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Thread: Salvage

  1. #26
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    Hooray! A new chapter.

    So the Child was waiting for Kerrigan's son to die? That seems kinda...wrong. (Moreso than usual.) Now I'm interested in Kerrigan's son. He commited suicide? Why? Was he sick? That would explain why he was at home, not on a training journey.

    Cursing seemed uneeded.

    Anyways, good chapter, and I'm looking foward to the next one.

    P.S. Do you have a PM list? If so, will you add me?
    Last edited by pacman000; 10th April 2013 at 8:57 PM.
    † I am a Christian and proud of it! Copy and paste this into your sig if you are too.†

  2. #27
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    Yes, the child was waiting for Kerrigan's son to die, albeit only for a few minutes. Mark did indeed commit suicide, although I can't say at this point what the specific circumstances that caused him to do so were.

    Mmm, well, Leonard generally isn't much for swearing, but he's quite worked up in this chapter--I thought it would be appropriate for him to curse a bit. However, not all characters in this story keep it as clean as he usually does, so I'm afraid if you don't like cursing, you're going to be pretty unhappy starting with about chapter eight. If it bothers you and you have a FFN account, though, you can read the story on there with the swear filter enabled if you'd prefer.

    Thanks for reviewing! I'm glad you liked the chapter. And sure, I'll put you on the PM list.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  3. #28
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    This is the very same spot you sat almost two years ago now, on the neighbors' roof, with legs dangling over the edge and eyes trained on the bedroom window just below your perch.
    I'm a bit confused by this. "Just below your perch" seems to indicate a window on the neighbors' house just below where the child is sitting, but logic and the rest of the text would indicate the child is still talking about Matt's window. Which would be below its perch, but hardly just below since it's on a different house.

    From this angle you can't see, but you wonder—is the empty bottle of pills still sitting on the nightstand where it was left?
    Hm. This would indicate Matt Kerrigan killed himself in his room, but if that were the case, wouldn't Leonard or his wife have found the body, and thus wouldn't Leonard have known pretty much beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt was dead? At least it seems like the child's plan shouldn't have relied on Leonard accepting his son simply turning up alive (though that could just be the child's poor planning abilities). Unless there was more to it than that.

    Gruff, the family's aged growlithe, is sleeping somewhere on the first floor; if you concentrate, you can just taste the edges of his dreams as they run in their confused little circles.
    I like this sentence. Dog dreams would run in confused little circles.

    I also generally enjoy the conflict between the child's obvious nervousness and its conscious attitude of "ugh, why would I be feeling like this, silly human emotions." The way it experiences emotions according to its current form without really understanding them is interesting.

    You only barely resist the instinct to swat the man aside, as you would any other creature that jumped at you, and that moment of hesitation as you rein in your battle instincts leaves you no time to get out of his way. So it is that Leonard manages to catch hold of you, wrapping his arms inappropriately tightly around your torso. At least you manage to get your arms up and out of the way so they aren't pinned to your sides, but you're nevertheless stuck there, leaning out of Leonard Kerrigan's embrace, trying to make the minimum amount of contact, while he clings to you like a limpet for some reason.
    This is a lovely paragraph, but I feel the final "for some reason" is rather unnecessary - the child's complete revolted bafflement at being hugged is already expressed amply in the rest of the paragraph, so just "...while he clings to you like a limpet" seems to be a stronger end to the sentence.

    "So it is that..." also sounds kind of off to me, but that may just be because my brain wants to continue it with "...the group began to describe themselves walking, and as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm they walked."

    And then he descends into incoherence again, sobbing and coughing on his own tears, and you are almost—honestly. Why does being human have to be so confusing?
    More human emotions denied and dismissed.

    Here in the foyer it's dim, only one light still working in the chandelier. There's only one of everything here: one coat hanging on the hooks by the door, one umbrella in the holder. To your sensitive nose the smells of unwashed human and dishware are overwhelming; you can see the kitchen down the hall, with leaning stacks of plates piled in the sink and garbage overflowing from the can.
    This is a lovely description. Says a lot about what Leonard's life is like these days.

    “Dad. I am sorry, but I do not have much time. I am taking a great risk to be here in the first place. I need your help, Dad.”
    Still loving the unnaturalness of everything it says.

    His voice is shaking, his hands are shaking as he cleans his tear-soaked glasses on the front of his sweater. He almost laughs, makes a horrible noise of inhaling mucus.
    I also enjoy the child's focus on these gross details.

    He looks at you with an unreadable expression on his face, then sighs removes his hand from your arm.
    There should probably be an and there.

    The sight is like a hot knife twisting in your gut. Ah, of course.
    It may just be me, but these two sentences seem a bit contradictory in tone - "Ah, of course" sounds casual and in control, which doesn't really mesh with hot knife-twisting. Or maybe that's the intended effect and just the child being detached from its human emotions? The rest of the paragraph makes the hot knife-twisting bit seem like the overall intended focus, though.

    porygon-z
    Hmm, seeing as Porygon-Z isn't actually a hyphenated word, just a word with a letter stuck on the end with a hyphen, I would think you'd capitalize the Z even if you're not capitalizing the name in itself, the way you would generally capitalize the letters in "So if person A talks to person B..." Or am I way off?

    “You're not my son. And you are connected with the other dead trainers, aren't you? Who are you? And what,” the smile is gone, replaced with a grim expression that draws the skin tight over his cheekbones, “have you done with my son?”
    This kind of situation is awkward to punctuate, but I'm pretty sure this is definitely not how it should go, seeing as the bit outside the quotes isn't even vaguely a dialogue tag.

    No, Dad—Duke--you don't understand.
    Presumably both of those should be proper dashes.

    You're about to make one more stab at diplomacy—but the evidence of the man's pathetic scheming is all around you, a stark reminder of the injustices you've suffered at his hands.
    The narrative bias is lovely.

    He jerks backward, completely unprepared for how fast you managed close with him
    I can't tell if there are words missing here or if it's just a figure of speech I'm unfamiliar with.

    “What—just what the hell--”
    Again with the inconsistent dashes.

    There was a lovely sense of tension in this chapter in the interplay between the child and Leonard - we can tell how unnatural the child is acting long before it realizes Leonard is seeing through it, and the subtle buildup in Leonard's behaviour from acting simply relieved to see his son alive and well through his increasingly probing questions until he lashes out is really well done.

    Also, the child's plan was a delight. So absurdly straight out of TV-land.

    Chapter 65: Three Dragons
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  4. #29
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    Oh, shoot. I'm not on the PM list. That's why I missed that chapter...... Well, put me on the PM list! This story is really great.

    You laugh again at his pathetic expression, flush with your victory, and leave the room unharried. Out in the hall, well out of sight, you pause for a moment and clamp down on your elation enough to concentrate and think yourself elsewhere.
    Huh? Flushed with your victory? I'm kinda confused here.

    Well, anyway, this story keeps getting progressively better and I can never seem to wait until the nxt chapter (unless i dont know that its posted! :< LOL) and your description is just perfect. It seems like it's perfect actually. I try to find mistakes but they've either been fixed already, or there aren't any. Also, there aren't many 2nd person fics or, I mean.... Yeah. Well, I'll be back next chapter.


    Claimed Majora's Mask/Skull Kid | 3DSFC - 4811.7177.1372.Liam | Art by me, TIL Userbar by Astral Shadow

    Formerly: Chapter of Charizard

  5. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dragonfree View Post
    I'm a bit confused by this. "Just below your perch" seems to indicate a window on the neighbors' house just below where the child is sitting, but logic and the rest of the text would indicate the child is still talking about Matt's window. Which would be below its perch, but hardly just below since it's on a different house.
    I agree. I spent a long time trying to reword this and eventually gave up. It is indeed supposed to be a window on the house opposite, such that the child is looking across and down to see into it. I'll see if I can clean it up now, somehow.

    Hm. This would indicate Matt Kerrigan killed himself in his room, but if that were the case, wouldn't Leonard or his wife have found the body, and thus wouldn't Leonard have known pretty much beyond a shadow of a doubt that Matt was dead? At least it seems like the child's plan shouldn't have relied on Leonard accepting his son simply turning up alive (though that could just be the child's poor planning abilities). Unless there was more to it than that.
    Yes, they definitely found the body, so people are quite sure that Matt's dead. This is why Leonard's obsession with his son is treated as actually crazy, rather than kind of tragic but sort of understandable, by pretty much everyone.

    I tried to allude a little bit to how the child knew Leo would accept Matt's being alive without question; basically, the child screwed up and ran into Leonard previously when it was pretending to be his son. A complete description of the incident will appear in a much later chapter, but I might need to work something stronger in here if it's not coming through. Did you not catch that part, or did you not feel like it was a strong enough reason for Leonard to doubt his son was actually dead?

    This is a lovely paragraph, but I feel the final "for some reason" is rather unnecessary - the child's complete revolted bafflement at being hugged is already expressed amply in the rest of the paragraph, so just "...while he clings to you like a limpet" seems to be a stronger end to the sentence.
    Hmm, I'm not sure about this. I'll think about it.

    "So it is that..." also sounds kind of off to me, but that may just be because my brain wants to continue it with "...the group began to describe themselves walking, and as they described themselves walking, so did Abed confirm they walked."
    Heh, I'm afraid I don't get the reference, but you're right, it does sound a bit formal for the paragraph.

    Still loving the unnaturalness of everything it says.
    I don't know what you're talking about. The child is the best conversationalist ever!

    I also enjoy the child's focus on these gross details.
    Heh, good. I was kind of worried it was going to be too gross, since I'm weirdly sensitive to that kind of thing and it felt strange to be writing it.

    There should probably be an and there.
    Yes!

    It may just be me, but these two sentences seem a bit contradictory in tone - "Ah, of course" sounds casual and in control, which doesn't really mesh with hot knife-twisting. Or maybe that's the intended effect and just the child being detached from its human emotions? The rest of the paragraph makes the hot knife-twisting bit seem like the overall intended focus, though.
    Mmm, yes, I see what you mean. The way I had heard them being said in my head was in keeping with the sentiment of the rest of the paragraph, but I can see how it would come across that way. It's definitely not a casual statement, anyway; it's something you would kind of say with a hiss, rather bitter and berating yourself for not realizing something before. I'm not sure how I could convey that, though, so I'll see what I can do about rewording that part.

    Hmm, seeing as Porygon-Z isn't actually a hyphenated word, just a word with a letter stuck on the end with a hyphen, I would think you'd capitalize the Z even if you're not capitalizing the name in itself, the way you would generally capitalize the letters in "So if person A talks to person B..." Or am I way off?
    Yeah, that's just me being a derp. It should definitely be capitalized.

    This kind of situation is awkward to punctuate, but I'm pretty sure this is definitely not how it should go, seeing as the bit outside the quotes isn't even vaguely a dialogue tag.
    I was quite sure that commas are fine even for interrupting actions that aren't dialogue tags, but the internet says no! Apparently there should be dashes instead. Learn something new every day, I guess.

    I can't tell if there are words missing here or if it's just a figure of speech I'm unfamiliar with.
    I take it you mean the "close with" bit? To close with someone is to approach them, usually to engage them in a fight. If that wasn't it, where did you think there were missing words?

    Presumably both of those should be proper dashes.
    Again with the inconsistent dashes.
    I'd like to thank the academy... and MS Word autocorrect. <<

    There was a lovely sense of tension in this chapter in the interplay between the child and Leonard - we can tell how unnatural the child is acting long before it realizes Leonard is seeing through it, and the subtle buildup in Leonard's behaviour from acting simply relieved to see his son alive and well through his increasingly probing questions until he lashes out is really well done.

    Also, the child's plan was a delight. So absurdly straight out of TV-land.
    Ah, good, I was really unsure of the pacing of the buildup in this chapter, so I'm glad you thought I got it right, and also enjoyed the child's "how do I emotion" bits; there will definitely be a lot more of those moments as the story goes on, and I'm always worried that I haven't managed to convey how weird the child really is, but how what it's doing usually makes perfect sense according to its warped view of the world.

    Once again, thanks for giving me such lovely reviews. They're always a delight to read.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chapter of Charizard View Post
    Oh, shoot. I'm not on the PM list. That's why I missed that chapter...... Well, put me on the PM list! This story is really great.
    Sure, no problem!

    Huh? Flushed with your victory? I'm kinda confused here.
    To be flush is to be glowing with an emotion or to be experiencing a flood of strong emotion.

    Well, anyway, this story keeps getting progressively better and I can never seem to wait until the nxt chapter (unless i dont know that its posted! :< LOL) and your description is just perfect. It seems like it's perfect actually. I try to find mistakes but they've either been fixed already, or there aren't any. Also, there aren't many 2nd person fics or, I mean.... Yeah. Well, I'll be back next chapter.
    Thanks, I'm really glad you're enjoying it. And sorry about the PM list thing!

    Also, thank you to everyone who nominated me or voted for me in this year's awards! It's always nice to know that people appreciate the 'fic.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  6. #31
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    I tried to allude a little bit to how the child knew Leo would accept Matt's being alive without question; basically, the child screwed up and ran into Leonard previously when it was pretending to be his son. A complete description of the incident will appear in a much later chapter, but I might need to work something stronger in here if it's not coming through. Did you not catch that part, or did you not feel like it was a strong enough reason for Leonard to doubt his son was actually dead?
    Presumably you're referring to where Leonard is sobbing about how "nobody believed me that I saw you, but I knew it"? It does establish that Leonard was inclined to accept it, and I don't have a problem with that part, but it doesn't quite seem to follow from there that the child would be completely aware of this, especially when it has no idea how human emotions work. I'm guessing the actual incident involved a confrontation where it was very explicit that this was the case, but from Leonard referencing it here, there's no indication that he tried to talk to Matt or anything, only that he saw him, which wouldn't tell the child with any degree of confidence that he genuinely thinks his son is still alive as opposed to simply determined to hunt down whatever thing is going around impersonating him. This plan could work, but it could also be stupidly handing itself on a silver platter to the one person most likely to have figured out that it's not who it says it is, and there's not much indication of why it's so sure it's the former despite that under normal circumstances one would assume Leonard knows 100% that his son is dead. That's what had me confused.

    Heh, I'm afraid I don't get the reference, but you're right, it does sound a bit formal for the paragraph.
    It's the Community D&D episode. Don't mind me.

    Heh, good. I was kind of worried it was going to be too gross, since I'm weirdly sensitive to that kind of thing and it felt strange to be writing it.
    Me too, really, but the narration's utter disregard for the idea that you don't go on about mucus when people are crying is part of what gives it so much character.

    I take it you mean the "close with" bit? To close with someone is to approach them, usually to engage them in a fight. If that wasn't it, where did you think there were missing words?
    I was thinking of the fact it says "managed close with him" as opposed to something like "managed to close with him", actually.

    I notice you conspicuously avoided the subject of chapter seven in your response. Coming 4/28, eh?
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 31st May 2013 at 11:36 AM.

    Chapter 65: Three Dragons
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  7. #32
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    Hmm, well, it's not much of a secret that Leonard is convinced that his son is actually alive; the child, which is at least mildly obsessed with the guy itself, picked up on that from multiple sources. The whole thing with his wife leaving him in particular was well publicized and explicitly involved her thinking he was crazy because he was convinced Matt was still alive for crazy reasons. So it was pretty confident it wasn't going to be assumed an impostor right off the bat.

    Though, for what it's worth, even if the child considered that it might be walking right into some kind of trap, it wouldn't even care. It has a very low opinion of what other people are capable of relative to its own abilities; by its reasoning, even if Leonard immediately recognized it as an impostor, what's he going to do about it? It can easily take him in a fight or simply teleport away if the situation gets particularly bad. It's generally pretty cavalier and terrible at planning, for a variety of reasons.

    ...I don't know. I feel like I might still be misunderstanding what you're saying somehow. Thanks for mentioning it, though; you definitely brought up some things I hadn't even considered or had taken for granted, so it's been worthwhile examining them more closely.

    I was thinking of the fact it says "managed close with him" as opposed to something like "managed to close with him", actually.
    ...you know I read that sentence like at least four times looking for the missing word(s), right? Wow.

    I notice you conspicuously avoided the subject of chapter seven in your response. Coming 4/28, eh?
    Oi. I'll have you know I didn't conspicuously nothing. Let's not talk about me and deadlines, but in theory if I keep setting them and attempting to make them, I will eventually get better at not failing to make them entirely. In theory. In the meantime, you want chapter seven? I got your chapter seven right here.

    ...or not, because Chapter 7 ended up getting deleted during revisions. If you'd still like to read it, though, you can find it here.
    Last edited by Negrek; 3rd May 2015 at 6:52 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  8. #33
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    ... Where'd everybody go? ... Is it safe to post here? O.O

    I've had this thread open for a good long while. I'd read the first chapter and, of course, found it all enigmatic and dark and spooky. This review is chaotic and not a little nitpicky and weird. I've stopped doing like before, when if I couldn't find anything wrong I'd just say how I felt about the plot and characters and maybe speculate, like a nice reader. Now I make enormous, bizarre critiques based on things that probably only exist in my head.

    As usual, I've mostly posted my immediate reactions to each chapter as I read it:

    Since (what I thought, anyway) there's a lot of mood in the prologue, I tried to close-read for the impressions the details give and the bigger picture they seem to form. (It is a mood chapter I think; since we hardly know what's happening yet, the two things that get across are teasers and mood.)

    The child comes home with the chill of the caverns still clinging to it, slush under its fingernails and inner fire stoked against the cold.
    When you say the chill is clinging to it, the image in my head is kind of amphibious and creepy -- a clammy film clinging to the child. (Although I realized it could be a sheet of cold air too, depending on which mind is making images.) That's my imagination, but it seems to imply that its skin is not warm, unlike a mammalian child. Plus, it's an it at this point. The inner fire though takes it in the other direction: a warm-blooded creature. I just thought that a small change, if the chill was only clinging to its clothes, would put it more completely in the warm-blood position; outwardly just a human child, inside (you've still called it an it) something else. Of course, I wouldn't know if you might want this contradiction to stand as strong as it is, or if you even care that much about such a close detail.

    You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard that evolved from your starter, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several more of little consequence.
    The second sentence would possibly read smoother if you don't even mention that the charmander evolved, which (at one sentence distance) might be guessed by the reader: You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several ... Not to mention more businesslike.

    The second person here is a little more spirited than later, the narrating voice takes a vaguely cruel, businesslike character, though of course it never becomes a character. I think second is a nice POV for your fic's situation, because in a way the child is really being told what it is, and what happened to it. There's a weird distance in the memories that are supposed to be part of the child's personal experience (according to the child anyway), but don't really belong to it. That distance is decently embodied in the 'you's.

    Post Ch2: I do think you're being a little too reticent about details, about leaving things implied -- I don't mean the bigger picture of what-the-child-is-what-is-it-doing-why, but just what's actually going on in the chapter. You explain the minor thoughts that go on in its head (blast it, my ribcage is half a ribcage), but nothing about its plans and failures. The way you omitted the whole first meeting with Titan. I think we're supposed to have basic comprehension about these business happenings, and with guesses like Dragonfree's we can piece it together, but I just think: why is the reader being made to guess this? What's achieved by putting this behind a movable curtain?

    Actually my brain was on low sleep throughout the chapter and I kept having reading-comprehension mishaps, so I don't know if it's my fault or yours. But, like, "your own" pokemon, by which it's meant the child's, even though Nicholas's PC and box are also "yours":

    The first thing you do is empty your computer account.
    Anyway, you have your hands full with your own pokémon as it is.
    I tripped on that, anyway.

    Ch3: Collecting clues for what the child is.

    -- between human and pokemon.
    -- no longer a human.
    -- only interested in training -- so, something about motive?
    -- it can manipulate the weather; there are way too many pokemon who can learn Rain Dance.
    -- it talks to pokemon over long distance or something. I guessed a psychic link with 'her', possibly.

    Then I read that you've explained the plot in the Fan Fiction Mafia -- again! this info is all coming very very slowly in the actual fic, at least relative to the speed things are progressing. Such that all these pivotal scenes are happening without the reader understanding the soul of what's going on: backstory that would explain the desperation of the quest, the emotional bonds, the rationales of the main players, etc. I won't say I can't feel the raw emotion, in a partial way, without understanding the exact details, but I have to keep guessing and assuming to understand. I wonder if you're withholding the backstory until you have enough leverage with us to really deliver it; once we feel like we know the child enough that those enormous things that must have happened in the past can really have an impact.

    You wonder. This is what you come to Fuchsia to do: read the paper; enjoy the tropical weather; and consider what might have been.
    I don't think even the pacing of this sentence would be that much changed by just using commas; certainly the semicolons aren't grammatically needed. Still, maybe you just like the look of them. =P

    The great digital brain of the League records everything, from the first step each trainer takes after receiving their license to the origin and life history of every pokémon passing through their hands. Leonard stands at the nerve center, watching the data flow in from all the league's sensory organs, the pokédexes that every trainer must carry to be considered legal. The pokédex observes everything, records everything, surely knows more than the trainer herself about everything that has happened on her journey: every item purchased; every trainer battled, and the outcome of that battle; every visit to a pokémon center. It is Leonard's job to guard the ever-widening river of information, to see that it flows freely in the wires, to make sure that the grand architecture of the system is never undermined.
    I don't like the soaring, orchestral tone of this paragraph, particularly the last sentence, especially considering that there is such a cool Big Brother element which you could have scored using sinister, minimal ambient music (so to speak). You're describing how it's his calling, how grand and important he considers it. But the grandiose fervor is just not convincing, and doesn't feel like it deserves 33 words, because

    -- it illustrates nothing specific about what he actually does, how he might feel doing it or thinking about it, which I guess you must not have personal experience in IT, but still,
    -- everything is a frustratingly abstract metaphor: a database is a 'nerve center' that you can stand in front of, there are rivers and architecture, and apparently he literally/metaphorically 'guards' information.

    I would prefer a more compelling description of fervor, or even no description at all (we already know it's his calling). I think I'm suggesting in a massively over-the-top way that here you didn't write what you know.

    [Later I realized this is his job, not even his calling. Is this really what he found 'frustrating at times, but interesting enough'?]

    Officer Feldhorn turns to look back at Leonard, who is going through his ritual at the computer station: a few mysterious incantations on the keyboard, then plug a cable from his laptop into the computer. Keys, keys, keys, then out with the cable, pack everything away. You know he has underlings that could be doing this for him; you know he can probably retrieve everything he wants remotely. But, alas, he has a calling. He has to be sure. He has to be here, to do it himself.
    See? That was in one way another illustration of his Calling, and it's quietly enjoyable. Your understated humor; a sly undercurrent of slightly more casual tone, that's really been running throughout from the start of the fic (I felt it in "You were in deep", for instance). I'm just idly speculating, what if you moved that grandiose paragraph to much later in the story; then Leonard might just look slightly nerdy for the rest of the chapter and beyond, until we got familiar with him, and then -- bombshell -- he was standing guard at the Floodgates of Information the whole time.

    Of course, I'm eating up all the nuances of the child's character that you put here and there. I like how television dominates so far, and think it might even have some kind of meaning in the story. (Is there a TV Rotom?) But that the child is so reared up on it is real nice. I like that so far its motives are driven by such such simple childlike needs: entertainment, comfort, consumerism. Your character hasn't shown any dimensions yet of the Advice for Aspiring Authors kind, and it doesn't need to (yet). Just a content roaming animal.

    She even said it—wait, and if it has not come back to you by the time you find the others, then you must do what you must do.
    It wasn't immediately clear that this is Absol's speech -- 'you's are scattered all over the narration anyway, and the tone of it is slightly narratory whereas the other things Absol said sounded conversational enough. Possibly use a colon here? Or even capitalize 'wait'?

    Oh, there's a mission... less simple and childlike already, though a mission is (looks to be from here) professional, not personal.

    What I assume is that third person is used for the child when it's not wearing a face, and second for when it is. So all the home scenes are 'it'. If in second person, it's being 'told' its identity... in third it's like it has no identity. Just an objective digital eye in a corner of the room.

    Ch5: All the ambiguous 'you's do have the effect of giving the reader minor identity confusion on par with what the child might feel. In the first paragraph I'm not sure if the child died on Cinnabar, or if somehow Nicholas died 'here' (in the Seafoam Islands area).

    There was the twisted excess of the Mewtwo project, that perversion of nature that ended flame and the death for most of the island's population, those who worked in the slick research facility dominating its northwestern corner. And then, barely five years later, the volcano erupted one quiet morning, completely out of the blue, sweeping away all the rest on a tide of lava and ash.
    Ended in flame, I suppose. Also the way of saying that it 'swept away all the rest' strikes me as slightly comical (considering how serious the paragraph is): First there was Mewtwo and it killed the scientist half, and then five years later an eruption killed the half that was left! Not to mention it's suggesting a weird death toll; you'd expect the Mewtwo incident to be a domestic tragedy on the scale of tens or fifties, at most, and the eruption absolutely calamitous (if it really did wipe out all life more or less).

    I started looking at your use of contractions in the child's talk: it's like "I did not know" to Officer Feldhorn and the Cinnabar nurse, but later when it's calmed down, "It's a small world", "but that's about it", etc. With pokemon it's always natural (I guess the child is better at talking to pokemon). That's the pattern I can make out. If that's how it is, breaking contractions is a simple way to show broken language, but distinct I guess.

    Ch6.

    What you can see from here is your old room. This is the very same spot you sat almost two years ago now, on the neighbors' roof, with legs dangling over the edge and eyes trained on the bedroom window just below your perch. Only that time, you were the one in the room dying while another waited outside with Absol, nervous and fidgety and unsure what to do. It had waited, because Absol told it to wait, and not interfere; there wasn't much to see, but somehow Absol knew when you had stopped breathing and prodded that one forward.
    Oh, damn. I was worrying it would be mean of me to talk about confused 'you's in case you didn't intend them to be that confused, but here, I think, you're pretty direct about it. "You sat on this spot, looking into a bedroom in which you lay dying." And another one waited outside the door. This is also a decent riddle; I can barely work out what exactly happened here without reading more. Also, though, I had to reread "This is the very same spot" a few times because it didn't occur to me that "This" was referring to the place where the child is sitting, as opposed to possible bedrooms, roofs etc. You could change it painlessly to "You're at the very same spot you sat ..."

    I like the child's habit of 'denying' automatic thoughts and behaviors that come to it; you weren't leaning forward in anticipation, you definitely weren't fidgeting; when I was younger I used to try to discipline my mind by literally pretending that certain thoughts weren't there. To an extent, it worked.

    Ch7.

    Surprised that weeks have passed after the Leonard incident without obvious retribution, and that Absol appears to be helping the child a little (though I guess she's just doing her Absol thing).

    In the scene where Weavile rifles through the bags in the supply closet, I had the sense that sentences of the "You [present tense predicate]" form are kind of unhurried, deliberate, descriptive, because when I read it quickly sensing the child's haste, the "You ____"s sort of stood in the way. It's very emphatic, the "You did this, doing this and that" sentence. Still what are you going to do, surely the second person is capable of all registers. This is the three "You" sequence where I felt I was being speedbreaked:

    At last you find the one you're looking for and drop the rest, letting them bounce and roll away into whatever crevices they please. You struggle with the hatch on the back of the pokédex, only now bothering to let your claws melt away and reform into dextrous human digits. You pull the data card from its little slot and drop the dead pokédex onto the pile of detritus, then glance up at Absol and grin.
    Stray line break here:

    It had watched footage of the eruption on television, marveling at the disaster it had so narrowly avoided. At the time it didn't thought of anything but how lucky it had been to survive, to have Absol. But then, two days later, she came for it. "Come. There is something you must see." And the place she
    took it was like the ruins of hell.
    She reached an anonymouse pile of wreckage climbed the jut of a splintered beam poking from the ash slurry, claws digging deep into the crumbling wood to hold herself steady.
    Anonymouse! And possibly a missed comma.

    Ah. Now all the backstory is resolved, like I thought. In retrospect the withholding information does make an odd kind of sense, if you think about it getting explained finally at this 'full-circle' point. It's a good kind of feeling, fitting the whole story we finally have to all the fragmented references given out in earlier chapters. (But "between human and pokemon" remains to be explained, along with the basic shapeshifting nature of the child's existence now.) I also think what's to come will get all kinds of cosmic and spatio-temporal, eventually, and look forward to that possibility. I'm still surprised Absol's warning about hastening Fate hasn't come to anything yet, though it still could.

    Oh, put me on the PM list too.
    Last edited by Praxiteles; 23rd July 2013 at 4:45 PM.

  9. #34
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    ... Where'd everybody go? ... Is it safe to post here? O.O
    ikr? No come baaaaaack everyone. ;-;

    When you say the chill is clinging to it, the image in my head is kind of amphibious and creepy -- a clammy film clinging to the child. (Although I realized it could be a sheet of cold air too, depending on which mind is making images.) That's my imagination, but it seems to imply that its skin is not warm, unlike a mammalian child. Plus, it's an it at this point. The inner fire though takes it in the other direction: a warm-blooded creature. I just thought that a small change, if the chill was only clinging to its clothes, would put it more completely in the warm-blood position; outwardly just a human child, inside (you've still called it an it) something else. Of course, I wouldn't know if you might want this contradiction to stand as strong as it is, or if you even care that much about such a close detail.
    There's a bit of cold air coming along with it, yes. What I was thinking of more specifically there was the way that the outer layer of your skin will cool down if you've been somewhere cold for a while. For example, if you step out of a heavily air-conditioned movie theater into the summer heat, if you touch your arm or whatever it still feels cold for a brief period of time before you warm up again. Or that might just happen to some people, like me, whose extremities tend towards the icy. One way or another, the child is a temporary cold spot here.

    The child is usually but not obligately warm-blooded, but the "inner fire" thing refers to something entirely different than the usual endothermic lifestyle. It's literal fire.

    The second sentence would possibly read smoother if you don't even mention that the charmander evolved, which (at one sentence distance) might be guessed by the reader: You left Pallet Town on the morning of May third with a charmander. Four years later you own the charizard, a primeape, a nidoqueen, and several ... Not to mention more businesslike.
    Yeah, that part can go. The intent was more to drive home that the charmander had actually been Nick's starter, but I think that's implied well enough by the previous sentence.

    I do think you're being a little too reticent about details, about leaving things implied -- I don't mean the bigger picture of what-the-child-is-what-is-it-doing-why, but just what's actually going on in the chapter. You explain the minor thoughts that go on in its head (blast it, my ribcage is half a ribcage), but nothing about its plans and failures. The way you omitted the whole first meeting with Titan. I think we're supposed to have basic comprehension about these business happenings, and with guesses like Dragonfree's we can piece it together, but I just think: why is the reader being made to guess this? What's achieved by putting this behind a movable curtain?
    There's a couple of reasons I play the larger picture close to the chest in the early chapters. The first is that I don't want to overwhelm readers with all that's going on at once. The structure of the narrative is hard enough to get used to, and the child's situation is extremely strange; I thought it would be difficult to convey a lot of information at once without info-dumping or causing more confusion, because some things only make sense when you understand better how the child thinks. I was more concerned with readers being able to piece together what was going on now than trying to introduce the larger picture in the early stages of the story; it takes more or less an entire chapter to lay out most of the details of its situation when we get to it, and I wanted people to be invested in the payoff of the mystery and so actually be interested in reading that, instead of dumping it on them before they have any reason to care. On the whole I thought it would be better for readers' views of the child to evolve organically over time rather than trying to get them to understand what's up with it up front.

    For the second part, this story is constrained by the child's point of view, and it already knows all of its plans, desires, etc., and doesn't often feel the need to reflect on them (or reflect on them in a form that's easy for an outsider to understand). It's true that I could have shown the earlier meeting with Titan, where the two of them start to hash out the basics of what's going on, but in addition to worrying that that would be too long and info-dump-y, it would still be full of things like "hey you remember that thing that happened with the person" "yeah" "well now we need to deal with that," which I thought would be just as frustrating for readers as not getting any information at all--the two characters share enough references that what they're talking about wouldn't be immediately clear to someone without their background knowledge.

    But I think I may have erred to far on the side of not showing the larger picture early on. The structure of the early chapters are markedly different than for the rest of the 'fic (it gets much more linear, for one), and I still don't know if I really started it in the right place. Overall I'm pleased with how the early part of the story turned out, but I do know that it can be frustrating to readers and overall may not have been the best choice in terms of trying to present information.

    But, like, "your own" pokemon, by which it's meant the child's, even though Nicholas's PC and box are also "yours":
    Yeah, it's supposed to be like that. The child has to deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance, since it's essentially two (or more) people at once at any given time, so it's used to stretching the concept of "I" or "me" in that way. Again, something I know people will find confusing to read about, but I think that's the truest way to present it. In this case those two sets of pokémon do belong to "you," even though "you" is referencing what any outside observer would identify as being two separate entities.

    I don't think even the pacing of this sentence would be that much changed by just using commas; certainly the semicolons aren't grammatically needed. Still, maybe you just like the look of them. =P
    Yeah, I'm not sure why I went with semicolons there. It's possible that a previous revision had longer prhases containing commas there, and then I didn't change the semicolons out to commas after rewording.

    I don't like the soaring, orchestral tone of this paragraph, particularly the last sentence...
    Heh, I think Dragonfree said something along these lines in an earlier review. I agree that it's a problematic section, though I'm worried more that the way it's conveyed isn't appropriate for the child's mental narrative.

    I think the content is okay, though. This is all being told through the child's ("your") perspective, and it really does believe that Leo is some kind of computer god-wizard who basically guards this magical network entity for a living. It's influenced both by the amount of impact Leonard has had (inadvertently) on its own life, and by movie/television portrayals of hackers, who are usually able to do absolutely absurd things (think The Matrix or similar) with computers, which it understands not at all. And it definitely has no clue what it is that Leo actually does all day--certainly it doesn't realize that it rarely gets more exciting than having to clean things up after some moron tried running a huge job on the head node and took down the scheduler. So I do want to convey a sense of awe, respect, and maybe a little fear (the child is still pretty sure that it's way too badass for Leo to actually touch, though)--I think that just portraying him as "just some nerd," while definitely more true-to-life, wouldn't be appropriate here.

    Possibly use a colon here? Or even capitalize 'wait'?
    I do like putting a colon there instead of a dash, yes.

    What I assume is that third person is used for the child when it's not wearing a face, and second for when it is. So all the home scenes are 'it'. If in second person, it's being 'told' its identity... in third it's like it has no identity. Just an objective digital eye in a corner of the room.
    Exactly!

    Also the way of saying that it 'swept away all the rest' strikes me as slightly comical (considering how serious the paragraph is): First there was Mewtwo and it killed the scientist half, and then five years later an eruption killed the half that was left! Not to mention it's suggesting a weird death toll; you'd expect the Mewtwo incident to be a domestic tragedy on the scale of tens or fifties, at most, and the eruption absolutely calamitous (if it really did wipe out all life more or less).
    Hmmm, I'm not sure what's comical about it. But I think we have different views of how big Cinnabar Island is; I think of it as a very small place, with the research laboratory being quite extensive and by far its largest employer. Sort of like a little town that's grown up around a factory. There's a reasonable transient population of tourists and trainers stopping by for the gym, but most of the actual families living there had some connection to the lab. So the "Mewtwo incident" probably did for about 60% of the island's adult population.

    But yes, ended "in" flame, heh.

    I started looking at your use of contractions in the child's talk: it's like "I did not know" to Officer Feldhorn and the Cinnabar nurse, but later when it's calmed down, "It's a small world", "but that's about it", etc. With pokemon it's always natural (I guess the child is better at talking to pokemon). That's the pattern I can make out. If that's how it is, breaking contractions is a simple way to show broken language, but distinct I guess.
    Yeah, pretty much. The child is actually speaking a completely different language when it talks to pokémon; that will be made explicit in about three chapters. "Human" (whether English or whatever language they speak here in Kanto) is actually its second language, and one it hasn't had a ton of practice with. It also has trouble with register, and the lack of contractions is one manifestation of that--it has a kind of overly formal, unemotional thing going on. It also tends to refer to people by their full names and/or titles even when that would be inappropriate, for example.

    Also, though, I had to reread "This is the very same spot" a few times because it didn't occur to me that "This" was referring to the place where the child is sitting, as opposed to possible bedrooms, roofs etc. You could change it painlessly to "You're at the very same spot you sat ..."
    Hmm. After some consideration, I decided to try rewording that sentence slightly.


    Anonymouse! And possibly a missed comma.
    Damn anonymice. << Fixed those, thanks.

    Ah. Now all the backstory is resolved, like I thought. In retrospect the withholding information does make an odd kind of sense, if you think about it getting explained finally at this 'full-circle' point. It's a good kind of feeling, fitting the whole story we finally have to all the fragmented references given out in earlier chapters. (But "between human and pokemon" remains to be explained, along with the basic shapeshifting nature of the child's existence now.) I also think what's to come will get all kinds of cosmic and spatio-temporal, eventually, and look forward to that possibility. I'm still surprised Absol's warning about hastening Fate hasn't come to anything yet, though it still could.
    Great, glad you found it satisfying. As you mentioned, there's still quite a bit left unexplained, and that will mostly get worked out within the next five chapters or so.

    Absol's "Fate" tends to work on the scale of years or even decades, so it would be pretty unusual for it to come around and smack somebody after only a few weeks. Of course, given that making life difficult for the protagonist is fun, you can expect it to show up sometime before the end of the story.

    Meanwhile, Leonard is definitely working on getting his own revenge, but what he's doing is a bit tricky and also illegal, and the child has actually been able to dodge it completely by accident, without its knowledge. You can definitely expect to see more about that and of Leo in general in the future, though.

    Oh, put me on the PM list too.
    With pleasure!

    Thank you for the lovely review, especially given how quiet the thread's been. I noticed it a long time ago, but since it had been a while I didn't want to post a reply without a chapter to go with it, and then that, erm... took a while. Thanks again, I really appreciate it.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  10. #35
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    Author's Notes: So here, finally, is the next chapter! As a note, this is where the strong language warning mentioned at the beginning of the story starts to come into effect. (And also where we get to see whether my automatic BBCode and censor-evasion filters are working properly...)

    This chapter hasn't changed a great deal with revision, aside from being numbered differently, but if you'd like to see the original version, you can find it here.

    Chapter 6

    "Duskull, I told you to wait back in town. It's dangerous." The ghost scuds away from you, gurgling laughter. When you lunge at him, he sinks back into the tree trunk and vanishes from sight. "I mean it," you hiss, as loudly as you dare. "Stay here."

    No response. You hunch your shoulders and turn away, looking down on the humans below. On the one hand, it feels wrong to tell Duskull to go away when he was the one who led you to them in the first place. On the other, it is dangerous. You nudge the felt bag hanging around your neck, done up to look like brightpowder. It actually holds your friends' pokéballs, including Duskull's, shiny and new. You could use it to stop him cold, if you could coax him back out of the tree, but you don't know if he would ever forgive you.

    You glower at where the ghost used to be, then start at the sound of leathery wings nearby. You throw yourself belly-down on the branch, making yourself as small as possible, and curse Duskull twice over for distracting you. You turn your head slowly, ever so slowly, until you spot the source of the noise.

    A golbat weaves her way through the trees, staying low to the ground and keeping to the shadows. You follow her with your eyes, taking some comfort in the erratic, preoccupied way she's flying.

    The golbat sweeps into the little clearing where the teenagers are gathered, smoking and making forced conversation. They stir to attention as she starts circling one of the girls. "Come on, come on, let's move it," the bat calls. "I can hardly fly straight in this damn sun!"

    "Looks like we're on, ladies and gents," the girl says with a grin met by uneasy silence. "Let's get this over with already." She turns to leave, and the rest of the group follows at a shamble, flicking cigarettes into the grass and taking half-hearted swipes at the golbat, who harries the stragglers with a constant stream of high-pitched complaints.

    "Yes, yes, good work, I'll make sure Mark gives you a treat or something later," the girl says when the bat swoops back in her direction. "Lead the way already."

    The golbat doesn't stop grumbling, but she takes off into the trees, and the humans are forced into a lope to keep her in sight. You shoot a last warning glare at the tree behind you, then take off after them.

    For a few glorious minutes you lose yourself in the chase, racing branch to branch, alighting on one only long enough to push off to the next. The wind blows your leaves out behind you like pennants, the tiny hairs on their undersides registering minute changes in direction and speed as you sail along.

    The humans come to a halt, and you nearly go sailing on past, lost in the rhythm of impact and soaring, larger concerns drifting nebulous and half-forgotten around the edges of your thoughts. But some fragment of intent remains, and you come to a neat stop before you can go too far, using your momentum to flip yourself up and around a branch, grasping with fingers and toes to gain your perch.

    You fold into a defensive crouch, ready to move at the first sign of trouble. Below, the humans are discussing something with a boy who was waiting for them, now the primary target of the Golbat's whining.

    "--no problem. Bastard won't know what hit him," the newcomer is saying, sweaty and out of breath but grinning nonetheless.

    "Yeah, that's right, no need to thank me for dragging this pack of idiots over here for you," the golbat says, hovering so close her wingbeats stir the boy's hair. He ignores her with practiced ease. "Feel free to express your undying gratitude later, after you recall me. Maybe at night, or at least somewhere dark?"

    "How long?" the lead girl asks.

    "Dunno. Ten minutes at the inside. Even the freaking champion couldn't handle a pack of mankey that big in less than that."

    "If he can handle it at all," pipes up another girl, to nervous snickering.

    "Oh, come on, Sasha. You don't want the monkeys to have all the fun, do you?" the leader drawls. Then, raising her voice: "Spread out! Don't get comfortable. If we're lucky, there won't be much left of Nate after the mankey have been at him, but if there is, you do not want to be the one who let him get away. Mark, have your golbat scout."

    The supersonic cry of exasperation comes even before Mark repeats the order to his pokémon. You wince and dig your claws deeper into the branch, but the humans don't react--they probably can't even hear it.

    For all her griping, the golbat is a-wing immediately, and you have to wonder what could inspire such loyalty in the face of the hated sun. You glare down at the boy as he takes his place at the edge of the large, grassy clearing. Nothing good, you think. Nothing good.

    The teenagers spread out below, ranging in a half-circle around the clearing. You try to calm down, casting a look around for Duskull. It helps a little that you see no sign of him, that at least he's probably safe, but anger roils your stomach as you think about the golbat and anxiety worries at your fraying nerves.

    You sink back into the grovyle's hunting trance, letting the trappings of your human mind fall away until the wood takes on new texture under your fingers and the rich, sappy smell of the leaves around you blossoms into your awareness. You can see every twitch in the clearing's grass, and you sit and watch them, idly marking the passage of cloud-shadows over the ground, and think no more of anything but what is there before you. You can't remember what you're waiting for, but have vague faith that you'll know it when you see it.

    And indeed, you stiffen when faint squeaks and wingbeats reach your ears. Your eyes narrow in confusion as you try to recall what they mean. By the time the golbat comes into view, you know what to expect.

    "All right, all right, he's coming!" the golbat grumbles to her trainer, dancing around him in tight circles. "Done with me now? Because if you send me off on another stupid errand, I'm probably going to end up hitting a tree or something."

    "Recall that thing!" hisses the leader. "Everyone on your guard!"

    Barely a minute later you hear two people smashing through the undergrowth on the far side of the clearing. They're taking even less care than humans usually do, and though they must be in full flight, they aren't moving all that fast. You sit up straighter and crane your neck, straining for a first glimpse of who you'll be for the next few weeks.

    The first into the clearing is a mightyena, thick coat matted with blood, favoring a forepaw as she bounds into the open. She stops immediately on sight of the humans, snarling with teeth bared and mane bristling. Her trainer stumbles out of the trees a second later, chest heaving as he gasps for breath, and you feel a twinge of disappointment as you look him over. You hadn't been expecting much, but you'd hoped anyone important enough to get a hit put out on them would be at least halfway competent. All you see here is a young man in muddied, shredded clothing, face bloodied from a deep cut running across the bridge of his nose. He leans heavily against the mightyena, gaze roving the people assembled before him.

    "Wha--" he starts, then thinks better of it, takes a deep breath, and tries to draw himself up straighter. The other humans step forward, all eagerness now. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing, Jenna? This your idea of a joke, setting a whole fucking truckload of mankey on me while I'm fucking working?"

    "Aww, what's this, now? The great Nathaniel Morgan running scared from a few angry monkeys?" Jenna says. You can only see the back of her head from here, but the smirk rings clear in her voice. The mightyena's growling redoubles, saliva frothing from her jaws to the grass below.

    "Fuck you and your asshole friends, Jenna. Now get the hell out of my way unless you want to end up the same as the fucking mankey."

    He makes as if to start forward again, the mightyena stalking ahead, but they both stop when Jenna unclips a pokéball from her belt and tosses it to herself. "So terribly sorry to detain you, your lordship," she says, with a bobbing parody of a curtsy, "but we're here on orders from someone even higher and mightier than yourself, if you can imagine that. See," and the mocking tone drains from her voice, leaving it all steel and malice, "Aiden isn't very pleased with the quality of your 'work.' In fact, he's thinking it has something to do with how the police have been doing a mighty good job of busting our suppliers lately and how half the jobs you work on go all pear-shaped. Because if there's one thing Aiden can't stand--that any of us can't stand, Nate--it's traitors."

    "I ain't no fucking traitor!" the great Nathaniel Morgan roars over mutters of agreement from the lurking teenagers. "That's bullshit! And I'll shove it up Aiden's ass myself the second I get back to base. Unlike certain people I know, I don't need to send six pissant grunts to take care of my own goddamn business. Now get the hell out of my way, Jenna! Last fucking warning!"

    "The reason Aiden sent so many of us after you, Nate, is because he overestimated you," Jenna says in a mock-soothing tone while the rest of her group starts to fan out, moving to surround the great Nathaniel Morgan. You can see his eyes darting around as he looks for an opening. "I mean, nearly losing to a bunch of wild mankey? Talk about disappoin--"

    A yell of "Mightyena!" cuts her off. The dark-type surges towards Jenna while her trainer takes off sideways, trying to outrun the closing cordon of Rockets.

    Jenna's only startled for a moment, and the mightyena, injured as she is, can't reach her before she casts her pokéball to the ground. "Let's go, Ursaring!"

    You shrink closer to the tree trunk as the hulking normal-type appears, catching Mightyena across the face with a slash attack even as she leaps for him, sparks of energy still dancing in his half-solid fur. The attack sends Mightyena sprawling, and she does not rise.

    Meanwhile, one of the other humans calls out a sandshrew to intercept her trainer. The ground-type has no trouble catching the limping human and brings him down with a blow to the back of his knees. The sandshrew's trainer starts to give another command, but Jenna steps in. "Hold. Ursaring, make sure he doesn't run off again."

    The big bear doesn't hurry, and its kind aren't known for their speed, but even so the great Nathaniel Morgan only barely makes it to his feet by the time the ursaring reaches him, recalling his mightyena in a flash of red light. Pathetic. The Rocket should be grateful he'll have you to carry on his name after he dies--at least you'll be able to lend it some small measure of dignity.

    Certainly if it were you staring down nearly six feet of stony-faced bear, you wouldn't sneer up at him and say, "All right, you stupid piece of shit, let's see what you--"

    The ursaring doesn't wait for him to finish, just grabs him by the shoulder and hurls him one-armed into the side of a tree. The normal-type turns a blank expression on his trainer, awaiting further orders.

    The teenagers gather around their injured target, laughing and jeering as the ursaring steadily dismantles him, getting in the occasional kick of their own. The bear operates without apparent interest, a bored expression on his face, and you can't blame him. The whole process is really very dull; it's not as though the great Nathaniel Morgan is able to put up any kind of fight.

    You zone out for a while, the sounds of the beating fading from your awareness as you think of nothing at all, spreading your leaves and quietly photosynthesizing. It's only when the ursaring is recalled and the humans close in around their victim that you bother paying attention again.

    And as soon as you realize what they're up to, you come out of your lethargy with a shock of alarm. They're taking the great Nathaniel Morgan's wallet, his pokémon... his pokédex! It vanishes into the back pocket of one of the Rockets even as you watch. You stifle a growl. Of course they wouldn't leave it to rot out in the wilderness with the great Nathaniel Morgan's corpse. It's nearly as valuable to them as it is to you, and if you don't get it, this whole tedious excursion will have been for nothing.

    But you can't just run down and grab it. You don't like your odds against six trainers, Rockets or not, especially not if they have more pokémon like that ursaring. So. You need a distraction.

    The group saunters back in your direction, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They stop and look up as a shadow passes across the sun, a meteor hurtling low over the forest. It rockets into the trees on the far side of the clearing with a rending crack and an impact that knocks two of the humans off their feet and showers the rest in leaves, twigs, and a surprised squirrel.

    While blue flames burn themselves out in the resulting crater, you let out the loudest roar you can manage from a reconfigured throat, then crouch low against your branch as the humans' heads snap around in your direction.

    "What the fuck was that?"

    "Sounded like a... salamence? Salamence, right?"

    "What would a salamence be doing way out here?"

    Lightning strikes a tree near where the Rockets huddle, and they scatter to avoid a shattered bough that tears down through the canopy. You leap away, putting some distance between yourself and your old perch, and let out another roar, pitched just slightly differently. Then you freeze, wait until their eyes pass indifferent over your new hiding spot, and call quietly on the power of storms.

    "Two of them?" wonders the boy who'd identified the salamence cry earlier.

    "What are they, fighting?"

    "I don't care if they're having a motherfucking church revival up there. We're getting out of here before we find out," Jenna says as dark clouds boil into existence overhead and rain begins to fall. She rubs at her cheek, where a flying piece of debris has scored a long cut.

    "I can't see anything up there," says another girl, and you petulantly send the next thunder attack her way, just for that.

    "No more talking! Everybody move!" Jenna barks after she's picked herself up again. "Nicholson! Where's Nicholson?"

    "There are two salamence out there, and you're just going to run away from them?" asks the golbat's trainer.

    "Look, Mark, if you want to go off and capture those salamence for the glory of Team Rocket and your paycheck, be my guest," Jenna says as she hauls a dazed girl back to her feet. "If you make it back alive, I'll recommend you for a promotion myself. But we gave Morgan what he deserved, so as far as I'm concerned, we're done here. Let's go, people."

    She takes off running in the direction of Fuchsia, and most of the others follow her lead. Mark lingers a moment, staring up into the trees, then turns and follows after.

    You lash out with a burst of telekinetic force and hook the pokédex out of the thief's pocket, and it tumbles into the leaf litter, unnoticed in the scramble to escape. Then you wait a few minutes more, sending an idle draco meteor after the group, just to drive home the point. When the snapping and crashing sounds of the humans' flight have died away and tentative forest noises are returning, you dismiss the storm with a wave of your hand.

    One great jump sets you down next to the pokédex, and you struggle to pry its cover off with clumsy reptilian fingers, too impatient to shift them back towards human. Then it's open and on, its screen glowing, and you start flicking through menus and calling up statistics, drinking in all there is to know about the life that is now yours. You're so engrossed that you don't even notice Absol until she nudges your shoulder.

    You choke and drop the pokédex, twisting left and right as you look for some sign of trouble, the leaves at your wrists flaring in alarm. "Absol! What is it? Is there danger?" Maybe your little show attracted unwanted attention. If so, you don't see it yet.

    "No. No danger to you. But that human is dying." She tips her head sideways, pointing with her blade, and for a second you aren't sure what she's talking about. Your gaze travels out across the clearing to where the ruined corpse of the great Nathaniel Morgan lies.

    "But he's already--"

    "He is not dead. He will be, soon. And he should not be." Absol gets up off her haunches, turns a tight, agitated circle, then sits down again. "It's not right." Up, circle, sit.

    You slowly spread your leaves again, unease prickling at your gut. She's anxious. Absol is actually anxious. You've never seen her show emotion like this before, not even when the volcano was about to annihilate your world--even then, it was efficient professionalism to the last.

    "Absol, what's going on? Why do you care what happens to that Rocket?"

    "His death is not right, but I cannot prevent it. You are the only one who can." A muscle in her shoulder starts twitching, like she's trying to shake a fly, and she turns her head to bite at it.

    "No I can't! I don't know how to save him. What do you want me to do?"

    Absol turns back to you, though the twitch is still going. "You can heal him with your attacks."

    "Healing attacks only work on pokémon, Absol."

    "They work on you, and you are not a pokémon."

    "But I'm not a human, either! I don't know what they'll do to a human. I've never tried it before. It might just make things worse!" You regret the stupid words the instant they leave your mouth.

    Absol glares at you, so venomous you actually flinch away and half raise your hands to shield your face. "You are whining. At the least you can try. Quickly. Now!"

    She lunges at you, and you take off in a stumbling run. You're out of the trees and across the clearing in a matter of seconds, pulling up next to the wreck of a human. Absol follows, her gaze stern, then stops and bends to scratch a sudden itch on her leg with her blade.

    Dismay tightens your chest as your life-sense tells you that Absol is right. The Rocket isn't dead, but he will be, and soon. You glance at Absol, and she stares back, all twisty-sideways as she tries to deal with the itch at the same time. You look down at your patient, and the cold fear in your gut knots tighter. The ursaring was very thorough. You can only begin to guess at all the injuries the man's sustained. It would probably be easier to count the number of bones left intact than the ones that got broken.

    Another pleading glance at Absol receives only a stony, meaningful look in response, so you do your best to quash your fear as you raise your hands in front of your face. Energy surges down your arms, pouring blinding white from your fingertips and gathering between your hands. As you force more of your life energy into the attack, the mass grows, forcing your palms apart until it's roughly the size of a chicken egg.

    You roll the softboiled into your left hand and give it a quick glance over, fighting the wave of exhaustion trying to drag you to your knees. The attack looks fine, faintly glowing through a thin, gelatinous shell that can barely hold back the raw energy within. Fine, but also fleeting; if you don't get this into the Rocket in the next half-minute or so, it will collapse in on itself and fall inert.

    You lean over the man and use your free hand to pull open what's left of his jaw. You drop the softboiled in his mouth and slam it shut again, not troubling to be gentle; a little extra damage from an overzealous push won't make much difference at this point, and it would be far worse to let any of the softboiled's energy escape. Then you sit back on your haunches and watch the Rocket with Absol at your shoulder, waiting for your attack to do whatever it's going to do: heal the human, or burn through his veins and annihilate the last of his spark. Or maybe nothing at all.

    It doesn't take long. After a few seconds you can see the softboiled working, some of the Rocket's minor cuts disappearing, deeper ones starting to clot and scab. All well and good, but his more serious injuries are barely touched, and you slump a little as you realize, half a moment before Absol says it aloud: "That is not enough."

    It's no good arguing now that you've committed to the work, and stopping to think will only make it worse. You flex your fingers, which prickle with faint, itching pain, then draw them up in one swift, determined motion, already sending energy racing down your arms. This time, you really do stagger, panting, as the softboiled takes shape, but your motions are quick and sure as you feed it to the great Nathaniel Morgan--after all the effort that's gone into making it, you can't afford to slip up and drop the thing.

    With the softboiled secured, you release your focus and slump to the ground, gasping for air and digging your burning fingers deep into the cool dirt. And still it isn't enough. The human is like a black hole, sucking up all your energy and tossing it into the void. You meet Absol's stern gaze and force yourself upright to perform the attack a third time.

    And that does it. The Rocket isn't restored, no; he still looks as though he's taken a beating, albeit a less severe one. But he is no longer dying, and at the moment you think that's the best Absol can ask for. You're not sure you could manage another softboiled even if you had to, anyway.

    "Watch him," you say to Absol, much too tired to keep the bite of anger out of your voice. "I'll do more later. Now I need to sleep."

    Absol hesitates only a moment, then bows her head in a brief nod. "Thank you." You grunt and stagger a couple of steps away, then collapse into sudden, heavy slumber.

    --

    You wake ravenous, arms and fingers aching to the bone. The rest of you is sore and weakish, stirring memories of the flu from a whole lifetime ago. But mostly you're hungry, and the big lump of bloody human lying so nearby, faintly breathing, isn't helping.

    Absol is stretched out next to him, watching patiently as you gather yourself. You half want to slide back into a doze, but the hunger is too insistent. "The least you could do after all that is get me something to eat," you growl at Absol without lifting your head from the grass.

    To your immense surprise, she doesn't reprimand you for being rude. She actually rises and says, "I suppose." Then she steps sideways into drifting leaf-shade and vanishes. You find yourself looking at nothing but empty air, deprived of anyone to gripe at. A few seconds later you let out a warbling yell of exasperation and roll onto all fours, sparing only a passing glance for the Rocket. It's clear he's not going anywhere.

    You find the pokédex lying where you dropped it earlier, in that flash of panic when Absol started going crazy. You shake your head as you pick the machine up, brushing a bit of dirt off its cover. You shouldn't have given her the excuse to leave. She might have actually told you what was up if you'd been quick enough to ask, but by the time she gets back you're sure she'll have come up with some evasion or other.

    Your spirits improve once you actually manage to concentrate on the pokédex's data. It comes loaded with six badges--six! Two more than you'd even dared hope for, and more still than you'd really expected to find. Somewhat at odds with what you've witnessed of the great Nathaniel Morgan's abilities, too.

    Your gaze slides back to the convalescent Rocket, and unease stirs in your chest. How long is it going to take him to heal? If you're going to be using his identity, you can't just let him wander around free. He might tell someone about your plans. On the other hand, you don't want to drag a half-dead human along on your journey, either. The inconvenience could easily outweigh the boon of badges you hadn't expected to have.

    Before you can wallow too deeply in melancholy thoughts, Absol steps out of the shade with the food she promised, a rabbit dangling from her teeth. She sets it neatly on the ground in front of you, then watches without expression as you grab it up and toss your head back, swallowing it down in one quick motion. There's a funny sliding feeling as your jaw unhinges to let it pass through whole, and then it's sitting heavy in your stomach, awaking lizardy instincts to crawl off somewhere and digest.

    You can only manage a "thank you" for Absol before you succumb to the urge to rest, scaling the nearest tree and seeking a sunny spot along a branch to settle yourself in. There you relax into a digestive stupor, leaves flared to catch the light and mind gone dozy and distant.

    "Are you just going to go back to sleep?" You blink, shake your head, look down at Absol. She's up on her hind legs, paws braced against the tree trunk, and is staring up at you.

    "What?"

    "I don't understand why you are sitting around doing nothing. I thought you wanted to hurry."

    You shake yourself again and try to gather your thoughts. They're none too charitable, now that your rest has been interrupted. "I did, Absol, but then you decided you wanted me to babysit some Team Rocket member I hoped was going to die. There's no point trying to hurry now. I can't go anywhere until he at least wakes up."

    "You're being petulant." Absol lets go of her grip on the tree with a snick of claws over bark, then starts to pace around its base. "If it means so much to you, you can go out and find another for your scheme. You have no reason to linger here."

    "Absol, I don't have the time to get anybody else. It took me over two weeks to find this one, and that was only because Duskull got lucky."

    It had been much, much harder than you'd expected. Isn't training supposed to be dangerous? Trainers on TV face peril every day, and there's never any shortage of murders to fuel your favorite crime dramas. You thought there'd be plenty of lives for the taking if you were willing to do a little leg work--honestly, you'd been surprised you hadn't encountered any murders in what time you'd spent around humans already.

    But no amount of following children into the wilderness yielded results, and you'd been forced to flee from a trainer's pokémon twice. Checking dumpsters for discarded bodies hadn't gone over any better. Weeks passed, and all you accomplished was to drive Absol to icy uncommunication with your nagging. "I cannot say when simply any human is going to die," she said--repeatedly, you did have to admit. "If I could, then I would be on constant alert. I can only sense the fate of those whose lives are twined with mine--and the more distant the connection, the weaker my awareness."

    It wasn't fair that she wouldn't help, especially because it was her own fault that you were scrounging for another body in the first place. Absol and her stupid rules.

    None of your old souls were suitable. You needed someone new, someone no one, or at least no one connected with the League, knew was dead. Someone who'd perished in an out-of-the-way place and wouldn't be discovered for a couple of weeks. You hadn't thought that too much to ask. All you needed was for some human to walk into a convenient ravine and die--how unlikely could that be? In the end you'd found someone--well, Duskull had--and of course, Absol had come along to ruin that, too, babbling something about Fate like always.

    "If you do not have time, then perhaps it would be better to abandon this nonsense. There is no reason for you to take another's life for your piece of folly. You can go to the Plateau as some imagined person, and I will see to it you find your brother."

    You already pointed out challengers need a valid license, and only challengers have access to the trainer's village where the Champion will be staying. And there's no point getting to the Plateau early, since there's nothing you can do until he arrives anyway. It only makes sense to spend your extra time on making getting to him easier.

    But Absol's heard all this before, and you don't expect her to change her mind. The truth is, none of these is the real reason, and she knows it. "It's not nonsense, and I know I don't need to, Absol. I want to, and I want you to either tell me why you have a problem with it or stop getting in my way."

    "I don't know what you're talking about. I see no reason to stop you from entering the tournament if you want. That does not mean I think it is a good idea. How am I getting in your way?"

    "This... That. What's up with this guy?" You gesture to the great Nathaniel Morgan. "Absol, I've never seen you act like that before. You almost seemed... scared."

    Absol turns her stare on the unconscious Rocket. "Him? He has nothing to do with anything. But we must always try to prevent the world turning aside from Fate, no matter how small the transgression." She pauses, then shakes her head, as if to drive away an insect.

    "Absol, you're doing it again. Come on, I know it isn't nothing. You're acting all funny." A thought occurs to you. "Or is it not about this at all? Is it something else?" An icy certainty freezes your bones as you start to realize: "You--you're not sick or something, are you?"

    Absol snorts and says, "Of course not. You are being foolish. There is nothing wrong."

    You still feel cold and shaky, and you want to crush down your feelings, make them all go away, but you can't concentrate on that or anything else right now. You find yourself stammering out the truth instead, voice small and quivering. "Absol, why won't you tell me what's going on? You're scaring me."

    Absol tips her head to the side and stares at you, and you realize in a flash of exasperated relief that she's genuinely puzzled. Then she leans forward and gives you a quick nudge on the shoulder with her nose. "Well. I did not mean to frighten you. I'm sorry, but it really is nothing. Nothing you need to worry about."

    "But you were worried about it. Why were you worried?"

    Absol turns away from you, so quick you think she must have seen something out in the forest and jerk around to stare yourself. But she's just looking blankly at the trees, thinking. After a few seconds her claws tighten in a death-clutch on the earth, and she says slowly, distantly, "I cannot explain it to you. It was a shadow on the water's face. I saw it. I don't know how to explain it. That is what it was. A shadow on the water's face."

    "And that's... bad."

    "Yes." She turns back to you and gives you another bump on the shoulder. "But you stopped it, like I asked you to. So it is nothing to worry about. And thank you for helping."

    You catch her before she can pull away again and hug her around the neck while she tries to wiggle out of your grip. "That's okay. I just wish you could tell me what was going on. Do you think another one of those water... face... darkness things is going to happen again?"

    She tops shaking out her mane and stares at you, then says slowly, "That depends on you." When all she receives in response is a perplexed look, she elaborates, "Because the water doesn't have a face unless you're looking into it."

    "Absol, if you meant 'reflection,' you should have just said it."

    She gets a faraway look and thinks again for a minute. "Would you have understood what I meant if I had?"

    You have to admit it's still frustratingly metaphorical. "No."

    Absol nods briefly. "Better to call it what it is, then," she says. "Now, I must be going. Whatever you choose from here, you have done well." She turns aside.

    "Absol, wait. I still need to sleep. I need you to stay here and watch--" But she steps into shadow and out of sight, and you're left talking to a shaft of sunlight falling between the leaves overhead.

    You snort and turn away. Aches are creeping back into your joints, a fog settling over your mind as your body demands you rest. For you, it's a safe enough proposition; not so much for the human. You cast him a resentful glare. He's already attracting flies, and if something larger and hungrier arrives while you're distracted, all the effort you went to in saving his life will be wasted.

    As a sludgy haze of lethargy descends over your mind, you decide it's an acceptable risk. It's not like you really want him to stay alive--just the opposite, actually. If Absol doesn't want something scavenging him, then she can show up to stop it herself.

    Feeling sluggishly, vindictively satisfied with that, you make your heavy way back up the tree and out onto a branch, and let yourself slip into blissful uncaring for several hours more.

    --

    You return to yourself in late evening, prodded back to alertness by insistent cramps and, again, the demands of your stomach. The sun is sunk behind the trees, their shade gone deep and cold, and the cloud tatters overhead are tinted a blushing pink. You close your eyes and stretch, luxuriating in the feeling of being returned to full strength.

    Meanwhile, the Rocket's still unconscious, lying in exactly the same attitude as you left him. He isn't dead, you're disappointed to see. But he's acquired a new companion.

    You jump down from your perch and rush across the clearing. "Duskull, Duskull!" The red glow of the ghost's eye rolls in your direction while the rest of his body bobs in place. "There you are. Where'd you go off to, then?"

    The ghost grumbles something barely audible and drifts in your direction, eye roving back and forth in his skull. "Thank you for not following me earlier. I told you, Duskull, you shouldn't hang around near Team Rocket. It's dangerous. What if one of them saw you?"

    Duskull grumbles and scoots away from you, waving his tendrils dismissively. You shake your head. It's an old argument, and not one you have the patience for right now. Instead you look down at the Rocket, considering.

    "This is so stupid. He looks exactly the same as he did this morning." You know it takes longer for humans to heal than pokémon--much longer, even. But you think he should have at least woken up by now. Prodding him with a toe yields no response. Duskull watches as you select a finger you can tell is broken and lean your weight on it. Not even a twitch. If the Rocket is playing dead, he's an incredible actor. You let out a hiss of disgust and flop to the ground next to the man, staring at him through the frame of your knees. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

    Duskull gurgles quietly. "Yes, this is the guy they were going to kill. But of course, they're Rockets, so they managed to screw it all up, and then Absol made me heal him for some stupid reason, and now he's just lying there." You spread your hands in exasperation.

    Duskull watches the early night-insects investigating the great Nathaniel Morgan's wounds for a bit. Then his eye turns to you, and he mutters something half to himself.

    "No, Duskull. I told you I don't want you hanging around those guys." The chirp of crickets fills your pause. "I mean, you don't know if... they have a hit out on anybody else right now?"

    Duskull wags his body side to side. "Then no. It's too dangerous." For a while the two of you remain in silent contemplation of the human. Then you push back to your feet with a gusty sigh. "Look, you mind watching him for me? I don't think he'll go anywhere, but I don't want anything to come along and eat him, you know?"

    Duskull's only response is to retreat most of the way into the tree trunk over the Rocket's head, only the red orb of his eye floating outside it, his skull mask nothing more than a suggestive whorl in the tree's bark. "Thanks," you say, then close your eyes in brief concentration, jumping back to the abandoned building not far from the forest's edge where you hid your supplies.

    Back in the clearing, you unroll the sleeping bag you packed more out of a sense of obligation than anything--you don't mind sleeping on the ground--and drape it over the great Nathaniel Morgan. You don't relish the idea of trying to get him inside it, so you decide he'll simply have to deal with being cold. If it bothers him so much, he can always wake up and climb in himself. After that, you seek out a couple birds to take the edge off your hunger, then become Charmeleon, the warmth of your fire sac and the flame burning on your tail driving back the chill of the late-summer night.

    You take one last look at the great Nathaniel Morgan, Duskull's eye hanging over him like a ruddy night-light, and have to stifle a hot surge of irritation. If he doesn't wake by morning, you'll try one more softboiled on him. If that fails, he'll be on his own and you'll look to your other, dwindling options. With that resolved, you settle down in a nest of leaf litter, curled in around the flame on your tail, and sleep.
    Last edited by Negrek; 3rd May 2015 at 7:24 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

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  11. #36
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    Ahhh...he saved the Rocket. I was wondering if he'd do that. If he didn't he'd come off as kind of evil, so I'm glad he did.

    More cursing, but I guess criminals wouldn't use the nicest language.

    I wonder what makes Nathaniel Morgan "great."
    † I am a Christian and proud of it! Copy and paste this into your sig if you are too.†

  12. #37
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    Hey, good to see you back again.

    Ahhh...he saved the Rocket. I was wondering if he'd do that. If he didn't he'd come off as kind of evil, so I'm glad he did.
    It did, yeah. For what it's worth, though, I don't give it many points for that one--it would've quite happily sat back and done nothing if it weren't for Absol snapping at it. To earn good person points, in my book, you have to do a good thing because you wanted to, not because someone else was making you!

    More cursing, but I guess criminals wouldn't use the nicest language.
    Yeah, they're a pretty coarse bunch, generally speaking.

    I wonder what makes Nathaniel Morgan "great."
    We-ell, that was actually sarcasm. At least in Jenna's opinion, he's anything but.

    Thanks for reviewing!

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

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  13. #38
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    Author's Notes: This chapter hasn't changed a great deal in revision, aside from no longer being two posts long, but if you'd like to read the original version you can find it here.

    Chapter 7

    The stars are disappearing into the warm gray of a lightening sky, and the birds are trying to sing the sun up. For a few groggy seconds you think they're the ones that woke you. You're about to shut them up with a little song of your own when Duskull drops down in front of your face, eye pulsing slowly on and off. "Oh," you say, the smile sliding off your face.

    You scramble to your feet and hurry towards the Rocket, Duskull drifting behind like a tiny storm cloud, then stop. You need to do this right. You need to be careful. You tickle your voice box low enough for human speech, tongue and teeth rearranging. The spitting flare of your tail flame sinks back to a faint glow as you school yourself to calm, and you hold it close behind you as you start walking again. From the Rocket's perspective, you should be nothing more than a silhouette. You expect this conversation will be difficult enough without him getting a good look at you.

    You can hear him moving, tentatively, making faint noises of pain, but he stops as you get close. "I know you are awake," you say. "There is no point in pretending."

    He stays still and silent. You let out a smoky huff of irritation and swat him lightly on the side of the head. His eyes fly open as a gash reopens and spills sluggish blood into his ear.

    "Gah! What the fuck was--" he starts, jerking away from you. The motion turns to a wince of pain, and he hisses a long string of curses between his teeth as, with delicate slowness, he settles back into a relaxed position.

    "I do not have time to play games. I have a proposal for you, and I require your attention. Do you understand?"

    "You're fucking insane," he croaks. You take a reflexive step back as you see his eye, no more than a slit in the midst of a receding shiner, glinting in the light of your tail flame. "What in the fuck is going on here? Who the hell are you?"

    "What is going on is I am giving you the opportunity to save your worthless life. Pay attention."

    "Fuck you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is." He has to take a second to get his breath back before plunging on. "And you didn't answer the fucking question: who the fuck are you?"

    You consider possible responses while he lifts himself ever so slightly and peers around the clearing, squinting in the half-light. "Hey! Where the fuck are you? Just gonna set your pokémon on me while you hide out somewhere, asshole?"

    "No. I am standing right in front of you. Now, if we can return to what I was actually trying to say--"

    "You can return all you like, but I ain't going with you until you tell me just who in the fuck you are." He stares hard at everything but you and Duskull, still searching for a lurking human.

    "You will be quiet and listen to what I say or--"

    "Or what? Bring it on, you cowardly little bitch, I ain't scared of--"

    "I said be quiet or I will--"

    "What, you'll get your pokémon to do your dirty work 'cause you're too much of a fucking pussy to--"

    Irritation burns in your chest, flammable gases evolving, temperature rising. "Shut up!" you roar, and flames gush out with the words, setting the leaves at your feet alight. You realize your mistake as the great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes widen. You stand there silent and mortified, cringing at the dry-leaf rustle of Duskull's laughter.

    "Christ," the great Nathaniel Morgan breathes, staring into the returning darkness. "That's no fucking charmeleon. Fuck who are you--what the fuck are you?"

    "I am me. Not that that is important. What is important is that I want your help."

    Through a long string of ginger movements he manages to get one hand up to clutch at his head, and he's muttering to himself, a breathless stream of words you have to turn up your hearing to make out. "...so fucked. Like thanks for the fucking head injuries asshole, I wasn't up shit creek already without fucking seeing things..."

    "Pay attention!"

    He closes his eyes and sighs.

    "I said pay attention!" You're on him in a second, knocking his hand out of the way and ignoring his cry of pain as you jostle unknown wounds, putting your face so close to his that the heat of your breath blisters his skin. "Look at me!"

    He cracks open desperately watering eyes, and you straighten up again, staring down into his face. "Now. I am not a hallucination. I am very real, and I do not like to be ignored. If you want to continue living, I suggest that you listen to what I am saying."

    The Rocket twitches, like he's going to try and strike you, but can only subside with a choked noise of discomfort. You glare at him for a second, then go on when he doesn't try anything else. "Now. Once again, I have a request for you. I want to use your identity in order to take the gym challenge, and I need you to come with me as I do. If you agree to those terms, I will spare your life and return your identity to you after I finish the Indigo League Tournament. What is your answer?"

    He's quiet for so long you're about to press him again, but at last he takes a wheezing breath and says, even softer than before, "Look, I still don't even know what in the fuck is going on here. I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm fucking cold, and I feel like a bunch of snorlax have been doing the fucking conga all over my body, okay? I'm having a little trouble concentrating on your fucking offer, get me?"

    You let your breath hiss out between your teeth, hoping it will take some of your aggravation with it. "I have food. I have water. I will give them to you if you agree to my terms."

    "How about no, food first, and then we fucking talk?"

    "You are in no position to be making demands. Will you come with me or not?"

    He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the trunk. After a second he says, "Look, could I just get some fucking water? Fucking 'please,' all right? Then I'll listen to your bullshit offer or whatever, swear to God."

    You bare your teeth at him and spit out another half-flaming breath, but when he doesn't react, you give up and stomp over to your pack. You can tell he's watching as you rummage out your water and storm back over, the tiniest slit of eyes showing under his lids, but he's not prepared when you upend the canteen over his face.

    "Hey! What--" he splutters, then coughs and sits glaring at you for a second, licking moisture off split and swollen lips.

    "There is your water. If you want more, you will listen to what I have to say."

    "Yeah, yeah, I get it," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls. "Bastard. Fine. Let's just get this shit over with already."

    "Yes. As I said. I need you to accompany me on my journey. I am going to take on your identity and use your pokédex to earn the last two badges. Then I will enter the Indigo League Tournament. Once it is over, I will return your pokédex to you, and you will be free to go. All I ask for is your cooperation over the next three weeks."

    "Whoah, whoah, whoah," he says. "Hold up. Badges? The fucking League finals?" His face twists into a hideous smirk, shattered teeth glinting bloody in the growing light. "What the fuck is this? Splice-boy wants to be a motherfucking pokémon master?"

    "Splice-boy?"

    "Oh, come the fuck on," he says, smirk growing wider. "You're obviously some kind of ugly mutant thing. I mean, whatever lab you escaped from"--his smile falters for a second, and his eyes widen. You wait in confusion as he groans, "Oh, fuck, that's it, ain't it? You're some escaped freak they were cooking up down in the labs, huh? And now you're free, you're going to get your revenge on Team Rocket or some shit, like liberate your mutie brothers and sisters and start a revolution, am I right? Well, forget about it, I got nothing to do with that shit..."

    "I am not an experiment."

    "...don't even like scientists, those nerds give me the fucking creeps. I mean, yeah, sure, I know some guys who were in on the whole Mewtwo thing, but who the fuck doesn't? Like--"

    "Be quiet. I am not a mutant. I am not a Rocket experiment. I am me, and I am doing this for my own reasons."

    "What, fucking with me? Because you want my identity? What, you think you can just walk into a gym or something, show my fucking pokédex, and they'll let you in?"

    "They will if I look like you."

    He stares at you for a moment, then bursts into actual laughter. It only lasts a second before it turns into coughing, wrenching noises that shake his whole body. He's gasping for air but trying hard not to breathe, curling in over smashed ribs and choking back the wracking noise. "Come the fuck on, Freak," he says as the fit subsides, barely above a whisper. "I might be ugly, but I ain't that fucking ugly. What are you, some kind of master of fucking disguise?"

    "Yes."

    He blinks up at you, then lets his head fall back against the tree trunk with a careful sigh. "Fine," he says. "You know what? That can be your fucking problem. But I still don't know how the fuck you expect me to be going anywhere in time for the goddamned finals, hell, anywhere for like fucking weeks."

    "Why not? If you have some other plans, you will have to cancel them. This is more important."

    "What the fuck are you talking about, retard? Plans? Hell yeah I got plans, like, you know, lying around in a fucking hospital, high out of my mind on painkillers, until I can fucking walk again, shit like that."

    "You mean you need more time to heal."

    "Yes! Yes, that's what I'm fucking talking about. I can hardly fucking move over here, and everything hurts like a motherfucker. I ain't going nowhere, with you or nobody else."

    You barely suppress a growl of frustration. Pathetic. "Fine. I will heal you, and then you will join me."

    "Oh, right, heal me, you'll just fucking heal me, with your magic mutant fairy dust, that it?"

    "No. Softboiled."

    "What, they drop you on your head when they were pulling you out of the fucking test tube, or what? That don't work on humans, dipshit."

    "Mine does. That is what I used to heal you earlier."

    "Heal me 'earlier?' Yeah, some fucking fantastic job you did of that, didn't you? I mean, fuck, I can't even move my fucking arm, here."

    "I saved your life. You owe me your cooperation."

    "I don't owe you shit, even if you are telling the truth." He takes a fortifying breath and starts again, a little stronger. "Look. You fuck off and leave me here, and I swear to God I'll forget I ever met you. Hell, I'm already trying to forget I ever met you. You can have my fucking identity, sure, fine, fucking peachy. Not like I was going to be able to use it anymore, anyway. Which is another thing. The whole reason we're having this fucking delightful conversation in the first place is Team Rocket decided they didn't like my fucking face and wanted to put me six fucking feet under. Guess they kinda fucked it up, but all that means is they're going to be after you if you go around pretending to be me--"

    "I know."

    He breaks off in confusion. Then, "What the fuck are you talking about? You 'know?'"

    "Yes. I was following the Rockets when they came to get you. How did you think I found you in the first place?"

    "What? Hold the fuck up, you were just hanging out watching while those morons beat the shit out of me? And you didn't do jack about it?"

    "Of course not. If I had interfered they would have started attacking me, stupid. Besides, you are a Rocket yourself. I am sure you deserved it."

    His face twists into another one of those awful smiles, and his shoulders twitch with suppressed laughter. "My fucking hero. Well, whatever. What I was trying to say in the first place is that we should just go our separate fucking ways. I swear I won't ever tell nobody about you and your crazy fucking plan, and you can just go off and do whatever the fuck you want. Sound good?"

    "No. You will accompany me."

    He starts what sounds like a growl, but it nearly turns into a cough, and he chokes it down, bottles it up inside. When he goes on, it is in a carefully neutral tone. "Why the hell do you care so much about that? What the fuck do you even think I'm going to do to you? I already fucking told you, I'm gonna be fucking hospitalized for longer than your stupid-ass little adventure is going to take." He doesn't quite manage to hold in another cough, and it takes him a while to pick up his train of thought. "God, you haven't got any meds on you, do ya?"

    "No. And I do not trust you. I cannot afford to leave any loose ends. You will come with me so that I can watch you and be sure that you do not betray me."

    "Look, seriously, what the fuck are you even planning to do? Carry me?"

    "If necessary."

    "Are you--are you fucking--?" He shivers a little, like he wants to move but hurts too much. "For fuck's sake, who am I even going to 'betray' you to, anyway? You think I'm going to go to the fucking police or some shit? Who the hell would even believe me? They'd just lock me up in the goddamn psych ward, come on."

    As well they might. Most people probably wouldn't believe his story. But there is one, you know, who would, one person whose ears it can never be allowed to reach.

    "It could be anyone. Your Rocket friends, perhaps. I cannot risk it."

    "Rocket friends? You mean the fuckers who just tried to kill me?" He glares at you. You stare back and wait. "Look, the answer is 'no,' got it? Drag me along with you or whatever, I guess, if you can fucking manage it. But first chance I get I'm screaming as loud as I can and at least when they come to take me away they'll get you too, you piece of shit."

    "You will not."

    "And why the fuck not?"

    "Because if you start to do so, I will kill you."

    He grimaces and shifts his weight against the trunk. "Then might as well save us both some time and bump me off right now, Freak."

    You flex your claws and lash your tail, letting its flame leap higher, spitting and popping with your anger. But though Absol isn't here, you can imagine her displeasure well enough. For the moment, at least, your desire to stay on her good side stops you going farther. "Stop being stupid," you snarl at the Rocket. "You have nothing to gain by being stubborn. If you cooperate, we both benefit."

    "Yeah? Funny, I still haven't heard how the fuck I benefit from letting some psycho freak bastard push me around."

    "If you cooperate, I will make sure you live."

    "Oh, right, after you've threatened to kill me like every two goddamn seconds. I believe the shit out of that one."

    You stare each other down for another few seconds. Finally, gritting your teeth, you hiss out, "Very well. What do you want from me?"

    "I want you to fuck off and find some other poor bastard to push around. I've got more important things to do than run around on your fucking stupid badge quest."

    Your tail flame surges higher, its heat beating on the back of your neck. The smoke from your nostrils stings your eyes, and you tremble with the effort of not unleashing a flamethrower straight into the Rocket's ugly face. A few stray licks of flame spit from your mouth as you snarl, "Fine. I will leave you here, and maybe if you are lucky you will manage to crawl back to Fuchsia before you starve or something eats you. Otherwise, good luck doing your 'more important things' when you are dead. At least Team Rocket will be happy that they got what they wanted in the end."

    You whirl around and stomp away, feeling darkly pleased. The human's sure to die if you leave him on his own, and then you'll be able to use his face and his pokédex without fear of repercussion, at least from the law. As far as you're concerned, Team Rocket coming after you is a bonus. Then you won't have to waste time looking for them later.

    And it's fair as fair can be. You gave him a chance to save himself--not even Absol could argue with that--and he threw it back in your face. Let her grumble about shadows and mirrors all she likes; if anybody is trying to thwart Fate here, it's obviously the accursed human himself.

    You're brought up short by a stab of pain as your tail pulls taut. Without even thinking you spin back and lash out at whatever's caught you. The human yelps and lets go, staring at the gashes down the inside of his arm.

    "Agh! What the fuck--"

    "Don't touch me," you snarl, then pause to lick the blood off your claws. "We are done here. You did not accept my offer, so I have nothing more to say to you."

    The Rocket tears his gaze away from the bright blood welling out of his new wounds. "Oh, we're done, are we? I don't fucking think so. Guess the fuck what, Freak? I changed my mind. You want to go on some fucking stupid master journey? What the fuck, I guess I'll come with you. Should be one hell of a laugh if nothing else."

    You're snorting hot embers now and only just manage to grate out, "And why have you changed your mind so suddenly?"

    He tries another smirk, but some twinge of pain stops him, and he only manages a faint grimace. "Oh, I dunno, Freak. Call it a little fucking revenge. You want me to come along on your goddamn journey? Fine, you get your fucking wish, and I get to make your life hell the entire way."

    You stand there for a few moments, concentrating on breathing while your anger sears the back of your throat. In the end you say only, "Good. You had better be ready to move in three hours."

    "Are you fucking insane? Look at me, moron. How the hell do you expect me to go anywhere in three days? Three hours? You gotta be fucking kidding me."

    Looking him over, you must admit he has a point. What you can see of him is variously bruised, lacerated, smashed, or bleeding, sometimes multiple at once. His movements are slow and careful, and he has to stop periodically, whether from fatigue or pain you can't be sure. You're surprised he was able to move quick enough to grab you.

    "Very well," you say tightly. You clench a fist and exert all your will to force healing energy through it, rather than the fire that so desperately wants to leap from your scales.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan watches quietly, for once, as the softboiled takes shape in your palm, forcing your claws open as it grows. "What the fuck," he mutters. "How the hell does a charmeleon--wait, what are you doing? Oh, n-no, that's okay, I can do that myse--agghwhulp!"

    There's no way you'd trust the Rocket to handle the softboiled, weak and clumsy as he is. What if he'd dropped it? That would be all your energy lost for nothing. So you hold his mouth shut to keep him from spitting the egg out and wait until his thrashing becomes noticeably stronger. He grabs your arm and tries to wrench it away.

    You let go of him and easily twist out of his grasp while he sputters and gasps, "If you ever touch me again, Freak, I'll rip your balls off and shove them down your fucking throat, got it?"

    You incline your head. "The same to you." But he isn't listening. Instead he's flexing his fingers in front of his face, wincing.

    "Ugh, that stings like a motherfucker. Hey!" He shudders faintly and looks down at the sleeping bag covering his other arm, then shoves it aside. "Some shitty job of healing me. I still can't move my... Oh, shit."

    You're barely paying attention, rolling your shoulders and flexing your claws to work the ache out of your muscles, but the Rocket's tone gives you pause. He goes on, a bit breathless. "Oh, shit. You didn't... You didn't splint my arm or nothing before you fixed it, did you?"

    "Splint it? What are you talking about?"

    "Shit," he says, so quiet you can hardly hear. "Oh, shit. I think it healed wrong."

    "Healed wrong?" All your anger returns in a flash, setting tail and teeth blazing. "Heal wrong? What do you mean, 'heal wrong?' How could that possibly happen?"

    There's naked fear in his eyes, and he flinches away from you. You dig your claws into the earth and force yourself calm again, evaporating your fire into smoke while the Rocket babbles in the background like the fool he is. "I don't know! Do I look like a fucking doctor to you? All I know is my fucking arm should not be... like that, okay? No need to get all pissy at me about it."

    You climb over him to get a better look, ignoring his groan as your weight settles on his chest. And it's true. His arm hasn't healed properly: it's still all crooked and jutting in the middle.

    The worthless human can't do anything right. You curse Absol again for putting you in this situation. "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

    "Fix it, duh. You really are fucking stupid, aren't you?"

    "What if I choose not to? You do not need this arm to travel. The other works."

    "Are you fucking kidding me? God, you're such an asshole. Look, my arm isn't the only thing that's broken, okay? I'm pretty sure, at least. Let's just say I'm not going to be doing much fucking walking in the near future, you get me?"

    Of course. You glare down at his ill-healed arm. To make matters worse, you think you do remember seeing a few humans wearing funny contraptions on injured limbs, bulky casts or slings. Things to keep them from moving around too much, to hold bones in their proper place. Plot points. You hadn't expected to deal with that sort of nonsense yourself--but then, you hadn't expected to deal with many humans, either.

    "Fine. I did it wrong the first time. But I will get it right now."

    You use a foot to brace his arm just above the knot of bone that holds it at its strange angle, and the Rocket starts to sputter. "Hey, what're you--no, no, don't--"

    You jerk up on the free end of his arm, and the mishealed joint snaps again after only a moment of resistance. The Rocket's scream makes you jump, but it's cut mercifully short. You poke him with a claw and discover he's fainted.

    That's a relief. Now you won't have to put up with his sniveling while you work. You search the human for more breaks, made thorough by your irritation. Once you've undone all the false reattachments and gotten the bones in line as best you can, you stuff another softboiled into the Rocket's face.

    Shaky and nauseous, you're short with Duskull when he complains about being asked to watch the man again--it isn't really fair, and you could have someone else do the job, but you're too tired to explain the situation to your other pokémon. You drag yourself to the other side of the clearing and collapse, seething with resentment as you consider the work ahead of you. Honestly, this human is so useless he can't even die properly.

    At least he's given you an excuse to go shopping. You'll need clothes for the both of you, more food, extra supplies. You packed for five, not six, and that means heading into the city for a while. And then perhaps the Rocket can provide you with a bit of entertainment.

    After all, you only told Duskull to be sure nothing bothered the great Nathaniel Morgan, not to make sure he didn't run off. You hope that when you return tomorrow you'll find the ghost waiting alone.
    Last edited by Negrek; 3rd May 2015 at 7:26 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  14. #39
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    Author's Note: Last chapter of the year. Much more reasonably-sized this time, and practically on time to boot!

    This chapter changed a bit during revision. If you'd like to read the original version, you can find it here.

    Chapter 8

    "Good morning."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan starts and looks around. It takes him a while to catch sight of you, even though you aren't trying to hide, just standing with a screen of trees between you. You haven't been trying to hide for nearly twenty minutes, and still he didn't notice you until you spoke up.

    They call humans "the most dangerous game," don't they? A gross exaggeration, at least in this one's case. There'd be more fun in tracking slowpoke, and they're stupider than dirt. You shouldn't have hoped, of course. This human is a constant disappointment.

    Even now he doesn't look ready to put up a fight, staring at you with mouth half hanging open, eyes wide as he makes faint choking noises. "You are not very good at this. Did you think that I would let you just walk away? If you remember our agreement--"

    He bolts. You watch him go for a second, considering. Judging by his horrible, teetering run, he's probably only going to end up falling, injuring himself, and requiring more fixing. Tedious.

    You overtake him in a matter of seconds, reaching out to grab him before he crashes into you. "I will not allow you to run away, either."

    He tries to twist out of your hold, but you simply tighten your grip until he grits his teeth and stops struggling. You wait while he tries to gasp something out, taking the shallowest breaths possible and hunched over ribs that must still be sore. "What... What the fuck are you? Let... Let go of me, you fucking..."

    "I told you before. I am me. Now, can I let you go, or are you going to try and escape again?"

    He sags a bit, still panting and trying not to pant at the same time. "What, you're that... that fucking charmeleon thing? No fucking way... No fucking way..."

    "I said I would look like you. Did you not believe me?"

    "That's... not..." He suddenly throws himself backwards, trying to wrench out of your grasp, but even caught off-guard you have no trouble bracing yourself against his struggles. "If you keep being difficult, I will have to paralyze you. Calm down."

    "Calm down? I'm barely alive over here and I'm getting fucking attacked by my fucking evil twin. How the fuck am I supposed to calm down?"

    "I am not your evil twin. If we are twins, you are clearly the evil one because you are a member of Team Rocket."

    "Oh, right. Let's ignore the fact that you're some kind of bad-trip demon thing that keeps going on about how it wants to murder me, yeah, clearly I'm the evil one here."

    "I am not interested in listening to you babble nonsense. You are evil." He starts to argue, but you cut him short with a quick shake. "I said I am not interested in listening to you. Now, I am going to let you go. If you try to run off again, I will make it so you cannot run. Do you understand?"

    A slow smile spreads over his face, horrible and too wide, not reaching his eyes. "Sure, why not? Buddies for life, right, Evil Twin?" To your confused horror, he starts giggling, madly and convulsively.

    You let go of him and watch in disgust as he doubles over, unable to stop his strangled laughter, chest heaving fitfully and tears streaming from his eyes. Even when the spell passes and he's able to stand straight again, that awful grin stays in place, strained and painful and somehow threatening.

    In the end it falls to you to fill the uncomfortable silence. "Well. Good. I am glad we understand each other. Now, before we go any further, you need new clothing. What you are wearing now will attract too much attention."

    "What? Can't you just magic it better? You know, like... woooo..." He waves a hand vaguely, then sinks into another painful laughing fit.

    "Are you brain damaged?" you ask while he's trying to recover. Perhaps your healing abilities had side effects. How on Earth are you supposed to deal with this?

    "No, no," he chokes. "I'm just getting told off by some asshole mutant thing that looks like me and claims it saved my life so it can take the fucking League challenge and become a pokémon master. It's all just so fucking sane, I can't take it anymore!" You clench your hands into fists as he gags on his own mirth.

    "Shut up! Shut up, shut up," you snarl, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and hauling him upright. Scales spread down your arm and claws slide from your fingers, shredding the fabric. That, at least, is enough to shut the human up. His grin vanishes as he stares down at your sudden talons.

    "What... What the fuck?" He struggles against your grip, and you shove him away, letting him stumble to a shaky halt.

    You're going about this all wrong, somehow. You tried to make this as straightforward as possible, but whether the human's stupid or intentionally misunderstanding you, he simply isn't getting the picture. Concentrating mightily, you gather what few references you have for this sort of situation and line the words up in your head. Then, very slowly and carefully, you recite, "Listen, pal. You've made good friends with some bad people, but if we stick together, we'll get through this thing just fine. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, capiche? Whaddaya say? Partners?"

    For a few seconds he just stares at you, and then, to your horror, dissolves into another fit of hitching giggles. "Oh, God," he gasps out at last. "What the hell. Might as well enjoy the trip while it lasts, right? You want to go for a walk through the fucking magic woods or some shit? Fine. Lead on, Evil Twin, lead on."

    You consider the human as he tries to recover. It's a "yes," anyway. That's probably the best you can hope for. "Good. I have no intention of hurting you, but if you continue to be a nuisance, you will end up injured. Now." You pull some clothes out of your pack and hand them to him. "Put these on. I have food and water for you--I am sure you are hungry. You can have them once you have changed."

    You step away from him and watch as he blinks tears out of his eyes and, frowning, starts picking through the clothes. Slowly he says, "This is the same shit you're wearing, isn't it?"

    "Yes." Pause. "Is that a problem?"

    That horrible smirk of his is broad enough to show the angular stubs of teeth. "Oh, no," he says, and a spasm of suppressed laughter shivers through him. "No there's nothing fucking weird about that. You're definitely not my fucking evil twin, huh?"

    "Right. I am not."

    You try and puzzle out what the great Nathaniel Morgan finds so funny while he finishes shuffling through the clothing. "Hey. A little fucking privacy, here?" he asks when he sees you looking.

    "What do you mean?"

    "Oh, so now you want to fucking watch me get naked too? Just what the fuck is your problem? Look, I don't know if this is all some kind of sick power trip to you, but--"

    Oh, right. You forgot about humans and their taboo against nudity--you don't usually bother with clothes yourself. You like dressing up, though, especially in bright colors, or clothes with your favorite cartoon characters on them. Unfortunately, this morning's shopping trip failed to turn up any Transformozords shirts in the great Nathaniel Morgan's size.

    "I have no interest in your body. I simply do not wish to turn my back on you."

    "Oh, yeah, sure, I totally buy that one, you sick fuck. Tell me, you do this kind of thing often, or am I just so lucky to be the one who--"

    "Fine. Fine. I will turn around, and you will change clothes, and if you try anything else, you will regret it." And you do turn, glaring off into the trees and keeping ears wide open for any sign of an attempt at attack or escape.

    But the human only mutters, "Fine. Fucking whatever, then." There's the rustle of fabric and the occasional hiss of pain, and in your boredom you notice you haven't changed back the arm you transformed earlier, which glints teal and scaly in the sunlight. You massage it back to the right shape and rub your fingers together to drive out the last of the tingling. Finally the great Nathaniel Morgan announces, "There. Done. Now where's the goddamned food?"

    You turn back around and give the Rocket a critical look over. The new clothes do help, and they cover most of his injuries. The unreasonable number of softboileds you stuffed down his throat left only a few fading bruises and scabby cuts behind, but he's still covered in blood and dirt, and the skin underneath is pale and loose-looking, like it's a size too big.

    It's a start. At least the human doesn't look like he got run over by a tyranitar while out on a killing spree anymore. You unsling your pack and dig out a sandwich. "Catch."

    He drops his old clothes to fumble the sandwich out of the air, and in a matter of seconds he's managed to tear the plastic open with his teeth and is devouring the contents in huge bites. You can't help but be impressed as you stand there with the rest of his lunch in your hands--just an apple, an energy bar, and a water bottle. You probably should have anticipated his appetite--using softboiled certainly left you hungry, and all things considered it was probably harder on him.

    He walks up to you with one hand out, and you silently pass over the rest of the food. The great Nathaniel Morgan takes it without pausing in his destruction of the sandwich, and you leave him to it while you deal with his old clothes. You pick them gingerly out of the grass, trying to ignore the smell of blood, then set them alight with a wash of heat from your palms.

    A choking noise makes you glance back at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who was gnawing at the apple with the good side of his jaw. He's caught in a fit of coughing, and you watch impassively as he splutters and chokes, going through the usual contortions of pain. The fire burns itself out in the meantime, leaving you holding no more than a few smoldering tatters of fabric. You drop the ashy remains in the grass and stomp them out.

    "How the fuck did you do that?" the great Nathaniel Morgan wheezes at last.

    "You thought I was a charmeleon, remember? Would you be surprised if a charmeleon did that?"

    "No, but you ain't no fucking charmeleon, duh. Where did the fucking fire even come from?"

    You shrug. "From the same place as all fire attacks, I suppose. Now come on. I want to get to Fuchsia by afternoon."

    "Oh, nice. Real helpful, asshole. Do you get off on being a mysterious dickhead, or what?"

    You ignore him and step forward, reaching out to catch his arm. He jerks away and snarls, "What the fuck are you doing? You want to walk, fine, whatever, I'll fucking walk. You don't have to motherfucking drag me or anything."

    "I am not going to drag you anywhere unless I have to. We are going to teleport. Anything else would be too slow." You can see him starting to object, but before he can get anything out, too fast for him to dodge, you lunge forward and grab him by the shoulder, then pull him along the trail of your memory to a spot a couple of miles north of Route 18.

    "And now we walk."

    He shrugs your hand away and blinks around at a new assortment of trees and bushes, a shift in light and shade. Then he turns to you and snarls, "If you can just fucking teleport wherever you want, why are we still in the middle of the goddamn woods? You're going to Cinnabar, right?"

    "I did not want to risk anyone seeing me teleport. It could lead to awkward questions."

    "Right, like having me walking around half fucking dead isn't going to get you any goddamn 'awkward questions,'" he grumbles, but at least for the moment he's more concerned with eating than arguing. He wanders after you when you start moving again, struggling to get the energy bar's wrapper open as he goes. And, after the roughly fifteen seconds it takes to dispose of the snack, "Hey! Is that it?"

    "Yes. You can have more at dinner."

    "Oh, nice. Real fucking nice. Look, I'm so hungry I swear if I ran into that fucking ursaring again I'd up and eat it. I'm probably going to collapse of starvation or some shit."

    "If you continue to complain about it, you will get nothing." But the question jogs your memory, and you scrounge up something you forgot to give him earlier. "For now you can have these."

    "Fuck, why didn't you give me the drugs first, Freak?" he grumbles, struggling for a few seconds with the childproof cap. He dumps a slurry of pills into his palm, considers them for a moment, then knocks the lot back with a swig from his water bottle. "Well, thanks, I guess. But I don't think what I've got going on here is really aspirin-level pain, you know?"

    "I thought giving you medication might make you stop whining."

    "Fat fucking chance, Freak. Fat fucking chance." He pockets the pill bottle and sighs.

    For a time the two of you walk in silence, and you bask in the sense of being on your trainer's journey at last. The sun stabs little islands of warmth through the cool shade of the forest, and the air is full of the dampy-sweet smell of decaying leaves. There's no path out here, and you clamber over fallen logs and thrash through bushes, following the ups and downs of the land.

    You keep hoping you'll be attacked by a wild pokémon--you're a trainer now, after all. You hear them from time to time, brief snatches of conversation in the distance, the odd yell of surprise or anger. Here and there are symbols scratched out on tree trunks, sudden blasts of scent where someone's marked their territory.

    But no one bothers you. Maybe it's because there are two of you humans. Maybe it's because you're still far from the route; pokémon interested in engaging trainers usually hang around near humans, after all. Whatever the case, your walk is uneventful, if pleasant. But there is, inevitably, one glaring problem.

    "Can you not go any faster?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan starts to reply, then nearly trips over a root. He stops for a moment, leaning against a tree trunk as he regains his balance. "Hell yes I can. Just not after I've been beaten practically to fucking death and then revived by some asshole who wants me to walk a thousand miles through difficult fucking terrain. We can't all be motherfucking nature spirits like you." He aims a petulant kick at a bush, which clings thornily to his leg. "I mean, come the fuck on, I should probably be sleeping fourteen hours a day for the next fucking week, here. And I'm hungry. And I'm thirsty. So you know what? Why don't we just take this opportunity to have a nice fucking rest break?"

    He moves as if to sit down, only to scramble upright again as you reach out to stop him. "No! No rest breaks! It has barely been half an hour! You can rest while we are surfing to Cinnabar."

    "Wait, surfing? What the fuck are you talking about?"

    "How did you think we were getting to Cinnabar Island?"

    "I don't know, the fucking ferry, like sane people. I mean, that'd be bad enough, but surfing..."

    "Trainers do not take the ferry," you say with utmost disdain. What would even be the point? No wild pokémon to battle. No trainers, either; it's considered a safety hazard. Why go journeying if you were just going to take shortcuts? "We will surf on my pokémon, of course. Why are you so stupid?"

    "Surf on your what? How in the hell do you have pokémon?"

    "I caught them. Why are you surprised? How did you expect me to take the gym challenge without pokémon?"

    "I thought you were using mine, dumbass."

    "Your pokémon? I do not have them."

    "You don't." His face sinks into an even deeper scowl than usual, and he levels a glare at you. "Then where in the hell are they?"

    "Team Rocket took them, of course."

    "Of course. Of fucking course," he mutters. "So how about you explain to me just how in the hell that works, huh? They somehow decide to take all my shit but my pokédex?"

    "No. I managed to get the pokédex back."

    "And you just left the fucking rest?"

    "Yes. It would have been difficult to retrieve it all without being noticed. The pokédex was all that I needed."

    "All that you--" He bites the sentence off and slams the side of his fist into the tree, turning away from you for a second. Then he snarls, "And I guess it didn't occur to you that I might need some of that shit later, asshole?"

    "I do not care what you need. You are a criminal. You got what you deserved."

    A nasty smirk spreads across his face. "You got that fucking right, Freak. I am a goddamned criminal."

    "Yes. So you should not be surprised if other people steal from you. It is only fair. Now. We need to get going. I had expected to get to Fuchsia by noon, but at this rate we will be another hour. I do not want any further delays."

    "Oh, you don't, don't you?" the great Nathaniel Morgan sneers. "Funny, 'cause me, I was thinking I might just like to lie down and take a fucking nap right now."

    "No. You are done resting."

    He backs up a step as you start towards him, baring his teeth. "What, you think you're gonna haul me the rest of the way there? Face it, Freak, you can't make me walk if I don't want to."

    "I can and I will if you force me. I do not think you will enjoy the experience. Last chance now. Are you coming?"

    He stares at you for a few seconds, then drops his gaze and sinks into a resentful slouch. "Yeah, sure. Why the fuck not? God, this is the shittiest hallucination ever."

    You let that one go in favor of getting moving again, but despite all your exhortations and threats that you really will carry him if he will not walk, you achieve only a modest increase in speed. The great Nathaniel Morgan only gets slower and clumsier as time wears on. He's panting like he's run the whole way, sweating heavily into his new clothes. Pathetic. At least he doesn't have the energy left to complain, sunk into a dull, head-down doggedness, all his attention invested in staying upright and taking yet another step.

    It gets him through the last of the forest and onto Route 18 proper, where the trees thin out and leaf litter fades into scruffy grass. The human doesn't speed up even when you reach the paved thoroughfare down the middle of the route, where foot traffic shares an uneasy peace with cyclists zipping down off Cycling Road.

    "Hurry up," you hiss. "We are nearly there. The faster you walk, the sooner you can rest." The great Nathaniel Morgan gives you a blank look.

    This is all his fault. If not for him, you'd be long gone, well on your way to Cinnabar. And you wouldn't be attracting so much attention, either--your dirty, staggering friend is drawing eyes. You meet curious stares with your broadest smile, and that, thankfully, has so far been enough to get onlookers hurrying on about their business.

    Finally, when the great Nathaniel Morgan stumbles and nearly falls, tripping on nothing, you concede. "Fine," you growl at him. You grab him by the arm, haul him over to a bench by the side of the route, and practically throw him onto it. "If you insist on being so pathetic, you can stay here. I will bring food. Titan," the pokéball is in your hand without conscious thought, and you drop it next to the bench. "Watch my brother for me. He is not feeling well."

    "Your brother?" Titan looks down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, brow furrowed. "Why does he look like a human?" He leans in close to snuff at the man, who does not react. "He smells like a human," Titan says, an accusation.

    You wish there weren't anyone around so you could explain things properly. For now all you do is pat Titan on the shoulder and say, "That is right. He just needs a bit of time to rest, that is all. So you are going to watch him and make sure he does not move or make any noise, okay?"

    Titan gives you a bewildered look, but after a second he nods, then turns to stare at the human again. You do the same. "And you understand as well?"

    The great Nathaniel Morgan's eyes are closed, and he's covered them with a shaking hand, but he does nod, ever so slightly. "Good. I will be back soon."

    It takes less than half an hour to find food, but you're still on the verge of running as you make your way back. Visions of the human escaping, of him somehow managing to overcome Titan and stealing away with the charizard, play endless loops in your head. You slow down as the bench comes into view, letting out a long breath of relief. They're exactly where you left them: the great Nathaniel Morgan asleep on the bench, Titan staring at him with single-minded diligence. At least you don't have a new crisis to add to this farce of a trip. Titan can smell both you and what you're carrying a ways off, and he half turns towards you, wings stretching upward in anticipation.

    "Thanks, Titan," you say. "Here. I brought you some food."

    The charizard fidgets while you rearrange your burdens, tail sweeping back and forth in agitated little arcs. He snatches the bucket from your grasp as soon as you hold it out and rips the top off with his teeth, then sticks his whole head inside, gobbling and crunching with such reckless enthusiasm that you have to smile.

    If only your other companion could be so easily pleased. Irritation lends a bit too much force to your kick, and you glance around nervously, hoping no one notices the dent you've put in the bench's metal leg.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan wakes with a start, followed immediately by a wince and a growled curse. "Now is not the time for sleeping. You can do that on the ocean. For now, eat. Then we will walk the rest of the way."

    "Yeah, because eating is the first fucking thing I want to do before getting on the goddamn seasickness express," he says, but he doesn't turn down the fast food bag you hand him--probably he would have snatched it like Titan if he could move properly.

    He pushes himself to a half-upright position on and digs into the food, and you watch with mild interest as you get out your own cheeseburger. If only the human walked as fast as he eats.

    After a couple of minutes, you're halfway through your sandwich, and the great Nathaniel Morgan is nearly done with his entire meal, chasing stray fries around the bottom of the bag. "I realized that you need a name," you say.

    "What the fuck do you mean?"

    "I need something I can call you."

    "Yeah? You first, Freak."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I mean what's your name, dumbass."

    "Do not be stupid. My name is the great Nathaniel Morgan, of course."

    He looks at you with eyebrows raised for a moment, then rolls his eyes. "Okay, fine, what the fuck ever. Guess I walked into that one. No, I mean what's your name. Like, I know you're all pretending to be me and shit, but what's your real name?"

    He really is so stupid. You give him an exasperated look, the lull in conversation filled by scraping and gulping noises as Titan sniffs around in the bottom of the bucket. "I just told you. My name is the great Nathaniel Morgan."

    "Fucking--look, cut it out already. Before you were all... looking like me, or whatever, what the fuck was your name then?"

    "Charmeleon, I suppose."

    "You--what? This shit again? I told you, Freak, I know you're no fucking charmeleon."

    "I was."

    "Okay, fine. Whatever, asshole. If you want to keep being mysterious about pointless shit, you just go right the fuck ahead."

    You suppress a growl of agitation. "I was not being mysterious. I was telling the truth. It does not matter anyway. I just need a name for you to use until our time together is over."

    "Which can't come fucking fast enough, believe me." You stare at him and wait. "What?"

    "Your name."

    "Fuck's sake. I don't care. Pick something."

    "You choose. I am not very good with human names."

    He groans and covers his face with his hand. "Shit, I dunno. Gary. Why not? Like the most fucking popular name around these days."

    "Gary what?" He removes the hand so he can glare at you. "Human names have two parts."

    "I know that. Gary Morgan, you moron. Unless you're not really my brother. Give it to me straight, bro, I can handle the fucking truth."

    You frown as you think. Is that right? You're not sure why he would be lying. Brothers have the same second name? You try to come up with examples from television but draw a blank. Humans don't use their second names a lot in conversation.

    While you're puzzling, the great Nathaniel Morgan makes as if to go back to sleep, and you decide to shelve the matter for now. Gary Morgan it is. "Get up."

    "Oh, fuck you. You keep pushing me, you're going to need to start dishing out the emergency heals real damn fast, because I am not in any fucking shape for this shit."

    "It is only a twenty minute walk to the beach from here. You will make it if I have to carry you the entire way. Now get up."

    "Oh, yeah, like that's not going to attract any fucking attention or anything--"

    "Get up!"

    Titan pulls his head out of the bucket, looking nervously between the two of you. Grease shimmers on his muzzle, and he's managed to get a little clot of breading stuck to the base of one horn. You glance around, embarrassed, but though a couple of people looked around after your shout, no one seems particularly interested. The great Nathaniel Morgan opens his mouth to make some complaint or other, but before he can get anything out you grab him by the front of his shirt and haul him to his feet.

    While he stands coughing, trying to get his breath back, you say, "There. You are up. Now we walk. Titan? Do you want to come with us? We are going to the beach."

    "Oh? The beach? Um." The charizard licks at his snout as he thinks. "Sure, I'll come."

    "Hey Charizard, think you could do me a favor and set this asshole on fire or something? I don't want to go to no fucking beach."

    "Titan. This is Titan."

    Titan, who is looking anxious. "If he, um, says he doesn't want to come..."

    "It is fine, Titan. Do not worry. And you." You shove the great Nathaniel Morgan so hard he staggers forward a step. "Walk. Do not make noise. If you do, I will see to it that you can no longer talk."

    "Yeah, I bet you will, won't you, assh--" He wavers where he stands, clutching his head and gasping in breathless pain. "Fuck. Wh-what--?"

    "That was only a weak confusion. I could very easily disable your language abilities with a stronger one. Now walk."

    He walks. Slowly. Titan brings up the rear, cleaning his face with little bursts of flame. You close your eyes a moment and take a long, fortifying breath. The rest of the day should be easier, with War doing all the work.

    Tourists clog Fuchsia's streets, milling around quaint little gift shops, and trainers are out in force, battling their pokémon under the brilliant sun. Normally you wouldn't mind taking your trip slow, stopping to buy ice cream like Titan strongly hints you should, enjoying the show. But you can't relax today, when you're sure every look you get is someone wondering who you are, what's wrong with the great Nathaniel Morgan, whether they ought to offer assistance or get help. Your pace feels plodding instead of leisurely, the crowds threatening rather than engulfing.

    By the time you reach the beach proper you're so on edge that you're literally prodding the great Nathaniel Morgan along, for what little good it does. Titan wanders off, beckoned by open stretches of sand, but you drive the human straight down to the water's edge. He collapses as soon as you stop harrying him, and you ignore his wheezing and release War into the water in front of you. The tentacruel takes shape with his jagged beak buried in the sand, staring out at you from the shadow of his bell.

    "We are going to Cinnabar Island, War," you say. "We will stop at the Seafoam Islands tonight. Will you carry us?"

    "Both of you?" the tentacruel asks, looking down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who's content to lie back in the sand and ignore you, eyes closed.

    "Yes, him too. I will explain when we stop for the night, when I can talk to everybody at once. I am sorry. I know it will be a lot for you to carry two people. Do you think you can do it?"

    "Oh, sure, sure, no problem," War says, waving a few tentacles dismissively. But his gaze is still on the great Nathaniel Morgan, his eyes alight with curiosity.

    "Good. Thank you, War. Now." You prod the great Nathaniel Morgan in the side with your foot. He opens his eyes and glares mutely up at you. "This is War. He will be taking us to Cinnabar Island. War, this is th--my brother. Um. Gary."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at you, then addresses War without bothering to get up from his sprawl. "Yeah. Hi. Did you know your trainer's a total fucking douchebag?"

    The tentacruel lets out a grating laugh that sets his whole bell quivering. Then he reaches out, and the great Nathaniel Morgan, finding himself confronted by dozens of bulb-tipped tentacles, scrambles backwards, nearly falling as he tries to get to his feet in the same motion. "Hey! What the fuck?"

    "Oh. He wants to shake hands." You're not sure what the tentacruel finds so fascinating about the human custom, but your washed-out memories speak of days spent carrying a tentacool around, annoying people who had very important jobs to do with requests to indulge his curiosity.

    "Are you fucking kidding me? Shake hands with that thing? I don't even want to go near all those fucking tentacles."

    "His name is War," you snap as the tentacruel's eyes narrow. "And yes. You will shake hands. It is polite."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan stares at you, then at the tentacruel, the forest of tentacles still upraised. "Oh, fine," he snarls. "Fucking fine. I guess I should just give in now and accept that you're fucking insane."

    He steps forward and reaches out, gingerly taking one of War's tentacles by the bulb and moving it ever so slightly up and down. "There's your fucking handsh--aagh! Fuck!"

    "War!" you say while the Rocket pulls his hand away like he's been burned, hissing expletives between his teeth.

    "That bastard stung me! Shit!" he snarls, staring at the line of red welts down the middle of his palm. War is beside himself with mirth, slapping at the water with his tentacles while his laughter tumbles on and on, a pattering noise like churning pebbles.

    "Yes. He has a strange sense of humor. Keep your voice down." You glance around, but the only people nearby are a group of swimsuit-clad children gathered near Titan, watching the charizard wallow in the hot sand.

    "Jesus fuck, are all your pokémon are as sociopathic as you?" the great Nathaniel Morgan snarls, cradling his injured hand against his chest.

    You aren't sure what he means by that. "You deserved it. Now we are going. Get on."

    "Are you fucking kidding me? I could be fucking dying over here, and you just want to sail off into the motherfucking sunset?"

    "You are not dying. War did not seriously injure you," you say, shooting the tentacruel a look that says, Right? War stares back at you, placid and inscrutable. "You have held me up enough already. Either get on, or I will drag you up there myself."

    The Rocket looks from War to the ocean beyond, teeth bared in a grimace. "Look, if I have to be perfectly fucking honest here, I kind of really fucking hate water, okay? Like I can't swim for shit and I kind of don't trust your evil fucking tentacruel not to fucking drown me the first fucking opportunity it gets."

    "That is unfortunate. Get on."

    "I'm just saying, is all. If you don't want me throwing up all over you and your fucking pokémon, it would probably be safer to just take the ferry or something. The ocean and I don't fucking get along, see."

    "I told you already. We are not taking the ferry. And you are not taking it alone, either," you add, when he starts to protest. "If it is really such a big problem for you, I will put you to sleep so that you do not realize where you are. That is my final offer. Make your decision before I make it for you."

    "I don't even want to fucking know what you mean by 'put me to sleep,' do I?"

    "I am not going to wait much longer."

    You allow him a couple seconds of deliberation, then take a step forward, readying a spore attack. But he recoils, snapping, "All right! Fuck, I'll do it. Stay the fuck away from me. You're probably just going to try and dump me overboard or some shit as soon as there are no witnesses, and I'm not going to make that any fucking easier for you." He skirts around you and approaches War, face set grimly.

    The Tentacruel watches him come, forcing his beak deeper into the sand with a drawn-out grinding noise and tipping his bell down towards the human. Even with the help, the great Nathaniel Morgan has a rough time of it, trying to shimmy one-handed up the springy curve of the tentacruel's bell. After much cursing and the occasional exclamation of pain, he finally manages to drag himself up to the crest of War's bell and perch there, weary and slumped in defeat.

    Then he lets out a stifled shriek and throws himself flat as War wrenches his beak out of the sand and raises himself to his full height in one sudden, swaying motion. You sigh in exasperation and say, "Stop messing with him, War. I do not want to have to listen to his whining all afternoon, and I do not think you do, either."

    You almost forget yourself and jump straight up next to the great Nathaniel Morgan, but remember where you are just in time and ask War to lift you up instead. The tentacruel deposits you next to your shivering, sweating companion, who's still clinging to the tentacruel's bell for dear life. You ignore him and call, "Titan!"

    The charizard's buried neck-deep, sending up little plumes of grit as he snuffs around under the sand, wriggling his way deeper. He lurches guiltily upright at the sound of his name, blowing sand out of his nostrils and looking around in wild disorientation. His audience is beside themselves with giggles. "Titan. We are leaving. Do you want to come with us now, or catch up later? We will be stopping at Seafoam tonight."

    "Seafoam?" he roars back, and you realize your mistake as his expression hardens, his tail flame leaping higher.

    "It is okay, Titan. I can take you in your pokéball. You do not have to go there if you do not want to."

    "No," he says with unusual force. "No, I'll go. By myself."

    Before you can object he stretches his neck up and spreads his wings, sending children scampering as they realize what's coming. The charizard takes off in a blast of wind and sand, flapping mightily in a rapid ascent. Below, the kids squeal and stumble around, laughing and blinking sand out of their eyes. A couple wave.

    You do not. You watch Titan bank around and soar out over the ocean, anxiety tightening your chest.

    Nothing to be done for it now. Best to get moving. You push your worries aside and pat War's bell, shouting down, "Okay, War. Let's get going." The tentacruel lurches around, clumsy in the shallows, and sets out into the sea.

    ( Continued Next Post )
    Last edited by Negrek; 7th May 2015 at 6:36 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

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  15. #40
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    ( Continued from Previous Post )

    "Come on, War. This is getting old." You haul the great Nathaniel Morgan back up while he makes a desperate one-hand grab for the tentacruel's bell. His other hand's swollen up a nasty shade of purple, and the human holds it out away from everything, letting out a bitten-off cry of pain whenever something bumps it. He lies half-curled on War's bell, eyes pressed tight shut as he breathes fast and shallow, shuddering convulsively. "He is just going to be sick again. Really, you ought to leave him alone."

    War waggles an impudent tentacle at you, then lets it slide back into the water with the rest. "I mean it," you say. "No more of that."

    That gets a sullen burble of assent, coming up distorted through the water. Even War's starting to get bored of playing pranks. He lashes out at a passing tentacool, forcing her to a hasty retreat. A few minutes later he sinks another of his kin with a precise blast of water, and you have to smile. Your old friend has become quite the terror of the seas since you last saw him.

    You do wish he would quit harassing the human, though. The great Nathaniel Morgan really ought to learn, as you have, to just ignore the tentacruel's teasing, but he still shrieks pretty loud when War stealthily touches a cold, slimy tentacle to the back of his neck. And, inevitably, when he startles he nearly falls into the water, which only makes him more distressed. You have to admit it was pretty funny the first couple of times, but it's long since gotten old.

    "Hey." You tap War's bell and point at a cluster of V-winged shapes circling nearby. "See those wingull? Think you can hit them from here?"

    The tentacruel shudders beneath you, and you grab hold of his bell as it tilts back. War spits a dripping gobbet of sludge, which sails much farther than you expected, but only grazes one of the seabirds. Most take off, shrieking curses back at you, but a few wheel your way instead, jeering angrily as they bear down on you and War.

    "Go on, get them!" you say with a laugh, and War fires away, knocking a couple out of the sky. Then the rest are upon you, screeching and dive-bombing you and War and your unfortunate companion. You laugh and toss Thunderstorm's pokéball out over the ocean. The magneton appears in a shower of sparks, only to get soaked, a moment later, by a wingull's water gun.

    It only takes a few seconds for Thunderstorm to roast the rest of the flock. You laugh, and War laughs with you, as the last of the birds topples out of the air. "Nice, Thunder! All right, come on. Keep your eyes out to see if there are any other good fights around."

    "This shit again? Why don't you give it a fucking rest already?" the human croaks from behind you. He's sitting with his back to you now, head hanging and one eye slitted open just enough to give you an accusatory look. He swallows thickly and adds, "Whatever happened to your crazy goddamned hurry, anyway?"

    "Thanks to you, I am already far beyond late. A little extra time will not hurt. Besides, this is what a trainer does."

    A trainer usually battles other trainers, too, but you don't want people seeing the great Nathaniel Morgan and asking questions. He ruins everything, so the least he can do is shut up and let you get in what training you can. You pass the hours distracting War with fighting, telling Thunderstorm to zap whatever he can't easily clean up. Even Rats gets a workout, despite complaining the entire time about how much she hates swimming. She throws herself at her enemies with extra ferocity, just so she can get back into her ball to sulk all the faster.

    The battles peter out as shadows lengthen and your pokémon tire, and you let the team rest in their pokéballs as War strokes on south and west. The day bleeds out in sunset reds, and in time the stars and sickle moon gleam off the low humps of the Seafoam Islands in the distance. Broken reef-spires show black against pale ocean spray and frame the weatherbeaten hills that mark the entrance to the caverns.

    War glides on, skirting around the rocks and putting in near the middle of the island, a flat, pebbly expanse between the caves' twin entrances. The tentracruel has to lift himself to crawl forward on his tentacles as he enters shallow water, and his smooth forward motion turns jerky and rocking. Finally he plunges his beak into the ground with a shuddering grind, anchoring himself; then stillness.

    You jump down and stand stretching and shaking the stiffness out of your limbs. War doesn't wait for the great Nathaniel Morgan to get moving and shrugs him off with a quick rolling motion. The Rocket lands with a groan of pain, lying half in and half out of the water, and War goes through his own stretches, massaging his bell with his tentacles, working the imprints of your rear ends out of it.

    "Thanks, War," you say, running your hand along the edge of his bell as you contemplate your campsite. It's windswept and exposed, but it's the only solid ground for miles. There's a light near one of the cave entrances where Titan sits, staring into the dark opening. "Titan!" you call. He turns his head slightly but does not get up. "Come over here a minute, okay?" After a couple of seconds he slowly gets to his feet and starts in your direction, and you return your attention to nearer concerns.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan is lying where he fell, shivering, and you prod him with a foot. "Get up."

    For a moment you think he's going to ignore you, but then he starts moving, slowly, painfully. At this rate he'll be vertical in an hour, maybe. A sudden stab of irritation has you bend down and seize him by the arm, hauling him upright while he hisses in pain. "Do not be so pathetic."

    "Just you wait, fucker," he says, swaying as you release him. "I'm gonna laugh like hell when you're on your fucking knees, begging me for mercy..."

    "I look forward to your attempt at revenge. I am sure it will be amusing," you say, rummaging your pokéballs out of your pocket. "Come on out, everyone."

    Titan stomps up just as the rest of your team takes shape. Rats, still sopping, gives herself a vigorous shake and settles down to busy grooming. You glance around, but all the shadows are empty. Absol already knows what's up anyway.

    "Everybody," you say, "this is the great Nathaniel Morgan. I'm going to be him for a while, but Absol told me to not let him die, so he's coming with us for a bit." Your pokémon exchange sidelong glances, and a couple look ready to protest. You raise your hands and keep going. "It will be fine. Just ignore him and let me deal with things. I don't know what Absol was thinking, either, but don't worry about it. She knows what she's talking about."

    Nobody can deny that, but there's still a lot of restless shifting. You plunge on, straight into the good news. "We're staying here tonight, and tomorrow we'll be on Cinnabar Island. We're going to train a bit, then face Blaine." Even Titan brightens at that, wings coming up out of their droop.

    "So just what makes him so great, huh?" Rats leaves off preening to squint at the great Nathaniel Morgan. Her whiskers twitch, and she makes a "tsk" noise. "Looks kinda dumb to me. Why's he staring?"

    You turn and find the great Nathaniel Morgan tensed to run, eyes wide in the starlight. After a moment you realize you've slipped into talking pokémon, and he hasn't been able to understand a word. "I was making introductions. These are my pokémon. Rats. Thunderstorm. You already met Titan. Togetic. Duskull." You indicate each in turn. "And War too, of course."

    He barely glances at them. "Yeah, hi." And turns back to you. "What the fuck was that?"

    "What?"

    "Those... Those fucking noises you were making. I thought you were having some kind of fucking fit."

    "I told you. I was introducing you."

    "And just what in the fuck do you mean by that?"

    "I speak pokémon. Obviously."

    "What?" His laugh is shallow, breathless, without mirth. "Listen, Freak. Even the wackjobs who claim they can talk to pokémon don't stand there going all 'bark bark growl hiss' at them and shit. Come on."

    "Humans do not have to speak the pokémon language to be understood. But I can. I like to."

    "Oh, right. Uh huh. The fucking pokémon language." He shakes his head, snorting. "I already knew you were a fucking psycho, Freak, but that? Seriously fucking delusional. Seriously fucking insane. Fucking insane..." He falls into another silent laughing fit.

    Titan stretches his wings high and beats them once, letting out a snort, and Thunderstorm drifts gently side to side, radiating boredom. You decide to let the human think what he wants; you don't care if he's too stupid to see the truth.

    "I'm going to get some food ready. If you want to help, you can look for wood. That's all," you say. While the rest of them scatter, you ask War, "You want any?"

    "No. I'll hunt." There is a crunch of sand and rock as he uproots himself, and then he's toddling back to deeper waters, starlight glinting wetly off the huge red sacs on his bell as he lurches out of sight.

    You turn back around, then jump as you find Togetic hovering directly in front of your face.

    "Yay camping!" she chirps, flying a quick loop around your head.

    You smile. "That's right, Togetic."

    "Where's the TV?"

    Ah. "No TV tonight, Togetic. I'm a real trainer now, so we're staying out here. You can watch tomorrow when we're at a Pokémon Center, okay?"

    "Mmmm." She bounces as she thinks, ricocheting around in midair. You watch with bated breath, hoping she doesn't start a tantrum. You don't want to deal with that with the great Nathaniel Morgan there, staring at you two like he's witnessing an alien landing. Not that you'd blame Togetic for her distress--you don't even want to think about all the shows you're missing out on, yourself.

    After a few moments Togetic brightens. "Okay! No TV! Adventure!"

    You laugh as she zooms in erratic circles. "That's right. Now, you want to help? Can you find me some wood?"

    "Yeah!" She zips away, zigzagging low over the ground and humming a happy nonsense song to herself. The great Nathaniel Morgan follows her with his eyes, frowning.

    "And you. Stay out of the way."

    "With fucking pleasure," he grunts.

    And he does until later, when he settles in by your fire, as far away from you as he can manage without being completely out of its light. You fuss with the spitting, flaring little thing, cobbled together out of a few pieces of driftwood found bleaching on the rocks, then start rooting in your pack for food. There's nothing to catch around here but fish, and you don't feel like swimming in the black deep of the ocean tonight. It's human fare for you.

    "Did you get something to eat earlier?" you ask Titan as he flops down behind you with a gusty sigh.

    "Not hungry," he mutters, staring out at the ocean. You frown and scratch the base of his neck just above where the wings connect. He doesn't acknowledge you, and you don't know what to say. How can he be mourning that other trainer, the one who stole him from you? You're right here, alive; the two of you are back together again. How can he be sad? But somehow, it seems, he is.

    The matter is driven from your mind as Togetic comes zooming in, demanding food with high-pitched chirps. You gently fend her off while you dig a pack of fruit chews out of your bag, then dump a few into your palm and offer them up. She snatches them and takes off, dancing around the fire and showing off her prize to everyone, the great Nathaniel Morgan included. "Piss off!" he growls, taking a swipe at her as she darts past. She evades him easily, laughing, and rockets away, probably looking for Duskull, her favorite person to irritate.

    The gummies should keep her occupied for a while, but you get out a tupperware full of honey and crushed insects to heat up for her actual dinner. And while you're thinking of it... "Thunder?"

    "Wait. You had a motherfucking car battery in your bag this entire time?"

    "Obviously," you say as you clip the black contact to one of the magneton's magnets, the red to another. The magneton lets out a contented buzz as current starts to flow.

    "That thing must weigh like thirty fucking pounds! How the hell were you lugging it around all day?"

    "It is not really so heavy." You need some food for yourself and Rats. And the great Nathaniel Morgan too, you suppose. He's even more obnoxious when unfed. Soup?

    "God. Why don't you use a charging station at a fucking Center?"

    "Everyone else is eating. It would not be fair for Thunderstorm to be left out." Chicken noodle. Four cans, you think, to split between you. Plus crackers and energy bars and cookies... You smile as you set up your tripod and collapsible pot, then drag a sudden claw around the rim of a can and lever up the top.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan watches, dubious. "You're fucking crazy."

    Rats, now dry and fluffed, comes scrambling over as if summoned by the sound of soup hitting pot. She flops down by the fire and immediately tucks herself into a dozy curl, nose buried in the fur on her stomach and paws up over her head.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan raises his eyebrows at her. "Your raticate's pretty lazy, huh?"

    "He's welcome to criticize after he's spent the afternoon swimming around beating the tar out of uppity starfish," Rats says into her stomach. Then, as if suddenly inspired, she lifts her head a little and addresses Titan. "Hey, that reminds me. You totally missed how I destroyed this lame staryu this afternoon. See, I don't really like swimming, but..."

    You smile and shake your head. "You should save that for later, Rats. Titan is not feeling well right now."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at you across the fire. "Oh, come the fuck on. You can't seriously expect me to believe you understood any of that shit."

    "Of course I did. You may not believe that pokémon are capable of speech, but I am not stupid enough to agree."

    He rolls his eyes. "Oh, fuck off. I know pokémon can talk. I just think you understanding them is bullshit."

    "Oh? I did not realize Rockets consider pokémon to be sentient."

    Titan turns and actually looks at the human, and Rats opens one dark eye to regard him as well. "Rocket?" She flashes her teeth at him. "Maybe you shoulda just ignored Absol and let him die anyway."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan frowns at Rats as she settles back into her doze, then turns his scowl on you. "Yeah, you got me, Freak. I like to spend my free time kicking baby eevee and repeating my mantra about how all pokémon exist for the glory of Team Rocket and shit."

    You nod and set aside the empty soup can to eat later and heft a second one, considering. Is your pot big enough to hold all of them at once?

    "Christ," the great Nathaniel Morgan mutters, and you glance up to find him looking at you with lips curled back to show a hint of teeth. "Look, maybe you missed the part where Team Rocket kicked me out because I ain't shitty enough for them. You know, while you were all busy doing fuckall and I was getting my ass kicked and all my shit stolen. I thought you wanted to be some kind of pokémon master like all the other trainer brats. Whatever happened to kicking Rocket ass like the morons in the movies?"

    "There were too many of them, and I did not know how strong they were. I did not want to start a fight. And yes, I recall that they thought you had betrayed them. Which you denied. So either they were wrong and you are as bad as any of them, or you were lying, in which case you are a bad person anyway."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan blinks. "Oh, shit. For a second there that almost made fucking sense. God, I'm really losing it." Then his expression hardens. "But oh, good one, 'Yeah, I could have done something about it, but I was just too fucking pussy.'"

    You tighten your grip on the soup can in lieu of going for the Rocket's throat. "I told you before. Your pokémon are your responsibility. Do not blame me for failing to protect them. I would have if I could. And besides, I think they may have more luck with whatever trainer they go to now."

    The great Nathaniel Morgan tilts his head and bares his teeth in a ragged, hole-riddled mockery of a smile. "Yeah. You know what? I think I'd be more pissed if you had up and snagged them. At least this way they're probably not going to get stuck with a murderous psycho piece of shit like you."

    "I am a good trainer!" Does he want you to kill him? You could, you really could. You can feel the muscles shifting under your skin, bones thickening, talons threatening. How dare he? How could he even suggest? Your words come out husky and strained. "You are a member of Team Rocket. You are not a good person. I am."

    "Ooh, nice comeback, jackass. That'll fucking show me."

    "You are not listening. I am a good trainer. Me! Your opinion does not matter. You are a worthless, stupid Rocket!"

    You're shaking, you notice distantly. Rats' voice comes to you, far-off and small. "Uh, Boss... maybe you oughta, you know, kinda calm down?"

    The Rocket sneers at you. "Yeah, go on and say it a little fucking louder. I didn't quite hear you the first eight thousand fucking times."

    "Shut up! Shut up!" The soup can in your hand explodes, and you stop in shock as cold, slimy broth drips down your wrist and drizzles onto the rocks. Then you shake the can off, extricating your fingers from the holes they punched through the metal, and leave it lying there in an expanding puddle.

    In the silence that follows you realize everyone is watching you. Titan is half to his feet, crouched nervously in the shadows behind you. Somehow Rats made it to your side without your noticing, her paws up on your arm. You shake her off, gently, and sit and suck chicken juice off your fingers until you feel calm enough to talk again.

    "If you continue to annoy me, that will be your head," you say to the great Nathaniel Morgan, who watches tensely from across the fire. "You do not know anything, and I am tired of listening to your lies. If you have to speak at all, you had better speak the truth."

    He gives you another toothy smirk and starts to cross his arms over his chest, but stops with a wince as he jars his injured hand. "Temper, temper," he hisses, so quiet you almost miss it. And that's the last you hear from him for the rest of the night.
    Last edited by Negrek; 7th May 2015 at 6:34 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  16. #41
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    I'll post reviews a chapter at a time (edit-merging if required).

    "There are many who abetted the creation of Mewtwo, and every last one of them will be punished. They will die. They will die unnaturally. They will die before the time set down for them."

    Ah. A question. The child, most certainly, had so abetted. And it had to ask--did that mean that it, too...?

    Absol gave it a long, steady look, and after a moment it subsided, sheepish. Oh. Of course. It had already died.
    Just bringing up a previous, already reviewed section that my eyes fell on: that's some nice morbidity. I was all cool about it in my first review, but I really admire your fic's tone of language with its particular, gentle, apocalyptic fatalism. There's something special about its form of 'destiny' actually. Destiny in many stories seems to me very much claimed for humanity, a giant affirmation that the universe is made in human terms, everything that happens is for you to understand and appreciate, hints of a gigantic human-shaped arbiter controlling things. But the destiny of your fic is not only made in a nonhuman way, it's also delivered by nonhumans. It's impersonal like no corporation, government, or human abstraction. It's quite scary in that way.

    While we're at it I also found a typo from chapter 7:

    At the time it didn't thought of anything but how lucky it had been to survive, to have Absol.
    I think my mind is failing because I saw this typo once, scrolled up to somehow find the exact same passage completely duplicated at another place with the typo fixed, then looked at the thread again and couldn't find anything but the typo'd passage. That is definite crazy material.

    Chapter 8: Like I said last time, I joined at a big chapter. This is the point from which, in a very general way, we're supposed to know what's going on. The chapter still does in medias res in a way that immediately makes a lot of open questions: when and where is this, what is the child doing, and who is it it's following? I guess it's revealed that the child itself doesn't know the answer to some of the questions (hand of Fate).

    How do you evade the swear filter? I put the letters under SIZE=2 tags but that makes them look slightly weird.

    "The reason Aiden sent so many of us after you, Nate, is because he overestimated you," Jenna says in a mock-soothing tone while the rest of her group starts to fan out to completely surround the great Nathaniel Morgan.
    Hah, he's caught on to that title like a mockingbird, repetitious, unintelligent.

    Unlike certain people I know, I don't need to send six pissant grunts to take care of my own goddamn business.
    Rocket underworkers as dispossessed teenagers, I haven't seen that very often! There are endless ways to make the Teams actually menacing. Also, it's common sense that when Teams are given to hiring from the seedy underbelly of society, what they're hiring are not so much manzai troupes as, highly cruel, efficient, unscrupulous people.

    On the other side, setting a pack of wild mankey on someone is classic anime material.

    The teenagers gather around their injured target, laughing and jeering as the ursaring steadily dismantles him, getting in the occasional kick of their own.
    Creepy choice of words. It takes the violence a step above your teenage neighborhood menace. These are not just crawlers under society, they're castoffs -- they don't do decency or physical gentility.

    "I don't care if they're having a mother****ing church revival up there.
    If they were, it would be awesome. Can you imagine? I need to write that scene now. UPDATE: Already did it before the review got posted? So classy.

    "He is not dead. He will be, soon. And he should not be. You have to stop it." Absol has seated herself next to you, but as you watch she gets up off her haunches, turns a tight, agitated circle, then sits down again. "It's not right." Up, circle, sit.
    Ohhhh, not literally dismantle. I'm an idiot. I like this piece of gentle, emotionless apocalypticism too, there's never trumpets and hellfire in these ominous moments, just someone nonhuman being agitated.

    Then you sit back on your haunches and watch the Rocket closesly with Absol at your shoulder, waiting for your attack to do whatever it's going to do: heal him, or burn through his veins and annihilate the last of his spark. Or maybe nothing at all.
    Typo.

    There's a funny sliding feeling as your lower jaw unhinges to let it pass through whole, and then it's sitting heavy in your stomach, waking lizardy instincts to crawl off somewhere and digest.
    Wouldn't it be 'awaking'?

    It was her ridiculous rule that you leave the corpses of all you doomed souls where you'd found them.
    Typo I think.

    The pokemon are all cute when they're with each other. When they're on missions they cannibalize strangers and raise the dead.

    I also realize that great swathes of the plot are still not clearly explained yet. At one point Absol says something about the child's 'brother'! What is that about? Is that one massive clue as to what's going to happen in the tournament? As it is, we don't know that, we don't know exactly what Absol is doing (and you suggest that the answer might actually be ineffable), and now there's a new thing we don't know, the shadow passing over your face reflection.

    Chapter 9:

    The sky is lightening, the stars disappearing into its warm gray, and the birds are trying to sing the sun up. For a few groggy seconds you think they're the ones that woke you.
    A descriptive opening! I didn't look around in previous chapters but I believe these are uncommon for your fic? You do medias res. It's also uncommon to start a chapter where the last one left off.

    "**** you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is."
    One of two, I seem to remember, instances where the f*ck turns up uncapitalized (evidence of find & replace? hmmmmm...). I'll dredge up the typo in chapter 8, too:

    "**** you and your 'opportunity.' I ain't doing nothing until somebody explains what the hell this is."
    The latter seems to me possibly more awesome without capitalization. : D

    Gahh, why do I always turn on my nitpick in this fic?

    "I am not an experiment."
    I like how even in this situation, the fact that one of these characters in much more eloquent in Human gives the child a bit of a disadvantage.

    You let go of him and watch in disgust as he doubles over, unable to stop his strangled laughter, chest heaving fitfully and tears streaming from his eyes. Even when the spell passes and he's able to stand straight again, that awful grin stays in place, strained and painful and somehow threatening.
    I wonder! Even though I doubt the child has any sense of morality, I definitely don't think that, in terms of human/nonhuman faculties, it has nothing; natural or not, the child is itself. We know its behavior is very close to pokemon; it bonds with them, thinks in terms of their hunting/scavenging needs. Is it that the revulsion Nate inspires in the child, is one of logic? The perversity of his laughing and grinning in direct irony of his situation at the moment. Animals do not have a sense of irony. They hate pain and love health; twisted humans have a penchant for doing the opposite. Maybe in that way human evil is also an offense against nature.

    I'm just being told off by some ******* mutant thing that looks like me and claims it saved my life so it can take the ****ing league challenge and become a pokémon master.
    It does sound hilarious if it were doing it just to become a pokemon master.

    For a time the two of you walk in silence, and you bask the sense of being out on your trainer's journey at last.
    So he does just want to be a pokemon master! I think you necessarily 'bask in' something, which my dictionary supports.

    [quot]"Your brother?" Titan looks down at the great Nathaniel Morgan, brow furrowed.[/quote]

    Does that mean, which seems kind of messy, the child is going to go into the tournament as identical twins, the qualified one doing the actual battling and the other one tagging along to help in the disguise? And perhaps the brother will play another role in the hazy drama that is supposed to unfold.

    "Yeah, because eating is the first ****ing thing I want to do before getting on the goddamn seasickness express," he says, but he doesn't turn down the fast food bag you hand him--probably he would have grabbed it like Titan if it didn't require any fast movement.
    I like how the needs of the body are not just a presence in this Factually Rigorous Journey, they're the major recurring theme. One trainer is a hospital case!

    Also that we're seeing the "irritatingly cryptic stranger" trope from the other side. I mean, we're supposed to understand basic things about the child, so when they bewilder Nate, we're not exactly on the same page.

    Chapter 10:

    Marina is... kind of an appropriate name.

    "Umm, no. Hello, electricity? In the middle of the ocean? One lightning bolt from that magneton and I get electrocuted along with Staryu. If you're going to use that guy, I forfeit. I don't want to get roasted, you know?"
    Not only do we share the child's 'crypticness', we also share his cluelessness about training, because none of that has happened in the past ten chapters! This journeyfic phase of Salvage is really fun. It's very ambivalent about mood, full of disconcertingly cute moments in all the violence and morbidity. The point in the plot where you'd expect it to be heating up, fate somehow hastening everything along to the revelation... the child is just trying to kill the last remaining days. It wants to be a real boy.

    "You are not listening. I am a good trainer. Me! Your opinion does not matter. You are a worthless, stupid Rocket!"
    In retrospect, it was pretty clear that the child doesn't just have amorality + regard for friends, it is probably ideologically on the side of the pokemon, and that gives it a sincere reason to hate Rocket, not just a TV reason. We humans do not value the lives of animals all that much. If a lizard gets inside the house, it has two choices, get out of the way or get killed. The child may be the same, except it values pokemon lives.

    In the silence that follows, you realize that everyone is watching you. Titan is half to his feet, crouched nervously in the shadows behind you. Somehow Rats has made it to your side without your noticing, her paws up on your arm. You shake her off, gently, and sit and suck chicken juice off your fingers until you feel calm enough to talk again.
    Not such a nice trainer picnic after all! All's ominous that ends ominous.
    Last edited by Praxiteles; 7th January 2014 at 6:32 PM.

  17. #42
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    Ah, another thorough review. Thanks so much for doing these; I love seeing how your opinions on things change as the story moves along. But please don't feel obligated to do one for every chapter if you don't want to... I know that's a lot of work!

    Just bringing up a previous, already reviewed section that my eyes fell on: that's some nice morbidity. I was all cool about it in my first review, but I really admire your fic's tone of language with its particular, gentle, apocalyptic fatalism. There's something special about its form of 'destiny' actually. Destiny in many stories seems to me very much claimed for humanity, a giant affirmation that the universe is made in human terms, everything that happens is for you to understand and appreciate, hints of a gigantic human-shaped arbiter controlling things. But the destiny of your fic is not only made in a nonhuman way, it's also delivered by nonhumans. It's impersonal like no corporation, government, or human abstraction. It's quite scary in that way.
    Ah, glad you like it. Absol definitely has blue and orange morality, so I'm glad it's coming through nice and alien. More about how it all works will be revealed as the story progresses.

    How do you evade the swear filter? I put the letters under SIZE=2 tags but that makes them look slightly weird.
    I've been using font tags, setting them to Arial. I think I'm going to be using Verdana from now on, though, since that looks closer to the board's default font, if not actually the same.

    Rocket underworkers as dispossessed teenagers, I haven't seen that very often! There are endless ways to make the Teams actually menacing. Also, it's common sense that when Teams are given to hiring from the seedy underbelly of society, what they're hiring are not so much manzai troupes as, highly cruel, efficient, unscrupulous people.
    Yeah? I think it's a pretty common approach with TR, but it might just be the genres I read. There's definitely nothing goofy about Team Rocket in this story.

    Well, maybe a couple of things. It is made up of people, after all. But the organization itself is very not-goofy.

    If they were, it would be awesome. Can you imagine? I need to write that scene now. UPDATE: Already did it before the review got posted? So classy.
    Awww, that was cute! I might be the only person in existence to actually like written-out accents, so for me the salamence's southern drawl really made the piece. Hope you had fun writing that, it was a nice little scene.

    I like this piece of gentle, emotionless apocalypticism too, there's never trumpets and hellfire in these ominous moments, just someone nonhuman being agitated.
    Quite so, although given Absol's general lack of emotional display, acting sort of strange like this is her equivalent of rolling around on the ground, screaming.

    The pokemon are all cute when they're with each other. When they're on missions they cannibalize strangers and raise the dead.
    ...Pushing Daisies reference?

    I also realize that great swathes of the plot are still not clearly explained yet. At one point Absol says something about the child's 'brother'! What is that about? Is that one massive clue as to what's going to happen in the tournament? As it is, we don't know that, we don't know exactly what Absol is doing (and you suggest that the answer might actually be ineffable), and now there's a new thing we don't know, the shadow passing over your face reflection.
    Yup, although the next three or so chapters are really just a sprint to cover all the rest of the background information needed to understand the rest of the story before the plot really kicks into high gear, so much of what's going on should become clear soon. The bits about the child's brother are definitely teasers about what's to come, and we'll learn more about him in chapters twelve and thirteen. Absol's stuff gets resolved much later on.

    Gahh, why do I always turn on my nitpick in this fic?
    No worries. I really appreciate it!

    A descriptive opening! I didn't look around in previous chapters but I believe these are uncommon for your fic? You do medias res. It's also uncommon to start a chapter where the last one left off.
    Yes, this chapter marks a major shift in how the story is presented. Previously, it was jumping around a lot in time and space and just showing disjointed scenes, while from this point forward it's pretty much a straight shot through to the end. There will still be time skips between chapters and a fair number that start in media res, but the majority are going to be more like this one, along the lines of, "And then, the next day..."

    I like how even in this situation, the fact that one of these characters in much more eloquent in Human gives the child a bit of a disadvantage.
    Yup, it gets left in the dust pretty quickly.

    I wonder! Even though I doubt the child has any sense of morality, I definitely don't think that, in terms of human/nonhuman faculties, it has nothing; natural or not, the child is itself. We know its behavior is very close to pokemon; it bonds with them, thinks in terms of their hunting/scavenging needs. Is it that the revulsion Nate inspires in the child, is one of logic? The perversity of his laughing and grinning in direct irony of his situation at the moment. Animals do not have a sense of irony. They hate pain and love health; twisted humans have a penchant for doing the opposite. Maybe in that way human evil is also an offense against nature.
    The child definitely has trouble understanding irony, and part of its unease around is Nate is definitely because he behaves, from its point of view, completely erratically. It just doesn't get this guy at all. "Perverse" is definitely a good word for him!

    Does that mean, which seems kind of messy, the child is going to go into the tournament as identical twins, the qualified one doing the actual battling and the other one tagging along to help in the disguise?
    That's the plan, yes. Not sure what you mean by "messy," though. The child is the best at plans. The best. There's absolutely no way this one might go horribly wrong!

    Marina is... kind of an appropriate name.
    I didn't realize that until I'd already posted the chapter. Totally accidental.

    Not only do we share the child's 'crypticness', we also share his cluelessness about training, because none of that has happened in the past ten chapters! This journeyfic phase of Salvage is really fun. It's very ambivalent about mood, full of disconcertingly cute moments in all the violence and morbidity. The point in the plot where you'd expect it to be heating up, fate somehow hastening everything along to the revelation... the child is just trying to kill the last remaining days. It wants to be a real boy.
    I'm glad you like this part! I'm pretty uncertain about this section of the 'fic, since it's a dramatic downshift after the earlier chapters. Hopefully it won't wear out its welcome before we kick back into high gear around Chapter 15.

    The uneven tone does stay throughout the rest of the story, primarily because the child is, after all, just a child... it does silly and/or cute things at times. It also does some truly horrible things, of course, but all children are like that to some degree... they haven't developed the same moral sense as adults, and at some level don't even have the mental machinery necessary to recognize that other people are, well, really people, with actual feelings. The child's condition makes it even worse at understanding other people than the norm. But on the other hand, a lot of the humor comes from that same lack of understanding.

    In retrospect, it was pretty clear that the child doesn't just have amorality + regard for friends, it is probably ideologically on the side of the pokemon, and that gives it a sincere reason to hate Rocket, not just a TV reason. We humans do not value the lives of animals all that much. If a lizard gets inside the house, it has two choices, get out of the way or get killed. The child may be the same, except it values pokemon lives.
    Pokémon aren't treated quite as badly as animals in the world of this 'fic, but yeah, there is a little undercurrent of pokémon rights that runs through the story. It's less of an ideological thing than simply that the child was basically raised by pokémon, so it understands their perspective on things much better than it does the human outlook, and humans do legitimately treat pokémon pretty crappily in a lot of little ways. The child is pretty bothered by these because it doesn't understand why you would treat a pokémon different than any human person.

    On the other hand, it doesn't actually value pokémon lives above those of humans--it's just as indifferent towards pokémon it doesn't know as it is towards humans it doesn't know. It's just that so far in this story, we've mostly encountered pokémon it happens to know well and like, and humans it dislikes.

    In the specific case of Team Rocket, it has some intimately personal reasons to dislike them above and beyond them being thugs in general.

    Zapped the typos. And yes, I'm afraid the un-capitalized cursing was the result of find and replace... I'll try and remember to watch out for that in the future.

    Thanks again for the excellent review! I hope you continue to enjoy the story. Next chapter will be up shortly.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  18. #43
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    Author's Notes: And so, long overdue... a moderately lengthy chapter. This one goes a little over the character limit, which, seriously, I don't remember being a problem in the past--did they decrease it recently, or something? I swear there never used to be issues unless a chapter hit like twenty pages or something. Anyhow, this chapter's split at the natural scene break.

    Chapter 9

    The child wakes irritable from its mother's nightmares, staring up at a predawn sky framed by Titan's wing. It feels the rise and fall of the charizard's side beneath its head, listens to the counterpoint of Rats' snoring. The raticate is a solid warmth curled against its side, and Togetic roosts not far away, between Titan's shoulder blades. For a few minutes the child lies still, letting the presence of its friends calm it, but it can tell there's no point trying to go back to sleep. Instead it gently moves Rats aside, then gets up and stretches. The raticate grumbles dozily and wiggles closer to Titan, and only Duskull, ever watchful, sees the child leave.

    The cold shock of the water brings it to full wakefulness, and for awhile it hunts with eyes closed, following the tickling of movement against its skin, feeling for the sparking of frantic muscles darting through the still-dark ocean. Only after it's sated its hunger and taken to lazy trolling for fish to bring back for the others, does it have any thought for the day ahead. By the time it leaves the ocean, tossing a last couple of fish on its pile and shedding gills and webbing as it goes, it's ready to take up its burdens for the day.

    The sun is starting to rise as the child shrugs into its new skin and the clothes that go with it. It sits a while with the pokédex, reciting its litany.

    You are Nathaniel Morgan. You've been a trainer for almost seven years now. And how long a member of Team Rocket? You neither know nor care. What matters is that when you were twenty-two years old, you--lived. Unfortunately.

    In the end Rats' insistence drags you back into the moment, and you spit a few of the fish for her and bury them in the coals of last night's fire. Titan devours the rest in eager, blazing gulps. Meanwhile, the other you is still out cold in his sleeping bag. You give his mind a light flick, but it rings hollow as an empty cistern; he's not dreaming at all.

    You shove at his mind again, harder this time, and he wakes up choking, blinking around in confusion. "It is time for you to get up," you say, and skin one of the blackened fish with a quick movement of claws. "Here is your breakfast. We will be leaving soon."

    Maybe it's disorientation, or maybe it's some lingering unease over last night's conversation, but one way or another he accepts the skewer without comment, moving slowly and gingerly. His hand is looking better this morning. The swelling's gone down, though the injury's still bruising up interesting greens and purples.

    You forget about the human completely in the confusion of breaking camp, hands full with the usual tasks: get Togetic to stop teasing Duskull, put the ghost to work picking things up so he'll stop hanging around looking bored, sort out who's coming with you, who's staying in their pokéballs.

    "I think I'll go on ahead," Titan says, stretching his wings and neck and looking out over the ocean. "It's been a while since I flew as far as I did yesterday. I liked it."

    "Sure, Titan." You dig an item pouch out of your bag. "Here, I'll give you some money so you can get something to eat. We probably won't get there until the afternoon."

    No sooner has the charizard slipped the pouch around his neck and hurled himself into the air than Togetic starts demanding your attention, saying she wants to stay out with you today. You wouldn't mind, you doubt War will tolerate her for the entire morning. While you're dealing with that, Rats gets into an argument with the tentacruel, who is waiting for you at the water's edge, and they nearly come to blows before you notice and rush over to break them up. But in the end all is sorted, pokémon in pokéballs and supplies in pack. The Great Nathaniel Morgan, who dozed off sometime during the proceedings, is roused and prodded onto War's bell again.

    The exercise gives him his voice back, but you cut him off before he can really get going. "It is not even far to Cinnabar from here. You will be fine, unless you continue to bother me with your nonsense."

    "All I'm saying is, no more fucking stupid detour battles, okay? Give me a fucking break already."

    "I will battle if I want to," you snap, mostly so he doesn't think he's getting his way. War sets a good pace, paddling along in a smooth, constant dance of tentacles, and truth be told you're looking forward to reaching Cinnabar yourself. You won't be able to challenge Blaine today, not with junior trainers to get through, but impatience drives you forward nonetheless.

    So the journey passes unbroken either by fucking stupid detour battles or unwelcome comments from your guest, who looks every bit as queasy as yesterday and stays beautifully reticent. It's not until you're both standing on Cinnabar's beach that he finds the strength for conversation.

    "Where the hell's that guy been?" he asks as Titan shyly offers you a frozen lemonade.

    "I saw you coming while I was flying, so I thought I would meet you here," the charizard is saying at the same moment.

    "Thank you, Titan," you say, and don't respond to the Great Nathaniel Morgan until you've managed to chip off a piece of the icy dessert. "And I do not know. Around here, I suppose. He wanted to come by himself."

    "Yeah, but. You just let him fly around, like, wherever the fuck he wants?"

    "Of course. He knows where we are going. There is no reason he cannot go his own way and meet up with me later. He is big enough to take care of himself. Not," you can't help but add, "that people like you make it any easier. I am sure Team Rocket would be happy to gang up on Titan and take him if they could. But I think flying between Cinnabar and Seafoam is fine. It is not a good place for thieves."

    "Huh. If you say so. Where the fuck're you going?"

    "The gym, of course. I will defeat the junior trainers and book a match for tomorrow if there is a spot open. Then I have preparations to make."

    "Sounds fucking boring. Look, can I just hang out by my fucking self for a while? You don't want to put up with me, and I sure as hell don't want to deal with your shit, either."

    You open your mouth, ready to explain on no uncertain terms why he can't and that he'd better not whine about it, either, when an idea occurs to you. And that's how the human ends up shoved in a room at the pokémon center with Thunderstorm on guard under strict orders that the man shouldn't be allowed near the phone, window, or most especially, door.

    An afternoon to yourself puts you in an excellent mood, better than you've been in since your unfortunate meeting with the Rocket. You're grinning and refreshed when you come barging back into the room to find Thunder hovering near its middle with the Great Nathaniel Morgan sleeping on the bed closer to the window. "And did he behave himself?" you ask the magneton.

    Thunder throws off irritated sparks as it says, "Yes. It was boring."

    "Sorry, Thunder. I won't ask you to watch him again. Look, I brought you a present." You hold up the new pokéball, and Thunder goes cross-eyed trying to get a look at it.

    "What's wrong with the old one?"

    "It's registered to your old trainer's pokédex. I need to release you from the old pokéball and capture you again with this one so I can register you on mine." You tap the device in question.

    The magenton hums to itself for a few seconds, then says, "Yes. I suppose that makes sense."

    "You don't have to if you don't want to. You just won't be able to fight in the gyms. Or, I mean, you don't have to let me catch you again at all, but..."

    "No, no." The words work their way around the periphery of the magneton's body, dazzling little arcs of light. "It's no problem. I was just surprised, that's all."

    "Okay, if you're sure." You bring the magneton's pokéball out and pop it open. Inside, mirrors gleam like the facets of an insect's eye.

    Pokéballs, even cheap models like this, are built to last--but not against something like you. You seize the top of the ball in one hand and the bottom in the other and pull until the hinge gives way, then stab steel-reinforced claws through the protective shield inside each half, stirring metal and glass into a shredded tangle. Then you trap the remains between your palms, knit your fingers tight, and incinerate them with a sudden burst of heat. One of Thunderstorm's eyes spins around to watch the slaggy lump sail into the wastebasket, but it makes no comment, and when you hold the new pokéball out to it, it doesn't hesitate to bump one of its magnets against the button, disappearing in a flash of red light.

    In a second it's floating there again while you scan the pokéball with the Great Nathaniel Morgan's pokédex. "Thanks, Thunder. You can take a break now if you want. We're not really going to be doing anything until tomorrow."

    "Not that I'll be doing anything tomorrow," Thunderstorm muses in a low drone. "Unless you decide you really want to try your luck against Blaine." The magneton drifts towards the small desk at the far end of the room, where a charging station bristles with ports of all sizes and shapes.

    "No, I guess not. But you'll get your turn against Blue, right?" you say as the magneton plugs the end of a magnet into one of the larger outlets.

    "I hope." Its voice trails off into nonsense static as electricity starts to flow, and Thunderstorm slumps into half-conscious repose, all but one eye sliding shut.

    It only gets a few seconds' peace and quiet; soon the room is filled with the rest of your pokémon, all chattering at one another, investigating the furniture, fiddling with the curtains.

    "I liked my old pokéball," Titan says wistfully, looking down at the new one clutched between his claws. "I had it since I was hatched."

    "Speak for yourself," Rats grumbles as she scrambles onto the free bed. "I was looking forward to getting out of that grubby little thing. Which is why I said I wanted my new digs to be a luxury ball, huh?" She shoots you a meaningful look. "Luxury. But look, that? That's pretty much the opposite of luxury." She swipes at Titan's new pokéball with her tail.

    "I know, Rats." You reach out and take the ball from Titan. "But like I told you, I don't have enough money for one right now. I'll buy you one after we beat Blaine tomorrow. Then I'll have plenty of cash."

    "Yeah, yeah, you're poor and crap. And whose fault is that? Hey, loser!" She launches herself onto the other bed and lands with a gleeful bounce that wakes the Great Nathaniel Morgan immediately.

    "Oh come on, Rats. He was being quiet." The raticate sniggers and slides back to the floor, pursued by your glare as well as the human's.

    "Ugh. It's like a fucking zoo in here," the Great Nathaniel Morgan grunts, rubbing his eyes and blinking. He must have bathed while you were gone, and without all the dirt it's much easier to see his remaining injuries, the cut across his nose standing out red and livid.

    "Hey! Who's hungry?" Rats scurries past on her way to the door.

    "Rats..."

    "Food! Food! Yay!" Togetic is after her in a moment, twirling enthusiastic circles.

    "I wouldn't mind something," Titan admits, offering you a sheepish grin. You sigh and dig out the remains of your petty cash. "All right, Titan. Here. That should be enough for all of you to get something," you say, handing him a few bills. It's a good thing real meals are free.

    "Hey, come on, what's this?" Rats says as Titan crumples the money between his claws. "Where's the goods? Where's the dex?"

    "I'm not paying for you to buy out the whole machine again, Rats."

    "Ah, come on. You know it was awesome!" She snickers and shoots out the door with Togetic on her heels, yelling for Titan to keep up as he lumbers along in their wake. The door slams shut behind them, leaving you in abrupt silence. It can't last.

    "Where the fuck is that lot going?"

    "Vending machine." You shuffle morosely through the last few bills in your wallet. "I wanted to buy them something nicer to eat, but after paying for supplies I did not have enough left. Why did you have so little money?"

    He'd been staring at the door, but now he turns to look at you, very slowly."Why did I have so little money? As in used to?"

    "Yes. In your trainer account. Obviously Team Rocket took everything in your pockets, but--"

    "Are you telling me that you've been fucking using my money to buy shit?"

    "I was. Until it ran out."

    "It--you--" You watch with interest as his face reddens, he clutches helplessly at the air. Finally he manages to choke out, "You spent all my fucking dough? All of it? And now you have the fucking nerve to ask why I didn't have more for you to steal?"

    "It was not stealing."

    "Like hell it wasn't stealing! That's what you fucking call it when you take somebody else's money without asking!" He actually stands up, hands clenching into fists, and you take a step forward, making yourself just the tiniest bit taller as you do. "Where the fuck do you get off?" he snarls. "Why the fuck would you--?"

    "It was ill-gotten, was it not?" It takes him a second to register what you said. He frowns and leans back a bit, staring at you in confusion. "The money. You got it as the result of some illegal activity, am I right?"

    "You--what? What the fuck does--well, yeah, but--"

    "So you stole the money from somebody else in the first place. Stealing is bad, so you should not have been allowed to keep it at all. The right thing to do would be to give it back to whoever you took it from, but I do not know who they are and have no way to find them even if I did. But at the least you should not be allowed to benefit from it, so I used it instead. It was the right thing to do."

    "What? What the fuck are you even talking about? That's the most fucking--" He breaks off with a shake of his head, then stares at you for a moment, teeth bared in a grimace. "So that's how the fuck it works, huh?" He snarls at last. "Let's see if I've got this all fucking sorted out. Your stupid little plan is to leave me alone some place, without my pokémon, without any supplies, and without any fucking money?" He counts them off on his fingers as he goes, glaring at you all the while.

    "Well, not 'some place,' Indigo Plateau, but--"

    "Oh, right! Very fucking nice! So some tourist deathtrap in the middle of the fucking mountains, surrounded by the most fucking dangerous monsters in the entire goddamned region? That's your fucking idea of the right thing to do?"

    You frown at him. "Yes. I do not know why you are getting angry at me about it. I am being generous by not turning you over to the police as soon as I can. This is your fault. If you had not decided to be a criminal, you could have avoided all this."

    "Oh my God. How the fuck do you even fucking exist?" All the anger's gone out of him, and he winces a bit as he slumps back down on the bed. "Just fucking kill me now and save me the pain and humiliation, Jesus."

    You frown down at him as he stares at the carpet, running one hand back and forth over his bare scalp. "Well?"

    He gives you a tired look, then says, finally, "Well what?"

    "So why did you have so little money?"

    He clenches his fists again and turns away from you. "I dunno, maybe because being a Rocket grunt is only one step up from flipping burgers? The fuck did you think?"

    "I thought stealing stuff would pay better. I thought that was the point."

    "Yeah, you think a lot of stupid shit, don't you?"

    "You are the stupid one."

    He shakes his head and crosses his arms and goes back to staring at the carpet, and in the quiet you can hear Duskull chuckling to himself as he bobs in circles overhead. Satisfied, you flop onto the free bed and scrabble the remote off the nightstand.

    You flip on the TV and bring up the guide channel, watching hungrily as the listing scrolls up the screen. It's been two whole days since you've been able to watch anything--you've missed so much! Let's see, it's Wednesday, going on six... Too late for cartoons. There's always the news, of course, but oh, that channel is halfway through Castelia Summertimes. And meanwhile, the guide itself is playing a trailer for some kind of action movie...

    "What the fuck are you doing?"

    You blink, then turn a glare on the Great Nathaniel Morgan. You'd almost forgotten he was there. "I am watching television. Obviously."

    "No you ain't. You're watching a bunch of fucking words go by."

    "Fine. Then that is what I am doing."

    He's laid back down and dragged a pillow over his head, and his words come out half-muffled. "You've been sitting there for like five fucking minutes. Just pick something, for God's sake."

    "Why do you care what I watch?" But any answer he might have is cut off as the door flies open and the room is filled with the jabber of your returning pokémon, Togetic at the fore. She shoots up in front of your face, waving a bag of fruit candies at you.

    "Yes, very nice, Togetic," you say, but she's already on her way, whirling around Duskull in teasing arcs until the ghost drifts off to resentfully haunt the alarm clock.

    "I got you some cookies," Titan says shyly, holding out a bag.

    "Just lemme know if you don't want 'em. I'd be happy to take 'em off your hands." Rats must have already eaten whatever she purchased. She hops onto your bed and makes a beeline for the headboard, curling up amongst the pillows.

    "Thanks, Titan," you say, and take the snack. "Thank you, Rats, but I'll be fine."

    The charizard grins and trots around to the other bed, holding out another package of cookies for the Great Nathaniel Morgan. The Rocket just stares at him.

    "He got you food. Take it." You can't keep the disapproval out of your voice, but Titan doesn't notice. He just smiles when the Great Nathaniel Morgan takes the bag, then wanders away and starts in on his danish.

    Togetic demands you let her watch something, and after a bit of surfing around you find a channel showing Tiara the Trainer reruns. "It's spelling!" Togetic chirps as though she can't even imagine a more exciting prospect. Most cartoons are too much for Togetic--she can't handle bad people, even the mild sorts of bullies seen on most children's programs--but she's more than happy to settle in, eat her candy, and learn how to spell "Silph Company" with Tiara.

    "Human words are so funny!" Togetic says with her mouth full. "How come they keep working even when there's nobody around to say them?"

    "I don't know, Togetic." It is a strange thing, but you're feeling too lazy to think about it right now. You half-watch the TV with Togetic as Tiara is replaced by some sort of science programming about research at the Oak Pokémon Laboratory. Titan leans in to watch this one too.

    Lulled by boredom and cheerful fatigue, you pay less attention to Togetic than you should. You don't notice her fiddling with the empty candy wrapper, fidgeting and humming to herself. You jerk out of your stupor only when, during an innocuous commercial break, Togetic shoots into the air, squirming and bouncing with boisterous energy. "Why is everybody being so boring? Come on, let's play!"

    "Togetic, I don't think now is a very good time. Why don't you...?"

    But it's too late. Togetic doesn't wait for you to finish your protest. Rats lets out a disgruntled squawk as her pillow is jerked out of her grasp, and she claws at empty air as she tries to get it back. "Come on! Pillow fight!" Togetic says.

    Titan, who is watching the proceedings in bald confusion, snorts and jerks his head back as the pillow hits him in the snout. Togetic is beside herself with cackling delight, and you can't help but smile despite your exasperation. "Not now, Togetic. We're trying to rest before the gym battle tomorrow. Why don't you--?"

    Your perfectly reasonable suggestion is cut off as the pillow comes down squarely atop your head. Titan gives you a sheepish grin as he twists the squashy weapon between his claws. "Umm. Defend yourself?"

    And of course there's no way you can turn down a challenge like that. "Hey. Hey! What are you doing?" Rats yelps as there is a sudden rush towards the headboard to claim a weapon. "No! Leggo!" She clings hard to the pillow she's been sleeping on as Togetic tries to fly off with it. Moments later she joins the fray herself, laying about with a bit more force than strictly necessary.

    Blows are traded and battle cries yelled, and after a few minutes you're lying sprawled on your back, laughing uncontrollably, with Rats and Titan collapsed in giggling heaps nearby. Togetic perches on the headboard, wracked with laughter. A fine drift of feathers fills the air from a pillow that caught on one of Rats' incisors.

    The moment stretches long as you float on a wave of exhilaration. Then, "Jesus fucking Christ. What the hell was that?"

    You tip your head back until you can see the Great Nathaniel Morgan and grin at him upside-down. "What the fuck is wrong with you? How old are you, fucking five?" He's pulled himself into a sitting position, one hand braced against the headboard, like he wants to be ready to move on short notice.

    "No. Eight." You roll onto your stomach and flop your arms off the edge of the bed. "Or twenty. It depends on how you count."

    "God-fucking-dammit. It depends on how you count? Why the fuck can't you answer a goddamn question like a normal person?"

    You're feeling too good to do more than laugh at his rudeness. "I used to be twelve. Then I died. And now I am eight. So. Eight or twenty."

    He rolls his eyes. "Ugh. Forget I even fucking asked. Fine. We'll go with eight, because you sure as hell don't act twenty. Eight with fucking mental problems." He grimaces. "Whatever. But could you lay off the nutcase shit already? It's creepy as fuck seeing me bounce around like a fucking retard."

    You stick your tongue out at him, and he glowers. "I cannot help it that grownups are boring. If you do not like it, do not watch."

    "I can't fucking believe it. I'm getting pushed around by a fucking elementary school kid." His brows draw down together as he frowns. "That explains a lot, actually."

    You sit up and investigate the torn pillow, which puffs more feathers into the air as you slap your palm onto it. You toss it at the Great Nathaniel Morgan out of lazy curiosity. He manages to get an arm up and swat it out of the air, but not without a wince of discomfort, his movements stiff and jerky.

    "Fuck off already. God, I never thought I'd say it, but I think I prefer you when you're all pissed off and breathing fire and shit. Now you're just being fucking annoying."

    You smile and bounce a little on the bed, eliciting a grumbled complaint from Rats. "You are just jealous because you are old and soon you are going to get all wrinkly and die."

    He stares at you. "What the fuck. And you're not?"

    "Nope!" Bounce, bounce. "At least Absol does not think so. Since I never get any bigger and my mother does not, either. And she's been around a long time. Longer than, than Professor Oak, even. And he's old!"

    The Great Nathaniel Morgan doesn't act suitably impressed. In fact, he's not even looking at you as he mutters, "So, what? You're going to be like... that... forever?" He waves a hand vaguely in your direction.

    "Yup!" He's so slow.

    "Huh." To your annoyance, all he does after that is stare at his knees for a while.

    "Jealous," you conclude at last. The pillow fight's ironed the last of the energy out of your team, everyone but Togetic. Even she settles down after a vigorous bout of tickling, and you're able to put on an old kung-fu flick while she sleeps atop the television. But while everyone else drifts off into slumber you're up late, late, past the comedy shows you don't understand and into the realm of reruns and ads for sleeping pills and counseling. Your eyes ache and your head feels heavy and filled with sludge, but you can't calm down--not that you really want to.

    After all, you have a gym battle tomorrow! You'll win your first badge, you'll get your prize money, and you'll be on your way to Viridian City. And you'll prove to the Great Nathaniel Morgan what a good trainer you are. If he's not jealous, he should be. Because you're awesome.

    ( Continued in Next Post )
    Last edited by Negrek; 3rd May 2015 at 7:32 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

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  19. #44
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    ( Continued from Previous Post )

    And that next day, standing in Cinnabar Gym's main arena, you're not even tired. How could you be? You can hear your heart hammering even over the roar of the crowd as you stand in the glare of sunlight shining down through the gym's open roof. Once, challengers would have stared up at the walls of a caldera, stood suspended over a pool of lava pumped up from the volcano's heart. The new gym is at the foot of the mountain, and now Blaine only aspires to create the illusion of fighting at its summit. Maybe even he has grown wary of the volcano's temper.

    It's less impressive than you'd expected, as is the ardor of your fans. Truth be told, your imagination has to supply most of their cheering. The stands are largely empty, holding just a scattered collection of family and friends of other trainers who will be battling today, maybe a couple hopefuls scouting Blaine's strategies. They didn't come here to see you, sure. But by the time they leave they'll know there's a hot new trainer to watch for at the Plateau, real champion material come out of nowhere. You grin up at your audience and shade your eyes with your hand.

    At least a couple of people are interested in your battle. Togetic is beside herself with excitement, bouncing up and down on the bench, and when she catches your eye she waves so hard she nearly overbalances and falls off. The red glow of Duskull's attention is trained square on the arena, drifting neither left nor right, and Thunderstorm watches with all three of its eyes. The Great Nathaniel Morgan is sitting on the very far end of the same bench, leaning so far away from your pokémon that he looks like he's going to tip over sideways any second, but he, too, is watching.

    You wave back to Togetic, then turn to your opponent. Blaine waits on the far side of the arena, leaning on his cane and grinning at you from the shade of his hat. "Well, then," he says. "How about we get started?"

    There's a pokéball in his hand now and one in yours, too, and before you can even think about what's happening they're in the air, the pokémon taking shape on the field.

    War balances on the jagged points of his beak, his tentacles taut with the effort of holding up his bell. He raises a couple of them, holding them at the ready as he stares down the rapidash Blaine's sent into the fray.

    "Challenger moves first," says Blaine, and you start, realizing you've been staring and leaving the pokémon to wait.

    "Use hydro pump."

    "Agility, Rapidash." There's laughter in the gym leader's voice.

    A second later a thick column of water gushes against the energy shield that separates Blaine from the arena. The gym leader would've been a goner without it, smashed against the far wall like a bug. But the shield's there, rippling with blue light as it dissipates the force of the attack. It's the rapidash that isn't, his hooves clattering a rapid-fire beat as he darts around the hydro pump and accelerates to be so fast even your eyes have trouble keeping up.

    "Now double-edge. You know how this works," Blaine says. Before you can even open your mouth, War is sent skidding across the floor, tentacles flailing and slapping at the ground as he tries to stop himself. Rapidash is cantering away, waiting for his next order.

    "Good. Now double team."

    The rapidash flies around the arena, chased by flickering afterimages, while War labors to right himself, dragging his bell, heavy and sagging without any water to support it, off the ground.

    "Just hit him with surf," you say. The rapidash can't dodge forever, and once War gets him with a couple good attacks he won't be so ridiculously fast. No reason to worry.

    But even as War coils and twists his tentacles in complicated patterns, calling up water, Blaine is preparing a response. "Not so fast. Give it a good bounce, Rapidash."

    The fire type's hindquarters bunch, and he hurls himself into the air just seconds before pipes under the arena burst open and a sheet of water comes jetting out of the floor. War sends the improvised tidal wave surging higher, but it can't catch the Rapidash, who soars on, impossibly high, trailed by a herd of illusory comrades.

    The surf attack crests, then comes crashing down over the arena, followed by Rapidash, who lands on War's bell hard enough to drive the tentacruel's beak a handspan into the packed clay of the floor.

    "Now, War! Quick, use--" The tentacruel isn't listening. The springiness of his bell sends the rapidash bouncing up again, but War strikes out with his tentacles, snaring limbs and pulling his opponent back down. The rapidash bucks and struggles and tears himself free, but the graceful arc of his leap is broken and his clones flicker and die, now that War's managed to find his real opponent. The tentacruel's tentacles have taken off long strips of skin, and lines of swelling mark the path of War's stinging touch. The rapidash stands out of War's reach for a moment, bleeding and catching his breath.

    Meanwhile, War is straining frantically with his tentacles, trying to wrench his beak out of the ground. "Great. Stay out of sight, Rapidash. Hit it with stomp until it goes down."

    "Quit struggling, War! Just use surf." He can hit with that even if he can't see the rapidash.

    The tentacruel begins gathering the attack, puddles left by the previous surf flowing together and gathering at the center of the field, but Blaine is giving new commands. "Bounce, then, Rapidash. Just stay out of the way."

    Again, War sends a tidal wave roaring up, riding high on the wall of water as it finally lifts him free of the floor. And again the rapidash jumps, sailing clear over the reaching wave and leaving the surf attack to collapse across an empty field.

    Rapidash is still rising, but any moment now he'll reach the top of his arc and start to plummet. "Quick! Grab it again like before when it lands. Wrap. Use wrap!"

    "Overheat."

    The rapidash falls, mane and tail streaming out behind and legs braced for impact. This time he lands in a nest of waiting, upraised tentacles that snap taut around his body even as his hooves drive War's beak into the floor a second time.

    You can't even see the rapidash anymore with his body completely wrapped in War's tentacles. But even as you start to relax, consider how best to finish this, the tentacruel lets out a shrieking curse that echoes around the battlefield and starts unwinding his tentacles as fast as he can. Light streams between them and the rapidash slowly reappears, glowing white-hot. He jumps down from atop War's bell and gives himself a contemptuous shake, sending off a final wave of heat that flashes the puddles beneath his hooves to steam.

    War is cursing fluently now, slapping singed tentacles into puddles and trying to drag his beak free with angry strength. The rapidash lashes out backwards with a hoof, nearly knocking the tentacruel over on his face. At least the power of the attack snaps half War's beak free, and he pulls the other half out with a loud crack, rounding as fast as he can on clumsy tentacles and sending a water pulse at his opponent.

    Rapidash sidesteps, not at all to your surprise, but his movements are sensitive now, ginger. His sides heave from exertion, and he sweats and shivers where he stands. War must have poisoned him earlier, and now at last the spring's gone out of his step.

    "Come on, War. One more surf!"

    "Get on top of it and stay there," Blaine counters. He's noticed too, then. No more bouncing.

    The water on the arena floor ripples and trembles, then rises to War's call. The rapidash jumps onto the tentacruel's bell, and as the wave takes shape, buoying both pokémon up, War tries to lash a few tentacles around his opponent's legs.

    The fire type gives an angry whinny and kicks off, evading the tentacruel's attack as he soars into the air. This time, though, his jump is not as powerful; it can't carry him high enough to escape the rising water. Rapidash sees what's going to happen a second before it does, and his cry of distress is cut off by a boom of water flashing into steam as the wave catches up with him, pulling him down with it as it rashes back to earth. The rapidash is nearly washed out of the arena as the wave spreads and drains away, coming to rest on his side with his mane and tail reduced to guttering flickers. Blaine recalls him without even waiting for the referee's verdict. "Good work, Rapidash. Now, Arcanine, finish it off."

    You should be celebrating. You have the lead, after all. To win, you just need to hold it. But you'd expected War to carry you all the way through the battle without a hitch, and he's barely upright, sagging and bruised. You will win, of course. Your pokémon are the best, and you're the best, and that's just simple facts, but this is turning out more difficult than you'd expected.

    "Arcanine, start with wild charge."

    "Hydro pump," you say reflexively. There's no time to wonder if you should have made a different move; the arcanine is already charging forward, splashing heedlessly through puddles as sparks dance and crackle in his thick fur. War's moving, too, raising his heavy bell and aligning himself with his opponent.

    The hydro pump is a direct hit--but the arcanine charges right through as though it weren't there, slamming into War and toppling him over in a twitching heap.

    The tentacruel tries to pull himself upright again, slapping at the floor with spasming tentacles, but after a few seconds he falls back, exhausted, and lies like a deflated balloon. The referee declares him out of the fight.

    The arcanine turns and walks back towards Blaine, flicking water from his tail as he goes. You recall War and stand there at a loss for what to do next.

    Blaine can see your dilemma. "You didn't really come in here thinking you could sweep me with a water type, did you?" he says with a laugh. A laugh. He's laughing at you, like you're some pathetic newbie trainer who doesn't even know their type chart. "What kind of gym leader would I be? You'll need to do better than that if you want a badge!"

    What kind of gym leader would he be? Maybe not the kind who only beat War because he spent most of the battle running away.

    Your face feels hot, and it's all you can do not to sprout talons and fangs and show the old man what he's really dealing with. Nobody laughs at you like that. Nobody.

    But not here. You can't--not with people watching. All you have to do is win this battle. That'll show him. It will be enough. More than enough. You squeeze Rats' new pokéball extra hard to relieve some of your irritation, then cast it to the floor. "Come on, Rats. Let's go!"

    The raticate shakes the last sparks of energy out of her fur and glances around the arena. "Oh, so War's not getting all the fun, then?" she says. "Nice. Too bad he can't stick around to watch how it's done!"

    The arcanine on Blaine's side of the field is crouched in a ready stance, while Rats remains relaxed and unconcerned, looking around with casual interest. "Could ask for a bit of air conditioning or something, but hey, it's not so bad. No lava or open flames or nothing. Damper than I expected, too."

    You watch the referee with hungry intensity, Rats chattering away just below your notice. The very instant the flags drop you're ready to blurt out, "Quick attack!"

    "Extreme speed."

    Rats blurs out into a long streak of motion, but an instant later the arcanine simply vanishes. Rats skids to a halt, glancing around an arena suddenly alive with furious splashes. Bursts of water leap from puddles on all sides, the arcanine moving so fast that he seems to be racing through them all at once. Then the fire type snaps back into view as he collides with Rats, slamming to a halt in a feat of impossible deceleration as the raticate is sent rolling and bouncing away across the arena.

    "Keep her at a distance, Arcanine. Flamethrower."

    The arcanine roars out a long cone of fire, and Rats rolls sideways to avoid it. Then she drops flat on her stomach to dodge another.

    "Get in close and use bite, Rats," you say. The arcanine's flamethrowers are powerful, but Rats doesn't have any problem dodging them. She weaves ever closer, skipping easily around gushes of fire, until--"Extreme speed!"--Arcanine disappears, and Rats pounces on empty air. She spins around, spitting curses, but can't get her bearings before she is engulfed in flames, the attack coming even before the command, "Another flamethrower, Arcanine. Keep it up."

    "Rats!" She's rolling on the ground, trying to put out the fire, but is forced to stop and leap away lest she get hit with another attack. The air is filled with the sour smell of burning fur. And you? You are beginning to panic.

    The arcanine is too fast. It's too fast and Rats can't even hit it without getting close. She's going to get tired of dodging before the arcanine runs out of fire. If she can't hit, she can't win, and if she doesn't win then all the rest is up to Titan. Titan is strong, but--no, you have to win. You aren't going to lose. Master trainers don't lose.

    "A little help here, Boss?" Rats rolls away from another burst of fire, but her movements are pained, her skin mottled red and white in patches of burnt-off fur. The twang of panic in her voice sets your heart racing, your fingers clenching. You open your mouth but can say nothing because the only words in your head are What if I can't win?

    But wait. Wait, this is stupid. You close your eyes half a second, make a change you can't feel. When you open them again there is nothing but a raticate and an arcanine on the field in front of you, fighting. You look and struggle for a moment to remember, and then the way is obvious.

    "Rats, use sucker punch." She's coming up out of another roll, and the moment her back paws hit the floor she's gone, no more than a flash of shadow as she tears across the arena. The arcanine tries to move, too, but he's already started to gather fire for another flamethrower, and he can't concentrate on an extreme speed at the same time. Rats is there even as his muscles start to tense, and the arcanine takes a punch to the gut that has him inhaling his nascent flamethrower, then hacking up smoke and little bursts of flame.

    "Bite him and hold on."

    The arcanine roars as four-inch fangs lock in his stomach, and he drops into a roll, trying to throw Rats off, trying to aim a flamethrower into his belly. "Overheat now, overheat!" Blaine says, and for a moment you're thrown by something in his voice, some emotion you don't recognize.

    You shake it off after a couple seconds. Whatever the gym leader's feeling, you don't care. "Super fang."

    The air around the arcanine starts to ripple and wiggle with heat, but Rats just closes her eyes and holds on tight. Her own fangs start to glow, red then yellow then white, and then she bites down harder. The arcanine squeals and rolls over again, kicking madly at the raticate. Rats is yelling as she chews, scissoring her teeth deeper and deeper into the arcanine's flesh even as the fire type starts glowing himself, like an igniting star.

    And then, suddenly, it's over. Rats tumbles free, screeching breathlessly with pain, and the arcanine curls in over his gushing wound, spitting fire blindly. Rats' fur is alight, up in flames just from contact with the blazing arcanine, but somehow she still feels his attacks, still tries to crawl away from them.

    She can't. She collapses. The arena is loud with the arcanine's strangled panting.

    Just like that, you're down against the gym leader. You don't think more on it, just recall Rats and pull Titan's pokéball off your belt.

    The charizard takes shape, craning his neck around as he takes in the arena. Blaine speaks. "Oh ho ho! Fighting fire with fire, are we?" Your eyes flick away from the battlefield to the human standing just beyond. That noise he's making. Laughter? Why?

    It doesn't matter. You look back to the battle.

    Titan is standing poised with his wings half-spread, staring down the arcanine. The other fire type has managed to pull himself into a sitting position, but the thin layer of water spreading from still-gushing pipes is dark with feathery tendrils of blood. Arcanine won't be doing any more running this match.

    That doesn't mean he isn't dangerous, of course. You need Titan to finish this quickly, so he has as much strength left as possible for Blaine's magmar.

    "Keep your distance, Titan. Use dragon rage."

    "Dragon pulse."

    Titan circles around the arcanine, his tail flame dancing with streaks of turquoise as he spews wave after wave of blue-green fire at his immobilized opponent. But though the arcanine's face is contorted in pain and he turns slowly, barely able to keep up with Titan's steady movement, he does not hesitate to launch his own attacks. Titan is forced to duck and lean around the arcanine's blue-glowing globes of energy, once having to do an awkward hop and flutter of wings to get away in time.

    Finally the charizard slips up, and a dragon pulse catches him in the side, bursting with concussive force and knocking him backwards with a sharp "oof!" You frown. The arcanine's on his last legs, fur smoldering from the dragonfire and his movements becoming ever more slow and jerky. But dragon rage is simply taking too long to do its work, and Titan's getting tired out as well. You need to end this.

    "Titan, get in close and finish him with slash."

    "Got it!" The charizard ducks under a dragon pulse, then charges forward before the arcanine can launch another attack. The canine pokémon roars in pain as Titan lays open a long gash across his shoulder, but even as the charizard turns to deliver another blow, the arcanine sinks his teeth into Titan's side.

    "Thunder fang!" Titan jerks back, and now it's his turn to roar as electricity snaps through his body, his muscles shivering out of control. But then he lashes out again, smacking his opponent across the face with his tail. He rakes with his claws as Arcanine turns back in the charizard's direction with his teeth bared in a snarl.

    Arcanine rocks back from the force of the blow and teeters a moment, gasping for breath. Then finally he concedes, slumping to the floor in an exhausted heap. Titan straightens up and fusses with the wound on his side while the arcanine is recalled, cauterizing it with delicate little bursts of flame.

    "Good work, Titan." He flashes a grin at you over his shoulder, then turns at the sound of an opening pokéball. Blaine's magmar stands at the far side of the arena, inspecting Titan with a critical eye.

    "Let's get this over with," she says in a bored tone, cracking her knuckles while she waits for her first command. Titan leans forward and lets out a deep growl, the flame on his tail leaping and dancing.

    Charizard versus magmar. You hadn't expected it to come down to this, or not as far as you can remember. It's fitting, though. You know exactly what move to use here. You taught it to Titan yourself not long ago, while you raced each other through the sky above your island home. "Titan," you say, "seismic toss."

    The charizard launches himself forward with a kick of his wings, angling up over a flamethrower from the magmar, then swoops down on her with claws spread wide. She tires to slip away, but Titan grabs her, pinning her arms behind her back and hauling her into the sky.

    The open ceiling is working against Blaine now as Titan soars ever higher, to scattered applause from the audience. You keep your eyes trained on the battle as Titan starts doing loop-the-loops far overhead, building momentum.

    It's only when the charizard comes shooting down again, diving straight at the ground, that Blaine gives his command. "Magmar, use thunder punch."

    Without your enhanced vision, it would have been too quick for you to see. Magmar wrenches her tail around, shoving it in Titan's face. The charizard jerks his head away, closing his eyes, and the clean line of his dive is broken. In his moment of surprise Magmar manages to get an arm free, then lands a thunder punch square in the charizard's stomach.

    Titan lets go completely now, twisting in pain, and the magmar shoves her way free of him. She rolls as she lands and comes up in a crouch while Titan crashes to the ground behind her in a mess of flailing limbs. The applause is now much, much louder.

    "Fan of Red, eh?" Blaine asks while Magmar straightens up. "Ever since he came through here I can't tell you how many people've tried to pull that stunt on us. Better luck next time! Magmar, confuse ray!"

    Magmar snaps around to face Titan, who has only just sorted out his appendages and is getting to his feet. She spreads her hands, a flurry of golden lights dancing between them, and as Titan turns to look, she releases them in a humming cloud.

    Titan half-raises his claws as the attack whirrs towards him, peering uncertainly at the little glowing specks. They circle his head in a nauseating swirl, dancing in an intricate pattern perhaps only Magmar can appreciate. And then, as one, they wink out. Titan wheezes and lurches to the side, shaking his head.

    "Titan. Titan! Come on, snap out of it. Use slash." The charizard looks left and right as though wondering where your voice is coming from. His eyes are wide and unfocused, and when he tries to take a step forward he trips, hammering his wings to keep himself upright.

    "Thunder punch." Magmar walks forward, unhurried, arms at her sides. She stops squarely in front of Titan while the charizard looks everywhere but at her, moving his head in short, jerky bursts and puffing out perplexed little clouds of smoke. The magmar stands there for a moment, watching, then lashes out with a punch that catches Titan square on the jaw.

    "Come on, Titan. She is right there. Get her with slash." The charizard tips backward, wings flapping as he tries to right himself, and Magmar sends another punch into his exposed gut. Titan thrashes around in a lopsided circle, striking out at random and ignoring your every attempt to get his attention. A wing slaps Magmar across the face purely by chance, and she falls back, trying to stay out of the charizard's way, only darting in with a punch when she has a clear shot.

    There's nothing you can do. It's only when a fortuitous punch jars something in Titan's head, knocks him far enough askew to turn him the right way round again, that he comes to his senses. The charizard lets out a roar of frustration and pain, but then his eyes focus, finally, on the magmar, and she takes a step back as she realizes it at the same time you do: the charizard's back in business.

    Titan lunges at his opponent with a shriek of rage. Magmar fights to get away as he tears into her with claws, teeth, wings, attacking in a mad flurry of blows. "Go on, Titan. Use rage." You doubt he's actually paying attention to you, but you might as well throw a command out there for the look of the thing.

    "Another confuse ray." Magmar has her hands up over her head, trying to fend Titan off with one lightning-crackling fist while shielding herself with the other arm. The charizard's still forcing her back, shrugging off her punches. If anything, they're making his advance more furious. Now the magmar stops punching, splaying her claws and scattering more golden lights.

    Titan rears up, screaming outrage as the confuse ray engulfs his head. This time Magmar rushes to get away, not even looking for an opening to attack. She hovers at a safe distance, her expression neutral but her fists raised. Her flame-licked body shows little sign of injury, but you can see the droop in her tail and the tension in her muscles as she works to keep herself steady. She's not going to last much longer--but unfortunately, she's in better shape than Titan.

    The charizard staggers to and fro, clawing and biting at nothing, roaring out angry bursts of fire. He doesn't notice his injuries, doesn't seem to care when he goes after his own wing with his claws or gets his tail tangled in his legs. Magmar follows his weaving progress, waiting for him to fall, maybe, or simply run out of steam, so she can rush in and finish him off.

    But the charizard's erratic movements are hard to predict, and a sudden lunge sends Magmar skipping back, then scrambling, then turning to flee as Titan doesn't stop coming in her direction, propelled by momentum, or blind luck, or some fragmented sense that he's found his opponent as last. He crashes into Magmar, and the two of them go down in a struggling heap. You and Blaine are both yelling commands, but it's no good; the pokémon are deaf in their panic.

    Titan is struggling simply to rise, though his reaching claws and flailing wings do plenty of damage to his trapped opponent. The magmar, half-crushed by his weight, doesn't have the leverage for a proper punch, but she's laying to with sparking claws and gouts of flame. Every time it looks like Titan's going to make it up, she manages to get under his feet or land an attack that knocks him off-balance, sending him crashing back to the floor.

    The undignified tangle goes on until Titan comes to his senses again, and finally the pokémon manage to extricate themselves, Magmar backing away in weary alertness while Titan stands where he is, huffing to regain his breath. His tail flame blazes high--too high. He's starting to lose control of his fire. It won't be long before the strain gets to be too much and he simply collapses.

    Titan lets out another bellow and charges, bloodied jaws wide. "Seismic toss, Titan. Get her away from you."

    Maybe he's actually listening to you. Maybe he just intended to do it anyway. Either way, he swats aside Magmar's punch and grabs her, hoisting her over his head. No fancy aerial stunts this time--there's no way he's getting airborne on his shredded wings. He simply throws Magmar as hard as he can, sending her skidding across the floor.

    "Now fire blast. Don't let her get close." The magmar can respond with fire of her own, but she won't be able to match Titan's power, not while he's blazing up like this.

    No sooner has Magmar gotten back to her feet than she's knocked down by a huge, five-pointed star of flame. "One last thunder punch, Magmar. You can do it," says Blaine.

    Magmar rises to her knees and braces herself, head lowered, arms raised, letting another fire blast break against her and dissipate. Then she's up and running, rushing straight into another unfolding fire blast. She skirts around it at the last second, keeps coming.

    "Stop her, Titan. Dragon rage." The magmar's close now, one fist alive with lightning, and she takes the burst of dragon-fire right in the face. She stops only a moment, shaking her head, but Titan is following in the dragon rage's wake and snatches her in his jaws. He lifts Magmar straight off the floor and shakes her, then throws her to the ground and goes at her with his claws. Then the magmar glows red, brilliant laser-red, and is gone. It's over.

    The referee's announcement is drowned out by a furious roar from Titan. He flexes empty claws and glares around the arena, which is very definitely empty of magmar. His eyes settle on Blaine instead.

    The charizard sets off in a stomping run, head low and neck extended, wings scooping at the air to give him extra speed. He roars a challenge at the puny creature standing so boldly in his way. A moment later, his pokéball's beam finds him. "Return, Titan."

    "Now that's a fiery charizard you have there," Blaine says, with another of those absurd laughs. You're only half-listening. The battle is over now. The least you can do is let yourself enjoy it.

    You close your eyes in another too-long blink, then flinch, disoriented as the noise of the crowd hits your new awareness. Then it all comes back to you and your heartbeat surges as you realize what you've done, what you've finally accomplished. Now you raise your arms and laugh in delight, and Togetic, unable to contain herself, fairly rockets down out of the stands.

    You forget to pay attention to Blaine's post-battle speech, lost in the ardor of victory. Togetic flies rings around you, babbling delight and pulling a sparkling contrail of joy dust behind her. The applause is scattered, polite, but it doesn't matter. You hear behind it the roar of filled stands, the fathomless capacity of Indigo Stadium. Soon, now. You're finally on your way. You'll find your brother. You'll save your mother. And you'll be standing in that victor's ring in Indigo Stadium, listening to the whole world cheer for you. It's only a matter of time.
    Last edited by Negrek; 24th June 2014 at 8:36 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  20. #45
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    Yay. I can finally return reviews.

    Um, I can't really give any specific advice. I'll do more when I can finally do chapter-by-chapter, but for now I can just give general thoughts and commentary. Paradoxically, this will end in a much shorter review for a much longer swath of content.

    The only thing I distinctly remember disliking for more than subjective reasons were the first few chapters. Now, there is definitely something to be said about keeping things short as a hook but I felt like they were almost too short to the point where they said almost nothing and thus did not really garner my attention. Maybe you could combine or lengthen them a little bit?

    My only other major gripe is that as a disciple of Vonnegut's Rule (tell as much as possible as early as possible) I naturally had some problems reading. That has nothing to do with you or the story; we simply have different styles and reading preferences.

    Second-person is intriguing in this story. Normally when I think of second person in journey fics it is used to make a semi-novelization of a game. The trainer is you just like in the games. Here it seems to signify a lack of identity more than anything. Interestingly enough, "the child" appears to be a distinct character who has an identity if that theory is correct. Is it because it is a previous incarnation? Perhaps even the brother being alluded to every once in a while? Or maybe it is meant to signify the central character when they were alive?

    Having to use "central character" leads into another interesting part of the work. There is genuinely no standard protagonist. The central character is a murderous mutant that even eleven chapters in we still know almost nothing about compared to that which we don't know. The only arguably noble characters in the entire work are antagonists with almost no screen time. The creature (I am now going to refer to the central character as this) isn't even a standard villain as xe has blue and orange morality more than anything. Xer motives are also really unclear right now, as Absol could be anywhere from a righteous avenger to a satanic pawn to a harsh neutral figure (which he currently appears to trend closest to).

    Which leads back to the entire "not knowing any information" thing. Oftentimes it kept me reading just to see how things would unfold. More often than not it just left me really confused because I had no idea what was going on or why something held particular significance. You've tried to allude to more and more about the creature's nature in recent chapters by confirming xe is undead and tying it to the Mew duo, but I still can't tell you much other than that xe is undead, died on Cinnabar Island, can use attacks, and can transform using a Pokedex but that leaves me with... nothing. There isn't a whole lot of buildup of tension because presumably the creature can use some new mechanic that had never been discussed before to get out.

    Which is what makes the current arc so refreshing. Now the creature is forced into a well-defined set of rules with a clearly stated objective, if a vague motivation. While some things are unclear they will surely be revealed later and I feel like I know most of what I need to in order to get through the gym part. Now that a strange quest to get Pokemon for no clear reason until the very end of that arc and using mechanics never fully explained or introduced is over and a quest with widely understood goals and mechanics has been introduced, the fic is vague but not excessively so in my opinion.

    So, the verdict of my rambling and self-contradictory review:

    The early parts were honestly almost too wierd for my preferences. Digging through clues while having little idea what was going on or why I should care about any of it was difficult. Now, the fic is starting to get more interesting as at least the immediate goals and path to reach them are clear. I still don't get what happened to "the child" sequences or why they were phased out, but that could just be me missing things. The fic is very well-written and the concept is intriguing, parts of it just weren't really my cup of tea.

    And I'll stop before I make even less since. I'll be back when you post again, though.
    The Flash Drive of Champions: Backgrounds

    There are many reasons to journey in the Pokemon World. It turns out that banishment, Bond Villains, unbeatable rivals and being forced to attend one dance too many are among them.

    File 2.5 is up. Gela literally puts on a show for the world to see while elsewhen her world is shattered beyond repair.

  21. #46
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    The only thing I distinctly remember disliking for more than subjective reasons were the first few chapters. Now, there is definitely something to be said about keeping things short as a hook but I felt like they were almost too short to the point where they said almost nothing and thus did not really garner my attention. Maybe you could combine or lengthen them a little bit?
    Hmm, maybe. The first chapter has to stay how it is, despite being more or less a little teaser, but I do recall thinking that some of the other early ones were short. They're pretty separate scenes, chronology-wise and topic-wise, so I like them being kept distinct, but perhaps some of them can reasonably be combined.

    Interestingly enough, "the child" appears to be a distinct character who has an identity if that theory is correct.
    Nope, I'm afraid not. The child and all variants of "you" are the same person. The POV switches to second person when the child transforms into someone else and starts telling itself a story of being that person, which is why you end up with shifts like the one in chapter eleven where the prose goes from third person in one paragraph to second in the next without a break. The child does take on some characteristics of whatever form it's occupying at any given time, which grow more pronounced the longer it does so, but it has a consistent character that largely remains regardless of transformation. There is definitely only one protagonist, and everything written in present tense is happening "now." Sorry, I know the POV shifts are disorienting.

    Having to use "central character" leads into another interesting part of the work. There is genuinely no standard protagonist. The central character is a murderous mutant that even eleven chapters in we still know almost nothing about compared to that which we don't know. The only arguably noble characters in the entire work are antagonists with almost no screen time. The creature (I am now going to refer to the central character as this) isn't even a standard villain as xe has blue and orange morality more than anything. Xer motives are also really unclear right now, as Absol could be anywhere from a righteous avenger to a satanic pawn to a harsh neutral figure (which he currently appears to trend closest to).
    Heh, yes, I have to admit that I prefer stories with muddy morality where it's not obvious who's a hero and who's a villain. Ideally your opinions on some of the characters will shift a bit as the story progresses, too.

    Which leads back to the entire "not knowing any information" thing. Oftentimes it kept me reading just to see how things would unfold. More often than not it just left me really confused because I had no idea what was going on or why something held particular significance. You've tried to allude to more and more about the creature's nature in recent chapters by confirming xe is undead and tying it to the Mew duo, but I still can't tell you much other than that xe is undead, died on Cinnabar Island, can use attacks, and can transform using a Pokedex but that leaves me with... nothing. There isn't a whole lot of buildup of tension because presumably the creature can use some new mechanic that had never been discussed before to get out.
    Well, the intent of the earlier chapters was to introduce the format of the story, a bit of the situation, and get the reader used to the child's abilities. At this point, you shouldn't expect any new "mechanics" to crop up--there shouldn't be any further surprises as to what it's capable of. I don't know if there's any way to really indicate that in the story itself, though, so I can see how you'd be worried that I'm just going to pull some new power out of my *** when the child gets in over its head. The early chapters are definitely radically different from most of the rest of the story, and I've gone back and forth over whether it's appropriate to start the story there or later on many times. I'm just worried that it would be even more confusing to skip them, and I'm honestly not sure where I'd cram all the necessary exposition if I did... the reason these last couple chapters (and the next couple, with Chapter 13 being especially bad) are so talk-heavy is that I'm trying to drop a lot more information before the plot really starts to accelerate around Chapter 14, because I won't have much opportunity to do so beyond that point. Bit off more than I can chew with this story, eh?

    The early parts were honestly almost too wierd for my preferences. Digging through clues while having little idea what was going on or why I should care about any of it was difficult. Now, the fic is starting to get more interesting as at least the immediate goals and path to reach them are clear. I still don't get what happened to "the child" sequences or why they were phased out, but that could just be me missing things. The fic is very well-written and the concept is intriguing, parts of it just weren't really my cup of tea.
    Sorry to hear you didn't care for the earlier part of the story (in particular); things stay pretty linear from here on out, although I'm afraid that it takes a long time for all the mysteries that have been presented to get resolved. The "child" sequences haven't been phased out--it's just that the protagonist has been spending a lot of time in someone else's skin recently. There'll be some long third-person stretches later on; what POV dominates just depends on what the protagonist's up to at any given time.

    Thanks for reviewing even though this wasn't really your cup of tea. You've definitely given me some things to think about!

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  22. #47
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    Author's Notes: Early update! Birthday update! Kinda. Nice and short this time, probably another long one next.

    Chapter 10

    "All I'm saying is, that battle? Fucking sucked."

    "I won. I do not see what your problem is."

    "Yeah, you won. Because you got fucking lucky. That and your charizard is some kind of fucking insane berserker or something." Titan turns in his direction, confused, licking ice cream off his snout.

    "Do not pay any attention to him, Titan. He is just jealous." Togetic whips past overhead, trailing a streamer of joy dust. You reach up to pass your hand through it, enjoying the tingle of the glowing flecks against your skin. You and the rest of the team are lounging in the sand, enjoying the spoils of victory--ice cream, mostly. The great Nathaniel Morgan sits alone at a picnic table a little farther up the beach, though his unwillingness to join the celebration hasn't stopped him from making snide comments.

    "Oh yeah, totally fucking jealous. I was real goddamn impressed by he way you completely lost control of your pokémon. Teach me your secrets, oh motherfucking master trainer."

    "I am not going to teach you anything. I want you to be quiet."

    You toss Titan another tub of ice cream. He eagerly pries the top off and starts licking at the dessert within.

    "Damn but I can't wait until you face Blue," the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on. "He's going to fucking wreck you, and he'll be a complete dick about it the entire time. It's going to be fucking great."

    "I do not see how you think you have the right to criticize. It is not as though you could do any better."

    "What, in a battle? Freak, I could kick your ass--" he pauses as a gust of wind blows some of Togetic's joy dust in his face, then sneezes explosively. "Ow! Fuck! What the fuck is this--?" He sneezes again, then pulls his shirt up over his nose and glares at you from watering eyes. "What the hell is this shit?"

    You're laughing too hard to answer, and Togetic comes drifting down to land on your shoulder, scattering another cloud of dust as she goes. Once you catch your breath, you say, "It is joy dust. Togetic makes it when she is happy. It makes you feel good."

    "Oh, well that explains it," the great Nathaniel Morgan growls, slightly muffled through his shirt. "No wonder you're acting like a fucking moron over there, it's because you're literally high." Once Togetic's lost interest and floated away again, he pulls his shirt back down and wipes his nose on his sleeve. "Anyway. Like I was saying. You think you can beat me in a battle? Fat fucking chance. I ain't no champion, but at least I don't suck."

    Ordinarily you might be irritated by his rudeness, but even his most determined efforts can't put a dent in your good mood right now. "Oh, really? It is a pity you managed to lose your pokémon. I would enjoy showing you how wrong you are."

    "Yeah? Then lend me one of yours, asshole. Doesn't matter to me."

    You have to laugh at that. "Really? You think you could win against me with one of my own pokémon?"

    "Easy." He smirks as laughter overtakes you again. "Tell you what, let's make a bet out of it, huh? Some jackass took all my fucking cash, you might have heard, so why don't we say this: if you beat me, I'll be quiet the whole rest of this fucking stupid trip."

    "You won't say anything?"

    "Not one single fucking word. Sound good?"

    Sounds suspicious. "And what do you get if you win?"

    "You get off my ass and let me do what I want instead of being glued to your hip twenty-four-fucking-seven."

    "No."

    He rolls his eyes. "One day of freedom, then."

    "No."

    "Come the fuck on! I ain't gonna win anyway, remember? What the fuck're you afraid of?" You feign disinterest, picking up handfuls of sand and squeezing until the grains slip between your fingers. Finally the great Nathaniel Morgan makes a frustrated noise. "Come on! One fucking hour!"

    You turn back to him and say, "Half an hour."

    He growls to himself as he thinks, staring off into space. "Oh, fuck me. Fine! Half an hour. We battle, and if you win, I shut the fuck up, and if I win, you let me out of your sight for half an hour. Deal?"

    You take a few seconds to turn it over in your mind, checking for cracks. "Deal."

    "Ha!" he gets up from the table, unfolding with pained slowness, and picks his way down the beach towards you. "I woulda done it for nothing, just to see the look on your stupid face. But I ain't gonna argue with a fucking perk, neither."

    You stand up too and brush some sand off your pants. You glance around at your team, of which only Thunderstorm is paying any attention to the conversation. "Who do you want?"

    "Don't care. I can kick your ass with any of 'em."

    You hesitate, considering. Finally you decide: "Since you think I did such a poor job with him, you should take Titan and show me how it is done."

    The charizard's sunning himself amidst a litter of empty ice cream cartons. He starts at the sound of his name and twists around to look at you over his shoulder.

    "Titan, the human would like to use you in a battle against me. Would you mind listening to him for a little while?"

    "Oh." Titan heaves himself to his feet, shaking himself until his wing-vanes rattle and sending up a great cloud of sand. "Sure. I'll do it."

    "He is ready if you are," you say to the great Nathaniel Morgan, who is watching the charizard with a hint of a frown.

    "Charizard, huh? Yeah, I can work with that. What about you?"

    "Why should I tell you?"

    He shrugs. "You know what I've got. But whatever, if you're so fucking scared of losing that--"

    "Rats," you snap. "I am using Rats."

    "Whuzzat?" The raticate rolls onto her back and squints up at you from sleep-fogged eyes.

    "You are going to be battling Titan in a minute."

    "Give me ten to get ready, and then we'll fight, okay?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says. He doesn't wait for you to reply, just motions for Titan to follow him and starts walking away from you. The charizard gives you a bewildered look.

    "Why should you have time to prepare?" you ask. "It is not like you normally do before a battle." Rats scrambles up and starts stretching and combing sand out of her fur.

    "You coming?" the great Nathaniel Morgan yells over his shoulder. Titan shoots you another confused glance, then whirls around and starts stomping after the human.

    "Hey!" you yell after them. "Wait! I am talking to you!"

    If the great Nathaniel Morgan can hear you, he gives no sign. Certainly he doesn't stop. He can hear you, can't he? Surely there's no way he couldn't.

    You waver on the brink of going over and demanding a battle immediately, but confusion holds you back. By your feet, Rats chuckles. "Smooth, Boss."

    Titan stands by the great Nathaniel Morgan a little ways up the beach, out of earshot--or the earshot of a normal human anyway. You consider turning up your ears, decide against it.

    So the great Nathaniel Morgan wants to have his secret conference? He thinks a few minutes of preparation will be enough to let him win? Fine, then. It doesn't matter. You're going to beat him no matter what, so like he said, you don't need any extra advantages.

    So you just watch. You don't think even the great Nathaniel Morgan would be dumb enough to try anything with Titan there, but you aren't going to turn your back on him. As far you can tell the human's just talking fast, making little hand gestures, while Titan listens in an attitude of polite confusion.

    "This is unwise," Thunderstorm says from beside you. "He would not have made that bet if he wasn't sure he could win."

    "I know he thinks he can win. He's just wrong."

    "You have no idea how good he is at battling. Don't be overconfident."

    "Come on, Thunder. He's a Rocket. Everybody knows they suck." You cross your arms over your chest and frown, still watching the distant pantomime. "And he's stupid even for one of them."

    "Yeah. And you know I can take that big lug one on one anyway," Rats says. She's prodding at the sand by her feet, bored. Thunderstorm floats down to her level, zooming in close.

    "From what I saw, that 'big lug' had to clean up a mess you left in the gym battle earlier today."

    "Well maybe you saw wrong, three-eyes. Wouldn't surprise me if it was hard to make things out from where you were cooling your ass on the bench."

    "Rats." She stops talking but flashes her teeth at Thunderstorm anyway. The magneton drifts off again, much to your relief. The rest of your wait passes peacefully enough, War growing bored and playing a complex drumbeat on the surface of the ocean. It's not long before you've done all the waiting you can stand.

    "Hey!" you yell. They look your way. "Enough. Let us battle, if you still insist on it."

    "Oh hell yes," the great Nathaniel Morgan calls back, starting in your direction. "You got all that, big guy?" he asks Titan over his shoulder.

    "I guess," the charizard says, ducking his head in a nervous nod. Then he hurries around the great Nathaniel Morgan and out into the makeshift arena.

    "Go on, Rats." She takes up your side of the field, a grim look on her face as she settles into a ready crouch. Her loss at the gym must have really stung. Well, she'll get to redeem herself here. "Hyper fang!"

    "Fire spin!"

    Rats takes off at an angle, ready to jink around Titan's attack. But it doesn't come. The whirlwind of fire you'd expected to bloom around Rats whips up with Titan at its center instead.

    Rats skips to a halt just outside the wall of flame, peering at it. She stays constantly in motion, bouncing back and forth around the perimeter of the attack, looking for an opening. There isn't one, nor any way to see inside the fire spin--or for Titan to see out.

    How does he expect hiding to help? You snicker to yourself and say, "Get ready with a hyper fang as soon as the fire goes out."

    "Like I need telling," Rats mutters, keeping up her restless pace around the attack's edge. The very moment the flames start to dissipate she's on her way, lunging and sinking her teeth into Titan's side. He roars and turns to unleash a flamethrower at her. Rats lets go and scampers out of the way, skipping light-footed across the ring of molten sand left by the fire spin, then backs up even farther when Titan sends another flamethrower slashing her way.

    "Go for the whiskers," the great Nathaniel Morgan says. Typical. It's what everyone thinks of first, battling a raticate. They're not even half as fast with their whiskers damaged.

    "Another hyper fang when you see an opening, Rats," you say, though surely she's already thinking the same thing. She ducks under more fire, then starts forward again, teeth bared.

    "Now! Get it!"

    Titan hooks his foot-claws under the rim of the slaggy, half-crystallized ring of sand surrounding him and lifts up. Rats stumbles, caught off-guard as the arena moves beneath her feet. "Slash!"

    Titan lunges, claws at the ready, but Rats spins away, protecting her face.

    It's not what Titan's aiming for. He reaches with his jaws, clamping down on Rats' tail as it comes whipping into view. Then he rears upright, dragging the raticate backwards and into the air.

    Both of you are too startled to react until it's too late. Rats' front paws scrabble across the ground for a moment, and then she's hanging upside-down in midair, clutching at nothing.

    "Hey! What the--?" She flails around a bit but only succeeds in rocking herself back and forth. Titan is standing with his neck stuck out awkwardly, Rats dangling where she can't reach any part of his body.

    "You--you, you--put me down!" She tries to curl in on herself, reach up and claw at Titan's face, maybe, or pull her tail out of his mouth. But she can't reach and falls back in an exhausted flop, swinging like a pendulum.

    "Rats." You still don't really understand how this happened. "Get out of there! Try--quick attack? Sucker punch. Something!"

    "I swear, you stupid lizard, you're going to pay for--nrrrrrgh!" Rats transforms into a crazy ball of paddling limbs, twisting gently back and forth in the air but making no progress towards freeing herself. You can see the muscles in Titan's neck straining to keep his head held out at such a strange angle, but he doesn't look tired.

    "Good. Now go for the whiskers," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, and Titan brings his tail around and lines it up carefully under Rats. Then he starts to move it up, closer and closer to his helpless opponent. Rats, hanging in quiet exhaustion, sees it coming, her eyes widening.

    "No--you--no! No no no nononononononononono!" The raticate throws herself into another fit of desperate struggling, to no avail. Titan's grip stays firm, and the flame keeps moving closer. In another couple seconds it's going to reach Rats' face.

    The pokéball's recall beam reaches her first, and Titan's mouth snaps closed as her tail vanishes from between his teeth. He rocks back on his haunches in the sudden absence of her weight and blinks in consternation.

    "Worked like a charm," the great Nathaniel Morgan says, a broad and hideous mockery of a smile spreading across his face. "Nice job, big guy." Titan lets out a snort of surprise and jerks his head around to look as the human pats him on the side in passing.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan stands in front of the charizard with arms crossed over his chest, his horrid grin stretching even wider. "Ooh, yeah, I was right. That look is fucking priceless." But after a second his smirk fades. "Ugh. Actually, no, wipe that look off my fucking face already. You're making me look like a total fucking moron."

    "I won," Titan says, staring at the arena in front of him, the place where Rats isn't. Then his snout crinkles in a grin. "I won!"

    It's only when he looks to you, hoping to share his excitement, that he catches your expression. His wings droop, and he knots his claws together, hunching his shoulders down. "...Oh. Sorry."

    "No, Titan." You're barely able to get the words out between gritted teeth. He glances up at you, nervously, then away again. "You did a good job. Nice work. But you!" You turn and glare at the great Nathaniel Morgan, who raises his eyebrows at you. "You cheated!"

    "Oh really? And how the fuck did I cheat?"

    "That was not an actual attack! You cannot do that!"

    "Not an actual attack? What, you've never heard of 'I win' attack? It's like feint attack except it's super effective against total dickheads."

    "That is not even a real thing!" you howl.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan shakes his head. "Honestly. What are they teaching you little monsters in school these days? Oh, wait." He smirks at you again. "Never went to school, did you? I bet they wouldn't take you 'cause you were too fucking ugly--"

    "That battle does not count! You only won because you cheated. You cannot beat me in a fair fight!"

    "It's not cheating, Freak. It's called fucking strategy. Maybe you oughta try it sometime. Starting with teaching your raticate some goddamned distance attacks already. If you don't, you're just going to end up getting fucked over when somebody with half a brain puts their pokémon out of reach. I mean, you didn't even teach it fucking hyper beam? I thought all the dumbass newbies loved hyper--"

    "I do not want your stupid advice. I do not take advice from cheaters!"

    "--is your strongest, but that doesn't mean you can just throw it at everything and expect it to be able to bite it to death or whatever--"

    "Shut up. Shut up! That battle does not count. You will not get your stupid reward."

    He shrugs and smirks at you again. "Huh. Not like I was really expecting you to keep your fucking word." He uncrosses his arms and wanders back to his spot at the table, followed by Titan's morose gaze. "But guess what, Freak? I already got my fucking reward. And it's that you're never. Ever. Going to live this one down."

    --

    And indeed, he's still going on about it at dinnertime. You'd hoped food would shut him up for a while, but he doesn't have a problem with talking while chewing. If anything, he's even more expansive than he was before. "All I'm saying is, you want to actually win against somebody who knows what they're doing, you've got a long way to go," he says.

    Your pokémon have already eaten and gone off to their own pursuits, leaving you to pick at your food and try to ignore your remaining dinner companion. He's already eaten two of the center's stiff, squashed burgers and shows no sign of slowing down.

    "Like what the hell kind of trainer just lets their charizard rampage all over the fucking place? Sure it's kind of badass, but one of these days that rage thing's gonna come back and bite the two of you in the ass so hard you won't be able to sit down for fucking weeks."

    You grimace and pull your tray a little closer to you, just to be safe. For once you wish the great Nathaniel Morgan wouldn't curse so much. All those "f"s are dangerous when he's talking with his mouth full.

    "Not that I blame you for having trouble with it," the great Nathaniel Morgan goes on, stickily. "I swear to God I've never met a dumber pokémon in all my fucking life. I could barely get it to understand even real fucking simple instructions."

    "Shut up. Do not talk about Titan like that."

    "Why the hell shouldn't I? Who's the one who just got fucking curbstomped? I know what I'm talking about, Freak. At least I know more than you."

    You don't meet his eyes, prodding experimentally at your pudding. It looks a bit more appetizing than the rest of what's on your plate. "I told you. It does not matter that you won. You do not know anything. And I will not allow you to talk about my friends like that."

    "Yeah, yeah, it doesn't count or some shit. That what you're telling yourself?" You wrinkle your nose as he spews spitty crumbs everywhere with a laugh. "Face it, Freak. You lost to the fucking Rocket scum. You're a shitty trainer, and no amount of bitching at me is going to change that."

    "I do not have to face it because it is not true. You can keep saying the same things over and over again, but that will not change the fact that you are just a weak, stupid human who cheats." You shove a spoonful of pudding in your mouth to shut yourself up. You really shouldn't even be talking to him. But ignoring him doesn't seem to help, either, and you're beyond tired of his sneering rants.

    "That so? You want to talk weak and stupid, maybe you oughta take a look at that raticate of yours. Fucking pathetic, that's what it is."

    "Shut up!" You bang the fist holding your spoon down on the table so hard some of the soda in your glass sloshes over the rim. "I told you not to talk about my friends like that, and I meant it. If you keep saying those kinds of things, I will--"

    "You'll what?" He leans forward now, food forgotten, and lowers his voice so you have to strain to hear. "Set me on fire? Make my head explode? In front of all these people?"

    There's maybe a dozen other people in the cafeteria, humans and their pokémon. The two of you have a table to yourself, shoved up against the wall, but it's true--there are plenty of witnesses.

    The great Nathaniel Morgan flicks a glance around the room, as if to drive his point home, then turns a smirk on you. "Yeah, that's right. So just what the fuck do you think you're going to do to me, huh? What would you do if I told you that lardass charizard of yours is the weakest, pussiest, ugliest excuse for a retarded lizard I ever--"

    "I said shut up! Do not talk about him like that. I do not even care who is watching, I will--" realize with sudden cold certainty that the room has gone quiet and every single eye is on you. Find yourself standing up with your fist drawn back as if preparing to drive it through the great Nathaniel Morgan's smug, ugly face. Discover that your hand hurts for some reason.

    You open your fist, and your spoon clatters unevenly to the table. It's just a useless mess of metal now, bent and twisted back on itself from the force of your grip. After a moment of surprise, you realize that now everyone is staring at the spoon instead of you. You shuffle it hastily onto your tray under a litter of used napkins, then sit back down again and try to act like nothing's happened.

    "This center silverware," the great Nathaniel Morgan says blithely. "Completely shitty, am I right?" He's gone back to eating.

    You wince as a young girl bangs her fork experimentally against the edge of her table. You sit and stare down at the remains of the meal in front of you, not even seeing it. You force yourself to stillness and as close to calm as you can manage, waiting, meeting no one's eye. Gradually, conversation in the cafeteria starts to pick up again.

    After a few minutes you realize that the fries the great Nathaniel Morgan's eating are yours and decide dinnertime's over. "You are going to pay for that," you hiss at him.

    "Oh, I know. Totally fucking worth it, though." He stares right back at you, and there's not a trace of fear in his expression.

    "Take your tray back to the kitchen," you say, gathering your own. "If you know what is good for you, you will not make a scene." From now on, he'll be getting his meals in your room, and let him complain as much as he likes. This was a disaster. And, you think as you dump your tray off into the garbage, to top it all off, you didn't even get to finish your pudding.

    --

    You aren't surprised to find Rats back at the room, taking advantage of the quiet to get in a good nap. She's the only one back. The great Nathaniel Morgan lowers himself onto his own bed, favoring his injuries, and takes to staring at the ceiling.

    You glare at him. "Do not even think you can ignore me. You are going to regret saying those things about my friends."

    "Hey, Boss," Rats says on the tail end of a yawn, "Could you maybe keep it down? Trying to sleep, here."

    "I think you should leave, Rats," you say, running your thumb back and forth over the fingers in your fist. Iron spines are starting to grow out from your knuckles.

    The raticate raises her head and squints at you. "What do you mean? What are you going to--oh. Hey, whoah, hang on a second, there. What's going on?"

    "Don't worry about it, Rats. Just get out of here."

    She's on her feet already, as alert and attentive as if she'd never been napping. "Hold it. I don't like the looks of this. Why don't we just take a minute and--hey. Hey! I'm talking to you, here!" She makes a running jump as you start towards the human, catching your arm and clinging, like she's going to somehow hold you back.

    "Look, you can't just go beating people up whenever they get on your nerves, all right? What the heck's your problem?" You try to twist your arm free, but she hangs on tighter, feet scrambling for purchase against your side. You work to pry her off while you talk, your words coming out breathless and harsh.

    "He made fun of Titan, Rats. He made fun of you. I told him to stop and he wouldn't stop, and I can't just let him get away with that, he can't keep saying things like that. It isn't right! Someone ought to punish him for being so mean."

    "That so?" Rats' whiskers twitch, and she pauses for a moment. "Oh, well... Maybe if you just punched him once... No! No, kidding, kidding!" She tries to reach across and grab your other arm, too, while you do your best to shake her off without hurting her. The great Nathaniel Morgan watches the two of you struggling out of the corner of his eye, face expressionless.

    "I'm serious! You need to chill out and think this over, okay? This whole rage thing has got to stop. Hey--Absol! Absol, back me up, here."

    "Back you up on what?"

    "Absol?" You jerk around so fast that Rats digs her claws into your arm to keep from being thrown off. Absol's walking down the bed towards you, as casual as though she's been here all along. You sit down at the foot of the bed, gut twisting with nerves and embarrassment, and Rats lets go.

    "Backup," she mutters to herself as she drops to the floor. "Gotta get backup. One second!" You don't turn to watch her leave, barely notice the sound of the door opening and shutting behind her. Your attention is on Absol instead. She settles down next to you with her legs stuck out straight in front of her, calm as anything.

    "Where the fuck did that thing come from?" The great Nathaniel Morgan's raised himself up on one elbow, giving Absol a narrow-eyed stare. And it's just too much.

    "Stop it! Absol is not a thing, she is a person, just like you! Except better. And it is because of her that you are still alive, so you ought to show her some respect. Do not ever call my friends 'its' unless that is what they are. Do not call them 'things.' Call them by their names, and treat them like actual people, or you will not like what happens next."

    Absol actually blinks, and for a moment the great Nathaniel Morgan is struck dumb. But he's never off-balance for long. "Wow. Jesus fucking Christ, I fucking get it already," he snarls. He nods at Absol, who barely glances in his direction. "Sorry, your royal motherfucking highness. There. You want me to curtsy, too? God."

    Absol looks up at you. "Why are you so angry?"

    "Absol, where have you been?" You run your fingers through her ruff, trying to calm down. "This stupid human is ruining everything. He's slow, and he always complains, and he said mean things about Titan and Rats, and about me, and we had a battle and he cheated so he won, and I hate him. Why do you keep protecting him?"

    Absol's red eyes show no sign of emotion. "What makes you think I am protecting him?"

    "Why can't I just kill him? Absol, he should have died in the first place. He deserves it. He's horrible."

    Absol rolls onto her back and stretches her legs in the air, one at a time, flexing her claws with languid patience. Without looking at you, she asks, "Do you think killing him will solve anything?"

    "Yes. I wouldn't have to listen to him anymore. And he wouldn't be able to do more bad things."

    "He would not be able to do more good things, either."

    "He doesn't do good things, Absol. He's a bad person." You reach out to scratch her tummy, but retreat when you receive an icy look. "If you don't want me to kill him, then just say so already," you say as Absol tucks her legs back in and starts licking at her ruff.

    "You are free to make whatever choices are not dictated by Fate. You should exercise that freedom where you have it," she says without interest.

    You make an exasperated noise. "I wish I could tell where that was."

    Absol gives the faintest of smiles and rolls back onto her stomach. "I came to make sure this nonsense wasn't causing any delay. Are you still expecting to reach the plateau within a week?"

    "Yes, yes. I'll be there. I already beat the seventh gym. I got the badge today, see?" You show her the little pin you've stuck on your backpack, and she peers at it with polite interest.

    "Congratulations. That's very nice," she says, and you grin and slide the bag to the floor again.

    "So, are you going to stay for awhile?" you ask. Absol kneads the bedspread with her claws for a few seconds.

    "For the night, I think." You grin and scratch around the base of her blade, and she is content to be fussed over for a bit.

    "So? What the fuck?" the great Nathaniel Morgan says after a few minutes. You shoot him a glare, and Absol gives him a bland look as you stop petting her. "You got any more pokémon that are just gonna appear out of thin air, or what?"

    "No."

    But of course he won't leave it there. "Well? What the fuck is up with that... with fucking Absol, then? You sure were having a real animal noise session over there."

    "Absol came to see whether my journey is going all right. Which it is. Except for you."

    He rolls his eyes. "Glad I could be of motherfucking service. What, so Absol's all about you being the best there ever was and shit? How the fuck does a freak like you even get a fucking fanclub?"

    "She does not care about that, no," you say with a hint of reproach. Absol snorts. "She wants me to go to the plateau so I can talk with my brother. I need his help."

    "What the fuck? You have a brother? There's more of you shits?" The great Nathaniel Morgan rubs at his face as if abruptly tired. "Oh dear God."

    You frown at him, then watch as Absol leaps down from the bed and stretches. She ranges around the room, sniffing at corners, peering into the A/C unit. The great Nathaniel Morgan says, "So why the shitty badge quest, then? Just go to the fucking plateau and leave me the fuck out of it."

    You don't need to be hearing this from him, too. "I need to be able to get close to the Champion. Only people fighting in the tournament are allowed in that part of the plateau."

    "So, wait, the champion... Wait, the fuck? You're saying the champion is your brother?" He gives you a calculating look. "I thought Red was a fucking only child. Not that I can't see why they'd want to keep you quiet."

    "Do not be stupid. Of course my brother is not the Champion." Absol grows bored of wandering and jumps back up on the bed, stretching out across its full width. "My brother is Mewtwo."
    Last edited by Negrek; 3rd May 2015 at 7:32 AM.

    In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

    Banner by Sworn Metalhead of Dćdric Design



  23. #48
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    Here for the review game. and below is my review for chapter two as requested

    There isn't much in your PC, just a few potions and odd trinkets picked up here and there, but you take them all and shove them into your backpack.
    Makes me think of a beginning trainer in the games.

    You have no pokémon in storage, and that is a relief. You still haven't really figured out what to do with former trainers' pokémon; you've tried releasing them, but they often attack you when you try, and Absol considers it unwise. You do try to be careful—release them far from home, all across the globe, and hope no one will listen to some pokémon's wild tale of a creature that wore its trainer's face but was something else entirely. But if someone took an interest, and the proper lines were drawn—dangerous.
    Why not just kill them? Or leave them in the box permanently? I can see the logic in releasing them in different parts of the globe, for the reason you listed. But since the concern of being discovered is always in the back and front of its mind, why even take the chance. Unless it has some sort of weird nostalgia feedback from the body that its inhabiting, or is completely benevolent towards Pokemon (which doesn't seem like the case), I don't see why it would even chance it.

    There's the same problem with selling them, with the added fact that buyers often ask questions you would rather not answer. So, for now, you mostly leave them in the PC, to eventually be dealt with by the league. You can't help but feel a bit guilty, knowing the long sleep ahead of them, and when they awake, only the news that their trainer is dead and a new life has been selected for them.
    Hah! Answered my own question. Another though, when you mentioned the buyers and questions they might ask, what kind of questions were you thinking of? The most common ones I can think of would be personal eating habits, medical history, temperament, etc. With its ability to inhabit the bodies of those deceased, and general knowledge of that dead trainer's personality, wouldn't it know something about that trainer's Pokemon? Or why wouldn't it simply make up answers to the buyer's questions?

    You are carrying his pokédex, wearing his face and his name. No one will know you're dead for a couple of weeks at least, not until they find the body, and in the meantime you can enjoy all the luxuries of being him.
    That sentence reminded me of the book Camouflage by Joe Haldeman. Similar start to the story, but with animal instead of human. You might check it out. It's an easy read and you might like it

    Absol calls you hopelessly materialistic. You call her a wet blanket.
    Nicely done. That was honest, direct, and seemed to flow really naturally. Liked it

    blisters on the back of its hand have burst and are dripping blood
    Though it would make sense for maybe a drop or two of blood, dripping is the wrong word here, and so is blood for that matter. The following italicized blurb I pulled from a google search.

    A blister is a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by forceful rubbing (friction), burning, freezing, chemical exposure or infection. Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid called serum or plasma

    You dig?

    It hurls the ball it's carrying into an empty one so hard all the rest jump
    I think 'hurls' is the wrong word here as well. Look at this realistically...You're standing in front of an open drawer and you hurl a pokeball at a carton filled with depressions for pokeballs. Now, when you 'hurl' it, that implies you're using most of your strength. I have no idea what kind of composition pokeballs are made from in your version, but if you look at most solid objects, when it is hurled downward into the drawer, it is much more likely to hit the carton and bounce straight out then land directly into one of the depressions. I feel like I went a little bit overboard for disagreeing with the usage of one word but oh well haha

    The child looks down at itself, does a thorough inspection of the damage. Its shirt is rent open from just above the right hip almost all the way up to its heart, and its left arm is bubbled with half-healed burns. The gash on its chest is already scabbing over, but the clothes are ruined, soaked in blood where they aren't torn.
    Lovely imagery there. I was able to visualize it perfectly, nicely done.

    The child will rest, now; and next time it will wait for rain before making a move.
    So it dashed into a burning building?

    My only real gripe with the chapter is how short it was. I know where you're going with the story and I like that you build more steam and length with every chapter so it seems kinda useless for me to harp on the length of this particular one. Other than that though and the other points I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this chapter and I'm glad I got to read it

    An Ancient Treasure, a Terrible Price. Take the Risk, Eat the World
    (Final Chapter added 05-15-2014)

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    All Hail the Six Kings...
    Chapter Three added (03-31-2015)

  24. #49
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    The MC and its pokemon react to hotel rooms the way normal children react to hotel rooms, except I guess they've been jumping in and out of places from the very beginning. I always think an important part of childhood is the sense of whatever's going to become of you completely entrusted to someone else -- children don't question each new place they're put in, or worry about it in any critical way, because someone is handling it. Even the child seems to give off this vibe -- its plans certainly aren't the way an adult would handle things, anyway -- where its intentions about fighting the League and working for its mother are just an extended project a child has taken on, with a poor idea of what it's coming up against and what the proper way to go about things is.

    But wait. Wait, this is stupid. You close your eyes half a second, make a change you can't feel. When you open them again there is nothing but a raticate and an arcanine on the field in front of you, fighting. You look and struggle for a moment to remember, and then the way is obvious.
    It sounds like the child has let some other self/entity take over? Certainly fits the sudden amnesia that seems to occur.

    She tires to slip away, but Titan grabs her, pinning her arms behind her back and hauling her into the sky.
    Typo.

    I like the idea of a battle that goes out of the hands of both trainers, since pokemon are powerful fighting creatures with their own minds, and the best level of strategy and training is still just a measure against chaos. I imagine only fighting pokemon would be capable of perfectly executed, well-defined moves every single time.

    He flexes empty claws and glares around the arena, which is very definitely empty of magmar. His eyes settle on Blaine instead.
    Are you going to tell Titan that humans are above the power of his fighting might?

    Hm I just noticed that the child is gender-neutral, but its brother appears to be -- a brother. I guess most organisms, that its mother might be considered a mother of, would have one gender or another. We know about one canon son of Mew's though I'm not sure if he's the one you have in your plans (and he's not necessarily always male either now that I come to think of it).

    "All I'm saying is, that battle? ****ing sucked."
    A win is a win, as far as I understand. =P

    Titan hooks his foot-claws under the rim of the slaggy, half-crystallized ring of sand surrounding him and lifts up. Rats stumbles, caught off-guard as the arena moves beneath her feet. "Slash!"
    Clever! You end up writing some very cool battle exchanges even if the main character is not the best as a pokemon trainer.

    "Do not be stupid. Of course my brother is not the Champion." Absol grows bored of wandering and jumps back up on the bed, stretching out across its full width. "My brother is Mewtwo."
    I knew it! A bigger revelation for Nathaniel, I guess, who didn't even know about Mew. That means this story wraps a bit further closer to the Mew-Mewtwo story than I was thinking before, though I don't remember what I thought before. I was looking at the shades of Absol's Destiny and that brief mention of pokedex information conspiracies, I guess. I have a feeling most things will wrap around to Mew at some point.

  25. #50
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    Finally back; sorry it took so long to review that chapter. But what a chapter it was. More characterization of the child as completely and utterly out of its league strategically and emotionally, as well as potentially in raw power. It will be interesting to see just how it manages to react when the challenges are above its head for real. Incoming defeat/training montage much? Absol was shown as a bit more of an animal/non-human than its previous appearances, which is interesting. She actually is a bit more than just a cryptic dark guardian: she's a cryptic dark guardian who likes being pet. And the entire Mewtwo line... I take it that isn't a literal familial thing, as that would get really strange/confusing quickly. I am going to assume that it's more of a fellow clone/derivative of Mew relationship that they refer to as a sibling thing. And, uh, wow. That brought absolutely nothing into focus except the whole "avenge Mew" thing. And it's also kind of awkward since their goal is to punish the people who made Mewtwo, which is also the POV character's brother.

    tl;dr Good chapter for character development, I have no idea where the Mewtwo thing is going but after reading Homestuck I am very good at nodding, making a few notes on an excel diagram, and pretending I understand exactly what is going on.
    The Flash Drive of Champions: Backgrounds

    There are many reasons to journey in the Pokemon World. It turns out that banishment, Bond Villains, unbeatable rivals and being forced to attend one dance too many are among them.

    File 2.5 is up. Gela literally puts on a show for the world to see while elsewhen her world is shattered beyond repair.

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