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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.
    “Well if you’re going to act like a reptile you can find success all kinds of ways. Lie, cheat and steal your way to the top if you don’t care for the well-being of those around you.”

    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.
    “Well if you’re going to act like a reptile you can find success all kinds of ways. Lie, cheat and steal your way to the top if you don’t care for the well-being of those around you.”

    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.
    “Well if you’re going to act like a reptile you can find success all kinds of ways. Lie, cheat and steal your way to the top if you don’t care for the well-being of those around you.”

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

  5. #5
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    Nov 2008
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    Quars
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    Been a while. I'm still writing though.




    ~

    It’s weird waking up in the presence of another for the first time.

    ~

    When I awoke, the sheets beneath me rustled. It took a second, but I realized that this was not normal. I tried bolting upright, but the ground shifted underneath me once I was moving. With a yelp I flipped off my bed and onto the cold morning grass.

    “Ack!” I couldn’t stop myself. The grass was still slightly wet, and I had been cozy. In a second I’d gotten up, but my behind was still sapped of all warmth by the dew-covered grass. Worst wake-up ever, I thought darkly. A laugh behind me drew my attention.

    The girl I’d met yesterday, Maggie, was sitting by a campfire some feet away. Had she seen me fall? I’m such an idiot. “Hey,” I called out to her, walking over. The log wasn’t much warmer than the grass, but the fire had dried it some at least. Maggie had set up some sort of cooking rack above the flames.

    “Did you get a nice sleep, princess?” she teased with an eyebrow raised. I grumbled at her, but didn’t say anything I would regret.

    “What’ve you got for cooking?” I was curious; from what I knew, trainers didn’t get much that would be easily prepared. It was living out of trail mix and berries, at least for me.

    From her side Maggie held up a shopping bag. I could see it was weighted down inside, and my mouth almost salivated at the visible sight of the eggs inside. “Fresh eggs. Today we feast like kings!”

    I laughed with her. It was always easy to be in a good mood when there was food enough to go around, after all.

    Before I could forget, I tapped the poke ball at my side. Croagunk appear in front of us, taking in his surroundings before joining us at the fireside seat. Like other mornings, he caught my eyes, and I nodded to him. He jumped right back up and started marching off into the nearest bushes.

    I looked over to see Maggie staring at me inquisitively. “What’s that about?”

    “Oh, Croagunk always gets his own breakfast in the mornings. He always comes back, don’t worry.”

    The green-haired trainer was still smiling when she nodded behind me. “Yes, Gertle also gets his own food. He waited for you to wake up, y’know, before really going at it.”

    I turned and looked backward. Lo and behold, the Torterra was leaned hard against the trunk of some of the younger, lower trees, and was taking big bites out of the low-hanging leaves. I noticed a visible path from the camp to where he was now of shortened grass. I guess growing a tree of your own requires lots of nutrients.

    “So is this how you usually spend your mornings?” I asked Maggie. She was poking a pair of eggs across the bottom of her pan, keeping them sizzling.

    “Sometimes.” The sight of the food was enough to make my stomach grumble, even though I’d always hated the smell of eggs. “Other times we just have to get up and go. It really depends on when Gertle stops, in the end.”

    I shot her a questioning glance, but she was occupying herself with two more eggs. I decided to let the conversation break so that I could start in on the delicious eggs she’d served.

    I had the spoon halfway to my mouth before I realized how grumpy I’d been all morning. My eyes widened just a bit and I paused. Maggie either didn’t notice or acted like she didn’t. “Hey, Maggie.” She looked over at me. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of her expression. “Sorry about being grouchy, hey?”

    She held the pan off the fire and looked at me. I found myself nervously awaiting her response. “Don’t worry about it Jon.” Her smile was very pretty. I smiled back. “It’s just nice to be around people, you know?”

    The ice had been broken, and I was comfortable sitting beside her. For a few minutes we were silent, appreciating the sizzling of eggs and watching the slowly-rising sun glint on the dew on the grass.

    “So how did you get these eggs?” I asked. It would be something useful to know when I got tired of the trail mix and cheap jerky.

    Maggie shot another smile my way. “My other friend got them for me.”

    I looked to her for the rest of the answer, but she took her time with a mouthful of egg.

    A light breeze blew across the prairie, and I shivered in the cold. When the breeze ended, the cold didn’t go away. My stomach dropped. Lines of coldness had snuck down the front of my body, and adrenaline surged in me. I leapt from my seat with a yell, rolling over my shoulder to try and get the drop on whatever was grabbing me.

    Back on the log, Maggie was grinning to herself and laughing around her last mouthful of eggs. Behind where I was sitting there was a floating purple Pokémon. I’d seen Drifloon before in fairy tales and from a photo in a book, but I hadn’t expected them to be so… creepy.

    “This is Drim!” Maggie pointed her fork over at the Drifloon. She waved her arms, and the yellow paws at the bottom wavered flimsily. I felt a little foolish. “Sorry about that, but she really likes startling new people.”

    I forced a smile onto my face against my feelings of apprehension. “That’s fine. I barely noticed.”

    Hearing Maggie laugh was wonderful. But I was sharply reminded of Annie. My sister had laughed like that, and I’d spent the best days of my life making her laugh until her sides hurt. And now she was gone, taken who-knows-where. My heart ached again.

    “Hey there, ya big lug. There’s more food, you know.” I tried to push the weight of the future off my mind and looked to Maggie, holding up the bag again. “That dark look doesn’t fit you, be happier!”

    This time, my smile was easier. I reached inside the offered plastic bag, and at the bottom of it I felt two firm rounded objects. Fruit? They turned out to be bananas, perfectly ripe and fresh-looking.

    “How did you get these?” There was a tone of awe in my voice that I couldn’t hide. I hadn’t had fresh fruit since before I left. Had it really only been a month? It felt like I’d been out here my entire life.

    The green-haired trainer pointed to her balloon Pokémon again. He was still floating above my previous seat. “Drim here really enjoys repurposing others’ things. It can be a problem in towns, but she’s a real help out here.”

    I took the opportunity to make another little joke. Fighting my instinct to run, I walked up to the Pokémon and reached down, pulling its paw into my hand. The skin was cool to the touch, and dry. “Well thank you miss, your contribution to this meal is well-appreciated.” I wanted to kiss her hand but I couldn’t pull myself to do it. We all laughed anyway.

    More comfortable now, I sat down beside Maggie. Drim was hovering behind me but I didn’t really mind. The only noise as we ate were the sounds of the Torterra stripping trees of leaves, and for a minute I was mentally grasping for something to talk about. Maggie was a strong trainer, I could tell – did she look down on me? Beside her, my accomplishments were pretty pathetic. Sure, I’d caught a bunch of Pokémon, but that wasn’t really anything to be proud of. Any kid could do what I’d been doing. She raised Pokémon, and I haven’t had Croagunk very long but I can attest to how difficult even domesticating one was. There was something awe-inspiring about it, and I could never see myself having control over Pokémon like that.

    I gave my head a little shake and stopped worrying. Just look at that sunrise, I told myself. Take a bite. Smile. Relax your shoulders. Collect your energy.

    “So what are you out here for anyway?” Beside me, the green-haired short woman had stretched her legs out to the dying fire and was twisting the peel of her banana up. I watched her toy with the wrapper a moment before her question registered in my head.

    “Oh, yeah. I’m competing in the catching contest,” I said. “Are you trying too?”

    Maggie met my eyes for a moment, and I averted my gaze down to the banana I’d peeled. It had come from a Tropius, which meant there were some around here. Maybe I’d be able to catch a juvenile one?

    “Nah, I’m just working my way around. Looking for a bit of fun, you know?” Her posture was so relaxed. I felt like I was cramped, just from how comfortable she was compared to me. It brought back some of the advice that Wake had given me, but I forced it away.

    “What is it that you want to do most, Jon?” I looked over. Maggie was staring straight at me, and it was almost unneverving having her full attention on me for the first time.

    “I…er…” What did I want to do? Well, I wanted to get my sister back. But is that really what I want, or just what I’m doing for her sake? Annie looked so sad that morning. Saving her is all that comes to mind.

    “Hey, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to or whatever, I’m just curious.”

    I feel like I’ve disappointed her. I scrambled to ask, “What is it that you want then?”

    Her smile peeked out from behind her lips, and smile lines crinkled at the edges of her tan face. “I want to be the best trainer I can be! I owe it to my partners to help them win, after all.”

    I struggled to think of a good response, still processing her earlier statement and trying to work out the happy girl’s mood. “So you’re looking for strong Pokémon?”

    “Not necessarily,” Maggie started. She crossed her legs atop the log, balancing with the help of her Drifloon’s stringy arms. “I don’t want to bore you with the details, but training’s a lot more than just winning at battles. Maybe your Pokémon are stronger than all the others, but if they can’t follow your orders or even fend for themselves in the wild then you as a trainer are at fault.” I was reminded of Croagunk. He’ll probably be back soon, though at this point he’s probably got a gift for me. “Sometimes I’ll come across a strong Pokémon and want to avoid it entirely. If Gertle’s been tired from a long day or Drim’s been feeling down, I give them a break. They’re just as sensitive to emotions as we are.”

    Had Croagunk responded at all emotionally? Sometimes he was a jerk. He’d eaten all the food on a particularly gloomy rainy day, when we hadn’t had time to set up a good shelter.

    “Sorry,” Maggie said, an embarrassed smile across her face. “Being out and about all alone, I have a lot of time to think. Makes me ramble when I meet people. So I guess you’re taking a bit of a break from the contest, huh?”

    “Hm? No, why?” Her question nonplussed me.

    “Oh, no reason I guess. Everyone works at their own pace, right? I guess I’ve been slacking from training too, to be honest.”

    I realized what she meant. “No, no, I’m just taking a breather!” I put my hands up as I talked, reassuring her. “I just left town yesterday, and I didn’t really get a good stock of poke balls. Plus, I was competing with a friend, and after we met in town I thought I deserved some time off.” I’m not sure why I want to explain myself so much to her, but it feels good.

    The scene from the other day comes back to my head, of Isaac and me sitting at the diner. The deal! Right now Isaac’s probably being escorted through a jungle looking for rare Pokémon. I couldn’t help but imagine him catching a wild Mankey or Pinsir or something big and scary. He’d be coming to find me, he said, in three months.

    “That’s cool too then.” Maggie got up and walked past the dead fire. With her fingers to her mouth she let out a whistle, and a few hundred feet away Torterra turned and began coming back towards us. I got up too. “The day’s starting to get warmer, so we’ll be on the move soon. You’re welcome to come with us, though!”

    “Sorry, but I’ve gotta wait until Croagunk comes back.”

    “I think he’ll be back soon,” the young woman said with a wink. Not a moment later I felt a nudge by my side. My Pokémon had returned from his trip. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. We could leave now. But where was I headed? For that matter, where was Maggie headed?

    “Which way are you going?” I asked bluntly. Not much point beating around the bush, after all; she was already packed up to go, and was just talking to her Drifloon while Gertle finished coming back.

    After another moment of murmuring, the Drifloon was encapsulated in red light and disappeared back into its poke ball. “Well, I was thinking we’d just head that way some more.” Maggie pointed in the general direction we’d been faced towards all morning, that I realized we’d been heading last night. I felt a momentary surge of pride in remembering that it was northward without having to look at my pokedex’ compass function for once.

    But I couldn’t head along with them, I realized, seeing the grass grow wild further in and the tree line across the hills. “Sorry Maggie, but I can’t. I’ve gotta head west, to town.” Northwest, maybe. But it was better to part here and not get distracted anymore.

    For a second her face looked crestfallen. It changed to a smile a moment later, but my gut twisted in guilt anyway. “Alright then. No biggy, gotta do what you gotta do, right?”

    Her words reminded me of something I’d thought up, fleetingly, before succumbing to sleep last night. The green haired trainer, my new friend, was halfway up onto the back of her Torterra before I’d jogged over. “I was, uh, just wondering,” I stuttered. Why was this hard? “Could you take care of a Pokémon for me?”

    I kept my gaze down for a moment, then two, as I fumbled the poke ball off my belt. It was the only one on there, besides Croagunk’s. Two agonizing seconds passed before I could bring my eyes up, afraid to meet a laughing face.

    Instead I saw Annie, staring curiously down at me from atop the hill with the tree in our backyard. I blinked my eyes and Maggie came back. Their expressions were eerily similar. But Maggie’s face had more lines.

    “What species is it?” She asked, holding out her hand. I gratefully passed the ball to her and slid my hands back into my pockets.

    “She’s a baby Shinx.”

    At that Maggie released the Pokémon, the kitten appearing atop the warm grass on Gertle’s back. I watched how it would react, but surprisingly my Pokémon did little more than stretch her legs and look around.

    “She’s so cute! Are you sure you want me to take care of her?” Maggie was running her hand softly down Moon’s spine, triggering a juvenile purr from the cat’s throat.

    “Yeah, I’m not much for owning pets.” I held back a grimace. More than once I’d forgotten to let the poor cat out to eat with us. It wasn’t deadly, not like with the old apricot balls; but leaving Pokémon in metabolic stasis inside poke balls for extended periods of time wreaked havoc on their body cycles. Even now, Moon was sluggish and sleepy-looking, even though it was the middle of the day.

    “Well, if you don’t mind then I’ll be snatching this cutie right up!” Her blue eyes showed her plain joy at the prospect. It just made me feel bad for not caring enough to be nice myself. Was this what being a trainer was? Being happy for every Pokémon?

    “It’s a shame that we have to part ways here, but I know we’ll meet up again someday – maybe soon!” One arm hung onto a length of cushiony brush, the other cradling the Shinx, Maggie looked like some kind of ridiculous rodeo clown. As Gertle walked away, I waved, feeling both happiness at having met such a person and sad for having to leave her so soon.

    Together, Croagunk and I began walking west, parallel to the tree line, and across the rolling hills of grass. After only a few minutes, I whispered mournfully to Croagunk, “Was nice not having to carry these bags for once eh?” He grunted back to me, and we continued on our way.

    ~

    After the first day we’d broken into a drier climate. The hills had gotten higher, which I remember learning contributed to the fewer amount of trees dotted across the horizon. We were still a bit off the dirt-road path that found the most traffic, but overall this way more directly led to town. There were a few novelty shops and businesses along the way that I was missing, I knew, but they didn’t really matter.

    What did matter was the dwindling supply of poke balls in my backpack. I had to catch a strong Pokémon to fight Isaac, but more importantly, I had to catch Pokémon. I’d skipped out on scrounging up critters for days, and by now even Croagunk was itching for a battle. Now, halfway between one settlement and the next, I had to start being conservative with how many Pokémon I caught in a day.

    It was depressing to look at my statistics on the Pokédex. Last month I’d had an average of over four Pokémon seen in a day; so far, this week I’d come across three wild ones total. Those had been pure luck yesterday, when Croagunk and I began coming through here; we stumbled across a nest of Ekans, and barely avoiding bites I caught them all. It wasn’t worth it waiting around for Arbok; I wasn’t even sure they properly parented, after all, and even Croagunk would have trouble with a monster like that.

    Today had been even worse. It was getting dryer, and we had nothing to go off besides the possibly out-dated trainer-powered map of the Pokédex. There might not even be a well at the indicated spot anymore.

    At my side, Croagunk rattled a nearly-empty canister of water. “I’m sorry,” I said to him, “I shouldn’t have drunk so much of the water. If you want, I can put you back in your ball for the rest of the trip?”

    Croagunk grunted in response and looked away, which I took as a negative. His loss. The hollow bounce of my own waterskin made me uncomfortable though. I’d feel pretty foolish if we had to march back down this miniature mountain to find a river.

    There were bigger things on my mind recently. Meeting Maggie, the woman who so much resembled the girl I knew, hit close to home. Had I been thinking less and less about my sister? A deep shame filled the pit of my stomach, and I felt sick. We kept on walking, but I wasn’t sure I could put down any water anyway if we found it.

    The petty bets I made with Isaac were meaningless, compared to Annie. Pleasantries with strangers, acting like I could train animals… what use was any of it? It didn’t help anyone. I was just weak, too weak to do what I knew I had to. Too weak to save Annie. My feet were dragging.

    Croagunk had stopped walking a few steps ago. My eyes, half-lidded, turned to see him staring ahead. I followed his gaze and saw the well ahead, an old-fashioned brick-and-wood contraption. And a person standing guard in front of it, of course, conveniently blocking off the water we so desperately needed. He probably wanted a battle.

    Before I could start making a greeting, the man called out to us. “Hello!” He was wearing a simple white robe and I spied three poke balls along his sash. I’d seen a couple similar uniforms back in Veilstone, though I hadn’t any idea what they meant. “You look like a strong trainer!”

    Did I? It must’ve been the bags under my eyes and the grumpy look. “Not really,” I responded, walking closer for the inevitable challenge.

    “No?” His bald head reflected the high sun. I’d seen TV screens that were duller than it. “Oh, where are my manners? Please, come drink some water with me.”

    With that the strangely-dressed stranger turned and began pulling up the rope of the well. He’d piqued my interest, and I rationalized a small break couldn’t do any worse to me than not. I sat down on a nearby rock, shaped almost like a chair, and waited for the slow sound of rope and dripping to settle. I must’ve been exhausted, because when I opened my eyes next the stranger was pouring the bucket into two waterskins before me; Croagunk’s water, specifically.

    As the man carefully meted out exactly enough water to fill each, he moved over to me. I stopped fiddling with my pen and held a skin up. For a moment no water came out, but then it starting filling the spout perfectly, without getting a splash on me. “So uh,” I began, “why are you here?”

    I felt like smacking myself for such a stupid question, but the stranger took it in good faith. “I am here because this is the place that I am required to be in.” He said this with a straight face. Kind of freaked me out. I raised the now-full waterskin up to my mouth and took a long haul of cool water, keeping watch on the man.

    “The real question, I believe,” the balding man continued pleasantly, “is what did you come here for?”

    For a moment I was taken aback. Was he an idiot? I came here for water. My eyes jumped back to the well, and the stranger man let out a chuckling laugh. It didn’t sound like he was laughing at me, but at some joke I’d made. “What do you mean?”

    He creased his smile lines some more with a happy grin as he stood opposite the well from me. “What do I mean… what brings you to this very location, right now? Why have you and I met? This is a very large world we live in, is it not fortuitous that one ever meets another?”

    I was a bit lost for words. “I’d never thought of it that way.”

    The man’s arms were by his side, but his full attention still felt heavy on me. “You have such a nice smile.”

    Indeed, I was smiling. Was it the water? The crazy old man and his beliefs? Or Croagunk being bored and kicking dirt beside me?

    “How do you keep happy in your life?”

    This guy knew how to ask some questions. My mind blanked for a second. Then two. And then I heard the shadow of an echoed laughter.

    “I’m happy because other people are happy,” I responded in a moment of enlightenment.

    “That is wonderful news. I am happy that you can be happy over such things.” He shuffled his shoulder a bit, and I caught sight of a plain sack over it. “Now, I’m sorry to interrupt any thinking you’re doing young man. But as a missionary it is my place to collect donations for my temple.”

    And here’s the catch. I felt myself tensing up in my shoulder muscles and calves. I urged him to continue.

    “As a licensed vendor, I’m required to carry poke balls as well as a number of items from medicinal lines. Here is a list of what I have to trade,” he said, passing me a small card with plain writing on it. I wouldn’t know this man had just been asking me questions about life if he wasn’t still dressed up as a monk of some kind.

    On the list there were a number of average items, the universal antidote, the burn heal, et cetera. A few of the items were interesting; I could make a purchase of a Clefairy Doll, whatever that was for, and stardust was rarely sold anywhere as far as I knew. But my eyes immediately caught on the poke balls listed at the top. “How much for poke balls?”

    “Ah, we require a donation of five dollars for a tenbag.” His face had a silent grimace on it. I get the feeling he was one of those sort, who looked down on Pokémon catching as a sport.

    The price wasn’t extravagant, but I wouldn’t pay it if I were in a city. It wasn’t as if I had much choice here, though. Some quick mental calculations ran through my head considering distance and time.

    “I’ll take fifty balls. And four packs of trainer ration, however much that is.” I pulled my wallet out and started counting off bills morosely; I might as well be getting robbed here. At the same time, the religious man was retrieving all the items I asked for.

    “That will bring the total cost to fifty-five dollars.” I pulled another note from my wallet without complaint and held out the wad of bills. The man smiled at me.

    “First you get your items.” and so he placed the mesh bags filled with metal balls and the classic plastic bags of dry food in front of me, as if he were making an offering. It made me feel more uncomfortable, but I knew I needed to be nice.

    He accepted the donation graciously, and I quickly packed up my newly-purchased items and prepared to leave in the direction of Celestic Town. At a good speed, considering breaks for catching, I could make it there in two weeks, though now that I had new balls I could afford to dillydally more.

    “Before you leave,” started the… priest? Is that what he was? “It is customary for us to embrace after we make transactions. I would be honoured if you would allow me this custom.”

    I gave a serious second of thought to outright rejecting the idea, but I didn’t have any real arguments to excuse rudeness. “Alright.” I walked over in front of the man, aware of the lack of personal space this would require.

    When he put his arms around me, it was not like a stranger. It was like a family member, a loving uncle saying goodbye or a father – not mine – expressing pride. I held my arms by my side for the moment it lasted, not sure where to put them.

    “You seem to have a lot on your mind, young man. I don’t mean to trouble you, but I suggest you look into ways to relax.” Crushed Bayleef flower, rolled and smoked. A chunk of Chansey egg, or perhaps it was dyed Paras mushroom? Who would know? There were many forms of artificial happiness available to the curious trainer. I’d seen some growing up in Pastoria and heard of others through Maggie, Isaac, anyone who had a story to tell.

    Instead, I simply smiled and said “Thank you.”

    In silence once more with my thoughts, I turned away from the site of the well and began heading west again. The sun was past its zenith, and before too long it would be resting on the tree line, and in my eyes making travel difficult.

    After a certain distance I let Croagunk run ahead again. He would be searching out more easy prey to capture, I knew. It made me happy that he so easily accepted his place in my life. Perhaps he enjoyed the lifestyle of capturing weaker animals. Does that make him a monster? For the breath inbetween one step and the next, an overwhelming feeling of vertigo almost knocked me over. Was I the hero rescuing the princess, or a monster for enslaving these animals?

    I waved the feeling away in the next moment, but the idea was cemented. What was right? Just because the company sponsoring this event said they released the animals didn’t mean I had any right to tear them from their homes. Faces were swirling in my mind; the monk’s pained expression at my purchases; Crasher Wake’s sad smile at seeing me leave; Isaac’s predatory gaze; Annie riding a Torterra and swinging from a rope swing. The silence of the plains was all that soothed my pounding head.

    When Croagunk came back to me a few minutes later with an expression of excitedness, I detached my arms from my self-hug and followed him. Damn the world; some things had to be done.

    ~

    Annie smiled at me, and I grinned back. “It’s as big as my arm!” I held one up for comparison, and she giggled again.

    “No way! I don’t believe you!”

    “Alright then, I’ll just have to go prove it!”

    We ran back to the pond. It was down a few hills, but our house was the only one really close by to it. The swamps were out past it, but we never went that far; father would scold us if we got mud on our clothes.

    I grabbed my makeshift fishing rod. “Wade taught me how to make this,” I smugly told my sister. Her pout made me feel better, even though I didn’t really get it right before Wade had to leave.

    “See, now we just have to wait.” I cast the rod out into the pond, and the weight dropped into as near the middle as it ever had. I set the rod carefully into the wooden stand I’d made. It was great, though nothing as impressive as the fisherman’s I’d seen at the Pokémon Center.

    “Are you kidding me?” Annie was stood behind me with her hands on her hips and a pout the size of Sinnoh on her face. ”You called me out here just to wait?”

    “We don’t have to be bored though! Look, isn’t this place pretty?” We looked around at the clearing we were in. I pointed out the way the trees looked like they were hugging, and how even the cat tails in the pond were all different heights. We spent the whole day like that, staring around at clouds and grass and making shapes and letting our imaginations run wild.

    I lost my fishing rod into the pond that day. It might’ve been the biggest fish anyone’s ever seen. But when I was watching the rod rattle in its stand, I weighed my options. Annie was describing a dream she’d had the other day. I decided that Annie was more important than the silly fish.

    ..
    .
    “Well if you’re going to act like a reptile you can find success all kinds of ways. Lie, cheat and steal your way to the top if you don’t care for the well-being of those around you.”

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

  6. #6
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    Nov 2008
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    Quars
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    Default Chapter 4

    Sometimes when I’m alone in the wilderness I like to just lay awake at night and listen to the sound of my Pokémons’ breathing even out. Is that weird?

    ~

    The forest was a comparatively small area, really – despite the potential dangers and the scary darkness at night, the untamed borders only reached out as far as some bigger cities. It was undeniably eerie to be out alone at night. But something about the croaking insects and sparkling stars visible through the spider-web of branches was too beautiful to sleep through. With just my poke balls and a small knife I slipped out of the tent I’d erected between a pair of tall trees. An orange cloth – possibly the tanned, ratty old pelt of a Pokémon, though I wouldn’t know which – made a marker for me to find home by. These days I judged home to be where I could put my head down to sleep for the night, and where my Pokémon would be waiting for me.

    No matter how carefully I moved I still made sound. Branches of too-close trees whispered against my jacket sleeves, fallen twigs and leaves crinkled underfoot. Croagunk was the same way, but it didn’t really seem like he tried to be quiet anyway. Maybe it’s just how he lives, but he doesn’t sweat the little things, like mud and twigs and small nicks from prickly plants.

    Back when I was a child wandering through the Pastoria swamp I’d seen all sorts of the frog Pokémon. They grew up underwater, and though they looked like little fish we were all strictly told that they were just baby Pokémon and not actually a ‘form’. The unexplained distinction was confusing, and seeing who could understand and accept the rigorous rulings on what defined Pokémon into their taxonomies was the first lesson students were taught about training. Those who couldn’t make the understanding, or didn’t care enough, went on and did other things with their lives.

    Thinking back on the past made me question myself. Why did I want to be a trainer?

    Annie. That’s what started this, after all. Her smiling face, framed by blonde hair and dimpled with freckles. The long evenings we’d spent playing out in fields or with other trainer’s children, or anything really. We’d grown up together, and it just felt wrong to be separated from her – even after months of living without other people. I still think of how she would respond to what other people say; she would laugh in Isaac’s face, and she would probably ask Maggie to tell her a story.

    Maggie, too. She was a perfect representation of what a trainer should be. She travels where she wants, and raises Pokémon for her own amusement. Not because her friends are competitive, or because her father was a Sinnoh League champion, or her sister was kidnapped.

    I leaned against the thick lower branches of the tree I was carving. The bark was harder than it had been when we were kids, but my knife was sharper too.

    Isaac and my father both convinced me, too. Dad was pretty hands-off in raising us, but he was a busy person too. It broke my heart when Annie cried, wishing he spent more time with us. But even though he loved us, and he made it known, it was still obvious that he was always preoccupied with his own life. Without Mum around we basically raised ourselves, out on the prairies or in the lonely mountains – or later, in Pastoria when it was different kinds of swamp as far as you could see. That’s when I met Isaac, and once he learned that I was the son of a League champion he wouldn’t leave me alone. We started training together, and I guess we’d never stopped.

    Do I want to train?

    It’s a disturbing thought. And not one I’m sure I want to follow to its end, because at this point I’m too deep into it to back out. I have to train my Pokémon, and I’ve got to be strong. Maggie’s out there somewhere doing the same thing. Annie needs my help, discipline and training is how I’m going to win this tournament. Isaac’s going to keep following me, I think, so if I can’t at least keep up with him I’ll never be able to compete against everybody.

    That was something I’d been trying to avoid, too. Just thinking of how many people out there were trying the same thing – going out in the day and catching Pokémon and thinking they would win. Presumably less people would be competing the longer it went, but things would only get more difficult. There was never going to be a shortage of Pokémon to catch – that was unthinkable – but chances were good that some Pokémon populations would be affected. I had a fuzzy recollection of learning about some of those before, but I’d thought I’d never need to know about Pokémon ecosystems. Back when I was a student just cruising through trainer school for something to do, because Isaac tried to say he’d beat me at it. Now I was trying to piece together what I learned then, what I picked up from Dad’s vague speeches so long ago, and all the new things I was learning along the way, once I’d started paying attention to my surroundings.

    Several yards away there was an uprooted mound of grass between a pair of trees. That could mean a lot of things; if we were in a rockier climate, it could be burrowing Durant or Nincada. If I didn’t know better I’d suspect it of being a Trevenant’s former home, but those Pokémon are isolated to areas surrounded by dead. No, that was one of the local nests for Sudowoodo. When it inhabited the area it would blend in perfectly, as if it was really a young tree. Many Pokémon hide deviously like this, and apparently – according to what the television said – new species are being discovered all the time. It was only a few years since the official Pokedex was opened to the general public, even. And while I appreciated the group-knowledge they provided, there had been some rare or well-hidden Pokémon, in jungle or swamp or meadow – everywhere was the same – that nobody has studied yet.

    That’s why I’m a trainer. Thinking about the odd fluorescent caterpillar or see-through butterfly, and knowing that all of them are Pokémon with their own complex biological niche and diet and that, with perseverance, most could be worked with for mutual benefit – which was why I woke up despite the cold. It’s why I made sure that Croagunk always had clean bandages after a long day of his self-disciplined training, why Mothim and Quagsire were practicing accuracy daily on clay discs. I don’t know whether it’s influenced by my dad, my sister, or whoever else has appeared in my life; but I do know that I only feel alive when I’m working with these animals, whether it’s to beat our opponents in battles or just to feed ourselves while passing through rough environments. I need to win the contest for Annie, but I’d be lying if I said I was selflessly putting myself through this trainer ****.

    The night was silent as I snuck back into the camp, stealing one last glance back at the grove of trees I’d marked with that childhood symbol of the heart with two letters inside, J and A.

    ~
    Celestic Town was on the horizon. There was something both foreign and comforting about the billowing smoke of civilization, the pristine buildings and their cushy trainer services.

    Croagunk was by my side as we marched into the town, heads high. I doubted too many people from this town were concerned with the catching competition. Celestic was a retirement settlement, it was no secret. There were a few businesses, but they mostly catered to the travellers. I could see a hot spring steaming from behind the Pokécenters once I was past the denser clouds of industrial smoke.

    At the Pokémart I found a familiar face though. “Jon!”

    I was shocked to be honest. What was Isaac doing here?

    The other trainer walked over. His fancy jacket from before was gone, and in its place was a simple sweater. His was actually less stand-out than my own, lightly tattered after time spent in the undergrowth. Why wasn’t he dressed up like usual? We were both surprised to see each other, I suppose.

    “How’re you doing, Isaac?” I asked, unsure of how to approach the conversation.

    “I’m doing great, actually.” He grinned at me while sliding something off a shelf and into his shopping bag. “I’ve caught some pretty strong Pokémon already, of course, but how about you? You must have seen something interesting going through that jungle.”

    My eyes drifted down towards the sheath I had hanging at my side and I answered, “There were a few Pokémon there, but they were too strong for me to catch.”

    “Shame. I suppose you don’t want to battle then. Well, I guess I’ll catch you around – assuming you can keep up.” Without waiting for me to respond, he left the store.

    My fist was clenched in my pocket. The clerk at the register was looking at me kind of uneasy, so I let my angry frown melt away and walked forward. I did have to stock up, after all, and so Croagunk (with very specific instructions) and I walked the aisles for supplies.

    ~

    On the outskirts of the village, I released my Pokémon. When I told Isaac I hadn’t caught anything strong I lied, just a little. Alongside Croagunk I now had two more partners, Mothim and a young Quagsire. I found them both completely by accident, and it’s only been a stroke of luck that Mothim didn’t have his wing punctured on the deep overgrowth while I chased him down.

    In the clearing, ready to train, I realized that I’d never done this before. Who did I think I was? I didn’t know how to train a group of Pokémon. That became apparent, when the trio of supposed battle-ready monsters in front of me began playing a game of tag while I stood there.

    My mouth opened to call to Croagunk, but I stopped myself. Why did I want his attention? Just because I’d seen other trainers on TV do it to call their Pokémon? Instead, I slid my hand into my pocket and felt the comforting square Pokédex. With a flick the screen opened up, and I fiddled around until I got to the training basics section. Aware of the distracted noises my Pokémon were making, I scanned the paragraphs quickly.

    After a minute, I gave up. I shut the Pokédex and slid it back into my pocket, disappointed in its mediocrity. All basic, nothing I couldn’t assume, ‘Fire Pokémon are dangerous!’-level stuff.

    “Croagunk, come here,” I barked. Immediately my partner looked up and trudged forward. The other two glanced over, too, but they seemed unfazed.

    I took a deep breath, deciding on a course of action, and pointed. “Punch Quagsire.”

    That got their attention. Croagunk understood the message, but I could tell that Quagsire only recognized the serious tone and Croagunk’s reaction. It tensed up, its blue arms raised defensively and its smooth muscles - muscles that people don’t have - strained.

    Croagunk just looked up at me. His expression was plain, but I could just tell he was questioning my order.

    I pointed again. “Punch it!”

    Croagunk shook his head at me, now clearly rejecting the order.

    Pokémon are a fixture of modern society. There are Machoke contracted as movers, Chansey working in Pokécenters, even Tropius that we share our parks with. But there is a very fine line, when it comes down to how creatures understand things, between who is the owner and who is the worker. Before proper training techniques were put in place, there were accidents; people who didn’t understand that a Machoke has pride, Chansey who didn’t understand human allergies. People died before the League regulated things. We may look alike, but there are many differences that separate Pokémon and humans, lifestyles that are hard to dissuade, and it is the trainer’s job to overcome these boundaries. No matter how.

    This rationality is the one that passed through my head. The responsibility of the trainer, to do whatever is required to have Pokémon that obey, in order to improve the world.

    So I smacked Croagunk.

    It wasn’t the strongest I could hit him, but physical ache in the bonier parts of my hand wasn’t the true pain I felt either. Deeper than that, the stinging was in my stomach, in my throat; a creeping shame for hurting my ally, my loyal friend. For an instant I couldn’t move for the vertigo that overtook me as I saw Croagunk fall down. I was frozen in instinctive regret. The surprise on his face when he looked back at me made my heart hurt, but I had to follow through.

    Leaning down to go face-to-face with my partner, my face felt wooden. I must have been grimacing, and I said, “Listen up. You do as I say, Croagunk.” My hands rested heavily on his child-like shoulders, and he just stared up at me. I couldn’t tell what emotions he was feeling behind his neutral stare, but he settled on one long enough to nod at me. There was a growing welt of darker skin on his blue cheek.

    I got back up off my knees, feeling a little nauseous. I raised my arm again, and said in the same tone, “Punch Quagsire.”

    Croagunk slowly picked himself up. My other Pokémon were watching us intently. Mothim rested on an overturned log, not even twitching its wings, as my Quagsire looked between us and arched its back slightly.

    The frog beside me ran forward, faster than I’d seen him move before. He leaped and landed the best punch he’d ever thrown, catching the Quagsire by surprise and nearly taking the heavyset Pokémon off its feet. Landing on the balls of his feet, Croagunk turned towards me and walked back in silence.

    The Quagsire caught its footing and prepared itself to leap on the smaller Pokémon with its back turned. Before it could take more than a single step, I hurled a rock, one I’d grabbed from the ground when I stood up, and hit my Pokémon in its scaly midsection.

    “What do you think you’re doing?” My voice was down an octave when I spoke to my newly-captured Pokémon. “I didn’t tell you to attack.”

    Pokémon may not be shaped exactly the same as we are, but sometimes it seems they’re nearly as smart. Its little beady eyes narrowed and it shifted away from the moving target of Croagunk to face me. I was half a foot taller, but Quagsire was definitely bigger around than I was. My legs tensed up at the same moment its mouth opened, and I jerked myself over to the side as it shot a spray of water at where I was.

    On the ground I rolled quickly over my shoulder and got back to my feet a little bit closer to the Quagsire. It would be developing a bruise on its face, I noted, where Croagunk had punched it, and the rock I hurled couldn’t have felt any better. Before Quagsire could face me fully I had already returned it to its ball, the red light signalling the postponement, if not conclusion, of this bout.

    A few breaths later and all was calm again. Croagunk moved over to my side and I rested my hand lightly around his shoulder in a half-hug.

    “Mothim?” I asked, holding out the poke ball that my other new partner belonged in. Instead, it fluttered up and rested on my messy hair, making an insect sound that I couldn’t even imagine a corresponding emotion for. Kind of like a buzzing sound. Up close I could better see, this Mothim had a blood-red marking shaped like a face across its wings. I’d look up how to gender them over food later.

    My partner met my eyes as I looked down. “I’m sorry, Croagunk.”

    He grunted an assent and squeezed my hand, and I felt a little better, but the welt on his face hurt to look at.

    ~

    At the Pokémon Center’s single trainer room, my Pokémon and I sat down and ate a quiet dinner. I say quiet, but Mothim was slurping a glass of something juice. Bugs love that stuff. Quagsire’s big hands made eating awkward, the nurse and apparently in-house cook told me when she handed me his plate, but they really loved seafood. I just grimaced and brought the platter of barnacled Shellder to it anyway.

    Croagunk and I both got some kind of cooked bird, with a side of vegetables and potatoes. It had been a long time since something that even looked home-cooked was handed to me on a plate, and asking about that is what got me the whole description of the foods. This young lady who stylishly wore the Pokémon Center’s nurse outfit was more than happy to tell me about her passion for cooking, and how she’d gone to school for it but in coming back home to Celestic, could only find work in the government-sponsored Center.

    Looking back… This was the first time I heard about the personal effects of the League. There was a lot of institutionalized doctrine from them, and they seemed scary from afar. Just like a lot of the Pokémon I met along the way, I suppose. And some of the people, too.

    Humans and Croagunk don’t have too different digestive systems, she said. Croagunk are omnivores in the lush swamps near Pastoria. Similar micronutrient requirements, but a more acidic digestive system.

    Regardless of origin, the vegetables were bitter and mushy. I pushed them around my plate while listening to the radio at the other end of the dining hall, serenaded by the staccato of rain on the roof. Training wasn’t as fun as they made it sound. I wondered how Isaac was doing.
    “Well if you’re going to act like a reptile you can find success all kinds of ways. Lie, cheat and steal your way to the top if you don’t care for the well-being of those around you.”

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

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