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Thread: Refinery - PG

  1. #1
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    Default Refinery - PG

    Quick summary: A young Trainer must overcome his doubts and win, at all costs. But what do an arrogant boy and a carefree girl have to do with this?

    Hey all. You may recognize me from such titles as I should have thought this joke through before starting to type. If you recognize the title, I did post a story under the same name before, and that has changed into this. I hope you enjoy it, but if you don't please tell me why!


    ~
    Prologue
    ~

    Across the kitchen, past the marble counter and the finely-polished wooden dining set, by the large sliding glass door, was my sister. He was there, too. An arm around her throat, lightly holding her to him but not hurting her. I could see her eyes wide and glassy, her blonde hair up in pigtails and her jaw quivering just a little. My own fear reflected from her olive-green eyes.

    He was, deceptively, dressed as usual. Jeans that were a little too big, a tight undershirt exposing a lean physique covered by a jacket. But for the remote expression on his face, he might’ve been going out to meet friends.

    “Stop! Come back! Annie!” I shouted, but my words fell on deaf ears.

    A whispered threat and a cruel ultimatum were the last things he said to me before fleeing out into the morning darkness, Annie in tow. I didn’t get to see in time, but I could hear the sounds of some great avian Pokémon, wings flapping hard to take off before I was halfway across the room.

    I broke down crying, on the floor, alone.

    I woke up.

    The dream was always the same. Reliving that morning, when my life changed. At first I hated sleeping, tried to stay up for days. Slowly, accepting the truth. What my life had become. In my heart I thanked Wake, again, for his understanding and accommodations.

    Mechanically, I opened my bag and pulled out the worn yellow pamphlet that had become my motivator. Blue and red ribbons, faded over time, sprung up and down the sides of the paper in an attempt to catch the eye.

    POKEMON CATCHER COMPETITION
    Open to all with a trainer’s license

    Ever wanted to become a POKEMON TRAINER?
    NOW IS YOUR CHANCE!

    Every city will be offering TRAINERs permission to sign up for the biggest Pokémon-catching contest in all Sinnoh!
    For the TRAINER who catches the best Pokémon, there will be a reward given by the League Champion herself!
    Sign up at your nearest official League building, and we wish you the best of luck!

    Inside the folded paper there were leagues of tiny, neat words that explained the conditions more thoroughly. The explanation offered in them wasn’t as complete as the paper copy Trainers got when they signed up, but I still knew them like the back of my hand.

    I gathered my thoughts to me as I prepared to pack up. This was the first night I’d slept outside, in preparation for the Goliathan journey I had ahead. Registration started today at high noon, and sleeping outside was no excuse to not get a head start.

    I ignored the squirming, sickening feeling in my stomach. My fear had built itself into a solid force, hammering at my resolve. But I would not break. For Annie.

    ~

    Isaac was bored. When was he going to get here? Jon was such a slacker, seriously.

    ~

    Maggie hummed a tune. Her Grotle tried as well, but it kind of didn’t work. She giggled at his attempt, though, and he gurgled happily in response.
    Last edited by IJuggler; 28th January 2013 at 2:10 AM.
    "That poison's only strong enough to kill a dead dog"

    A boy and his frog, venturing across the lands in search of sister and glory.

  2. #2
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    ~

    First day on the job. Just a short entry, today. I’ve got business in town, though you knew that. I’d hate to miss out on the last antidote or something because I was scribbling away in this old book.

    ~

    Standing in line, I realized exactly how chilly it was out. My jeans did little to protect my skinny legs, and my cheap black jacket didn’t handle much better. The thought of my small cozy tent and insulated sleeping bag just made me shiver. I wished I hadn’t gotten my dirty-blonde hair chopped short, but it was too late now to change that.

    “Hey! You finally got here!” I looked ahead, recognizing the approaching voice. Dread was too strong a word, but I certainly hadn’t looked forward to meeting this guy.

    “I knew you’d be here!” Isaac, his wild blonde locks tucked under a toque, was grinning down at me. When I first met him, his sharp nose and the aggressive look in his eyes immediately put me on edge, and they hadn’t changed in years.

    “Really?” I asked of him, putting just a hint of scorn in my voice. This guy was a jerk to me, but I could give it back just as good.

    He raised his arms, showing off his thick-looking designer coat and warm gloves. “And miss a chance to show off? Of course you would be here!” He leaned in with a conspiratory look. “Probably got some help from that dad of yours, don’t you?”

    If he wasn’t half a foot taller than me, I’d hit him right in his stupid face. “Not a chance. I work for my stuff, thanks.” I shot a glance at his coat, and his face soured just a little bit.

    “Alright, whatever. But still,” as he turned away he continued, “good luck, Jon! See you around!” I didn’t answer him, glad to be alone with all the other people around me again. A few of them had sent looks my way, but this was a trainer event; most kept their privacy.

    After only a half-hour, the line caught up to the building’s entrance. The Pokémart was never this crowded in Pastoria, especially in winter, but the registration for the competition was open at all the trainer buildings, not just the Pokécenter.

    Since Isaac left, all I could think of was this stupid contest. Catching so many Pokémon, who cares? I’d heard there were reasons; that the government wanted the Pokémon populations lowered, that this was a plot from some shady gang. But it doesn’t really matter why it’s happening. What matters is that I win.

    Beat every other trainer in the country. That’s all.

    Once I was at one of the desks, it was a quick job to get registered. Since I was still a relatively new trainer, I didn’t have tons of Pokémon to account for, and my Pokédex had the event’s new mode installed in a flash. I gave a short nod to the clerk, an old face, and got out of there. Some people were buying Poké balls conveniently placed on the counter in mesh bags, but I’d filled up on them as soon as I could. Once news of the competition got out, the capture devices had started going up in price. On the street, a pair of Ultra balls could go for twenty dollars.

    ‘This competition will be tough, no doubt,’ I thought to myself, walking back the way I came. There were probably thirty or forty trainers alone heading into the Pokémart, and there were other registration buildings all over town likely getting the same traffic. And then there were cities, and smaller towns in between – though I happened to be born in a bigger one, I had no doubt that a huge part of the competition would be folks from places so small they aren’t on the League map.

    There’s nothing for it, though. Those words, still echoing in my mind, push me forward. If you don’t win, she will die. I didn’t understand what he meant, at first, when he said them. But this is it. This has to be it. At first I was afraid he meant the League, and I was hopeless to win that; but at this, all you need to do is throw things. A lot. Better than anyone else. I can handle that.

    It’s been a year, but I can still remember Annie’s smiling face, whenever we had ice cream or went to a circus. I didn’t tell Wake, but the real reason I wanted to stay with him was so I wouldn’t be alone in that big empty house.

    I owe a lot to the big Gym Leader. He wouldn’t even accept payment, in the form of money from the safe under Dad’s bed. Said it was mine, when I was ready to have it, and that my work at the Gym was valuable enough. He’s a great man, and I’ve looked up to him ever since he took me in that day.

    Without realizing, I’d walked in one direction too long. I quickly turned down another road. This one was in a middle-class neighbourhood, but even here there were perfect lawns and clean roads. I started paying attention to the street signs, making sure I was actually heading the quickest way out this time. If I was fast, I’d be able to make it out of the town in just fifteen minutes, before I’d be on my way. My back ached at just the memory of my camp stuff, but it was a good ache.

    I’d just reached the short archway marking the eastern exit when I heard Isaac’s voice call out. “Hey! Fancy meeting you here, scrawny.”

    He oozed out from behind the stone gate with his hands in his pockets. “Not even going to visit the safari before the big trip?” His eyes leered innocently. “I know someone who would enjoy it.”

    I snorted, but my hand still moved over my one occupied Poké ball protectively. “Too cold for your gold-plated Fearow to fly you over to the next town?” He ignored my jibe and continued.

    “I’d like to make you a bet. Ten Ultra balls says that you won’t be able to catch more Pokémon than me in a month.” He pulled a handful of the compact little balls out of his pocket. I glowered.

    “You know I can’t match that, Isaac. I don’t have that much money in all the things I own.” This was true, if you considered the house and its contents to still belong to my father.

    “Oh, I don’t expect you to ante up. Don’t worry a thing. All you’ve gotta do is admit I’m better than you.” This is Isaac, in a nutshell. He’s been doing this for years. Every opportunity he can, he’ll force some competition between us to make himself feel good. Stupid handsome jerk and his stupid safari-owning father. I don’t have time for this.

    “No,” I say curtly, and try to walk past him. Instead he twists and walks with me, Ultra balls still resting in the palm of his gloved hand.

    “Well! Someone woke up on the wrong side of the…tent.”

    I stopped up short and glanced sharply at Isaac. “What was that?”

    His smile was big and mean-looking, because he enjoyed getting me riled up. “Oh yes, I saw your camp gear. Sitting all nice under that bush a bit to the east. Looks like a pretty nice set, if I do say so myself.” I took a step towards him, and he raised his arms. “Oh, but don’t worry, I left it there. It’s fine.”

    I continued walking, but pressed my mouth into a thin line. I wouldn’t be giving this jerk any more fuel, not today.

    “But you know, Jon,” he said, rolling the balls around in his hand. They made hallow clicking noises. “These would definitely help you along, wouldn’t you say? Quadruple the chance of catching a Pokémon, or so I hear.”

    One. Two. Step. Step. One foot in front of the other, just like when I’m alone.

    “Oh, no need to be that way.” I can hear the pout in his voice. A lull fell in the conversation, for a few peaceful steps “Alright then, we’ll do this the hard way!”

    Before I can react, he’s grabbed my hand. With his other, I can feel him reaching over to unzip the empty side-pocket on my backpack. “Hey!” I yell indignantly, struggling to free my hand and turn away. But he just laughs and keeps a hold on me.

    “Your hands are soft, aren’t they! Not at all like the son of a League Champion!” He backed away, hands empty. I looked down. In my quickly cooling hand (the air wasn’t so frigid, back inside my pocket) there were two Ultra balls, and I’d no doubt that there were eight in my backpack.

    Before I could do anything, he speaks up again. “Keep them. I want my competition to be on the level, after all!” Isaac makes sure to hold up another handful of balls. Where does he keep all these things? “I’ll see you in one month, at Veilstone’s south Pokécenter. If you’re not there, I’ll take it that you’ve chickened out and come tell everyone!”

    “Isaac, wait up!” I wanted run, but my legs were freezing and I don’t really trust them on the cold ground. Before I could debate it too long, he was already out of hearing range. Or ignoring me. I could still see him, before he crossed the hills that would block my vision, but it was useless to try yelling.

    I stuffed my hand in my pocket and continued walking. After a quick stop by my tent to warm up (my thermos, particularly, had me wistful) I would be on my way. And, I guess, catching some new Pokémon. I rolled the two Ultra balls in my hand and let a light smile cross my face.

    ~

    Maggie blew her long green hair out of her eyes and patted her slowing companion sympathetically. “I know it’s cold, Gertle,” she spurred on her Pokémon with its favourite nickname. “But we just have to keep going. Come on, I see a berry patch up there!” She pointed to a bush ahead, her other resting on the Grotle’s side. “I know you can do it. You want to be big and strong, right?”

    The grassy Pokémon snorted at her and charged off. With a laugh, she jogged after it in pursuit.

    ~

    That'll hold for now, I think.
    Last edited by IJuggler; 4th March 2013 at 9:35 PM.
    "That poison's only strong enough to kill a dead dog"

    A boy and his frog, venturing across the lands in search of sister and glory.

  3. #3
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    Here for the review exchange. May as well hit the prologue as well; it's short enough.

    Slowly, accepting the truth.
    This fragment doesn't really work in context. First of all, you don't need a comma there. Second, leaving it as a participial construction is weird. If you'd instead had it, "At first I hated sleeping, trying to stay up for days," it would fit just fine. But the way it is, this wants to have the proper verb form: "At first I hated sleeping, tried to stay up for days. Slowly accepted the truth." I'm not a huge fan of the fragment structure here either way, but the way it is now it's just really awkward.

    Blue and red ribbons, faded over time, sprung up and down the sides of the paper in an attempt to catch the eye.
    "Sprung?" I'm not sure what sort of image you were trying to get at there, but I don't know what to make of ribbons springing in this context.

    That's a very confusing little pamphlet. It's all, "Ever want to be a trainer???", but then it says you already have to have a license to enter. So all the people who signed up would, in fact, already have had the chance to become a trainer, and would have to have taken it at that.

    This was the first night I’d slept outside, in preparation for the Goliathan journey I had ahead.
    Well, that's an... interesting word choice right there. Nothing wrong with it in the strictest sense, but what do you think "Goliathan" adds over something more common?

    I'm not sure why Jon's so frightened at the end of the prologue, here. I can understand nerves, anxiety, whatever, but out-and-out gut-twisting fear? I get that if he fails, his sister gets killed, but the emotions I would tend to associate with that kind of knowledge are more along the lines of apprehension or anxiousness. You're making it sound like the competition is scary for some reason, which I don't think is quite what you mean. It's what it represents rather than the contest itself, yah? Also, Jon doesn't seem all that frightened during chapter one proper.

    This was pretty short, so I'm just going to talk about general stuff at the end of chapter one instead of saying anything now.

    Since Isaac left, all I could think of was this stupid contest. Catching so many Pokémon, who cares? I’d heard there were reasons; that the government wanted the Pokémon populations lowered, that this was a plot from some shady gang. But it doesn’t really matter why it’s happening. What matters is that I win.
    Hmm, suddenly present tense.

    When I first met him, his sharp nose and the aggressive look in his eyes immediately put me on edge, and they hadn’t changed in years.
    He's still on edge because of the dude's nose? That's literally what this sentence says, but that would be... odd.

    I didn’t answer him, glad to be alone with all the other people around me again. A few of them had sent looks my way, but this was a Trainer event; most kept their privacy.
    Both of these sentences are weird. The first one--"alone" with "all the other people"? I'm guessing you're going for some kind of "alone in the crowd" thing, but I'm not clear on why you would be trying to paint that picture, and the way you put it is odd. Second sentence, I don't see how the fact that this has to do with trainers is related to privacy at all. How does the stuff after the semicolon follow from the first part?

    I shot a glance at his coat, and his face soured just a little bit.
    Typically you say that someone's expression sours, rather than their face.

    Really just a nitpick, but while deciding to go with dollars over whatever pokémon currency is is fine, saying $20 for a pair of ultraballs is expensive seems odd to me. The ingame currency is based on yen. Converting that to USD, two ultraballs (ingame) is about $26 dollars, so $20 would be... a bargain.

    If I was fast, I’d be able to make it out of the town in just fifteen minutes, before I’d be on my way.
    "Before" is not what you want here. "And then I'd be on my way" would work.

    His eyes leered innocently.
    They leered... innocently? I think you must have meant a different word there, but I can't figure out what it might be.

    They made hallow clicking noises.
    *hollow

    “Oh, I don’t expect you to ante up. Don’t worry a thing. All you’ve gotta do is admit I’m better than you.” This is Isaac, in a nutshell. He’s been doing this for years. Every opportunity he can, he’ll force some competition between us to make himself feel good. Stupid handsome jerk and his stupid safari-owning father. I don’t have time for this.

    “No,” I say curtly, and try to walk past him. Instead he twists and walks with me, Ultra balls still resting in the palm of his gloved hand.
    Going into present tense again here.

    She pointed to a bush ahead, her other resting on the Grotle’s side.
    Her other what?

    Right, so it's just been one point five quite-short chapters, so there's not a ton I have to say. I'm not quite sure I buy your premise; "win this random competition or I kill your sister" has the flavor of "now we will decide the fate of the world by playing a children's card game!" about it. I mean, presumably you have some kind of good explanation for it, but it's just terrifically weird. And it's been a year since the girl was kidnapped? At that point, chances are slim to none of ever seeing her again. Additionally, he's somehow latched onto this competition, which I can't imagine having been announced more than a couple three months earlier, as being what the guy implied he had to win? That seems like quite the stretch on his part. I have to wonder whether he's talked about this with anybody else (e.g. does Wake know what's up), or whether this is just his wacky idea. And if he has been keeping it all to himself, that's not only crazy but liable to be incredibly dangerous for his sister...

    I'm not sure how I feel about the little snapshots of other trainers you've been giving us. I'm not sure what you're trying to do with them... they're so very short (being only single sentences in some case) that they're not doing a lot of revealing, or even teasing, as to what's going on with these other people. Nothing especially *wrong* with them, I just have to wonder why they're there.

    Isaac is being awful weird in the first chapter, what with his fluctuating back and forth between going on about how much better he is than Jon and then trying to help the guy out. I assume that's what you're going for, i.e. Isaac doesn't really despise Jon as much as he makes out, but if that's not the case, then you flubbed that up a bit. We haven't really met anyone but him and Jon, soooo... good on characters so far? I admit to not finding Jon very interesting thus far, but I think that's personal preference more than anything.

    Overall, your writing is solid enough, although it frequently seems just a little off (as my objections above may suggest). I think you may be reaching a bit, particularly with your word choice. Nothing wrong with trying to up your prose quality, but I don't think you've quite developed an ear for it yet. A lot of times your sentences seem faintly disconnected, like they don't really follow from one another, and at other times your wording is just a little strange. But not a major gripe; by and large the prose doesn't get in the way, and technically this is pretty good.

    In sum, this is an interesting premise, and I wonder a bit how you're going to play it. If it's mostly just this pokémon-catching contest thing, I could see that being pretty boring; if you're going to be getting more into how this actually relates to Jon's sister, or what the point of the whole thing is, so on, it could be pretty good. I just honestly haven't seen enough of the story to really say much about it at this point. All you've really done so far is set the stage; not much has happened. Nothing dramatically bad about it so far, certainly, but nothing that's desperately pulling me in to check out more, either. Best of luck with it.

  4. #4
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        Spoiler:- review response:


    I'd love to write a proper response to that lovely review, but I've been hanging onto chapter two for too long as it is (a month has passed!) and I've kind of got a paper due in the morning. Crappy excuse, but I'll get that edited in here after that for sure. (Edit: I did, half a day late)

    Without further ado, chapter two.

    ~

    It's the big day: four weeks since the competition started. Finally, back to civilization.

    ~

    As it turned out, catching Pokémon wasn’t quite as difficult as I’d been led to believe.

    Sure, there was the occasional Girafarig or Pidgey that insisted on half-attempting to escape, pulling me along for a chase. But those were fairly uncommon. One day a Pachirisu had wandered out in front of me, and after treating it to a few bites of my jerky it was captured without any need for a fight. For the most part Pokémon were quite docile.

    Considering the path I’d taken, though, I guess that’s not much of a surprise. There have probably been no trainers through this part of the forest in ages. It left me feeling like an adventurer, exploring unknown lands in search of treasure. That thought is what pushed me forward whenever I had to stop and spend ten minutes picking tics off of myself. The calm, if humid, atmosphere was good for the soul.

    But I didn’t lose sight of the goal, of course; I was always on the move, looking for new Pokémon to catch. Croagunk, the ally I’d been gifted by Crasher Wake as a going-away present, was usually out beside me, quietly looking around and occasionally pointing out Pokémon I’d missed. For days we lived just like this, carefully setting up a small camp in clear areas and always moving, looking, catching, until it got too dark for me to see.

    At the end of every day I always counted my catches. Today was the twentieth day since I’d started out according to a piece of wood I’d used for marking time, and I had no idea whether I was doing well or not; there wasn’t any way to compare against the rest of the trainers, as far as I knew, and the leaderboards would only go up in the last quarter of the tournament.

    That brought me to a dangerous thought. I had been skirting around the idea for a while, but avoiding it only made me more anxious; my chances of winning this tournament were slim to none. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of trainers out there. Surely some of them had better transportation than me, and could reach many parts of the region with ease. The small prizes handed out to losers were an assurance that most would be joining, but I was still nervous about those who would be serious about it.

    But what was there to do about that? Stressing myself out over my rotten luck wouldn’t help. I’d spent months moping about back in town, and that hadn’t gotten me anywhere. So I took to carving drawings into things in my spare time to keep the worries away. A sailboat on a rock, a smiling face into a thin part of bark; simple pictures to keep my spirits up.

    Croagunk tried to do the same thing, actually. The poison in his finger wasn’t very toxic, but it was corrosive enough that he could ‘draw’ beside my own pictures. Sometimes I regretted wasting time doodling on nature, but usually there wasn’t much to catch when I was.

    The wilderness really wasn’t so dangerous. I’d thought, growing up, that trainers must be mighty and rugged, to survive outside. But once you got the hang of it, it wasn’t so bad. Cold dew sloughed onto my sneakers and jeans in the mornings, and a few times the wind was biting cold, but even these things have upsides. I’ve captured a handful of Lotad lazing in the early grass, and flying Pokémon, like the Hoppip I snagged a week ago, were occasionally made into easy catches by the weather.

    There were still a lot of things I didn’t know that I would need to learn along the way. How to best build a fire, to keep warm in the coming winter so I wouldn’t have to take a break for the season; ways to trap Pokémon, like the elusive Remoraid swimming in the freshwater rivers; how to command Croagunk, or at least teach him what I’m doing and convince him to help me. But, now that I’ve had a taste of this life and its calm environments, I’m not sure I need to rush into it.

    ~

    My heart beat a tattoo against my chest. I was afraid, with good reason.

    My frantic thoughts were all pointing me in one direction – be as quiet as possible, move slowly, don’t be seen. But there was a disconnect between the brain and the body, and every rustling leaf underfoot made me tremble. I could feel the tension across my jaw like a vice.

    Through the spaces left by hanging vines or low branches, I could still see the mother Luxray facing away from me. Thankfully she hadn’t heard my bumbling across the ground as I beat a hasty retreat. The young Shinx I held under my arm was big; the biggest of the bunch, in fact. The mother was keeping watch; perhaps she had heard me snap a twig. As long as I crept carefully for a few more minutes, I would be able to get off scot-free with this little big Pokémon of mine. Perhaps I would keep this one with me, like Croagunk.

    I smiled down at my poached friend, and escaped, despite my heart in my throat, my quivering knees, and the confused predator at my back.

    ~

    The Shinx was resting safely in my backpack, wrapped in my comforter, and I was all packed up to go. Today, I would be going through the more bland scenery of the plains. I was actually within a mile of the nearby lake, if I decided to backtrack; it’s a shame I don’t have a fishing rod, to pull up some water Pokémon, but I can get more accomplished while moving anyway.

    Before I could leave, I had to find Croagunk. He’d taken to wandering around in the nearby bush, after we left the forest. I’d once felt scared for losing him, but he was bigger than most of the Pokémon out here, and more than once he’d brought back a Pokémon for me. I had to awkwardly make a show of appreciating the dead Rattata or whatever it was he got for me, before discarding the poisoned carcass where he wouldn’t know. He probably thought I was eating them, and I made it my job to not dissuade him of such a notion.

    I still had yet to see any other trainers. I was lucky, I guess; out here without competition, I was catching enough Pokémon to require consideration of how many Poké balls I would have left by the time I reached Veilstone. It would be just two more days’ walk, with time for a few trips off the main road.

    My blue frog companion wasn’t very tall, really. He stood out of the grass on the main path, but that would only be true for the season. Come spring, the little guy was likely to get caught up in the tall wild grass around – well, if there’s going to be tall grass, where we’re going. That thought put a smile on my face. I glanced around some more, but it seemed he’d left off into the taller, more sheltered grass, around the trees. I headed for them, not intimidated by the towering nature.

    For situations like this, when I was simply looking around and would be heading back to a camp, I kept around a smaller bag that I could carry a couple handfuls of items in. From that I grabbed a chunk of wax and began chewing. It helped stave off the occasionally dangerous boredom, and I was proud of being able to scavenge and survive off of the land as much as I had been.

    I found Croagunk a few minutes’ walk in. The trees were still fairly spread apart, and I could see his upper body as he snuck through the grass. He was sneaking up on something, but I couldn’t see what.

    At that moment, I felt movement in my bag. I stiffened, keeping in mind that Croagunk was trying to be stealthy, and hurried a few feet away so I could examine the noticeably-shaking contents of my backpack.

    Flipping the top, I felt a large jumble of emotions at the sight. The biggest, of course, was surprise; my Shinx was looking up at me, and his big eyes were cute enough to melt my heart. But he was supposed to be back at camp, wrapped up in his blanket. It (he? She?) mewled, and I would have pulled him out of bag if I hadn’t had to worry about keeping quiet.

    Looking back over, I saw Croagunk was almost upon whatever he’s about to hunt. Maybe I can catch it before he kills it, this time. I reach around the cute wildcat and grasp a Poké ball, dodging it when it tries to bat at me on the way out. I lightly set the bag down by its cord and head over towards my frog friend.

    Before I can get much closer, he leaps back. The Pokémon he’d been hunting revealed itself; a six-foot tall Girafarig is facing us, tail-first. The little head was growling, despite its other half just waking up.

    “Croagunk!” I hissed. He looked at me, unworried, his legs and arms tensed for a fight. “Get out of there!”

    He just looked at me. Damnit, why wouldn’t he move?

    I started a run towards him, not caring about the danger. I figured I’d only be risking being bitten, but before I got to him, the Girafarig was fully awake, and it turned to face us, eyes narrow and nostrils flared.

    When I got my hand on Croagunk’s thin arm I immediately pulled, reversing my momentum and going backwards. Just in time, since a second later the Girafarig had landed on that spot, stomping the grass flat and making a ‘whump’ sound. My eyes stuck on its wickedly sharp hooves for half a second before I backpedalled harder, this time with Croagunk coming along with me.

    “Run back to camp,” I whispered harsh and fast into his ear. He nodded, and I pushed him forward. While he headed one way, I headed the other, making a beeline for the bag.

    I chanced a look back, and the Girafarig was cantering towards me. If this were a flat-out race I would be trouble, but on the taller grass I knew my runners were better than the Pokémon’s thin legs. I stooped for only half a second, wary of slipping, to grab the bag, and then I hoofed it off towards Croagunk.

    Inside the bag, I could hear the Shinx’s loud mewling after it could tell it was picked up. I would’ve shushed him, but I was preoccupied by the nearing huffs of the annoyed giraffe behind me. I set out at a good jog, strong enough to keep ahead but not so fast that I’d tire out.

    After a minute, the clomping behind me started to quiet down, and I looked over my shoulder. The Girafarig was a bit tired, and looked to be giving up the chase, finally. I was breathing heavily, but I still regretted having dropped that Poké ball back there; it would take too much effort to catch this one, and I’d already wasted a ball and been tired out from it. I continued my jog back to camp, trying to put the idea of catching the strong-looking Pokémon out of my mind.

    Back at camp, I could see Croagunk pacing nervously before he saw me. He must’ve learned that habit from me, though I don’t remember doing it myself. We’ve been together long enough that I can understand his arms being held tightly in and his small steps as signs of tenseness.

    I slung the bag over my back again. The mewling from within quieted after we were being chased, or I’d grown used to it; one way or the other, he (or she, I reminded myself) would have to wait a minute. “That was stupid of you.” I stated plainly, coming out into my partner’s line of vision.

    He gave a high-pitched little grunt and ran over to me. I used to be wary of holding his hand, but he had control of his poison. His palm was soft, actually, though this time there was sweat on it. “Are you going to be careful when you hunt next time?”

    He didn’t really understand my words, I think. But he must’ve understood the message. He nodded, shaking my hand up and down as well. It took an effort to keep the jittery smile from overtaking my face, and I could still feel the adrenaline in my veins. I felt like I could run for miles. But there are more important things right now, I reminded myself.

    “Okay then. We’ll still be here for a while, though,” I told Croagunk, giving a look around. All that was left of us was a small circle of ash where we’d tried to build a fire strong enough to cook and the fallen log that acted as a bench and decided we would stop here last night.

    Croagunk looked up at me inquisitively as I slid the bag off my back, again, and opened it up. His expression didn’t change when he saw Shinx inside, but I could tell Shinx saw him by the increased noise. The mewls were almost turning into yaps, I noted.

    I spun the bag to face me and pulled the little cat out. He was kicking his legs weakly, being in the air for the first time, and I quickly let him settle down on my lap. “We’ve got a new friend, see.” Both Croagunk and Shinx were looking up at me, and I felt like I should say more. An idea struck me. “Wanna give this little guy a name?”

    They just looked at me. Shinx was testing out his back legs, I could feel him pushing on my own. Yes, we’d all be good friends, even if this little guy ended up eating half the food we collected.

    ~

    I felt out of place in the city. It had been a while, of course, since I’d heard the general sound of people walking around, seen wild variances in the any amount of people walking around, heard the rising volume of conversation in a restaurant – but still. I almost wanted to rush through and get back to the plains on the other side of the city, if only because I’d only caught one wild Pokémon on the way here.

    But I’d already wimped out enough to feel weak. When the hustle-and-bustle of the Pokémon Center got to me, I’d left a note at the front desk with a description of Isaac. It was nearly noon, by now (I still had a bit of trouble adjusting to clocks again, instead of just watching the sun), and I hoped Isaac would be here soon, whether I won or lost the bet. I had to find a place to stay for the night; parks were off-limits, even for trainers.

    Every time someone walked into the café, the bell tinkling above the doorway drew my attention. I was having trouble concentrating on the game I was playing with Croagunk. I’d doodle something like a little Rattata or a tree, and he would do his best to mimic my drawing on a chunk of hardened wax. Mine were getting sloppier as time passed.

    It only took a further half-hour, but I was bouncing my legs by the time Isaac walked in. At his side he had a Wartortle. Its shell shined, but there were relatively few scratches on it; it must have evolved only recently. Apart from that, he was exactly as he was a month ago, taller and a little bit arrogant.

    After giving his word to a waitress that his Pokémon would behave, he came over to my table. “Jon! It’s good to see you, you crazy punk. Where’ve you been all this time?”

    I smiled a little bit. If there was one thing I could rely on, it would be that Isaac wouldn’t bother with the niceties. “I walked, of course. Suppose you’ve been waiting for me?”

    “Only a week, actually. I took some time off to train Fancy here.” His Wartortle gurgled happily. I contemplated the marvel of a two-way conversation while they took the seats opposite me. “So, learn anything? Meet any cool people?”

    I took his jibe with a smile. “Actually, all I learned was that I’m a shitty artist.” I spun my drawings around so he could appreciate, and he laughed, though there wasn’t any malice in it.

    I leaned forward. “Now, about these Pokémon. How many did you get, smart guy?”

    “Caught my twenty-first, a Ponyta, just yesterday,” said Isaac, affecting a disinterested tone. I tried my best to keep the surprise off my face, but I knew he saw it immediately. I’m fairly sure he misjudged the reason for it. “But, y’know. I did say you didn’t have to pay me anything, so this was just a fun competition, right?”
    “Haha, yeah, I guess you’re right.” I was thinking quickly – what was the prize for winning this again? Of course, the Ultra balls I’d hidden away from myself in the bottom of the tent bag. I hadn’t thought about them in weeks, to be honest. “So I guess you want to know how many I’ve got, huh?”

    “Of course! It’s only fair to share.”

    “Well,” and here I couldn’t hold my grin any longer, “I’ve got fifty-two, as of this morning.” Beside me Croagunk made a happy little murmur. I’m not sure whether he could actually tell what we were saying, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    “Oh!” Before Isaac could say anything, I opened the top of the traveling bag on my lap and grabbed my newest companion. “Does Moon count?” The Shinx made motions of wanting to go on the table, so I set her down. She rested herself only lightly on the smooth surface, and I caught Isaac staring at her. I grinned a bit wider at him. “Isn’t she pretty?”

    He seemed a bit at loss for words. “Yeah. Really nice, and good tempered. You just bring her around in a bag like that?”

    “Well, sometimes she climbs on my head or in my arms, but it’s usually a smoother ride in there. Probably warmer, too,” I explain, petting the purring cat as she laid on the edge of the table. There was a lapse in the conversation, and I used it to pet my Shinx some more.

    “So uh,” Isaac starts, “I guess you win. Good work, Jon; I guess the genes really do make a difference.” He didn’t sound too bitter, but his excuse put a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. As usual, though, I acted like it didn’t.

    I wouldn’t admit it on pain of death – but I’d sort of missed the rivalry we had in the last month. I floundered a moment on what to say; was it too much to offer another competition?

    “I was thinking, though,” said the blonde across from me. “This first month doesn’t really mean much, does it? After all, it’s the start of the journey. And just catching wild Pokémon isn’t hard. So I’ve got a new proposition.” At this, his eyes were bright.

    “A real test of a Pokémon trainer – or catcher, for you, I guess – would be to see who could get the strongest Pokémon. That’s something we can easily find out, isn’t it.”

    I thought a moment. This was probably just his way of trying to make a competition he could beat me at, since I trounced him so badly at plain catching. But I can beat him at this too, so I might as well agree. “Sure,” I said.

    “So it’s decided then. In three months’ time, I will come and find you, and we’ll have a battle to see who caught the strongest Pokémon.” Isaac’s earlier demeanour of faux disinterest was completely gone now, and I could see him scheming already.

    But that doesn’t matter. Anything he thinks up, I can beat. I’m better than him, I reminded myself. “Alright. You’re on.” I stuck out my hand, and Isaac reached over the table and grasped it. A firm handshake sealed the deal.

    He leans back in his chair. “Now that that’s settled, let’s get some lunch. My treat!” Beside him his Wartortle perks up, and I smile at Croagunk beside me. The weight of the first challenge was finally off my chest – but I didn’t forget the greater, looming one. The one that Annie’s safety relied on me winning.

    ~

    Of course, rarely did things work as planned. Sometimes I would screw up and startle a wild Kricketot, an otherwise easy catch, into alerting all others nearby and running away. A few times we’d forgotten a vital piece of equipment, such as the cooking pot, at the last camp, and had to backtrack a few miles. Once the fire we’d left alone had caught and chased us as we left; from then on I stamped out the flames diligently in the mornings, even if the residual heat was nice.

    On the other hand, some things went well. We had more money saved up than I’d dared hope for, between foraging and frugal spending in Veilstone so far. I hadn’t come close to losing my wallet yet, and other personal effects from home were still fine. I’d seen a couple other trainers in the city who had red faces or were constantly resting. More often than the opposite, trainers tended to overpack for the road, but we were just fine with the essentials and a few writing utensils (and also the wooden toy I got for Croagunk at a shop, at his insistence). A handy book from my father about the edible wildlife in Sinnoh was one of the most useful of these things; it was handwritten, and had been passed down to him by his father before him.

    Today, though, the mistake I made was to leave Croagunk alone in a flower shop.

    We were running down the streets, and I was wonderfully thankful that the buildings were situated in narrow patterns. I knew just enough to recognize the main street when we passed it by, and adjusted my running to head out the city’s north exit. Under my arm was the squirming Croagunk and I was breathing hard and fast as I escaped down the alley a few streets away from where the crime was committed. Note to self; Don’t let the damn poisonous Pokémon near plants.

    I heard a scrabbling behind me, and I looked back. My eyes grew huge and I started running faster than I thought I could. Still chasing us was the Ivysaur from the shop – it had smashed into a handful of garbage cans on the sharp turn, and dented them horribly before it turned to charge at us again.

    I lost sight of it as I turned the last corner, and a sigh of relief escaped me. It would take about ten, maybe thirty seconds for it to catch up; by then I would be among the almost-busy crowds of people coming into or leaving Veilstone. I returned Croagunk and slowed my walking to an unsuspicious pace, trying to slow my breathing and act natural. I didn’t nearly have all the supplies I’d wanted before leaving town; there was hours of potential shopping and trading and selling, wasted. But I couldn’t really kick the rush of adventure that escape had given me.

    Maybe when the adrenaline wore off I’d think clearer. I could feel the sweat budding on my arms, cooling off my internal systems and helping me calm down subtly. It always helped me, just a little bit, to consider all the implications and bodily functions, I thought, and it would be too weird of a habit to bring up as a discussion. As if Croagunk could give me much to think about, though. At least, for now, we were in the clear. I kept walking briskly.

    ~

    The fact that we were out of easily-consumed food didn’t surprise me. We had, after all, run out of town halfway through shopping. And a growing wildcat was a handful to feed; after eating all of the food we’d had prepared for the day he got sent to time-out in his ball. But my stomach was continuing to remind me of the fact through grumbles. I’d lost a bit of weight already on the road, not that I’d had much spare before; fending for myself was both harder and easier than I’d expected, I found.

    Croagunk and I were each looking for berries, certain edible mushrooms, anything we knew to be safe. My Pokémon had once given me red berries that made me ill for a day, but that he could eat as easy as anything. Since then we’d taken more to individual hunting, and I thought we were both better off for it.

    I plucked a round fruit off a tall tree. There weren’t many things so easily available this time of year, with frost on cold days sticking around constantly, but occasionally a tree like this still held barely overripe crunchy goodness. The golden fruit dimly reflected the falling sun, and I picked more off, carefully sliding them into the food partition in my pack. “These’ll last a few days I’d say,” I murmured as I looked around for another such tree.

    “Grah!” Off to the side of me, Croagunk called out loudly to me. I recognized his tone from one day when he found a whole nest of unattended bird eggs, and hurried over with a smile.

    When I got there, my jaw dropped. I didn’t need my companion’s excited pointing to see the massive Pokémon lumbering across the valley with a person on its back. The tree on its back cast a long shadow on the grass and left the trainer’s face darkened, but I could see from here that she was looking at us.

    It looked like she exchanged words with the Pokémon she rode, since they adjusted their direction to head right for us. I wasn’t worried; it covered good distance, but I could jump out of the way of it easily. I put my hand on Croagunk’s shoulder in case he was tensing to fight. This was a battle he wouldn’t win, obviously.

    “Hey! Walk with us?” The trainer atop her fauna-shelled companion called to us. She had long hair, blonde at the roots and green the rest, and her clothes seemed as casual as my own. Some trainers tended to dress rebelliously, but it was just a waste of time and effort. Better to be out accomplishing something important, I would say, if anyone brought the topic up.

    I let the Pokémon catch up to us, and walked beside it. I was a bit intimidated, but didn’t let it affect me. We were walking on a sharp angle from where I’d originally been heading. I didn’t have my map out, but my best guess was that we were heading into thicker regions of forest.

    The Torterra’s grassy crag shell started curving up at chest level, so it was a conscious effort of looking up that brought me to the young woman’s face. “Is it comfortable up there?”

    She was leaning against the surprisingly smooth bark of the tree that came from the center of her Pokémon’s back. “Hm? Oh, yeah. The grass is soft, and if I lean my back in just right I don’t have to worry about balance.”

    Privately I thought that she needn’t worry anyway, the shell looked wide and even enough to walk easily on. I just smiled up at her. “That’s good.” Croagunk wandered ahead, scanning the grass, and I let him go.

    We walked like this for a while. The sky was darkening, and the path we travelled on became more rugged. Trees were grouped together more. The whole time we talked, about inconsequential things mostly. Harmless small-talk about Training difficulties, swarms of Pokémon, the contest. She was an experienced trainer from what I could tell, had been working with her Torterra for a few years.

    Maggie was telling me about one of her Pokémon experiences, and I listened with an open ear. “Just as he was about to get away, he kicked a rock that hit a Whismur. The whole hive woke up then, and you can just imagine the sight I saw. My Taggway was running full-tilt out of the forest, surrounded by buzzing Combee, and still carrying the honey he’d gotten for me! That could have been a painful day.” She chuckled at the memory.

    It was getting late. I took the conversational lull to interrupt, squashing the small regret I had to interrupt a learning experience. “I’m sorry, but Croagunk and I have got to get ready for the night.” I’d returned him discreetly to his ball earlier when it was beginning to get dark, but the ground wasn’t getting any better the further we went. I’d be better off sleeping on the frost-kissed ground than in the taller forest grass I could see ahead. “So I guess this is goodbye.”

    She looked surprised for a second at me. “Why don’t you sleep up here, then? I’m sure Gertle wouldn’t mind. Do you, boy?” The turtle under her groaned an answer in between steps, but I didn’t understand it. “See? Come on up.” She offered a tanned hand out to help me up.

    A moment of indecision split me. I had a reason to reject her offer instantly, but a second of hesitation made me question myself. What could it hurt, to travel with this stranger girl who so freely shared her stories? I returned her smile and reached for her hand. She kicked her leg down hard, and the Torterra leaned over enough to let me climb on, with a little help from my friend. I scrabbled up its grassy back, and when the Pokémon under me rolled itself back I found myself sliding into the girl and the tree.

    She giggled, and I found myself laughing too. It was less jarring of a ride than I’d expected, with the rise and the fall of steps being no more than the effects of a calm sea. I scooched over so that my feet were comfortably rested against one of the thick spikes coming out of the Torterra’s back, and let the warm grass sap the nervous energy I’d had in me at the thought of riding a Pokémon.

    “Fun, isn’t it?” She asked me. The sky was almost to the darkest point now, though I had no idea how long we would keep going like this.

    “Definitely,” I agreed. “Hey, you mind if I ask a question?”

    I could hear her securing herself carefully to the trunk of the tree, so as to not fall off during sleep. I slept like a log, so there wasn’t such a worry for me. “Go ahead.”

    “What’s your name?”

    She barked out a laugh. “I’m Maggie, sorry. I guess we did this all backwards. And you?”

    “I’m Jon.” I punctuated my sentence with a yawn.

    Maggie chuckled at me. “Go to sleep, Jon. You’ve been walking for hours, you’re probably tired.”

    She’s wrong about that; I’ve walked longer without rest. But I can’t deny that sleep is pulling at me, with the ground underneath me cozier than I’d ever felt it before. I yawned my way through a good night, and then my eyes glued themselves shut for sleep.

    ~

    (endnote: anyone know how to keep italics etc in the formatting when pasting here?)

    After this the scenes will jump less, as we get into the story proper, and we'll see anything we missed here in greater detail later, such as what everyone else was doing during the first month.
    Last edited by IJuggler; 5th March 2013 at 1:53 AM.
    "That poison's only strong enough to kill a dead dog"

    A boy and his frog, venturing across the lands in search of sister and glory.

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