{some rise by sin}

Results 1 to 10 of 10
Like Tree1Likes
  • 1 Post By Elysia

Thread: {some rise by sin}

  1. #1
    .______. Elysia's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    All I do is work.
    Posts
    356

    Default {some rise by sin}

    Hi, so this is my generic author’s note that should hopefully last for the entire story. This is a pseudo-alternate universe version of Johto, mostly taking place in the same fashion that the game does but with a few key differences and some more realism (the differences should become apparent as the plot develops, and the realism is mostly applied to things like “you can run constantly between towns for days on end; these towns have two houses and a pokémart and nothing else” or “you must have five badges for your pokémon to know how to swim across water while you ride on its back” or “you can certain find pokémon in this patch of grass but not in this patch ten feet over on the next route”).

    This is also a large, multi-part story that should be pretty long if I ever get around to finishing it. While some parts can probably stand on their own, I would like to ask graders in advance to take into consideration that each story is not meant to be a self-contained anecdote and is a part of a larger arc—more of a chapter in a book rather than an episode of, say, SpongeBob. In earlier parts, that’ll mean I’m asking for some leniency in answering all plot questions, tying up all loose ends, developing all characters (but you could probably point out errors; I’m not guaranteeing that everything will get tied up in the end and I’m liable to forget something), but these parts are supposed to be entertaining, if not complete, in their own rights. As the story progresses, I’d love if my grader could try to read the whole story, but if not, I will gladly provide summaries (that may or may not be longer than the actual text haha kidding)

    Oh, so apparently this is a point of contention, but I don’t capitalize pokémon, pokémart, pokéball, pokémon moves, pokémon species, etc. in the same way that we talk about lowercase ‘a’ animals, go to the lowercase ‘s’ store, put lowercase ‘c’ collars on our pets, throw lowercase ‘p’ punches, and see lowercase ‘p’ pigeons. I know that the anime and games do capitalization different, but apparently some fanfiction authors agree with me and it’s okay so long as I’m consistent? Yeah. Okay.

    Chapter Semantics (may contain mild plot spoilers):


    Presented for your entertainment:



    {some rise by sin}

    the really gross art is by me




    So I'm going to save you a good deal of suspense and come out and tell you that by the time you catch up to where I am, I will have gotten all eight of my stupid gym badges, faced off against and defeated my rivals, and failed spectacularly in my desperate bid to save my homeland, leaving Johto in ashes. Also, I'll be dead, thanks in part to the efforts of a large, psychic bird and a .44 Novum shotgun.

    I suppose we can navel gaze for a bit with that out of the way.

    There was a saying I liked from one of those Old Poet Guys about whom I might've studied in more detail in school if I'd bothered taking a practical career and majoring in Literature instead of becoming an insurgent. This Old Poet Guy wrote a play about some Even Older Not-Poet Guys who got into a fight about ruling an ancient empire. In true poetic fashion, the Even Older Not-Poet Guys had a bunch of tragic fighting, and then one of them organized a plan to stab the older one, who was emperor, so a bunch of angry people who also wanted to rule the ancient empire got together and stabbed the older one to death. He died.

    I didn't choose to major in Literature, probably for good reason, but what stuck out to me the most of that play was this one quote: "The fault, dear Brutus," the old emperor said, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." When I read the play for the first time, I found myself nodding along, carried up in the swell and the hype generated by that Old Poet Guy. Of course I couldn't blame the heavens for every bad things that happened to me. I wasn't a special snowflake because I was suffering. When bad things happened to me, it wasn't because Arceus decided to curse me, but because I'd done something stupid and brought it upon myself. For a while, I believed that.

    But I grew up eventually, or maybe I grew down, because I started blaming things out of my control. I found out that sometimes the old emperor's words couldn't hold true, and sometimes we all just got caught up in the machinations of fate, and sometimes we were all helpless to forestall the aftermath.

    I could tell you that the day on which I got my starter pokémon was a normal day like any other, and that the fault wasn't in my stars that morning: a morning on which pidgey sang, the sun shone, life went about its boring business as usual, whatever. Unfortunately, there would be two things wrong with that statement. One, it would make for a very uninteresting beginning. And two, it would be a lie.

    In fact, that day was abnormal, almost hilariously so. Fate, at least, was having a grand time at my expense. Three markedly unusual things happened in rapid succession when I dropped in to the lab in New Bark Town to get my first pokémon. None of them were really my fault, but in the end all of them gave me the resources I needed to burn Johto to the ground.

    And, even if I hadn't meant to, I ended up doing just that. Because the fault was most certainly in myself, even if it was in the stars as well.




    autumn

    part one: murder of carrion men




    The first unusual thing about that otherwise normal, brisk autumn morning was certainly not my fault. An ancient crone, with some helpful meddling from fate, did the damage for me by giving me the absolute worst starter pokémon possible.

    Other regions gave out their starters differently than we did, I'd heard. Or, really, other regions had crazy, pedophilic researchers who carefully selected one or two kids from across the land and deemed them worthy of receiving some of the rarest pokémon in the area while everyone else had to catch their first pokémon with some rocks and a net. And when I said the professor “carefully selects,” I meant he crawled out of bed, took his medicine for arthritis, and promptly picked his intern, grandson, and next door neighbor. He’d be lucky to know the names or genders of any of them. Including the grandson.

    However bad our own system of government in Johto was, we weren’t the only region with major problems. We didn't have the ecological crisis that Hoenn faced, we weren't built on the rifts to a parallel world like Sinnoh, and we were definitely better off than Kanto. Everyone was better off than Kanto, though. They'd faced everything from food riots to a plague to some sort of zombie apocalypse, and frankly, no one knew why or how they were still standing.

    So in that light, having a single-party country run by the main branch of Team Rocket wasn't that bad. I'd heard blood-soaked legends about how they came to their position of power, but that all happened well before I was old enough to read. By the time I was old enough to get my first pokémon, they'd mastered the dictatorship thing quite well. The stories said that Team Rocket overturned all of Johto with only two trainers who'd harnessed the destructive forces of a monster they'd created known as Mewtwo, but I’d never seen heads or tails of it. Apparently there was a good deal of slaughter involved. Kanto got burned to the ground in the process, and Johto fell to Team Rocket. Everyone expected the worst when the Rockets began setting up a base in my hometown of Goldenrod.

    Then the Rockets diverted the Mewtwo’s massive psychic prowess into powering the country's electrical grid and providing free, clean energy for everyone. They improved the route system. They founded hospitals and schools and charity organizations. They subsidized the cost of training for low-income families and distributed free starter pokémon to all citizens. If you ignored the fact that all opposition was violently and systematically scourged and that there was a massive network of psychic-types monitoring every inch of every city, you could almost forget that we lived in a dictatorship.

    I'd toyed with dreams of taking down the Rockets in my younger years. Nothing in seriousness, of course, but when the firewalls on the internet started blocking Harry Potter and the Order of the Ho-oh on the grounds that the book perpetrated dangerous revolutionary ideas, I got a little annoyed. I needed to see if Ron Sneasely ever hooked up with Hermione. And to an idiotic, unbroken fourteen year-old, taking down the regime seemed possible: the two trainers credited with toppling old government for the Rockets fifteen years ago were only a year or two older than I was. It was doable, in theory.

    But the history textbooks said that the government back then was hilariously flawed, and I was actually inclined to believe that, despite the obvious bias in a one-party state’s so-called textbooks. Team Rocket rose to power in a time when most of their grunts ran around with zubat and rattata. They almost got stopped by a plucky girl and her charmeleon—she was one of the crazy professor's neighbors, no doubt—before they managed to hold their ground and strike back against the fearsome forces of a ten year-old and his half-grown starter. And then the Rockets got their act together, and basically everyone involved that wasn't on their side was publicly dismembered when Mewtwo came along.

    The Rockets gave out free starter pokémon to anyone who wanted one, all ages welcome. It was a sign of their invincibility: every September, when the starters were distributed, there would be a handful of dreamers who would leave New Bark town with bright-eyed starters and plans to take down the Rockets, and by January, there’d have been five or six hangings for treason in Ecruteak. The Rockets had the means and the technology to give far more efficient deaths than hanging, but then again, watching a person slowly suffocate before your eyes—traitors died the pirate’s death, with a short rope that wouldn’t snap their necks like a long one would—was one of the most terrifying executions possible. It was sort of like crucifixion without all of the Arceus imagery. The rest of the hangings would follow throughout the year, depending on the executives' mood. The message, at least to me, was clear enough. You were perfectly welcome to mount a rebellion. You were encouraged, even. And then you were facing a power against which you stood no chance.

    So, no, I had absolutely no plans of following my daydreams through to fruition. Seviperus Snape could have gotten Hermione for all I cared; I wasn't going to be an idiot. I planned on getting my starter, getting a few badges, entering a few tournaments, and making no real impression on the world.

    In fact, I was especially careful to keep these positive, non-rebellious thoughts in check during the bus ride from Goldenrod, my hometown, to New Bark Town. Like I said, we'd gotten past the crazy professor stage for our starter pokémon. Instead, the distribution of starters was in the hands—wings, actually—of a very powerful, clairvoyant xatu. They said it could see the past, present, and future all at once, and it would give you, quite literally, your destined starter.

    Also, it could read minds, so those handfuls of dreamers that left the lab with plans of taking down the Rockets almost always left with a poison or fighting-type to get blasted apart by Team Rocket's psychics later, and no one ever got a dark-type. So I really, really needed to keep those rebellious thoughts buried deep if I didn’t want to meet a messy end in Ecruteak.

    Most trainers specialized in a single type of pokémon, and it was said that the xatu selected your starter based on the type with which you had the strongest affinity. The best career for a trainer these days—besides flat out joining Team Rocket or a gang, which I was sort of against for ethical reasons—tended to be as a gym trainer, and specialized teams weren't all that uncommon even for trainers outside of that route. And if the all-seeing, all-knowing psychic bird told you that you should specialize in the water-type and gave you a magikarp, well, you would spend a lot of time training and raise yourself a gyarados. And if the all-seeing, all-knowing psychic bird gave you a poison-type or a fighting-type, it basically painted a neon target on your back for the Rocket executives.

    When you went to New Bark Town to get your starter, you went alone. They kept that much from the days of the crazy old professor, probably just for tradition’s sake. They kept the laboratory standing, too, although I think that was more for an illusion of their ultimate control over the region rather than anything else. The xatu judged you in that cold room, made the selection for your starter, and then presented you with your first pokémon on the steps of the laboratory for all to see. It was a quick process, akin to putting on the Sorting Hat, but I had to wait until I was fourteen before I could make the journey from Goldenrod by myself. As I stood on the icy tiles of the laboratory, shivering, I wished I had waited longer.

    I tried to keep my thoughts, especially those of the rebellion-inducing variety, firmly in check when it was my turn to approach the xatu in its tiled sanctuary. The room was entirely devoid of furniture—only white floors and walls and ceiling. And the large, green bird splattered with red and white and black perched in the very center, oozing power. Its eyes were closed and it stood so still that, for a moment, I thought it was dead.

    Then I felt a presence in my head, one that was very much alive. I pieced together that it was the xatu's, and that was my last coherent thought before it touched every corner of my being. There was a violent wash of pain, and then I found myself on my knees, clutching my temples and making ungainly screeching sounds. All of my thoughts adopted the consistency of melted butter, and I struggled to blink the spots out of my vision. The white tiles flickered black and purple before my eyes, and I gritted my teeth as my shrieking echoed back into my ears.

    What the ¬fu—.

    The mental touch retreated hastily and diminished until it was only grazing me. {I apologize,} the xatu said, its voice surprisingly gentle, given that it had just shredded my mind. {I did not mean to harm you. Few trainers experience pain with my telepathy.}

    So I was special. Wonderful. Whatever sarcastic response I had in my arsenal was lost in the wave of bright spots that filled my vision, so instead I found myself giving him an astute-sounding, "Unnnnghhhhh."

    {I have determined your starter,} the xatu said matter-of-factly. There was a pause, and then I felt the touch again, this time feather-light. He—the voice was certainly male—opened his eyes and looked squarely at me. I felt a chill go down my spine. His voice had dropped twelve octaves. {I knew you would come. And you did.}

    His eyes were rheumy and old and full of so much sadness that I stopped short. Here was the master of Johto's future, essentially, and he looked and sounded like a wizened man. His feathers drooped and were tinged with silver, and as he spread his wings to fly to the entrance, several more fluttered to the ground.

    {Are you prepared?}

    If by "prepared," he meant "successfully having suppressed the urge to projectile vomit after a harsh attack from a psychic," then yes, I was prepared enough. I nodded.

    The xatu's eyes glowed blue, eclipsing the tired expression I had seen before, and in the harsh shadows that the light cast, he seemed omnipotent once again. Across from him, the doors flew open, and he teleported the two of us to the front of the laboratory without a second glance. There was no dramatic popping or queasy shaking of the ground; one moment I was facing the xatu, and the next, I was facing the open world.

    Show-off. I could've walked.

    There was always a small crowd in front of the laboratory at New Bark Town. Most of them were just prospective trainers waiting for their own starters, a handful of them were extremely bored residents, and the rest were Rocket agents looking out for the hapless idiot with the grimer or machop who would try to take them down in a few months.

    {There will be a long journey ahead of you,} the xatu said to me, not yet addressing the crowd.

    That was nice of him. I could always use vague, unhelpful advice repeating what I already knew.

    {You will experience much loss, trainer. Be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark.}

    On second thought, I could do without dire predictions of my demise.

    Before I could manage a response, though, the xatu turned to the crowd. {Have strength. You will need it,} he added to me before addressing the throng of people in front of him. {I have chosen a fitting starting pokémon for this child. It shall be…}

    In front of us, a pokéball flashed into existence. Teleportation again. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch it, as I knew I was supposed to. This was it. As long as it wasn’t a poison or fighting-type, I’d be fine. Fade away. Be forgotten. Everything would be fine. I would leave no impression on the world. The candy cane-striped ball was cool on my fingertips and burst into a flash of red light that faded to reveal—

    A small bird, about the size of the pidgey that used to perch on the power lines in front of my house, materialized in the air in front of me. Its feathers, sleek and jet-black, jutted out in strange places, giving the bird the illusion of having a small top hat perched on its head and a small broom for a tail. Its beak and feet were bright yellow, and I could just make out a pair of beady, crimson eyes peeking out beneath the hat, taking me in even as I studied my new pokémon.

    {A murkrow,} the xatu next to me said proudly.

    —shit.




    The second unusual thing about that otherwise normal, brisk autumn morning was probably what kept the Rockets watching in the crowd from killing me on the spot and was also not my fault. The sky filled with fire, apparently of its own accord.

    That may have been an overstatement. But above me, the normally-blue, cloudless skies filled with dancing green and purple lights that I recognized only from books: the aurora borealis.

    I'd always wanted to see the northern lights, actually, but I'd imagined seeing them where they belonged: the north. Both Goldenrod and New Bark Town were miles and miles too far south to see an aurora. Ever.

    So it really wasn't surprising that everyone, myself included, was entranced by the ribbons of green and purple that danced across the sky above us. The sirens started then, faint but certainly extant, whining from a distance. I frowned. I’d heard these sirens before, in some sort of test, but I couldn’t quite remember their purpose. There were more pressing matters, however.

    If the sky had been cloudy that day or hadn’t decided to burst into flames, I would have been killed that instant, probably. The xatu gave me a murkrow. A dark-type. A pokémon completely and utterly immune to the army of psychics that the Rockets had amassed. I wouldn't have made a more welcoming target if I had started preaching anti-Rocket propaganda on the spot with, say, a croagunk and a semi-automatic.

    I’d never head of a dark-type starter. I’d never heard of people using dark-types at all, actually. Trainers destined to fail to overthrow Team Rocket got poison or fighting-types. Trainers destined to join them got psychics. Everyone else fell somewhere between. That was how the plan worked.

    A murkrow, judging from my own scant knowledge as well as the shocked-turned-dangerous expressions spreading across the Rockets scattered in the crowd, was a pokémon that spelled revolution. A revolution I certainly didn't want.

    I'd never seen a murkrow before. There were pictures of them in books, along with other pokémon like umbreon and sneasel that were hunted almost to extinction, but here was one in the flesh. Or, feathers, really. The murkrow seemed absolutely oblivious to the commotion its presence caused in the crowd, the slack-jawed expressions of wonder that quickly faded to horror as they pointed at the black-feathered bird less than one foot tall that marked me as a hilariously unprepared target.

    Arceus-damned xatu.

    Speaking of him. As the realization of what he had done to me sunk in, I turned to the ancient bird before me, my rage and fear blotting out my knowledge that the creature in front of me had sent me reeling in pain with a casual thought. "What are you doing!?"

    The bird remained calm. {I am sorry, trainer.} He shuffled his wings. {Fate has given you a hard path to walk.}

    “This is just a complicated way of saying I should specialize in flying-types, right?” I probably shouldn’t have asked. It would've been better not to know.

    {No.} He shuffled his wings impassively. {I have looked into your heart and have seen much darkness.}

    Oh for Arceus’s sake. “I’m not evil.”

    The xatu gave me a bemused look that bordered on offended. {I never said you were, trainer. Darkness is not evil. It is simply unknown, and most people fear that which they do not know. You should not fall into the trap.}

    “Please, I can do soul-searching on my journey, but I really don’t want to—”

    He ignored my protests. Instead, he looked up to the sky, his sallow beak pointing like an arrow to the light show above us. {When the lights go out, you must run. But be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark,} he repeated, and then the xatu that had sealed my fate teleported away, leaving me alone with a crowd whose intentions were slowly turning murderous while the sirens wailed and the skies burned all around me.




    The third unusual thing about that otherwise normal, brisk autumn morning was certainly what kept me alive in the days that would follow and was, once again, not my fault. In a single instant, the auroras above as flickered out as if controlled by a light switch. At the same time, all of the power lines around us lit up like torches, sending brilliant bursts of sparks cascading to the ground. The lights died, the sirens shut off, and everything went dark and silent.

    Literally, everything. There was no whir of air conditioning behind me, no hum of generators, no quiet illumination from the inside of the laboratory. Every single light in the town had gone off. Everything in the town had gone off.

    Approximately ninety seconds too late—eighty-eight, if I remembered my books correctly, which I probably didn’t—I remembered what the warning sirens were for.

    There'd always been whisperings of a magnetic apocalypse, in the same sense that a herd of tauros killed Abraham Lincoln or Elvis lived among the hypno. The folks in Olivine always talked about it, but they sounded so absurd that no one paid any heed.

    Their theory was based in science, I guess. The protective magnetic field around our planet had been weakening for a while now, but each region had its own way of dealing with it. Kanto didn't have any electronics to lose and matters couldn't get worse there anyways, so they didn’t care. Hoenn captured Groudon and got geothermal energy and was careful not to use circuitboards. Sinnoh was protected by the very presence of Dialga, whose magnetic field was equivalent to that of a small planet's and deflected coronal radiation on its own.

    And up until now, Johto, the technological beacon of the world, whose legendary pokémon either lived unreachable high in the clouds or deep beneath the sea, had used an entire fleet of bronzong and metagross, courtesy of Team Rocket, to imitate the effect that Dialga had on Sinnoh's magnetic field.

    That effect was what let us operate in peace—daily, the sun released enough charged plasma to wipe out every electrical impulse on the planet, and the magnetic fields, generated by the planet or by us, repelled those particles. Unless, of course, the bronzong and the metagross didn’t do their jobs.

    It was almost the most convenient kind of apocalypse, in a sense. There was no structural damage. The initial death toll was zero. The electric and steel pokémon population had their own internal protective mechanisms, from what I knew. The only creatures affected by it were the clever little imbeciles known as humans who had created powerful machines to do all of their work for them.

    My first instinct was to look to the Rocket members in the crowd. They looked as horrified as I was, even the ones in executive dress, and I realized with a sinking feeling that they were just as surprised as I was. They hadn’t disabled the bronzong-metagross field to hold our electricity hostage, or if they had, the operation had been so well-hidden that Arianna and Petrel, half of the executive core, looked confused about it.

    Speaking of Arianna and Petrel. They were likely going to order their grunts to detain me at the very least and execute me at the very worst. As a person who enjoyed having a functioning system of internal organs, I was in the mood for neither of these events. From my spot on the steps of the laboratory, I could see the reactions of the crowd clearly. Some of them were trying to open their pokéballs to no avail. Of course not. The pokéball system ran on electronic impulses, after all, and no one would be able to release or recall any pokémon until they fixed the grid. The pokémon in their balls would be kept in stasis until that, and…

    …none of them would be able to attack me.

    When the lights go out, you must run, the xatu had said, and now I understood the meaning of his words. I looked at the murkrow perched on my arm, the only pokémon not in a pokéball in the immediate vicinity. Blood pounding in my ears, I took a deep breath. I was probably going to regret this later. No matter. “Are you a girl?” I asked it, ignoring the pressing issue of escape for a moment with the uncanny tunnel vision of the extremely stressed.

    The small black bird spread its wings angrily and cawed. I could check the gender with my pokédex, if I had the time, but, no, my pokédex was a useless lump of metal like everything else. It shook its head a little to help me out.

    Male, then. My mind snapped back to survival again. “Hi. Your name is Icarus, I’m your trainer, and we’re going to start running now.”

    The bird cawed at me again, this time less indignantly, but he didn’t argue. He shifted his perch to my shoulder, allowed me to adjust my backpack, and then held on tight as we pushed our way through the groggy crowd and ducked inside of the tall grass west of New Bark Town.




    No one tried to follow us. That was relief enough in itself, until I realized why: they didn’t feel safe going into the tall grass without a pokémon of their own to defend themselves. Similarly, I didn’t feel safe going into the tall grass with only a pokémon I had just met to defend myself.

    But I wasn’t going to stick around and wait to see what they would do to me. Part of me really wanted to. I could offer to swear loyalty to Team Rocket, give up training forever, and let them shoot the murkrow. That would probably be enough to keep them from marking me as a terrorist and starting a witch hunt. It was just a murkrow after all. Just a mistake.

    Icarus tightened his yellow talons on my shoulder. As we ran, sense slowly replaced fear. They didn’t know my name, and Icarus and I wouldn’t be in the database for a long time because the database currently didn’t exist. All the records would be wiped out, and even if they managed to get the bronzong-metagross field up and restore power, the databanks would suffer irreparable damage. The only way people would remember what had happened today would be by their own, fallible, human memories.

    The idea struck me like a bolt of lightning, and I pulled up short. I pried the murkrow off of my shoulder and held it away from myself at arm’s length. I wiggled my arm a little and tried to dislodge him.

    “Go on,” I said, shaking my arm again. He held on tighter, drawing pinpricks of blood from my fingertips. I gritted my teeth and flapped my arm. “Leave. Go. Get. You’re free.”

    Stubbornly, the bird refused to relinquish his hold on my arm and cawed defiantly at me.

    No. The xatu had already screwed me over once. I wasn’t going to let another dumb bird ruin my life. “What don’t you get!?” I shouted at the pokémon, my frustration getting the better of me. “I don’t want you! Leave!”

    “No.”

    I thought I was hearing things for a moment. I stopped waving my arm through the air like a lunatic and held the bird up at eye level, squinting. My pokédex was short-circuited, so it couldn’t translate for me, but… “Did you just, uh, talk?” I knew some pokémon could talk—chatot, in Sinnoh, for example, had vocabularies of nearly four hundred words. Murkrow were in the same family, I guess, and I’d never really seen one to know about its vocal habits because they were supposed to be mostly extinct. It was quite possible that all murkrow were capable of human speech.
    I kept my eyes pinned on the murkrow. He cackled at me, and then slowly and deliberately opened his bright yellow beak to croak, “No.”

    So we were going to die, murkrow could talk, and my pokémon had a sense of humor.

    “Look,” I said patiently, trying to ignore the fact that I was talking to a bird and would sound like a lunatic to anyone who dropped by. “Your pokéball is broken. It doesn’t work.” I waved around the empty sphere for emphasis. “I’m a…” I searched for the most frightening lie I could think of. “…uh, ornithonivore. I, uh, eat birds all the time. You shouldn’t stay, or else I’ll eat you, too.” I paused expectantly. “Do you want to leave now? Because you can.”

    “No.”

    I kept storming through the undergrowth, the tall grass whipping at my cheeks, and Icarus returned to his original perch on my backpack when he saw that the fun time taunting me had apparently ended. I sighed. I could've hit him with a rock or something until he fainted, but he might've died, and I didn’t want that on my hands as well. And besides, I wouldn’t be able to catch another pokémon without his help. I sighed. “You can’t be my starter.” He nodded. “I can’t keep you. They’ll kill me.”

    “No.”

    I didn’t even know where I was going at that point. “Can you say anything else?”

    “Yes.”

    I sighed. “Oh yeah?” I was honestly curious to know how much English he could speak. Chatot could hold lopsided conversations, but I doubted that murkrow were quite so competent. But until I could get my pokédex translator fixed, Icarus was my only means of communicating with other pokémon. He had the vocabulary of a rock, but he’d be quite useful in that regard. And, again, he was possibly the only captured pokémon usable in the immediate area, seeing as the pokémon in their pokéballs were unreachable, and the pokémon outside of them were mostly feral.

    …there was no possible way that I was going to release him, and we both knew it.

    “Caterpie,” the bird crowed from his perch on my backpack.

    “Anything else?”

    “Caterpie.”

    I mentally put his IQ at around that of a bush and his vocabulary at three words.

    “Caterpie.”

    “Oh, for Arceus’s sake, Icarus, stop.” I reached around to my backpack and scrabbled blindly at it, hoping to hit him so he’d shut up. My fingers closed in on something rubbery and markedly not feathery at all, and I threw the thing to the ground with a hoarse scream that I quickly muffled in the fraying sleeves of my jacket.

    “Caterpie,” Icarus said proudly.

    Indeed, in front of me was a very stunned caterpie. Its buggy eyes, large, white, and bulging, stared vacantly off into space for a minute, and then it righted itself with a soft squelching sound, its suction cup-legs searching for traction on the damp ground. Pink antennae twitched in fear as it slowly focused on me.

    I turned away at first, intending to leave without looking back. Having one new pokémon was bad enough. Adding another one, and a caterpie at that, wasn’t part of my plan. I had no means of capturing it anyway. Caterpie were weak, picked apart by birds like Icarus, and evolved into slightly better versions of themselves that could…

    “Fly,” Icarus said calmly, jabbing at the caterpie with his talons and then back at himself. “Fly. Starter.”

    The leafy-green bug shied away, and I realized just how smart my bird was. The caterpie was afraid of him because he’d snagged it himself. He knew what I needed. Caterpie were weak bugs, but they evolved into slightly less-weak flying-types. Flying-types like xatu, or, more pressingly, murkrow.

    As much as I hated to realize it, Icarus had done something brilliant. I could catch the caterpie and pass it off as my starter. Icarus wasn’t entered as my starter in any currently existing database, and by the time the computer went up at Arceus-knows-when, no one would know to register me with anything other than what I claimed. I could say that the xatu had told me I was destined to be a powerful flying-type trainer, and I, a dumb kid, had seen this very obvious black flying-type on the road and captured it to complete my specialized team of awesomeness. What, it was a murkrow? Murkrow weren’t seen in the wild because they’d mostly been killed off after the Rockets came to power? How was I supposed to know that—my pokédex broke, and I had no idea why! What was a dark-type? Rebellion? Me? Never!

    Heck, if I wanted to, I could avoid starting a revolution altogether and actually believe that the xatu wanted me to specialize in flying-types.

    For the first time on that surprisingly abnormal day, I grinned. Everything was going to be okay. I wasn’t going to die. “You,” I said to Icarus, “are one clever bird.”

    He preened his feathers and pretended not to notice me, but I heard him cackling to himself.

    “Learns psychic.”

    And he was still several steps ahead of me. Butterfree could use psychic-typed moves, which could at least buy me a few brownie points in the likely event that I had to explain why I had a murkrow. Still beaming, I reached into my backpack for an empty pokéball and aimed it at the downed caterpie. It stared back at me, large, beady eyes wider than normal. I would have had Icarus attack it, but it already looked battered up from its collision with the ground.

    In terms of first pokémon battles, this one was quite lame. I didn’t care. I had a pokémon that wouldn’t mark me as a terrorist if I used it as my starter. I pressed the center of the pokéball to expand it.

    Nothing happened. Right.

    Icarus cackled again, this time making no effort to keep it to himself, and I silently fumed. Of course my pokéballs wouldn’t work. No one’s would.

    “Piii?”

    And now the stupid bug seemed to be laughing at me along with my murkrow. All of my previous joy started to simmer away.

    “Stupid female,” Icarus said, flapping from my shoulder and landing on the ground between me and the caterpie. At first, I thought he was talking to me, but he kept his beady gaze fixed upon the caterpie. He cawed at it—no, I realized, her—again in a mixture of pokéspeak and English, and she nodded happily. “Stupid female wishes to accompany Master on own accord,” he concluded. “Not need pokéball.”

    I crouched down so that I was somewhat level with the caterpie. She waved her pink antennae cheerfully at me, and I could have sworn that she was smiling despite the general lack of mouth. “So you want to come with me?”

    “Pi!”

    I stood there for a moment, two fates ahead of me. “I’m supposed to have a dangerous path ahead of me,” I said at last. “You don’t mind?”

    “Pi.” She shook her head and then returned to nibbling at the grass. She didn’t seem like the warring type, which was nice. I had a hunch that Icarus would be bad enough.

    Around me, the pidgey sang, the sun shone, and life went on its boring business as usual. No matter how abnormal the start of my day had been, I was restoring normality into it, piece by piece.

    I extended my hand to the caterpie. “We have a lot of ground to cover before nightfall. Are you coming with us?”

    “Piiii.” She crawled up my hand, and I allowed myself to think for a desperate, foolish moment that maybe the faults weren’t in my stars after all.

    I was wrong, of course, but no one was ever right with those kinds of moments.




    attempted capture: caterpie
    character count: 33,791
    success/fail: success
    Last edited by Elysia; 30th November 2013 at 09:13 AM. Reason: Had me some grading suggestions to follow. ALSO PARAGRAPHS. WOOHOO.
    Sky Lark likes this.

  2. #2
    Apple juice tastes good CrazyLilChicken's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Poultry Farm
    Posts
    438

    Default Re: {some rise by sin} {part one ready to grade} {I really like having brackets}

    Claiming because I like have money to spend.
    Many thanks to Blue Dragon for this amazing signature.


    My URPG Stats | My DRPG Stats | My Wish List

  3. #3
    Apple juice tastes good CrazyLilChicken's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Poultry Farm
    Posts
    438

    Default Re: {some rise by sin} {part one ready to grade} {I really like having brackets}

    I declare this grade finished! Yay! Enjoy.

    Introduction~

    First off, let me tell you that I absolutely loved this. I was reading the beginning and was like 'Oh, death. I love me some good death'. It was probably mean of me to laugh at the hangings. Anyway, onto the Intro Section! This part was really great because you have all the elements in it to make a great story amazing. You have your character, where said character is, and the reason why said character is. You go into extreme detail about how the region is controlled by Team Rocket, rebellion is encouraged so they can smash it, ect. By reading the beginning of this story, the reader can tell that this story line is something a little different from anything they read. That is good. Beginnings are supposed to draw people in and enrapture them, which yours did. It was amusing and detailed and well though out. Fan-freaking-tastic job here. But, since I can't sing your praises all the time without let some air out of your head, you really do have to give your main character some life. You established said character as a sarcastic voice with no face. You want to create a picture of your character, one that makes a lasting imprint in the reader's mind so when ever their name is said, the reader has a picture to hold in their mind. This is kind of a blank area, and one that needs to be fixed if you plan on writing more in the future. And I really do hope you continue writing. This story was great. Onwards and upwards we go.

    Plot~

    This was pretty good. As I was reading, I could tell that this was going to escalade into something great if you choose to continue. There weren't any noticeable holes in it, so again, well thought out. It wasn't too complex that it required quite a bit of thinking on the reader's part, and it wasn't so simple that the reader lost interest. Getting that balance just right takes a lot more dedication on the writer's part. There was a something that was a bit interesting. Why would the would-be Trainers have to travel from their home to New Bark Town to receive their Poke Balls. It could have been someone wanting to continue the tradition of the crazed professor, but the reader doesn't really know that. Elaborate, and give it that lavish detail you gave it to some other parts. Don't leave the seemingly uninteresting parts bare and flapping in the wind. Use that amazing writing power you have to make them come alive. But while there was a problem, it wasn't grievous, and is easily fixed. This plot is unusual in its own way, but it does have some resemblance to other more simpler ones. It's not a bad thing, since I'm sure every possible plot has already been used by someone on Earth. You jazzed it up and make it your own, which not many people do.

    Grammar~

    There weren't many major issues, just some stuff I wanted to point out. Anything like Pokemon species, Pokemon types, PokeDex, and Poke Balls need to be capitalized. They are things of importance, and the caps helps us distinguish them as that. Also, you write in paragraphs, which is extremely common. When you write in paragraphs, go down two lines so there is a gap between the paragraphs. You should also do this when people are talking to each other (go two lines down each time the person has said something, I mean). This helps readers when they switch sentences so they don't get lost and break the illusion you have created with your story. Without those gaps, it can happen easily. There isn't really isn't many errors in this section, at least none other than the ones I already pointed out. Nice job, and I think we can move on.

    Description~

    Great detail. Detail just doesn't revolve around how you describe your characters. It's about surroundings, feelings, anything that is used to paint a picture in the mind of the reader. You have to remember that when writing, you have to describe EVERYTHING, even if its the smallest, most insignificant detail that nobody would pay attention to. Even a sentence or two can make a world of difference, and make your story so much more appealing to readers. Let's see... The details on the Pokemon were kind of nonexistent, so you might want to fix that later on. There is a good chance that whoever does read your story does know what the Pokemon that you are talking about looks like, but the detail is needed nonetheless. I want to cover some ground on your main character. Since its your main character, that means the story revolves around your character, and therefor needs description. As I've said before, you've made your main character a faceless, genderless, sarcastic void, I guess you could say. The reader has nothing to go as far as looks go. What's to stop them from inventing a character inside their own head to place in your story? Nothing, since you've given them nothing picture. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, try to make your character's features up in your mind first, then on the paper. Give it some depth, something that you think will set it apart from the others. Don't be afraid to make up some entirely weird looking person with electric blue hair, purple eyes, and coke bottle glasses. In fact, I encourage you to go wild on your character. Make something that is unique to you and your writing style. Anyway, I think that concludes this section. Let's continue.

    Length~

    As I do to all the people I grade for, I want to tell you that the longest story really isn't the best story. Although, you don't have to stop the story because you feel like you don't want to push the amount of characters written. The character count that you are supposed to pass is more of a guideline. As long as you think your story is good enough to pass, you don't really need a crap ton of characters.

    Outcome~

    Your story was one of the best ones I've read in a while, and not just because the bad guys were in charge of Johto. It was something new and exciting and fun. It was really cool to grade this, even though I sort blew it to pieces. Hehe. Anyway, congrats because you have successfully captured a Caterpie! Yay! Keep writing because you seriously have some talent. I do hope that you read this grade thoroughly and take everything I have mentioned seriously if you want to continue writing. Anyway, I hope you have fun with your new Pokemon.
    Many thanks to Blue Dragon for this amazing signature.


    My URPG Stats | My DRPG Stats | My Wish List

  4. #4
    .______. Elysia's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    All I do is work.
    Posts
    356

    Default {the dogs of war}




    part two: the dogs of war




    My murkrow could talk, and I wanted nothing more than to make him shut up. Furthermore, I was slowly beginning to understand the seemingly-simple concept that life without electricity sucked.

    I’d walked aimlessly out of New Bark with my illegal starter, a murkrow, and my fake starter, a caterpie, full of happy thoughts of disappearing off the face of the planet in the wake of the magnetic apocalypse. I repeated the process of pointless meandering until the tall grass turned into taller forest, doing my best to stay off of the main road while not getting lost. I’d be fine with off-roading for the day with some luck and my trusty GPS-equipped, Rocket-supplied pokédex, except the latter was currently useful only as a decorative paperweight. So instead, I ended up tightening my backpack straps, hugging my jacket closer to myself as the temperature warmed up a little as morning wore into afternoon and then dropped as afternoon wore into night, and sucked it up.

    Then, Icarus learned how to annoy me.

    I think that the only thing more chilling than Icarus’s incessant chatter—“Master, sentret, pidgey, hoothoot! Master, sentret, hoothoot, pidgey!”—would be the silence. And there was plenty of silence to be had. Even the pokémon in the depths of the route between New Bark Town and whatever town lay ahead were silent. It was like they all knew that something terrible had happened this day, something that required their own silence out of fear. The only sounds were the occasional shuffling of talons from the branches above our heads and the dry crunch of my own feet on the loamy earth of the route. Every pokémon, it seemed, knew to hold its breath to see how the world would react to this horrible event.

    “Master, hoothoot, pidgey, pidgey, sentret, pidgey!”

    Every pokémon except mine. Icarus was quite pleased with his ability to talk once he discovered that it annoyed me to no end, and he dug his talons into my shoulder and proceeded to caw out as much obnoxious, inane information as he could. We quickly settled into a routine: I would smack him on the beak, he would shut up for five steps, he would begin cheerfully spouting rubbish, I would smack him on the beak. Rinse and repeat.

    It only stopped at dusk, after I selected a spot at random on the ground, threw my backpack on the ground for a pillow, and set up a pathetic makeshift camp miles away from civilization because I was probably lost and I had no intentions of stumbling around a pitch-black forest with no means of navigation. Icarus flapped up into the trees to perch while my caterpie plopped herself onto my chest, and I sank into restless slumber.

    Restless slumber that was disturbed at dawn when Icarus flapped down by my ear and began anew. “Good morning, Master! Pidgey, pidgey, pidgey, sentret!”

    “Unnnngggh,” I said, my cheerful, articulate self. “No.” Blindly, I reached out and flailed around, my fist making contact with Icarus’s feathered head. The sound stopped.

    Perched on my chest, my new caterpie watched with wide eyes. “Piiii.”

    “She dislike violence you do. Say you shouldn’t hit. Bad karma,” Icarus translated for me, taking a break from naming the whopping three species of pokémon on the route that he could see nestled in the treetops before beginning again. I didn’t ask how he could get all of that out of a single ‘piiii.’ “Hoothoot, hoothoot, pidgey!”

    I struggled not to roll my eyes. So now my fake-starter abhorred violence, and my real starter abhorred doing anything that didn’t piss me off. At least he seemed to do it in good sport rather than generally seeming to hate me, but—

    “Pidgey, sentret, pidgey!”

    —he was starting to wear down my patience, which had never been too abundant to begin with. And, although he seemed quite small, he was actually heavy. Combined with my backpack and my caterpie, he was starting to weigh quite a bit.

    It was morning, though, and time for me to wake up and smell the metaphorical coffee. I had to get moving, an idea that was complicated because my back hurt like the blazes from its not-so-enjoyable stay on hard ground. I sat up. Slowly. Then, I stood up and put on my backpack, and that was about as much effort as I put into breaking camp.

    “You need a name,” I said suddenly, reaching to pat the caterpie still clinging to my stomach before placing her on my backpack beside Icarus.

    “Piii?”

    I didn’t have any brilliant strikes of naming ideas, though, and there wasn’t much by way of inspiration. The forest around us was filled with flying-types. Yes, they were mainly hoothoot and pidgey, as Icarus proudly informed me every five seconds, but I could probably try to catch one. Or, more accurately, I could try to catch one if Icarus wasn’t scaring away all of the wildlife in the immediate area with his oh-so-dulcet tones. But it didn’t matter. Without working pokéballs, catching pokémon became exponentially more difficult. I could probably tie one up, sure, but I had no rope and I wasn’t exactly in the kidnapping mood. Most of the pokémon on my team for a while would have to be the ones stupid enough to join a toally-not-aspiring-terrorist-to-be.

    But if I had the chance, which would probably be never, I was definitely going to catch a couple or twelve of the local birds. Preferably a hoothoot or two. I’d heard that they had minor psychic powers as well, and that would really help with the non-threatening-non-rebelling vibe that I needed to develop. But without pokéballs, I’d have a hard time making sure they even stayed with me, and then there was the issue of carrying everyone. If they were all going to camp out on my backpack, I wouldn’t be able to lift the thing soon enough. I would have to make do with Icarus and then my caterpie. My caterpie and then Icarus, actually, if I was going to pretend that the xatu had never given me a murkrow to begin with.

    The name came to me then. “Your name is Gaia.” The first. The foundation. The roots of the earth.

    “Piiii.”

    I’d take that as a yes, although my caterpie—Gaia, I corrected myself firmly—was less vocal than Icarus.

    “Hoothoot, pidgey, pidgey!”

    Then again, a lot of pokémon were less vocal than Icarus.

    “Pidgey, sentret, sentret, sen—crawwwk!”

    I felt, rather than saw, the gust of energy that knocked Icarus off my backpack. I spun around, eyes widening and adrenaline making me fully awake, but the murkrow caught himself before he slammed into a tree and managed to right himself with a few flaps of his inky wings, squawking indignantly all the while.

    “Nice shot, Dante. That bird finally shut up.”

    Half of me had guiltily been thinking the same thing, but the rest of that feeling was replaced with a twinge of alarm for my pokémon, and then myself when I realized I wasn’t alone. I whirled back around to see a trainer about my age with dark red hair that reached nearly to his shoulders. He wore mostly white clothing, expensive by the looks of it, and an arrogant smirk that suited his pinched face far too well, and I decided then that I hated him.

    But what was most threatening about the trainer was the pokémon hovering next to him, floating of its own accord with what I knew was telekinesis. If that was his starter, he was one of the Rocket’s chosen pets—it was a psychic type. The creature was short, about the size of a small child, but it sat in a meditating pose and kept its eyes tightly shut. Its tail, golden-brown, lashed through the air and was the only sign that it was conscious at all. Pointy triangular ears twitched occasionally, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was sleeping or dumb.

    But I did know better. Abra lived in the grass outside of Goldenrod where I grew up, and were devastatingly powerful when well trained. At first they abhorred violence and could only teleport, but this one seemed to have moved beyond that stage pretty quickly and was skilled enough to snipe Icarus from twenty feet away, where they were standing. And when they reached their final evolution, there were few pokémon, psychics or otherwise, that could hope to compete with them.

    Time to break the ice. “What was that for?” I tried to keep the fear I felt out of my voice. Had he been following me since yesterday? Shit, had he been watching me sleep?

    The boy smirked, one hand stroking the abra beside him like a Bond villain might stroke a persian. “Well, you know how the saying. When two trainers make eye contact, they have to battle.” And with that, he looked me squarely in the eyes, his dark brown gaze locking with my own.

    I decided then and there that “hate” was not an adequate term to express my feelings for this trainer. I held out my right arm, and Icarus fluttered over and landed on my wrist, narrowing his beady little eyes and glaring at the boy and his abra alongside me. “The whole of Johto is in crisis mode and you try to jump me so we can battle?”

    “Yeah.” He sounded like he meant it, too, speaking with a careless authority that came from years of getting his way.

    I didn't have time for this. I had a rebellion to not-start and a villainous team to avoid, and I wanted to get to Cherrygrove before nightfall so I didn't end up freezing to death without proper supplies. "That's cute. I'll be leaving now."

    "Dante, if you would be so kind."

    The abra moved faster than conscious thought, or at least faster than my conscious thought, and I found myself staring at its squinted eyes even as I tried to side-step the two of them. Teleportation. Of course. Just like the xatu. {My trainer asks you to battle. I ask you not to refuse.}

    "Mine declines," Icarus growled, flapping errant circles above my head. His talons flexed unconsciously, and I could tell that he was prepared to dig into the abra's throat, if it came to it. He seemed content to trade banter with the abra, though, although whether he was doing it to help me avoid a fight or for a closer shot at the golden pokémon remained up in the air. "We pass now."

    "It won't take too long," the trainer scoffed, lazily examining his fingers. "Dante can crush your petty little pokémon in an instant."

    Ass. "Thanks for the offer," I replied. I had to actively resist the urge to roll my eyes, and even then, it was close. "But we'll be leaving now. You know. Gotta get to town before the armageddon strikes again."

    This time the trainer himself moved to impede my path, throwing out a gloved hand and slamming it into my shoulder. I staggered back in surprise as he said, "Cute, but if you don't send out a pokémon soon, Dante here will pop your head like a zit."

    The abra hovered into my face again, eyes glowing menacingly, and I wondered if he'd actually meant it. Pokémon on human violence was rare, and trainers were forbidden to attack other trainers with their pokémon, but we were in the middle of a forest devoid of any witnesses save for the wind in the branches, and the rest of Johto was too busy with the magnetic apocalypse to care, anyways. Also, the kid was a Rocket-to-be or something, so violence probably ran in his blood. "Well?” he drawled. “I'm waiting."

    This kid was so full of it, and engaging him would be the stupidest thing I done all day, even if I had just woken up. But my head had a happy and welcome place on my neck with all of its internal fluids, well, internal. And besides. Dark-types beat psychic-types. Bug-types beat psychic-types. I had a legitimate shot at this.

    “Ic—” No, I had to start using Gaia. If I leapt into battle with Icarus all the time, people would start getting suspicious. Especially trainers with psychic types who were probably destined to join the ranks of Team Rocket. And besides, even if I’d only picked up Gaia to cover for the xatu’s meddling, I didn’t want to neglect her. Butterfree were pretty nice to have around, but Gaia needed some experience to get there, and this was as good of a time as any. “Gaia, we can take him. You’re up.”

    “Piiii?” Gaia looked uncertain, but she obliged and began scooting off of my backpack with all of the speed and finesse of a glob of mud. Her pink antennae twitched uneasily, and I could see her curling her green body into a smaller target, suction cups pulsating as she struggled for ground.

    “No,” the boy said, his lip curling in disgust as my caterpie finally made it to the ground. He gestured to the abra beside him. “We battle with our starters only, not some sort of piece of shit that someone decided to call a pokémon. I want to fight that murkrow.”

    My response was immediate and sounded only halfway like a lie. “He’s not my starter. The caterpie is. And you aren’t allowed to choose what pokémon we use.” Too late, I realized that he had insulted Gaia, but I had other problems on my mind.

    The boy snorted and rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Even if I didn’t watch the xatu give you that murkrow yesterday morning, you can’t tell a lie to save your life.” When I didn’t move, his smirk only widened. “We battle with our starters,” he repeated. “I want to fight your murkrow.”

    “And if I refuse?” I probably shouldn’t have asked, but I was feeling daring and he was starting to piss me off. Starting was a lie, actually; he'd pissed me off quite a while ago. I didn’t have time for this. I wanted to reach Cherrgrove before nightfall, and I needed to reach Goldenrod as soon as possible. My mother—

    “Then I report to Proton that I’ve found the kid they’re looking for with the dark-type starter.”

    “Report to Proton?” I asked numbly. “Why would you—oh.” The red hair. The dark and expensive clothing. The perfect psychic-type pokémon. The air that simply reeked of jerk. “You’re Giovanni’s kid.”

    Of course he'd have an abra as a starter. They evolved into nigh-unstoppable psychics, and the heir of Team Rocket would, naturally, get no less. I assumed that he'd been stuck with an abra only because Mewtwo wasn't a legal starter.

    He did a mock bow, his dark red hair falling into his eyes, but I could see hatred burning there, and contempt. I didn’t know for whom or what. “Codename Silver, the one and only.”

    The Rockets didn’t give their real names, although I didn’t know why not—it wasn’t like they faced any sort of opposition. Most of the higher ranks claimed to operate under codenames, although I preferred to pretend that their parents were stupid enough to name their kids stupid things like ‘Proton’ or ‘Petrel.’ Or here, ‘Silver.’

    Heh. I toyed with the idea of giving myself a badass codename. Something awesome, like Crobatman or the Green Lanturn or—

    But in all seriousness, Mr. Codename Silver was the last person I wanted to see in the forest. I took a step backwards. This was bad. I’d been hoping to evade Team Rocket for at least a day. I wanted to get a trainer card up at Cherrygrove, preferably one that listed Gaia as my starter; with the records down, they’d have no choice but to believe me, especially if I managed to convince Icarus to keep his mouth shut while I was registering. But if Silver knew who and where I was, it would only take a matter of time before the rest of Team Rocket found me as well. “Why are you battling me?” I asked. Stalling for time, really. Half of my mind was searching for a way to keep him quiet. Bribery wouldn’t work; he was too rich for that and I too poor, but maybe—

    He took his hand from the golden fur of his abra and folded his arms in front of his chest. “The xatu thought you were special.”

    “No, he didn’t.” My response there was automatic as well, even as my strange conversation with the bird replayed itself in my mind.

    “He gave you a murkrow,” Silver retorted calmly, leveling that icy glare toward me once again. “Clearly that means something, and I want to see what potential he saw in you that he didn’t see in me.”

    “Oh, yes, not getting your way for once must kill you,” I retorted, even though I could feel the metaphorical thin ice beneath me. I risked a glance over my shoulder, wondering if I could scoop up Gaia and run for it. Icarus would follow, but where would we run? The forest stretched on for miles, from what I could see, and I didn’t want to try outrunning him. I probably couldn’t, and his abra could teleport. “I didn’t ask for anything special. I don’t want to threaten Team Rocket.”

    Silver laughed humorlessly. “You think I care? You think I’m going to go blabbing back to father about the ickle little trainer on the road with her pathetic bird?” When I didn’t respond, the smile faded from his face, and I caught a glimpse of that hatred again. “I don’t run around for them like a pet. They’re a bunch of idiots, and they don’t know what you look like or where you are,” he snarled. His voice had suddenly turned harsh. “And all I had to do to find out was follow you, but they botched that one up. You don’t threaten us, anyways. The xatu thought you were special, and the second you got your starter, Johto went to hell. I believe in fate. I want to see why.”

    Someone clearly had daddy issues. “Fine.” On my wrist, Icarus bristled at the insults. I nodded curtly at him. This conversation was over, and if I wasn't going to be allowed to leave until we pounded him and his stupid abra into the ground, then so be it. “Icarus, he’s all yours.”

    Clearly glad to get fighting at last, the murkrow leapt off my arm and took to the air in a flash of black feathers, cawing angrily. The joking expression, the casual naming of the native pokémon, the lazy flapping was all gone now, replaced with a beady crimson glare fit to kill beneath the feathered protrusions that formed his little top hat.

    Across from us, Silver nudged his abra with his foot, and the golden pokémon levitated forward as well, its eyes pressed firmly shut. I knew it wasn’t sleeping but instead concentrating its psychic powers. Which, conveniently, would have no effect on Icarus. I was beginning to see why Team Rocket could view me as a threat.

    I opened my mouth to shout out an attack when I realized I didn’t know what moves Icarus knew. I knew some of the local pokémon around Goldenroad, of course, but murkrow weren't native to anywhere. I’d use my pokédex, except it didn’t work. Arceus. This whole ‘no technology’ thing wasn’t working out too well. “Start off with a peck?” I didn’t want to make it sound like a question.

    Thankfully, Icarus seemed to know what I was talking about. He drew his wings close to his body and dive-bombed the abra, golden beak glinting in the sunlight.

    Silver raised an eyebrow. “Confusion.”

    What was he playing at? He of all people would know that abra’s psychic attacks wouldn’t have any effect on murkrow. I frowned, wondering if perhaps I had overestimated his skills, before his abra nodded, spread its hands out, and levitated the rocks around it with a flash of blue energy.

    Ah. Of course.

    “Icarus, pull out of there!” I shouted, and the murkrow barely swerved out of the way as the rocks around him rose into the air and began hurling themselves at him. Dark-type or not, getting hit with a large boulder would still hurt. I was impressed against my will. Silver didn’t seem to be phased that I was using a pokémon absolutely immune to his starter’s typical attacks, and now he had a battle plan. A really successful battle plan. And I had no idea how to tell Icarus to fight back. “Swerve around. Get behind it!”

    This was just another reminder not to fight the Rockets, I told myself. They were smart. I might've had a murkrow that was immune to their primary form of attack, but the Rockets were more than just grunts. They'd found ways to check their weaknesses, even if I hadn't.

    He obliged and began darting in and out of the abra’s range, flitting close to it before pulling out quickly and flying in from a different angle. He was faster than the abra, but barely; each time, the rocks and dust flying around crept a little closer to Icarus before he managed to get out. He got the first hit off, a fleeting peck that was hardly more than a brush before he had to retreat again. But then he got another hit off, and another, and the abra’s attacks were slowing. I couldn't tell much from its face at all, frankly, and it kept its bland expression the whole time, but it seemed to be tiring.

    Icarus cackled victoroiusly. "Slow, slow, slow!"

    {Foolish,} came the calm reply.

    I allowed myself a small grin.

    Silver didn’t seem amused. “Shock wave,” he said, his voice cool. “I’d like to see you dodge that.”

    Not only was his first pokémon an abra, but it was an abra that had already been taught special moves. It could do more than sleep, it could do more than teleport, and now it could do more than use psychic-type attacks. All of this from a starter that had been given out yesterday morning from a xatu that was supposed to distribute pokémon that were tame and completely untrained so that everyone could get an equal footing.

    Yet I got the murkrow and the heir of Team Rocket got the electricity-wielding abra. Silver's abra, I noted distractedly, also didn't seem to annoy him to no end by, say, listing names of wild pokémon or pestering Gaia all the time. If Icarus weren’t in direct danger, I’d be livid. The stacking unfairness of this whole journey was starting to weigh down on me. Fate was not on my side, and I was getting sick of it.

    Unfortunately for me, Icarus was in direct danger. The abra spread its paws apart, and a web of crackling blue electricity formed in the air around it. It pointed a stubby paw towards Icarus and released the fizzling lightning, arcs of blue light splitting from the fistful of energy that it held in its palm. {I shall not say this a third time, but you are both foolish.}

    Icarus tried to dodge, folding his wings and dropping like a stone in a steep dive, but the lightning followed him, painting the air and the surrounded forest a washed-out blue. The murkrow squawked in pain as the shockwave hit his tail feathers and then coursed through his body, and I found myself wincing as he hit the dusty ground with a thud.

    I bit back a curse. “Icarus?” I asked tentatively. He lay on the ground in a limp heap of tangled feathers. “Icarus, are you okay?” One crimson eye cracked open.

    “One more should finish the job,” Silver said. Whatever interest he’d had during the battle had faded, and a bored expression was spread across his face. “Dante, do be so kind as to pick off the weakling, would you?”

    I couldn’t lose this battle now. I couldn’t. I was not coming this far and fleeing Team Rocket only to get beaten by some upstart, arrogant heir to their organization who had apparently started training on the same day I had. “Icarus. Get up.” I couldn’t keep the pleading note out of my voice, and Silver smirked. “Icarus?”

    The abra prepared another orb of electricity between its two paws and aimed at its downed target. Now that Icarus wasn’t flapping around like a bat out of hell, the abra had a much easier target.

    Silver looked up from a careful examination of his fingers. “Don’t take me the wrong way, but I was definitely expecting more out of you.” I didn’t bother responding to him. “I mean, if the xatu actually chose you to start some sweeping revolution—”

    “—he didn’t,” I growled, teeth gritted. I wasn’t going to do anything stupid to get myself killed.

    “—I’d have thought that he would’ve picked someone actually competent to do the job.” Silver gave a mock sigh. “A pity, too, because your starter was the last starter that xatu will ever give out.”

    I felt a cold chill wrap around my heart. No.

    He smirked at the shocked expression that must have been spreading across my face. “Arianna killed the stupid bird herself. Didn’t even use her pokémon for it.” He looked up, those dark brown eyes of his glinting with perverse and savage satisfaction as he folded his arms across his chest. “Did you know that that xatu belonged to one of the trainers who took down the old government? It took out two of the old Elites by itself, fought out electric and ice-types alone, and helped tame Mewtwo.” Silver’s smirk widened. “But as it turns out, that xatu didn’t match up all that well against a shotgun. Four slugs was all it took.”

    The xatu. The xatu… oh, Arceus. He was dead because of me. I felt the blood drain from my face.

    “I wonder how much your murkrow will squawk after the first shot?"

    {We cannot let him escape,} the abra confirmed, taking its sweet time in preparing its attack. Fine. If they were going to gloat, I was going to take advantage of it, but I didn't know if there was any advantage to take at this point. {The murkrow is an abomination to pokémon everywhere.}

    Damned psychic. He wasn’t laying a finger on my pokémon. “Icarus, move!

    The murkrow cracked open his other crimson eye, looking weakly at me. His wings were splayed across the ground, and I realized with horror that he wasn’t going to make it out in time. I was going to lose, and Icarus was going to faint. I could get Gaia to attack while the abra was distracted and maybe she could try to surprise him, but I doubted she was strong enough to—

    Then Icarus winked at me. Moments before the electricity hit him, he propped himself up on his wings and pushed himself airborne, a trail of dust behind him as he skimmed across the ground in a flash of yellow and black.

    {What.}

    The little blighter tricked me.

    Then he was whizzing past me alongside the smell of burnt feathers, the electricity not too far behind him, and I realized that we weren’t quite out of the frying pan yet. He couldn’t outrun the shock wave attack forever, and I was sure that despite his brash appearance and jaunty smile, he definitely wouldn’t enjoy taking another hit.

    “Icarus, try to, uh…”

    Before I could finish giving a command that would’ve been absolutely unhelpful, Icarus executed a tight backward loop, arcing gracefully behind the abra. The steely glint had returned to his eyes, and it was clear that he’d planned something without my telling him to. Wonderful.

    Any other thoughts I had were quickly silenced as Icarus was obscured by the sitting abra’s figure, which was turning to meet him but all too slowly. For a moment, Icarus was completely hidden by the abra’s golden fur, and then I saw his face and beak sprouting out of the psychic-type’s chest.

    Mother of Arceus, he did not just—

    Before I could start vomiting at the sight of tiny abra blood and guts spewing everywhere, my brain kindly kicked in and I realized with a flash of relief that the abra was not spewing bodily fluids from its intestinal cavity and this was not a scene plagiarized from a Ridley Scott film.

    Of course, my kindly brain had no explanation for what Icarus was doing emerging from the chest of anything, let alone Silver’s pokémon. Tendrils of darkness trailed away from the murkrow’s tail feathers as the rest of him emerged smoothly from the abra’s brown chest plates, what might have been a smirk painted across his beak.

    The abra itself looked at its chest in confusion as the murkrow slipped out of its abdomen like an apparition, leaving flesh and skin completely intact. It tried to swat at the murkrow, but its paws were too slow, and then its eyes widened, almost comically, from small slits to slightly less small slits in pain.

    The shock wave was still targeting Icarus, but unlike my murkrow, it lacked the ability and motivation to pass through solid objects. The electricity hit the abra squarely in the back, and this time the blue, fizzling energy made the abra cry in pain rather than my murkrow. Not letting up for a moment, Icarus swerved back and latched on to the golden pokémon’s face, pecking at it until the stunned abra finally lost the energy to stay floating upright.

    I blinked. I won?

    Silver scowled. “That faint attack was a dirty move.” He glared at his abra, now unconscious, and pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket and threw it at me.

    I caught it and slipped it into my pocket without counting it. I’d heard that trainers used to give each victor money, but that was a tactic as ancient as the old government—no one had that kind of money to spare any more. No one, it seemed, besides the Rockets and their spawn.

    I opted against telling him that I hadn’t given Icarus any command and only filed the new attack in the back of my mind. “Yes, well, it worked, and you were threatening to kill us.” I balled my hands into fists. Without a pokémon to help him, Silver probably couldn’t take me and Icarus at the same time. If I wanted to attack him, now was the chance.

    Silver took a half step toward his fallen abra, and then pried its mouth opened and shoved his hand into its mouth.

    What the literal fu—

    Silver removed his hand from his pokémon’s mouth, wiping off its spit from his white gloves with an air of disgust, and then smirked. Beside him, the abra awoke with a jolt, and in a movement so fast it must’ve been practiced, it wrapped its paw around Silver’s leg and teleported the two of them away.

    I turned around to run, but no sooner had I processed what had happened when Silver appeared at my back in a flash of blue light. Maybe, I thought blearily, lower-powered psychics had to had physical contact with their teleportees and couldn’t hide the light. Whatever thoughts I had next were violently cut off and Silver reached grabbed the base of my braid from the small of my back and pulled, yanking my neck back and causing my scalp to burst into flashes of pain.

    “Then again, I suppose using a revive was a dirty move as well,” Silver whispered into my ear. Icarus unsteadily took to the air as Silver adjusted his grip on my hair and pulled back harder, ignoring my incoherent curses.

    The asshole had revives. I’d seen them in the Goldenrod department store before, but they were always kept locked up in pristine glass cases with laser-triggered alarms and pressure-sensitive plates because they were so expensive. Apparently they contained enough raw adrenaline to kill a reasonably healthy adult, but pokémon could ingest them and recover from fainted status within seconds. Most of their injuries would be healed and they would be ready to fight again, as clearly evidenced in my case.

    {Do not move,} the abra advised my murkrow before blasting him out of the sky with another shockwave.

    “Fucker!” I managed to spit. I normally didn’t curse, and I’d certainly never said anything as bad as the f-bomb before, but there was the pressing matter of Silver had pulled the jump on me and Icarus was spasming on the ground and holy shit we were all going to die. I moved my hands up to try to force him off of me, lashing out with my feet as I did so—and froze.

    “Bad choice,” Silver continued, his breath scarily warm and close on my neck in contrast to the cold metal pressed to my throat. I could feel a little blood dripping from the scratch where he’d pressed the knife—he had a knife?—too close to my neck.

    That escalated quickly.

    The abra casually floated over to my downed murkrow, which was struggling to recover from the numbing electricity and regain his footing. {I am going to continue shocking you until you die,} the abra explained casually. {If you fight back, my master will cut your master’s throat.}

    “Don’t touch him!” I shouted. This time, I wasn’t able to keep the raw fear out of my voice. Holy shit. We were all going to die. Holy shit.

    The abra, of course, ignored me and instead released a small pulse of blue electricity from its palm. The shockwave hit Icarus square in the center of the forehead, but instead of crying out, the murkrow kept his beak clamped firmly shut and glared up in abject defiance even as the numbing electricity racked his fragile body. He refused to move, even as the shocks became too intense for him and he had to sink to the ground, glaring daggers all the while.

    “Icarus, get out of there!” I cried in frustration. He had to get out. I wasn’t going to be Johto’s savior, but he could go out and find some other trainer to overthrow the assholes that called themselves Team Rocket.

    “Protection,” he managed to reply.

    “Please!” I tried.

    {Pity,} said the abra.

    “Pathetic.” Silver scoffed.

    “Piiii!”

    Gaia launched herself into the air and latched on to the abra’s head, pivoting around to fire off a web of sticky silk that hit Silver in the face and knocked him away from me, the knife falling from his hand. The abra raised its paws to launch a psychic wave at its newest attacker, but Gaia bit down on its ears, hard, throwing off its concentration for a moment.

    I disentangled myself from Silver and ran over to Icarus, who was still breathing feebly, although his feathers were charred and had lost their sheen. But he wasn’t dead. Thank Arceus.

    Silver managed to peel the webbing off of his face, spluttering indignantly as he freed himself. His abra bucked wildly, trying to dislodge my caterpie. “Teleport!” he shouted.

    The abra obliged, and teleported a few feet behind its original position. Lacking a firm base, Gaia fell to the ground, bewildered, only to find the abra looming behind her, bleeding freely from one ear and looking furious.

    “Confusion.”

    Gaia and I didn’t have much time to blink before the abra waved a paw in a pushing motion and threw her into the nearest tree trunk, which she hit with a thud. “String shot him in the face!” I called out, my feeling of elation at being rescued dissipating significantly when I realized we weren’t out of this by a long shot.

    “Confusion.”

    Gaia collided with the tree again before she could even regain her footing, and the abra floated up to her and casually bashed her into the trunk repeatedly, sending chunks of bark from the ground and dislodging a few berries from the upper branches.

    Shit. This was why dark-types were so useful. I had to think of a way to get my pokémon and myself out of there. Fast. “Gaia, try to—”

    “Piiii.” Gaia, hovering in midair where the abra held her, calmly fixed her opponent with a glare and then burst into blinding white light. The abra flew back from the sheer force of whatever attack she was using, and the winds picked up, sending leaves and dust flying away from her in droves. The light intensified, if such a thing were possible, and I understood.

    Gaia wasn’t attacking. She was evolving.

    The light faded, leaving a lumpy figure that was a darker green than before. Gone were the waving pink antennae and shining eyes, replaced instead with a horn-like protrusion and small, lidded eyes. “Podddd,” Gaia growled, turning those lidded eyes toward the abra with an expression that might have been distaste, if not hatred—then again, she wasn’t exactly the most belligerent of pokémon, so I couldn’t really tell.

    {Do not think that you frighten me more now that you are a metapod,} the abra said with a sniff of distaste, raising its paw again. {Or do you expect me to congratulate you on taking your already pathetic mobility and making it so you cannot even move?}

    “Podddd.”

    {And do not flatter her. The foolish girl did not make you stronger. You made you stronger, and there is no need to give her credit she does not deserve.} The abra tilted its head, studying the metapod, and then it added, {Your trainer and her murkrow have no chance of escape, and nor will you, should you choose to join them. You should flee while you still have the chance; we will be lenient. You were taken against your will.}

    “Pod.”

    {No? To which part.}

    “Poddd.”

    {Ah. All of it.} The abra paused. {I see.} It raised its paw once again, the blue glow returning to its palm and eyes. {You can take your loyalty and your love and—}

    Gaia cut the abra off by spitting another blob of silk at its head like a bullet. The abra’s entire body snapped backward with the force of the collision, and then it collided into the tree trunk beside it, sliding to the ground. It began to get up, but Gaia huffed out a barrage of tiny lumps of webbing. All of which went over the downed abra’s head and buried themselves into the tree.

    {You missed,} the abra said dryly, vaporizing the first string shot attack from its face in a flash of blue. Behind it, the tree was perforated with little bits of webbing. {Pathetic. You can’t even move enough to adjust your aim to compensate for my new position.}

    “Poddd,” Gaia remarked, and then tilted her body upward with herculean effort to fire off one last lump of string shot.

    {Move out of the way? Why would I—}

    The tree groaned and then collapsed, exhausted from the barrage of string shot it had received seconds earlier. Satisfied, Gaia waited for the abra to reappear from beneath the mass of leaves and branches that buried it, but nothing happened.

    “Pod.”

    She dropped a freaking tree on him.

    My caterpie—no, my metapod had just saved my life. In the most badass manner possible. I would have celebrated, but I caught Silver’s movement in the corner of my eye and whirled around as he reached to the ground to pick up his knife where it had fallen. I couldn’t let him do that. Alarm flooded through my veins. “Touch the knife and I’ll tell Icarus to bury his beak in your forehead.” My voice didn’t sound like my own, and there was a steely edge buried in it that I didn’t recognize, but when I saw the glint of metal in his hands, my voice only got harder. Oh, Arceus. I’d seen this in movies, but that didn’t mean I knew how to avoid getting stabbed or shot. “Hands in the air, asshole. Now.”

    He froze and slowly raised his hands and interlaced his fingers behind his head with a tired air, as if he’d expected this and had done it before. The knife lay on the ground by his foot, and I wondered if he still had any plans to turn this to his favor. Most likely.

    I pointed to the knife. “Slide it over to me.” As he moved with one hand to pick up the metal object again, I flinched. “No. Use your foot.” I’d read about this part in books, but it was so much scarier in real life. I had to sound like I was willing to kill him, though. I had to sound committed.

    “Aren’t you a clever girl,” Silver drawled, but I could see a trace of fear in his eyes that mirrored my own. At least he thought I was serious, and at least I’d foiled part of his plan. When I raised my eyebrows insistently, he rolled his eyes and kicked it towards me.

    The object skidded towards me in a flash of silver and hit my foot. I glanced down at it, reluctant to tear my gaze from Silver in case he tried anything, but I spared myself half a moment to pick it up. I think. I didn’t even know what he’d wanted to do with it, and I didn’t want to.

    “Kill?” Icarus asked, sounding curious and fascinated. He seemed to have recovered from his electroshock therapy enough to return to thoughts of death and destruction, but I could still hear the exhaustion creeping into his voice.

    “Icarus, shut up.” The murkrow's squabbling wasn't helping my threatening image, but this whole situation wasn't helping my non-threatening image, either. I wasn't sure which one was worse.

    “Maim?” he tried hopefully.

    “Hands at your sides.” I motioned with my head toward Silver. “Gaia, tie him up.”

    My metapod shot me a confused look but obediently shot another web of silk toward Silver, binding his arms to his torso. She looked at me, apparently sensing my intentions, and let loose a doleful, “Mettaa.” I ignored her. She didn’t understand how much danger we would be in if Silver walked away.

    I didn’t know what to do after this. I didn’t want kill him, for so many reasons. I didn’t have the heart, first of all. He was the heir of Team Rocket, second of all, and killing him would be the only thing stupider than what I was doing right now. And, third of all, I didn’t have a good weapon and I didn’t want Icarus to have to disembowel someone. Fourth…

    Oh, Arceus. I was actually contemplating killing him. Not out of hatred, even though every word that came out of his mouth only made me dislike him a little more and he’d just tried to slit my throat, but out of… I didn’t even know. Survival, really. If he lived, I would be in danger. He would run back to Team Rocket and blab. And he had ordered his abra to kill Icarus while he held a knife to my neck and… I shuddered. The most logical response was to make sure that he couldn’t come back after me again.

    I couldn’t believe I was actually considering any of this. “Kneel down.” I pointed with my foot. He did, cringing.

    I wondered how the xatu had died, and why.

    “Count to five hundred,” I snapped. “I’m heading out. Don’t move until then." It occurred to me that it would be stupid to let him see where I was going, but there was precisely one road through the forest, and we were both on it. "If I see you following me, I will not hold back.” Yes, I definitely would, but he didn’t need to know that.

    Icarus fluttered limply onto my backpack, tired even from that small exertion, and I scooped up Gaia in my arms. She was much larger than before, almost too big for me to hold, but I didn’t have much of a choice. She wasn’t going to get very far on her own. Then, I started walking.

    I didn’t turn around, but Silver moved his head so he could see my retreating figure, nervous and afraid, Icarus squabbling at me in protest. “You aren’t going to kill me?” the red-haired trainer asked in disbelief.

    "Maim!" Icarus suggested again. "Kill!"

    “Poddd,” Gaia whispered mournfully, and although I couldn’t understand her, I knew she was fairly morally opposed to my becoming a murderer.

    My cheeks burned, but I didn’t want to let him see my face. If he did, he would see just how scared I truly was. “Shut up!” I shouted, but there was a hitch in my voice and we could both hear it. “I was going to escort you back to town with Icarus and help you carry your stupid abra, but if I see you near us, you’re a goner.” That didn’t matter too much, either. He probably had enough revives to wake up his abra in no time—those things were as expensive as heck, but then again, he was the heir to Team Rocket.

    I chanced a glance behind me. He was still kneeling in the dirt, pristine clothing splattered in silk rope, but the smirk on his face and the fire in his eyes had returned. Then he opened his mouth and laughed, mirthlessly, the sound echoing in the empty treetops. “You can’t seriously be this pathetic.”

    Maybe I was. I didn’t care. I kept walking.

    “The xatu picked wrong, then, if he vested all of his hopes in a stupid, naïve girl who can’t even bring herself to kill the fucking heir of Team Rocket!

    I thought of the tired silver wings, the rheumy eyes, the ancient voice of the xatu that had screwed me over. All of which would never be felt or seen or heard by anyone again, because of… no. Not because of Team Rocket. Because of me.

    I grabbed Silver’s knife from where he’d left it on the ground and hefted it in my hand. The metal was cool to the touch, and the blade flicked out violently as my fingers curled around the handle. A switchblade. Fairly long, very sharp. And the handle was worn with use.

    “Poddddd!” Gaia shrieked violently from my arms, while on my back, Icarus cackled maniacally. This was as close to the whole “demon perched on one shoulder, angel on the other” cliché as I was ever going to get.

    I ignored them both and strode towards Silver, the metal of the switchblade pressing hard into my hand and my two pokémon created a cacophony of protest and encouragement. There was true fear in his eyes now, and I stood in front of him, breathing heavily. “I’m a sucker for karma,” I growled. “And that means I should kill you for what you and your friends did to that xatu.”

    “But what,” he asked mockingly, and I realized that both of us were trying to hide our fear and failing, “you’re just going to threaten me with that and then walk away? Or are you actually going to kill me? What kind of message are you trying to send across, anyways?”

    “You know how the saying goes. An eye for an eye.” I lashed out with the knife and caught him on the cheek, right beneath the eye. He flinched but didn’t turn away, even as blood began welling up and streaking down his cheek.

    “Killll!” Of course Icarus would be angry. The abra had nearly shocked him to death.

    “Podddd.” And of course Gaia wouldn’t understand.

    But as I remembered her anger and the incredible power from her evolution, and how she’d held it back and managed to defeat the abra without killing it even as it laughed in her face, I knew. She understood quite well. She was trying to get me to be a good person in a world where good people got screwed over and heroes got publicly dismembered.

    Arceus. I just maimed a person. I resisted the urge to vomit. “And then the world goes blind,” I finished in a shaking voice before throwing the knife to the ground. “There’s your stupid message, and here’s your stupid knife. Now you stay the hell away from me.”

    He threw back his head and started laughing again, but this time I didn’t turn back.




    We arrived in Cherrygrove a few hours before nightfall with no other incident. I almost wished that something would happen—maybe a pokémon could run into our path, or a military-grade helicopter could stumble across me and gun me into the ground—but the journey was disappointingly silent. Even Icarus held his tongue for a while and fell asleep with his claws looped around my backpack.

    “Thanks for everything out there,” I said to Gaia.

    “Poddd.”

    “I wasn’t actually thinking about killing him,” I lied.

    “Poddd.”

    Without Icarus to translate, and given that Gaia now had as much mobility as a rock with eyes, our conversation wasn’t exactly the most complex. But I think she could pick up that I was lying. “But thank you for reminding me.”

    “Meta.” Then, she fell silent.

    Which left me alone with my thoughts for several hours, which weren’t comforting in the slightest. They swirled around like a cocktail in the back of my mind, pounding there like a heartbeat, leaving me more confused than ever. The xatu was dead. The Rockets were looking for me. They didn’t know who I was, but they were closing in. Codename fucking Silver, heir to Team Rocket, had tried to kill me. And I’d almost killed him in return.

    Well, this situation wasn’t going to get any worse, even if I jinxed it. On the plus side, I arrived in town, Icarus shut himself up, and it wasn’t quite nightfall. On the downside… well. The pros were starting to get vastly outweighed by the cons at this point.

    “Are you here for the pokémon center?”

    A kind voice jerked me out of my reverie. I looked around and realized that, yes, I was indeed in standing in the doorway of the pokémon center looking like a crazed lunatic. “Um, yes,” I managed to say. “Is there space?”

    What normally would have been a rhetorical question asked out of politeness turned out to be a serious question as I surveyed the lobby of the pokémon center. It looked like the entire population of Cherrygrove had fled into the center, and then some. Trainers of all ages were crammed on to the benches and scattered across the floor, and entire families were huddled in corners together. One of the nurses was handing out sleeping bags to a pair of young girls, and a chansey nearby passed out pillows.

    Of course. The pokémon center was the center of the town, the metaphorical heart. When there was a crisis, like there was now, the people flocked to it in droves. Like they did now.

    The nurse didn’t answer my question directly. She wiped a bit of sweat off of her brow and sighed. “There’s always room for more,” she said at last, one hand twirling around her bright pink hair. I wondered for a fleeting moment if it was dyed. “You’ll have to find a spot in the lobby, though. All of our upstairs rooms are already packed.”

    So was the lobby, by the looks of things. I bit my lip. “I know that you’re busy, but I heard that I could get a trainer card,” I said, trying to look her in the eyes and appear as unsuspicious as possible.

    My efforts seemed to work, but the nurse smiled sympathetically. “You’re new at this, aren’t you?”

    Oh, Arceus, she was going to catch me and report me and then Team Rocket was going to have my guts for scarves in the morning. “See, I just got my starter this morning, and then all of this stuff happened, and now…” I trailed off lamely.

    “We haven’t used trainer cards for a while. We switched all of our records to an electronic system nearly a year ago, honey—”

    Oh. Of course. I was a well-learned trainer and totally knew that. But if all of the trainer records were on an electronic system, then…

    “—and we lost everything when the grid shut down,” the nurse finished. She looked distracted at this point, and her eyes wandered around the room to the crowds of people who needed her help. “There’s not much we can do for you or anyone else.”

    I tried my best to look disappointed about the whole thing and thanked her with a weak smile before moving off. Inside, I was elated. No trainer records. I could claim to be whoever I wanted or needed to be, and no one would know. I’d have problems when the grid went up, but that was a long way away. “If there’s anything I can do to help,” I said, looking up and feeling guilty for not asking earlier, but she was already speaking to a young boy, no older than ten, and his poliwag.

    My backpack felt lighter than normal, not just because Icarus was waiting on the roof of the pokémon center and there was only Gaia in my arms instead of on my back. I needed supplies. The pokécenter could wait; as long as I was in town, I needed to stock up. I desperately wanted to drop off Icarus to see if the nurses could heal him up, but handing over my murkrow would be like suicide. He would just have to heal on his own or with my help, which meant that I really, really needed these supplies. It wouldn’t be night for a few hours, so I could chance a trip.

    “Do you want to stay here and rest up?” I asked the metapod in my arms.

    “Pod.”

    I frowned. I had absolutely no idea what that meant. “One ‘pod’ for yes. Two ‘pod’s for no.”

    “Pod. Pod.”

    Okay then. With that in mind, I left the stuffy lobby of the pokécenter and made the twelve foot journey to the pokémart. I opened the door and was promptly greeted by a double-barreled shotgun.

    I swore violently and took a step back, the twin holes on the muzzle still dangerously close to my neck. I opened my mouth, ready to admit to everything—

    “Welcome to the Cherrygrove City Pokémart,” the voice behind the shotgun growled. The lights in his store, like the lights in his city, were off, and as he stood in the doorway of his store, I couldn’t even see his face. “Now close your mouth and shut up.”

    I obliged.

    “Do you have any other pokémon out of their pokéballs with you?” the man asked, pushing the nozzle of the shotgun out a little further. I backed away from the door but couldn’t run further back. When I didn’t respond, the man jabbed the gun further. “Do you?”

    I found my voice. “Just this one,” I gasped, fear filling me once again. I prayed desperately that Icarus was still resting on the roof of the pokécenter and didn’t choose now to make his triumphant entry. It was probably stupid to lie to the armed man, but I wasn’t going to explain that I had an illegal dark-type that was healing off some injuries from my latest clash with Team Rocket unless I absolutely had to.

    On the other side of the gun, the man let out a slight sigh of relief, but the gun didn’t lower. “It stays outside. Do you have any weapons?”

    I thought about Silver’s switchblade and cringed. “No.”

    The man, his face still mostly shrouded in darkness, nodded. “If you’re lying to me, Brigid will burn you to a crisp. That’s a promise.”

    “Okay,” I gasped, eyes fixated on the barrel of the shotgun and hands uselessly supporting the metapod in my arms. “I’m not lying. Please, I just wanted to get supplies.”

    “That’s fine with me, so long as you pay,” the man growled. “Some assholes and their pokémon this morning thought it would be a fine idea to try to raid my store after the power went out. Brigid and I took care of them. You aren’t going to try the same thing, are you?”

    “No, sir,” I whispered numbly, the honorific slipping into my speech unconsciously. It seemed that angry people with guns deserved respect.

    “Good. Now leave your pokémon outside and hand your backpack to me. I’ll give it back; don’t worry.”

    I hesitated, uncertain. I was afraid that Gaia would freak out if I left her on her own, and I certainly didn’t want to give my pack to a stranger. I didn’t have many supplies, but I needed them to count, especially if every shopkeeper was going to greet me with a gun.

    “I’ll give it back,” the man rumbled, sounding vaguely annoyed. “I own a pokémart. I don’t need whatever shit you’ve got in there. I just want to make sure you don’t try to shank me when I’m looking the other direction.” He said it with such conviction that I couldn’t help but wonder if it had happened to him already. “Or,” he offered, “you can leave and—”

    “No!” I said quickly, taking a step forward before stopping at the barrel of the gun again. “See, look.” I placed Gaia on the dusty ground as gently as I could, leaning her against the wall of the pokécenter so she wouldn’t fall over. From what I had gathered, metapod had no means of moving whatsoever. That would be a little problematic, but right now, I was still operating at gunpoint. “She’ll stay right here and won’t hurt you, right, Gaia?”

    My metapod nodded, and almost fell over. She was clearly quite threatening.

    “I’ll be right back, I promise,” I said to her, leaning down to pat her bright green head. I slipped my backpack off of my shoulders and handed it to the man, who finally withdrew the gun while I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.

    “Brigid, give us some light, would you?” the man asked, turning back into the store.

    Beside him, there was a slight sparking sound, and then a large purple globe of light appeared behind the man, casting his face in harsh shadow. I peered behind the shopkeeper to see a small pokémon that looked like a giant candle floating silently behind him, roughly the size of his head. What looked like a purple flame flickered atop the creature’s head, and it peered at me with a single, glowing, golden eye. I didn’t recognize it.

    “I’m going to put your backpack by the door,” the shopkeeper said, placing my bag on the ground as he did so. “If you so much as look at it in the wrong direction, my litwick will fry your brains out. Got it?”

    I swallowed. “Yes, sir,” I mumbled. And then, despite my better judgment, I asked, “Did the xatu give you that pokémon, too?”

    The man turned around and looked at me for the first time. He had dark brown hair that shadowed a grizzled face and dark brown eyes lurking behind wire-framed glasses. He seemed friendly enough, but he was also well-acquainted with his gun and too grizzled for his age, which I placed in his early thirties, and I assumed he wasn’t there to make sunshine cakes with me. “Shit, you’re just a kid,” he said as he squinted at me. “Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

    “I tried?” I asked him quizzically. “But you had your… shotgun thing going.”

    He sighed, the smile fading from his face a little. “Yeah, and try anything funny and—”

    “—Brigid will burn me to a crisp, I get it,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. It was easier to be sarcastic than scared. “I need supplies.” I hadn’t packed for the apocalypse this morning. I had a blanket, a spare change of clothes, a water bottle, and a couple of potions, and my camping experience last night had been cold and generally awful. With the power grid down, the pokécenters probably wouldn’t be healing pokémon as efficiently, to say the least. “What have you got?”

    “Potions and healing items are rationed,” the man said, running a hand through his hair and sighing. “You can only get three of each per week, and that’s how it’s going to be for a while until they get the factories and delivery systems up and running again. Gasoline is limited to a gallon per person per week with proof of generator only, but you look like the trainer type so I doubt that’ll affect you. And if you want a gun, cigarettes, or alcohol, you’re going to have to go to Violet City. I’m not selling to minors.”

    I blinked. “Just the potions, please.”

    “I’ll get those out of the back room,” the shopkeeper said with a sigh, retrieving another key from his apron pocket and moving away from the register. His litwick hovered next to him to illuminate his way. “Mostly everything else is pretty well stocked, if you care to look.” He moved away and began fiddling with the lock on a side door that presumably lead to a supply closet. “Brigid, I’m fine. Give the girl some light.”

    The litwick obliged and hovered over to me, casting that strange purple light over the nearby shelves. “Do you buy pokéballs?” I asked. I hadn’t left home with that much cash; we hadn’t had much to spare and I hadn’t wanted to cause trouble. Funny how that one had turned out. But any money I could scrounge together now, when there were still supplies, would be a blessing.

    From the back room, the man laughed. “Those things are useless until the grid goes up, kid,” he called over his shoulder. “Next you’re going to try to sell me your pokédex.”

    I decided not to tell him that, yes, that had been my plan. I skimmed my fingers along the shelves, peering at them from the light generated by the litwick. There was a surprisingly wide, albeit picked over, array of merchandise on the shelves, ranging from plush dolls to canned food, and I realized that this really would be the best time to get things. By the time I reached another store, they could be sold out for a very, very long time.

    I started scooping items off of the shelves, trying to pick the lightest and most effective things I could carry. There was still rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and antiseptic, so I grabbed a bottle each of those and dropped them in the basket that Brigid handed me along with several packs of cloth bandages. If I had to heal my own pokémon, I wasn’t going to rely on potions. As an afterthought, I doubled back and nabbed some aspirin, located a map and compass, and found a thermal blanket in the back of the store, slightly worn but quite useable.

    That would have to make do for a while. I desperately wanted to get more stuff, but I didn’t know how much I could carry. “You got any matches?” I asked, glancing around the shelves. As Eddard Staraptor might say, winter was coming, and it was getting cold. I’d have to learn how to start a fire myself soon enough or get a fire-type, but for the time being, I didn’t want to be caught outside in the freezing conditions that would be coming. Last night had been bad enough.

    The shopkeeper emerged from the backroom holding six spray bottles that I knew would have to last me for a long time. “Those are all gone. We didn’t think to ration them until it was too late. You might want to catch a fire-type instead,” he said, sighing. He sighed a lot, from what I could tell. He laid the bottles on the front counter. “I have two super potions, a hyper potion, and one each here for paralysis, burn, and poison.” When he noticed the disgruntled expression on my face, he added, “That’s all I’m allowed to sell you. If you’re still around in a week and I haven’t sold out, you can try again.”

    I sighed. I knew all along that this wasn’t going to be easy, but now fate was just screwing with me. I resumed rummaging through his shelves. “I’ll be there in a second.”

    “Take your time.” His litwick placed my basket on the counter next to the scant collection of healing potions, and the shopkeeper looked through my intended purchases with a practiced eye. “You’re going practical,” he said, raising one eyebrow approvingly. “That’s smart. Most people just get their potions and leave, but you’re going to want to stock up on more mundane healing items before people catch wind of it.” I swear I could’ve caught him smiling.

    “Thanks?”

    “Soap,” the man said, reaching behind him and putting a lumpy green bar on the counter beside my basket. “Some rope, extra bandages, a rain coat, sunglasses, water purification tablets, better first aid kit. Brigid, be a dear and grab the rest for her, would you?” He paused, glancing back through my basket, while his litwick floated around the store and began picking up the required objects in its stubby, white hands. “Oh, and a knife or two.”

    “Pardon?” So we’d gone from shotguns to packing my backpack for me in a matter of seconds. And I didn’t want a knife.

    {I believe Bates is trying to improve your supplies,} a serene voice said in my head. {You seem to be lacking a couple of necessities for a prolonged camping trip.} The voice paused and then let off a gentle laugh before adding, {If we’re in the mood for packing moderately, I think some tape could come in handy.”

    Of course. “No knife.” And then: “did your litwick just—”

    “Some ghost-types can create a low-ranged telepathic field. Translates what pokémon say in a small radius,” the shopkeeper, apparently named Bates, said, waving one hand dismissively through the air and shrugging. “Yeah, grab a roll of duct tape if there’s any left,” he added to Brigid, who was currently floating through the air and estimating sizes of raincoats. “It shouldn’t weigh too much. I’m Bates Bates, by the way.”

    “The telepathic field thing sounds quite useful,” I said, impressed against my will. Unlike Icarus’s mangled and haphazard speech, Brigid’s words were smooth and almost sounded human, like the xatu’s telepathy. I made a mental note to pick up a ghost-type if I could, but they were rare, especially in Johto.

    “With the newer pokédex and translation collars, I took it for granted,” Bates admitted. He looked at one of the boxes of water purification tablets Brigid had given him and frowned. “Of course, all of that’s gone now. I’m just lucky Brigid was out of her pokéball helping me do inventory. Some of the trainers came to me yesterday with their pokémon stuck inside of their balls, and I had no idea what to do.” He was squinting at the box in his hand now, and then he said, “These might run out. Find one of those solar-powered filters as well.” Then, looking back to me, he shrugged. “Brigid’s my only pokémon, though, and we understand each other pretty well even without it.”

    “Is she your starter?” I couldn’t help but feel a little useless at this point, what with the apparently experienced camper and the undead ghost doing all of the work for me.

    He danced around my question. “I got her over fifteen years ago, back when I was younger. We moved to Johto to start our journey, but…”

    {We’d just gotten our third badge when they really started overturning the old government,} Brigid said despondently. {It was unfortunate. We were trying to get the gym badges one day, and the next, Goldenrod was in flames.} So that was where they’d learned to survive.

    “Oh,” I said quite eloquently. I didn’t like where this was going and searched for a tactful way to change the subject.

    {We used to have three others on our team as well.}

    Brigid had said what I was expecting but didn’t want to hear. Even when all of the pokécenters were operational and healing items were in high supply, there were still casualties. And apparently these two had lost three. I didn’t even want to think about how that would feel. And now, with no pokécenters and a horrible selection of potions to choose from, I had a sinking feeling that things could turn out even worse.

    Desperate to change the subject, I glanced at the growing pile of items on the counter. “I can’t carry all of that.”

    “You’re going to need all of it,” Bates retorted, a wry smile spreading across his face. He glanced over to the door, where my pack still sat dejectedly in the corner, tiny and patched and lumpy. It was the best I could afford at the time, and it was falling apart on the seams. “That’s a pretty pathetic backpack you’ve got going there.”

    “Thanks,” I muttered sarcastically.

    He reached under the counter and pulled out a much larger, much sturdier, much newer pack and placed it next to my mountain of supplies with a dull thunk. “I used this when I was your age. It’s a bit worn on the edges, but it should be fine.”

    It felt so wrong to take it. A man’s dreams were sewn into that industrial grade, dark-green fabric. He’d probably clipped pokéballs to it and carried his pokémon’s favorite snacks in it and pinned his hard-earned badges to it with pride. And now all of those things were old and useless, existing only as relics to be passed down to a younger generation. Or dead. “I, uh, don’t have enough money.”

    Bates sighed. “How much do you have?”

    “Seventy-five dollars and twelve cents.” My response was immediate; I knew exactly how much money I’d brought on my journey and how many painstaking years of saving it’d taken to accumulate.

    Even though he was several feet away from me and only half-illuminated by Brigid’s fire, I could still hear his sharp intake of breath. I knew. Seventy-five pokédollars could barely pay for the meager selection I’d picked out in the first place, and there was no way it could cover Bates’s additional supplies and the backpack as well.

    So much for that plan.

    “That’s practically nothing, kid.”

    In fact, part of me was happy for any excuse not to take any more from this man than I already had. Of course, the other part of me was cringing at the thought of long, cold nights spent curled up on the ground. “That’s fine. I’ll just take the bandages and the potions.”

    Bates slowly tucked all of the extra supplies back into the bag. The excitement had faded from his eyes, and his movements became slow and lethargic. But I was glad he didn’t try to do something stupid and give me the stuff for free. We all had to survive somehow.

    “Could you put your right hand on the counter?”

    I did so, slowly. “And why exactly?”

    He turned me hand over so that the palm was flat on the table and the back faced up. “Sorry, I’m obligated to do this for anyone who buys potions,” Bates said, pulling out a small bottle of violently green ink and dabbing at it with a brush. Brigid leaned in closer to illuminate his work with flickering purple flame. “We have to make sure that trainers don’t get more than their allotted amount until the factories go back online, which could take weeks. I guess they’d print ration cards, but…”

    “…the printers are offline too,” I finished for him.

    Bates nodded. “They’ll probably get something going within a week or two, but for the time being, we’ll just stick with smeargle ink. It won’t come off for a week under any circumstances,” he added seriously, looking up at me beneath bushy eyebrows, “so don’t try anything stupid. There was already one kid who showed up at the pokécenter a few hours ago who tried to use his bellsprout’s acid to burn his off.”

    {Luckily he was left-handed,} Brigid remarked, hovering behind Bates now.

    “Anyways,” Bates said, looking up and stoppering the bottle again. He glanced back down at his work: on my arm, just below the wrist, the date was written in bright green letters. “You can claim your next batch of healing items at any pokémart in Johto one week from now. Brigid, get her bag, please.”

    {Good luck,} Brigid said solemnly. She floated in front of me now, her small hands clutching my backpack, which was almost as large as she was, and she passed it gently to me. {Be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark.}

    I recoiled violently, the xatu’s words echoing in my mind, and then I forced myself to calm down. It wasn’t an omen, it wasn’t an omen, it wasn’t an omen. I refused to accept that the xatu had any influence in my fate. I took a shuddering breath and cracked a smile. “Thank you,” I said, nodding at the litwick and at Bates. “And thank you for trying to help me out.”

    Bates inclined his head in my direction and replied gruffly, “Watch yourself. It’s more dangerous than you’d think.”

    I was preparing for the worst already, so the knowledge that things could go even more badly than I’d expected wasn’t entirely reassuring. “Thanks.” I waved goodbye uncertainly and then stepped outside.

    “All right, so now that that’s over with, we can settle in for the night, right, Gaia?” I asked, looking down by the doorway for my metapod. At first I thought I was just looking in the wrong spot, but it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t by the doorway or in any other spot.

    I started panicking then. “Gaia?” No response. I spun around, eyes pleading, but she wasn’t anywhere in sight. “Gaia!”

    My metapod was gone.




    My first thoughts went to Icarus. Maybe he’d tried to eat her, or at the very least, he might have seen where she’d gone. She might have just run off, after all. She didn’t have a pokéball; beyond her word, there was nothing holding her to me—she could have just run off at the first opportunity.

    Or, she could have, if she had legs.

    “Icarus?” I called, checking the rooftops. I’d left him on the roof of the pokécenter with firm instructions to stay put and stay quiet, but I’d seen him following me to the pokémart. It wasn’t quite night, so I could still make out the blurry outlines of the buildings, but I certainly couldn’t see the fuzzy outline of my murkrow.

    Now that I thought about it, there was very little holding my murkrow to me, either. The capture mechanism of his pokéball wasn’t working, and he certainly hadn’t stuck around for my stellar personality or tender love and care. “Icarus, you haul your feathered little butt down here right now, or I swear to Arceus I will tear your beak in half!”

    No response. “Icarus!”

    Bates emerged from the doorway of the pokémart at this point, shotgun in hand and grumbling about the noise. “What the hell are you going on about, kid?”

    “My pokémon,” I stammered. There was blood roaring in my ears and it was getting difficult to hear what either of us were saying. I looked around again, as if Gaia would suddenly appear in front of my eyes. But she was—“She’s gone.”

    What if the Rockets had already found them? Icarus had hardly been able to hold his own against a mostly-untrained abra, and that had been in a fair, one-on-one fight. When Silver started playing dirty, he hadn’t stood a chance. The Rockets weren’t against shooting pokémon with intent to kill, and they’d already murdered a far more powerful pokémon than my starter.

    “Your metapod?”

    But I couldn’t tell them about Icarus. I desperately wanted to, but he was friendly and willing to help me now, and if he had the same dark-type stigma that most people had—heck, if he had the dark-type stigma that I had—his fountain of generosity would probably run dry when he learned that he would be helping a fugitive. I could only hope that Gaia and Icarus were together, and that enlisting Bates to find Gaia would also lead me to Icarus. If we found Gaia and not him, then… I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. “Yeah. My metapod is gone,” I admitted, biting my lip. I didn’t want to talk to Brigid and Bates right now. I wanted nothing more than to bolt into the forest and shout, looking for my pokémon. “I have no idea where she went.”

    “Does she often run off like this?”

    I opened my mouth immediately before I stopped. I wanted to say that they were good, loyal, amazing pokémon who already loved me enough to travel to the ends of the earth on a quest that we couldn’t possibly complete, but that wasn’t the truth. I’d known Gaia for about a day now and scared her half to death by almost killing someone in front of her. I’d known Icarus hardly any longer, and the first thing I’d done after meeting him was tell him I didn’t want him. I’d taken it for granted that my pokémon would like me, or at the very least mind being in my presence and helping me on my journey.

    Bates seemed to take my silence as an answer in itself. “It takes a while for them to grow on you, kid.”

    “Okay,” I replied in a shaking voice, “but the main problem right now is that she’s gone.” And so was Icarus, but if I wanted any shot at finding Gaia, I would have to ignore him. Night was falling fast. I couldn’t go into the forest on my own without a pokémon. Bates seemed willing to help me, and he had Brigid, but I couldn’t risk telling him about Icarus. I couldn’t.

    Right?

    Bates sighed and stepped out of the doorway, slinging on his pack in a practiced motion as he did so. He pulled out three separate keys for the three different locks on the pokémart door, secured them, and sighed. “It’s getting dark, and I was about to close anyways,” he said. “Brigid and I will help. I don’t want to let you go into the forest without a pokémon.”

    I briefly reconsidered my options. On the one hand, he had a pokémon and I didn’t, and he was offering me help. On the other hand, he had a pokémon and I didn’t, and he was offering to take me as far away from a populated area as physically possible. I’d decided a while back that I liked Bates, and I desperately needed his help, but now I realized how dangerous taking any help could be.

    But I had to find Icarus and Gaia. “There are eight trainers and a nurse in the pokécenter who know that I went to the pokémart,” I lied. There were zero trainers who knew, and while the nurse might have seen me leave, if she was particularly vigilant, she hadn’t exactly been twiddling her thumbs all day and could have easily forgotten about me entirely. “If I don’t show up before tomorrow morning, they’ll get suspicious.”

    {If he wanted to harm you,} Brigid said, settling onto Bates’s head like an overgrown, flaming marshmallow-helmet, {he would not have left his shotgun in the store, nor would he use me. Even though there are more trainers than normal in this area, there are still few fire-types and even fewer ghost-types. It would not be difficult to link a charred corpse to us.}

    “The people in Cherrygrove would probably accuse me of murder first if you turned out missing, anyways,” Bates grumbled as he walked towards the edge of the city.

    I found myself following him. “Why?”

    His response was immediate and only slightly bitter. “I’m foreign, I have a ghost-type, and I carry a shotgun. I’ve gotten enough hate for the first two alone.” He paused and glanced at the darkening sky, now almost purple, and frowned. “There are two roads out of Cherrygrove.” Bates changed the subject abruptly. “Do you know which one she might have taken?”

    I had no idea. Panic was starting to set in. I’d walked for hours in a straight line on the way here from New Bark Town. Gaia, as a forest pokémon, probably wouldn’t even stay on the route. There would be no way to comb through the forest and its thousands of pokémon to find her. “I caught—well, met, I guess, because of the pokéballs—her on the way from New Bark Town. She might’ve tried to go back there.”

    Another thought struck me. If Gaia didn’t want to stay with me, who was I to make her? She’d agreed, yes, but tentatively, as was her nature. And if she’d changed her mind since then, was I really going to drag her across Johto when I wasn’t entirely willing to go myself?

    But if she was in trouble and needed my help, I was going to rush into things like a mother ursaring and start flaying stuff alive.

    “That’s odd,” Bates said, frowning at the entrance to the road back towards New Bark Town.

    “Why?” I felt like a broken record, but the coherent part of my brain had started shutting down a while ago. My pokémon were gone. Both of them. And I was only inventing wilder and wilder fantasies with every passing minute. Sure, they could’ve run away, or the Rockets could’ve found them, but why would they do that when Arceus Himself could descend from the sky and carry them away?

    {Caterpie are not native to the Route 29.} Brigid floated ahead of us, peering with her one, yellow eye into the treetops. {And while many species of pokémon have no qualms about migrating short distances, caterpie are sedentary creatures until their final evolution—moving is difficult for them even when they have legs, and they spend much of the day searching for food in the treetops. Butterfree return to their place of birth to mate and lay eggs, so the population rarely moves between routes. Unless they join a trainer, few caterpie will leave a fifty foot grazing radius until they grow their wings.}

    I shivered and realized that not only was it getting dark, but it was also getting cold. We had to hurry to find Gaia, and I filed a mental note to invest in a fire-type or a heavy jacket for when winter came. I’d probably be spending a while outside, and I doubted that the heating systems would be online any time soon. “Should we go the other way, then?”

    Bates shrugged. “It’s your pokémon.”

    Which only served to further my guilt. But what Brigid had said was reassuring, a little. Caterpie couldn’t travel far, and they certainly couldn’t travel fast, and metapod probably moved far less. If Gaia had fled on her own accord, we could catch up to her if we started in the right direction. To the north was the road to Violet City; to the east the road to New Bark Town. East meant no native metapod for confusion, few Rockets, and lots of trees. North meant hundreds of caterpie and metapod, stronger pokémon, and, most pressingly, more Rockets. If Silver had followed my instructions, he would’ve doubled back to New Bark Town, but I doubted that he’d done so. I hadn’t seen him in the pokécenter, though, so he’d probably moved on toward Violet City. I shuddered at the thought of running into him camped out in the forest without a pokémon.

    I clung to the hope that she actually had run away, because then she wouldn’t have gotten carried off.

    “North,” I said, quite stupidly. “I think we should try looking north.”

    So we did.

    I should’ve emphasized the word “try” a bit more, because we’d gotten five feet into Route 30, Brigid casting her eerie purple light over the gravel, before something furry leapt into my face and started scratching.




    In retrospect, I really should’ve seen it coming. Bates had been nervous about letting me into the forest without a pokémon because of all of the wild pokémon there, and while he hadn’t brought a shotgun—not like hunting pokémon was even legal in the winter—he hadn’t seemed too excited to accompany me, even with Brigid. Then again, he was accompanying me on a mostly hopeless search through the woods for a metapod at nightfall.

    Hindsight or not, there was something attacking my face, and it took all of my willpower not to run around in circles and shriek like a zubat. My actual reaction, which involved a lot of creative but muffled curse words—creative because I didn’t like swearing, and muffled because there was the living equivalent of a throw pillow attached to my face—was hardly any more composed. My cries for someone to get it off came out a little mangled, too. “Grt ert erf! Grt ert errrrrf!”

    Brigid calmly blew a wisp of purple fire onto the furball and then pried it off of my face, its scratches ineffectual on her intangible body. {I got it off.}

    {Scout down, scout down!} the creature cried wildly, still flailing around in Brigid’s grasp. I could see its sharp claws even in the dim light from Brigid’s fire. {I repeat, scout down! Send back up!}

    I calmed myself, blinking as I rubbed at the scratches on my face. “What the—”

    The creature wormed its round, brown body around so it was facing me, long ears twitching wildly. Its tail, striped chocolate and mocha, was larger than the pokémon itself and whipped around with a mind of its own while it thrashed around with tiny but sharp claws. {Tell this vile monster of yours to unhand me at once!}

    For a moment, I thought that the attacker could use telepathy as well, but then I remembered Brigid. She was right behind the pokémon and right in front of me, so I was definitely in range of her telepathic field.

    I could tell from the pokémon’s voice that it was female, although there was a hard edge to it that I wouldn’t have associated with a cute ball of fluff. {My brethren will allow you to escape unharmed if you let me go free; otherwise, you must face the wrath of our sentret army! I will not divulge any of our secrets under interrogation!}

    “First of all, she’s not mine; she’s with that guy over there,” I said, pointing over my shoulder towards Bates. “Second of all, what.” I’d just been overpowered by a ball of fluff.

    “They run on a sort of military hierarchy out in Route 29,” Bates explained in my ear. “The younger ones start out scouting for the others, and then they move up the ranks as they grow stronger.”

    There was so much I didn’t know about pokémon, apparently. Caterpie and sentret weren’t all that common near Goldenrod—most trainers had already ditched them for more powerful pokémon—but I wasn’t that familiar with the rattata in the streets or the ekans in the sewers, either. And beyond my once-tiny realm of understanding was a vast, untapped world for which I was woefully unprepared. First caterpie migration and now sentret militaries. “Do most pokémon act like this?”

    “None have a system as obfuscating as the sentret do.” Then, nodding at Brigid, he said, “Put the little guy on the ground, Brigid. She won’t hurt us because we won’t hurt her, right?” He paused. “Right?”

    I realized a few awkward seconds of silence later that he was talking to me, not his litwick. “Oh,” I managed lamely. “Yeah. Of course not. No harm here. I don’t even have a pokémon.”

    The sentret’s legs scrabbled until it reached the ground, and then it quickly propped itself up on its large tail, almost reaching my waist. {I will forgive you because I am merciful. I’m going to leave now. If I see you following me, I will not hold back.}

    I was reminded for a brief moment of a different small girl with a different tiny blade threatening a different enemy far larger than herself and promising retribution that she could never really give. “Are you threatening me?”

    {Yes!}

    And now I was getting into a verbal spat with a pokémon whose idea of camouflage was having a large, white circle like a target on its stomach. “Just checking. Listen, you’re a scout, right?”

    {Yes, and my clan knows I left. If I don’t return by tomorrow morning, they will hunt you down.}

    I backtracked quickly. “We’re not trying to hurt you,” I said, raising my hands in a sort of mock-surrender. “I just want to know if you saw a metapod come through here. She would’ve been quiet. And slow.”

    The sentret cocked her head to one side and stopped bouncing up and down on her tail for a moment. {Metapod come here all the time, and almost all of them are quiet. Few come through, but I didn’t see one.}

    I decided to risk asking about Icarus, even though I’d have to answer to Bates later. The sentret might’ve seen, or at least heard him. “What about a black bird?” When the sentret looked at me, confusion painted across her face, I realized I had to elaborate. “Loud, obnoxious. He probably wouldn’t have shut up even if the world was ending.”

    She placed one stubby paw in her mouth and began to nibble on it as she thought. {Haven’t seen anything like that in these parts,} she said at last. {But I’ve never heard of a pokémon like that before, so I could be mistaken.}

    I tried again. “He’s a dark-type and likes eating bugs.”

    The sentret’s eyes narrowed. {Oh,} she said in a dangerous tone of voice that I didn’t quite like. {So that monster is with you.}

    I swallowed nervously. Leave it to Icarus to mess things up when they couldn’t have gotten worse. “Has he done anything bad?”

    {He was harassing our clan earlier. He now bears the mark of my claws across his face.}

    Leave it to Icarus to piss off the military sentret. It was good to know that the bandages I’d bought wouldn’t be going to waste with him around. “Can you lead us to him?”

    {No.}

    Well. I hadn’t been expecting that response. “Why not?”

    The sentret propped herself up a little higher on her tail and puffed out her chest. She still looked about as intimidating as a wet paper towel. {Because he ran away like a coward after I bested him in combat. And because I am not a trained pet who will perform tricks at your bidding, human.} She spat out the last word like it was acid and burned at her tongue.

    I prudently decided not to go along with my original plan and follow up my first question with a request that she join me on my magical and deadly journey across Johto. “Bates, a little help here?”

    “You’re making friends,” he said dryly. He shifted his weight. Uncomfortable, maybe. “How cute.”

    “She tried to claw my face off.”

    “Yes, well, now that you’ve learned that the world isn’t a perfect place and not every pokémon is going to fawn over you because you’re a human,” Bates retorted.

    I could really do without the sarcasm, and his sudden and inexplicable hostility alarmed me a little. I filed that information away for later. “If you help me find him, I can take him off your hands,” I offered to the sentret. I really didn’t have much else to give. It’d be so much easier to catch her, but that was hardly an option anymore and the idea of forcing her to help me was barbaric. “I won’t bother you after that, I promise.”

    There was a silence, untouched save for the faint hissing of the purple fire on Brigid’s head. And then, the sentret leaned back a little and said, {Fine. Bring your little fire-monster friend. I will have no difficulty, but you may not be able to see as well in the dark. You will make no attempt to capture me at any point. Follow quickly.}




    “So when were you going to tell us that you had a second pokémon?” Bates asked as we backtracked through Cherrygrove, the anger evident in his voice. “Was it before or after you promised me on pain of death that you only had a metapod?”

    So this explained the abrupt anger from before. At least I didn’t have to wait long. “I—”

    Or,” Bates continued, in tones so violent that I could almost feel his anger brushing up against mine, “is this whole thing was part of an ambush to lure me away from my store to help the poor damsel in distress while your other pokémon robs—no, rob, you could have six, for all I know—me blind? Is that metapod even yours or did you pick it up from the forest to make yourself look like a helpless rookie?”

    So apparently I wasn’t the only one with serious trust issues.

    “Shit, and people honestly wonder why I even have a shotgun.” He threw his hands into the air in exasperation, nearly knocking Brigid out of the air as he did so. The cold, mechanical shopkeeper that had spoken to me from the other side of a gun in a dark doorway was back. “And there I was trying to help—”

    “Look,” I hissed back, keeping one eye on the bobbing sentret as we marched through the town. Literally, marched. I tried to think of something to say, another lie, but the only thing that came out was the truth. “Okay, so I lied. Gaia isn’t my starter.”

    “I gathered as much. Now if you don’t give me a good reason to believe that you aren’t trying to pull a fast one on me, Brigid and I are leaving when we reach my store, and following that sentret in the dark will be the least of your problems.”

    I took a deep breath. “You know about how the xatu gives out starters?” Five steps to the store. I wondered how good of a shot he was with that gun.

    “I wasn’t born here, but I’m not an idiot.”

    “He gave me a murkrow.” It actually felt good to tell someone else. “The xatu gave me a murkrow yesterday right before the power went out, and now the Rockets are trying to hunt me down before I lead a revolution that I have no plans of starting. I tried to pass off a caterpie as my starter so they wouldn’t kill me, but now both of my pokémon are missing and they might’ve been killed already.” I paused. “Oh, and Giovanni’s son thinks I caused the magnetic apocalypse and almost killed me this morning.”

    Brigid practically dropped out of the sky. “Well.” Bates paused, taking it all in, and narrowed his eyes at me. “You don’t seem to be lying.”

    I shook my head vigorously. For one, I had no plans of losing my intestines to his shotgun. Also, I wasn’t lying, which was new and actually quite nice.

    Grumbling, Bates motioned for Brigid to follow him, and I noticed with a sigh of relief that they weren’t heading towards the pokémart. “Okay.”

    That was it? “Okay?” I asked. “Okay? Really? I drop that bomb on you and all you have to say is “okay”? No pitchforks, no torches?”

    He said nothing for a while. The sentret lead us out of Cherrygrove and into Route 30. She walked on all four paws this time, her tail bobbing behind her like a beacon, but she remained silent. We all did.

    After a long pause, Bates sighed heavily and said, “Brigid wasn’t my first pokémon. We…”

    {William and I met fifteen years ago, right before the government began to crumble. At the time, he was somewhat of a type-specialist. He trained dark-types.}

    Oh, shit.

    Bates said nothing, so it was Brigid who spoke again. {There were a lot of dark-type specialists before the old government fell. We weren’t unique in that regard. But shortly after they took power, the Rockets put prizes on the heads of dark-type pokémon. Literally, prizes on heads. A rare dark-type’s head could net ten thousand dollars, and trainers stopped focusing on winning battles in favor of disabling us and decapitating our teammates. Battling became impossible for us, so we tried to rough it in the wild. We had three dark-types on the team and it was too risky to use any of them, but we had to return to town eventually for supplies. We didn’t stand a chance.}

    “I… I’m so sorry,” I managed to say, but the words sounded far too hollow.

    The litwick didn’t seem to mind, either positively or negatively. {You reminded us of how things used to be… and, you looked like another girl we knew. A friend of ours, until… anyways, when you mentioned that you were going to be living in the wild for some time, we couldn’t help but…} She lost her words there as well.

    “People think that darkness is evil,” Bates said. “But they’re just afraid.”

    The xatu’s words echoed in my ears. “People fear that which they do not know,” I finished numbly.

    Arceus, this was why they’d been so friendly. They weren’t trying to attack me, they weren’t trying to kill me, and they certainly weren’t trying to turn me in for having a murkrow. And this was why they’d been so guarded, as well. I’d completely misjudged them.

    The realization hit with all of the finesse of a charging rhyhorn. “I’m so sorry,” I repeated numbly.

    “Me too,” Bates said, staring at his shoes as we walked, old and tired and alone. I didn’t understand how he felt, and I hoped I wouldn’t feel like that for a while. “Me too.”

    I opened my mouth to say something when the sentret in front of us hissed, tail twitching, and then pounced at a figure she found in the darkness. {You!} she growled.

    “Icarus!” I shouted joyfully, taking a few steps forward, but then stopped short when I realized that the sentret was attacking something markedly quadrupedal and clearly neither of my pokémon. “Is this the… thing you were trying to find?” I asked, frowning.

    {Yes,} the sentret said shortly before resuming her attacking of whatever creature she had found in the grass.

    Brigid tried to repeat her tactic of snorting fire at whatever appeared, but, if anything, the creature seemed to enjoy being lit on fire. I shouted bloody murder, Bates searched around for a suitable weapon, and our sentret continued slashing happily.

    In front of me, the two pokémon had practically merged into a single ball of fur, although I could only see the sentret, which had pinned the other pokémon to the ground and was raking her claws across its face.

    The other creature arched its back and then shot out a blast of fire from its fanged mouth. The force of the blow pushed the sentret back, and the pokémon picked its way to its feet, all four of them, and sank into a battle crouch. Its black fur almost blended in with the darkness around it, and it looked like it was wearing a skull as a helmet. Small, white protrusions marked its paws and back, and its stubby tail flicked back and forth as it pressed its ears to the sides of its face and growled.

    It was a fire-type—if the giant fountain of flames it had created earlier was anything to go by, it looked like it could handle itself well in battle, and it had inadvertently redirected the conversation away from Bates’s misery. I wanted it.

    Before the two pokémon could leap at one another again, I stepped in between them, my arms spread apart. “Calm down,” I said, more to the sentret, but both pokémon bared their sharp teeth at me and I realized what a stupid position I had entered.

    {This is the pokémon that has been bothering my clan,} the sentret hissed, her fur bristling and her tail coiled high so she looked almost twice her normal size. {Don’t tell me to calm down. I’ll shred him.}

    Alarmed, I turned my head to look at the other pokémon, who was most certainly not a murkrow and even more certainly not Icarus. Although it didn’t seem too harmed by the injuries it had just sustained in its most recent fight with the sentret, there was a long gouge beneath its eye, presumably from when he and the sentret had fought before. “Bates?” I asked, suddenly nervous.

    “It’s a houndour,” he said in a voice that was almost reverent. “I thought they were wiped out years ago. Most of them fled to the forests.”

    The pokémon growling at me didn’t look very extinct. It also didn’t look like Icarus or Gaia. I turned towards the houndour and put my hands on my hips. “So I heard from this one that you might’ve carried off my metapod.” I jerked my hand over my shoulder and pointed at the sentret with my thumb. “Is that true? Cause I want her back. And I’ll have Brigid burn you to a crisp if you don’t.” The houndour didn’t have to know that I was lying, of course.

    {I just want to pipe in here and say that I can’t touch this houndour,} Brigid whispered in my ear as she tugged on my sleeve. {In a completely literal fashion. His ability lets him absorb my fire attacks to strengthen his, and my ghostly attacks will do little damage as well.}

    Well.

    {I was hungry,} the houndour rumbled in a low, grating voice that sounded like the crackle of a fire.

    Oh, Arceus. If he ate Gaia, I…

    {The dark bird would not permit me to approach my prey,} the houndour continued, his truncated tail drooping a little. {He attacked my eyes.} He snorted. {Coward.}

    Thank Arceus. Icarus had a heart after all, and he’d protected Gaia.

    {I lit him on fire.}

    I suddenly felt significantly less thankful. My hands curled slowly into fists. “You did what?

    {He put himself out,} the houndour said callously, flicking his triangular ears in irritation. He was peering around my legs and trying to leap toward the sentret again, and I found myself turning to block their path.

    “Where is he now?”

    Right on cue, a ball of black feathers, smelling slightly more singed than before, barreled in from the trees and aimed itself towards the houndour. “Not harm Gaia!”

    “Icarus!” I shouted. I was happy to see the little guy, actually, and I felt a surge of relief. Whether Icarus’s triumphant “not harm Gaia” meant that the houndour was not permitted to harm Gaia or had not previously harmed Gaia, it did mean that Gaia was, at the moment, unharmed.

    He ignored me and dove for the houndour’s throat, at which point the sentret followed suit. Yelping and trying to fight off two enemies at once, the houndour began releasing random jets of fire, nearly lighting up one of the nearby trees. I could feel the heat singe away the hairs on my arm.

    I made a mental note to find a way to convince this pokémon to come along with me.

    The houndour rolled onto its back and then released another blast of fire, sending both my murkrow and the sentret flying in opposite directions, but then they both pulled themselves to their feet—or wings—and began their assault from different angles, beaks slashing and claws scratching so quickly that I was having trouble keeping up.

    The houndour seemed perfectly fine with this change of events, and began sniping at both pokémon easily with puffs of fire, rearing back on its hind legs to get a better shot at Icarus before smashing its paws into the sentret.

    Icarus took to the sky first, cackling as he flapped above the carnage and watched the sentret and the houndour duke it out. They were surprisingly well-matched, and the sentret really got into her element, bobbing and weaving beneath jets of fire and scampering across the ground like a madman.

    The houndour, on the other hand, preferred to stay in one place, exhaling a stream of fire from his mouth and spinning in a circle, aiming at the retreating sentret. If the fire were any larger, the trees might’ve gone up in smoke as well; as it was, I could still smell the burning fur from where I was standing.

    The sentret retaliated, leaping above the thin jet of fire and launching herself toward her opponent, shrieking bloody murder with her claws outstretched. Her violent battle cry cut off suddenly as the houndour closed his mouth and batted her out of the air with a surprisingly strong paw. He pinned her to the ground half a second later and began worrying at the skin of her stomach with his teeth.

    “Maim, maim, maim, kiiilllll!” Icarus shouted, suddenly excited and apparently forgetting about his alliance.

    I realized that if I didn’t intervene soon, someone was going to get hurt. I didn’t want to play referee, but I still needed Gaia back.

    “Enough!” I yelled, and against my better judgment, I waded into the mass of fur and pulled both pokémon apart. “I know that you are all more inclined to settle this with your claws or whatever, but I don’t have time for that. Icarus, behave yourself.”

    Still muttering something about vengeance, mixed with a few choice words, the murkrow returned himself to my shoulder, shuffling his feathers in indignation but otherwise holding his tongue nicely. His few hour’s rest on the pokécenter roof seemed to have done wonders; I’d have to ask him later if he could always heal that quickly just by roosting somewhere and waiting.

    “You led me to the menace to your clan and helped me find my pokémon,” I added, turning to the sentret and putting my hands on my hips. “Thanks. You can leave.”

    {No,} she growled, blood flowing from a scratch beneath her eye. {I want vengeance.}

    I shouldn’t have expected any better. Whatever. I turned to the houndour. “And you will give me back my metapod.”

    {Fine.} The houndour glowered at me, but otherwise, the whole thing was far easier than I expected. {She would not have had much meat and would have tasted bad even when charred.}

    I tried not to think about my metapod’s being eaten by this creature. Instead, I focused on the positives, such as Gaia’s peeking out from beneath a leaf in the upper canopy, surveying the surroundings with wide eyes.

    Icarus screeched and took off from my shoulder, neatly plucking Gaia from her branch and landing back on my pack before she could object. “Icarus protect Gaia,” he said proudly. “Icarus fight nasty fire-breather.”

    “Good for you,” I said absently, trying to hide exactly how relieved I was that my pokémon were back. They weren’t dead. They weren’t being tormented by Rockets. They were okay. “I was so worried,” I whispered, patting her on the head. “I thought you two had been carried off somewhere or you ran away. Are you both okay?”

    “Poddd.” She nodded, but I could feel her trembling in my arms.

    “Why we run away?” Icarus asked, and I didn’t have the heart to answer because there were so many reasons.

    “And you,” I said, putting my hands on my hips and turning to the houndour. “Why were you picking on my metapod?”

    {Sentret clan attacks me often,} the houndour began, sitting back on his haunches and looking up at me. The plate on his head really was a skull, it seemed.

    The sentret bristled. {Because you attack our scouts and try to eat them!}

    {It's called the circle of life,} the houndour replied, dismissing her with a flick of his ears and looking back at me. There was a fire burning in the pits of his eyes. {The sentret clan chased me to edge of town few moons back. Both of us were hungry, but sentret are no good to eat and too fast to hunt; pidgey fly too high, and caterpie live on the other side of town. Humans would throw stones when I tried to cross over because they're assholes, so when I found a metapod just waiting for me on the edge of town, it wasn't a particularly enthralling moral dilemma.}

    Gaia shuddered again. Icarus bristled.

    {And then your fucking bird showed up,} the houndour growled, his fiery gaze flicking up to Icarus. The beginning of a snarl started in his throat. {Pulled the metapod out of my grasp and didn't even eat it himself. He just stood there and mocked me.}

    This was surprisingly not as bad as I had expected, actually. No Rockets, no Silver, no Arceus coming from the sky to pass judgment on me for being a horrible trainer.

    “Well,” Bates announced with a sigh, glancing at the array of pokémon scattered across the path, the gouges in the ground, and the scratches on my face with the ghost of a smile on his face. “Not that this isn’t exciting or anything, but unless you want to start your camping journey now, I suggest we get back to town. I heard that they set up a generator at the pokécenter, which means we could actually stand a chance at central heating.” He patted Brigid’s back. “Not that you aren’t good enough or anything.”

    {Duly noted.} The litwick floated down and latched onto his head again.

    “Yeah,” I said thickly, swallowing. My pokémon were safe. I repeated it like a mantra as fatigue began to roll in like the tide.

    We were already back in Cherrygrove when I remembered, far too late, that I’d wanted to catch the houndour.




    I woke up the next morning curled around Gaia and my backpack on a pillow in the back corner of the lobby of Cherrygrove’s pokécenter. It wasn’t quite dawn. Most of the people in the lobby weren’t awake yet, but the nurses had started bustling around in the back room. I was a pretty light sleeper, and I realized I wasn’t going to lull myself back to sleep anytime soon. Quietly, I gathered my belongings, slung my backpack onto my shoulder with Gaia already in my arms, and slipped out of the pokécenter.

    Like yesterday morning, the sky was filled with colors, but this time, they were natural. Reds and oranges streaked the sky, tangling among the blues and blacks of night like fingers in hair. A few clouds, gray against the rising sun, danced across the horizon as well, trailing off across the sky and puttering out of existence overhead.

    Compared to our hectic, candle-lit night yesterday, the whole thing was incredibly peaceful. Icarus fluttered down from the pokécenter roof, where he had roosted for the night, and landed on my shoulder. There weren’t any people awake yet, and the three of us watched the sun rise together in complete silence, which was rare.

    When the sun had finally freed itself from the ground, I said without turning my head to the two pokémon nesting on my back, “I want to say this up front. You guys can leave whenever you want. I won’t mind. Just tell me first so I don’t have to go all mama ursaring, okay?”

    “Poddd!” Gaia protested.

    Icarus voiced her words for her. “We not leave, Master.” He paused, and I waited for his familiar cackle, but he was shockingly serious. “Even if you tell us too.”

    Yeah, there was always that. “I just want to make sure. I don’t want to drag you guys anywhere. We’re running low on supplies, and we haven’t even started yet, so the going’s going to get rough. I want you to know what you’re getting into.”

    “You get supplies yesterday, no?”

    “I tried, Icarus,” I said patiently. “But we don’t have money.”

    “Money?”

    And now I was trying to explain economics to a bird. “Yeah, it’s the shiny stuff that we exchange for other things.”

    “Also made of paper,” he told me matter-of-factly.

    “Yes, Icarus.” I sighed. “Some of it’s also made of paper.”

    He shuffled his talons on my backpack and got himself a better grip. “Trainer with abra give you lots of paper after I beat him first time, no?”

    Holy Arceus.




    “And you’re sure you didn’t rob a bank or something?” Bates looked at me dubiously over the counter. Brigid hovered behind him. “Honestly, I’d report you now, but the nearest bank is in Violet City and you don’t look like you made a thirty-mile hike last night.”

    “I promise, I got into a fight with that Silver kid, and when we won, he just threw a wad of cash at me,” I protested, aware that my excuse was paper-thin. But for once, it was true. “I forgot about it until now.”

    “You forgot about fifteen hundred dollars.”

    Well, yes, between the moral dilemma and the knife and the urge to get away from New Bark Town as fast as possible and the fact that he’d almost killed me and all my pokémon, I hadn’t been in the mood to count my loot, but I had no idea how to explain that to Bates. “Yes?” I answered weakly.

    He shrugged. “This more than covers what you want to buy,” he said. The bag from yesterday was still packed, filled with supplies and begging me to purchase it. “My register is broken, of course, but I can tell you—”

    “Keep the rest,” I said. I probably should’ve been more frugal with the money, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to think about how Silver had gotten it or what his father had done to get it or anything about how it came into my hands in the first place. And besides. I’d never had that much money in my life, and I’d never needed it. “No, don’t look at me like that. You helped me find my pokémon. Keep the rest.”

    Bates’s face broke into a large smile. “You’re full of surprises and cheery this morning.”

    “I try.”

    {We noticed last night that you do not carry a knife,} Brigid added, floating to a shelf and retrieving something from it.

    My response was immediate. “I don’t want one.” I wasn’t going to act like a Rocket. No switchblades, no guns, no nothing. I had my pokémon, and those were violent enough.

    Bates sighed. “It’s not just for stabbing people. You can’t honestly tell me that you’re going to go camping without a knife.”

    “I don’t want one,” I repeated.

    Brigid floated back to me. {Okay,} she said patiently. {You have rope in that backpack, right?}

    I didn’t like where this was going. “Yes.”

    {And say you want a smaller piece of that rope?}

    “I’ll… I’ll…”

    Bates’s smile only grew larger. “Yeah, so.” He accepted the knife Brigid gave him and ran it through his hands. “This is a nice blade. Carved from the tailfeathers of a skarmory. It’ll resist heat and stay sharp for a while, but I’ll throw in a whetstone in case.”

    This was just turning into a day full of freebies.

    “I’m not going to learn how to use a knife to kill people,” I said, flapping my arms as if that would help get my point across better. I stamped my foot into the ground for good measure.

    Bates looked at me, eyes serious. “And I hope you never have to. But it would be a grievous error on my part to send you out into the wilderness without so much as a pair of scissors.”

    “I…” I searched around for another excuse, but nothing came to mind. My fingers closed around the cool metal of the knife, and I found myself hooking the sheath to my belt unconsciously. “Okay. Fine. Thank you.”

    “See, that wasn’t too hard, now, was it?”

    I was about to turn and leave, my new backpack loaded with supplies strapped on tight, when something behind the counter caught my eye. “Say, is that hair dye?”

    Bates turned behind him and examined the brightly colored boxes for a moment, squinting in the dull light of Brigid’s fire. “Yes.”

    “I’ll take every color you have,” I said quickly, before he could ask me any silly questions such as why. “They’re light and I won’t be carrying them for long. Don’t look at me like that.”

    “I don’t see why you need more than one color,” Bates said, frowning. “You shouldn’t bring along more than what you need.”

    I shrugged.

    Brigid chuckled a little as she lifted the flap of my new backpack and slipped about twenty small boxes of hair dye inside. {I, for one, like what you are planning.}

    “Thank you,” I said. I turned to both of them, the tall and old and lonely man and his litwick, and I realized that I might never see them again. I made a mental note to try to stop in Cherrygrove when all of this cleared up. “Thank you for everything.”

    “Good luck out there,” Bates responded, giving me a sort of mock salute with his right hand. “I have family in Goldenrod, so be sure to stop in there if you make it.”

    Huh. So maybe I would see them again. Of course, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to meander in Goldenrod, heart of the Rockets; mostly, I needed to make sure that my mom was okay and then get the heck out.

    {Be careful,} Brigid added.

    I grinned and held out my arm. Icarus fluttered in through the open doorway and landed on my wrist, and Gaia clambered on to her new spot on the aged backpack. We were ready. “I’ll try.”




    “So I’m supposed to let this just sit for a couple of hours?” I asked no one in particular, looking up from the cardboard box and gritting my teeth to keep them from chattering. My hair was soaking wet, and I was freezing as the wind kept blowing in. If this was autumn, I couldn’t imagine what an actual northern winter would feel like. For the fiftieth time that morning, I regretted not catching the houndour.

    For anyone curious, Cherrygrove had several lakes and ponds nearby, none of which were devoid of wild pokémon who didn’t approve of my crashing their party and repeatedly dunking my head in their home. In fact, the closest body of water that wasn’t occupied by irate poliwag was at least three hours away on foot from the town. I’d filled up my water bottle in town and hadn’t been drinking much on the way, so I approached the icy water, made sure it was decently clean, and then I’d proceeded to follow the instructions on the back of the cardboard box and try to drown myself.

    Kidding. But I had a hard time explaining to Icarus how hair dye worked and that I wasn’t doing anything outlandishly stupid. I glanced back at the box again. “Do not,” it said, “leave in hair for more than ten minutes. Doing so will damage roots and—”

    I swore, dropped the box, and scrambled back to my hands and knees and began frantically rubbing my scalp. It might’ve been ten minutes, maybe more, but I’d always assumed it washed out on its own or something.

    When I pulled my head out of the water, something furry launched itself at my face. Having experience with this situation, I’d finally perfected a semi-decent response and managed to swat the flash of brown out of the way, knocking it back into the water. “Unnnnnghhh! Why!?”

    My attacker surfaced and began swimming lazy circles in the pond as I spluttered and brushed strands of damp hair out of my face, dripping wet and hanging heavily in my face.

    “Sen, Sen, trettttt!” the swimming creature responded, chattering excitedly.

    I didn’t have to look for the scratches under the sentret’s eyes to identify it as the one from the night before, but I did so anyways. “Icarus, please ask the nice sentret why it’s following me.” I filed two mental notes: one to look up a way to deter sentret, and one to get a ghost-type with a telepathic field as quickly as possible.

    “Seeennnn!” she trilled enthusiastically.

    “Life debt.” From my backpack, Icarus almost seemed to be laughing at me. He cackled wildly. “Sentret says you save her life, she must save yours.”

    Oh Arceus, no. “I’m fine,” I said, waving my hands frantically at the sentret, still bobbing lazily in the water and using her tail as a flotation device. “And I didn’t save your life.”

    “Trett!”

    “She thinks differently,” Icarus translated, even though the vigorous shaking of the sentret’s head told me the same thing.

    I shook my head as well. I’d played with the idea of getting the houndour to come along because I’d needed a fire-type, but in all of the chaos that was last night, I’d forgotten. There was no point in trying to find him; it’d be about as useless as searching blindly for Gaia had been, and he certainly wouldn’t come at my call. But I didn’t want to start lugging around a party of pokémon. Gaia and Icarus were heavy enough, and I didn’t have the time, skill, or energy to train a full team of six. If I filled up half of my team before the first gym, I was probably doing something wrong. “No life debt,” I said firmly. “Go back to your clan.”

    More rapid-fire chattering.

    “She says does not want to return to clan.” Icarus cackled madly. “We have new friend, Master?”

    “No,” I repeated, pulling myself to my feet and backing away from the pond, where the sentret still paddled her arms in little circles. I adjusted the straps on my backpack and began walking away.

    The sentret followed at a distance, her head popping out of the grass along the road from time to time.

    “Please stop,” I called over my shoulder.

    “Sen, senn!”

    "I'm not kidding!"

    "Sent, trett trett, sen sen, senn, sen sen? Trett! Tret trett!" She continued chattering for a long time, and I had no idea what she was saying. It was clear, however, that she was talking to me. I wasn't sure what tipped me off: the fact that she kept bobbing up on her striped tail to get into my face, or the excited hand gestures she made with her stubby brown paws, the pads well-worn with use.

    "Icarus," I said with a groan, shifting my backpack on my shoulders and fiddling with the dark green straps idly. "What is she saying now?"

    "Dunno."

    He was kidding. He had to be kidding. "What?"

    "Dunno," the murkrow repeated, cackling to himself and making a shrugging motion with his wings that was altogether un-pokémon-like. "This sentret dumb, but all sentret speak weird language. I not understand nuances well." When I slowly turned my head to glare at him, ready to knock some sense into that feathered head of his, he only looked earnestly back at me with crimson eyes. "Easier speaking to Gaia. Bug and bird live in trees together; similar dialect. Sentret live in holes in ground. Develop own language. Have different speaking. Humans too. Hard to speak human."

    Of course nothing would work out for me in the end. I'd been banking on using Icarus to converse with my pokémon, but even that seemed like it would be out of the question. I quickly corrected myself; the sentret was not one of my pokémon. I didn't have room for a third. Finding food and shelter would be difficult enough for two pokémon and myself already. But if my party ever expanded, I would have to keep my limited understanding of pokémon communication in mind. "I don't know what you're trying to tell me." Apparently it was important, because she tried again. "Please leave."

    "Trett!" A hiss followed.

    I took that as a no. Whatever. I could probably outwalk the thing, if it came to it. For the time being, I planned on ignoring her and turned my attention back to what mattered most—my hair.

    I’d dyed it a bright orange color for no particular reason other than because it was the first box I’d found in my bag. That would be enough to throw the Rockets off of my trail at first, hopefully, and if they started catching on to the orange-haired girl foiling their plans, I had seventeen more colors to choose from.

    I hefted my now-orange locks in my hand, studying them. I’d always liked having long hair back in Goldenrod. Of course, back in Goldenrod, there were things like running water and conditioner and beds. Also, back in Goldenrod, there was no asshole Silver to grab my braid and use it to restrain me before he threatened to slit my throat.

    Impractical. Utterly impractical. I silently thanked Bates as I slipped the knife out of its sheath from my belt and hacked away at the ponytail. Strand by strand, the ends of my hair split away from one another, curling into the void. Soon, my left hand held a knife, while my right hand held a skein of thick orange hair like a bouquet of dead flowers.

    I looked at the handful of hair for a moment, but there was no long moment of pensive thinking, no symbolic coming of age, no pondering. I’d already cut off the hair, anyways; mourning it wouldn’t make it come back. My hair barely reached my shoulders, a nice, short length that would still stay in a ponytail out of my face without making itself easy to grab.

    So I tossed the hair into the bushes, which yelped at me in alarm. “Dour!”

    “No,” I said automatically, quickening my pace. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a houndour emerge from the overgrowth, its black pelt in stark contrast with the pale gravel of the path. “No, no, no, no, no. We aren’t taking any more stragglers.”

    “Poddd!” Gaia trilled from my arms, clearly more enthused about this situation than ever.

    “No!” I whirled around and faced the cheerful sentret and the guilty houndour that had followed me into the grass. “I am not having you guys tag along like some sort of crazy circus! I just want to camp out for a while until this crapstorm blows over, and then I’m going to pretend that this never happened. Capiche?”

    “Tret!”

    “Dour.”

    On second thought… I pulled up short. “Actually, you’re perfectly welcome to come along.” I pointed at the houndour. He was clearly a fire-type. Probably. He had plenty of proficiency with fire, and that seemed like his favorite mode of attacking, so I pegged him as a pure fire-type and called it a day. “I’m off on a magical journey across Johto in which we’ll all be marked as fugitives. Yesterday, both my pokémon and I almost died, and I have no guarantees about tomorrow. Would you like to come along?”

    “Dour.” The houndour shook his head.

    Icarus translated for me anyway, cackling. “He say no.”

    Yeah, like I couldn’t tell. However, this was problematic. I’d have to work on my selling pitch a little if I wanted to get more pokémon to tag along with me. “Why not?”

    “Hounnn.”

    “He smart. Not trust you,” Icarus explained for me. “Wondering why you want him and not sentret. Afraid you use him as tool.”

    Again, all of this managed to fit into a single syllable. Either Icarus was messing with me, or the pokémon language was seriously messed up. “I don’t have enough supplies to support four pokémon,” I said, wondering if I was going to have to explain economics to a houndour as well and regretting my previous generosity that had made me give most of my cash to Bates.

    “Houndour.”

    Yes, three was hardly any more than four. “I wanted you to come along because you can make fire,” I admitted. It was easier to tell the truth. “I didn’t want to freeze to death. But the sentret…” I trailed off, feeling guilty. I wasn’t going to tell her that she was basically useless to me, but in actuality, she was basically useless to me. She wasn’t a flying-type or a fire-type, and most trainers ended up abandoning their sentret and furret in the underground at Goldenrod because the scouting pokémon couldn’t keep up with stronger, more powerful pokémon that came along the way.

    Obviously, I didn’t cut myself off fast enough. “Sennnnt,” the sentret growled, sinking into a crouch and hissing at me, clearly prepared to scratch my face off like she’d done last night.

    Instinctively, I put my hands up. “Okay, okay, I didn’t mean it like that,” I protested, turning now to the sentret. “But I don’t know how to feed everyone. I can hardly feed myself, let alone four pokémon, and then there’s the issue of freezing to death.”

    “Poddd,” said Gaia fairly, and I braced myself. I was not going to let her guilt me into helping a pokémon that could clearly help itself. Not killing Silver had been a good idea in the end, even if I still kicked myself over it, but there was absolutely no justification in letting this sentret come along.

    “Dour.”

    “Houndour come with you if you promise to protect sentret.”

    What. No. “Why?”

    The sentret and the houndour looked at one another, some sort of understanding flashing between them, and then the sentret began chattering at me once again.

    “Icarus?”

    Icarus made a shrugging motion with his dark wings. “She repeat sounds from before. Complicated. Dunno. Life debt reason sound bullshit, but dunno.”

    Of freaking course. I needed to get a ghost-type or something else that could generate a telepathic field as soon as possible. I debated going back to Bates, but going to Cherrygrove and back here would take up nearly six hours, at best.

    “Meta.”

    “Yes, I know, we should just have a rainbow troupe of happiness and prance around in awesomeness like the great people we are,” I muttered at the metapod in my arms, growing frustrated. At least she was pretty light. If the sentret and the houndour didn’t insist on attaching to some part of my backpack or body, I’d be able to… I couldn’t be trying to justify this. Could I?

    “Not what she meant.” Icarus shuffled his feet.

    “Podd.”

    Arceus damn it all. “Fine,” I snapped, not as excited with this compromise as I should have been. If it came to it, more pokémon would be better in a fight. Silver might have a scarily well-trained abra, but it couldn’t take down four pokémon at once. They could probably scavenge for a lot of their own food if it came to it. And as much as I wanted the sentret to go on her merry way, I needed the houndour to choose his merry way to be with me.

    Of course nothing would end up going like I’d planned it to. Of course not. Otherwise, it clearly couldn’t be my journey. “Fine,” I repeated, frustrated. “You can both come. Okay?”




    We camped in the heart of the woods that night around a dying fire made of embers that the houndour provided, and then we curled up together against the cold. The houndour curled himself around my legs, and the sentret wrapped her bushy tail around my neck like a furry hot water bottle, and it didn’t feel cold at all, unlike my first night in the woods.

    I’d almost died the day before, and I didn’t know what the future held, but I felt surprisingly safe. Maybe things would turn out okay. I’d go through Violet City, get to Goldenrod, make sure that my mother was okay, and then start roughing it out in the wild. I had a fire-type, I had a new haircut, and I had enough motivation to keep me going for a while. Maybe things would turn out okay.

    Maybe.




    attempted captures: sentret, houndour, metapod, abra, litwick
    character count: 120,188
    success/failure: success
    Last edited by Elysia; 29th November 2013 at 09:15 PM. Reason: actual editing. Whaddya know.

  5. #5
    Apple juice tastes good CrazyLilChicken's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Poultry Farm
    Posts
    438

    Default Re: {some rise by sin} {part two ready for grading} {braaaackketssss}

    I want. Claiming.
    Many thanks to Blue Dragon for this amazing signature.


    My URPG Stats | My DRPG Stats | My Wish List

  6. #6
    Apple juice tastes good CrazyLilChicken's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Poultry Farm
    Posts
    438

    Default Re: {some rise by sin} {part two ready for grading} {braaaackketssss}

    Here's your grade. What can I say other than I work fast? :)

    Introduction~


    When you are writing a story that follows another, it is important that you make sure the reader knows what happened in the book before so they don't have to go back and read everything, even if they are in the same thread. Dropping little hints about what happened before doesn't do the job because most people are lazy and just glance over stories instead of really taking the time to read them. You don't need to go into extreme detail like you did in the first part, but some explanation is needed to clarify things to whoever is reading your story, otherwise they are left wondering about what took place on the first part. Unlike in your first part, you did establish that your main character was in fact a girl, even if it was later on in the story. There was a lot happening in this story, but it meshed to a certain extent. There was a bit of interest where Blake followed your character onto the forest. Whether it was because he wanted to try and take out the one-man rebellion or just wanted to see what he and Team Rocket could be up against on the future, it wasn't all that certain. I wasn't surprised when he challenged her to a battle, though when Blake threw the money at her was a mystery since the old ways had died out in the story. So, when that money came into play later on, I thought it was good because you gave it use when a lot of people wouldn't have given it a second thought. Anyway, when you are first starting a story, it is important to establish a good line for the story to follow through. If you deviate from that line, sometimes that story could end up going someplace else entirely. That is what happened when she walked into the store. Even though William the shopkeeper is there to help her find the missing Pokemon, I don't think that you utilized that part was well as you could have. I think that William's a prop that didn't really need to be there, kind of like a broom when there's a vacuum. Then again, he could have been on there just because you needed a background for the Litwick capture. Anyway, though it lacked the dynamic punch your first part had, this wasn't bad, but had some problem areas. You did tell where the story was taking place at, and why your character was running, so that is a plus. When writing the beginning, you have to make everything that happened before clear to the reader so there is no confusion and they don't sit around scratching their heads.

    Plot~


    Since it is continuing from another story, the plots are mostly the same, though there are some changes. You character didn't want the Murkrow in the first place, but she was concerned when it and Gaia the Caterpie went missing. You never explained why they went missing, either, so that's a hole in your plot. Plots are, in definition, a series of events that happen through out the story. These events could be anything, though most people choose some sort of action so they can draw their readers in with an explosive battle, or a twisted story about their character. Since your story has neither of these, it's hard to keep the attention of your reader on the story so they don't just scrap your story all together. The story consists of your character running away, picking up Pokemon along the way. Not that you almost have a full team, get your hands dirty. Put those Pokemon to use. Battling or using their abilities outside of battles are good. You are still a novice, and it show in the way that you allow your events to fall out. There is still simplicity in your plot, like how the Pokemon want to join your character on her quest, even if she didn't catch them using Poke Balls, and how she sends out her Pokemon. Many of the phrases she uses I recognize from the games. If you continue to write the story with that the Pokemon just magically wanting to tag along, it will get old pretty fast, so challenge yourself. Knock out a Pokemon and tie it up with the rope on her bag. Be inventive. The Sentret said it hated humans, in so many words, yet joined anyway. And saving her life wasn't really all that good a reason. As a side note, you don't want to have the plot get dull. As you go along in the chapters, make things more exciting. Make your character a fugitive. And give her a super cool name because you still haven't told us what her name is. Also, why would your hero, who is trying to evade Team Rocket, tell Blake, Giovanni's son, where she is going? You stress on the fact that she is on the run, and that she even contemplates killing Blake because she doesn't want him following her or ratting her out. It just seems like a hole in the plot that could have been evaded with some concentrated proofreading.

    Description~


    Not all that much going on here. There is not detail on anything, just a handful of words on select things. There is mention of inky feathers from Murkrow, or the blobby Gaia, just stuff like that. It doesn't really give the reader a picture of what you are trying to describe looks like. That's almost as bad as no description because you're giving a small piece and basically telling the reader to make something up. Eye, hair, and skin color are a must have for humans and Pokemon. As long as you have that, the rest doesn't really matter. Adding clothes and shoes and attitudes are appreciated because they give an in-depth view of people. Those are optional, but you do need some sort of detail to plant in the minds of your readers. Detail isn't just what people look like, though. It's towns, forests, wildlife, feelings, and senses. Everything cannot be explained through a few words. If you dig deeper, into that poet that lives inside every writer's heart, I'm sure you'll be able to find the words needed for your story.

    The creature wormed its round, brown body around so it was facing me, long ears twitching wildly. Its tail, striped chocolate and mocha, was larger than the pokémon itself and whipped around with a mind of its own.


    Above, this is probably the most detail we get in the story if you discount Blake. Since you seem to apply detail in small sentences, as the story goes on and the Pokemon are mentioned, add more description, each time describing something you didn't before. That way, you'll give the reader something to go on, but at your own pace.

    Grammar~


    There are some errors here. I see that you have double spaced everything, which does make your story easier to read. But since you have double spaced it, put a space at the beginning of each sentence as you go along no longer is needed. There are a few words that are missing letters, like where she goes to threaten Blake with the knife. The H in 'hand' is missing.

    My murkrow could talk, and I wanted nothing more than to make him shut up.

    But I think that the only thing more chilling than Icarus’s incessant chatter—Master, sentret, pidgey, hoothoot! Master, sentret, hoothoot, pidgey!—would be the silence. And there was plenty of silence to be had. As the sun rose and the day wore on, even the pokémon in the depths of the route between New Bark Town and whatever town lay ahead were silent. It was like they all knew that something terrible had happened this day, something that required their own silence out of fear. The only sounds were the occasional shuffling of talons from the branches above our heads and the dry crunch of my own feet on the loamy earth of the route. Every pokémon, it seemed, knew to hold its breath to see how the world would react to this horrible event.


    Here is my example. The space is only needed when you don't go down two lines, and you have double spaced, which I have already mentioned. You do this quite a bit through out your story. It is understandable since that was the way you wrote, but when you change up the style, the grammatical rules change with spacing as well, so you have to be cautious about that.

    and if I hadn't known better, I would have underestimated it.
    I wasn’t about to underestimate it.
    “There are eight trainers and a nurse in the pokécenter who know that I went to the pokémart,”
    Yes, and eight sentret and a furret from my clan know that I went on this mission.


    You have to be careful when writing. If you get into too comfortable a zone, you'll begin to repeat yourself and sooner or later, someone will pick up on that, especially if you do it more than once with the same word. There are parts where you repeat sentences instead of words, like when your character confronts Blake, she says 'If I catch you following us, I won't hold back,'. Later on in the story, the Sentret says the same thing. Since we are on the subject of repeating and copying, there are other parts that copy each other that I want to bring up. Three times something leaps onto your character's face. Once or twice is understandable if it is the same Pokemon, but that it pushing it. Three times is overboard. There are times when one character says something, then later on the other says the same thing. This is very distracting to a reader. Since you've put all those repeating words and such in the story, they now focus on picking out the errors you have created. I have mentioned many times the illusion that writers cast over their readers when they are reading the story. That illusion breaks all too easily. Maintaining it is so difficult, so don't beat yourself too hard about it. Proofreading can eliminate those errors. Make sure to read over your finished work at least five times before posting, but not all at once because you'll start to miss stuff, so space them.

    The first. The pillar. The foundation. The roots of the earth.


    All the periods you use here are not necessary. The reader will get the point without so much punctuation as you've put in here. It just makes the sentence look over-thought.

    “I’ll…I’ll…”


    There should be a space in between the period and letter I. Even though your character is stammering, they still count as words. That should be enough for now. Onto the length section~

    Length~


    I must admit, it takes some dedication to make a 93,678 character story. I know your count was 92,009, but my count was significantly more. There are a crap ton of spaces, so that does eliminate a good chunk of the characters. Even so, you are more than likely within range of the minimum capture which is 55,000, give or take. Anyway, even though this story was a little slow in progression, I tip my hat to you. I would grow bored with writing that long a story, and most people would grow bored reading it. It was engaging in some places, dull in others. That is something you have to watch out for. Long stories often have what I refer to as lulls, which is where the story seems to drag on forever. Another thing I want to mention is to know when to stop writing. There are times when people don't know when to stop writing and they tag on all these parts that have nothing to do with the plot, and end up being filler. Although, your length does compliment your actually story, so good job. There is another thing, though. Your story is very long, yet there isn't much mention of the Houndour and Abra. They each just had a small part. For the Houndour, it's not that big or a deal since it's a medium ranking Pokemon. But for the Abra, since it is hard ranking, you need to mention it more than you did. The battle was brief, as was the interlude with Blake where it wasn't mentioned more than twice.

    Outcome~


    Though your story had it's ups and down, it was good. The mistake most writers make when they are working on their second story is to go all out. They are still high on passing their first story, so they assume that they will automatically pass. That is not the case, even though it didn't happen here. I think that you rushed through it, not properly thinking it all through. Rushing stories are all good when they are short, but longer stories need time. So on that note I have to announce your grade. Sentret and Houndour are captured, Abra and Litwick not captured. I know this is only your second story, but there are still some novice mistakes, and ones that I brought up in your first grade. There were a lot of problems, and most of them repetitive, as I said before. Fix at least all of the major problem areas like the holes in your plot, mention the Abra more, and put in some more detail on the Pokemon and surroundings. When you are done, hit me up with a VM and I'll regrade it for you. It doesn't have to be a complete rewrite, just a fix-up. Good luck on editing, and sorry about failing you.
    Many thanks to Blue Dragon for this amazing signature.


    My URPG Stats | My DRPG Stats | My Wish List

  7. #7
    Head of Stories Princess Crow's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    URPG!
    Posts
    1,400
    Blog Entries
    6

    Default Re: {some rise by sin}

    Sorry that this took so long, but I'm going to have to overturn the ruling on the grade. Sorry CLC, but I felt that Elysia's story was above and beyond the requirements for the Pokemon in her story, and the errors you pointed out seemed to be more stylistic rather than actual flaws.

    The description level was, in my opinion, much more fluid and natural. Even though it wasn't straight-forward, the description was still present in the story and shouldn't have been disregarded.

    The plot holes you pointed out in the grade weren't exactly major either - you mention the "money after a battle" as being one, but it's explained in the text that the battler was rich enough to support giving out money, while most other people were not. While a bit confusing, I wouldn't consider this nearly instrumental enough to give a reason to fail the story.

    Likewise, many of the plot holes you pointed out were simply things that you two disagreed with on a level of creativity and originality. "Creative" is subjunctive. Elysia's method of obtaining Pokemon isn't lazy writing - it's simply another alternative to capturing Pokemon the old-fashioned way. That's clearly a stylistic choice, and suggesting that she tie up Pokemon isn't necessarily more creative.

    And may I ask why you removed the spaces from the story? URPG has always included spaces in the character count, and you significantly dropped Elysia's story length by removing the spaces.

    It seems as if most of the reasons for failing the grade were subjunctive. Elysia's story had very limited flaws of significance, and it seems as if the story was mainly failed because CLC simply disagreed with the style of writing. A grader's job is to essentially assess the level of thought and work put into the story. Elysia's story was clearly well thought-out, and the main disagreements within the grade were regarding the stylistic choices that Elysia made. Each grader is entitled to his/her own opinion, but we have to ultimately remember that the authors don't have our writing style. We can't try and mold the story to fit our own style.

    As such, Sentret, Houndour, Abra, and Litwick are captured. Metapod too.

    Sorry that some modifications were made before I could get to the story. Hopefully you didn't spend too much time on them - the story was still strong beforehand anyway.

    @Elysia ; @CrazyLilChicken ;
    Last edited by Princess Crow; 20th August 2013 at 07:25 AM.

  8. #8
    .______. Elysia's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    All I do is work.
    Posts
    356

    Default Re: {some rise by sin}




    part three: these violent delights




    William Bates opened the door to his pokémart, shotgun in hand, to find some little kid with an abra glaring back at him. He sighed. He hated psychic-types; Brigid could deal with them on good days, and it was only morning, but—

    “Welcome to the Cherrygrove City pokémart,” he growled, shoving the muzzle of the gun in the kid’s face. “Your abra stays outside. You got any other pokémon on you?”

    The kid, unfortunately, didn’t seem at all intimidated by the twin barrels of the shotgun staring him in the face. He almost yawned, clearly trying to look as blasé about the situation as possible, but Bates could see that he was exhausted. And, for some reason, he wore a layer of shredded but sticky silk over his rumpled and dirty white clothing.

    “Dante here can stop brutes like you with a twitch of his mind,” the kid retorted, and there was a hard edge in his voice that almost made Bates think twice, except he’d seen worse than this kid and knew he would again. “Teleport us inside, would you, Dante?”

    The piece of shit little kid was actually going to try it. “Brigid!” Bates shouted.

    Bates’s litwick, floating behind him, seemed unperturbed, but she reacted with blinding speed. A puff of light marked her position before she vanished into the shadows. {On it.}

    The abra’s brown paw reached out and snaked around the kid’s arm, and then the two of them vanished in a flash of blue light. Bates sighed and slowly turned around, pulling back the barrel of his shotgun with a satisfying click-click as he did so, and leveled the weapon at an apparently empty spot behind him.

    Half a second later, the spluttering boy appeared in front of him, his head materializing conveniently before the twin barrels of the shotgun. A few feet away, Brigid flickered into existence as well, holding a squirming abra by the ears between her small, white hands. Her smile was twisted into a frown, and her yellow eyes, or at least the one visible, gleamed dangerously in the light.

    Bates breathed a silent sight of relief, although he tried to look as confident as possible. Brigid could easily hold her own against lower-powered psychics like this one, but when it came to resisting against more powerful ones, a litwick and a shotgun didn’t give much defense. If the power outages from the magnetic apocalypse continued and situations started getting dire, Bates had no doubt that trainers with psychics would win.

    Still, in the meantime, he was doing quite well. “Welcome to the Cherrygrove City pokémart,” Bates repeated calmly, staring down the barrel of the shotgun to the surprised-looking kid on the other end who no longer had the courage to glare at him. “I would advise your abra to stay outside, but it seems to have other plans.” He glanced over at Brigid, who was idly combatting the abra’s half-hearted releases of blue energy with her own purple flames. “That’s fine. Brigid will watch him while you shop. If either of you try anything stupid, she’ll burn him to a crisp. And that includes the knife,” Bates added, glaring at the bulge in the kid’s front pocket that looked a little too much like a switchblade for his liking.

    Four days ago, the bronzong-metagross magnetic generator based in Goldenrod that created a powerful enough magnetic field to deflect the charged particles emitted by the sun had been perfectly fine. In the absence of the planet’s own magnetic field, which had been weakening steadily for over a decade, the bronzong-metagross one kept the ionized particles away and allowed life in Johto to continue as normal, with small comforts like electricity and sanity despite the Rocket dictatorship. Bates got a lot of looks for being a foreigner with a shotgun and a litwick, but he’d dealt with them admirably.

    Three days ago, the bronzong-metagross field fell. Across Johto, the power went out, and everything from central heating to pokéballs shut down in a single burst of coronal radiation. Bates had converted from a foreign shopkeeper with a shotgun and a litwick to a regular shopkeeper with a shotgun and a litwick, but that very same shop and that very same shotgun and that very same litwick suddenly became a lot more valuable in a world where things previously taken for granted—supplies, for instance, or non-electronic protection, or fire—suddenly became dubious.

    Of course, the attention wasn’t exactly welcome in the current climate. Bates found himself as the only person with supplies between New Bark and Violet, and humans, being the assholes that they were, took the crisis as an opportunity to get ahead. Prime example was the little shit with his abra who was currently showing the whites of his eyes to Bates on the other end of his shotgun. Bates might’ve felt sorry for the kid, who looked hardly older than fifteen and rather beat up, but the kid had just tried to jump him, after all. “I take it you want to buy supplies?”

    The kid managed to look decently unafraid even though his abra was struggling in Brigid’s grasp and there was a shotgun staring him in the face. “No.”

    Bates raised an eyebrow. The question had been mostly rhetorical, given that they were standing together in a pokémart, but if the kid was a little addled in the head from whatever had given him the bloody and poorly-bandaged cut under his eye, Bates wouldn’t blame him. “I’m not a charity. The pokécenter is next door,” Bates grumbled. It was still hard to feel sorry for the kid, given what had happened a few moments before. “You might want to get that cut looked at before infection starts in.”

    “I’m fine,” the kid snapped back, cynicism beyond his years filling his voice along with the slightest hint of arrogance. “I need information.”

    Bates’s eyebrows retreated a little further into his hairline, and he looked at the kid with renewed interest. No one asked for information, and those who did were either working to take down the Rockets or working with them. “And?”

    “There was a girl who came through here earlier. My age, give or take.”

    Unbidden, Bates’s thoughts leapt to the brash teenage girl who’d come barreling in his shop two days before. He stifled them as quickly as possible with a quick glance to the abra, but the yellow and brown psychic pokémon seemed a little distracted by its current predicament to read his thoughts.

    Then, Bates realized something worse. The girl yesterday had mentioned fighting a random trainer like this, although the trainer she’d fought hadn’t exactly been… Holy shit. Bates was holding Giovanni’s son, Silver, the fucking heir to Team Rocket, at gunpoint while his litwick attacked the kid’s abra.

    Yeah, this was probably the fastest way to earn himself a one-way ticket to the gallows at Ecruteak.

    He had to remain calm. “There are a lot of girls your age.”

    “She has a metapod, stronger than it looks.”

    Definitely the girl from two days ago, although, with any luck, she’d also have a sentret and a houndour on her side as well as her actual starter, a murkrow. Bates kept his smile internal. The girl had never mentioned that her metapod had been the one to take out Silver’s abra. “There are a lot of girls your age with metapod. Look around you, kid. This is the edge of the forest. There are a thousand caterpie north of here, and practically everyone who goes through here picks up a couple. You should, too, if you ever get bored of flaunting around your abra like he’s your giant, psychic asshole.” That might’ve been pushing it a little far. But to say that Bates disliked the Rockets was a bit of an understatement.

    To his credit, the red-haired boy kept his calm. “Do you know who I am?” he asked coolly.

    Yes. “No.”

    “I’m the heir to Team Rocket,” the boy growled, a fire blazing to life in his brown eyes as he glared up at Bates despite the shotgun. He seemed overly proud to tell Bates what the shopkeeper had already figured out a full twelve seconds before. “And I suggest you tell me what I want to know.”

    Bates weighed his options. On one hand, he’d been on the wrong side of the Rockets before, and almost all of his pokémon had ended up dead. On the other hand, he liked the girl who had come through two days ago, and he had no intentions of ratting her out to the Rockets. He sighed. “There are a lot of kids with metapod,” he said, choosing the middle ground for the time being. “I’ve seen at least twenty in the past week.”

    “She had a murkrow with her,” Silver said, still sounding as irate as before. “A murkrow,” he added in a voice that was more suited for teaching five year-olds the alphabet, “is a small, black-bird, feathers like a top hat, blood-red eyes—”

    “I know what a murkrow is,” Bates snapped back. He wondered how much trouble he’d get into if he shot the kid right now. He probably wouldn’t make it halfway to Violet City before the Rockets gave him a one-way lift to Ecruteak. A shame, that. “I saw a girl like that a few days ago.”

    “Did she get anything from you?” Silver glanced at his abra. “Dante can tell if you’re lying, by the way.”

    Of course he could. Nothing would be easy. The kid could be bluffing, but Bates didn’t want to try anything stupid. “Yes.”

    “What did she pick out? Specifics, please.”

    Bates paused for a moment, pretending to try to remember. In reality, he was searching for loopholes. “She got some survival stuff,” he said slowly, still frowning like he was thinking hard. Well, he was thinking hard, but he knew exactly what the girl had picked out and what she had… oh. “Antiseptic, rubbing alcohol, bandages, a map. Blanket and compass, maybe.” He felt no need to mention things that the girl hadn’t picked out, namely all of the viable supplies that could possibly spell out her position and plan to the Rockets. If Silver was going to be stupid with his word choice, then he would pay for it. Because the girl had been given that stuff, and hadn’t picked it out, and as long as Bates believed the wordplay strongly enough in his mind, the abra wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    And this was why you didn’t sent a kid to do a Rocket’s work.

    “Anything else?”

    Bates shrugged. “Her potion rations, I guess. She couldn’t afford to pay for anything more that night.” Which was also true; she’d brought in her windfall the next morning. He knew that the information he was giving Silver was practically useless—in fact, it was actually detrimental to the Rockets, because now they had the impression that they were going up against a pathetically prepared girl with some band-aids and a compass that wouldn’t work until the magnetic field righted itself, when in reality, the girl was well-stocked for survival in the wilderness for quite a while.

    “Anything more?” To his credit, Silver seemed to register this information as worthless as well.

    The abra seemed to know that he was holding back on something, and Bates remembered the last item that the girl had explicitly picked out for herself and not had shoved into her arms by Bates or Brigid. “Hair dye,” he said grudgingly.

    Silver’s eyes narrowed, but Bates could sense his excitement. If the girl was going to disguise herself, knowing what her disguise looked like in advance would be a crippling countermove. “What color?”

    Here, in the darkened shop that was only lit by the faint purple flames from Brigid’s head, Bates had to actively suppress his smile. Brigid had picked up on it two days ago, even if he hadn’t at the moment. Bate shrugged a little and gestured lazily to the display case behind his counter that proudly showed eighteen different colors of hair dye. “Oh, you know. All of them.”

    The Rockets later came forward with a statement that they were looking for a dangerous, terrorist girl who had dyed her hair. Half the Joys and Jennys got turned in before Team Rocket was forced to rescind its previous warrant, and by the time the actual, not-dangerous, not-terrorist girl who they wanted with fake-orange hair arrived in Violet City, no one knew how to look for her.




    It took us nearly a week to get to Violet City, both because I kept getting hopelessly lost and because I wanted to say as far away from either city for as long as possible. The compass, I discovered on the first day of wandering through the forest, was practically useless, spinning in every direction at random and never settling on any particular bearing. If it had been, say, a golden compass that could mysteriously answer my questions pertaining to the whims of the universe while I worked alongside an honorable, armored beartic, I wouldn’t have minded, but my compass was, frustratingly, nothing more than a compass, and a broken one at that. I mean, it was great at determining which way was magnetic north; unfortunately, given the massive ion concentration, it also thought that every way was magnetic north.

    I threw it into my backpack after about an hour, only to find that my backpack was full of a bunch of supplies that I never remembered packing myself. Heavy supplies. I didn’t mind that Bates was apparently trying to look out for me by packing my bag like it was my first day of kindergarten, and having extra canned food was useful—I guess I was getting the full value of the money I’d left him, after all—but there some markedly useless things shoved in various pockets.

    Namely, rocks.

    Just one rock, actually, but I pulled out the fist-sized lump of black material and scowled at it. “Icarus, do you have any idea what this is?”

    His typical perch on my backpack had been disrupted, seeing as I’d pulled it off of my back and was rummaging through the dark-green, military-grade pockets, fuming all the while as packets of dried fruit and jerky appeared before my eyes with a speed that only breeding ratatta could rival. How the heck Bates had managed to stuff my backpack with food—fairly heavy food, but food nonetheless—was beyond me.

    Icarus gave a sound that might’ve been a hoity-toity sniff and pecked at the plastic wrapper of a bag of dried oran berries. Every inch of the murkrow’s jet-black feathers, from the top hat protrusion on his head to the broom-like clump that was his tail, seemed to enjoy annoying me. For one, he was an illegal starter pokémon, a dark-type in a world where psychic-types were king, and his very existence marked me as a terrorist of some sort. Even if I didn’t want to be.

    Most of the time, though, Icarus’s taunts were meant in good sport. “Rock.”

    Oh, yeah, I would’ve never guessed. “Anyone else want to tell me what this is?” I glanced over at the motley crew that made up my current team.

    My sentret, whom I had christened Iris, glanced up at me from where she had been sharpening her claws on a nearby tree. Her brown fur still bore some of the scratches from her fight with a houndour and my murkrow a few days before, but she had mostly healed up nicely. Her dark brown ears twitched a little at my question, but as she studied the lump of rock in my hand curiously, she wilted a little. “Sennn,” Iris crooned, shaking her head.

    “Dour.” Atlas, my new houndour, had plopped himself down and started picking out the briars entangled in his sleek, black fur when it became clear we weren’t progressing much while I studied the contents of my back. His eyes glinted from the skull-like mask on his head—I hadn’t figured out if it was an actual skull or not, and if it belonged to him or another pokémon, and nor did I want to. He was a fire-type, from what I could gather—not like my pokédex could tell me, because it was dead—and that was all I needed. Starting fires was far more difficult than the books made it out to be, and instead of struggling with kindling, I had a pokémon that could make fire at will.

    I took that as a no as well. “Well, I’m throwing it away, then, unless anyone else wants it.”

    “Poddd.”

    Oh, for the love of Arceus.

    My fourth pokémon, who was actually my second and supposed to be my first, was a metapod who had taken it upon herself to act as my moral compass. Her goal was actually quite a daring one, seeing as she had no means of communicating with me and lacked some useful features, such as arms and legs, but she’d done a pretty good job of keeping me and Icarus from being murderers. Literally.

    The metapod, Gaia, was somewhat of an unintended consequence. After Icarus, I’d decided to pretend that the murkrow wasn’t my starter in the hopes that an extravagant lie would keep the Rockets off of my tail. Instead, I’d claim that Gaia was my starter, and with the electronic trainer grid currently out of commission, there would be nothing to say otherwise. However, she took her role a little too seriously and had taken over the duties I’d normally associated with a starter pokémon, like being carried in my arms and being the main voice of reason.

    Icarus didn’t mind, of course. He preferred the maiming route.

    “You carry it, then,” I muttered darkly, but I knew that as soon as Gaia suggested something, I inevitably ended up following it.

    “Meta.”

    I didn’t bother asking Icarus to translate. “Yes, I know you have no arms.” I glared at the lime-green cocoon propped up against a tree, looking back at me mournfully, and scowled. It was like getting growlithe-puppy eyes, except from a metapod. And somehow, it worked.

    “No legs, too!” Icarus squawked joyfully, but he seemed perfectly content hauling around Gaia in his talons when my arms inevitably got tired.

    “Poddd.”

    “Screw you, Charlie Brown.” I had no way of picking up body language from a pokémon that couldn’t move its body, but she seemed intent that I carry around the lump of black rock until my back broke. Fine. Maybe it was a fossil or something. Or maybe I could use it as a bludgeon if it came to it. Dropped from sufficient height, the rock could probably fatally injure a small child.

    And now I was thinking like Icarus again. I sighed and shoved the rock into the bottom of my backpack. At the very least, it would help balance everything. This camping thing, although I was well-supplied for the time being and the weather was only slightly below freezing at night, was turning out pretty badly. I had food for now, and Atlas gave me fire, but I was covered in a thin layer of grime that no amount of scrubbing in icy water seemed to wash away, my hair was the color of a traffic cone—long story, that one—and faired little better, and there was the pressing matter that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

    My main plan was to blaze through Violet before anyone caught wind of my arrival and reach Goldenrod, where I could find my mother and make sure that she was okay.

    By the time we arrived in Violet City a week later, though, my pokémon tired out from hiking, the whole ‘blazing through’ plan seemed like a pretty bad one. I wanted nothing more than to check in to the nearest pokécenter and have a rest in a nice bed, for once.

    I couldn’t do that, of course; spending the night in any city was easily the stupidest thing I could do short of turning myself in. Instead, I had Icarus, and as an afterthought, had Atlas make sure the murkrow didn’t do anything downright stupid, and then I waltzed into town with Gaia and Iris looking for supplies, prepared to act the part of any new, non-insurgent trainer with her first pokémon and the first route normal-type, prepared to brashly challenge the gym and humiliatingly lose. If the Rockets were looking for a girl with a murkrow, they would be gravely disappointed. And if they were looking for a girl with a metapod and a sentret, well… I counted at least four on the way in. This could be doable.

    “I might have to leave you guys outside of the pokémart,” I told the metapod in my arms and the sentret scampering around at my feet. “You don’t mind, right?” The last pokémart we’d visited, in Cherrygrove, had a very abrupt shopkeeper who took no shits and had a shotgun. I had no intentions of mugging anyone, let alone with a metapod, but it was better not to take any risks.

    “Poddd,” Gaia replied mournfully.

    “Yes, I know. Iris will protect you this time.” It turned out that leaving your pokémon unattended in the open, especially the ones that couldn’t move, was practically asking for trouble. I glanced at the sentret, who was currently bouncing around on her bushy, brown-and-tan striped tail and flapping her arms experimentally as she peered around the quiet city. “Right, Iris?”

    “Senttt.”

    I was really going to have to find a way to translate for these guys. But other than that, things were probably going to be—




    “What the hell do you mean, you don’t sell to trainers without a gym badge?” I was shouting less than five minutes later in a pokémart dimly lit by a sparking mareep, which hissed at my outburst. I waved my arms through the air in a sort of vague protest. “It’s the apocalypse! I need supplies!”

    The thin, pasty woman in the white pokémart apron looked distinctly uncomfortable, but she said, “We’ve had a rash of people claiming to be trainers coming in for their weekly potion rations who then go out and sell their supplies out to real trainers for markedly higher prices.”

    “I got my ration at Cherrygrove,” I protested, calming myself simultaneously. There was no need to get angry with him. I rolled up the tattered sleeve of my jacket and showed him the indelible, green smeargle ink Bates had used to mark my wrist over a week ago.

    The storekeeper shrugged. “Look, miss, I’m sorry. But with all of the trainer records down, we have no way of proving that you’re actually a trainer, and having a gym badge—any gym badge, mind you—is our best bet.”

    I fumed silently. “But I just started training last week, right before all of this happened.” Maybe she would look at dirt-covered me and see that I wasn’t trying to be a threat.

    No such luck. “Then this is the perfect time to get a badge, isn’t it?”

    No, I wanted to retort, but I figured that this wasn’t the best battle to pick right now.

    Most of my intentions of becoming a pokémon master and fighting the champion had faded a little in the light of my becoming a fugitive and the magnetic apocalypse, and the idea that I’d actually use a badge for anything more than a paperweight had been a laughable possibility in the back of my mind. I doubted I could set foot in the gym without causing a commotion, but if it was my only shot at getting supplies, I had some problems. I might’ve had to go straight to Goldenrod without restocking, which was doable but not preferable.

    “Is the gym league even operational? I thought that we’d, you know, have plunged into chaos by now.” It was a little difficult to keep my voice civil.

    The woman raised one eyebrow. “Ostensibly it is, or else I wouldn’t be asking you to show me a gym badge.” She appeared to have difficulties being civil as well. “Falkner’s out right now, but one of his provisional trainers can show you your place.”

    I decided to ignore the jab at my training skills, mostly because it was probably right. Icarus had no problems murdering everything he saw, but Gaia had the intent to kill of a soggy paper towel. I barely knew what Iris or Atlas could do; from what I could tell, Iris was determined but not necessarily all-powerful, while Atlas preferred to watch from afar.

    Well, I could go challenge the gym and get myself noticed and then killed by Rockets, or I could go out into the wilderness without supplies and later get myself killed by Rockets.

    “Thank you for your time,” I grumbled, and then hefted my backpack onto my shoulder and stepped back into the street, which was dimly lit by the midday sun. I scooped up Gaia in my arms, relieved that there were no missing pokémon awaiting me this time, but Iris tugged insistently on the fraying edge of my jeans and motioned with her tail at a couple of figures dressed in blinding white milling around the town who hadn’t been there before.

    Shit. Rockets. They probably couldn’t recognize me, unless Silver had managed to blab on me earlier than I had expected, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I froze in the entrance to the pokémart, trying to see what the Rockets were doing.

    The couple of the white-clad figures would approach a trainer in the streets and hold a brief conversation. Most of the time, the Rockets let the trainer go, but a few of them grabbed the squat, yellow and brown pokémon next to them—from a distance, I couldn’t recognize what type of pokémon it was, but I knew it wasn’t an abra—and vanished, taking the trainer with them.

    I forced myself to take a few calming breaths. They were just stopping trainers who were wandering around on the street and just asking them a few questions. Questions that any trainer who wasn’t part of some hopelessly tangled plot to take down Team Rocket could answer with ease.

    Well crap. I had to get indoors. The pokémart wasn’t an option, unless me and pasty wanted to get really close, and the gym and the pokécenter weren’t too far behind on my mental list of bad places in which to seek asylum. I picked out the sloping black roof of a massive tower, pained red and yellow with ornate carvings, and I hobbled across the street, careful to keep my head low, and ducked inside the massive, brass doorway. The door itself consisted of a large, dark slab of wood studded with round bits of metal, and at around shoulder level were two brass doorknockers shaped like bellsprout heads holding metal rings. I reached out to yank at one, but it was stuck.

    I cast a glance over my shoulder. The Rockets were coming closer, although they didn’t seem to have noticed me yet. “Come on, come on,” I whispered to the door, pulling at the ring again, and this time the door silently slid open and I slipped inside.

    The first thing I noticed about the tower was the light. Normally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a well-lit building, but, given the current, no-electricity situation, seeing a building that wasn’t illuminated by a fire or electric-type was a bit strange.

    No. Here, the illumination came from a glowing pillar in the center of the room, one that rose from the floor to the ceiling and disappeared in a round hole near the top of the room. The pillar seemed solid enough, but it shone with an eerie light from within that pulsed like a heartbeat. I had no idea what it was, but the tower seemed alive.

    “Welcome to Sprout Tower,” a voice with a slight lisp said from behind me, and I visibly jumped.

    There was a wizened, bald man standing in the corner, clad from head to toe in dark blue robes that obscured his hands and everything but the very tips of his sandaled feet. He filled the typical old-man-monk role fairly well, with a wrinkled but kind face and sprouts of white hair peppering his chin and even coming out of his ears.

    He looked old and harmless, but he’d managed to sneak up on me. In sandals. Either this monk was a ninja, or I was more tired than I’d thought. “Um, hi,” I replied, tearing my gaze from the pulsating column in the center of the room and then having second thoughts. “What’s that?” I pointed back at the pillar.

    The wizened man gave a weak sigh. “That,” he murmured, “is the giant bellsprout that makes up the core of this sanctuary.”

    “The giant bellsprout that—okay, never mind.” I’d seen more confusing things in my life. Military sentret, for instance, such as the one that was currently sniffing around the floor like it was covered in chocolate.

    “It is dying,” the man continued mournfully. And indeed, the room seemed a little dimmer than before.

    I tried to look sympathetic, but given how close I had come to dying in the past few days, along with my pokémon, along with basically everyone else in the world, it was difficult to feel bad for a bellsprout when I couldn’t even see its face.

    “You are the savior who has come to help us.”

    Wait what.

    No. No. First the xatu declared me a savior of Johto, and then Silver, and probably a ton of other people, but I was not going to be a savior to a tiny old guy and his bellsprout. “Pardon?”

    “You were drawn to the Tower. Save Falkner, our leader, you are the first one outside of our order to enter these sacred halls since the day the power failed and the monster appeared.”

    “That’s ridiculous. You have a building with light. Why wouldn’t anyone—”

    “The doors are locked.”

    Now he was just lying. I backed up a little, wondering if I could try to sneak out without his noticing me. I was a somewhat-fit teenager, of course, and he appeared to be an unarmed, harmless man. But when I hit the doors, which were solid enough to bury the head of the bellsprout-shaped doorknocker into the small of my back and refused to budge an inch, I began to feel afraid. “I wasn’t drawn here. I hid in the first building I saw, and I was running because—”

    “—because your sssstarter is different from the otherssss, and for that you have been casssst out,” the man finished sagely, inclining his head slightly. I could still see his smile, which was filled with too many pointed teeth. Also, the man’s lisp was transforming into a full hiss. “You are the ssssavior who has come to help ussss.”

    This was starting to redefine creepy. I’d never bought the sage-mysticism myths, but unless Icarus had blabbed at some point instead of waiting outside of town with Atlas—I wouldn’t put it past him, honestly—then the sage was hauntingly correct. I sighed. “What… ugh. What do you want me to do?” There was no leaving this tower until the Rockets cleared out, and I personally wanted to spend as little time in the same room as the markedly creepy old guy as possible.

    “Be careful that you do not lossse your way in the darksssssssss…”

    Shitshitshitshitshit. This was all just a dream. It had to be.

    The man looked at me, tilting his head in one direction and then the next. Then, his face began to dissolve. I bit back a scream, but the wizened old guy had disappeared into a puff of dark smoke, in which I could see the faintest outlines of a cackling face before the smoke, too, dissipated, leaving me with an ornate, locked door; a giant, dying bellsprout; and an empty, probably-haunted room.

    For good measure, I tried the door behind me. It was securely locked, and refused to budge no matter how many times I jiggled at the lock. How I’d managed to come in was a different matter entirely. I sighed, forcing myself to remain calm. Yes, Sprout Tower was apparently filled with creepy sages that could teleport and were probably possessed by ghosts who had taken a marked interest in my fate. And yes, there didn’t seem to be much of a way out. But I had to keep going. I’d been through worse. Right?

    It appeared that there was no other option but to go further into the haunted tower, which was really something I didn’t want to do, what with the dissolving people and dire predictions of my death and for Arceus’s sake how many people could repeat the xatu’s supposedly secret words.

    I should’ve stayed in the forest. Grumbling all the while, I trudged toward the spiral staircase in the back corner of the room.

    “Poddd.”

    “Yes, Gaia,” I said with a sigh. “We’re going to go poke around in the haunted tower.”

    The second floor didn’t smell particularly bad, which was a blessing, and also convinced me that the monks weren’t all secretly rotting because of this mysterious monster. Of course, the lack of smell said nothing about whether the monster had eaten them or burned them or made them all disappear in puffs of dramatic smoke, so I wasn’t particularly reassured by the years-old smell of must.

    However, the second floor was also covered in dust and rattata droppings. The former did nothing exciting, and the latter promptly embedded itself in the treads of my shoes. Wonderful. Despite the pressing tension of the situation, I managed to feel annoyed.

    {Captain, I don’t like it here.}

    Iris’s voice in my mind made me pull up short. I glanced back at my sentret, who was chattering away at my feet, but even though I could hear the excited murmurings—“sent, sent, treetttt!”—I could still hear her voice resonating in the back of my mind. She didn’t seem to be a secret psychic, and I knew for certain I was anti-psychic, so then…

    Telepathic field. We weren’t alone. If something was translating for my pokémon, it meant that there was a ghost or a psychic-type nearby. A ghost-type would probably suck my soul out of my body and leave me for dead, and a psychic-type would probably mean the advent of Team Rocket. I wasn’t sure which was worse. I spun around, searching the wooden rafters and dusty beams for some sort of clue, but the dimly lit interior of the tower yielded nothing. I gritted my teeth, and then, possibilities exhausted, I tried the frustratingly obvious: “Who’s there!?”

    {No one, and do stop plagiarizing Hamlet.}

    The voice was male, which ruled out Gaia and Iris instantly, which also meant we weren’t alone, which meant we were seriously up a creek with no paddles. “Okay, well, if you don’t eat me, I’d be really grateful!” I shouted into the room, my gaze trailing toward the bellsprout in the center of the tower again. Maybe it could—

    {You’re getting colder.}

    And, true to form, the room’s temperature suddenly dropped ten degrees.

    {Did you enjoy the pun, ma chérie?}

    Iris sank into a fighting stance, her tail bristling until it reached twice its original size and hung over her body like a shield. {Leave us alone,} the sentret growled, baring her two tiny fangs as her eyes darted around the room.

    {Or what,} the male voice—it was smooth and surprisingly mellifluous, with the consistency of melted butter, and that knowledge did nothing to mitigate my fears that I was conversing with a Bond villain—asked, {you’ll scratch me to death? Surely, little sentret, you know better than that.}

    It occurred to me then that we were probably in a tower haunted by ghosts, which wouldn’t take any damage from Iris’s attacks, unless she had developed the ability to shoot electricity from her face or something. And Gaia, who could only tackle things as far as I knew, wouldn’t be any better off.

    The diplomatic approach was becoming more and more appealing by the minute.

    “We don’t mean to harm you,” I said slowly, looking around the room as I tried to locate the source of the voice and failed. “We were just taking refuge in the Tower, and now we’d like to go.”

    {I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, sir.}

    Now the ghosts had a sense of humor. Of course. “Look, as long as you don’t possess us like that sage, I’m perfectly fine, but—” I cut myself off in alarm when I heard a sharp hiss, but then the voice started laughing.

    {Oh, you little humans are so cute sometimes.}

    That hadn’t quite been the response I was expecting. “Sorry, what?”

    The temperature suddenly ratcheted up, the flickering torches turned flared up—I hadn’t even noticed they’d even been dimmed in the first place—and a leering grin burst out of the nearby wall, solidifying into a dark blob of haze with a face. The blob whirled a little more, darkening and becoming more tangible, until I could recognize large, piercing eyes and fangs sprouting out of the purplish nebula.

    I tightened my grip on Gaia and took a step backward, one eye casting toward the staircase, but I had a sinking feeling that we wouldn’t make it before the ghost caught up to us. Add to that the fact that he could walk through walls and I couldn’t, and I had a really, really sinking feeling that he could kill me if he so desired.

    {I’m not afraid of you, even with the sage trick,} Iris growled, kneading her claws into the dark wood of the floor.

    {I’ve been trying to tell you,} the ghost said lazily, revolving in midair before hovering directly in front of my eyes. His leer widened. {I didn’t do that.}

    Gaia spoke up for the first time. {You didn’t possess the sage? Who did, then?}

    The ghost cocked his head to one side in a motion that might’ve been a shrug, if he’d had arms. {I don’t know, ma chérie. If I were to hazard a guess, however, I would peg the perpetrator as the same ghost that haunts Falkner.}

    “The same ghost that—” I began, but then cut myself off as a look of horror began to dawn on my face. “You mean there are more of you?”

    {Unless I’ve developed the ability to clone myself, yes. Imagine that, little human and her sentret friend. There are dead in the world, and more than one.}

    {You leave the Captain alone!} Iris protested, still bristling. {Combat is no place for sarcasm.}

    {You’re quite loud. I don’t like you,} the ghost said to her after a moment, and then turned back to me. {There are many ghosts in Sprout Tower, some more malignant than others.}

    Iris wasn’t so easily put-off. {Which one are you?}

    The ghost made a shrugging motion with its round buddy that wouldn’t have made sense on any other sphere orbited by dark anti-matter but seemed okay here. {I’ll let you decide.}

    “So you aren’t going to, like, shank us or something, right?”

    This time, the ghost began to chuckle, a dry, rasping sound that reminded me of wind-stirred leaves in the cold of winter. {Why would I shank you when I can kill you forty different ways with my mind?}

    “You know,” I said wryly (because the other option was revealing how very afraid I felt). “You can meet my murkrow when we get out of here. I think the two of you would like each other.”

    The ghost raised one eyebrow, doing his best to hide how impressed he was. The whole eyebrow thing still looked pretty strange on a ghost, though. {I haven’t left the tower for years, but everyone knows that the murkrow are no more in Johto.}

    I shrugged, getting the feeling that this would be one of the better times to play my cards closer to my chest. “If you say so.”

    {I’ll have to see it to believe it.}

    “Oh, so you’re coming along?”

    Things were a little convenient. A little too convenient, if you asked me, but I wasn’t exactly complaining. If I needed a ghost-type to set up a telepathic field and I just so happened to be locked in a tower filled with ghost-types, then I would laugh and make lemonade, as the saying went.

    {I may stick around to see how the world ends. I can sense much death on you, ma chérie.} He paused thoughtfully. {But I may choose to leave you once you leave this tower.}

    Oh, yes, that was a far better option.

    {If you do anything to hurt her, I’ll—}

    {For the love of Arceus, you’ll what, little sentret?} the ghost asked, lazily drifting down to poke Iris with an incorporeal glob of energy. {Kill me? I’ve been dead for years, and even so, I’d like to see you try.}

    I’d probably have to do some team therapy sessions once we got out of here. Atlas and Icarus showed signs of hating each other (but I’d just thought that that was what boy pokémon did), and now Iris had taken a disliking to my future translator, so there was that.

    “Well, it’s been lovely,” I said loudly, oh-so-subtly moving my leg between the hissing sentret and the ghost. “We’re probably going to head upstairs, because banging on the doors hasn’t been all that conducive yet.” I started shuffling to the door (it was hard, namely because I still had to keep my leg between Iris and the ghost).

    {The name is Nietzsche, by the way,} the ghost called, trailing after me. {I am what your kind would call a gastly.}

    Right, so those were the ghosts in Ecruteak that enjoyed hiding in people’s shadows and sucking out their souls. I filed that tidbit of information away later for future use and went up the stairs.




    The next floor was, quite literally, filled with sentret.

    Iris froze.

    “What the hell?”

    {We’re leaving, now, Captain} Iris snapped hurriedly, although she had bristled to twice her normal size again and hissed at one of the sentret nearby.

    “What’s going on, Iris?” As far as I knew, Sprout Tower was populated mostly by, you know, sprouts. Probably of the bellsprout variety, and maybe a few rattata, but I never knew the area to be infested with sentret.

    {Something is trying to deter us,} Nietzsche remarked thoughtfully, phasing through one of the sentret on the floor and looking up with mild disinterest. {This is a defense mechanism.}

    “They filled the floor with sentret,” I said patiently, wondering if I was really the only one who found this situation mildly absurd. “Is no one else confused by this?”

    {They aren’t real sentret,} Nietzsche replied. {They are illusions. Right, little sentret?}

    “I mean, that’s very nice and all, but why would we be frightened off by an army of sentret?” The little things were quite vicious, sure, but it was sort of like getting milled by a bunch of little furballs.

    {Not we,} Gaia said, speaking for the first time since we reached the floor. {Just one of us.}

    I looked over to see Iris still snapping at the sentret, barely able to contain herself. I frowned. “You okay over there, Iris?”

    {Just peachy, Captain,} she growled back tightly. {Don’t mind me.}

    “But why are we supposed to be afraid of sentret?” I repeated, more confused than ever. This day was becoming more absurd than a Salvador Dali painting, and I had no intention of watching it get any worse.

    No one answered me at first.

    {I don’t know how much you understood from Icarus’s translation,} Gaia said quietly, looking over with sympathy at the sentret face-off happening before us. {It was quite cryptic, but I was unable to offer any better, so I had to let it stand.}

    “I don’t—”

    {I lied about the whole life-debt crap, Captain,} Iris snapped, her back ramrod straight as she refused to look at me, her tail still at attention. {I didn’t choose to come along with you, exactly. I apologize for deceiving my commanding officer.}

    “Iris, I don’t—”

    {I was banished from my clan for neglecting my duties as a scout and fraternizing with a human,} Iris recited mechanically, still glaring at the sentret who surrounded her. {If I remained in the forest, they would kill me.}

    It sunk in around then that I had, quite unintentionally, screwed up her life.

    Shit.

    I didn’t want to hear the rest of this. I swept up Iris in my arm and threw her on top of Gaia before gesturing to Nietzsche.

    The illusions were a defense mechanism. They weren’t frightening because of what they showed, not in the literal sense. They were frightening because they revealed our secrets, secrets that we hadn’t trusted to one another. I knew Gaia decently well, I thought, but I’d just met Iris and Nietzsche, and the ghosts were probably well-aware of that. They could drive us apart based on our lack of trust alone, but I’d be damned if I let that happen. “You say there are more of these defense mechanisms?” I asked Nietzsche, striding through the herd of sentret. They broke ranks at my approach and milled away, looking at me with fear but still hissing at the sentret in my arms. “How many?”

    {How many secrets do we share between us, ma chérie?} the gastly asked lazily, poking at one of the nearby sentet with an expression of intense amusement on his face. {I would assume at least one floor for each of us. That’s what I would do.}

    Wonderful. I tried to ignore the fact that, if given the option, the gastly would also decide to put us in a fear-tower with one floor of terrors for each of us. So we were trapped in Sprout Tower with a creature that took the liberty of creating illusory copies of our darkest fears in an attempt to break us, and, despite this, I still thought it was a great idea to keep forging on. Right?

    Right. “Then let’s get started,” I said, gritting my teeth. I’d faced worse.

    Right?




    The second floor contained—

    —absolutely nothing.

    I frowned. “Okay, fess up,” I said, turning to the group of pokémon who trailed or floated behind me. “I’m pretty sure my floor entails Rockets, guns, and a ton of blood everywhere, so who here doesn’t fear anything?”

    There was a moment’s pause, and I half-expected a giant spectral monster to come tearing out of the clean, polished floors that were well-lit by the flickering torches.

    {I believe this is mine, ma chérie,} Nietzche said at last, peering over my shoulder.

    {Leave it to the ghost to have the empty room,} Iris spat back at him. Now that I looked closer, I realized that her fur hadn’t been completely flat this entire time. {How do we even know that this still isn’t your design?}

    Nietzche drifted into the corner of his room, small blobs of dark energy trailing after his spectral body as he bobbed above the worn floorboards, peering around the rafters. {Only fools are afraid of nothing,} he said mournfully, this time sending little wisps of his astral trail into the floor and waiting for a response that never came. {So I guess, ma chérie, that this would make me a fool, would it not?}

    Iris bristled again, but I put out one hand to slow her anger. “I don’t understand.”

    {I am a young ghost, little human,} the gastly replied. {And yes,} he added quickly, {there is such a thing. I came into existence and found my way to this tower fifteen years ago, which, for my kind, is astoundingly young. Ghosts are eternal beings, ma chérie, so kindly close your mouth and stop interrupting.} He looked at me, suddenly expectant.

    Slowly, I closed my mouth. Iris did the same.

    {Ghosts are different from other pokémon. We are born from death.}

    “So you don’t fear anything because of that?” I asked, looking around the room. No darkness-monsters had popped out yet, so I was somewhat-inclined to believe him and his absurd claim that he literally feared and hid nothing. “Is this some way of telling me that the universal motivator is death?”

    {It is some way of telling you that we are born without form or soul or memory,} Nietzsche replied, shooting me another death-glare that clearly said to shut up. {Only fools fear nothing, and fools are ignorant and devoid of all knowledge. As are the ghosts. I have not ventured out of this tower since I was drawn here fifteen years ago after my rebirth.}

    I understood then, but Nietzsche continued: {I do not know enough about myself or of the outside world to feel fear.}

    There was a long silence.

    “Whoever is doing this is a giant ass,” I said at last.

    {Yes, are all ghosts like this?} Iris asked in a voice tinged with acid.

    When he spoke, Nietzsche only looked weary, not angry, and he still hovered around the room, drawn to the corners one by own. {In the same way all dark-types are evil, sure.} He paused, and I could suddenly feel all of his years of age rolling off of him at once. {The world is not meant to be in black and white, yes and no. Everything is grey, and there is always a more complicated existence than on or off.} He paused quietly. {But not for me, it seems.}

    Goldenrod didn’t have many ghosts; most of them were drawn to Ecruteak. I’d heard from folk stories and urban legends that dead pokémon became ghosts, but then again, I’d also heard that dark-types were soulless killers, so there was that. But I did remember from myths and lore that they were the souls of pokémon who died in battle. “Do you remember anything?” I asked at last. “When you were… you know. Not a ghost.”

    The gastly cringed, and I suddenly realized how vulnerable he was. {Pieces.} A pause. {I had a good trainer, I think. One of the best. But…}

    But he let you die, I finished silently for him, because my gastly could not bring himself to say it.

    I suddenly felt a vast pang of pity for the mournful gastly who still drifted around the room, trying to find proof in an empty room that he was still foolish enough to be alive.




    The third floor, we discovered, was Gaia’s.

    She told us as soon as the tower came into view. I couldn’t hear a single change in her voice or feel anything as I held the metapod in my arms when she said in a steely voice, {This is mine.}

    “Are you sure?”

    I looked around. The central bellsprout pillar was the same, climbing from the floor and disappearing high into the ceiling while casting a sickly yellow glow on the room, but everything else was different. The floorboards were replaced with a wide expanse of shallow grass and a few saplings. The air smelled fresh and crisp. In fact, short of the giant bellsprout in the center of the room, we could’ve been in an idyllic meadow.

    The trainers started appearing then, drifting into view from behind the pillar. They kept their heads bowed so I couldn’t see their faces beneath their (quite stunning) variety of hats, but more and more of them came, shuffling through the grass like little ants. One of them, a trainer with dark hair and a red vest, appeared beside me, a pokéball in his hand and a small, golden electric-type that I recognized as a pikachu perched on his shoulder.

    Startled, I reached out to touch him with one hand while keeping the other firmly wrapped around Gaia, but the boy vanished as soon as my fingers passed through him. I stared at my hand in shock, looking at the fingers, but when I tried again, another trainer dissipated as well. Black smoke whirled around my fingers from where the trainer had once stood, and, before my eyes, the haze reformed back into the image of the same trainer with his pikachu.

    {It really is just an illusion,} Nietzsche said calmly, passing through four trainers at once and sending them all vanishing in spirals of black smoke. {I don’t see why this is so hard for you to process.}

    “Pardon me for asking, Gaia,” I said quietly, glancing around as more trainers formed from the fog in Nietzsche’s wake, “but your fear isn’t being captured, is it?” Because that would make things ridiculously awkward.

    {No,} she said, cringing away as the red-hatted trainer spawned next to us again. {The forest is full of bugs, and we all wish to be captured. Well,} she said, tilting her head to one side slightly as she considered it, {not all, but most, and I had my dreams of going on an adventure just like any young pokémon might.}

    I was really having a hard time seeing where this was going.

    {I was captured many times, actually,} Gaia said, looking wistfully at the pokéball in the hands of the red-hatted boy beside us, whose hand had drifted up to stroke the pikachu’s head idly. {These are all of my past trainers.}

    “These are—these—you—” had this many past trainers? I almost asked, but cut myself off barely in time. There were at least two dozen trainers drifting around in here with varying levels of experience. She couldn’t possibly—

    {Few people keep bug-typed pokémon on their main team. We have shorter lifespans compared to most pokémon, and, while we evolve quickly, we fall behind just as quickly as well.}

    And yet Gaia wasn’t even a butterfree yet, which means that none of her trainers myself included oh Arceus had bothered to put in that effort.

    {Often, trainers will release their bug-types back into the forest. It’s quite common, so no one bothers to call them out on it, but we’re mostly just glad to be on a team at all, no matter for how short. You have allowed me to evolve, and that’s much more than many of my brethren have gotten.}

    I’d captured Gaia with no intention of having her on my main team after she’d evolved. I’d planned to pawn her off as my starter, a flying-type, in the name of my survival, but battling with her had never been part of the plan. I knew that bug-typed pokémon were weak—perfect for children, they said—and I’d never imagined having to have one, but I’d planned on doing it in the name of our combined survival.

    {And I think you are different.}

    She was wrong, of course.

    I tried as hard as possible to swallow my guilt.




    The last floor was my own. I knew it had to be—we’d gone through the rest of my team. But they’d survived, so I would as well. The knowledge that the unspeakable was just an illusion didn’t help against the trepidation I felt as we climbed the final set of stairs together, Icarus orbiting my head like a feathery galaxy. Whatever I saw would only be an illusion. That was it. Then we could find Falkner and whatever was causing this mess and get the hell out.

    My floor was empty too.

    I pulled up short, breath coming faster than I thought it would be, as I looked around the empty rafters. No Rockets perched in the ceiling or snaking down the walls to gun down me and my team. No grenades, no choppers, no psychics.

    I felt a little disappointed, actually. I’d always thought that I had a hell of an imagination, but, clearly, I was lacking in a few departments.

    “Master is a fool!” a murkrow’s voice from the rafters cawed happily. “Master is a fool, master is a fool, master is a—”

    It was Icarus.

    I mean, it sounded like Icarus, but it had a tinny distortion to it, like a recording. And I knew for certain that Icarus was still on the outskirts of Violet City, safe and far away from this atrocity. In fact, all I had to do was get out of this tower and find him burning down the forest with Atlas or something. One step. Then another.

    There was a hunched figure behind the pillar made of the giant bellsprout. Its hair was cut short and faded, but when it looked up at me, I froze.

    Her eyes looked like they held up the weight of the world. She tilted her head to one side and began to whisper, words incomprehensible but slithering like snakes through the dusty air. Her bangs fell in her face, but I could still see her eyes, piercing and bloodshot even through the twenty feet between us.

    I knew those eyes.

    “Master is a fool,” I murmured quietly, transfixed. “Master is a fool, indeed.”

    I came to the slow realization that the rest of my pokémon were talking.

    {Are you okay?} Gaia.

    {Do you recognize her?} Nietzsche asked.

    Iris had wrapped her long tail around my feet and was pulling me toward the stairs. {It can’t hurt you, Captain. Let’s go.}

    “Master is a fool!” Not-Icarus crowed, although he settled on my shoulder and bowed his head, touching one wing to his top hat. “Master is a fool.”

    I bit back a shriek and brushed the bird off of my shoulder, but my hand went right through the phantom as if it weren’t even there. The illusory murkrow vanished without a sound, its golden beak cracked open to speak again even as its inky feathers dissolved into nothingness.

    {You are wise indeed, ma chérie.} The gastly’s eyes saw all.

    I felt like I was moving through mud, my limbs sodden and waterlogged as my pokémon flitted around me, chattering like little birds. Iris shooed my toward the stairs while Nietzsche watched, his smile widening, and I suddenly felt numb and ready to vomit. Whatever was behind this wasn’t screwing around: it knew.

    I’d expected Rockets because that was the fear I wished I had. It was a practical fear; men in black and guns coming to kill me.

    But whatever was creating the fear-illusions knew exactly where to hit me.

    {What is wrong?} Gaia asked.

    I shook my head and made my way to the stairs, ignoring the feeble cries of the figure at my feet with its horrible, horrible eyes. They couldn’t know that. I couldn’t know that. No one could possibly know that, and yet, here it was.

    “Out,” I whispered weakly.

    Nietzsche launched himself into the air. Thick, black haze began to pour from his mouth, blending in with the globs of purple energy trailing off of his body, shrouding the illusion from view, but no amount of smoke could screen out the screaming from the depths. {We should leave,} he said grimly, and he and Iris began to shepherd me away.

    When the smoke cleared, I found that my pokémon had propelled me to the next floor, which looked just like the last, but without the hunched figure from my nightmares.

    {Are you going to explain to us?} Nietzsche asked, slinking around my feet and barely suppressing a growl.

    {The Captain does not need to stoop to your level,} Iris spat back.

    {If you didn’t notice, little sentret, I was the one who saved her life.}

    Iris growled, kneading her claws into the worn wooden floorboards as she bared her tiny teeth. In return, Nietzsche began summoning faint wisps of spectral fire around himself, which orbited like tiny galaxies. {Take another step,} Iris hissed, {and we’ll see if you bleed like the rest of us.}

    {Try me, rat.}

    {Enough,} said Gaia firmly. {We have bigger problems.}

    I ignored all of them as I walked toward the end of the room. My footsteps echoed on the wooden floor, and the boards creaked a little under my weight. Right. Nothing to be afraid of here. I was a flying-type trainer, this was not a haunted tower, and this man had not been missing for over a week. Mostly. Also, nothing here was trying to kill me. Nothing at all.

    My eyes fastened on the figure on the dais at the back of the room, a tall, wavering man with dark blue hair. His clothes were disheveled and I could smell the alcohol on him from where I stood, twenty feet away, but what scared me most were the eyes—red-rimmed and distracted, darting around the room to miss nothing. The man slouched a little, making him look shorter than he actually was, and I thought I could see a puddle of what might’ve been piss in the far corner.

    {He appears to be distraught,} Gaia informed me unhelpfully.

    “Can you tell me where Falkner is?” I asked, slightly nervous. If this was the gym leader, I’d probably have an easy fight, but there was always the question of why in the world was the current gym leader a drunken mess.

    There was also the larger question about why the gym leader decided to reside at the top of a tower made of a giant bellsprout and literally filled with the embodiments of my worst fears, but that was for a different time.

    “In a strange room,” the man began calmly, looking at me with wide, raving eyes, “you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were.”

    I opened my mouth to protest, but the man kept talking like he was on death row. “I don't know what I am. I don't know if I am or not. Pidgey knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know where he is or not.” He raised one hand into the air, and a pidgey fluttered down forlornly from the rafters, fluttering to the man’s wrist and rubbing its tawny head against his cheek. The man ignored it. “He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not.” His words seemed more laborious to him, as if each breath cost him dearly, and at this point, I realized he was panting heavily. “Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the gym that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our gym though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Pidgey and me, that are not asleep.”

    “Um,” I began quite eloquently. “Do you—”

    “—And Pidgey is, so Poppa must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is,” Falkner finished dramatically, sweeping one hand away from him and sinking into a low bow on the edge of the glass platform.

    I closed my mouth.

    {He appears to be quite distraught,} Gaia repeated.

    “Right,” I said, and then closed my mouth. If this was the gym leader, I was having none of it. I turned around. “Okay, we’re leaving.” Potions or not, I wasn’t going to stay in this room any longer.

    {Wait, please!}

    Of course. “Nietzsche,” I murmured aloud, trying to rein in my frustration, “in the future, please find a way to turn off your telepathic field so that I don’t get bothered by cries of help when I’m trying to leave.”

    Against my will, I slowly turned around to see the pidgey from before propelling itself toward us, matted wings looking tattered in the dying sunlight. {Please, don’t go.}

    “Why not?”

    {It is our duty to confer the Zephyr Badge on those who are worthy,} the pidgey explained, flapping its wings in violent protest and maneuvering to block my exit as I turned to leave again.

    “I’m not battling a drunkard for the badge,” I spat, more bitterness in my voice than was strictly necessary. “I don’t need your pity.”

    {It’s not—} the pidgey began, but then stopped as the man began talking again.

    “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falconer,” he said quietly, hands reaching out blindly for the bird on his shoulder that wasn’t there, “cannot hear the falcon. Things fall apart; the center cannot—”

    {Falkner’s not well, miss,} the pidgey said, sinking her brown talons into the fabric of my shirt, although the expression seemed to be gentle. {Please.}

    I sighed heavily, wanting nothing more than to get out of the dark room that reeked of alcohol. So this was the gym leader. The longer we spent here, the more likely it was that the Rockets busted in and did something violent, and I didn’t want to stick around too long for that. “I’m not going to be able to fix him,” I snapped, and tried to brush the bird off of my chest, but she refused to let go.

    “—hold. Mere anarchy is loosed on the world,” Falkner continued softly.

    Against my will, I found myself mildly interested. “What is he even saying?”

    {He has a penchant for literature,} the pidgey said, snatching up the point of conversation even as I finally managed to disentangle her claws from my shirt. {He hasn’t been doing it quite right since—}

    “The ceremony of innocence,” Falkner spat, lurching to his feet and taking several wavering steps toward us, “is drowned. The best lack all conviction.” He staggered for a moment but caught himself on the wall, and after looking torn for a moment, the pidgey flew toward him and began propping him up with a dexterity only born out of practice. “While the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

    {He seems distressed,} Gaia observed astutely.

    “Yes, thank you,” I muttered under my breath. “And if we spend another moment locked in this stupid tower with Arcues knows what else, I think I would be, too.”

    {He’s been a bit off since the grid went down,} the pidgey explained desperately, beating her wings and straining to pull the man upright again. {Most of the fliers are. We find ourselves, hone ourselves by electromagnetism, and with the field going berserk… well.}

    “But Falkner isn’t a bird,” I said before I could stop and consider how dumb that sentence sounded coming out of my mouth. “I mean, he specializes in flying-types, but he’s, you know, a person and stuff.” I paused. I mean, I’d heard some crazy shit today, so it was entirely possible that— “Right?” No response. “Guys?”

    {Does the Captain not know?} Iris asked suddenly, her head pricking up as her dark eyes zeroed in on my face. {Was she not informed?}

    Gaia made a little motion with her eyes that might’ve been described as a shrug.

    The pidgey cocked her head and looked at me with eerily intelligent yellow eyes, studying me closely. {The xatu gave you your starter, correct?}

    This again. “Yes,” I said, probably still a little too quickly as my hands tightened around Gaia. “The xatu, uh, gave me my caterpie. Yeah.”

    {And how do you think he reached that decision?} the pidgey asked, still looking at me intently before she began to answer her own question. {He is a psychic. He reads your—}

    “—Potential, I know,” I finished, suddenly aware of how uncomfortable I was with the turn that this conversation had taken. I glanced over to Falkner, hoping for some easy way out of this mess, but he seemed to have calmed himself down nicely and was quietly blabbering to himself in a corner. “And the xatu saw d—uh, flying-type potential in me.” I stopped short and realized how dumb this plan was sounding without Icarus or one of those wild hoothoot on my side. “Which is why he gave me this bug,” I finished lamely. “As my starter.” Another pause. “Because this caterpie is my starter pokémon.”

    Yeah, we were totally going to die.

    {Remind me to ask you about that later,} Nietzsche said after a moment’s silence.

    The pidgey, however, seemed to ignore my misstep and simply continued talking. {He doesn’t quite detect potential so much as affinity.} Sensing my confusion, she added, {People and pokémon have a symbiotic relationship. When they work together for a long time, both sides benefit.}

    She paused, clearly waiting for my response, so I nodded vigorously. I totally knew what it was like to work positively with my pokémon. No doubts here. I certainly hadn’t tried to throw my murkrow into the woods to fend on his own and was certainly not considering kidnapping this extremely useful gastly.

    {The pokémon pick up more civilized aspects from their trainers. Strategy, mostly. Reactions, reflexes, cunning. That’s why trained pokémon are more powerful than wild ones.} The pidgy paused and shuffled her talons on Falkner’s shoulder. {Does any of this ring a bell? Did the xatu not tell you this after you received your starter?}

    Yup. That’s definitely how it happened.

    I shrugged.

    {But people also pick up aspects from their pokémon. That’s why we use the xatu to distribute starters; people usually only pick up traits from a certain type of pokémon, and the xatu can tell which people are best suited to which type.}

    I mean, the xatu could’ve told us, but it was dead, so there was always that.

    {Falkner has a strong affinity for flying-types, naturally,} the pidgey explained, rubbing her head affectionately on the gym leader’s cheek, although he barely acknowledged her. {And since we have been together for many years, he has picked up traits from my brothers and me. As such, he is tuned in to the honing frequencies of the magnetic field just as we are, which is why its loss hurts him greatly, and he also has increased agility and dexterity—}

    I finally understood what the pidgey was trying to say. “Hold on.” I held my hands up in the air, frowning as I pieced the quite-obvious clues together. “You’re telling me that training pokémon will give me superpowers.”

    {The Captain really was not informed,} Iris said, a look of awe tampered by pity spreading across her face.

    {Not superpowers, really, since all trainers develop them eventually,} Gaia added, trying her best to sound fair.

    {And they’re hardly anything interesting, by our standards,} Nietzsche added, sounding smug. {A human might work with a poison-type such as myself for a decade and only gain a slight resistance to the common types of poisons.} He passed through my stomach for emphasis. {Which, in all honesty, is an effect he could’ve duplicated with a fifty dollar vial of antivenin.}

    {And a trainer with an affinity for steel-type pokémon could do that in half the time, probably,} the pidgey added.

    Holy Arceus. This was why all of the Rocket grunts were psychics.

    And then, the second thought, the most important one, came to me: I had a natural dark-affinity, which meant I would probably develop a liking for shadows, a penchant for black clothing, and… an immunity to psychics.

    This was why the Rockets were trying to kill me.

    {She understands at last.} A pause. {You must be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark,} the pidgey said quietly.

    I looked up, frowning. “What?”

    She beat her wings heavily, propelling herself into the air before launching herself at me with all her might. {You must be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark!} she shrieked at me before executing the final maneuver of her dive-bomb, where she lunged for my face, talons outstretched—

    —and dissipated into a puff of black smoke at the touch of my trembling hand.

    {Quick show of hands, who didn’t expect all four of us to fall for that again?} Nietzsche asked. {Oh, right, the metapod and I don’t have hands, but if I did, I would show them right now because who the hell falls for the same trick four—}

    “Whose floor is it?” I shouted, looking around the rafters for clues. It wouldn’t really help us much to whose literal fears we were facing now, but it might give us some tiny advantage. And, on top of that, whose fears entailed talking pidgey and a poetry-spouting—

    Oh.

    {Ourssss,} two voices said at once, while the blank body of Falkner slowly pulled itself into a hunched standing position, head cocked to one side and body surrounded by a mysterious blue aura. His eyes glowed with the same color, but beneath the light, I could see how bloodshot they were.

    {There’s a ghost possessing him,} Nietzsche said, expertly stating the obvious.

    Right, so I had a metapod, a sentret who knew no non-normal attacks, and a sarcastic ghost that, to my knowledge, wasn’t a god in combat (and anything short of a god was probably going to die against two ghosts). “Any ideas of what kind of ghost it is?”

    {An angry one!} Iris shouted back as she narrowly avoided a gust of wind that was strong enough to break the boards in the wall behind her. {Does anything else matter right now?}

    {It’s not the same one creating the fear-illusions! That one must be—} Nietzsche shouted over the chaos, but the rest of his sentence was lost.

    “Surely some revelation is at hand!” the marionette-like body of Falkner shouted, his hands thrown back. Around him, the winds picked up, swirling around the tower and creating a miniature cyclone around him that picked him up and threw him hovering three feet into the air. Every window on the floor shattered, but the debris was simply sucked into the vortex orbiting around the gym leader. “Surely the Second Coming is at hand!”

    {This poetry thing has suddenly gotten much less amusing,} Gaia murmured before attempting to shoot a string of webbing, which was immediately jerked into the vortex as well.

    Yeah, we were totally screwed. “Nietzsche, can you maybe—”

    {I’m already on it, ma chérie,} he said wearily. {But just for the record, you totally owe me for all of this.} Without any further comment, the gastly phased through me and launched himself into the maelstrom, tendrils of black energy unfolding from his body as he began struggling against the constant blasts of winds that threatened to dissolve him. {I take it you aren’t going to bother commanding me, are you?}

    “I don’t even know what attacks you know, but—”

    {No, trust me, it’s better this way,} Nietzsche snapped back before ducking under another blast of wind.

    Iris threw herself forward, claws sinking into the floor as she took gargantuan leaps to run up beside Nietzsche, her dark-brown ears pulled blown all the way back to her still-bristling fur.

    {Funny how a common enemy would unite two uncommon enemies, no?} Nietzsche asked, making that little shrugging motion again, but before he could say anything else, another blast of wind rocketed toward them, and the two pokémon leapt apart in opposite directions.

    Iris recovered first, landing on her striped tail and absorbing her fall in that before rocking forward to lunge for the demonic apparition of Falkner at the center of the room, claws outstretched. From the opposite direction, Nietzsche began charging up his orbs of spectral energy again, his face contorting into a fierce frown of concentration.

    {I guess that leaves you and me,} a voice said from behind me, and I jumped. I was already spinning around, one hand scything through the air to pass through the phantom Icarus that had appeared behind me once more.

    Oh, right. That left me, Gaia, and the chthonian monster that had created a tower made of our nightmares out of illusions like it was child’s play. “Gaia, do that thing with the String Shot again!” I shouted, pointing her in the direction that I thought the voice had come from.

    Gaia obliged and fired off another net of webbing from her mouth, but it hurtled off into empty space and hit a wall, half of it splattering slowly to the ground while the rest feebly hung on. A ghost of wind rocked it away a second later, and I half-turned to check on my other pokémon, but—

    {You humans are really quite cute. And you’re supposed to be Johto’s savior?}

    “Gaia!” I screamed as I saw the smoke coalesce into the form of the hunched figure from my floor. “Again!”

    Another burst of String Shot, and another illusion dissipated, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. They just kept coming.

    {You poor girl, you must be so confused. Not losing your way in the dark? What does that even mean? Oh, and that poor little xatu, his head blown off by the Rockets because he bothered helping you, and what a blessing that was.}

    The thing could read my mind. I knew that; that was the only way it could generate illusions keyed off of our darkest fears, but somehow, this wasn’t helping fortify my resolve. “Get out.”

    {Oh, my, did you ever tell your metapod that you didn’t plan on letting her battle once she evolved because you didn’t actually want her as a fighter, but as a cover for your pathetic little rebellion?}

    In my arms, almost imperceptibly, Gaia stiffened.

    Across the room, not-Falkner cupped his hands together and generated an intense blast of wind that cut a whole straight through Nietzsche and sent Iris spiraling into the wall, where she hit the wood with bone-crushing force and slid limply to the ground.

    {Oh, was I not supposed to mention that?} the bodiless voice asked, smirking as more phantom trainers appeared around us, their heads bowed and their starters perched cheerfully on their shoulders. {A shame, really. And you think you can be Johto’s savior. Let me tell you something, little girl. Johto doesn’t need saving. It doesn’t want it. And you don’t want to lead this rebellion, either, so why do you fight?}

    I stumbled backward, and a dark claw of energy idly plucked Gaia out of my arms and smashed her into the wall fifteen feet away. The voice coalesced into the hunched figure from my floor, bloodshot eyes focusing on mine as it advanced slowly, its inhuman, shuffling gait inexorably forcing me back as I scrabbled for leverage—a weapon, maybe, anything—but found nothing.

    {Oh, my, you really are just a scared little girl. Take away your special pokémon, take away your friends, take away your downright annoying motor mouth, and what’s even left?} The eyes, the eyes that I knew so well, stared back.

    “It doesn’t matter!” I shouted. My hands closed around the first thing I could find in my backpack, and, with some amount of effort, I pulled it out and flung it straight at the phantom appearing before me.

    The heavy object flew through the air and parted the illusion like mist, but it made impact with something solid, which gave a very un-ominous squeak and tumbled backward.

    Goddamn rock saved my life after all. I hated it when Gaia was right.

    Stumbling forward, I threw the rock back into my backpack and rushed over to where I’d seen the creature land, but I was too slow. By the time I passed through the illusory smoke, the pokémon had already pulled itself upright and hissed at me, sending another blast of dark energy that I barely dodged.

    So the thing was a dark-type. I was suddenly understanding why people might hate these creatures.

    Another blast of energy whizzed past my shoulder, blowing my hair back and opening a crater a foot wide in the wall by my head. Gaia was nowhere in sight.

    “A vast image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my sight!” the possessed Falkner cried from across the room. Above us, there was a rumble, like the sound of—

    —with a deafening roar, a bolt of lighting ripped through the ceiling above, completely shattering the ceiling into tiny shards of wood that were backlit by the illumination of so much light at once, debris flying everywhere as the bolt of electricity connected with Falkner’s outstretched palms, completing the circuit and sending the entire tower into blinding, blistering brightness as my pokémon and I were thrown away while the world seemed to revolve in slow motion around us.

    The cascade of debris rained to the ground.




    I slowly became aware of the situation, my ears ringing so loud that I couldn’t hear anything, even as I put a tentative foot forward and crunched through three inches of splinters with my shoe. Standing hurt too much, so I pieced my way back to the ground, my ears still screeching in protest as I struggled to understand what had just happened.

    I came back to the same conclusion each time. The ghost possessing Falkner had, quite literally, summoned god’s wrath down upon us and caused us to be smitten by lightning.

    But holy hell my ears hurt.

    It took me another four seconds to realize that the central pillar of the giant bellsprout was glowing green.

    {You have defiled Sprout Tower,} a calm, feminine voice said, but when my bleary eyes followed the telepathic voice to its source, I found that she was talking to the ghost and Falkner, not me. That was a plus, at least. The voice literally emanated power, and, giant bellsprout or nothing, I felt as if I were in the presence of a goddess.

    {I required a hossssst, and thisss meddling girl inssissssted on interfering,} Falkner hissed, the glow leaving his eyes for a moment as the aura coalesced above his head. {Unlesssss you would care to volunteer?}

    {As the guardian of the forests, I cannot let this stand.}

    I figured then I was in shock, because I was watching a large, green onion with bright blue eyes fluttering around and chastising the gym leader of Violet City for being a ghost.

    {That meanssss nothing to me,} the creature that spoke through Falkner hissed back. {Your pantheonssss are empty. They will fall, foressssst queen.}

    However, my still-probably-in-shock-brain decided that this was probably a good thing, because the other option for Pokémon God in this world would’ve been Mewtwo, which would’ve sucked. Grass-types were good, I decided weakly.

    Speaking of pokémon, though, what had happened to mine?

    Probably in shock.

    {Your intrusion on Sprout Tower has disrupted the balance of time fool,} the floating onion spat, blue eyes glowing dangerous.

    Oh, shit. I remembered then that Celebi were psychics, which probably meant she was going to kill me, next. As surreptitiously as I could, lacking balance and all, I tried to locate my pokémon. Nietzsche was incorporeal, so I didn’t stand a hope in hell of seeing him now, even with the light streaming in from the hole in the ceiling. Iris was buried in a heap of rubble on the opposite end of the room, but she was stirring feebly, and my eyes found Gaia face-up a few feet from me.

    We were alive. That was a start. Now to find a way to—

    {And your appearance here has disrupted the balance of the darkness,} the voice from the illusion said. Its owner materialized on Falkner’s shoulder, and I blearily focused on the newest pokémon. Slate gray in color, with red markings on its fur, hardly any larger than Gaia and looking more like an adorable grey vulpix than a hardened killer. {The gods are not meant to interfere in the affairs of mortals.}

    Yeah, I was totally in shock.

    {And you,} the Celebi hissed, eyes glowing dangerously as she focused on the fox-like creature. {You are too far from home, little zorua. Return to Unova.}

    {I was told to find the girl,} the zorua said simply. {You know my employers well enough to know that I do not dare refuse their request.}

    Oh. I had a hunch that they were talking about me, now.

    {The girl?} the Celebi asked, tiny brow furrowing in confusion, and then she turned to me. {Oh,} she said quietly. {The girl.}

    The goddess of the forest looked like an onion.

    The goddess of the forest looked like an onion and was a psychic-type, which meant she was going to kill me.

    {We were not fated to meet for at least another month, child,} the Celebi said, flitting toward me and studying my bloodstained face with curiosity. {You have endured much hardship since I started you on your journey, and for that, I apologize. I have tried to protect you as best as could.}

    “You’ve been protecting me?” I asked weakly. My throat felt like it was on fire. “But you’re… a psychic-type and all.”

    The Celebi scoffed. {I do not need to be any type to want to better the world, child,} she said. A note of scorn slipped into her voice. {The Rockets may have good intentions, but the road to hell is paved with those. I seek to protect all living things, and if it means destroying my own kind, then I shall.}

    Behind us, the zorua through back its tiny head and made a sound that might’ve been described as laughter. {This girl is your Champion, forest queen? You intend to defeat the Rockets with that?} It launched a blast of dark energy at us, illusory flames roaring in the wake of the shockwave.

    The forest queen calmly pulled up a bright blue barrier around us, and the energy fizzled away at first contact. I could see the fires burning on the other side, but within the protective dome of her shield, there was nothing. {I have overstayed my welcome, child,} the Celebi said, floating away from my shoulder. I realized belatedly that she’d healed my ear, which was nice, but then I also understood that she was abandoning me with the ghost and the thing that enjoyed creating illusions of death, which was a lot less nice. {No, don’t look at me like that. The zorua, sadly, is right. The gods are not permitted to interfere in the affairs of the mortals. Ours is a more complicated battle. We act through the mortals of our choosing, helping indirectly when we can—nudging a gastly to awaken at just the right moment, perhaps, or opening the locked doors of a tower—but we are not permitted to partake in the violence directly. For that, we must rely on the humans.}

    “So I’m basically your pawn,” I said, trying my best not to sound bitter, if only because I didn’t want her to pop my head like a zit. “A pawn in your quest for world peace.”

    {You are my Champion,} the Celebi corrected. Her eyes glowed a gentle blue, and my pokémon floated out of the rubble and landed around me in varying stages of confusion. Another flash of blue light revealed that Icarus and Atlas had appeared around us as well. {I need your help, my child, and I swear to help you however I can on our quest for peace.}

    Well, yeah. No pressure.

    “Nasty pixie,” Icarus growled, landing first on my shoulder and then launching himself toward the Celebi, his talons outstretched. “Tells me Master is in danger first but does not allow me to approach. Nasty pixie.”

    “Icarus, no!” I shouted before the murkrow could start gouging out her eyes. “She was trying to help!”

    {Little bird, we have much to differ about, but now is not the time,} she replied, gently placing him back on my shoulder with another flash of blue. {This is your fight, my Champion. You are my hopes for this world. Good luck.}

    “Wait—!” I shouted, one hand extended, but the Celebi was already drifting back, her eyes glowing blue as she prepared to teleport one last time.

    {Be careful that you do not lose your way in the dark,} she said, still smiling peacefully at me, and then she vanished in a blast of blue light.

    The bellsprout pillar returned to its sickly yellow glow.

    I was filled with the unshakeable feeling that I was meddling in affairs I couldn’t possibly hope to comprehend.

    On the plus side, I’d learned that not all psychic-types were evil and not all dark or ghost-types were on my side.

    Speaking of which.

    “Split, now!” I shouted as I became aware of the gust of wind that was ripping toward us now that Celebi’s protection was gone. I grabbed Iris and dived left while Icarus swooped in to pick up Gaia, and I saw Nietzsche and Atlas dodge to safety before my head collided painfully with the floor.

    Right. Dodging entailed more than just jumping around blindly.

    “In case you weren’t up to speed,” I said, pulling myself up and dusting off the rubble as Iris slithered out of my arms and prepared to fight, “the fox can create illusions of your worst nightmares, and the thing that looks like Falkner is actually a ghost that can shoot lightning from its fingers and summon hurricanes. Not sure which one is a greater threat.”

    {I’ve been trying to think of all of the ghosts I’ve met that can summon lightning, by the way,} Nietzsche added, phasing through the wall beside me and hovering near my ear.

    “Any luck?”

    {All of them, basically.}

    {It’s a rotom,} Atlas said without preface. When we looked at him in confusion, he darkly clarified, {I’ve crossed paths with a couple. They were in machines last I saw them, though.}

    {They prefer appliances,} Nietzsche agreed. {However, given the electrical situation of Johto, it’s entirely possible that it’s had to resort to a different host.}

    Given that I knew absolutely nothing about rotom, learning their names didn’t help me very much. “Right, so our plan is to disable the fox, purge the ghost, and save Falkner. Anyone have a problem with that?”

    {Yesss,} hissed the ghost. {How do you plan to sssave the bird leader when he livesss no longer?}

    Wait what.

    “Falkner’s dead?” I asked, suddenly feeling sick. I’d talked about murder a lot, but I was never exactly comfortable with the whole issue of death. Especially with people. Especially with nice people. Especially with nice, powerful people whose deaths would probably be blamed on me at some point.

    {He’s been dead for nearly a week, girl,} the zorua spat. {Can you not smell?}

    “Smells like piss,” I retorted, “which is basically what living people do when they’re—”

    {No, it smells like piss, which is what dead bodies do when they lose gastrointestinal control,} the zorua said, trying to check his frustration and clearly failing.

    On the plus side, engaging these pokémon in witty banter meant they weren’t trying to murder us; on the down side, they were discussing how they’d murdered an innocent man, and I really wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

    The zorua added, {And even if he weren’t dead before you arrived, I doubt having your pokémon attack him or having a ghost summon thunder into his body would’ve been conducive to his health.}

    Right. There was that, but it wasn’t really my fault. Right?

    “So, just going out on a limb, you murdered Falkner.” I didn’t even know what I was stalling for any more. Stupid Celebi leaving me on my own like this. I didn’t want to be some sort of bullshit Champion, yet here I was negotiating with a psychotic zorua and some sort of rotom. I’d never even seen these pokémon in my life.

    From across the room, Icarus smirked. “No shit, Sherlock!”

    {Yeah, that’s sort of how it worked out,} the zorua said, snout cracking into a weak little smile. {I was surprised that no one came looking sooner. He’s been dead for nearly a week.}

    Yes, I was certainly understanding how people could see dark-types as evil and hunt them to extinction. “Okay, so you just appeared here—”

    {Thrown out from a temporal shift when the magnetic field fell and don’t make me reveal my life story to you, little girl, I’m not a Bond villain.} The zorua was backing up now, its bright blue eyes glowing ominously as it prepared another attack, and I realized we were running out of time.

    {The rotom,} Nietzsche said, turning to the shell of Falkner. {Where did you come from? Do you know?}

    The zorua smirked. {Easy. I killed him.}

    A moment’s silence.

    Then, there was an earsplitting roar from behind us, and I looked up to see Falkner (or his corpse? I guess?) lurching to his feet, arms outstretched and blue aura flaring around him. {You?} the ghost hissed. {You brought me into thisss exissstence?} A pause as it pieced things together. {You killed me onccce?}

    It seemed that Nietzsche hadn’t been kidding, and that ghosts really didn’t remember anything from their old lives.

    Falkner’s shell spread his hands wide, giant bolts of lightning ripping through the floor as he threw his head back, his human vessel’s roar mixed with the rotom’s shrieks. {Then you won’t even leave enough for a ghosssst!}

    It also seemed that this was the distraction I’d been waiting for.

    The zorua was screeching in agony as tendrils of bright blue electricity sprouted from the ground and wrapped around the dark fox. I watched in muted fascination as the room glowed with bright light and the smell of ozone mixed with chaired fur filled the top floor. Blobs of darkness flew everywhere, illusory fires and phantom monsters sprouting out of the ground and yowling before flickering out of existence within seconds, the zorua’s last defense.

    When the vaporous black smoke and brilliant blue light faded, however, I realized I’d just watched another murder. I also realized that the rotom, retreating back protectively to Falkner’s shell and crackling ominously, was no less violent.

    {Please,} Nietzsche said, floating forward, {I understand, but don’t—}

    {You will not be ssspared!} the rotom shouted, with an underlying bite of pain clearly evident in its voice.

    {Ma chérie, it’s confused. Please don’t hurt it!} Nietzsche shouted, turning back to me, desperation etched on his spherical face. {It doesn’t understand what’s going on, and it’s upset and it doesn’t remember anything, and you mustn’t—}

    Another blast of air ripped between us, nearly severing my nose and sending the gastly back a few feet.

    {Please don’t tell me he’ll be better off dead,} Nietzsche whispered, his voice barely audible over the chaos. {Please.}

    I didn’t have a choice in what I did next, I swear.

    There was another bolt of electricity that I barely dodged. Icarus wheeled around my shoulder, bristling and prepared to fight. “Icarus, grab Gaia and get her airborne. Gaia, String Shot! Strafe it!” I shouted, already running out of the way of another slash of wind. “Spread it wide; I don’t really care where!”

    Icarus flew back around to grab Gaia from my arms, his talons wrapping gently around her hard exterior as he lifted the metapod airborne with no small effort. Wings beating laboriously under his new burden, he wheeled upward and began flying in tight but eccentric arcs, dodging the occasional blast of dark energy from the rotom. Gaia tensed and began spitting foot after foot of sticky webbing from her mouth, the silky strands vanishing into the darkness but leaving us connected in some sort of bizarre net.

    {Thisss didn’t work before,} the rotom crowed, easily dodging around Gaia’s attacks.

    But that wasn’t why I’d tried that in the first place. “Guys land again.” I made sure Icarus had gotten them both down to cover before adding, “Atlas, light it up.”

    The houndour glared at me darkly. {We are most certainly getting sued for damages after this,} he grumbled, but he opened his mouth and peppered the area with short bursts of flame. The sticky remains of the string shot went up instantly, lighting up the murky room with a webbing literally made of fire, and I took a step back, mildly impressed against my will.

    The rotom barely managed to avoid one of the flaming tendrils. The room, criss-crossed as it was with the flammable net of String Shot, was almost impassable as it was, although I knew we’d only have a matter of time before the rotom adapted.

    “Nietzsche, get in there, now!” I couldn’t risk sending anyone else through the fires; most of the fire was concentrated at ground-level, ruling out Atlas and Iris, and Icarus lacked the finesse to navigate a pit-trap full of what was basically flaming trip wires.

    {Ma chérie, please, we can still—}

    We can still what? I wanted to shout. The rotom was dead. I could see that. If we attacked it enough, it would at least relinquish Falkner and let us leave in peace. And here it was, trapped in this tower, alone and confused and in pain with no way out; wouldn’t killing it almost be a—

    Oh.

    Several minutes too late, it clicked with me why Nietzsche would want to save this rotom. I was struck with the image of a lonely ghost in an empty room that looked pretty much like this one, minus the rampant carnage and shrapnel.

    Shrieking, the rotom returned to Falkner and sank back into his shell, and I realized Nietzsche and I had spent a little too long thinking. “Everyone take cover!” I shouted as loud as I could to my scattered team, praying that it would be enough.

    {A sssshape with pyroar body and the head of a man!} The shell of Falkner raised its hands into the air, gathering scything ribbons of winds using his palms as a nexus, and I knew then that it wouldn’t be enough. The cyclone only heightened in intensity, winds roaring as it picked up the rest of the debris scattered in the room and sent it soaring into orbit around Falkner, hissing and shrieking in a cloud of shrapnel. The The rotom-Falkner carefully focused the brunt of the wind into a tiny center at his fists, inhuman blue eyes creased with concentration, and then, before anything else could happen, he threw the tornado toward us.

    In those moments, my mind was helpfully quite blank. I stared, dumbfounded, as the miniature hurricane spiraled toward us, inexorable and unstoppable, while my brain played useless lectures about science. I was back in Goldenrod, pencil tapping in class, while my teacher droned on about weather patterns and air currents, how—

    Hot air rises.

    “Atlas, get all of your fire on that thing!” I shouted, one hand uselessly outstretched as a sort of shield. “Iris, Icarus, prepare to get in fast once the cyclone’s out of the way. We don’t have much time!” I wasn’t going to hold back on the rotom, but I wasn’t going to force Nietzsche into the fray if he didn’t want it. “Iris, keep it distracted.” The sentret wouldn’t be able to attack the ghost directly, but we didn’t have much of a choice.

    Atlas leapt forward, tilting his head back and charging his fire in only an instant before letting out the largest stream of fire I had ever seen from him, nearly two feet in diameter and glowing a brilliant blue at the core.

    The fire collided with the scything tornado head-on, and I watched with a sort of mute fascination as the two forces of nature locked with one another in a stalemate, neither advancing or approaching as Atlas locked his legs and continued to spew out as much fire as he could.

    Speaking of pokémon on my team I didn’t know, Atlas and I were going to have to have a little talk after this about how he and I needed to be best friends forever.

    The cyclone, which was now mostly on fire and alight with tiny, flaming bits of debris speckled around the storm, rose above us, showering the area with ash as it slowed to a halt, errant gusts of wind still blowing sparks into my face.

    One crisis averted, a bunch more to go. In his spot, Atlas buckled and then stumbled to the ground, clearly exhausted from having to use so much of his energy at once. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to rely on him for the rest of the fight—the houndour had already slumped sideways, dark fur rising and falling in quick heaves.

    As I waded through the now-mostly ashen rubble toward my houndour, Iris and Icarus zipped past me, twin flashes of brown and black. I scooped up Atlas into my arms and pulled him out of the fray while my sentret and murkrow began worrying away at the rotom from opposite directions.

    Iris slammed the length of her tail into Falkner’s legs and sent him tumbling to the ground. I frowned. Every trainer ever would tell me that ghosts were immune to normal-type attacks, but…

    {When he possesses Falkner, he becomes subject to the limitations of a human body,} Nietzsche said from his spot behind my ear. {Or a corpse, really, but that’s beside the point.}

    “Seriously?” That kind of seemed kind of counterintuitive. “Why?”

    {I’m not terribly familiar with ghost lore, but I’m fairly certain that rotom like to possess appliances, which removes their invulnerability to attacks of a physical nature.} Nietzsche shuddered. {Possession is nasty, though, so I can’t even imagine why any species would do it willingly.}

    And, with the power grid down, it sort of made sense that the rotom wouldn’t be able to possess its normal vessels, I guess, but none of this was giving me any information to help defeat it. “Actually, though, appliances?”

    {Fridges, ovens, lawn mowers, washing machines… I shit you not, they’re a pretty weird species. Given this one’s propensity for generating hurricanes and throwing them at us, I’d say that it might have some affinity for possessing fans.}

    No, I realized, frowning as I remembered what the pidgey (who had actually been a zorua?) had told me. The rotom was possessing Falkner to increase his flying-type affinity or whatever and manifesting that as gigantic hurricanes, kind of like the one moving toward us.

    Shit, I was really going to have to work on this battling thing. Namely, the part where I planned things while reacting to attacks, instead of thinking about my strategy and then being interrupted when I remembered how slow I was being. Glancing across the room, I saw that the blue aura around Falkner was beginning to glow ominously, like the rotom was preparing something. “Iris, Icarus, get out of there!” I shouted.

    Iris slammed into the gym leader once more with her tail, using her momentum as a pivot and springboarding off of his knees before launching herself far away. Icarus did the same, spreading his inky wings wide to pull up short before arcing back in the opposite direction, beady red eyes glowing through the smoke.

    They were too slow. Falkner-rotom spread his hands wide apart and another blast of electricity ripped through the air, sending fizzling and sparkling sparks skittering across the already-weary floorboards. My pokémon weren’t fast enough to escape the crossfire, and I watched with horror as Icarus squawked in agony and plowed into the ground, his wingtips alight with electricity, and Iris fell to the ground as well, fur singed and looking suddenly far more exhausted.

    {A gazzze as blank and pitilessssss as the ssssun!}

    “Nietzsche, please!” I shouted. I felt like an icy claw had wrapped around my heart; we couldn’t die here. I wasn’t going to create any more ghosts. “Do something!”

    {Ma chérie, I—}

    “They’ll die, Nietzsche!”

    Black energy around him surging from his evident frustration, the gastly phased through my stomach and appeared in the middle of the carnage, combatting bits of errant electricity with spurts of his own darkness. He screwed up his eyes and released a cloud of dark smoke, blocking out the possessed body of Faulkner, as well as the struggling forms of my pokémon, from view.

    I took several steps forward, Gaia and Atlas still in my arms, as I tried to get closer to the fray to get a better look. “If you can hear me, strafe!” I shouted.

    “That word, Master,” I heard Icarus crow from inside of the haze of chaos. “You use it often, but I do not think you know what it means!”

    I felt a flash of irritation at my murkrow, but it meant that he was alive, so there was always that.

    Murkrow burst out of the smoke, a desperately flailing Iris in his talons, before he bodily threw her back into the chaos. I watched her eyes sharpen with determination as she straightened her brown body, sharp claws pointing in toward where she could barely see the outline of Falkner’s figure, striped tail flapping in the wind. Then, she sank back into the cloud and I lost her from my view.

    I heard a yowl of pain, indicating that she’d managed to make contact, and then there was another blast of wind that sent all three of them flying back again, clearing the haze in the process. Falkner’s slouched figure appeared out of the fleeing smoke, the rotom still clinging protectively to his body, but I could see a pair of three bloody scratches on either cheek, right beneath the eyes.

    Dead bodies don’t bleed, and neither did Falkner’s.

    “Icarus, now!”

    There was a squawk of affirmation, and Icarus sprouted through Falkner’s stomach again, nothing more than a golden beak followed by a sprouting pair of black wings cloaked in the dark energy of Feint Attack. The gym leader stumbled in response while the rotom within shrieked wildly, but another bolt of electricity sent Icarus spiraling out of the way as he barely managed to dodge the hit.

    I made a mental note to start some serious anti-ghost training if we made it out of here alive.

    Nietzsche was creating blobs of ghostly fire that Iris batted toward the rotom with her tail, but another burst of wind sent those flying harmlessly away, where the sparks fizzled harmlessly against the already charred ash.

    We were going to die.

    As if to confirm that fact, Falkner-rotom raised his hands into the air. Looking up through the hole in the ceiling, I saw the dark clouds above rumbling ominously. The wind picked up, shuffling through the ash again, and I realized that Falkner-rotom was trying to finish this off for good.

    “Get out!” I screamed, one hand outstretched for my pokémon, who were still picking and squawking around at Falkner-rotom like vultures on a corpse, but it was too late.

    The lightning crashed down again, and all else was lost in the sound of thunder.




    I blinked, eyes struggling with spots to adjust to the lack of blinding light, and I knew that we’d lost then.

    {They sssay you can clip a flying-typesss wingsss with a jolt of electricccity,} the rotom hissed, weakly spinning around from the amount of energy it had expended, but I knew that the ghost was far from spent.

    I couldn’t say the same about my pokémon, though. Five on two, with the resurrection powers of a goddess and an insurrection that had caused one of our enemies to kill the other, and we still hadn’t been strong enough.

    {Moving itssss sssslow thighsss,} Falkner-rotom whispered, taking a step forward to survey the downed bodies of my pokémon, {while all about it wind ssshadowsss of the indignant desssert birdssss…}

    It turned its blank blue gaze to me, eyes staring with merciless understanding as they met my own. {Sssave usss,} it whispered.

    “I would,” I replied, eyes smarting and ears ringing, “but there’s this issue where you keep trying to kill us.”

    {Sssave usss,} Falkner-rotom whispered, and then began charging up another electrical attack.

    {Leave my friends alone.}

    I looked up in horror to see that, in the resulting chaos, Gaia had managed to position herself in the center of the room, standing between us, the bellsprout pillar, and the still-murderous Falkner-rotom.

    The hunched shell of Falkner slowly turned to her, his grin widening on one side only. {My sssmall metapod, unloved and unwanted. I’d be doing your trainer a favor, you know, if I killed you,} the rotom said, tendrils of darkness wrapping around its body and lifting it up above our heads. Shadows dances across the floor and black fires that didn’t exist but they looked so real began sprouting across the tower. {Bug-typessssss are perfect for children. They grow up fassssst and are eassssy to train.} The rotom tilted its head to one side as it wrapped shadowy tendrils around Gaia, who feebly spat another wave of String Shot at it that was promptly batted away by another blast of dark energy. {But they jusssssst can’t keep up with the resssssst of the team, can they? I’m sssssure you were winning at firssssst, every time, but by the time the battlesssss ssssstarted actually mattering—}

    With that, he threw Gaia into the ground, creating a crater three feet in diameter before picking her up and sending half a million volts through her body and smashing her into the wall on the other side of the room.

    “Gaia!” I screamed, voice catching in my throat.

    Icarus squawked in protest, pulling his battered form airborne and struggling to reach the rotom, his wingbeats barely keeping him in the air, but the rotom easily zapped him out of the sky with another blast of electricity and threw the murkrow into my arms.

    {Now you won’t feel bad about replacccing her,} the rotom hissed, blue eyes sparkling with mirth as he cut off Iris’s enraged yowl by blasting her back with a pulse of dark energy. {You can get something really sssstrong on your team, can’t you? Issssn’t that what trainersss are all about?}

    I opened my mouth, but no sounds came out.

    {I ssssshould give you the badge for thissss,} the rotom said quietly, and, true to form, the corpse of Falkner lurched forward and patted his pocket before throwing a tiny lump of metal in my direction. The winged badge skidded to a halt near my feet. {You’ve done sssso well.}

    “Gaia!” I shouted, but she was out of sight and I couldn’t hear any signs of movement. “Gaia?”

    Silence.

    {Time for the resssst,} the rotom hissed, the fierce collection of plasma around it glowing blue as it prepared to summon the thunder again. {Would any of you mortalsss care to sssay anything before you join me?}

    Atlas pulled himself to his feet and was promptly forced back with an Air Slash.

    The rotom turned toward Icarus and jolted him again for good measure. {No? No last words? I thought—}

    {Just a few.}

    I looked up to see a blur of blue and purple emerging from the darkness of the rubble of Sprout Tower, and I caught a glimpse of glowing red eyes before it shot past me, blowing a trail through the debris and illuminating the entire area in fading white light.

    {I might not be the strongest on my team in terms of raw power,} the blur shouted, whirling around and cloaking itself in white energy before colliding with the rotom and clipping it right through its leering grin. {And there might be other pokémon who are rarer than I, or more naturally talented, but that doesn’t mean crap to me.} Another blast of energy. Another crater. The rotom backpedalled frantically, but it was too slow. {You are nothing more than a zombified, sadistic, dead freak. I might not be a strong pokémon, but at least I’m alive.}

    The rotom tried to discharge some electricity, but in vain; the static was brushed aside and fizzled away harmlessly.

    {Listen closely, spirit of the dead, because these are the last words you’ll ever hear.} The blur executed a tight backward flip before bearing in on the rotom, wings streamlined back as I focused on the image of a very angry, very fast butterfree. {You,} Gaia shouted, ramming straight into the rotom and sending it into the wall, {stay the fuck away from my friends!} She punctuated each word with another blow, and on the last one, she flew high above the rotom before unleashing a blast of rainbow-colored psychic energy that washed out the entire room again.

    The rest, as they say, was silence.

    {Thank you,} the rotom whispered weakly, sinking to the ground alongside Falkner’s corpse and dimming a little. {You have come to sssave usss… You came to ssssave usss… You will come to sssave usss…}

    Nietzsche looked away grimly, and I felt a pang of regret for having to force the rotom to these extremes. But we didn’t have a choice, I swear.

    {You musssst be careful that you do not lossse your way in the dark,} the rotom whispered, its voice barely audible.

    In a quieter voice, my butterfree whispered, {The darkness drops, but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.}

    Almost touching the ground, the rotom’s blank smile crumbled away to dust, the plasma energy around it no longer vibrant. {Pleasssse,} he whispered quietly, feeble vaporous arms reaching out toward us. {Who wassss I?}

    I opened my mouth to answer, prepared to be angry at the bastard that had nearly killed Gaia and tell him that he deserved to rot in hell without knowing, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

    I wasn’t there to see what had happened a week ago, of course, but there was only one option that he could’ve ever been. The last soul in the tower of ghosts. The last human thing. “You were Falkner Hayato, firstborn of William Hayato, leader of Violet City Gym, bird master.”

    The rotom did not respond, its eyes staring blankly upward before it, too, began to disintegrate into blue sparks alongside the corpse of its owner.

    {And what rough beast, its hour come at last,} Nietzsche added mournfully, watching the ghost wither away into nothing, {slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?}




    {You were very quick to judge Falkner,} Gaia said quietly as we ascended the staircase, heavy with exhaustion. {You may have been a bit unfair.}

    “He tried to kill us.”

    {Before that, even,} Gaia responded, performing another aerial. We all decided to ignore the hulking donphan in the room. There would be plenty of time to discuss what we had seen of one another in the tower. {And, really, it was hardly his fault. He was dead.}

    “His ghost, though, acted like massive dick,” Icarus crowed. “Try to kill us all. Many times.”

    Yeah, I was going to have to escape Violet City before people found out that I’d destroyed what remained of their gym leader. I mentally added that to my long list of treason.

    {He wanted to incite us to end his misery,} Atlas murmured, speaking for the first time in a while. {He knew we wouldn’t defeat him unless he challenged us first.}

    Against my will, and before I could stop myself, I found my gaze shuffling toward Nietzsche. He smirked at me, but I could’ve sworn I saw a flash of pain in his eyes.

    {But even before he revealed he was a rotom and all,} Gaia said in a small voice. {You didn’t want to help him, even then.}

    Behind my back, Nietzsche laughed. {Oh, little butterfree, you have so much to learn. You can’t see it in her eyes?} he asked wryly, passing through my abdomen to hover in front of Gaia’s compounded eyes and look at her carefully before turning his leering gaze to me. He seemed solemn, however, and his ever-present smile faded as his eyes met mine. {Are you going to tell her, or must I?}

    I blanched. “How do you even—”

    {It is a matter of trust, ma chérie.} He phased back through my heart again to hover behind me, where he added, {You can’t expect her to put her life on the line for yours if you can’t even tell her this one secret.}

    “Leave her alone,” Icarus protested, but I could tell he was unsure.

    “How do you even—” I began through gritted teeth, but I cut myself off before I could lose it. I sighed. Arceus damn the ghost for being able to read me so accurately.

    Atlas, slinking around my feet, was studying me uneasily, although he was silent. His dark eyes narrowed as he watched me, though, and I could see the tension rippling through his fur.

    Atlas, whose trust was not given, but earned. Gaia, whose trust was given to all who asked. Iris, whose trust I had yet to seek. Icarus, whose trust I had yet to deserve.

    Trust, trust, trust. We needed it to even think about surviving.

    Nietzche was right, damn him. I expected them to fight for me, to endure physical and mental and emotional pain on my behalf was I travelled on a journey I didn’t feel completely sure about leading. And I expected to be able to do this by treating them like battling machines—why not, when my opponents did—instead of conscious, intelligent creatures whose knowledge and abilities far exceeded my own.

    I mean, maybe that was a bit harsh, but I didn’t trust them with this knowledge. And why would I, when they trusted me with their lives?

    Oh.

    {I don’t mind,} Gaia said softly, sensing my palpable anger and retreating as fast as she could while alighting on my arms. {You don’t need to tell me. I apologize for asking.}

    “I—” I began again, almost content to remain silent and leave it at that.

    There were always secrets to spill.

    Atlas narrowed his eyes, his ears plastering themselves to the dark fur of his skull.

    “My father was drunk often. He left us when I was twelve. I don’t miss him.” I didn’t elaborate. I didn’t dare. The very thought threatened to open up a new well of hurt again.

    Three sentences was more than I could afford to give him. My palms were bleeding; when I looked down, I found that my fingernails were digging into the insides of my fists, and yet the pain felt tiny in comparison.

    {Oh,} Gaia said.

    Nietzche looked solemn. {We all hide our pains differently,} he murmured quietly.

    From his perch on my shoulder, Icarus crowed mournfully.

    We reached the bottom of the tower together.





    attempted captures: gastly, zorua, rotom
    character count: (somewhere around 110k)
    success/failure: success

    ...well.

    So this was originally going to be a short, amusing filler chapter with some jokes referencing Falkner/Faulkner and some mild Nietzsche jokes.
    Instead, I think I earned my T rating with this one. This is why we don't let Ely read "The Second Coming" (which, by the way, is the source for basically all of the cryptic stuff that Falkner-rotom-thing says. It's a fantastic poem).

    Yeah, so that was our, like, annual update for SRBS. Cheers. Happy Thanksgiving, yo.

    Last edited by Elysia; 30th November 2013 at 09:24 AM.

  9. #9
    NSFA Not Safe For Adults's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Pacific Northwest
    Posts
    89
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: {some rise by sin}

    Wow, claiming this. I'm going to read the whole thing first though, so it may take a day or two.

  10. #10
    NSFA Not Safe For Adults's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Gender
    Female
    Location
    Pacific Northwest
    Posts
    89
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: {some rise by sin}

    Heyoooo finished that in one night, pattin’ myself on the back. Anyway it’s 12:30 and I just read all of your magnum opus here, start to finish. Let me just say that I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this story, even if I don’t really understand how that whole no electricity thing works. I failed science though, so I’m just not even gonna comment on that one.

    The whole story kind of reminds me of a Pokemon fanfic I read back when Pe2k was alive and popular called Aeon. I really recommend you look it up, since it is pretty amazing and reads more like a professional novel than anything else. It’s got the whole apocalypse and Murkrow thing going on as well, though yours is going in a completely different direction (I think). One last little thing before I begin the grade, though: the girl in the banner you made looks so much like Mikasa from Shingeki no Kyojin. She even has a red scarf. Anyways, let’s get rolling here.

    Introduction:

    This was actually my favorite part of this chapter and it’s not even because the rest was bad or anything so chillax yourself. I’m just really liking the direction you’ve taken with Silver. Every interaction with him so far has been well, perfect characterization-wise, and I give you major props for taking a canon character and making him more awesome than the original. Well, so far anyway. Bates is pretty cool as well and I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but including more of him would not be a bad thing by any means.

    It’s good that you included a summary of previous events in the narrative itself, but from now on, even if it’s a pain and even if I agree that future graders should just read the story as a whole before gettin’ their grade on, it was a loooooong read and I’m pretty sure the next chapter will be just as long if not more so. Because of that (and so that in the future you don’t have to break up any possible story flow by summarizing things every time), just include a separate summary of events at the beginning of each chapter. It took me about three or four hours to read through all of the stuff you have already, and spending anymore time than that can be hard for people. So just include a brief blurb (I recommend a poetic thing that would go with the theme that you can jot out quickly and add to as the number of chapters increase without it taking much time) so that people can know the basics.

    Description:

    You know what you’re doing with this so there is not much advice I can give. Focus a little more on environments and possibly describing the protagonist’s face somehow in the next chapter and that would be enough, since all we know of her so far (and it took me about halfway through the second chapter to even realize it was a girl) is that she cut her hair and dyed it orange. It’s a start, but I still don’t know if she’s overweight with freckles, a hunchback with a giant wart on her nose, or something else entirely.

    Plot:

    Since yours has more of one than most, I’m making this into a section. This won’t cover the overarching plot or anything, just the one for this chapter specifically. So don’t worry, this won’t be turning into a suggestion box (well, only a little).

    The biggest problem I had with this was the pacing. It started out really good, and I liked the set-up in the tower that had each of their fears showcased, but then everything started to get a little messy and I came out of it thinking, what just happened here? This was mostly caused by Zorua’s involvement. I could understand that Rotom possessed Falkner and Celebi had to momentarily intervene, but what da heck was up with Zorua? He came in through a time rip and then randomly killed Falkner for no reason? And this murderer decided to be friendly with the heroine and give her that helpful little talk about affinities?

    It’s not so much that I’m complaining about the loose-ends around his involvement since I’m sure they’ll be tied up later, but where did he even go during that whole fight? Did he just randomly disappear? Everything about Zorua just ended up getting lost in the other things that were happening in that moment, and felt like you could have completely cut him out and everything would’ve ended up the same. Since I’m assuming his involvement was important for a later plot point, a way to fix this would be to either reword some things in that part of the passage, or cut him out of that part of the scene entirely and have him show up after the big fight with Rotom. Then you could have explained that he was the Pidgey and that he had murdered Falkner and it wouldn’t have been as cluttered, and you would have had time to introduce him a little better. It was just a bit rushed.

    Now onto the praise. I studied the poems you referenced with Falkner last year as a part of an IB curriculum (cuz I know you wanna know more about me *wink*), and it fits perfectly with the motif of darkness and ‘not everything is black and white’ that you’ve got going on. The idea of gyres seems pretty integral to your story from what I can gather so far, and that poem by Yeats perfectly captures it. Great use of allusion, and it really helped you in characterizing Falkner, since you were limited there by his, um, death. And despite how it might have sounded above, I don’t think you are being too ambitious with this. My only suggestion for the future would be (if you really are going to cover her getting all eight gym badges) to slow down the involvement of any legendaries until we’ve had time to get to know the main character’s core team better. It felt a bit early to have Celebi show up at that exact moment, but I’ll say that it was probably a good choice if you are going to continue using time or other legendaries in the future so that it won’t feel like a retcon later. And now that I think about it, Azalea Town and that shrine place are next in line so maybe it really isn’t too early after all. Woooooo.

    Grammar:

    No grievous errors that I could see, just the typical typos that are bound to happen with a story as long as this one. Ur gud 2 go.


    Battle:

    The battle in this was great, and although I would normally say it was muddled, I think that actually worked in your favor here as it really helped to create an intense atmosphere of life and death. You made good use of the surrounding environment, used interesting strategy with the webs, and everyone was a part of the action. I have no doubt that future battle scenes will be even better as the heroine becomes more confident in her abilities to lead her Pokemon.

    Length:

    With a hard, complex, and demanding Pokemon here, I wasn’t even sure if 110k would end up being enough, but it is. Whew that’s a lot of words.

    Outcome:

    You have created quite the story here. Although I’m honestly not that familiar with the Pokemon fanfiction scene, I’m sure that this is one of the better ones. And I gladly give Gastly and Rotom over to you, since both played a big part in the chapter and I thought that they were both portrayed well. I am going to be honest here though - I’m not so sure that you deserve to get the Zorua, only because its appearance was short, barely explained, and pretty muddled. Buuuut I’m also one to believe that captures shouldn’t be based entirely on the Pokemon in question’s involvement so, drum roll…
    I think you deserve it, seeing as how you’ve managed to create a delightful inner monologue with the protagonist, and your allusion to Yeats’ poetry really impressed me. Have fun with your spoils, and I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the next installment.

    Also, if you once again decide to go for a demanding Pokemon, I’ll be expecting some serious shit to go down before I hand it to you. This chapter was great, but I’m sure you can usurp its brilliance tenfold if you really try. Just work on describing your environments more, and edit any passages that could cause possible unwanted confusion. If the confusion is intentional, that’s another story. And always remember that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ (oh no, you’ve influenced me with your Shakespeare). You don’t always have to write mega long passages even if you are going for multiple Pokemon. As long as the story and writing are stellar, we’ll give the Pokemon to you, length be damned. So don’t feel like you have to drag things out, and that you can (and should) cut things during the editing process if they are making things too lengthy or if they feel unnecessary.

    And one last word of advice: it’s your story, so do what you want with it. Other than some of the writing critiques I made, you can do whatever you damn well please with it. The things I’ve mentioned are mostly suggestions and don’t have to have any bearings on the direction you take with the rest of the story. If you want to introduce every single legendary in the next chapter and have Rocket grunts flying into Violet City on the backs of Rayquazas while wearing Raybans, I have confidence that you could make it work. Just have fun with it.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •