• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Pokémon Continental Divides

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
marker drawing: fossil with billowing smoke

Summary: "Here's a question for you: what responsibilities do you think we have as trainers? As human beings." Natalie and Mark quickly find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly turf war, and more than their own lives are at stake.

Rating: T+
Language, alcohol, implied sex, and violence
Like my other stories, this one is set in a grittier version of the pokemon world where all trainers start traveling at age eighteen instead of ten.

Genres:
Crime, political intrigue, adventure, romance

Status: ONGOING, no chapter or word count estimate yet. On hiatus for the summer! :c Gonna do a big back-edit for grammar and pacing, posting chapter 8 hopefully in July or August.

Other notes:
The first chapter is light on pokemon, but I promise there is plenty of them to go around in later chapters. Starts a little slow, but by the end of chapter 4 things are literally on fire.

I'm writing this to explore Aqua and Magma more deeply and more realistically. In canon, they're dismissed as misguided loonies, but their plans remind me of the very real problems of climate change and political division. I want to know what that conflict looks like when Magma and Aqua are more than just straw dummies.

I've renamed some people and other stuff to match the more realistic world I'm spinning. I want less J-pop, more Earth Liberation Front. You'll still be able to recognize the major players when they start showing up, don't worry. I never played Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire, so I'm extrapolating based on RSE…and my own interests.

Hope you enjoy!

--

Table of Contents:
  1. On the Rocks​
  2. Dredging Up​
  3. Grit​
  4. Blue
  5. Red
  6. Boots on the Ground
  7. Stainless Steel


On AO3 | On FFN
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Pen
Chapter 1: On the Rocks

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 1: On the Rocks

Natalie Armstrong didn't especially want a drink, but she wasn't ready to go back to her hostel yet either. And it was too dark out to keep wandering the Rustboro City streets looking for a battle. One pocket bulged with seven folded pages of her brother's old emails. In her other pocket was the note she'd found in her shoe when she woke up that morning, waiting for her like a poisonous snake. She kept touching it, reminding herself it was real, though she didn't need to open the paper to remember what it said: Stop looking for him. Go back to Slateport. Your dad doesn't need to mourn two children.

Each time she thought of the note, she swung between dread and excitement. Someone was watching her. They knew things about her family, and they'd been in the room where she slept. But someone also knew something about what had happened to her brother. She was sure of that now.

Too far from the harbor to see water but close enough to smell seaweed and gasoline, she stumbled across On the Rocks, a modest, nautical-themed pub with a sandwich board advertising five dollar bowls of seafood bisque. The patrons gathered at the tables were locals — mostly dock-hands, day laborers, and union folks— not trainers. It struck her as the type of place her brother would've liked, a world apart from the flashy, loud clubs and cocktail bars downtown by the hostel. This would be a good place to gather her thoughts and figure out what to do next.

She ordered the Red River, a cheap but serviceable local beer. While she waited for the bartender to pour the draft, she drummed her fingers on her arms and glanced up and down the bar, wondering if her brother ever came here and if any of the patrons knew him.

Or her. Natalie was startled to see someone she recognized a few seats down, and it gave her a jolt of panic until she realized where she had seen him. The serious-faced trainer from the gym.

In an open flannel and a t-shirt, his nose in a book, he almost looked like a different person — but it was definitely him. Natalie had only ever seen him in business casual before, a white button-down and shiny black shoes, and it hadn't occurred to her until now that it must be part of the uniform. He was one of the best battlers she'd seen in person, more ruthlessly efficient than the gym leader herself, who was known to occasionally award badges even to trainers who hadn't actually beaten her. To glimpse this softer and more ordinary side of him felt like a small prize.

He hadn't noticed her, so she watched him unabashedly while she sipped her beer and weighed whether it would be strange to introduce herself. And then he looked up and caught her gaze. Sharp gray eyes. Someone else might have blushed and looked away at being caught staring, but Natalie flashed a smile instead. After a moment he smiled back.

A distraction was just what she needed.

Natalie left a few bills on the bar and then, patting her pocket to be sure she still had her brother's words with her, she skirted around to the unoccupied stool next to the gym trainer. "Mind if I sit?"

The gym trainer smirked, but it wasn't unfriendly. "Look who it is. My shadow."

She smirked back at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I've seen you around the gym a lot lately. Most trainers are in and out with a badge in a day or two, you know."

"Well, I'm not most trainers. I don't just want a badge — I want to actually get better." She set down her backpack and hopped onto the stool only to discover to her annoyance that her feet didn't touch. "And I like how you fight."

He raised an eyebrow. "So, what, you're looking for advice?"

"No… I came over to see if I could buy you a drink." Natalie felt her face redden even as she said it, but she kept her head high. "But I guess I'll take advice if you're giving it away for free."

Shaking his head, he smiled and shut his book. "If you're buying, it's not really free advice anymore, is it?" He drained his tumbler and said, "But, sure, I'll let you ask a few questions."

"Okay. First question: what are you drinking?"

"Red River's fine."

"You sure? Looked like you had something else earlier."

He shrugged. "You're a trainer. I remember what that's like. I'll take the drink, but I can pay for my own whiskey."

Natalie was tempted to argue, because that was what she did, but he had a point. She'd been in Rustboro for ten days — a long time for a trainer to stay in one place. In that time she'd won a few battles against other trainers passing through, but she'd lost a few too. "Fair enough. Must be nice getting paid a salary to battle." She flagged down the bartender.

"Don't be too jealous. I'm hourly." They watched the bartender pour the beer. Then the gym trainer said, "I guess I can't keep calling you shadow. What's your name?"

"Natalie."

"I'm Mark. Cheers, Natalie." They clinked glasses, and then he leaned back in his seat. "So, what do you want to know?"

Natalie didn't pause long to think. "What are you reading?"

Mark made a face of mild surprise but passed the book to her. He watched her skim the dust jacket summary and flick through the pages for a few moments. He offered, "It's not bad so far."

"So it's… fantasy?"

"More dystopian," he said, accepting the book back from her. "It deals with the Orange Island wars. Climate change."

"Sounds heavy."

He flashed a sardonic smile and shrugged. "The real world is fucked up. I don't have much patience for stories that don't acknowledge it."

She smiled grimly. That sounded almost like something her brother would say. "It's nice to have a break from the world sometimes though."

"This is my break," he said with half a laugh. "You read much?"

The last book Natalie read had been required for school. "Sometimes," she said. "Haven't much since I started traveling."

"Right. Nobody wants to carry a stack of books across the country. It's been nice to be in a city with a library again." He took a drink and added, "Though, I gotta say, I was expecting you to ask a question about training."

"Alright. Fine."

He smiled a beat later and Natalie realized he was teasing her.

"Talk to me about your team. You've got some unusual pokemon." The only Hoenn pokemon she'd seen him use so far was a solrock. One of the others she hadn't recognized at all.

"I guess it depends what you're used to." He shrugged again, but Natalie could see in his eyes that he was pleased with himself. "I only get to use a fraction of them in the gym."

"You caught all of them in the wild?"

"Of course."

She wanted to say something, check his smugness, but she couldn't help smiling and leaning in. He must have traveled all over before settling in Rustboro. Some people hardly got farther than their hometown. She couldn't deny she was impressed, envious. "Where are you from originally?"

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Wanna guess?"

Natalie folded her arms and grinned. "I can take a crack at it."

She gave him a long look, from his businesslike haircut to his well-worn leather boots. No tattoos that she could see. A ragged scar wrapped around his forearm, a pokemon bite perhaps. A few purple hairs clung to his shirt — ah, so maybe he trained more than just rock-types after all. Well-muscled and tan, too. Clearly he still spent plenty of time outside in spite of the gym gig. She was aware of him looking at her too, and then he met her eyes with a lazy smile. Her belly felt warm, and not just from the alcohol.

Fighting to keep her giddy grin under control she said, "Well, you're definitely not from Hoenn."

"You sure?"

Ignoring that she continued, "Not Johto either. Not traditional enough. I guess you could be a well-traveled Kantoan, but…" He continued smiling in a way that made her unsure if she was completely right so far or completely wrong. So she charged ahead: "I bet you're from Sinnoh."

"Oh yeah?"

"Veilstone. Am I right?"

"Veilstone. That's very specific."

She grinned and leaned forward. "I'm right, aren't I?"

Mark chuckled and sipped his beer. "What gave me away?"

"Well, you've got that big flat-faced guy. Bastiodon, right? That's Sinnoh, for sure." She scraped her brain for pokemon with purple fur. Stunky? Wouldn't be her first choice, but neither would a solrock. "And I've seen the way you handle it when someone brings in a fighting-type. You've got this way of turning their own momentum against them. You almost seem to know those pokemon better than their trainers do."

"That makes sense," he said with the same infuriating smirk.

"In fact, I bet you used to train at the gym over there before you came here. Maylene, I think, is the leader there. Right?" She paused to drink, holding up a finger to show she wasn't done yet. "And you're definitely a cold weather kind of guy."

He chuckled again. "You think so?"

"Yeah. You don't give anything away. You're not rattled by anything."

Mark shook his head. "You've got me all figured out after shadowing a couple battles, huh?"

Natalie shrugged, smirking into her beer. "I guess I've been paying attention."

"Maybe I should pay more attention." A look in his eyes made her stomach flutter. Then he said, "I grew up in Virbank City. In Unova." He set his glass down with a decisive clank.

"You—oh." Natalie felt her face grow hot. But he was still smiling, so she smiled back. "So you just wanted to see how big of an ass I'd make of myself."

"Yeah, pretty much."

Natalie broke into a grin. "I wasn't wrong about the cold weather though."

"I guess not."

"So no stunky then, huh?"

For a moment, his smug expression softened to genuine confusion.

"What?"

She pointed. "Purple fur. Just a guess."

"Oh." With a little laugh, he brushed off his shirt (to no effect). "No, that's Gibs. He's my liepard. Or I guess I should say I'm his human — he's clearly made his claim. Hogs pillows too."

"And are you big spoon or little spoon?" she teased.

He laughed again. "He's little spoon."

"Same. But my little spoon's a mightyena." She was probably covered in fur too, come to think of it. They were even then. "So what are you doing in Rustboro anyway?"

"Well. I work at the gym."

She made an exasperated sound. "Okay, I see how it is. Fair enough."

"And what about you? Clearly getting this badge isn't high on your list. What are you doing in Rustboro?"

That made Natalie pause. She reached into her pocket reflexively to touch the note she'd found in her shoe. Yesterday she would've told him about her brother without a second thought. Talking about him felt good. And, after all, you never knew who might know something helpful. But now… you never knew who else was listening.

Smile fading, she said, "It's complicated."

"I see." He was still smirking but his expression had shifted subtly. A shade colder.

"I'm just…trying to figure things out." She sighed and shrugged.

Mark's expression softened again, and whatever she thought she had seen in his face was gone. "Right. They tell you to go out and catch some pokemon, win some badges, but they don't tell you what to make of it, do they? You're on your own to figure out what comes next."

"Exactly!"

"That's why I like to come here. Spend too much time with trainers and you lose perspective. I'd rather be around real people."

She grinned again. "What, and trainers aren't real people? I don't know if you noticed, but you've got a belt too." He carried six pokeballs to her four.

He snorted. "There are all kinds of trainers. I see plenty of them every day, and almost none of them can see two inches past their own ambition. They have no clue about anything else going on. Just badges and bullshit."

Natalie laughed and almost choked on her beer. She was conscious of the two badges pinned to her backpack — Mauville and Dewford — but noted with jittery pride that he wouldn't be saying this to her if he had grouped her in with the other trainers. When she recovered from her surprise she teased, "Bet your boss would love to hear that."

Mark's reply came half a second too slow. "Oh, Roxanne. She doesn't own me when I'm not in the gym. It's a job." Before Natalie could decide what to make of that, he smiled dryly and said, "I dunno if this is the conversation you were expecting when you sat down."

"I wasn't expecting anything. I didn't think about it too much, to be honest. I just did it. That's sort of how I got into training too," she added with a laugh. "I guess I know what you mean. I feel detached from all of it sometimes too. Like I'm just waiting to figure out what I'm actually supposed to be doing."

"Like what?"

Natalie looked down, feeling shy for the first time that evening. "I don't know. My—" She caught herself and stopped. "I knew somebody who was always trying to fix things, make the world better. He was pretty involved in politics actually. I think he wanted to run for office eventually. That's not really my style though, and he's gone now anyway, so… I don't know."

Mark was quiet for a moment. "You see that woman sitting over there? With the breloom."

In the corner, talking heatedly with a small group, too far away to be heard. Long, long hair. The only other person in the bar with a pokemon. Her breloom dipped its muzzle into its own beer mug, lifting its head every so often to lick away the foam.

"That's Erica Spitfire. Yeah, I know, but that's her name. A couple years back she was close to taking the title and whole lot of money, but she came back instead. She chose to give up training and come back to Rustboro when she could've had everything. So people here listen to her. Now she's one of the last things standing between DevCo and their pipeline."

Natalie nodded, not wanting him to think she was ignorant, though this was the first she was hearing about a pipeline.

"The point is, you don't have to be a politician to do something."

She lifted her chin. "And what about you?"

Mark flashed a smile that she couldn't help but return. "I talk to people, mostly. Make connections." With a shrug, he drained his glass and then said, "Alright, Natalie. Here's a question for you: what responsibilities do you think we have as trainers? As human beings."

A nervous laugh burst out of her. "Okay, no pressure."

He smiled, but his gray eyes still bore into her. After a minute he insisted, "Do you think we have any?"

Natalie spluttered, "Well, sure. I just… wow, give me a minute."

Before she could think of something clever to say, Mark's phone buzzed. "Sorry. One sec." Natalie hadn't noticed until he pulled the old Nokia out of his pocket that he wasn't wearing a Gear or a Bitflex on his wrist like every other trainer in Hoenn. It didn't even have a camera — at this point, she probably shouldn't have been surprised.

He squinted at the screen a minute, and then he growled, "Shit. Shit. I have to go — right now." He jumped up, slinging a messenger bag over his shoulder and tossing in his book.

"Everything okay? Emergency at the gym?"

"Something like that." It wasn't quite a smile. "I definitely want to continue this conversation later. I'll grab your drink next time."

"Deal."

They locked eyes for a moment and he gave her a real smile. "Alright. I guess you know where to find me." As he started for the door he called, "Get home safe tonight." Without looking back, he slipped between the tables, out the door, and into the night.

Her heart felt surprisingly heavy. She let out a long breath.

Then she turned back to the dregs of her beer, gave the glass a swirl, and downed the last of it. The only thing left to do was to unfold her brother's emails and read though them again, this time scanning for the word pipeline.

 
Last edited:
Chapter 2: Dredging Up

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 2: Dredging Up

Not until Natalie climbed into bed did her fear catch up to her. She had already moved to a different hostel, but she still didn’t know how the person who left the note in her shoe had found her the first time. Or gotten into the room. In the dark, there was little to distract her from thinking about it.

She lay watching headlights sweep across the wall. The mace keychain in her hand didn’t help much, even though her dad insisted the stuff was potent enough to repel even a charging pokémon. She couldn’t use it in her sleep. If anything, unclipping the keychain from her pack made Natalie feel worse because it meant admitting to herself that she was afraid. She startled each time a bed creaked across the room, but it was only another trainer shifting in her sleep.

Finally, she released Luna, her mightyena, and coaxed her onto the cot with her. Screw the rules. If someone was teleporting or ghosting through doors to get at Natalie, she wanted Luna with her. Sweet, smart Luna who had sensed when Mr. Reid died in his sleep next door and had howled until someone went to check on him. Who had eaten a pair of Natalie’s sneakers in middle school but had evolved almost right away when they left home. With both of them on the bed, Natalie’s ass hung off the edge of the mattress, and she worried that she would fall off completely if Luna kicked in her sleep. But she buried her face in the mightyena’s neck and held on through the night.

She must have slept, because she woke with the sun in her eyes.

The moment Natalie stirred, Luna wriggled out of her grasp and leapt down from the bed, claws clattering. A girl in a nearby cot sat up on one elbow and glared first at the mightyena and then at Natalie. With a loud sigh, the girl rolled over and pulled the covers past her head.

Natalie glared back at the lump of girl under blankets but recalled Luna.

In the light of day, her fears from the night before felt suddenly distant, almost silly. Almost. She still took the time to check her shoes, pack, and even under the bed for new notes, but there were none. A good sign. Probably.

She chose not to worry.

She dressed and went downstairs, hoping she wasn’t too late for the free breakfast.

One of the owners, the husband, was watching the morning news when she came in. He picked at his beard and muttered to no one, “It never ends.” A smashed storefront flashed on-screen. A street battle that got out of hand, from the looks of it.

The news ticker read: Police Investigate Possible Gang Activity.

Natalie rolled her eyes, already anticipating the email from her dad. If a news outlet put out a story about violent crime, Bruce Armstrong was the first to see it and share it on social media. Look at these idiots, or sometimes, I keep paying my taxes, and for what? Back home they had Ocean Rescue Force, the ORF, skulking around and vandalizing businesses. Rustboro, she had already been warned, had Magma, the Masked Group for Mass Action. Her father called them both terrorists.

That’s why I have my pokémon, she often wanted to tell her dad but didn’t. He wouldn’t change.

She shook her head and turned away from the screen. Against the wall, a table was laid out with bagels, fruit, yogurt cups, and coffee. “Morning,” she called to the hostel owner as she passed.

He tore himself away from the TV for a moment. “Ah, morning. Can you believe it?” He gestured at the screen. “Can’t go two days without hearing about something like this.”

“That’s city life, I guess.” She shrugged.

“A real shame...”

Natalie made a noncommittal noise and focused on buttering her bagel.

While she ate, the hostel owner returned to grumbling at the TV. Then the results from the previous night’s soccer match came on, and his grumbling intensified.

Glad to be left alone, Natalie stared at a stain on the wall and thought about the folded wad of emails in her pocket. Not about what they said but about what they didn’t. The emails were written to their father, not her. She was still “the kid,” as in, Say hi to the kid for me. She counted off of all the things she would never tell their father — like the note in her shoe — and had to assume her brother had left out plenty too. She had so many questions and so little to go on.

Her brother mostly wrote about the campaign he was working for, his frustrating conversations with donors and how he was looking forward to getting a break after the election was over. Once he told a story about eating lunch in a park and watching the people pass. I can’t imagine a better time to be living in this city. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

But she thought she felt the shadow of something else under the surface. Not just the arguments — though they did argue. It was the gaps between emails stretching longer and longer. The way he never talked about his friends.

Or maybe it was only easy to imagine a pattern because she knew how it ended.

In many ways, reading his emails was like meeting her brother for the first time. They didn’t talk, not about real things. After all, she’d only been eight the last time she saw him. But he did humor her — he sometimes took her for a wailmer ride in the bay or kicked her ass at checkers. She couldn’t help but think of him as Bubba still, even though it was childish, even though she knew she was naming only the smallest piece of who he was. That was who she knew and had to reconcile his decade-old emails against.

Mostly she remembered watching him train. He didn’t invite her to join, but neither did he stop her from following him to the scrap yard. Sometimes he squared off with other trainers and he made her sit at a distance, on the sagging seat of a truck missing a door and all four wheels. Other times he set up targets from the old steel drums and set his pokemon on them. Bubba also trained a mightyena, Justice, who was missing part of one ear. Justice could vanish out from under a falling piece of scrap, reappear on the other side, and bite it in two all before it hit the ground. Natalie could tell they liked her cheering for them, even though they both acted like the whole thing was no big deal.

And finally, one one visit home between travels, he brought back a poochyena. Hers. Officially, legally, Luna was just a pet until Natalie turned eighteen. But that didn’t stop Bubba from teaching Natalie how to train: when to give treats, how to establish authority. “She sees you as her pack. You’ve gotta be the alpha, give her a reason to listen to you.”

She wished he were around to see how she and Luna had grown.

The hostel owner spoke up, perhaps remembering himself in his role as host. “So, you going for your badge today?”

Thinking of her conversation in the bar the night before, Natalie grinned. “Yeah, I think today’s the day,” she said, deciding then.

A battle was both a question and its own answer. And even if she couldn’t answer questions about her brother, maybe she’d get a chance to ask Mark some of the questions she still had for him.

“Good for you.”

She hardly had to think about the route to the gym — her feet knew the way now.

As usual, trainers chatted outside, comparing badges and strategies. Inside, a trainer sat on a bench by the door and stared up at the display, jiggling his leg and waiting for his number to come up. From the smaller arena, below the main level, came a series of thumps and a roar that shook the floor. A few people watched from near the stanchions. On the other end of the room, raised up behind the main stage, Roxanne sat at a stone-topped desk. She looked like she was doing paperwork, but probably she was paying more attention than it seemed to the battle below. The massive screens on either side of the stage hadn’t been turned on yet.

Natalie stepped closer and peered down into the arena. An onix flung down the challenging treeko and let out another roar. To her disappointment, she didn’t recognize the trainer fighting for the gym, young-looking with glasses. Frowning, she glanced around, prompting another trainer who’d been leaning by the stairs to rise and approach her. Natalie had seen her fight too — she used a lairon.

“Welcome back. You finally ready to fight for your badge? You can take a number over there.”

“Actually, I was kinda looking for Mark.”

The gym trainer looked both surprised and amused. “We swapped shifts. He won’t be in until this afternoon.”

“Oh, okay.” She wondered if it had something to do with whatever had made him leave so suddenly the night before. “I guess I’ll come back later then.”

“The line will be longer after lunch, you know. And I probably shouldn’t say this, but…” The gym trainer lowered her voice. “You’ll have a much better chance at facing Roxanne today if you battle me or Jack.”

Squaring her shoulders, Natalie smirked. “I know. But thanks.”

She left the gym and continued down Iron Avenue at a brisk pace, like she had somewhere to be. But now she had — she checked her Gear watch — at least three hours to kill, and no new ideas. Natalie had already done the tourist things: bought supplies, walked the Monument Mile, visited the rare minerals museum. She battled other trainers. She even spent a day exploring the coastal forest north of the city.

Natalie almost had to wonder if that note in her shoe was meant to goad her into sticking around longer. Reverse psychology. If so, it had worked.

When she arrived in Rustboro, Natalie hadn’t been looking for information about her brother, not at first. It was another stop on her gym tour, as it would be for any trainer. But for all the time she spent watching battles and in spite of having two pokemon with a type advantage, she somehow didn’t feel ready to challenge Roxanne.

Not until she stopped for a sandwich one day near the gym did she find what she didn’t know she’d been craving: absolute certainty that she stood where her Bubba had been, at least once. A banner on the wall at Pete’s Deli proclaimed, Serving Rustboro for fifty years. She couldn’t imagine how many ways the city might have changed in ten years, but she doubted that was one. And across the street was a pocket park with stone benches and a fountain — like the one he’d described in the email. He must have ordered from here, if not while he was collecting badges then when he lived and worked here. It made her want to look for more glimpses of the Rustboro he’d known.

Bubba hadn’t left behind many tangible traces of himself. The Harry Gordon mayoral campaign had long since dissolved, with no one left who could tell her even anything as simple as whether he’d kept their family photo at his desk. His old apartment building had been torn down, luxury condos built over top. But there were old newspapers digitally archived at the library. The obituaries and news reports had survived the decade.

She wasn’t much of a sleuth — she didn’t expect to uncover anything the local police hadn’t in ten years of investigating the missing persons case. That wasn’t the point. She just wanted… She wasn’t sure what she hoped to find. Looking at the news from the months her brother had been here made her feel closer to him, so that was what she did.

Yet someone seemed to think she might gain important, dangerous information here. Now she wanted to prove them right.

The library was a twenty-minute walk away, so Natalie called her mom to help pass the time.

“Hey, Butter. What are you up to?”

Natalie smiled at the childhood nickname, shortened from Butterball. She used to hate it, but right now it wasn’t so bad. “You haven’t called me that in a while.”

“Haven’t seen you in a while either. Guess it’s making me sentimental.”

Natalie heard in her mom’s voice that she was at stretching, her desk chair creaking. “You writing?”

Her mom sighed. “I am. I’m behind on this month’s wellness article.” She worked from home, writing for Slateport Woman.

“Should I let you go? I was just saying hi.”

“Nah, I’m ready for a break anyway. So, what’s new? You still having fun? Need money?”

“Aw, Mom, I’m good. You don’t have to worry about that.” The gym would pay out a good sum when she earned the badge. She did need to do it soon, though. All those nights at hostels were adding up. “But I caught a whismur.”

“That’s great, Nat.”

“He’s like a toddler. Almost all he does is eat and cry. I don’t know how you and Dad did it.”

“We thought about tossing you back once or twice. Like when you would sneak into the kitchen at night to steal the butter. Or climb bookshelves. But you were pretty cute sometimes, so what the hey.”

Her mom laughed, the sound from Natalie’s Gear watch distant and flat. Natalie felt a stab of homesickness.

Natalie started to speak without planning to. “I don’t think I’m very good at this.”

“At what?”

“Training.”

“Aw, whismurs are supposed to cry a lot, Butter. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“It’s not that. I feel…unfocused.” She could see the library’s columns only a few blocks off.

“Don’t you already have three badges?” Her mom sounded unconcerned.

“Just the two.”

“Aha. Still in Rustboro, huh?”

Natalie grimaced, glad she didn’t have the video feed turned on. “Please don’t say anything to Dad. I don’t want him to worry for no reason.” Rustboro had taken on special meaning in the family lexicon, a word with gravity. She couldn’t help but think about Bubba here.

“Oh, baby, I know.” Her mom sighed. “We all have our own ways of working through things. He worries because he cares.”

“I know.”

She also knew that when he reminded her that employers didn’t care how many badges she’d earned that he was really talking about the news. About his missing only son.

“And you’re processing in your own way too. You’re doing things at your own pace.”

“Yeah…”

Half a block up, Natalie saw a girl who looked like a student handing out flyers on bright green paper. Passers-by scooted around her, keeping their eyes on their screens or waving her off, leaving the girl thrusting a leaflet into the empty air over and over. Natalie steeled herself.

“So, what? Do you want to quit?”

Her friends back home had gone to school to become teachers or go into business. One had started working right away at his father’s store. Natalie tried to picture herself doing one of those things, but she couldn’t. “I guess not...”

“Well, you know you can always come home if you decide you want to.”

The student with the flyers was on her then. “We could really use your support tomorrow!” she said with fierce cheerfulness.

“You don’t have to know what you want right now,” continued Natalie’s mom. “You’ll figure it out in your own time. And we’ll be here to support no matter what you choose.”

Natalie pointed at her watch, mouthed sorry to the girl and shrugged. “Thanks, Mom.” She edged away.

“You’ve got all the time in the world.” Natalie’s mom paused. “I wish the same were true for me. I really should finish working on this. Want me to call you back later?”

“It’s okay. But thanks.”

“Of course. Love you, Butter.”

“Love you.”

The call ended with a click and Natalie let her arm fall to her side. She looked up, and the student with the flyers was there.

She held a flyer out to Natalie. “It’s for trainers, too! If trainers don’t hold Roxanne responsible, nobody will!”

That finally made Natalie pause and actually look. “The gym leader?” She remembered again Mark’s abrupt exit from the bar. “Hold her responsible for what?”

The student looked both relieved to have Natalie’s attention and smug about what she knew. “Yesterday she gave a press statement supporting Devon’s plans to put a pipeline through Meteor Falls. Insanity. We have to show her that people from all over care about protecting wild spaces for pokemon.”

Natalie accepted the flyer. “Huh. Thanks.”

“Hope to see you tomorrow!” The girl beamed.

Natalie smiled back, hoping it would be enough to let her duck out of the conversation. The student turned to hand out another flyer and Natalie made her escape, continuing towards the library.

She glanced at the flyer as she walked. In bold hand-written letters across the top it read, Hell no, DevCo! Then the date and time the protest was set to start, and then several black and white photos: an unflattering picture of Joe Stone, the Devon Corporation president. A length of pipe with an X through it.

The third image made her stop in the middle of the sidewalk: A pelipper covered in oil from head to toe, as dark as if it had been painted. She knew that photo. It had been in every other news report about the Devon Horizon spill.

The two things she remembered most about the spill were that the Slateport beach closed for several weeks and that it brought Bubba home. She still didn’t see much of him — he’d spent most of his time out on the reef helping with the cleanup. But he had also somehow managed to convince Natalie’s mother, his step-mother, to let him foster a raggedy pair of pelippers in the guest bathroom for a few days. They were nicknamed Salt and Pepper.

How grim, Natalie reflected now, that the cleanup crew had resorted to sheltering wild creatures in their own homes. At the time though, she’d been delighted.

Her parents didn’t let her near the pelippers, and for good reason: each had a wingspan more than twice the length of her little child body and the strength to break her neck with one wing swipe. But just once, after making her swear up and down that she wouldn’t tell her parents, Bubba let her pet the sleek feathers at the crown of the female’s head. He kept a firm grip on Natalie, ready to snatch her back if needed. She still remembered the pelipper’s reptilian yellow eyes.

When he finally released them back into the wild, Natalie cried.

“Aw, don’t worry, Small Fry,” he said. “You can catch your own someday.”

And then he too returned to the wild, and Natalie never saw him again. No news, no body. No more emails.

Natalie hadn’t thought to look for articles in the local news about the spill because her brother had definitely been in Slateport then. But the Devon Corporation headquarters were here in Rustboro. There had to be something about it. As she walked, she browsed the more recent news on her Gear, looking for the date of the spill:

“Devon Horizon Site is Now a Sticky Wasteland.”

“A Decade Later, Devon Horizon Spill Site Still Bereft of Life.”

“Horrific Mutations Downstream of Devon Horizon.”

She frowned down at her screen. But she found the dates.

The date of the spill and the date they’d last heard from her brother were less than a month apart, both in April. She hadn’t realized that before — she’d been in elementary school, and the two events had always felt far apart. Their family hadn’t worried at first when her brother fell out of touch. He was busy, after all.

Maybe with a little luck the news archives would clarify more.

The library, unlike the modern, league-standard gym, boasted a marble facade, designed and paid for by the old wealth of Rustboro. Sculptures of ancient pokemon lined the stairs. Natalie, numb to the grandeur after all her visits, followed the stairs down to the basement and the newspaper center.

The librarian on duty accepted Natalie’s trainer ID as collateral in lieu of a library card and then gave her a guest login for the databases. “Nice to see you again. Working on a school project?”

“No. I just like history, I guess.”

“A girl after my own heart. Let me know if you need help finding anything.”

“Thanks, I will.”

She found fewer articles about the disaster than she’d expected. Devon Horizon wasn’t often front page news either, which meant checking everything. It was slow going. Aside from a press release from Devon, a lukewarm apology, the local news hardly differed from the national reports. She skimmed vignettes about the eleven workers who died in the explosion, reports on the progress of the cleanup, and an opinion piece about ways the accident could’ve been prevented.

Then nothing for days and days worth of papers.

Natalie was nearly ready to give up and move on — to head outside to look for a battle, perhaps — when she found something interesting. In May that year, there was a protest in front of the Devon headquarters. The article wasn’t long, but it was paired against a photo of the crowd and their painted cardboard signs. Off to one side and one row back, caught mid-shout, was her brother. His face was hard to make out, but she was certain she was right.

For a moment she sat back and stared at the screen. Does that mean anything? She couldn’t prove something hadn’t happened to him after that protest, but it was still a record of his time in Rustboro that went further than the email printouts in her pocket. And it was a connection to Devon. Small, but undeniable.

She printed the article and photo in the largest size she could. The initial spark of excitement was already beginning to fade as she folded the pages to fit them in her pocket. Now what? Her fingers brushed the protest flier in her pocket. She’d never been to something like that before. But Bubba would go.

What was one more day in Rustboro?
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Location
Route 123
Partner
mightyena
You review me, I review you!

When you said that you had an Aqua/Magma story, I HAD to read it. I don't often find other fics or one-shots about these evil teams! And while neither has made an appearanc yet (unless someone is undercover??) you've got a neat little story so far.

It seems to me that the main conflict is Natalie trying to find her older brother whom she hasn't seen in about 13 years (guess from the fact that she's legally drinking but I don't know what the drinking age for Hoenn would be) as well as her trying to get a Pokemon badge. I can tell that this story includes heavily politicized conflicts, such as oil spills and which company would be at fault and what that means about people who support that company. Makes me think that perhaps we'll see Team Magma and Team Aqua in a more sympathetic light for their trying to help the planet!

It doesn't feel like too much has happened yet, which is fine since it's only 2 chapters in. I don't have too much to say aside from the comments below on specific things. This story could take several different routes from here and I'm curious as to what the main conflict will be and where it will go, since at this point the story is still setting up. I'm looking forward to seeing our evil teams in action!

Ooh, I had never seen or thought of a harbor in Rustboro City! I like the atmosphere you give with the opening scene; it's very descriptive.

Also, I LOVE Mightyena and I'm happy you chose that as your protagonist's Pokemon!

Her belly felt warm, and not just from the alcohol.
Oooooh the fuzzy feels.

"No, that's Gibs. He's my liepard. Or I guess I should say I'm his human — he's clearly made his claim. Hogs pillows too."
I love it when trainers describe Pokemon like this because that's exactly the same way I tend to think of it XD

Screw the rules.
"I have money!" plz don't hate me

Fussy nitpick typos:

She smiled grimly. That sounded almost like something her brother would say. "It's nice to have a break from the world sometimes though."
Should have a comma after "sometimes."

I feel detached from all of it sometimes too.
Should have a comma after "sometimes."

The mace keychain in her hand didn’t help much, even though her dad insisted the stuff was potent enough to repel even a charging pokémon.
Might just be me, but having the word "even" twice in one sentence made it feel repetitive.

And finally, one one visit home between travels, he brought back a poochyena.
Accidentally put "one" twice.

Natalie heard in her mom’s voice that she was at stretching, her desk chair creaking.
I think you added an extra "at" in there.


That's all for now! I hope to be back soon and see where this heads.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
@Starlight Aurate afaghgdsssss thank you for spotting those typos. They snuck past me. Multiple times.

It starts a little slow, but it ramps up. Things start to really go sideways in chapter 4.

Just for clarity — her brother has been missing for 10 years. Drinking age is 18, like in most of Europe— if the kids can dragon-wrangle, I don’t see why they can’t have a beer haha.

And while neither has made an appearanc yet (unless someone is undercover??)
👀 I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about.

Which reminds me. Time to update this bad boy! ...Kinda literally.
 
Chapter 3: Grit

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 3: Grit

From the locker room, Mark could hear the muffled sounds of Jack’s onix smashing around. His head throbbed with each vibration through the floor. It’s gonna be a long day. The door opened as he was tossing town a couple Ibuprofen.

“There you are,” said Hilary. She swept past him to her locker, dabbing sweat from her face with a floral handkerchief. “Aisha is all set to take over as soon as Jack’s fight ends — like, any second now, from the looks of it. So, you’re okay for a minute, but buckle up because there are a lot of kids lined up today. Whew.”

He grimaced. “Good to know. And thanks again for switching with me at the last minute.”

“Sure thing. Means I’ll have time to actually do something with my hair before this dumb date.” Hilary paused long enough to get a good look at him and then did a double-take. “Jeez, what happened to you?”

Mark smiled crookedly, which made him wince. He took a slow breath and then told her the story he’d prepared. “I went for a bike ride after work yesterday and somebody doored me.”

“Oh wow, ouch. Sorry, dude.”

“It’s not so bad. Could’ve been worse.”

“How’s your bike?”

He paused for a fraction of a second. “Scraped up, but it’ll still get the job done.”

“That’s good. Wow.” Hilary leaned against the lockers. “I didn’t even know you biked.”

“Oh yeah.” Mark stood, plucked a liepard hair from his sleeve, and started for the door into the gym. “It’s a great workout.”

“Hey, so, Roxanne wanted to talk to you when you got in. You should probably do that before Aisha’s battle ends.”

Mark stopped and turned. Several possibilities flashed through his mind. “Did you say something to her?”

Hilary looked away but said, “No, no, no. I’m not that petty. But…” She took a deep breath. “Look, I get why you’re disappointed with her. And I know you’re not the only one either. But she’s still a good person. Like, think about all the time and effort she’s put into our schools alone.”

He waited.

“What I’m trying to say is you’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t want to get involved. I really, really like this job, you know?”

Mark considered his words carefully. “I don’t think Roxanne is a bad person. I don’t agree with everything she does, but I’m still part of the team. I won’t bring it up again.” He put on a smile though his heart was bitter.

“Thanks,” Hilary said with obvious relief. “Anyway. There’s one more thing you might like to know. A trainer came by asking for you this morning.”

That puzzled him until he remembered. “Red hair?”

“Yup.” She smiled knowingly. “Friend of yours?”

“Maybe. I’ll have to wait and see.” He smirked, shrugged, and stepped through the door.

The gym had quieted. Jack shook hands with a trainer near the the sandbox, which was what the gym trainers called the smaller of the two arenas. The next challenger was already on her feet, anxiously shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

At the sound of the locker room door closing, Jack looked up and met Mark’s eyes. Mark tipped his head towards Roxanne’s desk, questioning, and Jack responded with a quick slicing hand gesture and a nod. The last challenger wasn’t going up to face her. So Mark continued to the main stage, taking Roxanne’s stairs, not the challenger’s side.

Roxanne must have heard his footsteps — she was expecting him, after all. Still, she waited until he stood right in front of the desk to lift her head, set down her pen, and lace her fingers with perfect, measured calm. He hated that. But he also saw in it her need to control him, put him back in place. He saw, too, the creases in her makeup, the softness around her mouth. It was obvious, he thought, why she had chosen to specialize in rock-type pokemon: they had all the hardness she wished she had.

He clasped his hands behind his back and locked in his smile. “You wanted to talk to me, ma’am?”

“I do.”

Behind them came the familiar growl of Aisha’s graveler and then several thumps.

Roxanne spoke slowly. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, Mark, but I think you’re over-performing.”

He was careful to control his expression. “What do you mean?”

She turned a piece of paper toward him. “Here. These are your percentages for the past month. They’re even higher than mine.” Raising an eyebrow, she added, “The challengers are supposed to win some of the time.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Roxanne smiled then. “I know you’re a capable trainer — more than capable. That’s why I hired you. But we’re here to give the challengers an opportunity to shine. It’s not about us.”

“I’ll work on that.”

“I’d like you to please hold off on using your gigalith in matches for a while.”

Internally, Mark simmered. He wanted to keep his solrock and bastiodon fresh for tomorrow. But he said, “Alright. No problem.”

Roxanne looked like she wanted to say something else, reached for her pen instead and clicked it open and shut a few times.

He waited.

Down in the sandbox, the challenging pokemon sent Aisha’s graveler flying against a wall with a loud crack. He heard rock crumbling and a victorious shout.

Finally Roxanne asked, “Are you happy here, Mark?”

He couldn’t hide his surprise at that. “Of course.” Fumbling for words, he offered, “What trainer wouldn’t want to get paid to have battles all day?”

She nodded slowly.

With a flash, the screens on either side of them kicked on. Mark turned his face away, blinking in the sudden light. Someone was coming up to face her. Conversation over.

“One last thing,” said Roxanne.

“Yes?”

“Should I be concerned?” She gestured to her own face, referring to the scrapes across Mark’s cheek and brow.

“Oh.” He’d almost forgotten, expecting her to say something about it sooner. “It looks worse than it is.” He explained again about the bike and the car door. “That’s why I switched with Hilary, to get a little extra rest. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, of course not. You could’ve taken today off if you would’ve asked.”

“I know. I’ll just enjoy my day off tomorrow even more.”

“Well.” She stood from her desk and smoothed her skirt. “It looks like I have a battle. Thank you, Mark.”

“Of course.” He descended the gym leader’s staircase as the challenger was coming up on the opposite side of the stage. His own challenger, squirrelly and tattooed, waited for him in the sandbox. Aisha tended to her pokemon and watched bemusedly from above as Mark gritted his teeth and orchestrated a last-minute loss, in spite of having a type-advantage. He’d send them all up to fight Roxanne if that was what she wanted.

Then he and Aisha switched places and did it again. And again.

Mark made his pokemon lose three more times — with breaks in between to let his pokemon recover and give Aisha a turn — before Natalie strode through the automated doors. She waved. Mark responded with a smirk, but it became a wicked grin when he saw her pull a number from the dispenser and take a seat on the bench.

While he was distracted, the opponent’s machop landed a punch that made Mark’s ears pop from across the arena and sent all three tons of his bastiodon sliding face-first across the sandbox. He had planned to lose, but still he winced. He’d intended to recall his pokemon before it fainted. When the dust settled, his pokemon didn’t stir.

The cut above his eyebrow had opened again during his battles, stinging from the sweat and dust, and he felt grit in his teeth as he inevitably did after spending any time in the gym. But he suddenly didn’t mind.

He waited for the challenging trainer to finish high-fiving his machop and then waved him ahead to Roxanne. “Sorry, Cormac,” he said quietly to his bastiodon before recalling him.

Then Mark craned his neck to see which number was up next and saw Natalie hop to her feet. His heart revved. He called up to Aisha, “I got this one.”

His coworker paused with one foot on the steps, hand on her hip. “Aren’t you tired?”

“I’ve got another pokemon.”

“Alriiight,” Aisha said, but she made herself comfortable leaning against the stanchions.

Mark and Natalie locked eyes, exchanging grins. He beckoned for her to join him in the sandbox.

She descended the stairs with more swagger than seemed reasonable for someone of her stature. Freckles upon freckles. She’s gotta be young. He guessed eighteen, nineteen — not a huge age gap between them, in the grand scheme of things, but enough to make a difference. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Young meant idealistic. It meant not knowing well enough to fear death.

In her tank top and bright leggings, she looked like many of the trainers he saw every day, except for the eyes. Most trainers stared through Mark. To them, he was one more obstacle on their way into the spotlight. Natalie seemed to be actually paying attention. Curious, alert. Questioning.

And she’d come looking for him — that said something too. Several things.

Aisha called, “Challenger! What is your name?” She took such pleasure in the ritualized call and response. When he had to referee, between his own battles, Mark skipped the theatrics and just did his job.

“Natalie Armstrong.”

“Very well. Facing challenger Natalie on behalf of Rustboro City Gym is Mark Dunstan.”

He smiled to himself. Normally this part of the song and dance was a reminder that he was playing a role, playing by the rules. This time…he might look like a gym trainer but he was, in fact, himself. He’d be Roxanne’s litmus, but he was also watching and evaluating for himself.

“You may shake.”

As Mark stepped forward to shake Natalie’s hand, he saw by her expression that she was appreciating for the first time how much taller he was — he stood more than a foot over her. In response, she raised her chin and rolled her shoulders back.

Too low to be heard up on the main level, she said, “Looks like you had quite a night.”

“You should see the other guy.” He played it for a laugh, pleased when she did. But the look in her eyes made it clear she intended to try to get the story out of him later.

Good luck with that one.

He said, “Nice to see you down on my level this time.”

She grinned. “It’s overdue.”

“Take your places.” When they had retreated to opposite sides of the arena, Aisha announced, “This will be a one-on-one battle. Recalling a pokemon will be considered a forfeit. Mark, you may choose your fighter.”

There was only one gym-approved pokemon left for him to choose from. “Let’s make it count, Orwell,” he said, and released his solrock.

Immediately, he felt the prickle of it along the edges of his mind, an unintelligible buzz, not invasive but still inescapable. With no command, it took a defensive stance between him and Natalie and raised a shield of purple light over Mark, as always. From its perspective, he imagined there was no distinction between a gym battle and any other kind of battle. Fine by him — it was a good habit.

“And you may choose your fighter.”

Natalie watched the solrock hover for a moment. Then she grinned and said, “Go, Luna,” and released a mightyena onto the field. It didn’t snarl or pace, simply waited for an order, but its ears lay flat at the sight of the opposing pokemon.

He’d been ready for her to choose something…less subtle. A fighting-type or a ground-type, maybe. This was more interesting.

Aisha shouted, “You may begin! Good luck!”

Natalie wasted no time blurting, “Circle up, Luna!” The mightyena took off, scattering gravel. It zigzagged across the field until it was close enough to make a wide arc around the solrock.

Mark felt Orwell’s impulse to get between himself and the mightyena — something that might have been anxiety, if it were a creature that felt emotions the way humans did. “Stay put, Ore. Let’s see what she’ll do.” Though he already had a good idea. Mark ignored the mightyena for now, watching Natalie. “Get ready.”

“Alright, Luna, do your thing!”

One moment the mightyena prowled along the edges of the sandbox. The next it lunged and, with a swirl of black vapor, vanished.

Orwell made a low keening, like deep space radio, and slowly spun in place as it tried and failed to find the mightyena.

All at once, a black cloud flowered in the air above the solrock and the mightyena leapt from within. Trailing black vapor, it pounced and knocked Orwell to the floor.

Mark was ready. “Ore, iron head! Now!”

Orwell rose shakily, buzzing and vibrating in outrage, as Natalie’s mightyena landed and skidded to a stop. With a sound like a gong, the solrock launched itself at the mightyena and bowled it over.

“Bite it, Luna!”

The solrock moved to smash itself into her pokemon again, but the mightyena bared its teeth and snapped up at Orwell. The mightyena’s legs were in the air, belly exposed, but the shadows on the arena floor wavered threateningly as it began to growl. The two pokemon hung in a deadlock for a long moment, each twitching in preparation for attack but flinching away from follow-through. Finally Orwell levitated away, back to its defensive position in front of its trainer, allowing the mightyena to roll onto all fours once again and shake itself off.

“Good girl,” Natalie called. “Get ready to go again!”

As the mightyena took off running for his solrock, Mark commanded, “Rockslide!”

Orwell’s eyes glowed like heated coils and the sandbox walls rumbled.

“Luna, watch out!”

By the time the mightyena managed to slide to a stop, sections of the rock wall were already crumbling and crashing down on top of it. There was a sharp whine, and then there was only the sound of rock settling.

Natalie gasped and winced, watching from between her fingers.

Mark folded his arms and shook his head.

The dust slowly cleared, revealing boulders scattered across the sandbox and no sign of the mightyena. It reappeared a moment later in a whorl of shadows. But it was holding up one paw, crouching.

With a bitter smile, Mark called out, “Put it in the ring of fire.” He wasn’t sure if he was more pleased to finally allow himself his first win of the shift or disappointed to have made such quick work of her.

Purple light radiated from Orwell and then lashed towards the other pokemon and burst into flames. The mightyena jumped back, but was soon caught inside a circle of purple fire.

“Scramble it,” Mark ordered. He was careful not to look directly at the beam of light the solrock shot from its eyes, shimmering through the air like a heat mirage.

But Natalie called, “Bite, Luna!” and her mightyena turned directly into it. Mark saw its pupils quickly expand and then shrink. The mightyena shook its head, started forward, swooned, and turned to snap its teeth at an imaginary foe. It staggered into the rim of the fiery ring and then reeled back whining, the reaction delayed.

“Rockslide. Finish it.”

“Come on, Luna! Jump through!” As the first rocks tumbled down from the arena’s edge, the mightyena tucked its tail and whimpered. “Luna, go! You can do it!” The mightyena lowered its head, tensed, and then bounded between falling boulders and through the fire. Mark could smell the burning hair. The mightyena moved clumsily, less a run than a three-legged jumble in motion. Rock tumbled all around. Many of them hit. Still, Natalie’s mightyena flung itself toward the solrock.

“Bury it.”

“Crunch it!”

The mightyena barked and, from nowhere, a pair of shadowy jaws appeared around Orwell and snapped shut. The solrock tried to spin free, but the shadow-teeth yanked it down. As it struggled, the solrock let go of the light shield over Mark and let rocks drop all over the sandbox.

The mightyena wove between fallen rock and drew closer — still wobbling, but it didn’t matter. It bared its real teeth, and the shadowy jaws pressed in harder. Pieces crumbled off one of Orwell’s fins.

A solid punch from any number of other pokémon he had trained would get that mightyena off his solrock’s back...but that wasn’t possible here. All the same, he realized he was smiling. He hadn’t planned to hand it to her, but he’d hoped she’d win.

The mightyena threw its head back in a howl, and its shadowy jaws clenched tighter, squeezing and squeezing until Orwell’s light went out.

“Drop it, Luna.”

With a snort and a toss of the mightyena’s head, the shadowy jaws disintegrated, leaving Orwell to topple into the dirt. Mark recalled his pokemon.

Natalie looked up at Aisha, waiting for the official call that she’d won. Her mightyena, though, watched Mark. That was good too.

“The match goes to challenger Natalie! Congratulations!”

He watched with his hands in his pockets as Natalie went to her pokemon, first checking the injured paw and then throwing her arms around its neck. When she recalled the mightyena, he approached. “You’re lucky,” he said, “that I could only use my solrock.”

Natalie dusted herself off and stood, beaming. “I didn’t think you’d be a sore loser. Aren’t you supposed to congratulate me?”

At that Mark grinned. “You don’t need me to tell you that you did good.” He held out a plastic token and explained, “This is your pass to battle Roxanne. If you beat her, she’ll trade you this token for a badge.”

She hardly looked at it before pocketing it. “I’ve been thinking about your question.”

Mark was aware of Aisha looking down at them with crossed arms. The next trainer was already waiting by the stairs. But he said, “Oh yeah?”

“I think our responsibility is to care. And try to fix messes.”

Did he imagine that she glanced towards Roxanne as she spoke?

“Yeah. Sounds about right to me.”

She made no attempt to hide her delight at his approval, and Mark knew then that he would be able to convince her. It was only a matter of when.

“Alright, let’s make way for the next challenger!” Aisha spoke brightly, but Mark could hear the hard edge to her words.

He flashed Aisha a go fuck yourself smile. But he did turn back towards the stairs, pausing only to shrug at Natalie and catch her knowing smile. At the top of the stairs he addressed the waiting challenger. “Thanks for your patience,” he said without enthusiasm.

Aisha rolled her eyes as she slipped past him down into the pit.

Natalie called, “See you around.”

Roxanne stood at the ready in the middle of the main stage, rolling her sleeves tighter.

Yet Natalie turned for the door instead.

For a moment, Mark was too stunned to react. Then he went after her, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll be right back.” He knew Roxanne was watching, and he heard Aisha make a frustrated noise… but it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t be at the gym that much longer.

“Natalie.” The doors wooshed shut behind him.

She spun to face him, smiling impishly.

“Aren’t you going to challenge Roxanne?”

Natalie puffed herself up. “I’ve got more on my mind than just badges and bullshit.”

Mark barked a laugh of surprise.

He felt the rush of flattery, but also an undercurrent of wariness. What did she expect to happen here? He hoped, a little guiltily, that she hadn’t been hovering around Rustboro waiting to talk to him and misunderstanding him to be the kind of person who stayed in one place. And it made him distrust himself. Was he overestimating her potential because he wanted to like her?

“Listen, Natalie…” He stepped closer so he could speak quietly enough not to be overheard. “I need you to do me a favor.”

“A favor?”

“Yeah. Don’t come to the gym tomorrow.”

He wasn’t ready to try to involve her to that degree. Better not to rush it.

“What?” She was still smiling, but there was a hard glint in her green eyes. “Why?”

“Just trust me, alright? Go to the museum or something. The gym isn’t going anywhere.”

She searched his face for a moment. “Is it because of the protest?”

Mark managed to fight the impulse to smile. Then he pivoted. “You’re free tomorrow in the evening, right?”

“Maybe.”

“Then I’ll explain then.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“I still owe you a drink, right? I know a few places. Nicer than On the Rocks.” Quiet enough to talk, loud enough not to be overheard.

For a moment she looked like she might argue, question, pull the conversation back to the protest. Instead she crossed her arms and said, “So, you want my number, or what?”

One way or another, he did.
 
Chapter 4: Red

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 4: Red

The crowd was impossible to miss. Protesters filled Robert Andesite Plaza, flowing down the stairs and onto the sidewalk below. Some even perched atop the concrete parapets where banners had been hung to face traffic.

Natalie sat on the church steps across the street with her gurdurr, Samson, who wouldn’t sit still. He was a recent trade from an Unovan tourist she met in Dewford, so she wasn’t entirely sure yet if he was agitated by the crowd…or if moodiness was simply his baseline. But he was already almost as tall as she was, each arm as thick as her waist, and it made her feel safe to have him out. Part of Natalie was glad she’d chosen to bring only what fit in her pockets and on her belt. Another part of her felt naked without her backpack.

She watched a news crew adjust equipment near one of the plaza entrances. Half a block away, a group of counter-protesters tried to make up for their small numbers with decibels. From a distance Natalie could read a few of the signs, which said things like, Roxanne is my rock, and, DevCo means jobs for Rustboro. In between the protesters and the counter-protesters, a cluster of police officers with manectrics straddled their bikes, exuding a prowling machismo. They mostly watched the plaza, but she thought she saw one of them look at her a few times.

Microphone feedback squealed and then died back down. She could tell from the applause and shouts that someone was giving a speech, but she couldn’t make out more than scattered words from where she sat. She’d wanted to observe without having to be in the thick of it, but… Finally Natalie stood and said to her gurdurr, “Come on, Sam. I want to hear what they’re saying.”

No sooner than she took a few steps towards the plaza, one of the bike cops peeled off from the group and cut in front of her. “That pokemon needs to be back in its ball, immediately.” He wore a face mask and sunglasses, which made him look not quite human.

Natalie couldn’t help herself. “How come? I thought one pokemon per trainer was allowed out in the city limits.”

She stole a glance at his manectric, outfitted in a gray harness that matched the police uniform. It wore a power-limiter collar, almost like a pet’s, except she knew the limiter on this one could be turned off completely with a clicker in the officer’s pocket. The manectric could still hurt her, if the cop wanted it to. Or it might only stun. Its hackles were up and it stared hard at her.

The cop laid a hand on one of several solid black masterballs hooked to his belt beside his holster and handcuffs. One way or another, that hand said. “Right now they’re not. Put it away. Now.”

Samson grunted and popped his knuckles.

Natalie lay a hand on the gurdurr’s meaty shoulder before he could do anything stupid. “My bad,” she said and recalled her pokemon.

The cop held her in an icy gaze for a few more moments before clambering onto his bike and wheeling back around to rejoin his squad.

“What a dick hole.”

Natalie pointedly ignored the bike cops as she passed them on her way into the plaza and pushed her way into the crowd.

In spite of the unseasonable heat wave, most of the protesters wore layers: zip-up jackets, scarves and bandannas of various colors. Some wore belts with pokeballs. Most didn’t. Students, people with regular jobs — locals. Hardly any trainers. She saw painted cardboard signs of all sizes: Meteor Falls — not falling for it! Pokemon over profit! And, of course, Hell no, DevCo!

The protesters burst out in applause and cheers, and then a feminine voice crackled, “It’s an honor to be here with you all today. Let’s take a moment to remember that we stand in the South Grannus Watershed, on Draconid land.”

Natalie squeezed through until she found herself in front of Andesite’s statue, his likeness raised up on the shoulder of the aggron that he’d used to dig Rustboro’s first mine, both man and pokemon sculpted larger-than-life. She clambered onto one of the aggron’s iron-wrought feet. Nodding a silent greeting to a teenage protester crouched on the statue’s other foot, she settled in to watch.

In the center of the crowd, a woman with very long hair stood on an overturned crate. It took Natalie a moment to recognize her without the breloom at her side: Erica Spitfire, the woman who supposedly could’ve made it big had she not chosen to come back to Rustboro to fight a different kind of battle. She was ordinary-looking, with thin lips and a windburned face, but people seemed to hang on her every word. A single pokeball hung from a chain around her neck. She spoke into the microphone, “Roxanne says she’s read the environmental impact assessment. If she sees no problems with it, we must not have read the same report.”

From her perch, Natalie could see much of the crowd and, if she rose up and half-turned, the band of bike cops. She didn’t actually believe she would find him there, yet she couldn’t help but search for Bubba’s face each direction she looked.

Spitfire said, “I don’t care how advanced the technology is, how minimal the risks are. Nothing is worth risking access to clean water for the people and pokemon downstream. We’re the ones who will live with the consequences for DevCo’s mistakes, and we can’t drink oil!”

The crowd roared its approval.

Natalie struggled to focus on the content of the speech, but she was mesmerized by Spitfire all the same. Her voice was strong and clear — not wheedling or posturing, not hysterical, simply laying out the facts as she saw them. “I don’t care how much money they throw at our schools,” Spitfire said. “Mother earth can’t be bribed! Mother earth doesn’t take cash or credit!”

Natalie wrinkled her nose. Mother earth was as cheesy as the name Spitfire. But she saw too that, under all the buzzwords, Spitfire’s anger was real.

So when Spitfire cried, “Do you trust DevCo to keep our water clean?” — Natalie thought of Salt and Pepper, the pelippers in the guest bathroom. She thought of her brother’s face in a newspaper from ten years ago, and she didn’t hesitate to join the cacophony.

“No!” the crowd shouted as one.

“Do you trust DevCo to clean its messes?”

“No!”

“Do you trust DevCo to do what’s best for people and pokemon?”

“No!”

“Let’s show Roxanne that we are not so easily bought and sold!” To deafening applause, Spitfire pointed a finger down the parkway, towards the gym. “If she can’t see the smoke, let’s bring the fire to her!”

The crowd erupted in cheers. Protesters hefted their signposts higher. Someone packed the speakers and microphones onto a bike trailer, and others pulled the banners from the railings. Activists in matching t-shirts moved around Spitfire like rings around a planet, keeping her insulated. The banner bearers lead the way down Iron Avenue. Then the rest of the crowd began to move, first in a trickle and then a flood. A parade. The bike cop brigade also set off, crawling alongside the banner bearers. Natalie waited for the bulk of the crowd to flow past before she hopped down from the aggron sculpture and trailed after.

Someone took up a megaphone and began a chant. “No pipeline! No way! No pipeline—”

In a jumble, the crowd finished: “Not today!”

Up ahead, the crowd oozed across the boulevard, forcing cars to stop in the middle of the road. Nearby, three boys began to drum on five gallon buckets they’d strapped to their chests with bungee cords. The rhythm drove into her — she felt it pounding through her chest to the soles of her feet. Whoever had the speakers on their bike had started blasting, “Roxanne! Put on the the red light!” Natalie grinned.

The protesters wove between the cars, dancing and laughing and shouting chants. She saw someone knock on the hood of a car as he passed. Natalie walked close enough to another car to see the look of boredom and frustration on the driver’s face, to feel the heat radiating from the grille. She hadn’t felt so powerful since the first time she’d won a pokemon battle.

She hadn’t expected the protest to be fun.

“No pipeline!” Another megaphone, closer.

Natalie joined the refrain without thinking. “No way!”

“No pipeline!”

With all the force she could muster, “Not today!” Natalie could hardly hear her own voice among the hundreds.

She glanced behind and saw more police bringing up the rear. They kept a reasonable distance, but still Natalie felt a chill. They wore riot armor with several pokeballs clipped on each arm band. Better to have them around to keep things safe than not, she told herself, begrudgingly. But she reached down to touch one of her own pokeballs for reassurance.

Next to her, a girl in a mechanic’s jumpsuit caught her eye and grinned. She offered Natalie a Hell no, DevCo sign, but Natalie waved it off. She wanted to keep her hands free.

Though Natalie had passed the same shops and office towers and the family affairs court every day for the past week, they looked different from the middle of the street, as if she were seeing them from underwater. From the sidewalks, mothers with strollers and shoppers with bags gawked. Some pulled out phones and tablets to record. Others looked disapproving.

Natalie lifted her head high. Her brother would be proud, she knew, to see her doing more than watching from the sidelines. She didn’t know how much of a difference it would make, but at least she was doing something. It felt good to be in motion, to be headed towards something after a week of spinning out and chasing vague threats.

She moved closer to the girl in the jumpsuit and shouted to be heard over the drumming and chanting: “Do you know what the plan is? Are we just trying to get people to join?”

The girl shook her head and grinned. “We’re gonna surround the gym, shut it down for as long as possible. No pipelines, no badges.”

Natalie felt a flicker of guilt remembering Mark telling her to stay away. How would the gym trainers be expected to respond? Maybe he didn’t want her causing more trouble. Though based on the way he’d spoken… she had a hard time imagining him defending the gym, not with pokemon or even with words. And from what little she knew about him, this sounded like something he’d approve of.

They moved through a roundabout where several side streets connected with Iron Avenue, and then the streets suddenly quieted enough for Natalie to hear the police radios buzz. The crowd slowed.

At first she couldn’t tell what had happened. Then she saw them pouring in from the side streets, at least thirty on either side of the crowd, maybe more. The red bloc. Each wore shades of red from the waist up, their faces covered. Natalie saw lots of red sweaters and jackets with hoods pulled tight around the eyes, a few bomber jackets and ski masks, red baseball caps, a red leather jacket, and even one red headscarf. Every single one of them also wore a red kerchief emblazoned with the letter M in black. Magma.

A low sound of displeasure rippled through the protesters, more a groan than a boo. Natalie saw the cops nearest to her, at the rear of the the crowd, exchange glances and palm their pokeballs. The silence sizzled.

Natalie didn’t seek out news about gang activity, not like her father did, but she knew the rumors all the same. That they liked to stir up trouble, harass the police. That they broke into politicians’ homes and threatened them. That they blew up the Devon Labs a couple years back.

And now Natalie had to wonder if they were also involved in her brother’s disappearance.

Finally, one of the protesters called out over a bullhorn, “This is a peaceful protest!”

There was a low chuckle from the red bloc. Almost too quiet for Natalie to hear, a voice shot back, “Tell that to the pigs!”

Then a Magma man shouted from the gut, loud enough to be heard widely, “Who are we?”

The red bloc answered in one voice, “Earth’s Army!”

The hair rose along Natalie’s arms.

“Why are we here?”

“To defend free speech!”

Then the red bloc took up the same anti-pipeline chant the protesters had been calling out before: “No pipeline! No way! No pipeline! Not today!” By the third repetition, the crowd began to chant with them. The drumming resumed, intensified. And then they were moving again, together.

Faceless cops behind and ahead, faceless red bloc left and right. Now was probably the smart time to leave. But Natalie knew Bubba would’ve stayed, and she was no quitter.

The gym was close enough now for Natalie to see the stainless steel dome. The protesters and the red bloc crossed another street, cutting off traffic again. Then they came to the park with the stone sculptures, the gym steps laid out in front of them one block away. Confused-looking trainers hung around outside the gym, and more cops too.

Between the gym and the protesters was a barricade of police officers mounted on snorting rhyhorns and donphans. Natalie was surprised for a moment by how quickly they’d mobilized until she realized: they’d been expecting this.

“Let’s keep it moving, folks,” an officer boomed over megaphone.

The crowd’s frustration was Natalie’s frustration. They were demonstrating peacefully — why shouldn’t they be allowed in front of the gym? What was the point if they weren’t allowed? She followed the crowd forward.

They jammed up against the mounted officers at the park gates, and then moved no further. The chants grew louder and more furious. Then a new cry rang out over one bullhorn, then another, and slowly passed through the crowd: “Sit—down! Sit—down!”

In a wave spreading from the head of the crowd, the protesters all around began to lower themselves to the pavement. They sat cross-legged or with their knees to their chests. Natalie hesitated, nervously eyeing the Magma group. The red bloc tensed. But, a few beats behind everyone else, the Magma collective took a knee. That seemed to Natalie like a safer positioning, and she followed suit.

The rhyhorns and donphans towered over them, blocking out the view of the gym. She couldn’t see the police officer’s eyes, but she could feel their gaze bearing down all the same.

The protester megaphones blared, “Link up, tighten up!” One by one, the crowd linked arms.

A girl with a mohawk offered Natalie her arm, but Natalie shook her head. Prickling with nervous energy, she scanned over the heads of the crowd. She was caught between the protesters on her left and half of the red bloc on her right. Surrounding them was a ring of black, officers in riot gear, squeezing in closer. She wondered if it would even be possible to fight her way out if it came to that.

An officer announced over the megaphone, “You are ordered to continue peacefully down the parkway or disperse.”

Where were they supposed to go, hemmed in like that?

Two protesters with megaphones shouted over him: “We won’t stand up!”

“Roxanne, stand up for us!”

A mouthful, Natalie thought, but the crowd picked it up anyway.

Her leg was beginning to cramp when a cry of dismay rose up from the crowd. She started to rise, trying to see what was happening. To her right she heard, “Get ready. Here we go.” She saw a flurry of movement on the edge of the crowd, a tangling of arms and bodies. She couldn’t see much, but felt in her gut it had to be Magma.

Then, in a perfect arc, a fist-sized rock flew from out of the crowd and pegged one of the police rhyhorns. The rock couldn’t have hurt it, but the rhyhorn bellowed and reared up, stomping back down heavily.

The backlash was immediate. With a woosh, tens of pokeballs opened all at once, releasing dustoxes and weezings outfitted with gray police power limiter bands. There was a flurry of police radio noise. And then clouds of gray smog and insect scales filled the air.

Natalie gasped, choked, and pulled her t-shirt up over her nose and mouth.

Before she could begin to react, the Magma group to her right was already on its feet amid a surge of flashing red lights. Silhouetted through the smog, she saw a massive camerupt materialize with an earth-shaking roar. A nidoqueen, an exploud, an aggron — more she didn’t have time to see as she fought her way to her feet.

Eyes stinging, she pulled the girl with the mohawk to her feet — only to be nearly knocked down herself when she was jostled from behind. Her ears rang with screams and sirens and pokemon cries. Her chest burned. For a moment all she could do was stay upright and try to see where she was going.

There was a break in the fog as a crobat swept overhead and threw itself into a weezing. As pokemon smashed into each other above and on all sides, Natalie grabbed a pokeball from her belt. “Amelia!” she croaked and sent out her wingull. The wingull looped around her and then, with a confused squawk, landed on Natalie’s shoulder. Natalie felt her shivering. “Clear the air, Amelia!” With another squawk, the wingull spread her wings and pushed off to beat the smog back from her trainer’s face.

Natalie struggled to draw in a breath without coughing and her eyelids felt heavy, but she turned and realized she suddenly had room to move. In a matter of seconds, Magma had pushed forward from behind the cover of their pokemon. As she watched, their camerupt reared and smashed its way between two rhyhorns, plowing the mounted officers to the ground. The red bloc pushed through the gap with a wild shout.

Smog continued to pour down on them, even as flying-type pokemon swept back and forth to break apart the clouds. Masterballs glinted through the smoke. Red lights blinked in and out as the red bloc recalled their own pokemon rather than lose them to a police masterball, only to send them back out in a new spot.

The dustox scales were making Natalie’s head fuzzy, even with Amelia circling overhead. She shook her head, squinting. Ahead, open sidewalk. Natalie started to move towards it, but something made her turn and glance over her shoulder.

Behind her, the crowd of protesters began to collapse inward, pinching apart into two smaller groups. Protesters toppled one by one as if the floor had opened under them. It took her a moment to catch the flickers of blue slicing through the crowd, the spray of sparks. Manectrics.

Less than a few yards away, a manectric exploded out of the smog to tackle a protester — a skinny girl with a knee brace. The manectric stood on the girl’s back, growling and fizzing with electricity.

All the blood rushed to Natalie’s head and her stomach clenched. The world looked scaldingly clear again and Natalie was fully awake.

Then the manectric lifted its head and fixed its red eyes on her.

Something struck the manectric sidelong and bowled it over. Natalie couldn’t see what. As the two pokemon swatted at each other, someone in a red coat leaned down and helped the girl with the knee brace to her feet.

As Natalie turned she saw others, like a red thread winding through the chaos. A Magma girl with a pair of baltoys hovering on either side of her stood between a cop and a handful of protesters who sagged from the sleep powder. A man in red sat astride a second camerupt, and protesters crouched behind it. One of the red bloc directed a dusclops to cast a glittering light screen over a section of the crowd.

They were actually helping. Protecting people.

Half the red bloc faced off against the police blockade, forcing them back foot by foot with their pokemon to create space for activists to push through to the gym. Natalie thought she saw Spitfire and her breloom make a lunge through the smog. The rest of the bloc was among the crowd, the last effort keeping it from coming apart completely. A scattering of regular trainers had released their pokemon into the crowd too, but mostly Natalie saw red.

She glanced one more time at the open space ahead of her. This was the best chance she’d have to get away before things got worse, a clear shot.

Instead, she tossed out Samson’s pokeball, called for Amelia to follow, and shouldered her way back into the fray with one hand pulling her t-shirt up higher over her nose and mouth.

Natalie moved towards the place where the police line wedged through the crowd of protesters. At her command, Samson swung and knocked aside one manectric and then another. He grabbed one by its hind legs and heaved it through the police line, and then made a scary sound she’d never heard him make before. A howl of bloodlust. She felt electrified with it, hardly even noticing the burning in her throat.

“Hold the line!” She couldn’t tell if the shout came from the red bloc or the police.

An unseen pokemon zipped behind her, narrowly missing her — impossible to say whether it was friendly or foe. She glimpsed cops dragging protesters away in handcuffs. She heard a crash and then car alarms. Smoky shadows of pokemon tangled everywhere she turned.

The other half of the crowd was completely blocked off by the police line now. She lost sight of them. Still she pressed ahead, back to back with her gurdurr, and pulled straggling protesters out of reach of the police manectrics. She side-stepped an officer who made a grab for her and kept moving.

She nearly tripped over a fallen protester before she saw him. With no hesitation, she knelt. Samson stood over her, head swiveling. “Can you stand?” The protester had a gash across his temple, and it took Natalie’s full strength to pull him to his knees. He bobbled his head in half-sleep, eyes streaming. “Amelia, water!” She crouched with him until he waved her aside and rose, swaying.

“I’m okay.”

Samson pushed and made room for the protester to wobble away, towards the open.

Natalie began to stand, swooning a little herself. And she looked up to see a manectric streaking towards her, electricity streaming off its fur. She staggered, fell. Samson turned, but too slowly. She had time only to raise an arm over her head —

There was a shower of purple sparks. Inches away from her face, the manectric crashed into empty air and stopped. She watched its teeth gnash against nothing for an instant before an invisible force slammed it down and away.

Someone grabbed Natalie by the arms, wrenching her back. She fought. Dizzy, throwing elbow hooks.

But it wasn’t a cop.

“Hey, hey, I’m trying to help!”

She caught her balance and found herself looking up into a face mostly hidden by a red hood and a Magma kerchief.

He said,“I thought I told you not to come.”

The thought went through her like a lightning bolt: he sent the note.

But then, no, she recognized those sharp gray eyes, the day-old scrape running through his eyebrow. And she knew his voice. She struggled for breath, winded and choking on the thick air in spite of the t-shirt over her mouth. “Mark?” she managed to squeeze out.

His solrock glided in front of them, eyes glowing violet. “Keep it up, Ore.” He patted the dome of its back as it passed on its way to knock aside another manectric.

Then he turned to her and said, “You okay? Here.” He shoved a pressurized bottle into her hand. Antidote. No sooner than she twisted the cap and released the vapor into her face — gasping in relief as it cooled the fire in her lungs — Mark was pulling her by the arm. “Come on, this way.” Away from the police line.

Samson toddled behind them, swinging his arms wildly to keep up. Amelia circled anxiously.

“I can still help them,” she protested.

Ignoring her, Mark spoke into a radio clipped to his hood. “Russet — we’re heading out.”

She barely heard the reply over the wailing sirens: “Copy that, Ruby. We’ll follow you out shortly.”

Then Mark cupped a hand around his mouth, over the kerchief. “Magma! Close ranks! Let’s go!”

Natalie pulled against his grip until he stopped and turned to look at her. Light-headed, she stumbled into him, only his hand on her arm stopping her from losing her balance again. She couldn’t read his expression. Beyond caring, she spluttered, “You’re just going to leave them?”

But even as she spoke, she could see it was over. Several cops together carried a kicking protester away from the gym. More officers struggled with a second protester who’d managed to handcuff himself to the gym doors. The crowd was scattered and thin, and the police line was advancing again. Red and blue lights flashed as two more squad cars and a black van screeched to a stop, blocking off the parkway. The van lurched as a pair of purple-glowing metangs and three machokes clambered out. Then a squadron of police officers with riot shields and rifles jumped down from the van, trailed by a slipstream of semi-tangible dark-type pokemon.

All around, the red bloc streamed away from the remains of the crowd like blood from a wound.

And they left destruction in their wake. She saw overturned and smoldering cars, shattered windows. There was a smell of burning rubber. Iron Avenue looked like it had been bombed. How had it happened so fast? Someone in a Guy Fawkes mask galloped past on a rapidash, brandishing a burning Hoenn flag.

“What the actual fuck, Mark.”

“Come on. We gotta go.” His voice was gentle, but his unreadable eyes floated in a sea of red. A crobat swooped and began to circle around his head, chirping. “Alright, Octavia, I know!”

All around she heard cries from the red bloc: “Pull out! Tighten up! Keep moving!”

She shook her head and stepped back. Her head spun.

He let out a frustrated sigh. “Please don’t stay here and get yourself arrested. That’d be a real fucking waste.” He paused, and she saw that familiar smirk in his eyes. “See you around, I guess.” With that he turned and ran, following the rest of the red bloc towards a side street, his crobat darting ahead and his solrock bringing up the rear.

With a glance behind — at the encroaching special forces, the squad cars blocking the other end of the street, the activists on the asphalt handcuffed in a line, the cars belly-up and spurting flame — Natalie did the only thing that made sense. She recalled Samson, and she ran for the safety of the side street, behind the red bloc.

 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Location
Route 123
Partner
mightyena
Hey! Sorry this review is less organized than usual; I'm on my tablet instead of computer and it's more difficult/annoying to move stuff around.

Drinking age is 18, like in most of Europe— if the kids can dragon-wrangle, I don’t see why they can’t have a beer haha.
Oh I totally agree. Just thought I would check out of curiosity lol. Thanks for the clarifications!

Chapter 3

Just a general comment is that you put descriptors around your lines of dialogue fairly often. It's not incorrect or bad, I just think it reads a bit more stilted instead of flowing like a conversation. That's just my opinion, though.

. Aisha tended to her pokemon and watched bemusedly from above as Mark gritted his teeth and orchestrated a last-minute loss, in spite of having a type-advantage
Would "type-advantage" have a hyphen? I've always seen it as two separate words.

It didn’t snarl or pace, simply waited for an order, but its ears lay flat at the sight of the opposing pokemon.
This sentence reads a little odd; it feels like you're missing a word before "simply" or like it should be broken into morethan one sentence.

Not totally sure why Mark "wants to be like" Natalie. Is it because of her idealism and determination? I just think I didn't pick up on it.

Ha, that ending was cute :)

Chapter 4

The protest was pretty fun (is that the right word?)! The part about Natalie hoping to see Bubba's face and the "put on the red light" song made me smile.

She hadn’t expected the protest to be fun.
Looks like I'm not the only one who thought so!

Oh, Natalie. Deciding to surround ghe gym despite knowing that Mark told her not to is not her smartest move.

And YAY Team Magma is making their appearance!!! :D

He said,“I thought I told you not to come.”
You're missing a space after "said."

This was quite an eventful chapter! Team Magma makes their (official) appearance and the protest has a lot of tension leading up to the riot. You do good job of displaying Natalie as idealistic seeing the protest/riot as a group of people just displaying free speech and standing up for what they believe. I like some of your descriptors, particularly how the Team Magma members leave the scene like blood draining from a wound. It's too bad Natalie didn't see Bubba, but I'm hoping we'll get to see him eventually!

It was refreshing to see a more protective side of Mark here. Even though Natalie blatantly defied his suggestion (granted, for reasons he didn't and couldn't know about), he only seems intent on protecting her and doesn't look mad. For someone who's come across as such a hardlined person, it was nice to have.

I don't have too much to say aside from that; things seem mostly straightforward, though I'm wondering what course of action Natalie and Mark will each take. Looking forward to more!
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
I'm on my tablet instead of computer and it's more difficult/annoying to move stuff around.
I relate deeply! I review a lot on my phone, so autocorrect and hand-fatigue are both real struggles.

Just a general comment is that you put descriptors around your lines of dialogue fairly often. It's not incorrect or bad, I just think it reads a bit more stilted instead of flowing like a conversation.
Hmm are there any examples that jump out at you?

Would "type-advantage" have a hyphen?
Oops, good call. Got a little hyphen-happy there.

This sentence reads a little odd; it feels like you're missing a word before "simply" or like it should be broken into morethan one sentence.
I agree!!! I noticed this on my most recent passthrough, but haven't updated here yet. Good eye!

Not totally sure why Mark "wants to be like" Natalie.
Ah, he doesn't want to be like her, he wants to like her. After all, she's clearly interested and that's nice, but... Golly, he sure is cagey, ain't he. And now I suppose you know some of why he's secretive: he's doing crimes! : D Wheee.

and the "put on the red light" song made me smile.
Hahaha I'm so glad people have been enjoying that little Easter egg/joke.

Deciding to surround ghe gym despite knowing that Mark told her not to is not her smartest move.
You say that like doing what Mark thinks is a good idea... is a good idea! Put a pin in that one. We'll see. 👀 But yeah, Natalie is a proud member of the Good Decisions Club.

You're missing a space after "said."
Huh, I seem to be missing a lot of spaces somehow lately. I'll have to be more vigilant.

You do good job of displaying Natalie as idealistic seeing the protest/riot as a group of people just displaying free speech and standing up for what they believe.
I'm not convinced those things are mutually exclusive! I definitely think this is a moment of disillusionment for Natalie, but I don't think that the way things ended here are a reflection on the morality of protests more generally. Certainly, if Magma hadn't gotten involved, it seems like that things wouldn't have been as heated. But also, police definitely have used violent force against peaceful protesters many times in the real world, so who can know for sure.

It's too bad Natalie didn't see Bubba, but I'm hoping we'll get to see him eventually!
👀

Thanks again for reading and commenting! Glad you still seem to be enjoying the ride. :D
 

Cresselia92

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
She/Her/Hers
Hullo there! Here I am, bringing fresh catnip straight from the yard. Remember to give some of it to Mark, his Liepard will appreciate it. ;)

Having said so, onward we go!

One pocket bulged with seven folded pages of her brother's old emails.
I’m not quite sure how safe that would be. Like, if they are bent once they may stick out of the pocket too much, and if they are folded twice or more they would be harder to keep in a pocket.

Those are very strong pants, if that’s the latter case. Where can I buy them?

In her other pocket was the note she'd found in her shoe when she woke up that morning, waiting for her like a poisonous snake. She kept touching it, reminding herself it was real, though she didn't need to open the paper to remember what it said: Stop looking for him. Go back to Slateport. Your dad doesn't need to mourn two children.
I smell mafia, or at least a criminal organization. Makes me wonder if this brother was in some kind of sketchy business or with some sketchy company.

They knew things about her family, and they'd been in the room where she slept.
There are two options here: either the shadow is your ex, or the shadow is the mafia guy. I... would be nervous with either scenario. :v

Too far from the harbor to see water but close enough to smell seaweed and gasoline, she stumbled across On the Rocks, a modest, nautical-themed pub with a sandwich board advertising five dollar bowls of seafood bisque. The patrons gathered at the tables were locals — mostly dock-hands, day laborers, and union folks— not trainers. It struck her as the type of place her brother would've liked, a world apart from the flashy, loud clubs and cocktail bars downtown by the hostel. This would be a good place to gather her thoughts and figure out what to do next.

She ordered the Red River, a cheap but serviceable local beer. While she waited for the bartender to pour the draft, she drummed her fingers on her arms and glanced up and down the bar, wondering if her brother ever came here and if any of the patrons knew him.
I’m not sure why, but this reminded me some scene of a noir movie, with the investigator going to some pub in some isolated side of the city to gather clues about his case. Well, this scene gave me that vibe. The only missing thing would be the aspiring chanteuse or the boring joker, which would be a pretty popular trope.

Anyway, I really liked this bit. I felt like being there, sipping a nice piña colada.

In an open flannel and a t-shirt, his nose in a book, he almost looked like a different person — but it was definitely him.
Weird place to read a book, but eh. I suppose drinks and reads go well in tandem, but why not a Starbucks? :p

To glimpse this softer and more ordinary side of him felt like a small prize.
Oooh! Someone’s smitten, I see. >;3

He hadn't noticed her, so she watched him unabashedly while she sipped her beer and weighed whether it would be strange to introduce herself. And then he looked up and caught her gaze. Sharp gray eyes. Someone else might have blushed and looked away at being caught staring, but Natalie flashed a smile instead. After a moment he smiled back.
Yep, totally smitten.

A distraction was just what she needed.
Err... what are you planning, girl? What “distraction”?

I know that she surely just wants to chitchat a bit, but that made me think about something else entirely, haha.

Natalie left a few bills on the bar and then, patting her pocket to be sure she still had her brother's words with her, she skirted around to the unoccupied stool next to the gym trainer. "Mind if I sit?"
*scrolls down*

Oh, dialog-heavy chapter, huh? Well, I really fancy some good convos!

He raised an eyebrow. "So, what, you're looking for advice?"

"No… I came over to see if I could buy you a drink." Natalie felt her face redden even as she said it, but she kept her head high. "But I guess I'll take advice if you're giving it away for free."

Shaking his head, he smiled and shut his book. "If you're buying, it's not really free advice anymore, is it?" He drained his tumbler and said, "But, sure, I'll let you ask a few questions."
Dude, I feel like she is trying to buy something else, if you get the hint. *wink wink*

Natalie was tempted to argue, because that was what she did, but he had a point. She'd been in Rustboro for ten days — a long time for a trainer to stay in one place. In that time she'd won a few battles against other trainers passing through, but she'd lost a few too. "Fair enough. Must be nice getting paid a salary to battle." She flagged down the bartender.

"Don't be too jealous. I'm hourly."
Ah, the ups and lows of being a Trainer vs a Gym Leader. I like this contrast.

"More dystopian," he said, accepting the book back from her. "It deals with the Orange Island wars. Climate change."

"Sounds heavy."
What’s that sound? Oh, right. The melodic whisper of foreshadowing.

He flashed a sardonic smile and shrugged. "The real world is fucked up. I don't have much patience for stories that don't acknowledge it."
Oh, didn’t take long to drop the F-bomb, I see.

She smiled grimly. That sounded almost like something her brother would say. "It's nice to have a break from the world sometimes though."
Random theory time: Mark is actually her brother, forced to undergo plastic surgery and change name to escape from the ruffians who tried to cut his life a tad too short, and is feigning to not recognize Natalie to protect her from the criminals. His name Mark is symbolic — the whole story left a pretty big mark on him.

…Or he could just be a random dude who happens to share some things with her brother, hehe.

"Right. Nobody wants to carry a stack of books across the country. It's been nice to be in a city with a library again."
You live in a world where people can stock their bikes and tents without problems, and books are the dealbreaker? :p

Unless this is a more realistic world without hammerpace. In that case, never heard of Kindle?

He smiled a beat later and Natalie realized he was teasing her.
A “beat later” or a “bit later”?

She couldn't deny she was impressed, envious. "Where are you from originally?"
I find that lone “envious” a bit awkward. Is “envious even” a possible alternative?

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Wanna guess?"

Natalie folded her arms and grinned. "I can take a crack at it."
Detective mode activated! Now we are in full noir movie. *grabs popcorn*

Mark shook his head. "You've got me all figured out after shadowing a couple battles, huh?"

Natalie shrugged, smirking into her beer. "I guess I've been paying attention."

"Maybe I should pay more attention." A look in his eyes made her stomach flutter. Then he said, "I grew up in Virbank City. In Unova." He set his glass down with a decisive clank.

"You—oh." Natalie felt her face grow hot. But he was still smiling, so she smiled back. "So you just wanted to see how big of an ass I'd make of myself."

"Yeah, pretty much."
Oooh! You got owned, girl! And from me you get a golden star for trying.

Natalie looked down, feeling shy for the first time that evening. "I don't know. My—" She caught herself and stopped. "I knew somebody who was always trying to fix things, make the world better. He was pretty involved in politics actually. I think he wanted to run for office eventually. That's not really my style though, and he's gone now anyway, so… I don't know."
Fascinating. This makes me wonder what her brother was trying to accomplish, then. If he was into politics, then he must have attracted a lot of enemies.

So the question is... what was his goal? Hmmm... :unsure:

Mark was quiet for a moment. "You see that woman sitting over there? With the breloom."

In the corner, talking heatedly with a small group, too far away to be heard. Long, long hair. The only other person in the bar with a pokemon. Her breloom dipped its muzzle into its own beer mug, lifting its head every so often to lick away the foam.

"That's Erica Spitfire. Yeah, I know, but that's her name. A couple years back she was close to taking the title and whole lot of money, but she came back instead. She chose to give up training and come back to Rustboro when she could've had everything. So people here listen to her. Now she's one of the last things standing between DevCo and their pipeline."
Hm? Something tells me she will be relevant at some point.

Natalie nodded, not wanting him to think she was ignorant, though this was the first she was hearing about a pipeline.
This is the first time for me, too. Hold on while I check the dictionary...

Mark flashed a smile that she couldn't help but return. "I talk to people, mostly. Make connections."
This is pretty much the goal of the partner in PSMD. I bet you would get along so well!

With a shrug, he drained his glass and then said, "Alright, Natalie. Here's a question for you: what responsibilities do you think we have as trainers? As human beings."

A nervous laugh burst out of her. "Okay, no pressure."

He smiled, but his gray eyes still bore into her. After a minute he insisted, "Do you think we have any?"

Natalie spluttered, "Well, sure. I just… wow, give me a minute."
...Okay, that’s a good question.

Before she could think of something clever to say, Mark's phone buzzed. "Sorry. One sec." Natalie hadn't noticed until he pulled the old Nokia out of his pocket that he wasn't wearing a Gear or a Bitflex on his wrist like every other trainer in Hoenn. It didn't even have a camera — at this point, she probably shouldn't have been surprised.
Still with a Nokia? You should try the Frokia, Mark! Heck, it even has a frog as a symbol! :p

They locked eyes for a moment and he gave her a real smile. "Alright. I guess you know where to find me." As he started for the door he called, "Get home safe tonight." Without looking back, he slipped between the tables, out the door, and into the night.

Her heart felt surprisingly heavy. She let out a long breath.
Aww, your new crush had to leave? Pity.

Then she turned back to the dregs of her beer, gave the glass a swirl, and downed the last of it. The only thing left to do was to unfold her brother's emails and read though them again, this time scanning for the word pipeline.
Pipeline... either a pipe used to drain liquids and gases or a gossip. So, unless your brother’s name is Mario, I’d say that it is the gossip part. :p

I ship them. :v

—-

Alright, time for the general thoughts.

I admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from this story, but the idea of a more fleshed out agenda for Team Aqua and Team Magma sounds already nice as a premise.

I’ve got to say that I really like the description of the setting and the conversation between the two characters. It felt like a true conversation between two random people who are spending some time together, and it was a really cool way to get to know them better.

I admit that this isn’t quite the stuff that I tend to read as I’m more into action and adventure stories and this chapter was very quiet, but it was still a lovely read and I enjoyed following the conversation. They both sound already like really interesting characters.

I have no clue if things will degenerate from now onward, but if there are more chapters like this, I may see if I can keep up with this story.

Really great work! Keep up the good work. ^^
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Here I am, bringing fresh catnip straight from the yard. Remember to give some of it to Mark, his Liepard will appreciate it. ;)
Her catnip brings all the cats to the yard...! 🎶 This is a very good idea. Gibs could probably use a treat.

This was such a fun review to read! I enjoyed your speculations about what's brewing, and I'm glad you seemed to enjoy the vibe. It does start slow, but if you're looking for action and adventure, you're in luck: by the end of chapter four, things will be literally on fire! 🙃

Like, if they are bent once they may stick out of the pocket too much, and if they are folded twice or more they would be harder to keep in a pocket.
Those are very strong pants, if that’s the latter case. Where can I buy them?
I guess it depends what kind of pants you're picturing! I'm imagining some of those intense hiking pants from REI or LL Bean with all the zippered pockets, etc.

I smell mafia, or at least a criminal organization.
👀 Hmm interesting theory!

this reminded me some scene of a noir movie, with the investigator going to some pub in some isolated side of the city
Haha, you're not wrong! Natalie does a fair amount of half-baked junior detective work in this first mini arc. She's not a great detective though. :D Gold stars for trying indeed.

Weird place to read a book, but eh. I suppose drinks and reads go well in tandem, but why not a Starbucks? :p
I constantly wish that coffee shops were open later. I've definitely been the weirdo reading a book in a bar before. Actually, I've sat in a bar and read a book next to someone else who was also reading because that's the kind of company I keep, haha. Totally fair to call it weird all the same -- Mark has a few weird habits...

Oh, didn’t take long to drop the F-bomb, I see.
My other fic, Spring, never curses. This one...always curses. :D

I find that lone “envious” a bit awkward. Is “envious even” a possible alternative?
Fair! I think you're right.

You live in a world where people can stock their bikes and tents without problems, and books are the dealbreaker? :p Unless this is a more realistic world without hammerpace. In that case, never heard of Kindle?
I definitely go the realist route -- can't just shrink n carry infinite objects. I bet Mark has heard of a Kindle. He might even have one and is just excited to have a real book. ...Then again, he's got some, um, particular habits around technology and wifi. More on that later. Either way, I think he'd bemoan how much better a real book is than an ebook.

So the question is... what was his goal? Hmmm...
👀 More on that... eventually!

Still with a Nokia? You should try the Frokia, Mark! Heck, it even has a frog as a symbol! :p
Hahaha that's a pretty good pokepun brand name. Sticking with Nokia because I want that mental image to ring out loud and clear. But truly, yes, he's behind on the times and really ought to get with it. ;)

Pipeline... either a pipe used to drain liquids and gases or a gossip. So, unless your brother’s name is Mario, I’d say that it is the gossip part. :p
This becomes explicitly clear in later chapters, but it's specifically a crude oil pipeline -- fossil fuels time.

I ship them. :v
Me too. With the description and the genre tags, I don't even feel like that counts as a spoiler lol. Except too bad they're already on course to [redacted].

Anyway, thanks again for the kind review. <3
 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Location
Route 123
Partner
mightyena
Hmm are there any examples that jump out at you?
For whatever reason, this following area stuck out to me (sorry for not quoting originally lol not sure why I missed that)

He paused for a fraction of a second. “Scraped up, but it’ll still get the job done.”

“That’s good. Wow.” Hilary leaned against the lockers. “I didn’t even know you biked.”

“Oh yeah.” Mark stood, plucked a liepard hair from his sleeve, and started for the door into the gym. “It’s a great workout.”

“Hey, so, Roxanne wanted to talk to you when you got in. You should probably do that before Aisha’s battle ends.”

Mark stopped and turned. Several possibilities flashed through his mind. “Did you say something to her?”
You're certainly not egregious about it, and most places I think you do a good job of switching dialogue between two people. I just felt like the tags/descriptions in this area were a bit more.

Ah, he doesn't want to be like her, he wants to like her. After all, she's clearly interested and that's nice, but... Golly, he sure is cagey, ain't he. And now I suppose you know some of why he's secretive: he's doing crimes! : D Wheee.
Oh haha well that certainly makes more sense. My bad on misreading that lol.

I'm not convinced those things are mutually exclusive! I definitely think this is a moment of disillusionment for Natalie, but I don't think that the way things ended here are a reflection on the morality of protests more generally. Certainly, if Magma hadn't gotten involved, it seems like that things wouldn't have been as heated. But also, police definitely have used violent force against peaceful protesters many times in the real world, so who can know for sure.
Oh I agree; real world protests go all over the place. But that's probably a discussion best not delved into here haha.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
I just felt like the tags/descriptions in this area were a bit more.
Aha, gotcha. I'll take another look at it, next time I'm editing.

Oh I agree; real world protests go all over the place. But that's probably a discussion best not delved into here haha.
Ha, well you're welcome to DM me about that type of thing here or on Discord any time. They're interesting topics and, IMHO, always worth exploring.
 
Chapter 5: Blue

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 5: Blue

Between dumpsters. Over a fallen weezing. Ahead, strangers in red led the way down the alley. One of them turned back and caught sight of Natalie — probably Mark, but she couldn't quite tell.

Whichever way they go, Natalie decided, I'll turn the other way.

Still, she pushed on, driven by the continued sounds of sirens and pokemon somewhere behind her.

At the far end of the alley, a camerupt plowed down a metal police barricade. Natalie was the last to step over its twisted remains, back into open space. She watched the red bloc continue down the street to the right, through a construction zone. Not that way then.

She slowed to a near halt with one hand pressed to the stitch in her side, struggling to find her bearings. This street was unfamiliar. She felt drowsy — even as some distant part of her recognized with alarm the effects of sleep powder. And she couldn't decide where to go.

Amelia, her wingull, landed on Natalie's shoulder, wings sagging. Then she squawked in alarm as a large shadow passed overhead.

Natalie jerked her head up.

"This is a bad place to stop." Mark. Breathing hard but not as winded as she was. His crobat, the source of the shadow, flapped and chittered on the other side of her at the mouth of the alley.

Outraged confusion swept through Natalie in a hot wave head to toe. "What do you want from me?"

"You can't stay here." He nearly had to shout to be heard over the sirens.

"I'm not going with them," she panted.

"I know." He shook his head. There was a note of strain in his voice. "You're right — you can't. We'll go somewhere else and talk, just you and me. Alright?"

His crobat shrieked, and Mark and Natalie turned their heads in time to watch it fall to the ground, a thin smoke rising off its body.

A moment later, a pair of manectrics slunk out of the alleyway. One lunged — only to be shunted aside by the solrock as it careened out from behind Mark. The other manectric skirted around and sped for Mark and Natalie.

"Luna!" As Natalie sent out her mightyena, she saw Mark release another of his pokemon — little more than a streak of shadow in the corner of her eye.

Still materializing from red light, Luna shoulder-checked the manectric. And that other streak of shadow was right there under the feet of the police pokemon to trip it. Not until the manectric was down and Mark's pokemon finally stood still was Natalie able to identify it: a liepard.

The first manectric knocked into the solrock and sent it spinning. Natalie didn't notice the shield of purple light twinkling around them until it suddenly wasn't there anymore.

"Gibs — on your left."

"Hit it, Luna!"

And the liepard and Luna both jumped to intercept it. They seemed to know instinctively how to move together. Luna, all muscle and snarls, threw her weight into the manectric. The liepard, just slightly faster and silent as death, struck a blow from the other side as the manectric reeled. Two quick hits from either side, and then that manectric too lay stunned.

Natalie had never battled tag team with someone like that before. In spite of everything else, she turned to flash a smile at Mark —

But he was already recalling his crobat and drawing Natalie forward, across the street. "Come on. Jesus."

Through the tree-lined median. Cutting across an outdoor seating area. Down another alley.

Her legs were heavy and clumsy. If not for Mark pulling her with him, she might not have been able to make herself keep running. Luna and the liepard flanked them on either side, Amelia flew jerkily overhead, and the solrock brought up the rear. Natalie wanted to stop — she thought her lungs would burst — but Mark wouldn't let up until finally they came to an empty parking lot and could no longer hear the police sirens behind them.

Natalie slid down the wall and dropped to the asphalt. With each throb of pain across her ribs she wondered if she was going to throw up. She was used to walking with a full backpack, but she wasn't used to so much running. Amelia perched with the flat of her beak pressed against Natalie's neck, and her breathing was labored too. All the smog. Natalie petted her between the wings — that was when she noticed her hands shaking — and whispered a thank you before recalling her.

Luna sat between her and Mark, watching him.

"Ore — find all the cameras and shut them off."

While Mark watched his solrock sweep around the lot, his liepard stood at the ready. Tail twitching, it flicked its golden eyes back and forth between the street and Luna.

The solrock circled back to its trainer's side and hummed a series of dissonant notes.

At that, Mark let out a breath. "Good job. Thanks."

Mark began to check his solrock over with what looked like a mini blacklight. "You holding up okay? Long day for you." One of its fins was still missing a piece from Natalie's battle with him the day before. But the solrock responded with more humming. Mark patted it on the back. "I'm fine. Relax. You did good."

He stopped what he was doing when his radio crackled, but Natalie couldn't hear what was said.

"Sorry, Cora," Mark answered. "Had to take care of something real quick. Can you manage — Yes, great. Do that. I'll catch up with you guys soon."

Mark sighed and let his shoulders slump. He looked tired too. Setting down his messenger bag, he rolled his shoulders one way then the other. Then he dropped to a crouch in front of Natalie, who jumped and reflexively lay a hand on Luna.

The migtyena growled.

The liepard responded with a hiss. Natalie blinked, and the next instant the liepard was at Mark's heels, claws out and shimmering darkly.

"Get back, Gibs." Mark rolled his eyes, still the only part of his face she could see. "Natalie, if I wanted to hurt you, I already would've."

"Great," she huffed, still out of breath. "Comforting."

"I looked out for you, didn't I?" He raised an eyebrow. "Alright, look. Thanks, Gibson. Take it easy," he said, and he recalled the liepard. "Orwell's keeping an eye out — for both of us. You can let your pokemon rest." He dug a water bottle out of his bag and held it out for her.

Natalie hesitated a moment. Then, because she did want to hear what he had to say, she recalled Luna and accepted the water bottle.

While she drank, Mark took off his hoodie and stuffed it into his bag. When he untied the red bandanna, he was smiling. He shook his head. "You jumped right into it back there. Didn't expect that. I can't tell if you're brave or stupid."

"Both." She didn't smile.

But Mark grinned. Then his eyes traveled up the wall behind her, and his expression soured. "Huh. Someone's been busy."

Natalie followed his gaze and saw the blue skull and crossbones spray painted above her head. She jolted in recognition, though she was well used to seeing the ORF's symbol on walls around her hometown. She didn't know they were active this far west.

"I'm so sick of their shit," said Mark. The cut above his eye had reopened, and a line of blood ran down his temple. "No rest for the wicked, I guess." He flashed a dangerous smile.

"You're bleeding."

He touched his face and made an exasperated noise when his fingers came away red. Mark dabbed at the cut with his Magma kerchief, staining the fabric a darker red. It was already blotted with similar dark stains, she noticed.

Natalie's stomach swooped and she looked away.

"Well," he said, tucking the bandanna into his shirt pocket, "I guess I said I'd explain a few things. I didn't plan for it to go down like this, but here we are. Clearly, there's no keeping you out of it."

Natalie took a deep breath and leaned her head back against the wall. It was only now starting to sink in. She had fought police pokemon — more than one. That was a felony. Or maybe only a misdemeanor. She'd never had a reason before to know that kind of thing.

But even as that thought simmered in her gut, another rose up: I had to. They were sending pokemon against people who had none of their own, some of them younger than Natalie by her estimate. That girl with the knee brace… She couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds, if that.

"I didn't think Magma was…" She trailed off, unable to think of a safe way to end that sentence.

Mark raised an eyebrow and waited. With his face showing, in normal clothes, he looked like just a trainer again. But now she knew.

Natalie swallowed. Not for the first time she wondered, What the hell am I doing here?

She said, "Why were you helping them?"

"Which them?" he replied coolly.

"Either. Both."

"I'm a helpful guy." His smile faded when she didn't reciprocate it. "It's like you said. We have a responsibility to use what we have to even the playing field. You saw what it was like back there — those people would've been crushed without our help."

Our help meant Magma…and her. She wasn't sure she wanted to be included on the same side as them.

Natalie spoke without thinking. "But you guys threw that rock. Which one is it?" Immediately, she regretted it. She didn't know what he was capable of anymore.

Mark looked hurt, almost, or maybe only disgusted. Then he recovered. "That wasn't us. It was a cop in plainclothes. Do you know what an agent provocateur is?"

That's convenient. She thought better of it and pushed it down. Instead she insisted, "But you knew it was going to be like that."

He shrugged, but his expression had taken on a hard edge. "We're prepared if things get ugly."

"Then why would you mess with it?" Natalie spluttered.

"Because no one else is going to step up! How many other trainers did you see out there? How many did you see standing around watching?"

Mark took a moment to collect himself and started again, quieter. "It's bigger than Meteor Falls. This is happening everywhere — look at the Cerulean Power Plant disaster, the Sinnoh mines. It's killing us and nobody fucking cares. Not the government. Those cops don't protect you or me or any of the regular people living their lives — their job is to protect corporate interests. They aren't good people, Natalie."

She shook her head.

He leaned in. "I saw you out there. You can't tell me you don't know all of this wrong."

Natalie wanted to take a walk like she always did when she needed to get her head right. She wanted to crawl back into bed. She wanted to get out of Rustboro City.

"I don't know…"

"Yes, you do." He waited a beat. "You said you were trying to find your purpose, right? Well, here it is."

Mark locked eyes with her, but she broke away from the intensity of his gaze. He breathed out a long sigh and said, "Fuck."

Neither of them spoke for several moments.

Finally Mark said, "Let's just…start this conversation over. Okay?"

But then Orwell the solrock made a noise, not a hum but a trill of alarm.

Mark went very still and very quiet. He stood and and turned.

An instant later, a man and a woman rounded the corner alongside a starmie and a massive, barnacle-crusted crawdaunt. Each of their faces was partially hidden by a blue bandanna with a white skull and crossbones.

"Well look who it is," said the ORF woman. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail shot through with braids. She was slight, yet graceful and predatory. Laying a hand on the starmie she said, "Good job, Vega. You were right."

The man said, "Hey, asshole." One eye was was swollen, mottled purple and sickly yellow. "Long time no see."

The crawdaunt clacked its pinchers.

Mark grinned savagely. "Back for more? Need me to make those eyes match?"

Natalie counted the pokeballs on their belts. If Mark really thought he could handle them both, he was either a better trainer than she'd realized or was expecting her help. Or he was bluffing very well.

Orwell buzzed, and Natalie watched the familiar light shield flicker around them.

She wanted Luna and Samson — badly — but was afraid releasing them would instantly kick off a fight she wasn't prepared for. Scanning for an exit, she climbed to her feet.

The ORF woman turned her head and registered Natalie for the first time. She did not speak loudly, but her words still rang out clear and unmistakable: "Oh my god. Natalie."

It hit her like a punch. She was absolutely certain she had never seen the woman before.

Mark swiveled to look at her. For a split second, his shocked expression mirrored her own.

The woman stepped forward, prompting the starmie to light up and start spinning in place. "Get away from her, right now."

With the finality of a door slamming, a cold look settled onto Mark's face. He flicked out a pokeball.

Immediately, commands and pokemon cries echoed off the walls. Lights burst.

And then Mark closed the distance between himself and Natalie. She saw the intent in his eyes and reached for Samson's pokeball, but not quickly enough — she wasn't ready for the way he grabbed her wrist just so and twisted. She cried out, mostly in surprise, as he locked her arm behind her back. The pokeball slipped from her fingers without releasing. Before she could even think to grab another with her free hand, she was back on the ground with her cheek to the pavement, one arm behind her and the other pinned under her own weight.

She couldn't make a sound — he'd driven the breath out of her.

From this position she watched Mark's solrock bob and weave to avoid an oncoming blast of water, then fire green beams from its eyes. She couldn't see the other pokemon, but she heard a crash, a sound like a light bulb popping, a roar.

Mark shouted above the noise, "Back off or I'll break her arm!"

He wasn't lying — she felt the unsettling pressure against the bone. She pulled against his grip, and he leaned harder. She gasped and held still.

"I said get back!"

Finally, she heard, "That's enough, Vega."

"Bossier, pull back."

The scuffling continued for a moment and then fell quiet, and the dust began to settle. The crawdaunt click-clacked to a distance. Orwell made a low whirring sound almost like a moan. Somewhere out of sight, something large snorted. And she could hear Mark breathing.

He said, "Okay. Here's what's gonna happen. You're gonna recall those pokemon, drop your belts, and back away. Then I'll let her go, and I'll go about my business. No one goes to the hospital. Easy."

Natalie was powerless to do anything but close her eyes and try to breathe.

To her surprise, she heard the distinctive woosh of pokemon being recalled. She opened her eyes again, but all she could see was asphalt and, in the corner of her eye, the woman's boots. Who the hell were these people?

Mark spoke in a low voice, close to her ear. "You got me. I was stupid. But you were stupid to get caught."

Then, more loudly, he said, "Alright, belts." He waited a beat. "Let's go. Belts."

The air temperature dropped. Mark's grip loosened, and she felt him turn to look behind them. And then the surrounding shadows coalesced into something with weight and teeth, and it tore through the light shield to slam into Mark sidelong.

Several things happened at once.

Natalie rolled to her hands and knees, tried to suck in a good breath.

Red lights flashed all around as pokemon burst forth.

To Natalie's right, a mightyena had Mark pinned to the ground. For an instant Natalie thought it was somehow Luna, but she turned and saw her mightyena's pokeball rolling away from her, knocked off her belt in the struggle.

A darmanitan leapt into view, swung, and sent the mightyena tumbling. Then the darmanitan lifted Mark by the shirt collar back onto his feet.

To her left, a huge, skittering shape passed close enough to touch. Natalie tucked her head, but the pokemon ignored her and kept going. The darmanitan bellowed and charged the skittering pokemon, who rose up and flung open its suckered tentacles to envelope it — a grapploct.

Something grabbed Natalie by the hair. She tried to twist free, and it growled. The mightyena. It began to drag her, forcing her to crawl along or road-burn her palms and knees. And then it turned her loose again.

Natalie sat up and found herself facing the graying muzzle of a mightyena missing the top of its right ear. She choked. "Justice?"

His tail thumped — only once, but still. He remembered her. It was really him.

"What are you doing here?" She dug her fingers into the fur on either side of his face. "Where's Bubba?"

Justice had pulled her to the edge of the lot, and from here she could see the scene spread before her. Mark stood in the center of the fray, his solrock in tight orbit. Red smeared down one arm — maybe his blood, maybe blood from something else. And he was surrounded.

The man and the woman stood blocking the way out to the street but kept their distance. Beside them, the starmie hovered and lanced out with water if any of Mark's pokemon came too close. On the other side of the lot, in front of the other exit, a third man wearing the ORF's blue bandanna watched from behind the cover of a heavily plated armaldo.

To one side of him, Mark's darmanitan thrashed in the embrace of the grapploct. Behind him, his gigalith launched hunks of rock and asphalt at a pelipper that so far seemed to be avoiding them. And on the other side, his bastiodon bore down under alternating hits from a machoke and the crawdaunt.

And, there, several yards away, was Luna's pokeball. Natalie didn't know where Samson's was. The only pokemon she had left on her belt were Amelia, exhausted and unfit to fight, and Gus the whismur, who she was still training to respond to his name. She had to get to Luna.

Mark shouted, "Orwell, grab the machoke!"

The machoke suddenly lit up purple and spun to wallop its teammate the crawdaunt, looking surprised that it had. At that moment, the bastiodon cut its head to one side and swept the two attackers away like bowling pins. As the machoke started to stand, light shimmered around it, and it jerked through the air as if on a string. The pavement cracked where the machoke landed, and it didn't get back up. The crawdaunt hissed and rushed at the bastiodon.

As Natalie started to stand back up, Justice growled again. She ignored him and moved for Luna's pokeball, but then he tackled her, paws slamming each shoulder. "Get off!" Natalie shoved against his chest, but Justice wouldn't budge, only growled louder.

Then the grapploct crashed into the wall feet away from them, wreathed in purple light. It peeled off and hit the ground with a wet smack and a shower of crumbling concrete, and then it fell still.

A chunk of concrete fell towards Natalie. Justice barked, and the shadows under the two of them leapt up like living things and swallowed up the rock before it could hit them.

She heard Mark shout, "Rand — the crawdaunt."

With a howl, his darmanitan went loping to meet the crawdaunt. It swung a glowing fist once, twice, and the crawdaunt parried with the flat of its claws. The third punch caught the crawdaunt between the eyes and sent it siding across the parking lot.

The man and the woman dove out of the way.

When it slid to the stop, the woman darted to the crawdaunt's side and placed her hands on its knobbly shell. One claw was almost as long as her entire body. The crawdaunt opened its eyes with a groan.

In the distance, police sirens again.

"Enough's enough," said the woman. "Come on, Vega. With me." As the crawdaunt rose, creaking and grumbling, the woman caught hold of a barnacle cluster, swung her leg up to kneel on one of the massive hammer claws, and let it lift her up with it.

"Scar, are you sure that's —"

But the crawdaunt was already lumbering back into the fight, and the woman was along for the ride. The starmie hovered beside them.

Mark had turned away to deal with the armaldo now bearing down on his darmantian — didn't see the crawdaunt until his solrock trilled, and then it was almost upon him. "Cormac!" he called, and the bastiodon swung its head to charge the crawdaunt. But the starmie cut in between and drove the bastiodon back with a torrent of water.

"Shadow claw!" cried the woman.

The crawdaunt's claws flashed with black fire. It jabbed, and the purple light shield surrounding Mark ripped like tissue —

The solrock rose up to take the hit for its trainer —

The woman leapt down—

As the crawdaunt smashed a claw into the solrock, slamming it to the ground, Mark staggered and ducked his head.

And the woman stepped into him with a flash of silver in her hand, pulling him to her by the front of his shirt.

Natalie winced.

But Mark barred the woman's arm, and the knife clattered to their feet. In one motion, he kicked the knife out of reach and elbowed her in the face. Red bloomed across her blue bandanna, and she stumbled back.

The starmie made an eerie, warped sound and floated to the woman's side. A light screen surrounded her as she dropped to one knee, the starmie blocking her body with its own and seething purple light.

Behind them, the darmanitan dropped at the armaldo's feet and turned to stone. The armaldo bulldozed it out of the way, sending it rolling, and scuttled forward.

The bastiodon took the opportunity to ram the crawdaunt, knocking it back but not down.

For a moment, the path to the street was open for Mark, and he took it. He ran and hoisted himself onto the bastiodon's back, sheltered behind its wide mantle. Then Mark turned to recall his fallen solrock and darmanitan and then, just as the opposing pelipper hit the ground, his still-swinging gigalith. The bastiodon wheeled towards the street.

The armaldo managed one last swipe at them. The blow jarred the bastiodon — Mark slid but caught himself with a handhold on the bastiodon's horns. And then they were a wrecking ball of momentum and mass tearing across the lot.

The ORF man with the bruised face scrambled to release another pokemon, but he wasn't quick enough. He jumped to avoid the bastiodon's tail.

As the bastiodon thundered past, Mark turned and caught Natalie's gaze. It lasted only a fraction of a second, but the fury in his eyes froze her blood.

The bastiodon made a wide turn and barreled onto the street. And then they were gone.

Only then did Justice step back and let Natalie up. He trotted to the fallen grapploct's side and nosed it. Finally the grapploct began to twitch its tentacles and shake itself off, and Justice turned away to investigate the other pokemon.

One of the men in blue knelt beside the woman, under the starmie's wary supervision. "Tip your head back. Goddamn, Scarlet. Why the hell did you do that?"

She laughed thickly and held up a pokeball spattered with her own blood. Muffled by the blue bandanna pressed against her nose, she said, "One of his."

All around, fainted pokemon began to stir. The crawdaunt rocked from side to side, snapping its claws.

The sirens grew louder.

"You okay, Natalie?" The other man, the one with the black eye, bent to offer her a hand up.

She ignored his hand and stood on her own, her body protesting at every movement. She was bleeding at the torn knee of her leggings and from her cheek. Bruised too, in several places. She felt like she'd been shaken upside-down until everything fell out of her. She could hardly hear herself think over the rushing of blood in her ears.

"How do you know my name?" She spoke with one hand on a pokeball, as if she weren't utterly outmatched and outnumbered, but the trembling of her voice betrayed her. "Where did you get my brother's pokemon?"

The man who crouched with the bleeding woman sighed and stood. He wasn't tall but he was stocky, and he moved like someone who knew his own power. The edges of a dark beard showed under his blue and white bandanna, and above it his eyes were green. Like Natalie's. The beard was new, but still she recognized him the instant before he spoke.

"It's me, Small Fry," said Archie.
 
Last edited:
Chapter 6: Boots on the Ground

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 6: Boots on the Ground

The mightyena bite on Mark's arm took twelve stitches to close — a new scar to match the old one. He could've died instead, he reminded himself, but the hour under fluorescent lights and the drudgery of hospital paperwork dulled the urgency of that thought.

He kept catching his hand dip down to the empty space on his belt where Gibson, his first, was supposed to be. Yeah, asshole. Still gone.

While he waited for the tetanus shot, Mark took advantage of the doctor's absence to send Cora a text message. I'm an idiot. ORF ambush. An explanation and an apology.

Her reply was almost immediate. R u hurt?

Not bad,
he answered— slowly, partly due to his injury and partly because the phone was so goddamn old. But it was a burner —cheap and low-tech was the point.

Where r u?

Magma only messaged through an encrypted server, but he hesitated. Urgent care. Done soon.

Where?
Cora repeated.

Mark supposed it wouldn't hurt for a friend to know where he was, just in case, so he told her which hospital. By the time he was allowed to leave with his care instructions (dropped into the first trash can he passed), Cora already sat in the waiting room. Not exactly surprising to see her, but he hadn't expected her to come alone.

From the dark crisscross of tattoos up her arms to her torn right earlobe and badly dyed pink hair, Cora looked too wild to be allowed to sit in the waiting room, flipping casually through an old edition of Trainer Today. Maybe to a stranger, she came off as no different than any other trainer who had been too long on the road. Messy hair, dirty sneakers, some bad judgement with facial piercings — all of that was acceptable in trainers, charming even. But then, a stranger wouldn't know the story behind the torn earlobe, the earring ripped out in a back alley fight. And he'd seen what she did afterwards to the person responsible.

He waited to speak until he stood close enough to keep his voice a low murmur. "Why are you still wearing that?"

Cora glanced down as if noticing her red sweater for the first time. She gave him a shrug and a wolfish grin. "A color's not a crime." Hopping to her feet, she said, "All right, Rocky Balboa. Lemme see."

Mark rolled his eyes but held out his arm.

Cora ogled the stitches, making exaggerated noises of appreciation and indignation. "Could be worse," she said at last. "You had me worried, the way you said it. Thought I might find you in pieces."

"I said it wasn't bad. My team got beat to shit though." He swallowed, reaching again to the empty space on his belt. "And Gibs is gone."

"What does that mean?" She squinted, unable or unwilling to understand.

"Gone means gone, Cora." Unclench. "They stole his ball."

Gibs was the thief. It shouldn't be possible for a thief to be stolen like a goddamn wallet.

In the ten years they'd been partners, the petty thievery was a constant, both funny and frustrating. Every morning, after he brewed his coffee and before he stepped out the door, Mark patted his pockets to see what Gibs had shadow-swiped that day. His keys were a favorite, or whatever burner he was using at the time. Sometimes Gibs would get sneaky about it, take only his ID instead of the wallet itself. It was a game. It was also a way to remind Mark who was boss.

As a purrloin, Gibs had left little treasures on Mark's pillow, mostly loose change and bottle caps. Sometimes feathers or marbles or keys, and once a silver ring. Mark had tried to train him out of the habit, but it was hard to return the items when Mark didn't know where they'd come from, and harder to keep Gib from nightly prowls when he could phase through the bedroom window anyway.

And now he was gone.

In the urgent care waiting room, Mark tried not to contemplate the very real possibility that Gibs' pokeball might be sinking in the harbor by now. He shoved his hands into his pockets.

"Fuck, Mark," said Cora.

The woman sitting closest to them shot them a disapproving look. Mark gave himself a mental slap. They shouldn't be talking about business here.

"We'll fuck 'em up good. We'll get him back." Cora squeezed his shoulder. The gesture nearly undid him.

"I know." Mark forced himself to step back from her touch and stand up straighter. He couldn't do this here. Not in front of Cora, and definitely not in front of strangers. "Let's get out of here. I still have to hit the pokemart."

Outside, night had fallen, but the streets were still thick with people and cars. ORF was still somewhere out there too — how many of them, Mark wondered. He couldn't shake the feeling of being exposed. Gib was supposed to be his eyes in the dark, guarding his back. In fact, until the rest of his team had a chance to recuperate, the only pokemon left for his protection was Jemison, his slow and surly gigalith.

But at least Cora was here.

"Thanks for coming," he said, belatedly. "You didn't have to."

"Of course I did. We're a team."

At that, Mark finally cracked a smile. He knew her better than almost anyone, he realized with a rush of something like gratitude. There was so much about his life, his politics, that he would never have to explain to her. Like him, she was a transplant. She'd been a gym trainer once too, in Cinnabar, though that was before she'd found Magma. And, like him, she was willing to fight for a better world, even at a cost. That was the only thing that really mattered.

"Speaking of…," he said. "Where's everyone else?"

Cora shrugged. "Some of them went to a bar. Oh, and a couple wanted to run jail support for the Root Revolution folks. The rest went home, I think."

Mark's smile died. Alarm bells rang in his mind, but he kept his voice controlled. "Are you sure that's a good idea, with what just happened?" He wanted his people ready for another fight if necessary not staggering around drunk and calling attention to themselves at best, getting picked up by the police at worst

"Don't scold me. People need to blow off steam. It's been a weird day for all of us."

Mark squinted at her but said nothing. He'd left his squad in her charge after the protest, and it was too late to be upset about it now. Mark wasn't Cora's supervisor and he had no right to tell her what to do — especially when she'd already done him a favor taking his team.

Montag had made both of them officers for a reason, Mark reminded himself. And Mark mostly trusted Cora, but he always trusted Montag.

Anyway, he could message a few of the more responsible ones on his way home, make sure they kept everything under control.

Satisfied that this wasn't another crisis, Mark finally answered, "Weird is one word for it."

His thoughts flashed to Natalie, how guileless she had seemed, so eager to prove herself. And maybe that part had been sincere, but it was ORF she was eager to impress. A new recruit, probably. Idiot, he scolded himself again, clenching his teeth. He let out a long, slow breath.

Cora pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag as they walked. Propping an unlit one between her lips, she offered the carton wordlessly to Mark.

"Nah, I quit." And then, because he knew she already knew, he added, "Years ago."

His sister hadn't actually asked him to quit, but after the look on her face that first time she'd found the pack in his coat pocket, he made the decision himself. It wasn't fair to her. Kathy hadn't chosen to destroy her lungs. How could he flaunt his choice to ruin his?

"I know." Cora shrugged and tucked the pack away. "Thought you deserved a pick-me-up. Small joys are all I've got to offer."

His expression softened. "Thanks anyway."

Cora lit her cigarette and took a quick drag. "So what exactly happened?"

Mark sighed again. The further he got from that moment, the stupider his actions seemed. "I was trying to recruit someone. Seemed like a perfect fit." Wanting for a purpose. A sense of justice. Unafraid to jump into a fight. And he'd been starting to like her — the admission, even privately, stung. If she'd just listened to him and stayed away from the protest — but no. He wasn't thinking straight. It would have been worse if she'd stayed away, because then he might have actually brought in a fucking mole. "I guess ORF thought so too."

Cora growled, "The fuck are they doing way over here anyway? Can't be good."

"No," he agreed.

"You shouldn't have gone off alone though."

"I know." And he should've kept Gib out with him. "With the protest — I wanted to talk before she got the wrong idea or…"

At the word she, Cora flicked her gaze to him but said nothing.

"Well, it doesn't matter now anyway." Mark kicked a crumpled can off the sidewalk. "I didn't think it would be like that. Captain fucking Ahab himself was there."

Cora grumbled under her breath. "Here?"

"I know."

"We've gotta do something about them. Like, yesterday."

"I know."

They walked the last few blocks to the trainer supply shop in silence. Cora waited outside with her cigarette while Mark ducked in — "This won't take long."

His feet turned automatically to the Medicines and Wound Care aisle. After running a quick mental tally, he loaded his shopping basket with a ten-pack of store-brand potions, extra strength, and a few bottles of QuickRefresh. Not for the first or the last time, Mark wished he could simply drop his belt off at the nearest pokemon center. But it would be a challenge to explain why all of his pokeballs were registered to trainer IDs that were scrambled strings of letters and numbers instead of his own name.

His gym ID, at least, still offered a little cushion in the form of a discount. Not for much longer, he supposed. Natalie could easily out him to Roxanne — or the police — and footage from CCTV and the gym would eventually surface to support her claims. Careful wasn't perfect, after all. And he hadn't been that careful. It would take more than her word and some circumstantial evidence to pin a case on him, but that wasn't all he had to worry about.

Easy enough to replace the burner, get a new number, quit the gym. He hadn't planned to leave this soon, but he had no reason to care about giving two weeks notice. He wasn't exactly looking for a letter of recommendation from Roxanne. He could even find a new apartment if he had to. Harder to change his name and face, and those could be connected to home and—

He needed to talk to Montag as soon as possible. Also, he should call Kathy, but thinking about Montag and his sister in the same breath made him wince.

God, Mark was tired.

One thing at a time. Montag. That was the first priority.

Mark left through the side entrance and slipped around back, firing a quick text at Cora to let her know he'd be another minute longer. Then it was just him and the dumpsters and the long shadows.

First he needed Orwell. It pained him to release a pokemon only to see it remain unmoving on the ground — even after repeated losses at the gym he wasn't used to it. He uncapped a potion and sprayed until it was empty, watching Ore's scrapes and scuffs begin to close themselves bit by bit.

What the solrock really needed — had been needing for a while — was a full night to recharge in the moonlight. Harder to give it what it needed in the city with all its light pollution and smog. They needed to get out of Rustboro for a while, both of them. The sooner the better.

He felt Orwell flicker awake, a prickle at the back of his mind, before it physically stirred. After a moment, the solrock rose jerkily up and up until Mark could stand and still be at eye-level.

"Hey, buddy. How're you feeling?" He used to feel self-conscious about talking to a creature that had few of the parts normally associated with a face. Now he only felt relief. When Orwell responded with a chime and a psychic nudge — nothing like words, but a question nonetheless — Mark grinned. "I'm not hurt. Thank you. We're okay."

Except for Gib —

Mark shook his head. "You feel up to making a phone call with me?"

Orwell whirred, glowing a little brighter.

"Alright then."

As Mark dug through his bag, the solrock started up with a series of beeps and staticky notes that reminded him of a dial-up tone. It vibrated through his skull and in his teeth — not pleasant, but a necessary security measure. His fingers closed around the signal-blocking case. This phone was only used for calling Montag — or Corner Pizza as he was officially listed in the contacts. Just in case. Mark took a moment to collect his thoughts and then made the call.

Montag answered after a couple rings. "Hello, Mark."

He straightened up. "How are you, sir?"

His mental image of Montag always defaulted to their first meeting: Montag in a black blazer and black shirt. Henna-red hair, collar-length and combed back. A stark, angular face, clean-shaven. A look in his eyes like he knew Mark's thoughts and judged him for them.

"Busy, as usual." There was a smile in his voice. Busy was good then. Meant things were lining up. "How did it go?"

"About as expected."

"It does matter, you know. Builds numbers."

"I know. I'm not complaining."

"Hm," said Montag, and Mark could hear the smirk and the eyebrow raise in it.

"Anyway, it was fine. Nobody hurt, nobody arrested." Of course, people had been hurt and arrested, but not their people.

"So what wasn't fine?" Each word crisp, even through the layers of Ore's static.

Mark grimaced. "ORF was there, after. Second time this week." The first, he realized, had been right after he met Natalie. A couple of them spray painting stop signs, spotted by one of the college kids. Couldn't be a coincidence. "This time Sinbad was with them."

The name had finally stopped sounding ridiculous to him. He'd run into ORF enough times over the years to know they were a threat precisely because their leader was the kind of madman who would name himself for a folk hero.

Montag didn't speak for a long moment. "Interesting," he finally said.

"And... one of them recognized me from the gym. She knows my name."

"Not good."

"I know." He looked at the ground as he spoke, even though he stood alone with a solrock in an alley. Shame coiled in his gut.

They both knew what that meant: he could become a police target.

Ore, sensing Mark's distress, made a sympathetic whirr.

"Then you should lay low for a while."

Sit on his hands, in other words. Limit communications. Let Cora handle things. Train. Earn money. Wait.

He closed his eyes. "Yes, sir."

"Or we could move you."

Mark waited for the rest to come.

"There's an intervention planned near Slateport soon. Direct action, you'll be happy to know." He fell quiet and Mark knew he was weighing the risks of giving the details now. Meeting in person had its own risks — being seen together, travel delay. "We're targeting the Ridge Access Pipeline at Route 110."

At Mark's side, Orwell the solrock wobbled mid-air, the only real indication of Mark's shock, the way his stomach dropped.

Mark had left Unova because of Montag, but he'd stayed at least in part because he'd fallen in love with Hoenn. The jungle. The blue-green water. The stars. Unova still had its stretches of green, but not like here. In Hoenn there were places where you could walk for days and never see signs of humans — no bridges, no towers on the horizon, no sounds of traffic on the other side of the trees. Hard to swallow the idea of making a part of it a little shittier, even for the sake of giving DevCo a black eye.

He composed himself before answering, "Sounds... messy."

"I know," said Montag, grim but firm. "I'm not making this call lightly. It's been under consideration for quite some time, and I can't see a better way to demonstrate how dangerous Devon has become."

And how dangerous we've become.

Perhaps sensing Mark's hesitation, Montag continued, voice soft and dangerous, "Ridge Access has leaked four times in the last three years, thousands of gallons. And it will again. On average it takes DevCo nine hours to take notice and respond. If we do it, we'll have control of where and how it happens. And it won't go unnoticed. By anyone."

"Right." Mark made a face but nodded. "Doesn't make the MetFalls line look very promising if the existing one goes to shit."

"Exactly. Proof that DevCo bleeds oil. Hurts their bottom line in more ways than one."

No progress without a price. If anyone was going to force DevCo's hand it wouldn't be Spitfire and Root Revolution, not on their own.

Mark paused to calculate. "I can be there in five days."

"Good. I feel better knowing you'll be there. Tabitha will be in Mauville on Wednesday. Connect with her there."

At that, Mark suppressed a groan. Tabitha didn't like him. Easier to accept they were on the same side when they were on opposite sides of the country. "Yes, sir."

"See if you can gather up one or two people you trust. If Sinbad's ramping up their activity…"

"Likely to be trouble." Mark pulled his mouth into what wasn't quite a smile. He hoped the girl who'd stolen Gibs would show her face again. Natalie too.

God, he couldn't even think about Gibs without thinking about her now.

"Keep it quiet though. The fewer who know, the better. Especially considering —"

"I understand. Don't worry."

"I know. You're not stupid. But one can't be too careful."

"Right."

"We'll be in touch. Let me know when you've arrived in Mauville."

"I will."

"Take care."

When the line disconnected, Mark waved Orwell down and let out a long breath. "Well, Ore, at least we'll get to be out of the city for a while."

But the prospect of having something tangible to hit was less rewarding than he'd expected. Maybe in the morning it would feel different.

Right now what he really wanted was for Gibs to throw his paws onto Mark's shoulders and butt his head against his face until Gibs' purring rumbled through Mark's entire body. With a sickening twist in his stomach, Mark wondered whether Gibs knew what had happened. The pirate couldn't possibly be foolish enough to release him — Gibs would cut her to shreds on sight. Then, what? A trophy, Mark supposed.

Maybe Cora was right and he'd find a way to get his liepard back. He needed to believe it was possible if he'd have any hope of sleeping tonight.

Out on the sidewalk, he found Cora lost in her own thoughts, still smoking. She looked softer in the half-light.

"Sorry I took so long. Had to make a phone call."

Orwell, hovering behind, beeped in greeting.

Cora turned and for an instant, the way the streetlight turned her pink hair redder, she almost looked like —

She watched at him out of the corner of her eye as she tipped her head back to exhale smoke. "What?"

"Nothing."

"Regretting your choice? Not too late. I won't tell." She held the cigarette out to him.

"You're a bad influence," he said, but he accepted it anyway and took a drag.

"I know." She smirked. "So how's Dad?"

"He says not to let you burn the house down while I'm gone."

"Please. We all know that's what I do best."

He shook his head but smiled.

"So you're leaving town?"

"A few things to clean up first. But yeah. Tomorrow, probably." He was glad not to have to explain. Cora knew not to ask — to follow Montag's plan was to agree to keep secrets, even from friends.

"Too bad. I guess I'm the biggest asshole in Rustboro now."

He grinned. Was it Cora making him feel better or the nicotine? "Did you want to…" Mark trailed off and took another drag instead. "Never mind." He passed the cigarette back.

Cora cocked her head to one side. "Were you gonna invite me over?"

Mark frowned, even though he'd started it. They didn't really do that anymore. Bad optics, for one. If they agreed about a course of action it would look like it was because they were fucking. If they disagreed, it would look like it was because they were in a fight. And it felt cheap. Wanting someone after a near-death experience was too easy with all the endorphins, nothing but a temporary high. It didn't lead to anything that could last.

But he was still feeling sorry for himself, so he admitted, "Yeah."

As much as he could trust her to have his back, he could trust her not to take anything too seriously — including this.

"Well," she said, flashing a smile, "safety in numbers, after all."

He rented a studio apartment on the south end of town, intended as student housing. A couple of those students had been wearing red bandannas at the protest a few hours before — Mark knew how to pick them. Usually.

Cora spoke up as they stepped inside, "You know, Mark, I get that capitalism is a scam and all, but you don't have to live in a box. I've got a good idea what gym money looks like, and this isn't it."

He set his bag down in the chair, careful to avoid looking at Gibs' food dish. "I don't need a lot." None of the furniture was his. Everything he owned fit in his backpack, even the stovetop espresso maker — he was still a trainer, after all. And he'd be on the road again soon.

"Sure, but a poster wouldn't hurt. Some plants — something."

"It's temporary. It doesn't have to be home."

Tomorrow he'd put his apartment up on Trainer Pages and leave one of the college kids in charge of the keys. Some trainers would be willing to pay a premium for a few nights with a shower and a room to themselves. By the time he returned, Mark might make back almost as much as he lost from leaving the gym.

She bent to examine the one decoration he'd taped up, a photo over the desk. "This your sister? She looks like you."

"Mm."

"Is she the sick one?"

"The cellist." He didn't like the pitying look that crossed Cora's face.

"Oh," she said. "Is that the other one?"

"There's just the one." Mark sat on the bed heavily. "I don't really want to talk about my sister right now, Cora."

So she joined him on the bed, and for some time they stopped talking altogether.

After, Cora slept curled away from him, quiet snores rising from her side of the bed. Mark drifted in and out of sleep. A few times, he started awake at a small shove from Cora: he'd reached his arm around her, mistaking her warm body for Gibs'. At last, as the sky lightened outside, Mark dropped into a deep sleep, only mildly troubled by the odor of crude oil that wafted through his dreams.

 

Starlight Aurate

Just a fallen star
Location
Route 123
Partner
mightyena
A few weeks late, but better late then never, amiright?

I want to apologize if I come across as overly nitpicky. I just pointed out whatever stuck out to me, and that just happened to be more than usual this time around. Overall, your stuff is still very good!

Anyway, let's get into it!

Chapter 5

Natalie was the last to step over its twisted remains, back into open space.
lol I immediately thought the "twisted remains" were the Camerupt from the previous sentence for whatever reason. Not a good mental image ^^;

Not that way then.
I think you would have a comma after "way," (but I'm not feeling 100% confident about that).

"This is a bad place to stop." Mark. Breathing hard but not as winded as she was. His crobat, the source of the shadow, flapped and chittered on the other side of her at the mouth of the alley.
Might be my bad, but I had a hard time mentally picturing this. Where exactly is Mark? His Crobat flew overhead and landed at the other side of the alley. Is Mark right next to Natalie? It seems like it, but then it feels a bit sudden. With the large amount of people and Natalie's senses being dulled by sleep powder, I can see if that's the case. And I know why you're using shorter sentences with Natalie's current condition; it just kinda threw me off with the lack of detail.

There was a note of strain in his voice.
(This is a nitpicky preferential thing on my end) A "note of strain" sounds a bit awkward. I feel like "note" usually refers to someone's mood or feelings, and though someone can feel strained, I usually think (especially for music) of strain as something that describes a note--ex. if a singer is really pushing, her notes are strained because they sound like they need a lot of effort. (I hope I'm not coming across as terribly didactic; I live with music teachers and it's something we talk about a lot lolol). I get you're trying to say that Mark is strained and that it's entering slightly into his voice, it just reads awkwardly for me.

His crobat shrieked, and Mark and Natalie turned their heads in time to watch it fall to the ground, a thin smoke rising off its body.
Feels like you're missing a word between "thin" and "smoke." Trail, maybe?

Amelia perched with the flat of her beak pressed against Natalie's neck, and her breathing was labored too.
I think you need a comma before "too."

Natalie followed his gaze and saw the blue skull and crossbones spray painted above her head.
Aw, yeah! We get to see some Team Aqua!

Our help meant Magma…and her.
Looks like you're missing a space after the ellipses.

Natalie wanted to take a walk like she always did when she needed to get her head right. She wanted to crawl back into bed. She wanted to get out of Rustboro City.
Poor girl. I really don't do well on the spot either and see why she wish she could get away and think straight first :(

he was slight, yet graceful and predatory.
Wording in this is also a bit awkward to me. I wouldn't contrast "slight" with graceful, though I would contract them with predatory. Maybe swap the "yet" and "and"?

Natalie rolled to her hands and knees, tried to suck in a good breath.
I think you'd need a conjunction before "tried," since "tried to suck in a good breath" isn't a sentence on its own.

"It's me, Small Fry," said Archie.
Oooh, so the big Aqua boss is her long-lost brother? I imagine the woman with him is also someone important, since she recognized Natalie.

Not too much to say about this chapter outside of what I mentioned, since the chapter was mostly a fight scene. You certainly kept the action going! I was hoping we'd get more of a chance to listen to Mark's side of the story before they were interrupted, but what with the surrounding chaos, I suppose it can't be helped.

Chapter 6

But it was a burner —cheap and low-tech was the point.
Random thought, but I honestly wish that society would go back to using flip phones with keyboards and buttons. I had a phone that lasted five years and it was AWESOME.

"I said it wasn't bad. My team got beat to shit though."
Looks like you're missing a comma before "though."

"Gone means gone, Cora." Unclench. "They stole his ball."
Might just be me, but "unclench" felt like an out of place word since you never mentioned clenching before and I'm not entirely sure as to what it refers to.

In the ten years they'd been partners, the petty thievery was a constant, both funny and frustrating. Every morning, after he brewed his coffee and before he stepped out the door, Mark patted his pockets to see what Gibs had shadow-swiped that day. His keys were a favorite, or whatever burner he was using at the time. Sometimes Gibs would get sneaky about it, take only his ID instead of the wallet itself. It was a game. It was also a way to remind Mark who was boss.

As a purrloin, Gibs had left little treasures on Mark's pillow, mostly loose change and bottle caps. Sometimes feathers or marbles or keys, and once a silver ring. Mark had tried to train him out of the habit, but it was hard to return the items when Mark didn't know where they'd come from, and harder to keep Gib from nightly prowls when he could phase through the bedroom window anyway.
I love this! These are nice, concrete details of his relationship with Gibs. Since we didn't see Gibs much before here, it's nice to get this to provide us with more of an emotional punch.

ORF was still somewhere out there too — how many of them, Mark wondered.
I'm guessing (guessing because I'm not 100% sure but still confident enough to put down) that you would start a new paragraph with Mark's thought and capitalize the "h" in "how" and end it with a question mark. It's a new person speaking/thinking, and it's a complete sentence, so I believe you'd include the capitalization and punctuation for it.

And, like him, she was willing to fight for a better world, even at a cost. That was the only thing that really mattered.
I find this bit interesting because it's a lot like how I write the mindset for my characters, haha.

He wanted his people ready for another fight if necessary not staggering around drunk and calling attention to themselves at best, getting picked up by the police at worst
The sentence is quite run-on. There should definitely be another comma after "necessary" and I think after "fight." You're also missing punctuation at the end of the sentence.

His thoughts flashed to Natalie, how guileless she had seemed, so eager to prove herself. And maybe that part had been sincere, but it was ORF she was eager to impress. A new recruit, probably. Idiot, he scolded himself again, clenching his teeth. He let out a long, slow breath.
Awwww the poor dude really wanted to know Natalie more.

Henna-red hair, collar-length and combed back. A stark, angular face, clean-shaven. A look in his eyes like he knew Mark's thoughts and judged him for them.
Ah, sounds like Montag is an alias for Maxie!
(Any particular reason you chose the name Montag? I know it's German for Monday and that keeps throwing me off lol)

Mark had left Unova because of Montag, but he'd stayed at least in part because he'd fallen in love with Hoenn. The jungle. The blue-green water. The stars. Unova still had its stretches of green, but not like here. In Hoenn there were places where you could walk for days and never see signs of humans — no bridges, no towers on the horizon, no sounds of traffic on the other side of the trees.
I feel like Hoenn's natural beauty is something fans tend to agree on. Hoenn has a big soft spot for me and even amongst people who prefer other regions, we always agree that Hoenn is just gorgeous.

"Good. I feel better knowing you'll be there. Tabitha will be in Mauville on Wednesday. Connect with her there."
Questions:
1. Is this Tabitha the same commander from the games/anime?
2. Are they female now?
Sorry lol I saw the name and got very excited

"Keep it quiet though.
I think you're missing a comma after "quiet."

Nice to see the big man himself! As a resident Team Magma/Team Aqua fan, I'm always happy to see peoples' depictions of them. And I like the trust that Mark and Cora have for him--it's a neat glimpse in to how these teams work. I wasn't a big fan of the chapter ending, though that isn't a statement about your writing at all--it's just my taste, and I'm not one for mature themes in general. I appreciate the discretion, though.

I'm interested in seeing where the plot goes from here! Mark is heading to Slateport, Natalie met up with her brother who's leading Team Aqua after she's been pursuing a member of Team Magma.

Oh, I also like the alias of Sinbad for Archie. Hehe.

Nice job, and I'm excited to see where it goes!
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
I want to apologize if I come across as overly nitpicky.
Listen, I love nitpicks. If something is genuinely off, I do eventually go back and fix it, especially when it's little stuff that's easy to fix. I don't agree with every single one of the things you've pointed out--especially some of the fragments, which are purposeful, or the commas before words like too, which are only necessary for emphasis--but you caught some stuff that I'll definitely fix next time I do a big batch of edits. Right now I'm focusing on editing Spring, but sometime in the nearish future it'll be about time to clean up Divides. Never not editing, after all.

Looks like you're missing a space after the ellipses.
Yes, ellipses are the bane of my existence right now! I actually Googled the hell out of this, and it looks like there's supposed to be a space on both sides, not just the one. Like a three-letter word, not like a comma. I'm gonna have to search and correct allllll throughout. Same with the em dashes. *Sigh.*

I honestly wish that society would go back to using flip phones with keyboards and buttons. I had a phone that lasted five years and it was AWESOME.
OMG, same. My first, best phone had a full keyboard with real buttons and it was amazing.

Since we didn't see Gibs much before here, it's nice to get this to provide us with more of an emotional punch.
Yeah, it's a little bit of a pacing problem that unfortunately doesn't have a ton of solutions as it stands right now. I did edit in a bit more dialogue in Chapter 1 at Panoramic_Vacuum's wise suggestion, and that touches on Mark's relationship with his liepard. I don't know if that was before or after you started reading, but it's in there now.

I find this bit interesting because it's a lot like how I write the mindset for my characters, haha.
Oh yeah, if you care about something enough to break the law to pursue it ... probably you want to surround yourself with people who also feel that way. And it doesn't have to be criminal--we want the people close to us to share our priorities.

(Any particular reason you chose the name Montag? I know it's German for Monday and that keeps throwing me off lol)
I was thinking of Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451. Mark is in this orbit of fire and book symbolism, and I liked that Montag let me keep the letter M.

Questions:
1. Is this Tabitha the same commander from the games/anime?
2. Are they female now?
Sorry lol I saw the name and got very excited
1. Kinda
2. YUP
I saw you cracked the same joke in your fic, haha. It drives me nuts that they gave him this oddly feminine name, because it feels like a translation error and not a character choice. According to Bulbapedia it's an acronym for habitat, and yeah, but .... There are also *aquatic* habitats, so I don't buy that lol. There is a deity named Tabiti who's associate with fire ... and is ALSO a lady. There were just so many other options to pull from--Mason? Pele? Nope, we got Tabitha. So because eat the canon is my M.O., my response is, "Fine, then she's a lady." More on that later on.

I appreciate the discretion, though.
Hahahaha, yeah I'm a fade-to-black kinda gal. My mom is my beta reader, so ... we're not going there, for my sanity. I kinda doubt that'll be the last moment like that, BUT you should be safe for a while. Everyone is going to be busy with other problems going forward.

Thanks so much for reading! Nitpicks aside, you must not hate it if you've gotten this far in!
 
Last edited:
Chapter 7: Stainless Steel

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 7: Stainless Steel

Steven took the long way between the gym and the Devon office building so he could admire the new construction that sprouted among the crumbling brick row homes— wooden frames sheathed in pastel-colored Tyvek. Nice to see parts of North Rustboro on the upswing. His silver metagross, Delorean, lumbered behind, taking one step for every five of Steven's. He moved at a brisk clip — until a splash of red caught his eye and he slowed to investigate.

It took Steven a minute to decipher what was spray-painted on the green weatherproofing, a jumble of hasty lines bleeding into each other. Oh. He spotted the remnants of a blue skull and crossbones where the artist who followed had failed to fully block it out with black paint, and on top of that a jagged red M.

Steven turned away. Nothing new there — not worth dwelling on right now.

On the corner, he came across a Go Joe Cafe. That was new, outdoor tables and decorative planters where there had once been abandoned furniture and garbage. He smiled at the sight. Undoubtedly, someone would be sent for coffee during the meeting, but — Steven glanced at his watch — there was still plenty of time before he had to be there.

"Delorean, stay here." Technically, Steven knew he was supposed to recall it. But the metagross was almost as renowned as Steven himself, especially in this town. No one would mind. Delorean wouldn't bother anyone, and there was little anyone could do to bother it.

On cue, the metagross tucked its legs and, with a grinding and a groaning, lowered itself to the sidewalk. Then it fell eerily silent, its glowing red eyes the only sign of life.

Steven smiled and rapped his knuckles against the metagross's hull — clonk, clonk — as he passed and made his way inside.

The coffee shop looked like any other Go Joe, comforting in its familiarity. Young professionals with laptops crowded the tables. A trainer sat by the window writing postcards, a swablu watching from its perch on her shoulder. He could be in almost any city in the world.

"Morning. I'd like an iced coffee, please. To go."

The barista looked up from wiping down the counter and then froze, a nervous grin on his face.

Steven smiled expectantly.

"You're Steven Stone!"

Even without his pokemon at his side, the Stone family coat of arms pinned to his lapel and the prematurely gray hair gave him away. "One and the same."

"Wow!" The barista wrung his hands, but couldn't hold back his smile. "Sorry, I bet you hate when people make a fuss. I'm just such a big fan. I'm a trainer too—" He cut himself off with a helpless gesture towards the espresso machine. "When I can."

"No shame in that. I worked while I was developing my team too."

"Did you really? I didn't know that."

"Absolutely. Nothing like squeezing battles between classes to motivate you." Already a line was starting to form behind him, but Steven still leaned in to ask, "What do you train?"

The barista ducked his head and flashed a shy smile. "Well, she's just a torchic now, but we'll get there eventually. Hopefully a corphish at some point too, to cover some of Dessa's weaknesses."

Steven's smile went tight. "Good for you," he said, holding out his credit card. "Sounds like you're well on your way."

"Oh! Nonono, this one's on me." He waved the card away.

"Well." Steven dropped his arm. "That's very kind of you." A quick glance at the name tag. "Thanks, Flynn."

Trying not to think about fire and stadium lights, he watched the barista prepare his drink. Don't ruin a perfectly good morning. He rubbed a thumb over his commemorative Hoenn League ring.

"Here you go! Iced coffee."

Steven accepted the cup, then paused to peel a few ones from his billfold and slip them into the jar on the counter, indulgent smile back in place. "Here's a tip: Don't ever listen to anyone who says you can't get what you want. Show them you can."

"Thank you! I'll remember that!"

"Good luck! Nice talking with you." As he turned to leave, he caught the swablu trainer studying him with a faint frown on her face. Steven gave her a quick wave too.



Steven eyed his reflection in the elevator doors, smoothing his hair and adjusting his sleeves. As the doors opened onto the top floor, he stole a final glance at his watch. Perfect. He was exactly on time.

When he strode into the boardroom, the executive committee was already seated along the gleaming table, facing the projector screen. His father stood by the head of the table, framed by the floor-to-ceiling windows. He looked the same as always, his square face creased with frown lines and a pocket watch in one hand. "Ah, Steven. Shut the door behind you. Did you have a productive time training this morning?"

His father spoke lightly but Steven could still hear the touch of scorn in his voice.

"I did, thank you," Steven answered brightly as he slid into the empty seat next to his father's. "Roxanne sends her regards."

His father snapped his watch shut and pocketed it. "Well. I don't know what the headlines are like in Mossdeep, but here's what the rest of us are working with today." He motioned to the Stone City Herald article on the projector screen: Anti-Pipeline Riot Rocks Downtown.

Steven thought of the graffiti on the side of the new building and brought his knuckles to his mouth, fingers laced. He wasn't surprised — he'd known they would need to discuss this — but it did put a damper on his mood.

Roxanne had seemed shaken too. She'd insisted they use the gym for their sparring match and had even opened the doors early for him, but she'd been too quiet. None of the usual teasing. After their battle, she'd confessed, Even my staff have been tense lately.

She had a talent for worrying. But the look on his father's face troubled him.

President Stone squeezed the clicker, and the screen cycled to another article. Dozens Arrested After Protest Turns Violent. "Unsurprisingly," he said, "The Rustboro Times is more sympathetic to the hooligans."

A few grumbles went around the table.

"Not that sympathetic," Steven spoke up. "The public doesn't like the gangs — either of them. They're volatile. Honestly, this is good press."

"They like Root Revolution though." Rathburn, the Executive Committee Treasurer, shot Steven a stern look. When he'd first met the man, Steven had been ten and Rathburn had ruffled Steven's hair and called him kid. They were at eye-level now across the table from each other, and Steven didn't flinch from his stare. "If those hippies scream loudly enough to get the appeals court involved, it'll set us back months, even assuming the judge upholds our permit."

"And it's been brought to my attention that wasn't the only noteworthy event yesterday." President Stone gestured to Howard, the Chief Security Officer.

Howard looked pale. He drew in several breaths to steady himself before he spoke. "We had a data breach."

Steven had a sour taste in his mouth. He couldn't imagine what they had done to get past the entire security force and a metagross he'd trained himself. Was the metagross starting to wear down? He'd have to check in on it — add that to his never-ending to-do list.

After a moment, the CSO continued, "Security officers identified five thugs leaving the property — looked like ORF. Blue masks. They got away, unfortunately. But we've got a metagross team trying to match the security footage to the police databases. And we've got one of their pokeballs."

"Then we can get a trainer ID," said Rachel, dismissively.

"Still working on that too. It's thoroughly scrambled."

"The protest," grumbled Lloyd. "Those bastards used it as a distraction."

"Maybe." The Chief Information Officer — huh, Steven had forgotten her name — tapped her chin. "I'm not convinced they like each other enough to coordinate a heist."

"So what did they take?"

Howard grimaced. "We don't know yet. We're still assessing."

The executive committee exchanged uneasy glances. The Executive Secretary paused his notetaking. In the absence of keys tapping, the only sound was Lloyd clearing his throat.

Steven said, "Well, there's a headline that's sympathetic to us."

"No," his father said instantly. "No one talks to the media about this, not until we know how bad the damage is. The last thing we want to give The Times is a snapshot of Devon's piss-poor handle on our own databases."

The room fell quiet again.

"Let's talk solutions." President Stone lowered himself into a seat at last. "Tobin— when is the Energy Committee voting on our public safety bill?"

Ah yes, the bill. Drafted by Devon Corporation lawyers, given to Senator Lumin's staffers. Lumin, a former real estate investor, had no head for policy, but he did have an electable face and he was good with numbers. He could be counted on to do what he was asked.

Steven honestly didn't know the specifics of it himself. That wasn't his area. Most of what he knew was that the bill was meant to stop activists from wearing masks or using their pokemon during a protest, which he was surprised weren't already illegal actions. The defacement of public property was plenty by itself, and that was the least of what a pokemon could do in the wrong hands. And if they had nothing to hide, if they truly thought they hadn't done anything wrong, why should they need masks?

Steven twisted his Devon insignia ring around his finger as he watched Tobin, the Executive Committee Secretary, swipe through pages on his tablet.

"Friday, sir," said Tobin. He'd graduated from Rustboro University a few years before Steven, one of few people he'd encountered who had never attempted to become a trainer at any point — bland and wheedling, but adept with calendars and deadlines. "Senator Nakamura has pledged her support for the bill already. And Senator Lumin, of course."

"Good." President Stone leaned forward, steepling his fingers. "I imagine Senator Weissman's campaign could benefit from a little help this time of year. Rachel — how can we make that fit into the budget?"

Before she could answer, Tobin piped up again, "Actually, sir, we've already hit our annual gift-giving cap for the Weissman campaign."

Steven said breezily, "I heard Weissman's oldest son recently received his starter. They follow League Events. I'll make sure the senator and his family have front row seats at the Evergrande Winter Conference."

That much he could still do.

His father nodded and gave him a small smile. "Very good. The Hoenn Cancer Society benefit dinner would be a good opportunity to present him with tickets."

Steven stopped twisting his ring. They'd talked about this. He'd already pledged a personal donation, separate from the Devon Corporation pledge — he didn't have to do that. "I thought…" His father shot him a warning look, and Steven shut his mouth.

"Did you have somewhere else to be?"

"No." Steven put on the smile he used for talking with politicians and the League oversight committee. "No, of course not."

Steven didn't necessarily mind the idea of a benefit dinner. In fact, he already had a tie that perfectly matched the requisite cancer awareness ribbon. He knew to allow the men his father's age talk about their favorite subjects — themselves - to make them like him. And he was good at telling little stories to make their wives laugh, nudging them to indulge him in the occasional secret. But there were no trophies for small talk.

He wanted a prize no one had yet been able to claim, one his father couldn't even imagine.

Joseph Stone would not understand that his only child and heir would rather spend his time with his two "vagabonds" in the back room lent to them by the Sootopolis Museum of History. Digitally reconstructing the places where the stone tablets had worn away. Cross-referencing several cuneiform dictionaries and texts on ancient religion. Matching GPS coordinates to mountains described in folk tales.

His father squinted at him for only a fraction of a second before he moved on. "In the meantime…Lloyd, can we speed up the timeline on construction?"

Steven fiddled with his rings again and resisted the urge to look at his phone.

The Chief Operations Officer drummed his fingers on the table. "Frankly, no," he said finally. "We're on schedule for creating access roads and the clearing process. I don't see how — "

President Stone cut him off with a wave of his hands. "Martha, how do we salvage this?"

The Chief of Communications sat up straighter. "Well." She paused to take a deep breath and glance at her notes. "Devon celebrates technology and all the ways it makes life better. From ensuring grandma's medicine is delivered on time to producing the pokeballs that keep your friends close, Devon fuels life. And—" she took on a conspiratorial tone, "—we remind them that the pokelectric alternative is inhumane. Sprinkle in a few shots of sad electrikes."

The work was likely no worse for them than training, and that would be Mauville Electric's obvious rebuttal. But the winner of that fight would not be determined by who was more correct.

"Good. Rachel, where are we with our marketing budget?"

The CFO poked at her tablet, and moments later the projection screen filled with tables and bar graphs. "We could free up an extra hundred and fifty thousand dollars with staffing cuts…"

Steven tipped his face toward the projector screen, but his mind had drifted miles east. Every time he closed his eyes lately, he saw red sand and wind-sculpted cliffs.

He had visited the desert east of Route 111 exactly three times. The first time, he'd gone with a surveying team (for the company) and a paleontologist (for his own interests). The second time, shortly after, was for a company tour and commemorative photo at Devon's first domestic pipeline. He hadn't even known about the tomb then - it had looked like nothing more than another rocky outcropping until Cynthia had given him the idea to look for more. The third trip had been with Brendan Birch and Brandon Harrison, and the three of them had camped five nights under the velvety sky. In all his travels, Steven had never seen the stars so clearly.

Now he ached to see those stars again. To trail one hand along the ridged cliff wall as he walked. To see the tomb appear on the horizon at dusk, like a mirage, except it was real, more real than—

"How about we get the League champion? People eat that up."

At the words "League champion," Steven lifted his head. Everyone was staring at him, waiting. Something clenched tight in his chest.

Because it was his job, he took a deep breath and smiled. "Of course. I can talk to her."

What he didn't say was the truth: she doesn't want to talk to me. And that was the sole point on which they both agreed.

The last time he'd seen her had been for a joint interview and photoshoot with Trainer Today. They'd called it Passing the Torch, another stupid torchic pun. He and May Palmer had posed obediently — separately, together, with blaziken, without — smiling as if her words weren't still simmering between them.

"Don't act like you're shocked. You can't expect to win against someone who's actually had to work to get here." That's what she said to him, after the Evergrande Conference.

Thinking about it made his temples throb.

Did she really think someone had simply handed him a fully trained metagross? Delorean alone had taken him three years — he had to procure not one but four shiny beldum, and then train them— to say nothing of the rest of his team. And Delorean hadn't been his first attempt. He'd waited until he could do it right before he tried for Del.

The League had cautioned him against trying to raise a metagross at all, and not without reason. He'd consulted with an electrophysicist and a psychic-type specialist leading up to it, but that first metagross had still turned on him immediately after its final evolution — like silent lightning through his skull. He was lucky all he'd lost from that was the pigment in his hair. Steven wore it like a badge of honor, proof he'd earned the designation of Hoenn's metagross expert.

And he had still graduated with honors. He'd done both, because that was what was expected of him.

The new champion of Hoenn, on the other hand, didn't even have a bachelor's degree. She had a blaziken and a smart mouth, and apparently that was enough.

Steven spent the rest of the board meeting in tight-clenched silence with his graduation ring pressed to his lips.

As the executive committee finally trickled out the door, marking notes in their digital calendars, Steven's father called him over. He waited until the execs had gone to say, "Why were you late this morning?"

Steven made his face a mask. "I came in the door at nine exactly."

His father gave him a hard look. "I'm only going to tell you this once, son. Running a company doesn't work like parading in front of the Evergrande League. You've had your fun with that, but now that it's done I need you focused here in the real world. On Devon. You have to earn your place here, just like the rest of them."

Steven clenched his teeth, but he met his father's gaze and nodded. He would not look away first.

"Good." His father's expression softened. "This company will be your responsibility someday, and I want you to be ready. I know you're capable. You always rise to a challenge." He pulled his stopwatch from his pocket. His ring caught the light — the Stone family crest, twin to the one Steven wore. "I'm meeting with the mayor in half an hour. I'll see you this evening. Hortencia is making cordon bleu."

He didn't pause for farewells, just a curt nod and away he went.

Steven lingered by the enormous window, gazing out on the best view of Rustboro the city had to offer. With a sigh, he took out his phone and tried to make peace with his schedule. Lots of fires to put out. He held his phone in his right hand, where he wore his Stone family and Devon rings. With his left, where he wore his graduation and League rings, he reached to touch Delorean's ball. After a moment's consideration and another sigh, he messaged Birch: Send me the files here. I'll take a look at them tonight. Tell me what you find at the site.

For a moment longer, he gazed out the window at the distant mountains. The tomb had been waiting there for thousands of years, since the time the desert had been a shallow sea, since the time legends dragged their bellies across the earth. It could wait a little longer yet. And then—

Well. He wasn't done yet.



Snowpoint Temple, once again. In his dream, unlike in life, the alcoves below each idol were lit with candles, wax oozing down the stone. The air smelled of dust and the smoke of long-ago fires. As usual, Cynthia led the way, solar lantern held high. They were still the only two people among the ruins. No pokemon either, though in the waking world they had been escorted by Delorean and Cynthia's lucario to ensure the sneasels that pilfered the offerings left on the temple steps stayed in the shadows and came no closer.

For what felt like a very long time — much longer than it had taken in real life — they walked. Neither spoke. They moved slowly to avoid the sections where the floor had weakened, visible as depressions in the stonework. Every few yards they passed another pillar with the likeness of another minor deity carved at eye-level, candles guttering below, the face of each one forgotten the moment it was behind him.

Steven's pulse quickened at the sight of the stairs that led down into the crumbling heart of the collapsed temple. He knew what waited below.

As they descended, the temperature plummeted. Though his breath came in visible puffs, Steven's only concern was the occasional patch of ice underfoot, lingering evidence of the underground streams that had eaten the ground away from under the temple. Roots dangled from the ceiling where trees had reclaimed parts of the building. But in this version of the temple, the place where the floor had caved in so long ago was a smooth round hole, as if it had been on purpose. In this dream, the pillars had landed upright, whole and unmarred.

Cynthia and Steven stepped out of the shadow of the upper floor and into a pool of light. Above, stained glass windows formed a dome where before there had only been a stone ceiling and faceless gods in the flickering gloom. Steven held out his hands to watch the fragmented rainbows dance across his skin.

Ahead, in the center of the light pouring from above, was the monument. Hunched shoulders, arms dragging to the ground. A thousand eyes carved in its chest. The arms were inscribed with runes, half-lost to the green and gray lichen.

Steven craned his head to see the top of the statue and tried to meet each of the stone eyes in turn. Who made you? Who put you to sleep? His heart ached at the impossibility of knowing.

Cynthia finally spoke up. "It's time to wake him." Runes crawled up her arms and neck like a rash. "You know what to do."

He did this time. Steven glanced down and found a knife already in his hand, the hilt inlaid with rubies and sapphires. Each one reflected his face in miniature. At the foot of the statue, he knelt and turned up one hand as if in supplication. He drew the blade across his palm—

Steven snapped awake in his bed, struggling for a moment to recognize what had woken him. In the blue pre-dawn light, he fumbled to find his buzzing phone on the bedside table.

"Hullo?"

"Steven — sorry to wake you. But this is — I didn't want to wait."

At the sound of Harrison's voice, Steven sat up and put both feet on the floor. The tomb. He wouldn't have called if it wasn't important. "What's the news?"

"It opened."

Steven was already reaching for his belt and hiking boots. "I'm on my way."
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Pen

Negrek

Angel of Memory
Staff




But I'm here now! Just in time for the story to go on hiatus. =/ I've been following along week to week as you posted this, and it's been nice to be able to enjoy a regularly-scheduled update, even if I managed to not figure out what day they were getting posted on for a while.

Unfortunately since this was only supposed to be a review for 1-2 chapters it's not structured very well; a bunch of mostly line-by-line things in order but not identified by chapter, and then more general talk at the end. Sorry if this format ends up being confusing or overwhelming.

Most of these are small nitpicks, anyhow...

“You see that woman sitting over there? With the breloom.”
Would expect a question mark at the end of the second sentence, too.

He smiled, but his gray eyes still bore into her.
*bored

She battled other trainers. She even spent a day exploring the coastal forest north of the city.
You want the past perfect here, since these are all things that happened in the past relative to when the story's taking place. She had battled, she had even spent a day exploring the forest.

But he also saw in it her need to control him, put him back in place. He saw, too, the creases in her makeup, the softness around her mouth. It was obvious, he thought, why she had chosen to specialize in rock-type pokemon: they had all the hardness she wished she had.
This is a nice observation, but it strikes me as a little out of place. Maybe Mark is the type to have these philosophical musings about the people he's interacting with, but especially now, when my impression is that he's pretty mad at Roxanne and also feeling like crap from a rough night of super legal activity and probably apprehensive about this conversation? It strikes me as a weird place for his thoughts to be in right now.

“Alriiight,” Aisha said, but she made herself comfortable leaning against the stanchions.
I don't know that you technically need it, but I really want to put a comma after "comfortable."

Mark felt Orwell’s impulse to get between himself and the mightyena — something that might have been anxiety, if it were a creature that felt emotions the way humans did.
I think you want "him" rather than "himself" here, since it's Orwell's impulse rather than Mark's.

He couldn’t hide his surprise at that. “Of course.” Fumbling for words, he offered, “What trainer wouldn’t want to get paid to have battles all day?”
Ooh, yeah, I bet she totally bought that one. :P

She made no attempt to hide her delight at his approval, and Mark knew then that he would be able to convince her. It was only a matter of when.
Oh no, he's going to feel so betrayed when he finds out she trains--*gasp*--water-type pokémon! :P I'm curious how Natalie's going to end up with Aqua in the end... Perhaps Magma were responsible for whatever happened to her brother? If he's still alive, he's presumably with Aqua. Or perhaps it will turn out that Natalie joins up with Aqua, only to eventually find out that her brother used to be associated but then ended up becoming disillusioned with them and met an unpleasant end when he tried to leave/call for reforms...

(Okay, so obviously that's all been resolved by now, but you can have that quote from like a month ago, I guess. :P)

In between the protesters and the counter-protesters, a cluster of police officers with manectrics straddled their bikes, exuding a prowling machismo.
It strikes me as a little off to describe them as in any way "prowling" when they're stationary.

Natalie lay a hand on the gurdurr’s meaty shoulder before he could do anything stupid.
*laid

We’re the ones who will live with the consequences for DevCo’s mistakes, and we can’t drink oil!
consequences *of

The banner bearers lead the way down Iron Avenue.
*led

Before she could begin to react, the Magma group to her right was already on its feet amid a surge of flashing red lights. Silhouetted through the smog, she saw a massive camerupt materialize with an earth-shaking roar.
Pokémon come out of pokéballs in white light and are recalled in red, so these'd be flashing white lights, no? Also, I don't think you want "already" in the first sentence, and the second one is a garden path sentence; Natalie's the one silhouetted, not the camerupt.

She couldn’t see the police officer’s eyes, but she could feel their gaze bearing down all the same.
*officers'

An unseen pokemon zipped behind her, narrowly missing her — impossible to say whether it was friendly or foe.
I would say "friend or foe;" it's weird to me for one to be an adverb and the other a noun.

One lunged — only to be shunted aside by the solrock as it careened out from behind Mark.
Calling it "the solrock" when it's the first time it's appeared this chapter reads odd to me, that definite article and all. I think this would read better as "the solrock that careened out from behind..."

Mark began to check his solrock over with what looked like a mini blacklight.
I like this little detail! I'm guessing this is an actual technique for finding cracks/flaws in rock?

Then he dropped to a crouch in front of Natalie, who jumped and reflexively lay a hand on Luna.
*laid

Thanks, Gibson. Take it easy," he said, and he recalled the liepard. "Orwell's keeping an eye out — for both of us.
Ah, so someone's perhaps a little into sci-fi.

The darmanitan bellowed and charged the skittering pokemon, who rose up and flung open its suckered tentacles to envelope it — a grapploct.
*envelop

And on the other side, his bastiodon bore down under alternating hits from a machoke and the crawdaunt.
Hmm, I don't think "bore down" is what you want here.

One claw was almost as long as her entire body.
Nice observation, but strikes me as out of place here. Perhaps when she's about to actually climb aboard?

"It's me, Small Fry," said Archie.
Oh nooooo. Well, we definitely learned what happened to Natalie's brother faster than I expected. :X Also gives a pretty good idea of how she ends up involved with Aqua. I was definitely expecting her brother to turn out to be a current/former Aqua member, and thought Archie was a possibility, but didn't quite think you were going to go there, heh. It's going to REALLY SUCK if Natalie decides she doesn't want to hang around with Aqua anymore, oh dear.

Presumably someone Aqua-related delivered that ominous note Natalie got at the beginning of the story. I'm a little weirded out that the other Aqua members recognized her on sight--maybe they were the ones inolved in sending that message? I guess Archie might have put out a general notice when he heard she was in town, like, "This is my kid sister, don't fuck with her," but if I were in his position I'd probably want to tell as few people as possible to try and keep her uninvolved. I guess maybe he'd rather she join his pirate crew anyway. Arrrr.

Meanwhile, presumably Mark is someone pretty high-up in Magma, with that level of battling ability and the fact that Archie's crew recognized him right off, and the fact that he might believe Natalie was an Aqua agent trying to get to him.

Also, he should call Kathy, but thinking about Montag and his sister in the same breath made him wince.
Kind of weird for me to hear of two things thought about "in the same breath," since there's no actual breathing involved there.

Everything he owned fit in his backpack, even the stovetop espresso maker — he was still a trainer, after all.
Ah, it's the fabled espresso maker! It really is a great detail--Mark prepared to disappear into the night with nothing but the *bare essentials*, like his coffee maker and stash of pink Himalayan salt. I kind of wonder if Natalie might notice and point that sort of thing out--I'm sure Mark's reaction would be great.

Hmm, I wonder whether Mark's sister's illness is at all pollution/industry related and might have influenced his decision to join up with Magma. I wonder what she makes of his life choices? (Or would make of them if she knew, like Archie I wouldn't be surprised if Mark hasn't let his family in on what he's been up to recently.)

Steven smiled and rapped his knuckles against the metagross's hull — clonk, clonk — as he passed and made his way inside.
Delorean was behind him, but now he's passing it to go into the shop? Or did he pass the shop, then decide to double back and go inside?

The barista wrung his hands, but couldn't hold back his smile.
No comma here.

"We had a data breach."
I was confused by this being followed up by talk of people apparently physically accessing a building and stealing something. Maybe you just meant "breach" here? Everything described sounds like a theft of some physical object and not data. I suppose they could have literally stolen some computers, but if what they wanted was info from the company database that would be approximately the worst way to get at it.

He knew to allow the men his father's age talk about their favorite subjects — themselves - to make them like him.
Looks like one of your em dashes got messed up here.

Delorean alone had taken him three years — he had to procure not one but four shiny beldum, and then train them— to say nothing of the rest of his team.
Should be "he had had to procure," ugly though it is. Missing a space on that one em dash, too. Just little things.

The board meeting pinged me as maybe a little too on-the-nose-evil. Like, Devon certainly has a lot on its plate with building an oil pipeline AND bribing elected officials AND covering up a data breach AND seeing how many people they can lay off AND starting a smear campaign against the measure to block their oil pipeline! Several of these are directly plot related and/or interconnected, but taken as a whole it felt like you were laying it on a bit thick here. I thought you did a better job with Steven himself, where he's obviously a pretty oblivious priviledged dude with an entitled view of the world and also maybe about to revive some ancient pokémon in order to do something nefarious, but at the same time he has his own conflicts and stuff going on in his life that feel important to him and aren't directly related to him being a Bad Guy, like the conflict with his father.

I am wondering how old Steven is here. He read as pretty young to me, like early twenties at the latest.

Every few yards they passed another pillar with the likeness of another minor deity carved at eye-level, candles guttering below, the face of each one forgotten the moment it was behind him.
The repetition of "another" here strikes me as unnecessary; you could straight-up change the second one to "a" without losing anything, I think. Also a bit odd to have "they" as the subject of the sentence but refer just to "him" at the end.

But in this version of the temple, the place where the floor had caved in so long ago was a smooth round hole, as if it had been on purpose.
Mmm, currently the end of this sentence reads, "as if the place where the floor caved in had been on purpose." I think you want something like "as if it had been created on purpose" or similar, so you're referring to the process of the hole's creation rather than the hole itself.

Man, there are a lot of factions here in Hoenn, huh? Obviously there's always Aqua/Magma, but it seems like something big's going on with Steven's group as well. Very excited to see that the regis will probably have some relevance to the story; I always thought they had cool lore, but they're so often passed over in Hoenn-fic. Since a lot of this story has been tweaked from canon, I wonder if awakening Groudon/Kyogre are even a goal for Magma/Aqua in this setting, or whether they might ultimately have to look to those legends not necessarily to "expand the land" or whatever but rather to get out ahead of what Devon appears to be doing with their own legends. Of course, Devon currently isn't on board with Steven's research and may represent a faction in its own right, but perhaps if he succeeds in waking a regi or two Stone Senior will take more of an interest in his son's obsession... or perhaps Steven will come to more fully appreciate the way that taking an active role in the company gives him the opportunity to bend it towards his own ends.

Also definitely curious what Steven's goal in waking the regis would be; he talks about something more significant than a trophy, so I'm thinking not simply the novelty of being the one to discover/awaken these ancient pokémon... I imagine he actually wants their power for something. Maybe even something so simple and petty as wanting to be recognized as a great trainer (while incidentally taking back the championship from May)? He obviously takes great pride in being a "metagross expert," and given how his dad scorns his training, he might simply be looking for that accomplishment that will finally make his father take him seriously even though he thinks running a company is boring. Or maybe he has some grander ambitions than that--or even if he doesn't, the regis might have ideas of their own, and Steven might end up more pawn than anything.

Incidentally, I liked the detail that Steven's gray hair is a result of his first metagross turning on him and trying to mind-whammy him out of existence; makes me wonder what exactly it takes to train a metagross anything like safely.

At this point I'm dying to know what exactly is at the core of the Magma/Aqua conflict here. Of course, real-life activist movements can have lots of sub-groups that are viciously at odds with one another, whether from the narcissism of small differences or otherwise, but man, it seems like these two should be working together! At least based on Natalie's understanding of her brother's ideals and the way Mark's been presenting Magma. Why exactly do they hate each other so much? Are the goals/ideals of the leaders really as pure as the people dedicated to the cause believe, or do they maybe have other agendas (like, say, awakening some slumbering weather-gods)? While everything going on here is recognizable from canon, it's different enough that I really don't know what kind of direction you plan to go with it.

One thing I really liked about this story is the way that it plunged right into the mystery and danger of Natalie's situation; the opening couple of paragraphs do a great job of creating a sense of intrigue while getting across the basic facts of what's going on with Natalie and enticing the reader to keep going to see what happens next. Things slow down a little bit after that, though; I think you did a nice job on the dialogue, but the initial conversation between Natalie and Mark might have gone on a little long. You start out with Nat being watched by someone who might be connected to her brother's disappearance and feeling understandably paranoid about it, and I think you end up losing a lot of that momentum while she gets distracted with her flirting. You do a nice job bringing things back around to Natalie's older brother and the overarching mystery towards the end of the conversation, but it was a bit of a switch to have things lead with "my brother is missing and possibly someone's out to get me" and go immediately into "oh hey it's that cute gym trainer" and kind of hang out there for a while. From what I knew about the story going in I had a sense of where you were going here and what Mark's larger significance was going to be, but if all I had to go on was the summary I'd probably be surprised by what would feel like kind of a detour. Obviously it's important to introduce the two of them and show them getting to know each other, but I think it might be a good idea to trim a little of the initial banter so things don't stray quite as far from the questions raised in the opening.

Overall I think in the early chapters there was some tension between the more plotty aspects of the story (the mystery of Natalie's missing brother, primarily) and the more domestic side, things like Natalie chatting with her mother or Mark's gym trainer duties. Another scene that stood out to me in particular was the one where Mark and Roxanne had their talk. It might be that Roxanne's going to be an important character going forward and/or her relationship with Mark is going to turn out to be very significant, but with only what I've seen of the story thus far I think if that scene hadn't been there, and we'd simply had Mark arriving at the gym beat up and then battling Natalie, I wouldn't feel like I'd missed anything. Things picked up dramatically once we got to the protest and have pretty much been going non-stop since then, and by this point of course Mark and Natalie's identities have been pretty fully established. This story is going to need a mix of very character-focused not-necessarily-plotty bits as well as quite a bit of more propulsive plot-driven scenes, which is always going to be tricky to balance; in the beginning, I felt the ratio was a little off.

It was kind of weird to pick this story up right after Postcards, since that story had almost no dialogue and ephemeral characters, whereas character relationships are central to this story and we start in with dialogue almost immediately. And, overall, I think this story plays to your strengths! You have a good ear for dialogue, and the chemistry between Natalie and Mark is immediately apparent. You have some excellent, grounded characters here; Natalie is really the closest to a "standard trainer protagonist," being passionate, a bit reckless, and favoring action over contemplation, and it's already been a lot of fun to watch her bounce off the aloof, grumpy, and somewhat arrogant Mark. Steven's POV was one I wasn't expecting at all, and I'm not sure yet whether we'll see more from him or whether his chapter was more of an interlude, but I think there are a lot of interesting places you could go with him, too. You've set yourself up with a strong cast, and there's plenty going on in Hoenn to give them some excuse to keep running into each other.

Although pokémon haven't been a huge focus of this story, they've been far from absent, and I've been enjoying Natalie and Mark's relationships with their teams. I'm a sucker for trainers who care a lot about their pokémon, and so Mark noticing Gibs' now-pointless food bowl and generally angsting over his loss were pretty good as far as I was concerned. Someone definitely has a reason to try and get back at Aqua's upper leadership, even if it would be a dumb thing to do! I wonder whether Natalie will be sympathetic and maybe try to find some way to get Gibs back to Mark, or whether she'll be so thoroughly disgusted with him (especially after hearing whatever stories Archie has about Magma) that it wouldn't even occur to her. I'm also wondering if there's some significance to the fact that Aqua's raid on Devon involved the capture of one of Team Aqua's pokémon. Do pokémon regularly get lost/stolen like this and it's merely a coincidence that it was only the one, or did Aqua actually deliberately "lose" Mark's liepard there to try and set Devon after him/Magma? I'm probably overthinking that one, but the reference to the captured pokémon definitely pinged me in that most recent chapter, heh.

Anyhow, this is a story I was looking forward to ever since you first described it, and it hasn't disappointed! I'm really curious to see more of the inner workings of Aqua, in particular, and how Natalie handles the revelation that her brother is alive and also a gang leader. It'll be great when fate throws her and Mark together again, too--sparks are going to fly, for sure! It's too bad that this story's going on hiatus for a bit, but I'll look forward to following along once you start updating again.

Also, I've been loving the illustrations that go along with the chapters! They have a lot of personality, and the realistic style meshes well with the overall more realistic style of the fic and its attempts to take the Aqua/Magma conflict seriously. It's so rare to see Magma/Aqua members rendered in a down-to-earth way rather than in a cartoony style.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Just in time for the story to go on hiatus. =/
Don't worry--I think you're the only one who was stink-eyeing you over the absence of a review, hahaha. Excellent use of John Mulaney though. ❤ If it makes you feel any better, it's actually been on hiatus since early April. 🙃 Poor Pen has been begging me to spend more time on the story where, you know, people are actually nice to each other. (LOL 4 ever.) I'm itching for another chapter of Spring and a few one-shots this summer ... but then it'll be time to spend some quality time with Nat and Archie. And to poke at a pipeline. I miss this garbage fire terribly.

I won't respond to every single one of your line edits, because the response is mostly, "Oh shoot, yeah, good catch." But during my beeeeg Spring back-edit this week, I did see a lot of lead instead of led, extra/missing commas, and repeat alreadys .... So I can't say I'm surprised those are happening here too. Doh. Grateful to have all of those little goofs flagged! This bad boy will definitely get a big edit before I post the next chapter. Sigh, because elbow grease, but hooray because editing is my drug.

This is a nice observation, but it strikes me as a little out of place. Maybe Mark is the type to have these philosophical musings about the people he's interacting with, but especially now, when my impression is that he's pretty mad at Roxanne and also feeling like crap from a rough night of super legal activity and probably apprehensive about this conversation? It strikes me as a weird place for his thoughts to be in right now.
Oof, I think you're right. Bummer, because I really enjoy that revelation about her, but ... You're also not wrong later where you pointed out that this passage could be cut anyway to streamline the chapter. Roxanne isn't a huge part of the conflict to come. Into the scrap folder it goes.

(Okay, so obviously that's all been resolved by now, but you can have that quote from like a month ago, I guess. :P)
Oh, I'm happy to have it! It's fun to watch people speculate, but--more importantly--it's a very useful temperature read.

It strikes me as a little off to describe them as in any way "prowling" when they're stationary.
Good call! I've thrown the word "prowling" into the titles of so many of my Divides playlists (help me--they keep multiplying) that I've started to think of it as a mood and not an action. It's also probably not even necessary in that moment to qualify these cops--that's an OSJ thought, not a Natalie thought.

Pokémon come out of pokéballs in white light and are recalled in red, so these'd be flashing white lights, no? Also, I don't think you want "already" in the first sentence, and the second one is a garden path sentence; Natalie's the one silhouetted, not the camerupt.
Ooh, now it's showing how little I watch the anime! I have them come in and out in red. And I haven't heard the phrase "garden path" sentence before, but gosh is that charming, haha. What a gentle way to call out a dangling clause.

I like this little detail! I'm guessing this is an actual technique for finding cracks/flaws in rock?
Shockingly, this is one of few things I haven't over-researched at odd hours of the night. It might be? Blacklight and space rock felt like a good pairing. If it's real science, what a delightful happy accident! Haha.

Ah, so someone's perhaps a little into sci-fi.
The entire team is dystopian writers. Everybody in this fic has weird, specific naming conventions for their pokemon. It's a much more heavy-handed and meta way of characterizing these trainers than what I think you manage in Salvage, but I really delight in it. So much fun.

Well, we definitely learned what happened to Natalie's brother faster than I expected. :X
Yyyyyyyup. It's a relic of old drafts of this story, but it struck me as a useful way to have Natalie start as a neutral outsider and pull her in really hard, so that relationship stayed. There's going to be a little bit of mystery about what Steven's up to for a while, but I think this story mostly wants to be about knowing a train wreck is coming and seeing how the people involved respond.

Presumably someone Aqua-related delivered that ominous note Natalie got at the beginning of the story. I'm a little weirded out that the other Aqua members recognized her on sight--maybe they were the ones inolved in sending that message? I guess Archie might have put out a general notice when he heard she was in town, like, "This is my kid sister, don't fuck with her," but if I were in his position I'd probably want to tell as few people as possible to try and keep her uninvolved. I guess maybe he'd rather she join his pirate crew anyway. Arrrr.
The next chapter will address this very directly! Some of your comments here sparked a mini brainstorm with other folks, and this is one area I might adjust during Beeeg Edit 2020 Part 2. I really like the note in her pocket as a physical reminder she can fuss with, but it might pay off better for her to bicker/physically fight with someone who's trailing her instead. AND that might be a way to tie her paranoia into the dialogue with Mark that you flagged elsewhere in the review, keep it more grounded in the plot. He's paranoid about her hovering around the gym--new friend to recruit or a threat??!??--and she's paranoid because she's actually being followed and can't tell if he's eyeing her for that reason or something else ... etc. Anyway, all this to say--heard, noted, and I don't disagree. Gonna let it percolate. But either way ... Archie has many names in this fic, and not one of them is Subtlety.

Kind of weird for me to hear of two things thought about "in the same breath," since there's no actual breathing involved there.
I was thinking of it more as a measure of time, but ... I could just use a traditional measure of time there, lol.

Ah, it's the fabled espresso maker! It really is a great detail--Mark prepared to disappear into the night with nothing but the *bare essentials*, like his coffee maker and stash of pink Himalayan salt. I kind of wonder if Natalie might notice and point that sort of thing out--I'm sure Mark's reaction would be great.
LOL that goddamn coffee maker has taken on a life of its own that I didn't intend, but I also absolutely will not rescind. This boy needs his caffeine or he might--get this--become CRANKY. Now it's a bit of a Chekov's coffeepot. What will become of it? Time will tell.

Hmm, I wonder whether Mark's sister's illness is at all pollution/industry related and might have influenced his decision to join up with Magma. I wonder what she makes of his life choices? (Or would make of them if she knew, like Archie I wouldn't be surprised if Mark hasn't let his family in on what he's been up to recently.)
Wow, what very interesting questions ...! 👀

Delorean was behind him, but now he's passing it to go into the shop? Or did he pass the shop, then decide to double back and go inside?
Ah, I see the confusion. I imagined him pausing to weigh whether he can resonably park leave Del there, giving it time to catch up so he's passing it as he moves towards the coffee shop. I can add in another line or two to clear up the spatial relationship there.

I was confused by this being followed up by talk of people apparently physically accessing a building and stealing something. Maybe you just meant "breach" here? Everything described sounds like a theft of some physical object and not data. I suppose they could have literally stolen some computers, but if what they wanted was info from the company database that would be approximately the worst way to get at it.
This is probably another place where I should use Steven's thought process to clarify. My thinking is that making a metagross trained by Steven Stone the main cybersecurity force means that, even if what you want is digital, you have to go in and take it physically, otherwise the meta is just going to shut you down and probably fry your computer/brain.

Should be "he had had to procure," ugly though it is. Missing a space on that one em dash, too. Just little things.
Half of what I edited in Spring was em dashes and ellipses! IDK how I got into the habit of adding spaces at all! It's technically acceptable, but not generally preferred. And, apparently, ellipses are the opposite. Whoda thunk. Obviously not me.

he board meeting pinged me as maybe a little too on-the-nose-evil. Like, Devon certainly has a lot on its plate with building an oil pipeline AND bribing elected officials AND covering up a data breach AND seeing how many people they can lay off AND starting a smear campaign against the measure to block their oil pipeline! Several of these are directly plot related and/or interconnected, but taken as a whole it felt like you were laying it on a bit thick here. I thought you did a better job with Steven himself, where he's obviously a pretty oblivious priviledged dude with an entitled view of the world and also maybe about to revive some ancient pokémon in order to do something nefarious, but at the same time he has his own conflicts and stuff going on in his life that feel important to him and aren't directly related to him being a Bad Guy, like the conflict with his father.
This is fair, but I feel a little stuck on how to thin some of that out. My intent was less "GASP LOOK HOW EVIL" and more ... Well, first of all, nothing they discuss doing is at all illegal. My grasp on D&D alignments is admitted shaky, but I think of this as a story with chaotic good (?) heroes and lawful neutral villains. Aaaaand maybe the real problem is I was working hard to make this scene explain how some of the puzzle pieces fit together. Why is Aqua in Rustboro, and why did Mark and Natalie run into them? Answer: stealing the Devon Goods data. How is DevCo going to deal with being attacked by these two? Answers: speed up pipelines and try to shut down their admittedly illegal shenanigans. It strikes me as pretty business-as-usual-for-big-business, but ... that says a lot about my biases, don't it? ;)

I am wondering how old Steven is here. He read as pretty young to me, like early twenties at the latest.
That's a good question! I don't have a hard-and-fast age pinned to him. I was leaning late-twenties-but-man-baby. I feel like spending a few years as a trainer can force you to grow up a lot ... and also let you avoid certain types of maturing. Sounds like I may need to recalibrate a little ... or just let him be younger! I don't necessarily mind that for him either.

Man, there are a lot of factions here in Hoenn, huh?
I have ... bitten off a lot that I now have to chew. 💯 That's why the index cards all over my wall became necessary, LOL! I'm thinking of it as three major factions, but Mark, Natalie, and Steven each have their own motivations beyond and sometimes at-odds-with their respective factions.

Incidentally, I liked the detail that Steven's gray hair is a result of his first metagross turning on him and trying to mind-whammy him out of existence; makes me wonder what exactly it takes to train a metagross anything like safely.
I'm honestly not sure yet. Metagross seems SCARY to me, partly because of mega-meta's dex entry and partly because of its overall ... menacing aura? I need to sort out how the species works in more detail because there will definitely be some fights involving metagross later on that I need characters to be able to, uh, walk away from.

but man, it seems like these two should be working together!
👀 That! Is exactly the feeling that inspired this story in the first place! I do have some concrete ideas about how their goals and methods differ, but you're right to point out how similar their vibe is. Some of that's just canon--it's also not an accident that they're literally interchangeable between different versions of the same game, right? I'm hoping to get into some of the specifics next chapter, but it might take a little bit to get all of it on the table, since Mark and Natalie will obviously have very different information, and Natalie barely has any information at all right now.

Overall I think in the early chapters there was some tension between the more plotty aspects of the story (the mystery of Natalie's missing brother, primarily) and the more domestic side, things like Natalie chatting with her mother or Mark's gym trainer duties.
Yyyyup, ongoing struggle. It's a swinging pendulum, unfortunately. The first draft of this thing in 2018 started with the protest, which gave me almost no room for backstory or forming any kind of attachment to Natalie. You're not the only one who's commented on the pacing in the first three chapters, so I've definitely overcompensated. I can easily imagine where to cut out pieces of Chapter 3, but it's hard for me to imagine which parts of that first conversation to cut. Was there something specific that jumped out at you?

It was kind of weird to pick this story up right after Postcards, since that story had almost no dialogue and ephemeral characters, whereas character relationships are central to this story and we start in with dialogue almost immediately. And, overall, I think this story plays to your strengths! You have a good ear for dialogue, and the chemistry between Natalie and Mark is immediately apparent. You have some excellent, grounded characters here; Natalie is really the closest to a "standard trainer protagonist," being passionate, a bit reckless, and favoring action over contemplation, and it's already been a lot of fun to watch her bounce off the aloof, grumpy, and somewhat arrogant Mark. Steven's POV was one I wasn't expecting at all, and I'm not sure yet whether we'll see more from him or whether his chapter was more of an interlude, but I think there are a lot of interesting places you could go with him, too. You've set yourself up with a strong cast, and there's plenty going on in Hoenn to give them some excuse to keep running into each other.
Postcards is the most accessible thing I've written both because it's so short and because it's easy to pick up and put down with little commitment ... but it's definitely the outlier in my work right now! All I want is to write two characters trying to avoid talking dialogue. ❤ I'm so glad to hear these guys are connecting with you, though! Story really doesn't function well if they can't do that.

I'm probably overthinking that one, but the reference to the captured pokémon definitely pinged me in that most recent chapter, heh.
I'll clarify this point because it's not a huge spoiler and will quickly become obvious next chapter anyway. Mark and Natalie ran into Aqua right after they'd finished their heist. (Likely why Mark was able to hold his own for so long under unfavorable circumstance.) Aqua definitely has Gib.

The other questions you've raised and speculated about ... I'd better not touch! But it's super, super useful to hear where your thoughts are at. Pacing issues and grammar hiccups aside ... I do believe I'm on the track I intended to be on. 💪 😻 🎖

Anyhow, this is a story I was looking forward to ever since you first described it, and it hasn't disappointed! I'm really curious to see more of the inner workings of Aqua, in particular, and how Natalie handles the revelation that her brother is alive and also a gang leader. It'll be great when fate throws her and Mark together again, too--sparks are going to fly, for sure! It's too bad that this story's going on hiatus for a bit, but I'll look forward to following along once you start updating again.
sdkjfksdjfkshfs ❤
Also, LOL, if this were a 90's paperback novel "sparks are going to fly" would be the tagline on the bottom edge of the front cover or at the top of the summary on the back. No kidding there.

Also, I've been loving the illustrations that go along with the chapters! They have a lot of personality, and the realistic style meshes well with the overall more realistic style of the fic and its attempts to take the Aqua/Magma conflict seriously. It's so rare to see Magma/Aqua members rendered in a down-to-earth way rather than in a cartoony style.
Ahh thank you! It's a fun way to indulge myself without going on and on in the text. Mark and Natalie are ooooold characters, so I've got very clear mental images of them. Though, I'm sure it will continue to come up as these two change how they see each other ... haha. He's meant to have strangely angular, harsh features. Natalie will certainly feel some type of way about that later on now that her puppy crush has imploded, but in the meantime it's nice to be able to give some kind of visual cue for that.

Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and juicy review! (It rivaled the length of Chapter 1, bee tee dubs.) A real treasure to read. <3
 
  • Like
Reactions: Pen
Top