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Pokémon Continental Divides

OldschoolJohto

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

Summary: “You could make a difference. If you really wanted to.” 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. It’s also very much a story about politics and civil unrest. And felonies. Like my other stories, this one is set in a realist version of the pokemon world. Trainers start at age eighteen instead of ten—pokemon can be dangerous, and so can the wilderness itself.

Genres:
Crime, political intrigue, adventure, romance

Status: ONGOING, Expecting 40 chapters or 160k words. Working on chapter 8 now!

Other notes:
This is a fix-it that tries to imagine a version of Aqua and Magma that are semi-reasonable and could be taken seriously. I’ve renamed some people and other stuff to match the more realistic world I’m spinning: less J-pop, more Earth Liberation Front. I never played Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire, so I’m extrapolating mostly based on RSE…and my own interests.

Hope you enjoy!

--

Table of Contents:
  1. Red
  2. Blue
  3. Boots on the Ground
  4. Ships in the Night
  5. Stainless Steel

On AO3 | On FFN

Bonus fan art of Orwell the solrock by Wolflyn!​
 
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Chapter 1: The Dive

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 1: The Dive

The street behind Natalie remained empty no matter many times she looked over her shoulder, but the hairs on the back of her neck prickled all the same. Still there. Somewhere.

She had first noticed him—her?—among the crowd in the park, a skinny, hooded figure in all black. If she—they?—had worn a knowing smile and followed Natalie with their eyes … well, it was a park battle. Spectators came to study the competition. And the opposing sandslash had given Natalie plenty else to think about. After, the stranger in black had dispersed along with the crowd, and Natalie had forgotten them as she stepped forward to collect her winnings.

Later, leaving the bodega with supplies for a quick meal, she'd thought she'd spotted them again under a bus awning across the street. But it could've easily been some other stranger in a hoodie, so when a bus cut them off from view, Natalie shrugged it off. She started back for the hostel, planning her dinner and also, of course, thinking about her brother—until she caught sight of the reflection sliding across the display window to her left. That hooded face hung behind her, a smoky blur hovering at their shoulder. When she turned, the figure had already vanished, even though there was nowhere for them to vanish to.

If someone was following her, Natalie knew better than to lead them back to her hostel. The trainer's ed "city safety" modules had suggested going to the police or alerting someone on the street of the situation, but there wasn't a soul in sight and her Gear watch felt like an unsafe distraction. Maybe it would have been smarter to have holed up in a cafe somewhere and waited them out, but it was too late for that now. The souvenir shops and food stalls of the tourist strip had given way to looming apartment buildings converted from the shells of warehouses and factories. Long twilight shadows were creeping in, but Natalie kept her head high and kept walking.

I've got my pokemon with me.

She'd said that to Dad the last time they talked on the phone. It was meant as a reassurance but, as always, she couldn't hide the exasperation from her voice.

Dad had gotten more paranoid about "the urban crimewave" than ever as Natalie approached journeying age. He'd fought her leaving until Mom came down on her side, and even after five months on the road Natalie still woke up most mornings to find a new article about violent crime in her inbox. This morning it had been something about MGMA—Magma, the Masked Group for Mass Action—along with his usual terse reminder to be careful.

Natalie touched the pokeballs at her belt—three plus a newly-caught whismur who'd be worse than no help in a fight. But between the others, she'd be fine, probably. Natalie didn't have anything to compare this to—she'd never had a battle before without a referee or witnesses. She was glad she'd only used Samson back in the park. Her tail wouldn't know her other pokemon, so at least she'd still have the element of surprise in her favor. That was worth something … right?

The problem was … whoever was following her definitely had pokemon of their own. She hoped they didn't have more than three. Or other friends waiting and watching.

No, don't think about that. If she gave in to fear, she wouldn't have a chance.

What did they want from her anyway? Money, she guessed. Not that her casual running shorts and stained backpack screamed money. Maybe it was enough to be short and freckly. Maybe they'd decided she was an easy target.

At that thought, anger burned her fear away and stopped her in her tracks. So, what, was she supposed to just wait for them to ambush her? No way. She'd proven it before and she would prove it again: she could fight back.

Turning sharply on her heel, Natalie threw down Luna's pokeball and called out, "If you want something, come get it!"

A moment later, she felt her mightyena wind past her legs. They stood together in the middle of the empty street, Luna swiveling her ears as she settled into a watchful crouch and Natalie fumbling to unclip the mace keychain her father had insisted she carry. She steadied herself. But the surrounding shadows revealed nothing, and there were no sounds but faraway cars.

Maybe she'd shown her hand too early. Or maybe she'd let her imagination run away with her.

Then Luna flattened her ears and growled. Faster than Natalie could follow with her eyes, Luna spun and snapped her teeth at nothing—and the nothing screamed, high-pitched and human-sounding.

The stranger flashed into view on the other side of the street, cursing, their partly-hidden face like a half-moon in the darkness. But Luna turned away, swiping at an invisible pokemon. Shadows licked around the mightyena like flames, patches of blacker darkness against the deepening twilight.

Natalie's voice caught in her throat—how could she help when she couldn't see what Luna was fighting? The sandslash in the park had at least left furrows when it went underground. There was no way to tell where this thing was going to appear. To Natalie's surprise, the stranger in black made no move either. Maybe they were also new at this.

Snarling, Luna whirled and bit again, this time catching a mouthful of shadow. The shriek that followed this time was distinctly inhuman. Luna furiously shook her head, and for a second Natalie glimpsed the thing caught in her jaws: doll-like with floppy arms and a gleaming crescent of teeth.

Then the thing slipped from Luna's grasp and melted into the darkness again. As Luna whipped her head from side to side, searching, a cold wind swept down the street. Then the stranger winked out of sight.

Natalie waited, the mace keychain in a white-knuckled grip, but the shadows didn't stir again. When Luna sat back down on the pavement, Natalie knew they were finally alone.

"You okay, Luna?"

The mightyena gave a hesitant wag of her tail as Natalie approached. When Luna raised her head for pets, a scrap of something dark still hung from her mouth.

"What do you have? Drop it." Natalie tugged it from Luna's mouth, noticing only then that her hands were shaking. It was a piece of fabric, rough, scratchy and—

"Ow! What the hell?" She tilted the fabric scrap to catch the gleam of a straight pin under the streetlight. As she held it under the light, the pin began to smoke and dissolve until there was nothing to show it had ever been there but the dot of blood welling from Natalie's finger.

A banette. That explained the disappearing act but gave little comfort—they were nasty, living bundles of junk fabric held together by needles and malice. Natalie struggled to imagine what kind of person would want to raise one. She hoped the pinprick wouldn't get infected. Sucking her fingertip, she rolled up the fabric scrap—carefully, in case there were more pins—and tucked it into a backpack pocket.

Then she knelt to Luna and pulled her close, digging her fingers into her fur. "Good girl." Sweet, smart Luna, who had eaten a pair of her sneakers in middle school but who always knew when something was wrong. Lightheaded, Natalie held on tight and listened to her thundering heartbeat, trying to slow her breathing. She only let go when Luna started whining and licking her face and Natalie had to push her off, laughing despite her still-jittering hands.

You're okay. Of course she was. Bullies didn't know what to do when someone hit back, and Natalie had given them a reason to pause before they tried that again. Walk it off.

"Let's get out of here, Luna."

--​

Retracing her steps should've been easy enough, but none of the landmarks looked familiar in the dark. Had she crossed Pine Street, or had it been Spruce? The streets in this part of Rustboro curved and didn't let out where she expected, not like the neat grid downtown where her hostel was. Luna trotting cheerily at her side was a comfort, but Natalie couldn't stop glancing over her shoulder anyway.

When she finally happened across a bar, light and voices spilling from the open door, Natalie's heart swelled with relief. She wasn't in the mood for a drink, but she relished the thought of a place full of people where she could sit with the Nav app and figure out a route home. A neon sign proclaimed the bar On the Rocks. The sandwich board outside listed daily specials and a request to keep pokemon in their balls, so Natalie gave Luna another scratch behind the ears before recalling her and heading inside.

The walls were cluttered with a mix of local sports team banners, vintage liquor posters, and weirdly nautical decor. Among other oddities, Natalie spotted a ship in a bottle and a mermaid figurehead wrapped in string lights. The patrons gathered at the tables were locals—mostly dock-hands, day laborers, and union folks, not trainers. On the Rocks probably wasn't in the guidebook, a world apart from the flashy cocktail bars and clubs downtown, but Natalie liked this better. She wondered if her brother had ever come here, whether anyone knew him.

There was a lot she didn't know about her brother's life. Much of what she did know she'd gleaned from reading between the lines of the emails he'd written to Dad—she'd still been "the kid" when he was writing, as in, Say hi to the kid for me. On visits home, he'd humored her, taking her out on the bay for a pokemon ride or schooling her at checkers, but they hadn't talked about anything real. Was campaign work what he'd wanted or just something he'd fallen into? What did he remember about his mom? Did it matter to him that she was only his half-sister? Had he ever been in love? She'd imagined dozens of conversations ... but his imagined answers were flavorless and unsatisfying.

Mostly she remembered watching him train. Bubba didn't invite her along but he didn't stop her from following him to the scrap yard. Sometimes he squared off with other trainers and he made her sit at a distance. She watched from the sagging seat of a truck missing the hood and all four wheels. Other times he set up targets from the old steel drums and set his pokemon on them. Bubba trained a mightyena, too. Where Luna was clumsy and eager to please, Justice was still half-wild, missing part of one ear and prone to snapping when startled. 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.

One trip home, he'd brought back a poochyena. Hers. Officially, legally, Luna was just a pet until Natalie turned eighteen. But that didn't stop him from teaching Natalie how to train: when to give treats, how to establish authority. "She sees you as her pack. You've gotta give her a reason to listen to you."

The loud scrape of a barstool jolted Natalie out of her reverie. Right. A quick rest to figure out where she was going, avoid any more strangers in black, and then back to the hostel to finally get something in her stomach.

As Natalie scanned for a place to sit, preferably a booth or a table where she could set down her pack and still see the door … she noticed with a jolt that someone sitting alone at the bar had turned his head to watch her. He was too tall and broad to be the stranger who'd followed her, but she wasn't imagining his staring. When she caught his gaze, he smiled crookedly, an unmistakable challenge.

Belatedly, she realized she knew him, sort of. She'd only ever seen him wearing a white button-down—it hadn't occurred to her until now that it must be part of the uniform—and he was almost unrecognizable now under dim light and wearing a flannel open over a t-shirt. But he was definitely the trainer from the gym, the serious one.

She'd never seen a gym trainer battle like him before, like it was personal. And then, sudden as a skidding car, he would recall his pokemon, sometimes even if it looked like he was going to win, and wave the challenging trainer ahead. Natalie had heard that the gym leader herself was known to occasionally award badges to trainers who had actually lost to her, if they impressed her, but this was something else. He seemed bored, boiling under the surface.

They had never spoken—Natalie had only watched his battles from the sidelines—but there was no doubt that he recognized her, too. His smile made her wonder again whether the stranger in black had more friends watching her. But a gym trainer? Maybe not. Then again, what were the odds of running into him here after what had just happened?

Natalie took out the scrap of fabric and squeezed it tight as she strode towards the gym trainer. She tested the words in her mind: Recognize this? Or maybe, Care to explain?

But he spoke first, his tone lazy and almost playful. "So, you following me now? I can offer advice about Roxanne if you want it that bad, but I don't think it's worth that much effort, to be honest."

She ground to a halt. He thought she—?

He leaned back against the bar. "Or you looking for a fight? Doesn't count for anything if it's not inside the gym, you know."

"No, I …." He was as surprised to see her as she'd been to see him. Of course. What had she been thinking? Natalie laughed in relief, feeling her face color. Dad's articles had gotten to her. "I just got a little turned around on my way home."

The gym trainer raised an eyebrow. "Big detour."

"It's been a long day …. Almost got mugged, actually."

She must've looked as tired as she felt because the gym trainer's face softened. "Oh. That sucks."

"It wasn't actually a big deal." Even as she said it, she started to feel calmer. Under the string lights and surrounded by chatter, the incident already felt far away, easy to explain. Now it made for a good story—after all, nothing bad had come of it. Raising her chin, she added, "Scared them more than they scared me, I think."

"I bet."

He smirked again, and this time Natalie saw it with fresh eyes. She wanted to laugh again—he was flirting with her and she'd taken it as a threat. What was wrong with her? Maybe she could use a drink after all. Some normalcy.

"Mind if I sit?"

"Go ahead." He flipped shut the book that lay on the bar next to him.

Natalie snorted. "You were reading in a bar?"

"Yeah." He shot her a look that added, duh, what does it look like.

When Natalie moved to set down her backpack, she realized she was still clutching the weird fabric scrap. She shoved it back down into a pocket, stealing one last glance at the door.

"No one's gonna fuck with you in here. You're okay."

She shook her head. "I know. I was just thinking my dad would kill me if I became another headline." When she hopped onto the stool, she discovered to her annoyance that her feet didn't touch.

"Area girl fatally murdered by crime. Details at eleven."

"Right." She grinned. "I'm Natalie, by the way."

"Mark. Cheers, Natalie." He raised his glass.

She glanced at the chalkboard menu and her eyes immediately glazed over—too many options and none of them familiar.

"You probably want a Red River," Mark said after a few moments. "Cheapest thing that's still drinkable."

"Alright. Thanks." He was right—cheap was what she was after. She considered food, but balked at the price listed for a sandwich. She'd drink slowly then, and when she got back to the hostel she'd make her own sandwich. Natalie flagged down the bartender and then said to Mark, "Must be nice getting paid a salary to battle."

"Don't be too jealous. I'm hourly."

He took a long swig of his beer. Natalie cut a sideways glance at him, watching how his Adam's apple bobbed when he drank. How strange to be sitting so close after a week of observing his battles. She'd never planned to talk to him, but he was different from what she'd thought. Even his accent was unexpectedly Unovan—she hadn't picked up on that before.

Gods, no wonder he'd assumed she was following him—she had spent the better part of a week looking at him. Not that he seemed to mind it now.

Did she want this to go further?

Her drink came and she was grateful for something to do with her hands. She took a long drink, taking a moment to imagine how the rest of the evening might play out. It hadn't been a bad night, actually. She'd won her battle in the park and earned some cash. Then she'd fought off an attacker—an invisible one, at that. And now … she was enjoying herself, actually. If nothing else, she decided, it could only enrich the story of her night.

Natalie took another drink and then turned toward Mark with a question already springing from her lips. "Do you even like working at the gym? The way you were battling …." She caught herself, wondering if she was crossing a line.

But Mark shrugged. "I won't be there forever, and until then … I've got responsibilities, and it's decent money."

The thought that training could become another job to weather through was a sobering one. Her friends back home had gone to school for teaching or business, and Natalie had thought of journeying as an escape from all that. But, if she were being perfectly honest with herself … she knew she didn't have any special talent or love for battles. Despite having two pokemon with a type advantage, she still hadn't even made a move for her Stone Badge yet. She didn't want to think too hard about what she'd do when she decided she'd had enough of this lifestyle.

As if reading her mind, Mark added, "I'd rather be around real people. Spend too much time with trainers and you lose perspective."

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.

Mark 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 gave out a laugh of surprise, almost choking on her beer.

He watched her reaction with cool amusement. "You're clearly not in a hurry to get your badge. Most people are in and out in a day or two, you know."

"Sick of me already?"

Mark smiled but didn't rise to the bait. "So what are you doing in Rustboro?"

"Good question," she said with another laugh, shaking her head. She ran a finger over the bar, gathering crumbs as she gathered her thoughts. It wouldn't be a lie to say that she was training and rounding out her team ... but she didn't want to hide behind excuses. She wanted to talk to someone about it, and it certainly wouldn't be her parents.

At last Natalie said, "I've been thinking about my brother a lot since I left home. Like, I'm probably walking all the same places as him. Especially here in Rustboro. He was a trainer too, for a while, but he quit, I guess. Ended up here working on an election campaign. And then ... he disappeared."

"Well, fuck."

She added quickly, "I mean, it was ten years ago—I didn't even know him that well. But …." Natalie raised her hands helplessly. "I dunno. It's just this weird part of my life."

Mark nodded slowly. "So you're trying to find out what happened to him?"

"Maybe? Not necessarily. I mean, what am I really gonna dig up that the police couldn't? Probably nothing." She cut herself short. "Gods, that's depressing. Sorry."

"Don't be. I asked."

She flashed him a grateful smile. "I guess I feel closer to him when I'm here. I don't want to forget him, you know? He was such a good person—better than me, anyway."

"What makes you say that?"

"Oh, I dunno." Words failing her, Natalie turned to her drink. When she looked up again, Mark still had her fixed in a stare she couldn't quite read. But she appreciated that he was listening so intently. She said, "He was always doing something big. Like with Devon Horizon. Did you hear about that?"

Mark smiled humorlessly. "I can guess. Pipeline failed?"

"No, but you're close," she said, surprised. "An oil tanker. It crashed into the reef off the coast of Slateport and … I was pretty little, but I remember it was bad. They had to close the beach for a long time. Bubba—my brother, I mean—he came home to help with the cleanup, and he even convinced Mom to let him foster a pair of pelippers in the guest bathroom."

She still remembered the pelippers' reptilian yellow eyes. Her parents hadn't let her near them, and for good reason: they were raggedy with stress, but each still 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 had let her pet the sleek feathers at the crown of the female's head. He'd kept a firm grip on Natalie, ready to snatch her back if needed.

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

"Aw, don't worry, Small Fry," he'd said. "You can catch your own someday."

That had been about ten years ago too. They didn't know when exactly Bubba had disappeared—he'd been busy, after all, and had sometimes gone weeks without calling or emailing—but it had certainly been the last time Natalie had seen him.

Mark's voice broke Natalie from her thoughts. "Not a lot of people are willing to look closely at the fucked up parts of the world and try to do something about it."

"No," Natalie said, "definitely not."

She winced, thinking of a line from one of Bubba's emails that had hurt to read: I never thought the man who taught me to shoulder my responsibilities with pride would be so fast to abandon his own. It wasn't a secret that he and their dad had fought—the Armstrong family showed both love and anger with loud voices—but she hadn't realized it was like that. She couldn't exactly ask Dad about it without reopening old wounds … and explaining why she'd dug around in his emails in the first place.

Mark raised his glass and said, "Well, here's to your brother, then."

She took a deep breath and smiled. "Thanks." They clinked glasses, and she drank deep.

Talking about Bubba felt good, Natalie thought, and Mark was easy to talk to. It had been so long since she'd had a conversation that went beyond battles and travel stories. She opened her mouth to ask Mark about his family—

"And what about you?" Mark asked.

"What do you mean? I just told you my entire family history."

"That was your brother. What about you? What do you care about?"

"A lot of things but …." The room suddenly seemed louder and smaller than it had before. She was reminded uncomfortably of Mom asking, But what's next? "I'm trying to figure it out, I guess. I'm not really political like he was."

Mark was quiet for a moment. Then, pointing with his eyes, he said, "You see that woman sitting over there?"

It was obvious who he meant. She had long, long hair and spoke heatedly with a small group sitting in the corner, too far away to be heard. A breloom perched atop a stool next to her and dipped its muzzle into its own beer mug, lifting its head every so often to lick away the foam.

"I thought pokemon weren't allowed in here."

"They are for her. If she leaves, then all her friends stop coming too, and the owner doesn't want to lose all that business. Erica Spitfire is a hippie, but people around here listen to her." Then, catching the look on Natalie's face, he added, "Yeah, I know, but that's her real name.

"She's got an interesting story: A couple years back, she was close to taking the title and a big cash prize." He paused for effect, spreading his hands wide and then turning it into a shrug. "But she came back instead. She decided she was a better organizer than a trainer, and now she's one of the last things standing between DevCo and their pipeline."

Not understanding, Natalie nodded anyway.

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

"I guess so."

Leaning forward, he smiled and there was hunger in it. "I think you could make a difference in the world," he insisted. "If you really wanted to."

A nervous laugh burst out of her. "Maybe!"

Before she could think of something clever to say, Mark's phone buzzed. "Hang on." He squinted at the screen 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?" she teased. Her heart sank, just a little.

"Something like that." He set his jaw and smiled grimly. Then he turned and gave her a real smile. "We'll have to finish this conversation later though."

"I wouldn't hate that."

"Great. You know where to find me." He started for the door, calling over his shoulder, "Get home safe." Without looking back, he slipped between the tables, out the door, and into the night.

Natalie let out a long breath and leaned back against the bar. What a weird day. She reached for her beer. Then she thought about the long, dark walk that awaited her, and she abandoned it on the counter half-full.

--​

She made it back to the hostel without incident, and in the shared kitchen space she finally made her grilled cheese, then a second one. A pair of trainers fussed with a saucepan over the burner next to hers, gabbing about how they'd fared at the gym. Natalie licked grease from her fingers and fought the urge to laugh, thinking badges and bullshit. She considered chiming in with her own story, flashing the scrap of banette cloth to see their stunned faces, but it wasn't worth the questions that would arise. Natalie was tired and didn't have to prove herself to them—they'd be on to the next town by morning.

But what are you doing here in Rustboro, Natalie? Still a good question. Who was left to prove herself to? Bubba was gone—and had been for years before she arrived. She imagined herself rusting in place here like the abandoned factories she'd seen on the edges of town, and then she pushed the thought away. Rustboro already had Bubba, and it wouldn't have her, too.

Tomorrow, she decided, she'd claim her badge and be done with it. And then … well, she didn't have to decide what she wanted to contribute to the world all at once. For now, she could handle dishes and then sleep. Tomorrow she could figure out making the world a better place.

 
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Chapter 2: Testing Grounds

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 2: Testing Grounds

The locker room muffled the bellowing and crashing of sparring pokemon, but Mark's 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 of 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 Casey'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?"

Civic engagement. Mark smiled crookedly, which made him wince in pain.

Instead, 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."

"That's so crazy! 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."

"Wow. I'm glad you're okay though." Hilary leaned against the lockers. "I didn't even know you biked."

"Oh yeah. It's a great workout."

"That part's good."

Mark stood, fussing with his collar while he watched Hilary from the corner of his eye. "By the way ... Did you decide if you're coming to that meeting?"

"Oh." Hilary looked down, twisting and untwisting her handkerchief. "Look, I get why you're disappointed with Roxanne. 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.

She took a deep breath and blurted, "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?"

He couldn't help himself. "You're not gonna lose your job for attending a meeting."

"No, I know. It's just, you know. Not my kind of thing."

Mark hadn't expected a lot from her, but he'd hoped a self-professed nature-lover would at least be interested in becoming more informed about what her employer was allowing to happen at Meteor Falls. He set his jaw, considering his words carefully. "I don't think Roxanne is a bad person. I just don't agree with everything she does. But I'm still part of the team. I won't bring it up again."

"Thanks," Hilary said with obvious relief. "And thanks anyway for including me."

"Yeah, sure." He put on a smile, though his heart was bitter, and then turned for the door to the gym.

"Oh, hey! I just thought of something else. A trainer came by asking for you this morning."

He stopped with his hand on the doorknob, puzzled. Then he remembered. "Red hair?"

"Yup." She smiled knowingly. "Friend of yours?"

"Maybe." He grinned. "I guess I'll find out." With that, he stepped through the door.

Casey and his opponent had finished, and the gym had quieted somewhat. But on the main stage, Roxanne and her probopass faced off against a kid with a grovyle, each command and roar amplified by the big screens on either side. Mark was glad—it meant he didn't have to explain his alleged bike accident again.

He continued to the steps that led down into the sandbox, the smaller arena that was set into the floor. The next trainer already waited at the top of the challengers' stairs, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Mark exchanged glances with Aisha, the other second-shift gym trainer.

"I raked the gravel when I got in," she said. "You take this one."

So down he went.

The challenger sent out a lotad, who squinted in the sudden light, and Mark had to fight the urge to roll his eyes. He could tell by the way it moved that the lotad would be no match for any of his pokemon ... but his job was to filter out incompetent trainers, not to figure out who was actually skilled. His ratio of wins to losses had been too high this month, according to Roxanne. Higher than hers. So if a challenger demonstrated any kind of basic knowledge … he'd let them continue on and become her problem.

After letting the lotad struggle against his solrock for what felt like a reasonable amount of time, Mark threw the match and took Aisha's place on the sidelines, which was even more boring. In theory, he was supervising the match to ensure fair play. In reality, it required little from him but to announce the rules and then wait for the fight to end. Today, at least, he had plenty to think about,

Then he switched places with Aisha to do it again. And again.

Mark was leaning against the stanchions after another calculated loss when Natalie strode through the automated doors. She nodded to him, and he smiled back. His smile became a wicked grin when, rather than taking her usual place against the wall, she pulled a number from the dispenser and took a seat on the bench.

During his next battle, the cut above Mark's eyebrow opened again, stinging from the sweat and dust. He felt grit in his teeth as he inevitably did after spending any amount of time in the gym. But he suddenly didn't mind so much.

He ended the fight and then waited for the challenging trainer to finish high-fiving his machop before waving him ahead to Roxanne. Then, as Mark craned his neck to see which number was up next, Natalie hopped to her feet.

"I got this one," he called up to Aisha.

She paused with one foot on the steps, hand on her hip. "Aren't you tired?"

"I've got another pokemon."

Aisha looked over at Natalie, who stood at the top of the stairs, and then back at Mark. She raised an eyebrow. "Well, I won't say no to a longer break."

Mark turned to meet Natalie's eyes, and they exchanged grins. He beckoned for her to join him.

She's gotta be young, Mark thought, watching her swagger into the sandbox. He guessed eighteen, nineteen—not a huge gap between them, in the grand scheme of things, but enough to make a difference. Young wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It meant idealistic. It meant being willing to take risks.

In her tank top and bright leggings, she looked like many of the rookie trainers he saw in the gym, except for the look in her 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. Alert. Curious.

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

Aisha called, "Challenger! What's your name?" She took such pleasure in the ritualized call and response. Mark, when he had to referee between his own battles, 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'd be Roxanne's litmus test, but he was also watching and evaluating for himself.

"You may shake."

As Mark stepped forward to shake Natalie's freckled hand, he saw by her expression that she was appreciating for the first time the difference in height between them—he stood almost a foot taller than her. In response, she raised her chin and rolled her shoulders back.

In a voice 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 rest of the story out of him later.

We'll see about that.

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

She grinned. "It's overdue."

"Trainers, 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 Orwell's presence along the edges of his mind, an unintelligible buzz. With no command, the solrock took a defensive stance between him and Natalie, raising a shield of purple light over Mark like it did every time. He imagined that, from its perspective, there was no distinction between a gym battle and any other kind of fight. It was a good habit.

"And you may choose your fighter."

Natalie watched the solrock hover for a moment. Then she grinned. "Go, Luna," she said, 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 a grass- or water-type like most of the rookie trainers did. Sometimes the particularly aspiring ones, like the kid with the lotad, got creative and tried to cover both bases simultaneously. A dark-type was interesting, though. He was curious to see what she'd do with that.

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 his solrock.

Mark felt his solrock's impulse to get between him and the mightyena—something that might have been anxiety if Orwell were a creature that felt emotions the way humans did. "Stay put, Ore. Let's see what she'll do." But he already had a good idea. Mark ignored the mightyena for now, watching Natalie instead. "Get ready."

"Alright, Luna, do it!"

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

Orwell made a low keening 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. It pounced, trailing black vapor, and knocked Orwell to the floor.

Mark was ready. "Ore, iron head! Now!"

Orwell rose shakily, buzzing 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 onto its back.

"Bite it, Luna!"

The mightyena made it onto its side when Orwell smashed into it again. The solrock swooped for another hit, 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 Mark, 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.

Come on. Really? Mark folded his arms.

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 to avoid putting weight on it.

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, bursting into flames. The mightyena jumped back, but was soon caught inside a circle of purple fire.

"Good. 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 at random all over the sandbox.

The mightyena wove between fallen rocks and drew closer—still wobbling, but it didn't matter now. It bared its real teeth, and the shadowy phantom jaws pressed tighter around the solrock. Pieces crumbled off one of Orwell's fins.

Mark winced. He hated leaving Ore exposed, and he wished he could send out Gibs to catch the mightyena from behind. His liepard was a quicker, quieter shadow-walker—she wouldn't see him coming. Or Rand, his darmanitan, could send the mightyena flying with one swipe. Instead Ore had to take the fall alone.

He'd better let Ore take it easy for the rest of the day—they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow.

All the same, Mark realized he was smiling. He'd never intended to hand it to Natalie, but he'd hoped she'd win.

The mightyena threw its head back in a howl, and its shadowy jaws clenched harder, 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 the challenger! Congratulations!"

Mark waited 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. "Not bad," he told her.

Natalie dusted herself off and stood, beaming. "That's it? Not bad?"

"That looked like a narrow win to me," he said, raising an eyebrow.

Natalie started to shoot back a reply but stopped herself, frowning—even her thoughts were loud. She lowered her voice and asked, "Did you lose on purpose?"

At that Mark grinned. "No. You won." Then he held out a plastic token and explained, "This is your pass to battle Roxanne. When you beat her, she'll trade you this token for a badge."

Though …. He glanced at the seated trainers waiting for their chance to face Roxanne and saw several he'd waved through earlier. Then he looked at the wall clock. Well, shit.

She followed his gaze. "The gym closes at seven, right? Maybe I should come back tomorrow."

The gym would almost certainly not be open tomorrow, but he couldn't say that here. And if she came back to the gym at her usual time—

"Hey, Mark?" Aisha tipped her head towards a waiting trainer at the top of the stairs.

He nodded for Aisha's benefit and said quickly to Natalie, "Is there any way you could come back tonight? I want to talk to you."

She flashed a self-satisfied smile, cheeks coloring. "Yeah. I've been thinking about what you said yesterday, actually."

"Oh yeah?" And Mark knew then that he'd been right: she was already half-convinced. It wouldn't take much more.

"Let's make way for the next challenger!" Aisha spoke brightly, but Mark could hear the edge to it.

"I'll meet you out back around seven-thirty."

"I can do that."

He smiled and turned for the stairs.

"Finally," Aisha said under her breath as she passed him.

"It was important."

"Yeah, looked like it."

Unbothered, Mark took his place to announce the next match. He followed Natalie's exit with his eyes, aware of her watching him back.

How should he explain things to her? As the battle below started in earnest and Mark knelt to tend to Orwell, he briefly entertained the idea of bringing Natalie to the protest with him tomorrow—he could watch out for her, keep her from getting into more trouble than she could handle. But he knew it was a bad idea, and not just because he'd already have his hands full. She didn't act timid and complacent like Hilary, but neither was he fooled by her show of bravado: she was unsure of herself. He didn't want to scare her off with too much too fast or give her the wrong idea. Better to keep it in a space where he could control the conversation.

There was no reason to rush.

Outside, Natalie was already perched on the stair rail with a wingull on her shoulder.

"Hey. Thanks for waiting."

She started in surprise, her wingull squawking a complaint at the movement. "Who's your friend?"

"Oh. This is Gibson." His liepard slunk behind him, half in shadow. No way was Mark walking home without an extra set of eyes after last night.

"I guess I assumed you only had rock-types."

"Nah. Can't use him in the gym, but Gibs was my first."

Natalie hopped down from the rail, prompting her pokemon to take wing, and held out a hand for Gibs to sniff. The liepard ignored it, eyeing Natalie's wingull instead.

"Don't even think about it." Mark nudged Gibs with his knee until the liepard flicked his tail and turned away from the wingull, rubbing his face along Mark's legs. Mark rolled his eyes at Natalie. "Keep an eye on your keys and your phone too. Sneaky bastard thinks he's hilarious."

She grinned. "He's your baby."

"I don't think he's my anything. He's made it clear I'm his." He shook his head—derailed already. "Anyway. You wanna walk?"

At a leisurely pace, Mark led them down a quiet side-street. He caught a glimpse of Gibs before the liepard slipped inside a shadow and faded from sight. Hunting. Mark smiled, knowing Gibs was close, maybe even right underfoot, and nothing would be able to sneak up on them without him knowing.

"So," he said, "you've been thinking?"

Natalie let out a sigh but smiled. "Yeah. About pipelines. Except I thought more and now I'm not so sure. Like … I'm just one person, you know? I don't even know where to start."

At that, Mark grinned. She was making this so easy. "No one gets anything done alone. It has to be a coordinated effort." He paused to gauge her reaction, then added, "I know a local group, if you're interested. There's an open meeting later this month."

"Later this month I'll be in Lavaridge." She tipped her head back to watch her wingull's gliding path. "So, you're kind of involved in local stuff, huh?"

"Kind of," Mark said with a shrug, holding back a smirk.

"You going to the protest, then?"

She flashed him an impish look as he faltered mid-step. How had she—? But he shouldn't have been surprised. He'd seen some of Spitfire's crew handing out flyers on neon green paper, and it had to be all over the social networks, too.

Natalie puffed herself up. "I've got more on my mind than just badges and bullshit."

Mark barked a laugh of surprise. He felt a rush of flattery at hearing his own words from her mouth—but also an undercurrent of wariness. She was so earnest.

"Have you ever been to a protest before?"

She deflated slightly. "First time for everything."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

Natalie slowed to a stop, still smiling but now with a hardness to it. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that it's not gonna be like you think. But the group I mentioned—they do trainings. Deescalation strategies, how and when to keep formation, police tactics to watch for, what to do if you get arrested. Things like that. I think you'd really benefit from it."

"Wait, are you really trying to tell me not to go?" Natalie snorted. "I thought that was the point."

"I'm saying," Mark said, fighting to keep the frustration from his voice, "that there are other first steps. This one is gonna be ugly, Natalie."

The instant the words left his mouth, Mark knew that they'd been the wrong ones.

Natalie crossed her arms and cocked her hip. "I'm not scared of ugly."

Mark scrambled for words. There had to be something else he could—

She drew in a sharp breath and said, "You know, it's okay. I'll figure it out. I'll see you around, maybe." Without waiting for him to answer, she whistled for her pokemon and cut down another street.

 
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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: Red

OldschoolJohto

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

The crowd was impossible to miss. Protesters filled the 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 a 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 she felt safer with 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 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 macho police officers with manectrics straddled their bikes. 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 before jumping into the thick of it, but …. 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 laid 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.

Despite 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. 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 a wrought iron sculpture of a larger-than-life aggron with a trainer raised up on its shoulder. She clambered onto one of the aggron's massive 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 the crowd seemed to hang on her every word. 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, but she couldn't help but search for Bubba's face each direction she looked. And, ha, there was no sign of Mark either. Also not a surprise.

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 of DevCo's mistakes, and we can't drink oil!"

The crowd roared its approval.

Spitfire's voice was strong and clear—not wheedling or hysterical, simply laying out the facts as she saw them. "I don't care how much money they throw at our schools," she 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 the pelippers in the guest bathroom. She thought of her brother's face. She thought of Mark telling her to stay home where it was safe, 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 led 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 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.

Although Natalie had passed the same shops and office towers and courthouse each day walking between the hostel and the gym, they looked different from the middle of the street, as if she were seeing them from underwater. On the sidewalks, mothers with strollers and shoppers with bags gawked. Some pulled out phones and tablets to record. Others looked on disapprovingly.

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.

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."

A private chant started in Natalie's heart: No badges, no way! No bullshit, not today! It was still a good phrase.

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 a black letter M for MGMA.

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 crowd, exchange glances and palm their pokeballs. The silence sizzled.

Natalie didn't seek out news about gang activity, not like Dad did, but she knew the rumors all the same. That Magma 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.

In a flash, Natalie wondered if they had also been 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 someone shouted loudly 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 MGMA. The red bloc tensed. But, a few beats behind everyone else, Magma 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 officers' 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, stomping back down heavily.

The backlash was immediate. With a woosh, tens of pokeballs opened all at once, releasing dustox and weezing 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 move, the Magma group to her right was already on its feet amid a surge of flashing red lights. A massive camerupt materialized with an earth-shaking roar, silhouetted through the smog. 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!" With another squawk, the wingull spread her wings and pushed off, beating 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. 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 knocked it to the pavement. Natalie couldn't see what had done it. 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 of 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 had been friend 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'd 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 streak 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.

"So how do you like ugly?"

Natalie struggled to parse the question. Was his bandana hiding a horrible disfigurement? Was he threatening her? She struggled for breath, winded and choking on the thick air in spite of the t-shirt over her mouth. Her hysteria mounted—

Then she recognized those sharp gray eyes, the day-old scrape running through his eyebrow. And she knew his voice. "Mark?"

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 shoved a pressurized bottle into her hand. "Here." 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. "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. Then he said with a smirk in his voice, "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 protesters 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 then ran for the safety of the side street, behind the red bloc.


 
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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

Junior Trainer
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 4: Blue

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 4: 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 the twisted metal 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. The source of the shadow was his crobat, who 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. Strain seeped into 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 stream of 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 that 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: his liepard, Gibs

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!"

Both Gibs and Luna 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. Despite 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."

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 Gibs 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 with shaking hands and whispered a thank you before recalling her.

Luna sat between her and Mark, watching him.

"Ore—kill the cameras."

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 miniature 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. 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 laid a hand on Luna.

The migtyena growled.

His liepard responded with a hiss. Natalie blinked, and the next instant Gibs 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, I'm not gonna fucking hurt you."

"Great," she huffed, still out of breath. "Love that tone."

"I looked out for you, didn't I?" He raised an eyebrow. "Alright, look. Thanks, Gibs. 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, though she was well used to seeing the symbol of the ORCA, the so-called Ocean Rescue and Climate Avengers, 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 should explain a few things. I didn't plan for it to go down like this, but here we are."

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 you were …." 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 any other 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. "Look, cops don't fight fair. 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. What kind of help is that?" 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. "It usually is."

"Then why get involved?" 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, fucking Virbank. 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 is wrong."

Natalie wanted to take a walk 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 his gaze and dropped her head into her hands. He breathed out a long sigh. "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.

ORCA.

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

The man said, "Hey, asshole." One eye 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 ORCA 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 no. What are you doing here?"

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. "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—a grapploct—who rose up and flung open its suckered tentacles to envelop its opponent.

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. This was her brother's mightyena, and he remembered her, too.

"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, another figure wearing the ORCA's blue bandannas watched from behind the cover of a heavily plated armaldo.

To one side of him, Mark's darmanitan thrashed in the grapploct's embrace. 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 hunkered 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 her shoulders. "Get off!" Natalie shoved against his chest, but Justice wouldn't budge, only growling louder.

Then the grapploct crashed into the wall only a few 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 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 sliding 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. The crawdaunt opened its eyes with a groan.

In the distance, police sirens sounded 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—he 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 thrust itself between Mark and the crawdaunt's claw—

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 bandana, and she stumbled back.

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

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 pokemon and 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 ORCA 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 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?" 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 could hardly hear herself think over the rushing of blood in her ears. She felt like she'd been shaken upside-down until everything fell out of her.

"Don't touch me." 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.

 
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Chapter 5: Boots on the Ground

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Chapter 5: Boots on the Ground

The mightyena bite on Mark's arm took twelve stitches to close—a new scar to match the old one on his other arm. He could've died instead, he reminded himself, but the hour under fluorescent lights and the drudgery of hospital paperwork had 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. ORCA ambush. An explanation and an apology.

Her reply was almost immediate. R u hurt?

Not bad.

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 judgment 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'd done afterward 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. Phone, wallet, keys—? 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 Gibs 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. ORCA was still somewhere out there too—how many of them, Mark wondered. He couldn't shake the feeling of being exposed. Gibs 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 Jemisin, 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 ORCA 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 pack 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." In need of 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 the pirates 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 Gibs 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, saying, "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 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 span of seconds made him wince.

Gods, 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 weeks—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 Gibs—

Mark shook his head. "You feel up for 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 of a second phone. This one 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 blazer and a t-shirt. Henna-red hair, collar-length and combed back. A stark face, angular and 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 was crisp, even through the layers of Ore's static.

Mark grimaced. "ORCA 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 ORCA 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 connect with you in Mauville on Wednesday."

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.

Fuck, 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 or should 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 bandanas 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 would lose 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.


 
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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!
 
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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 weatherproofing. 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 plastic, 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 should 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 turned to rap his knuckles against the metagross's hull—clonk, clonk—before he 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."

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, 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 son. 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."

"What about the metagross?"

"They fought and disabled it."

A sour taste rose in Stene's mouth. They'd come in person? He couldn't imagine what they had done to get past the entire security force and a metagross he'd trained himself.

After a moment, the CSO continued, "Security officers identified five thugs leaving the property—looked like ORCA. 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 note-taking. 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.

Steven fiddled with his rings again and resisted the urge to look at his phone.

"Meanwhile, Martha, how do we make this situation look good?"

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 added in 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?"

Steven tipped his face toward the projector screen, but his mind had drifted miles west. 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. His insides clenched tight.

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 the two of them 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'd had to procure not one but four shiny beldum and then train them in perfect tandem—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, sending 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.

In white-knuckled silence, Steven sat through another forty minutes of supplier contracts and the Thursday IT update, 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 a 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 the opening had been created 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."



I based this drawing of Steven on a particular US political figure, not because I actually picture him looking this gross but for thematic reasons. If you can guess who it is, you win a prize! (Though, sadly, the prize is just having that dude on your mind. You're welcome.)
 
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Negrek

Rise Toward Descent
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
 
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Tanuki

Friend of All Chu
Location
Rhyme City
Pronouns
He/him/his
Hey! I really enjoyed this. Just letting you know ahead of time my tone in reviews can come off as a bit scathing, but that's generally about the specific thing I'm mentioning. I do my best to come off as not a dick, but... nobody's perfect?

Either way, this was a lot of fun to read! I'll just say that off the bat so I don't give off the wrong impression.
Natalie and Mark quickly find themselves on opposite sides of a deadly turf war
Fucking terfs, smh

The first chapter is light on pokemon,
Oh God, not humans. More PMD pls

Natalie Armstrong didn't especially want a drink, but she wasn't ready to go back to her hostel
I quoted this because I thought hostel was a spelling error, but then it's a real word, but here it is in my multiquote so

poisonous snake
This reads a bit awkward. You have so many poisonous snakes to choose from, so I don't get being vague here.

patting her pocket to be sure she still had her brother's words
This kind of checking would've been a better introduction to The Emails than what you actually started with. Just mentioning lumps in her pockets and what they are feels disconnected for the pov you're going for since it seems to be limited from her head.

The real world is fucked up. I don't have much patience for stories that don't acknowledge it.
This is a really neat moment to nudge at the reader as the tone/purpose of the fic. It's a neat little way to adjust reader expectations in a tasteful way that doesn't feel like him looking at the camera and saying, "The story is this." Good. Yeah, I like that.

you never knew who might know something helpful. But now… you never knew who else was listening.
Why the sudden second person here?

Mark flashed a smile
You say this a lot. He flashed more than a breasted teenager on spring break. Some more gestures and such would give the scene more flare.

It didn't even have a camera
wow, boomer

This felt like a strange break in tone. I'm not against swearing, but it doesn't really fit here.

She chose not to worry.
I liked the emphasis you put on this by making it its own paragraph. Nice. 10/10

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.
This is a painfully accurate portrayal of political awareness. Equally pissed at soccer scores as politics.

She counted off of all the things she would never tell their father
I don't really know what you're trying to say here. It took me a few reads to think you're trying to say she assumes there's info her brother didn't tell her dad since she doesn't tell her dad stuff.

she was at stretching,
Where is stretching? Can I go?

All right, so, this was pretty good. I liked it more than I expected since my usual reading doesn't have humans at all. This mystery dynamic is really compelling, and you really go all in with it. There's tons of intrigue baked into it that's pretty well crafted. She mentions the emails so many times, but rarely mentions their contents because of course she wouldn't. She's already read them time and time again, she wouldn't really be re-mentioning its contents over and over.

It makes sense that she's thinking about them, which piques readers' interest, and that she wouldn't explicitly say anything of the contents makes equally as much sense while still piquing readers' interest further. This only works to such an extent, though. When she actually goes back to read them again, for example, and you don't reveal anything more from them, it's pushing patience a bit. It starts losing its effect. Bread's a lot more tantalizing when it drops some crumbs.

I really love the interactions between Natalie and Mark. They remind me of the pair from the X-Files whose names I can't remember because I haven't watched it since I was a child. Muller? I think one of them was Muller. You actually have a really strong X-Files kinda vibe in all this and it's very compelling. It's really fun to read, which I think I've said a few too many times at this point, but I guess that's what happens when one review is written in three sittings.

My only prose based complaints I believe I quoted, and really, I don't have any gripes with the story so far
beyond personal taste of there just not being enough focus on pokémon but
. Keep it up!
 
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