of the girl. Marissa gasped again, she could barely respond.

    “Do, I … like it? Thank you! I LOVE IT!”

    She yelled in tears jumping of the chair, she embraced the woman tightly. Not able to express her thanks enough to Liv, she simply kissed her wrinkled cheeks softly. Oh how long it’s been since she kissed someone, that feeling made Marissa feel all warm inside.

    “Okay, but what about your clothes …” Liv muttered.

    “Ah,” Marissa blushed realizing she had no real clothes with her.

    Liv winked to her much to Marissa’s happiness, she expected nothing less from an expert of a woman her new friend seemed to be. As she observed Liv search through the large, brown closet Marissa started to wonder whether God sent Liv to protect her. Even without knowing, that woman Liv was like a guardian angel to her. Few days ago, she had even considered taking her own life away out of sheer pain, but now, she couldn’t feel more blessed.

    “Marissa? Come! Surely an old lady like me has no idea about which clothes you’d like. I’ll be waiting in the other room until you change,” she chuckled leaving Marissa to stare at the open closet.

    What could she possibly wear? Of course, she’d appreciate any proper clothes after what she was “wearing” in those institutions. At the same time, Liv joined Vulpix in the other room.

    “And? You seem to like her,” she grinned, Vulpix let out a joyful growl. She walked over to the old lady moving around her old feet.

    “I know, I know, I would miss you too. But Marissa likes you and she would really need someone to protect her. I think you would do a wonderful job at it,” she chuckled as the fox proceeded to licking her face. “Haha, okay. I get it, you will miss me. But I still have Machop and the others to take care of me, so no worries!”

    “Vul! Vul!” Vulpix agreed suddenly overhearing that Marissa was coming. Turning shortly after her, Liv observed the new Marissa Fanning approach her.

    Marissa was a tall and slender girl; she now resembled quite an attractive sixteen year old girl. Her slightly dark red hair was curly at the ending points and the outfit Marissa wore contrasted her white skin. It reminded one of the gothic styles, her skirt was a bit longer and black with white round stripes at the end. On her upper body she wore a sleeveless black shirt covered in some sort of a stylish gray scarf. The point between her shirt and the skirt was tied together with a white ribbon. There were many other tiny details not worth mentioning, basically, a different girl was standing in front of Liv.

    “It’s a bit dark, don’t you think?” Liv asked in embarrassment.

    “Nope, it’s perfect for me! How do I look?” Marissa turned around excitedly swaying her hair.

    “Well besides the death motif and the short skirt, you look amazing,” she chuckled to her own words. Marissa leaned into a hug again.

    “Thank you for everything,” she whispered.

    Liv could not believe the change Marissa underwent in such a short notice. In one day she changed from a paranoid, insecure girl to a lovable sweetheart. Perhaps it was it all in her imagination, but she seemed like a completely different person. After a one long gaze at each other, the young Marissa headed straight outside.

    “Wait you foolish girl!” she shouted strictly, Marissa instantly stopped at the door.

    “You forgot something,” Marissa glanced at Liv in curiosity.

    “Here, I made some food for you so you can eat when hungry. Also, if you ever run out of food don’t hesitate to pick berries, your partner should help you with that. Yes, I packed some stuff for her too,” she remarked winking.

    “I … don’t have any Pokémon …”

    As soon as she said it, Vulpix ran towards her moving gently around Marissa’s legs – Vulpix’s fur felt warm.

    “Are you serious? No, I can’t possibly take her with me?” She couldn’t believe it; she couldn’t believe Liv would let her have Vulpix by her side.

    Liv nodded. “Of course you can. You like her and she likes you, it’s the natural bond you two developed in such a short amount of time - it's destiny. And don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine.”

    “I can’t thank you enough for everything …” she muttered.

    “Liv, thanks for being here for me and I’m truly sorry for all the troubles I may have caused you at first. Thank you … for helping me believe that there are still good people in this world – honest people, warm people – people like you.”

    “Take care,” Liv said softly. “My doors will always remain opened for you.”

    Fresh and soothing wind enveloped them as Marissa opened the door. The rain had stopped as the weak sunshine did its best to penetrate through the dullness of the gray clouds. Liv pointed at the sky.

    “Look! Even if you can’t really see it right now, the sun is still there. It is there – doing its best to get over the moody, rainy days and bathe the whole world with sunshine and glory of its beauty. Marissa, even when it’s raining – the sun is still there. Remember, it can’t rain forever. It can’t and neither will it, for you.”

    Marissa suddenly took a step back waving back to Liv.

    “See ya!”

    She forced a smile despite the clearly forming tears in her eyes before running off. Vulpix ran along worriedly.

    “It’s okay, Vulpix, I’m okay. I can stop crying now because it’s … over. It stopped raining, Vulpix, it finally stopped … and the sun is about to shine again.”

    Her smile suddenly transformed into a wide grin covered in tears.

    “At last, I can escape the darkness.”

    To Be Continued...


    And? What did you think of this chapter? A great amount of plot was revealed in this chapter and Marissa will definitely play a major role in this whole story being a major character herself.

    The next chapter will deal with the aftermath of Pidgeotto's death.

    How will Gabriel cope with it? Keep reading and find out! :D

  12. #72
    ^^ Safe-T's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Marissa [Chapter VIII]

    To tell you the truth, even though I thought it was good, I still think it could've been better.

    This chapter mainly revolved around the character "Marrissa" and yet I expected to learn a little more about the evil organization. And even though you gave us a taste of what Marrissa is capable of, I felt like most of he chapter was unnecessary fluff. You described a little too much of her appearance and of the "Make over" and I'm sorry to tell you, it got boring.

    And despite that, I did like the relationship you made between her and vulpix, I'm interested to see more of that. Also, I really like Marrissa's concept as a character, but your portrayal of her could've been a little more inspired. For example I wouldn't really expect a 16 year old who had been tortured for the past 5 years to be angry or mad, I think it would be more like anguish and despair.

    Anyway, that's just my opinion. Don't worry about it, it was still a good chapter.

    COMING SOON!

  13. #73
    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Marissa [Chapter VIII]

    Yes, I get some constructive criticism!

    First of all, I apologize for the makeover scene - yeah, I went too much into detail with it, I agree.

    Second, I had this hunch that something was wrong with this chapter and even when I finished writing it I had this feeling that something was wrong with it all along. Maybe I incorrectly described Marissa's character though we have yet to see actual despair come from Marissa which I have planned for future chapters. To be honest, Marissa wasn't that mad. She was cautious and apprehensive of Liv because that's how you're supposed to act. You have just escaped from the facility, people were doing experiments on you and now you're afraid that they'll find you and restrain you once again. Of course, in that situation, she isn't supposed to fall in despair but rather remain wary of the environment around her.

    Liv still hasn't fulfilled her role so she will make a sort of re-appearance in the future chapter.

    As for the bad guys, I feel confident enough to tell you that we'll be getting a chapter soon solely revolving around them.

    Hopefully, next chapter will be better. Thanks for your honest opinion! ^^

  14. #74
    Christmas Bubble Frog's Avatar
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    Default Re: Essence of Life - Marissa [Chapter VIII]

    I read this yesterday at school :P

    Marissa is interesting, to say the least. I'm interested in the enigma that surrounds her character with the whole "Original" title she has, as well as the past with her mother and that Kadabra owning man. I think I know what's up with the Marissa's character, but I'm not gonna say. Because I don't wanna potentially spoil it.

    I didn't expect the makeover scene to be so "touched upon" I don't mind, I just didn't expect for so much emphasis to be put on her looks. Since she seemed more concerned with eating, as well as Liv to be caring about how she looked. But, it made sense nonetheless. Liv seemed like a nice character, I wonder if she came from Johto and was a Kimono Girl as well as a worker in the Goldenrod Pokemon Beauty shop, it would make sense XD

    Marissa getting her first Pokemon was nice, a Fire Type to mirror Riley's Charmander perhaps? Are you only sticking to Kanto Pokemon throughout this fic for the characters? Oh, and did Gabe keep the Scyther that Riley gave him?

    Marissa's cautious and untrustworthy in Liv was pretty cute and relatable. It's hard to trust everyone, especially after escaping an awful facility of people, whom I'm assuming hurt her and more ways then one.

    The back story was my favorite part of this. It was a nice set-up chapter for what I'm assuming will be a main character. The fact she might intermingle with Riley and Gabe will be something interesting for sure.

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    ポケモン Tsutarja's Avatar
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    Post Re: Essence of Life - Marissa [Chapter VIII]

    Quote Originally Posted by Gumdramon View Post
    Liv seemed like a nice character, I wonder if she came from Johto and was a Kimono Girl as well as a worker in the Goldenrod Pokemon Beauty shop, it would make sense XD
    Maybe, it's quite possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gumdramon View Post
    Marissa getting her first Pokemon was nice, a Fire Type to mirror Riley's Charmander perhaps? Are you only sticking to Kanto Pokemon throughout this fic for the characters? Oh, and did Gabe keep the Scyther that Riley gave him?
    Yes, he did keep it. Though he still has to develop a relationship with it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gumdramon View Post
    The back story was my favorite part of this. It was a nice set-up chapter for what I'm assuming will be a main character. The fact she might intermingle with Riley and Gabe will be something interesting for sure.
    Marissa is definitely in the main character category. And yes, I hope you like what I have in store for the future!

    Anyway, thank you for your kind words, that really helps me stay motivated and I'm kinda surprised someone noticed 'The Original' term since I've been putting it all over the place and yet no one even wondered who they really are. Thanks for reading and commenting, Gumdramon!

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