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Pokémon Dragon's Dance

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Dragon's Dance

paint toph darker.jpg

How does an orphan from a nameless hamlet in Johto rise to become the first champion of the unified Kanto-Johto region? This is a story of leaving home, finding home, politics, corruption, betrayal, and of course, dragons. This is the story of Lance.

Welcome to The Lance Fic TM! This baby has sat in the back of my head for years. It's my attempt to tell the story of my favorite dragon-master and how his life plays into the rise and fall of Team Rocket and the unification of the Kanto and Johto regions.

Please note, this fic uses the Japanese names for many of the characters. So Wataru is Lance, Ibuki is Clair, etc.


Table of Contents

Part One




Content Warnings: None yet. Later chapters will include mild violence.
 
Last edited:
Ch 1: The Miniryu Dancer

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
The Miniryu Dancer Header 2.jpg


Chapter One - The Miniryu Dancer

Wataru palmed a smooth, flat stone and rolled it from hand to hand. The sky tinted a dark orange as the late afternoon sun dipped behind the hills. A few streaks of light still struck the lake, which glinted like a silver plate in the middle of the valley.

"Riii," Toku trilled softly from where she lay draped around his neck.

Wataru felt the weight of the stone one last time, then lobbed it across the water. It skipped twice before it sank. He watched as the circle danced out.

"I know," he said. "But it doesn't matter. They won't miss me if I don't go."

The evening was warm and muggy. Birds still chattered softly in the trees. He could spend the rest of the night here, watching the moon light the lake. Maybe, if he was lucky, the gyarados would come out to dance.

"Ow!" Wataru's hand leapt to his ear, where Toku had bitten him lightly. He pulled her off his shoulders and held her up so their eyes were level. "You really want to go?"

Before Toku could answer, a shout caught his attention. "Wataru!" The sound was distant, but his name was clearly audible. "Wa-ta-ru."

He and Toku exchanged a look. When the miniryu tilted her head pointedly towards the hills, Wataru bit his lip. "Fine."

Louder, he called out, "I'm over here, Ibuki!"

Ibuki took some time to crest the hill, but at last he saw her silhouetted against the dusky light. "What are you waiting for?" she shouted down. "Can't you see it's nearly sundown?"

Of course he could see it was sundown. But Wataru didn't want to bother explaining why he'd been shunning the celebrations. Ibuki had a way of turning his reasons stupid just by listening to them.

Setting Toku back on his shoulder, Wataru jogged up to meet his cousin. She was already in her festival clothes, Wataru realized as he came closer. She had to hold her newly-dyed cloak up with one hand to avoid it trailing the ground.

"You're not even dressed!" Ibuki exclaimed when she'd gotten a good look at him. "We're going to be so late. Father's going to kill me. Come on."

She grabbed him by the wrist and tugged him forward. It was either run or be dragged, so Wataru followed her into a run, stumbling slightly as he tried to keep pace. It wasn't fair. Ibuki was only a year older, but she was already so much taller.

And tonight, she would dance the hakuryu odori.

~*~
By the time they reached the village, the sky had turned a deep red. The thatched huts were completely deserted. Everyone had already left for the third valley, where meetings and celebrations were held.

Ibuki waited outside as Wataru changed into his festival clothes, drumming her hand impatiently against the outer wall. The light blue headband was a struggle to pull over his bushy hair. Wataru wrestled with it for a minute, frustration welling up in his chest, before he gave in and asked Ibuki for help.

His festival clothes didn't fit right. When he'd first danced the miniryu odori at the age of eight, they'd been too big for him; now the legs were short and the cloth of his tunic stretched tight across his shoulders. Even Wataru's clothes knew he was too old for this—why couldn't Uncle figure it out?

"Finally," Ibuki muttered when the headband sat level across his forehead. They made their way in stony silence up the sloping hills.

Wataru smelled the bonfire smoke before he saw the lights. Ahead of him, Ibuki's pace quickened. As they came down the rocky path, she sprang ahead without looking back to see if he was following.

Wataru approached the pavilion at a slower pace. The scent of roasted meat and berries hit his nose, setting his stomach rumbling. He'd missed dinner, Wataru realized, and now it was too late to eat. Everyone was splitting off into their groups: Ibuki had already taken her place with the other blue-cloaked dancers. Glancing around, Wataru found his fellow miniryu dancers gathering in a disordered circle to the left. They seemed even smaller than usual in their silly-looking blue headbands.

But Uncle was looking impatient as he cut through the crowd, so Wataru slunk over to his group and sat down. Excited chatter bubbled up around him—some of the children were dancing for their very first time tonight. This was Wataru's fourth time dancing in the Ryu Odori, and the novelty had long since worn off. His eyes wandered over to the final set of dancers, greedily taking in the bold red of their capes. The kaiyru dancers. One day, Wataru would stand with them.

The high, mournful call of the long horn cut through the small talk, signalling the start of the ceremony. Uncle stepped into the firelight. He wouldn't be dancing tonight, but he wore red all the same—his privilege as the clan's leader. The shadows from the firelight made caves and caverns of his long, stern face. Wataru found himself straightening as Uncle waited for the crowd to come to complete silence. Only then did he speak.

"Every spring, we hold the Ryu Odori," Uncle began. His voice had the low, lulling cadence of a story-teller. "We dance to celebrate the passage of life. The ryu have taught us this, as they have taught us many things.

"As our celebrations begin tonight, we look to our children. The miniryu's dance is a simple one—playful, sometimes clumsy. We welcome that imperfection in this dance of beginnings, as we celebrate the vibrant energy of youth, the boundless potential of our children."

Wataru scowled, tugging at the blue band, which pressed too tightly against his forehead.

"The middle dance, the hakuryu odori, is the dance of adolescence. Those that dance the hakuryu's dance can no longer be considered children. We admire the elegance and refinement of their movements, while acknowledging their continued striving. After all, the hakuryu has achieved much, but there is much that awaits her yet."

Uncle paused for a moment, his lips curving up faintly, and Wataru wondered if he was thinking about Ibuki. Glancing over, he found her among the other hakuryu dancers. Sweat beaded on her face, even though she wasn't seated too close to the fire.

She's nervous, Wataru realized, amazed. But she was Ibuki! There was no way she wouldn't dance perfectly. Wataru set his chin forward.

"You'll be the best one," he whispered.

A solemn note entered Uncle's voice as he continued, "Last of all, we dance the kairyu odori. The honor of this dance is reserved for adults at the peak of their potential. In the kairyu, power and peace are realized without contradiction. The energy of the miniryu is harnessed with the grace of hard-won wisdom. Not everyone can dance the kairyu's dance."

As Uncle paused, the crowd began to murmur syo-syo, sending strength to the dancers who waited at the edge of the firelight, their red cloaks flashing.

"Well," said Uncle, making a show of turning his face to the sky, "the moon is full, so enough from me. Let's get this underway."

The drums began to pound loudly and the elders shook their rattles, creating a sound like wind passing through dry leaves. When Elder Kyo stood and lifted her hands, the children began to rise. Wataru jumped to his feet and raced to the front of the waywardly forming line, ignoring the dirty looks he received. He was the oldest in the group; he had a right to go first.

Elder Kyo's quiet clap signaled the start of the dance. On the downbeat of the drums, Wataru stepped out into the clearing. For a single moment, it was like he was standing entirely alone, the whole village staring at him in judgement. Then the familiar beats of the dance began to fall and Wataru was jumping into the air, his body twisting automatically to the tune. Leg over leg, clap and turn, touch the sky and fall and spin.

The miniryu odori was a children's dance, but as he moved, Wataru forgot to resent that fact. It was fun to spin and leap in the torchlight, forgetting the eyes beyond it. When he jumped, it was just him and the night sky, and the brief, soaring moment where the jump almost felt like flight.

Wataru was breathing hard as the music cut out and the night filled with cheers from the audience. They weren't applauding for him, not really, but Wataru still held his head high as he filed back to his place. He and the other children plopped down on the grass as the dancers of the second circle filed into place.

Again, a quiet clap signaled the start of the dance, but this time the drummers waited, their hands held high above their instruments. Wataru caught the distant call of a hoothoot as the dancers raised the ends of their cloaks in unison. One by one, they spun outwards, positioned like the overlapping petals of a poppy. As the drumbeat picked up, the pace of the dance grew more rapid. Ibuki and the others spun and ducked, their dark blue cloaks extensions of their arms.

Wataru held his breath when Ibuki shifted to the front for her solo. Had she managed to shake off her earlier nerves? Standing in the shadow of the bonfire, her expression was impossible to read. A lull fell in the music, and Ibuki brought her arms up slowly, the gesture meant to mirror a hakuryu's new potential for flight. Suddenly, the drums crashed down and Ibuki spun to the side, her cloak completing a graceful arc behind her. On the grass, Wataru released his breath as the solo performance picked up speed. All of Ibuki's moves were perfectly timed to the beat as she acted out the determined ambition of the hakuryu.

Once the dance had ended and the second circle dancers joined the audience, Wataru crawled over to Ibuki.

"That was amazing," he whispered. "Your dancing was the best."

Ibuki didn't say anything, but she lifted her chin just a little, and her eyes sparkled. Wataru flopped back on the grass, satisfied that he'd made amends for earlier.

The excitement was tangible as the third circle took their places. Dressed in resplendent oranges and reds that caught the moonlight, the kairyu dancers instantly outshone everyone who had come before. They leaped, cartwheeled, and spun, always seeming on the verge of a collision that never occurred. Wataru imagined dancing with them, extending his arms in their sharp energetic movements. By the end of the dance, he was grinning, his legs still tapping out the fast beat even when the drums cut out. He almost wanted to leap up and perform the miniryu odori all over again.

But the audience was quieting down again as the stage cleared. A lone dancer stepped into the light of the bonfire. Wataru recognized her as Kana, a dragon master of about thirty. She must have done something exceptional this year to receive the honor of the tamer's dance. The only sound as she began her dance was the click of the orange beads braided through her blue-black hair. Even the usual sounds of the nocturnal pokemon seemed to have faded away. Wataru imagined the hoothoot from earlier standing stock still on its perch, yellow eyes alight with anticipation.

When he was younger, this particular dance had always left Wataru uneasy. It looked wrong, somehow. All the movements seemed incomplete and unsatisfying, as if they were missing an essential part.

Of course, Wataru knew now why that was the case. The dance of the dragon-tamer was not complete on its own. Only the presence of a kairyu could turn the dance into what it was truly meant to be. The performance was a call; most years, that call was left unanswered.

As Kana flipped masterfully through the air, Wataru found himself leaning forward. Every movement was seamless. Surely she wouldn't be left to dance alone?

But the wood was nearly burned through now. Wataru watched the fire shrink, fighting back his disappointment. When the last ember flared out, the celebration would end. Kana was running out of time.

Suddenly, a murmur ran through the crowd. Wataru craned his head upwards to see a kairyu passing overhead. As they watched with bated breath, the kairyu swooped down, hovering just meters from the dancer and the dimming firelight. Did Kana realize she'd just gained the only audience that mattered? Lit mostly by moonlight now, the dragon master didn't falter. She ducked and weaved around her invisible partner, every gesture calling out to be completed.

Wataru kept his eyes fixed on the kairyu, whose tail whipped lazily from side to side. There was something in the way the broad muscles of its back tensed, the stilling of its tail—

"It's going to happen!" Wataru blurted out, just as the kairyu let out a tree-rattling roar and entered the flickering circle of fire-light.

And the dance . . . changed. All the halted movements and strange turns transformed into a dance of perfect harmony. This was a wild kairyu, Wataru knew. It had never danced with Kana before tonight. But the two moved together as if they'd spent the last month in rehearsal. The dancer spun fearlessly, trusting the gigantic ryu to turn in time to avoid a collision.

The crowd watched in complete silence. Even the small children, who usually began to cry this late in the ceremony, hushed to take in the dance.

Wataru let out an unconscious sigh when the last flickering ember went dark. He wished the dance could have continued all through the night, into the early morning. But Kana was bowing now, dwarfed by the kairyu, who returned the gesture, proud head bent for a moment in recognition of her skill. Letting loose another, almost triumphant roar, the wild kairyu took off into the night.

"Thank you," Wataru whispered, as the kairyu passed beyond the hills.

He followed Ibuki home in an unusually thoughtful mood. Wataru had seen many talented dancers perform to an empty stage. Their performances hadn't lacked anything that he could notice. So what had made Kana's different? And how could Wataru hope to one day dance in her place if he didn't know?

It was a problem for another day. Wataru ignored the excited chatter from the other boys as he undressed and folded away his festival clothes. As he stretched out on his sleeping mat, all his musings were subsumed by one satisfying thought.

This is the last year I'll wear the miniryu's blue.

~*~​

Wataru woke to someone's foot in his face.

"Sorry," the other boy murmured, as Wataru shoved the offending limb away with a grimace. Bright sunlight cut in through the curtains. Wataru guessed it was already mid-morning. The elders must have given them extra time to sleep off the festival's excitement. Stifling a yawn, he started to sit up. Toku's whine from her place nestled against his stomach made him pause. He removed the miniryu gently from his chest and started on his morning stretches.

When he returned to his sleeping mat, he found it almost entirely monopolized by Toku's long, thin body. She'd wriggled into the place his torso had been, no doubt eager to take in the residual body heat.

"I've got to roll this up, Toku," Wataru said. The hut was almost empty now; most of the other boys had taken off in the direction of their morning lessons. "Come on, don't make me late again . . ."

Toku's wide, dark eyes latched imploringly onto his own. With a short flick of her tail, the miniryu communicated that she was still exceedingly tired.

Wataru sighed, sitting down next to her. The elders always complained that he spoiled Toku, but in Wataru's opinion, she deserved the rest. The hours they'd spent by the lakeside yesterday hadn't been wasted. Toku had finally managed to generate a thin electric wave that didn't fizz out the instant it left her ear fins.

Besides, what mattered more to him? The scowl Elder Kyo would wear when he showed up late, or Toku's contented trill as he said, "All right, five more minutes"?

It wasn't even close.

Sure enough, when the two of them finally arrived at the fourth valley, Elder Kyo was mid-sentence: "After completing these great journeys, Master Kaisho at last returned to the Dragon's Clan."

Wataru sunk cautiously onto his knees at the back of the group, hoping his late entrance would pass without comment. But today, luck wasn't on his side. Elder Kyo's eyes snapped onto him like a spearow spotting a juicy caterpie. "Since you know Master Kaisho's story well enough to skip out on its beginning, perhaps you can tell us how Master Kaisho made his return, a return still memorialized on the walls of Dragon's Den."

Wataru scrambled for an answer. Only, there were so many murals in Dragon's Den. The few times he'd been to the inner sanctum, he hadn't paid them much attention, busy imagining the ceremony when Toku finally became a kairyu.

He didn't even remember who Master Kaisho had been.

"He flew back," Wataru guessed. "On his kairyu. He flew back with two kairyu," he added defiantly. That sounded like a return worthy of a dragon master.

Elder Kyo's mouth hung slightly open. "Correct," she said after a moment. Regaining her balance, she continued, "His kairyu were named La and Ri. Yes, by returning with two kairyu, he showed the whole clan the depth of the expertise he had gained in his travels."

Letting out a soft sigh, Wataru tuned out Elder Kyo as she continued with her lecture. It was another unbearably fine spring day. The blue of the sky matched Toku's back, the sun was full, and he couldn't spot a single cloud. It was a day meant for battling, not for listening to droning history lessons.

"—to battle." Wataru's ears perked up at the word. By the time he got to his feet, the other children had already split off into groups of two. Wataru was left standing alone at the center of the clearing.

"I made the battling assignments before you arrived, Wataru," Elder Kyo called out. "You'll just have to join a group and take turns. Which group would like Wataru to join them, please?"

Silence fell, and a tight feeling took over Wataru's chest. No one was meeting his eyes.

Elder Kyo cleared her throat. "I said, which group will take Wataru and make a group of three?"

"Not three . . ." The comment was whispered too softly for Elder Kyo to catch, but Wataru heard it loud and clear. "Two and a hafu doesn't make three."

Wataru's face flushed horribly. He managed to choke out, "Looks like they're all too scared to face me."

Then, before Elder Kyo could chide him for his rudeness, Wataru spun on his feet and took off up the hill. He knew from experience that Elder Kyo wouldn't bother with chasing him. Uncle would chide him and he'd get extra chores for the week, but all that seemed like a small price to pay to get away from the other children. He came to a stop, panting, only when he had reached the edge of the village.

"So what if I'm hafu?" Wataru demanded of the clouds. "It's not like I'm any less than them. If I were, how come I always beat them? They're just mad, 'cause I always beat them." His voice didn't match the surety of his words. It cracked as he spoke, causing Toku to let out a concerned trill. "They're just mad there's not a single miniryu as strong as you, Toku," he said, hugging her close. He felt a raspy tongue lick his cheek in answer.

Wiping his face in case any embarrassing moisture had snuck out of his eyes, Wataru made his way over to the river, where the festival clothes were being laundered.

"Toku," he whispered, ducking behind a tree. "Get Ibuki, will you?"

Toku let out an affirmative chirp and snaked away through the grass. Wataru occupied himself with peeling off some old bark from the trunk as he waited, trying to think about anything but the morning lesson.

"Wataru?" Ibuki's whisper came out more like a shout. He grabbed her arm and dragged her behind the tree, out of sight.

"Let's battle," he said.

Ibuki sighed. Her black-blue hair was tied back from her face and a bar of soap was clutched in her left hand. "Wataru, I'm on laundry-duty right now. I have chores to complete today and entertaining you isn't one of them. Besides—" Her eyes narrowed "—aren't you supposed to be in class?"

Wataru hated it when Ibuki got like this, like she thought she was his mom just because she was a single year older. "None of your business," he shot back. "But listen, Toku mastered her thunder wave. Fight me, and we'll show you."

"Don't be ridiculous," Ibuki snapped. "We're just starting that move in my class and I only ever showed you the first steps. There's no way you can do it, so quit lying."

"I'm not lying!" Wataru heard his voice rise and tried to get a handle on himself. "I'm not lying," he said in a quieter tone. "I'm not. Let's go have a battle by the lake and I'll show you."

The offer came out more desperate than he'd have liked. Ibuki's eyes softened for a moment as she looked at him. "Did something happen in class?" she said finally.

Wataru looked away. If he told Ibuki, she'd probably storm back there and tell Elder Kyo. Then Elder Kyo would halt the battling practice and make them sit for an hour while she explained that discrimination based on blood was wrong. It was ritual and practice that made one a member of the Dragon's Clan, not birth alone. And Wataru would have to sit there, his face flushing the same color as his hair, as thirty accusing glares burned into his back.

And then they would know that the words had gotten to him.

"Nothing happened," Wataru said firmly. Ibuki held his gaze for a moment, her brow furrowed, but at last she shrugged.

"Okay, then. I'm still not going to battle with you. I'm not a kid anymore—I danced the hakuryu's dance and I've got duties today. I can't go goofing off with you."

She took off without a backwards glance, towards the washers arrayed along the river.

"Ryu-a?" asked Toku. What now?

It was a good question. Wataru picked out a path towards the outer-valley ridge. No one went that way and from up there he could see everything else.

"Ibuki thinks she's so mature now that she's danced the hakuryu odori," he muttered as he walked. "But she's just being stupid. Imagine, Toku! Choosing laundry over battling."

The miniryu's trill echoed his disbelief.

"And she's not my mom," he said, settling on the ground, where he began to pull up and shred blades of grass. "I don't have a mom. And Uncle's not my dad, either," he continued, picking up steam. "So where do any of them get off telling me what I should do? I—"

But his rant was cut off by Toku's sudden trill. The miniryu had slithered up a rock and was craning her neck out over the ridge. Joining her, Wataru saw a ponyta-pulled wagon making its way along the dirt road that fed into the first valley.

A trader, probably. They stopped by every month or so and Wataru knew some of the rarer dyes and finer cloth came from their wares. But Wataru had never seen a trade take place up close before.

His eyes met Toku's and he knew the miniryu shared his idea. "All right, let's investigate!"

~*~​

When they raced into the village, flushed from the quick descent, the trader was already closeted away with Uncle. Disappointed but undaunted, Wataru decided to explore the wagon instead. He wandered closer, stopping to give the ponyta a quick pat along its neck.

As Wataru rounded the wagon, he ran right into another boy. The boy had a nose and mouth and eyes, and seemed about Wataru's age, but other than that, he looked odd. His hair was fully black, not the black-blue of everyone in the clan except Wataru. His cheeks were big and puffy, and his clothes were startlingly bright, a yellow shirt paired with tightly cut blue pants like it was still festival day. If those indicators weren't enough, the weird sheen of his vest marked him a complete gaijin.

"Hey," the boy said. His eyes fell on Wataru's shoulder. "Wow, is that a dratini?"

The accent was a little hard to parse, but Wataru figured he was asking about Toku. "She's the strongest miniryu in the whole village," he said. Toku preened at the words.

"Miniryu? Oh, that's the name you have here for dratini. I'm a trainer too." The boy angled his head towards the wagon and called, "Hey, Koge, come over here!"

A large bug with spotted red wings buzzed out from the back of the wagon. It chittered a light greeting to Toku, who responded in kind.

Wataru stared at the two foreigners, struck suddenly by an idea. "Do you want to have a battle?" he asked.

The other boy's face brightened. "Sure! I never get to battle anyone when we're on the road. Koge and I are full power, ready to go!" To emphasize the point, he pumped his fist through the air.

Wataru blinked, a bit surprised at how readily the other boy had agreed. He glanced around cautiously. The village was quiet, with everyone out at lessons or chores. But there was no knowing when someone might wander by and witness their unsupervised battle.

"Let's go somewhere where we won't be disturbed, okay?" he said, and took off without checking to see if the other boy was following. The confirmation came soon enough, the buzz of the bug pokemon's wings mingled with heavy breathing behind him.

Wataru waited impatiently by the small den he and Ibuki had used for their secret battles, back before she got all rule-abiding. Really, he'd have thought a world traveler like the gaijin boy would be in better shape.

"I'm Airi, by the way," the boy said with a short bob of his head when he finally reached the rocks.

"I'm Wataru," Wataru said, returning a fuller bow. "Right, let's get started." He clasped his eyes shut and chanted, "Once, the ryu fought with fire and ash. Now we are free, that time is past. I fight for my skill, I won't aim to kill. Ryu, bless this battle before you."

He opened his eyes to find Airi watching him with his mouth agape.

"Blessing's all done," Wataru said. "Ready to go?"

"Y-yeah. Koge, start off with a tackle!"

Wataru frowned as the bug started towards them. It was so slow.

"Leer at it, Toku." The miniryu's eyes flashed red. The bug fluttered to a nervous halt. "Great. Now let's see if you can do a thunder wave." Toku began to gather static from the ground. The sparks danced and flitted around her body. "I think you've got it. Try the attack now!"

As Toku closed her eyes in concentration, the bug shook off its daze. It started forward just as a thin line of sparks shot from the miniryu's head. With an alarmed cry, the bug sank to the ground, shivering from the static charge.

Wataru eyed their downed opponent in disappointment. Ibuki would have put up much more of a fight. Still, he was glad they'd had the chance to try out Toku's newest move for real.

"Do you want to keep going?" he asked the other boy.

Airi shook his head. "Nah, we're beat." He lifted the bug pokemon carefully in his arms, flinching as a small spark met his finger. "You two are pretty strong."

Wataru gave what he hoped was a modest shrug, but inside he was beaming. It was nice to hear someone admit it, even if that someone was gaijin and really weak.

"There's a cheri berry bush nearby," Wataru said. He smiled as Toku crawled up into his arms. "You did so good! By the time Ibuki fights us, she's not going to know what hit her."

"A cheri bush?" Airi repeated, his face a picture of confusion. "I think Dad's got a paralyze heal back in the wagon."

"Cheri berries are a paralyze heal," Wataru said, a little annoyed. "Just follow me."

The cheri bush wasn't empty when they reached it. A hakuryu was curled in the branches, munching away at the small red berries.

Wataru bowed deeply. "Honored hakuryu, may I take a berry to heal our friend?"

The ryu's soft trill was clearly in the affirmative. Wataru plucked the nearest berry and held it out to the bug pokemon. "Eat this. You'll feel better."

The pokemon gulped the berry down in a single swallow. Its trainer was still staring at the berry bush in amazement. "T-that's a dragonair, right? Do they really just run wild around here?"

Oh, so he'd been staring at the hakuryu in amazement. "Yes?" said Wataru with a shrug. "But if you think a hakuryu's impressive, you should see a kairyu." Catching the hakuryu's narrowed eyes, Wataru mumbled, "No disrespect meant, of course."

"A kairyu?" Airi's eyes suddenly went wide. "Wait, you don't mean a dragonite, do you? Big, orange, flying dragon? Only the rarest and most powerful pokemon in all of Johto?"

"I don't know about rare," Wataru said, giving his new acquaintance a funny look. "Most powerful, no question." He fell silent for a moment, thinking. "It's a nice day. I bet we'd find a few sunning in Dragon's Den if we looked."

"A few dragonite?" Airi's eyes were still comically wide. "You can't really mean dragonite . . ."

"You want to see them?" Wataru asked. He figured he owed the gaijin boy something for beating him so soundly. And it was kind of fun to imagine what his face would look like when he saw a kairyu, if this was how he reacted to a hakuryu.

Airi sounded dazed as he said, "See them? Do I ever!"

~*~​

It was only when they neared Dragon's Den and Wataru caught sight of one of the villagers standing guard at the entrance that he felt a pang of doubt. He wasn't really supposed to enter Dragon's Den without permission. And to bring a gaijin along . . .

"Is it much farther?" Airi asked from behind him. The other boy's eyes shone with excitement.

Wataru brushed aside his hesitation. It was a stupid rule, anyway. And he did know another way in, though it involved some climbing.

"Not too far," Wataru said. He eyed the sweat already beading on the boy's forehead. "Uh, just try and keep up."

The descent down the side of the cavern proved worse than Wataru's lowest expectations. He had to coax the other boy through every bad handhold and short drop. Wataru kept glancing up nervously, worried someone would take notice, but their luck held.

Every painful moment from the climb was worth it, though, when they finally dropped to the ground in the lush field that stretched out behind the pools of the den. Sure enough, three kairyu were taking in the sunshine, their scaled chests rising and falling slowly.

Wataru turned to his companion, satisfied by the gobsmacked look on his face.

"They won't attack us, will they?" the other boy whispered, once he'd remembered to shut his mouth.

Wataru shook his head. "Just stay quiet. The kairyu won't bother us if we don't bother them."

The sunlight warmed their backs as they sat in silence, watching the kairyu doze. A light breeze stirred the blossoming koiking grass. Wataru inhaled happily, tipping back his head. Toku was stretched out in his lap, as content in the sunlight as her twice-evolved form.

It was a perfect moment. So of course, someone had to ruin it.

"There they are!" Wataru had barely registered the shout when a firm hand descended on his back. The noise caused the kairyu to stir. The nearest one blinked open an enormous eye and took in the proceedings lazily.

It was Uncle's hand that was gripping so tightly against Wataru's shoulder. A few other men and women from the village were with him. One grabbed Airi and jerked him roughly to his feet.

"Uncle—" Wataru began, but was cut off by a sharp squeeze.

"Save it, Wataru." His uncle turned to the others. "Let's get out of here. We're disturbing the kairyu." He bowed deeply, though his grip on Wataru didn't lessen. "Please excuse the interruption, Great Ones."

Then they were heading back through the cavern —being dragged, really. Airi's face was pale and Wataru guessed the hand tugging him along wasn't much kinder than Uncle's. The boy tripped over a jutting rock and nearly tumbled headfirst into the shallow water.

"Don't make him go so fast, he doesn't know the way," Wataru felt compelled to shout, catching the miserable look on the gaijin boy's face as he got to his feet.

"Then how did he get in?" Uncle asked icily. He didn't seem to be looking for an answer, so Wataru kept his mouth shut.

"Take the boy back to his father," Uncle said as they neared the exit. The last Wataru saw of Airi was his pale face craning back, before he was dragged out of sight.

Uncle finally removed his hand from Wataru's shoulder. At once, Wataru reached up to massage the sore spot where Uncle had been gripping him. He recognized that now was the time to speak, but he couldn't think of anything to say, so he preserved a mulish silence.

"Wataru," Uncle said after a long moment, "do you have any idea how much trouble you're in?"

He didn't sound mad anymore. That was the scary part. That was what made Wataru finally look up. Uncle's face was crinkled into one giant frown, his bushy black eyebrows drawn close together.

"All I did was show him the kairyu," Wataru said. He knew at once it had been the wrong thing to say.

Uncle passed his palm over his face. "All you did. That's a pretty big 'all you did', Wataru. Do you know why we have that rule? Do you know why it's so important?"

When Wataru didn't answer, Uncle said, "Think about it. And you'll have a lot of time to think, because you're grounded, until we figure out what your punishment should be. Kana will keep an eye on you for now. I need to speak with that trader."

Uncle took off without another word, leaving Wataru alone with the dragon master. She didn't say anything either, just widened her stance to something more comfortable and fixed her gaze on the mural past Wataru's head. He'd admired her, last night, dreamed of dancing in her place. Now she was watching him like he was some kind of baby. Thoroughly humiliated, Wataru sank his head onto his knees and tried to think.

Outsiders weren't supposed to see the kairyu. Only those dragon-blessed may witness the ryu at rest. Wataru had grown up hearing those words, but he'd never given them much thought. It wasn't as if many outsiders came by in the first place. There were a few traders, but that was about it. Why shouldn't a gaijin get to see the kairyu, as long as they were respectful and didn't do anything stupid, like flicking acorns at them? He didn't know the answer, but he did know the look on Uncle's face.

Wataru wriggled around for several minutes, trying to find a comfortable position on the ground, but the cold rock bit into him however he sat. Shivering in the cool wind that gusted through the cave, he hugged Toku close and settled in to wait.

~*~​

By evening, Uncle still hadn't returned and Wataru was chilled all through. Kana hadn't moved more than to shift her posture occasionally. He desperately wanted to ask her what was happening, but that felt somehow like admitting defeat. Toku had already burrowed deep inside his tunic to escape the chill. Wataru felt anger worm its way through his chest as Toku trembled. Toku hadn't done anything wrong —why was she being punished too?

He'd just made up his mind to ask Kana to let Toku go home, when footsteps began to clatter through the den. Wataru jumped to his feet, stumbling slightly on his numb limbs. He tried to straighten his back as Uncle came into sight, flanked by a battalion of distinguished elders and masters. Wataru didn't think he'd seen them all in one place before, except at celebrations and council meetings.

Soft mats were set down for the elders. Along with Uncle, the masters remained standing. Wataru realized that they'd fanned out in a semi-circle, with him at the center. The arrangement made him uneasy. He swallowed, wishing that someone would say something.

But Uncle's words, when he finally spoke, offered no relief. "We are gathered here to discuss the punishment of Wataru, son of Riku." Wataru narrowed his eyes when his mother's name didn't follow. "A recommendation has been presented to me by the council. I respect their wisdom, but wish to question Wataru myself. Is that acceptable?"

"It is," said Elder Io, the oldest person in the clan. Wataru flinched as her milky eyes settled on him. "The boy is your nephew, but we trust your judgement. We trust you will rule in the best interest of the community."

"Wataru," Uncle said. "I asked you a question when I left. Can you answer it for me?" When Wataru didn't immediately speak, Uncle's voice hardened. "What question did I ask you?"

"You asked why we have the rule about gaijin not seeing the kairyu," Wataru said. He'd meant to speak firmly, but his voice came out small, almost a whisper.

Uncle nodded. "Correct. Well? You've had at least three hours to think about it, by my count. What's the answer?"

But Wataru's mind was as blank as it had been that morning during his lesson. Only this time, he doubted he'd guess lucky. "Because —because —" They were staring at him, that same stare he always got. The one that said he didn't belong. "I don't know!" Wataru finally shouted. "Why shouldn't they see kairyu? Airi didn't bother them. He didn't throw stones . . ."

Wataru's voice trailed off as the elders traded significant glances.

"What have you been teaching this boy, Kyo?" Elder Io demanded.

Looking flustered, Elder Kyo adjusted her shawl. "Hard to teach this boy anything, when he's always running from class."

"Is it true you skipped class this morning, Wataru?" Uncle interjected calmly.

He must already know the answer, Wataru thought, so why's he asking?

"Yes," he said, "But—"

"Maybe if you'd stayed through your whole lesson, you would have learned about the Battle of Five Fires," Uncle said, cutting Wataru off. "Well?"

"That was when—" Wataru knew the name, of course, knew the mural, even. "People attacked the valley. The masters and their kairyu fought them off."

"And why did they attack, Wataru? What did they want from us?"

"They wanted—" What had they wanted? What would make people do a thing like that? It was called the Battle of Five Fires because the invaders had set every valley aflame. "I don't know what they wanted."

"Ignorant boy!" Elder Io said sharply. "Do you have no wits at all—"

But she subsided at Uncle's quick glance. "Wataru," he said, "do you know what happened after that? What resolution the council passed, all those years ago?"

"No," Wataru said dully. "I don't know." He was cold and he was tired and the stares were increasingly hard to take. From inside his tunic, Toku let out a short whine. "Sorry," Wataru added, for good measure.

"I don't see how you can be sorry," Elder Io muttered, "if you don't know what you're sorry for."

"Elder Kyo, can you please fill in the gaps in my nephew's memory?"

The old woman gave a short nod. Pulling her shawl a little tighter around her, she said, "Long ago, it was known far and wide throughout Johto that no pokemon could best a dragon, and that these dragons dwelled in our valley. At the time, our clan lived separately from the mass of warlords who fought over Johto's land like two spearow at work on the same fruit. The clan bothered no one and asked for nothing. But these warlords were greedy for the advantages offered by the kairyu in battle. One bold tyrant gathered his troops and advanced war against our borders. His purpose was to capture the kairyu for his own use.

"We were victorious, in the end. But the battle was a costly one. The council realized that our numbers were dwindling, as the numbers of our enemies grew. We had no wish to violate the philosophy of the ryu by seeking out needless conflict. So the council resolved to completely close our borders. We retreated deep into the valleys and hid ourselves whenever outsiders came, until they assumed we'd abandoned this place. In this way the knowledge of the ryu's home faded from the world. Our current peace is the hard labor of many centuries."

"—And we cannot have it endangered by a foolish hafu boy!" Elder Io cut in. "These gaijin have big mouths, especially these traders. Tell one and you might as well have told the whole world."

The cold feeling wasn't just in Wataru's arms and legs now. It had sunk deep into his chest. "They'd come for the kairyu?" he whispered. "I don't, I didn't know—"

"Clearly you didn't know," Uncle said wearily. "And plainly, you didn't think. Worst of all, it seems you didn't care."

"I care!" Wataru shouted, stung at the accusation. "I'd die to protect the kairyu, you know I would!"

A look crossed Uncle's face that Wataru couldn't parse. It was gone a moment later, his features flattening to the same blankness he'd held since the beginning of what was feeling more and more to Wataru like a trial.

"No one's asking that of you," he said levelly. "However—" He glanced at the assembled members of the council. "It has been impressed upon me that your reckless behavior is part of a long and disturbing trend. We would like to think that the gravity of your actions today will mark the end of this behavior. But some believe your actions merit more than a reprimand, however strong. I was not initially inclined to agree. But your willfulness, your disregard for the precarity of our situation, I find very disturbing. Perhaps Elder Io's remedy is the correct one."

The old woman inclined her head. "Well-reasoned."

"The remedy proposed is exile," Uncle said. He turned abruptly to the dragon master who had stood silent throughout the proceedings so far. "What do you think of that, Kana?"

Exile? The word sent an icy tremor down Wataru's back. Slowly, his eyes rose to meet the appraising gaze of the dragon master. Her face betrayed none of her thoughts.

Wataru wished, suddenly, that he'd spoken during the three hours they'd waited together. She danced with dragons—maybe she would have understood the fire that took him over sometimes, the drive to prove that he was better than the others, to defeat them so decisively they'd never taunt him again.

But it was too late now. He'd sat there and he hadn't said a word.

"He's a stubborn boy, Chief," Kana said slowly. She seemed to be choosing each word with care. "A stubborn ryu only learns by ice."

"Thank you for your wisdom, Kana," Uncle said. He stared down at Wataru for a long moment. "Is it the will of this council that Wataru, son of Riku, be sent into exile?"

The answering murmur was low and chaotic. But every voice Wataru could make out said yes.

"Then I accede to the council's will," Uncle said heavily. "This session is dismissed."

Wataru sat numbly on the ground as the masters helped the elders to their feet, and the whole party made their way out of Dragon's Den. He squeezed his eyes shut as Uncle dropped to the ground next to him.

"Look at me, Wataru. Look at me."

But Wataru didn't want to look. If he looked he would cry and at the moment, all he had left was the fact that he hadn't yet cried.

"Are the ryu going to be okay?" he finally managed to whisper. "Is the valley going to be set on fire again?"

Uncle sighed. "I don't think so, Wataru. I've had a long talk with the boy's father. He's a good man and understands our need for secrecy. If his son talks, his words will be dismissed as a child's nonsense imaginings."

Wataru cracked open his eyes, but kept them fixed on the hard black rock of the cavern. "Is it because of my mom you're sending me away?"

This time, Uncle's sigh was pained. "I know sometimes you have been made to feel unwelcome here because of what your mother was. But this is a consequence of your actions, not your blood. Do you understand, Wataru? This is a consequence. It's not—I know it may seem to you like the end of the world. But perhaps you'll take to life outside these valleys. My brother—" Uncle's voice suddenly cracked. "My brother seemed to."

Wataru's third question came to him as the miniryu wriggled restlessly under his tunic. "Toku. She can come with me, right?"

When Uncle didn't answer, the icy pit in Wataru's stomach tightened.

"I've explained the need for secrecy, haven't I, Wataru?"

"Yes, but . . ." Toku had been with Wataru since he was five. She'd chosen him. "Toku's a ryu. You can't make her stay behind if she doesn't want to."

Wataru's certainty fell away when Uncle's expression didn't budge. He'd been wrong about so much today already. Please don't let me be wrong about this, too.

Toku poked her head out of his tunic. She stared up at Uncle, her eyes glinting with the red light of a leer attack, like he was an enemy they were facing in battle.

"Toku's only a miniryu," Uncle said at last. "I'm sorry, little one," he added, looking down at Toku. "You can't go with him. We can't allow it."

Toku let out a hiss, which was more than Wataru could manage at the moment. He gaped up at Uncle, trying and failing to put into words the impossibility of parting from Toku. Ryu and their tamers were supposed to be bonded for life. That was the rule.

"But—" Wataru tried again.

Uncle cut him off. "I'm sorry. I didn't want it to come to this."

You could have stopped it, though, and you didn't. You didn't speak up for me. No one did.

Wataru squeezed his eyes shut to prevent the wetness there escaping. Warm, strong arms hoisted him up. "Let's get you home, nephew," Uncle murmured. "You need to rest. Tomorrow will be a big day."

Home? Wataru blinked open his eyes as they left the cave. Wetness blurred the sky above into a smear of yellow stars. But it's not. It's not my home anymore.
 
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OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
Mixed-race!Lance is interesting! I wasn't sure if you'd go the route of him being a natural redhead or if that would come later with the cape and Stage Persona. It'll be really interesting to see how his self-image in relation to that shifts when he gets to the outside world.

Speaking of... Wow, I know our boy was part of the Very Good Decisions Only club, but I didn't think he'd get himself kicked out of his hometown by the end of the first chapter! LOL guess he won't be dancing the Miniryu Odori next year FOR SURE. He's gonna take some hits throughout this tale, clearly. But it's lovely to see how respectful he is of the dragons and, to a degree, the trader's kid, in spite of still being a headstrong Dumb Little Kid (TM). I bet those cultural differences will be even more jarring when he hits the rest of Johto. Sounds like the rest of Johto is much more modern than Blackthorn--sounds like that kid is maybe wearing jeans? Can't wait to see him take on The Big City, lol.

The dragon backstory made a lot of sense to me--bridges the gap between how difficult it is to get your hands on a dragon in Tohjo ... and how easy, apparently, it is for people in Blackthorn to get them. Check and check. I guess this also explain why Ibuki-san is the gym leader and not Lance--she didn't get kicked out!

The dancing segments at the beginning flow really, really nicely now. Lots of easy-to-imagine movement and ambience. It's a great way to start to get a sense of Blackthorn culture, too. Literally had goosebumps when the kairyu entered, which is wild because I'd already read that part and I knew it was going to happen. It's so good.

I very much enjoyed dipping my toes into Lance's origin story, and I'm excited for the next installment--that 8k went by fast! The pacing works really well, all those relatively short scenes.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partner
weavile
Looks like I got assigned to you a second time for Catnip Circle, so I’m here to check out another one of your stories! The premise sounds potentially interesting and I’m always in the mood to read fics about dragons, so let’s get right into it ~

Wataru palmed a smooth, flat stone and rolled it from hand to hand.
… Huh, I wasn’t expecting Lance’s Japanese name to be used here. I admit it feels a little random and I actually had to look up his Japanese name, since during most of the first scene I was thinking this was a different character entirely.

That said… maybe he gets his English name later on in the story when he learns more about the outside world? Just a bit of speculation, but that would justify him being called by his Japanese name in an English fic. I’ll wait and see what happens.

When the miniryu tilted her head pointedly towards the hills
I’m guessing this is Dratini because of the cover art? That said, as someone who uses foreign words in his own writing (including Pokémon names), something I’d recommend is to put author notes at the end of the chapter with a translation of every foreign word used in the chapter. Since as a reader it’s not very fun if you either don’t know what’s being said or if you have to stop reading the chapter in order to look up the translation on Google.

"He flew back," Wataru guessed. "On his kairyu. He flew back with two kairyu," he added defiantly. That sounded like a return worthy of a dragon master.

Elder Kyo's mouth hung slightly open. "Correct," she said after a moment.
What was that again about luck not being on your side today, Lance? :p

The boy had a nose and mouth and eyes
Well I sure hope he does lol

Jokes aside, I don’t think it was needed to describe all of this. It’s obvious he’d have those three things and I think you can still describe how odd Airi looks to Lance without it.

Weeb mode: [ON] OFF

Wataru eyed their downed opponent in disappointment
That should be “his”, unless Lance secretly knows Double Team.

The ryu's soft trill was clearly in the affirmative
I think this is an instance where I think it would have been better to just keep everything in English. This paragraph isn’t spoken or written from anyone’s perspective in particular, so there isn’t really any reason to not use “dragon” here. Lance and the villagers even use the term “dragon” multiple times throughout the chapter, so it feels a bit inconsistent as well.

"Please excuse the interruption, Great Ones."
So… do the villagers worship the Dragonite? Since that definitely goes further than anything we’ve seen in canon.

"Long ago, it was known far and wide throughout Johto that no pokemon could best a dragon, and that these dragons dwelled in our valley. At the time, our clan lived separately from the mass of warlords who fought over Johto's land like two spearow at work on the same fruit. The clan bothered no one and asked for nothing. But these warlords were greedy for the advantages offered by the kairyu in battle. One bold tyrant gathered his troops and advanced war against our borders. His purpose was to capture the kairyu for his own use.
Eh, not sure if this really justifies living this isolated and they’re attitude towards outsiders. Then again, some people in real life probably do think like this, so maybe it doesn’t really need to feel justified.

Exile? The word sent an icy tremor down Wataru's back.
Wait, but wasn’t Lance considering running away from the village at the start of the story? How come he’s so shocked by this?


Alright and looks like that’s the end of the first chapter. I’ll be honest… I don’t think this story quite resonated with me. One of the reasons I feel this way is because were a few moments where it was hard for me to understand what was going. This was due to a lot of Japanese names and terms being used in rapid succession. One example of this is the dance scene, which kinda went by in a blur, leaving me with not a lot of thoughts about what was going on.

The other reason is that aside from Lance and Airi, none of the characters really stood out to me. The villagers all kinda act the same and their attitude towards Lance and outsiders doesn’t really make them very likeable either. I still think the fic has a fun premise, but these two things just made it hard for me get invested into the story.

Sorry if this review wasn’t as fun to read as the one for The Days of Miracle and Wonder, but I hope some of the feedback was at least still useful to you.
 
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Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
I admit it feels a little random and I actually had to look up his Japanese name
Johto and Kanto in this story are based on Japan in a lot of ways, and certainly linguistically, so the Japanese names are going to continue. They're a pretty fundamental aspect of the setting.

That said… maybe he gets his English name later on in the story when he learns more about the outside world?
He'll become Lance at some point!

That said, as someone who uses foreign words in his own writing (including Pokémon names), something I’d recommend is to put author notes at the end of the chapter with a translation of every foreign word used in the chapter.
Hm, I tend to shy away from glossaries because it feels like I'm telling my readers they can't pick up the meanings from context. It seems like you understood that miniryu are dratini, kairyu are dragonite, and ryu are dragons by the end. But I can certainly put a clear statement at the beginning about Japanese names being used, so people know what to expect!

That should be “his”, unless Lance secretly knows Double Team.
"Their" opponent because the opponent was his and Toku's, not just his!

This paragraph isn’t spoken or written from anyone’s perspective in particular, so there isn’t really any reason to not use “dragon” here. Lance and the villagers even use the term “dragon” multiple times throughout the chapter, so it feels a bit inconsistent as well.
Well, the paragraph is from Wataru's perspective--it's not the closest 3rd POV, but the narrative does use terms as Wataru would use them. Ryu and dragon are kind of synonyms, but not exactly. You'll notice dragon is not really used to describe the actual pokemon, only the people and institutions that interact with them.

So… do the villagers worship the Dragonite?
I wouldn't say worship, but they hold a lot of respect for the kairyu.

Wait, but wasn’t Lance considering running away from the village at the start of the story?
I'm really curious what lines specifically made you think this? It's not the case at all, and I definitely don't want readers getting that impression.

One example of this is the dance scene, which kinda went by in a blur, leaving me with not a lot of thoughts about what was going on.
Could you say more on this? By blur do you mean you thought the scene went too fast, or you just didn't understand what was happening in it?

Sorry if this review wasn’t as fun to read as the one for The Days of Miracle and Wonder, but I hope some of the feedback was at least still useful to you
No worries! Not every story is everyone's cup of tea, though I hope you'll tune in next chapter--I think that one will make clearer how Wataru's hometown functions in relation with the rest of the world.
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partner
weavile
I'm really curious what lines specifically made you think this? It's not the case at all, and I definitely don't want readers getting that impression.
It's because Lance said "They won't miss me anyway", was talking about wanting to go, and was considering running away from Ibuki. He also wasn't dressed in festival clothes, which I thought was because he was considering leaving.

Could you say more on this? By blur do you mean you thought the scene went too fast, or you just didn't understand what was happening in it?
It's the latter.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
It's because Lance said "They won't miss me anyway", was talking about wanting to go, and was considering running away from Ibuki. He also wasn't dressed in festival clothes, which I thought was because he was considering leaving.
Ahh, gotcha! I've modified that section a bit to hopefully make clearer that Lance is just contemplating skipping the festival, not skipping out of the Five Valleys altogether!

["I know," he said. "But it doesn't matter. They won't miss me if I don't go."

The evening was warm and muggy. Pidgey still chattered softly in the trees. He could spend the rest of the night here, watching the moon light the lake. Maybe, if he was lucky, the gyarados would come out to dance.

"Ow!" Wataru's hand leapt to his head. Toku had bitten him—a gentle bite to the fleshy part of his ear. He pulled her off his shoulders and held her up so their eyes were level. "You really want to go?"]

Not sure what I can do to clear up the dance scene without more to go on.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify why you thought Lance was planning on running away. The thought had never crossed my mind that the opening could be interpreted like that!
 
Ch 2: The Exile

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Chapter Two - The Exile

When Wataru opened his eyes, the sleeping room was still and empty. All the mats had already been rolled and propped against the walls. He'd slept through the morning rush, and no one had bothered to wake him.

Numb legs. A circle of accusatory stares. Uncle's face, stern and impenetrable.

Wataru shot up, sending Toku tumbling to the floor.

"Did that happen?" he whispered. Sunlight poured in through the window, casting the room a warm yellow. The call and response of pidgey and sentret filtered in; otherwise, Wataru only heard the silence of the village mid-morning, when everyone had left for lessons or labor.

Toku let out a subdued trill. The answer was clear in her eyes, if it hadn't been clear already from the deserted sleeping room. Wataru fell slowly back onto his pillow.

Exile. The word wasn't any less bewildering in the morning's light.

Wataru had never once ventured outside the five valleys that comprised the Ryu's Gift. Everything he knew about the outside world came from Elder Kyo's stories. But those stories were of the past, when the land had been locked in a constant state of war. Her stories had never mentioned what it was like now, and it had never once occurred to Wataru to ask.

Airi was from the outside, though. The memory of the boy's fat cheeks and puffing breath didn't fit with Wataru's image of hardened men and women picking their way through war-torn fields. The outside world couldn't be that bad, if Airi had thrived in it.

Reaching that conclusion didn't make Wataru feel any better, though. Whatever the outside world was like, it wasn't the Ryu's Gift. And Toku wouldn't be there with him. The miniryu had coiled herself around his arm, tighter than usual, almost painful.

"Toku—" Wataru began, but he didn't know what to say. If life outside the Ryu's Gift was hard to picture, life without Toku was impossible to imagine. A ryu and her tamer were meant to be bonded for life.

Instead of doing his morning stretches, Wataru curled back up on his sleeping mat, Toku's head settling under his chin. If he kept his eyes shut, he could pretend it was just another morning. He was blowing off class to let Toku sleep. Soon someone would come yell at him, but for now—

"How are you still in bed?"

Wataru jolted upright. Ibuki was standing in the doorway, her arms crossed. A large bag of laundry was slung over her shoulder.

"Do something useful, will you?" she hissed, tossing the bag at him. It landed at his side with a heavy thump. Too astonished to answer, Wataru got to his feet and followed Ibuki down to the river, dragging the overladen bag.

"Ibuki—" he began. Had she not heard? Wataru's stomach clenched at the thought that he'd have to tell her.

"Shut up," Ibuki said. Her face was set stonily, and her arms swung violently as they walked.

They'd reached the river now. Wataru set down the bag of laundry. When Ibuki handed him the soap, he saw that her nails had gouged deep impressions into it. Wataru pulled the first piece of clothing from the sack—a thick brown shawl, like the one Elder Io had worn. Wataru's stomach twisted as he bent to work. For several minutes, the only sound was the gurgle of the river and the slap of wet cloth.

"What does Father think he's doing?!"

Ibuki's outburst came without warning. Wataru almost fumbled the bar of soap.

"So you did something stupid. Well, you do stupid things all the time. That doesn't mean you should—"

Ibuki couldn't say it either.

Wataru bent back over the running water, scrubbing hard at the shawl. Foolish hafu boy. The gurgling water seemed to be spitting back Elder Io's words.

"If I'd gone and battled you, instead of doing laundry—"

"It's not your fault, Ibuki." The words were the hardest ones he'd ever spoken, but they came out steady. "It's my fault. Okay?"

Ibuki was always trying to keep him out of trouble, like she thought he was her responsibility. But everything Wataru had done, he'd chosen. He'd be the one living with it, not her. His gaze dropped to Toku's tail, draping down his arm.

"Will you take care of Toku, when I'm gone?"

"What are you talking about?" Ibuki gaped at him. "Toku's not going with you? But that's nonsense, she—"

Uncle's shout came from a distance and made them both flinch. "Wataru! Wataru!"

"Please," Wataru said again. Tears burned behind his eyes. He peeled Toku off of his arm. Her body was hard and rigid, and she whined when he set her down on the riverbank. "You have to stay with Ibuki now."

"Wataru!"

Toku's eyes latched onto his own, dark and pleading.

"I'm so sorry, Toku," he whispered and wheeled around, in the direction of Uncle's voice. Would he have another chance to see her? Or had that been his last?

Unspoken words caught in his throat like bitter berries, Wataru ran.

~*~​

Uncle wasn't waiting for him alone. The stranger was about Uncle's age, but that was where the similarity ended. Where Uncle was tall and lean, this man was short and squat and shared Airi's puffy cheeks. His brown eyes were friendly when they fell on Wataru.

"Good day!" he said in Airi's same thick accent. "You can call me Mr. Inushi. My son Airi, I think you've met already."

He and Uncle exchanged a short, knowing glance.

"My name is Wataru." Wataru ducked his head into a bow, surreptitiously wiping his eyes. Bad enough that he'd cried in front of Uncle.

As Mr. Inushi smiled, Uncle broke in, "Nephew, Mr. Inushi has agreed to do us a big favor. He's going to take you to the next town and get you set up with everything you'll need in the outside world." Uncle unwrapped the bundle in his hands, which was full of crumpled-looking paper and smooth metallic circle-stones. "This is the currency they use there. It will be enough to cover your needs as you settle in." His face grew solemn. "Now Wataru, you have to watch your words, out there. If you let your tongue wag about the kairyu, they'll be put in danger, do you understand?"

"I understand," Wataru said thickly. Uncle looked at him for several long seconds, then nodded, seeming satisfied by whatever he'd seen in Wataru's eyes.

"I suppose you've finished packing by now," interjected Mr. Inushi. "Sun's getting high, and I'd like to be on my way soon."

Packing? Had they been expecting him to gather food for the journey? Wataru looked over to Uncle in alarm. "I was helping Ibuki do laundry. But I could run to the storehouse —"

Uncle shook his head. "I've already provided Mr. Inushi with enough supplies. He means a different kind of packing, I think, but there's nothing you need to bring along."

"There is."

Ibuki's voice caught everyone by surprise. She'd approached them quietly, though the flush on her cheeks indicated she'd just been running. The dark blue cloak from her hakuryu odori was clutched in her hands.

"Here," she said, thrusting the bundle of cloth towards him. "Take it." She turned a glare on Uncle, as if daring him to object. "I prepared and dyed that cloth all by myself. It's mine to do what I want with." Turning back to Wataru, her voice softened. "You could have done it, you know. You were much better than all the little kids dancing."

Wataru stepped forward to take the bundle. Then, on impulse, he threw his arms around Ibuki, pressing them into a tight hug. He couldn't remember a time Ibuki hadn't been there —bossy, all-knowing, comforting.

"I'll miss you," he whispered, ashamed to feel his eyes going wet again. "I'm sorry."

Ibuki squeezed him back hard. "I'll miss you too," she said in a small voice.

When Wataru finally lifted his head from the hug, Uncle was watching them impassively. Still, there was something in the way his lips quirked upwards that Wataru took for approval.

"You've said your goodbyes, Ibuki," he said firmly. "Now you need to get back to your chores."

Ibuki nodded. It looked like she was on the verge of saying one more thing, but at the last moment, she seemed to think better of it. Wataru watched her go, until she was hidden by the curve of the valley.

The cloth still smelled smoky from the bonfire. It was surprisingly heavy in his hands. Wataru pressed the bundle close to his chest, stunned by the gift. He'd watch Ibuki work this fabric for months, determined that her debut in the hakuryu odori be nothing less than perfect. He'd never owned anything this fine before.

"I'm ready," Wataru said to the two adults, even though those words were the farthest thing from the truth.

Mr. Inushi nodded. "Then let's get going!"

His cheery voice cut loudly through the village.

~*~​

"I'm sorry," Airi blurted when Wataru joined him at the front of the wagon. The color was back in the boy's face, but his energetic spirit seemed dampened. Wataru wondered just what Uncle had said to him.

"Why are you sorry? I'm the one who got us in trouble."

"I guess," said Airi. "But I asked to see them—" He glanced over to the two adults, who were speaking with their heads held close, and added in a hurried whisper, "and it was brilliant! It was the most brilliant thing ever! Thank you so much!"

What was Wataru supposed to say to that?

"You're welcome," he settled on, though the polite phrase sounded absurd.

As they sat waiting for Mr. Inushi, the bundle of cloth on Wataru's lap suddenly wriggled. His breath caught. Beneath the folds of dark blue was the sky blue of a miniryu's scales.

Ibuki hadn't just given him her cloak. She'd snuck him Toku!

Wataru hurriedly drew the bundle of cloth to his chest as Mr. Inushi squeezed onto the wagon bench. The three of them barely fit—Wataru found himself pressed in tightly against Airi's side. "All right, Fancy Toes! We're off!"

The ponyta began to walk, pulling the wagon down the dirt path that led out from the valley.

"Well, lad," said Mr. Inushi, the reins held loosely in his hands, "I know it's not the best of circumstances, but me and Airi here will try to bring you up to speed a bit on life outside your valley. You haven't been to any other towns, have you?" When Wataru shook his head mutely, he gave an unsurprised nod. "Thought so. Airi, why don't you tell this lad about the wide, wonderful world of Johto?"

Airi didn't need a further excuse. His words poured out like a waterfall, too quickly for Wataru to absorb them, even if he'd been trying. His eyes kept flickering down to the cloth bundle on his lap. "Before we came to your town, we were in Mahogany. It's a bit quiet there, but the lake is the biggest lake I've ever seen. It's so big it's almost like the sea—have you seen the sea before?"

His eyes went wide when Wataru shook his head again. "Well, the sea's like—" Airi floundered like a landlocked koiking "—it's like a big lake!"

Mr. Inushi chortled loudly. "You've sure got a way with words, my boy."

Airi flushed at his father's comment. But he was silent for only a few seconds before he spoke up again. "Now, Goldenrod's the biggest city, but Ecruteak's pretty great too. There's always a festival on there where they sell these fried, crunchy treats and put on dancing shows."

What's so special about that? Wataru thought unhappily. We have dancing too. And it would be better than the dancing anywhere else, because anywhere else didn't have kairyu. The bundle on Wataru's lap wiggled slightly. He glanced nervously from Airi to Mr. Inushi, but neither of them seemed to have noticed.

"You have to cross the sea to go to Cianwood, so we don't go there. But we go everywhere else. Can't beat a wagon. Slow and steady and gets the job done is what Dad says."

"Damn straight," grunted Mr. Inushi. "All this talk of building new roads, sending trains zipping back and forth—when there's a train track capable of crossing the Ilex forest, I'll eat my hat. But don't let us talk your ear off, lad. Do you have any questions? Anything we can set straight?"

You could set things straight by turning this wagon around. But he couldn't say that.

"What's a train?" Wataru asked finally.

Mr. Inushi flopped his arm dismissively. "A screeching metal box on wheels that conveys goods and people from place to place. They're dumb things, trains, need the tracks to be laid down for them to get anywhere. Haven't caught on here yet, by Ho-oh's grace. Plenty of the blasted things over in Kanto, though."

Another unfamiliar word. "Kanto?"

"Our neighbors. Past the silver mountains. Haven't been the worst neighbors, all things considered. A bit godless, but that's what technology does to you."

"Da-ad," Airi whined from his place in the middle. "Wataru doesn't want to hear stupid talk about politics."

"You're right, you're right. Just go on chatting, kids, and I'll sit here mum as a diglett."

Mr. Inushi made a show of raising his hand to zip up his mouth.

"I bet you want to hear about battling," Airi said, twisting himself so he was facing Wataru. "You're going to become a pokemon trainer, right? That dratini you had was so tough. I didn't think it looked like much at first, but you sure had me and Koge beat."

A satisfied parrumph rose from the bundle on Wataru's lap. He froze, his heart thudding.

Mr. Inushi turned his head. "Now what have you got in there, lad?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows. There was nowhere to hide. The folds of the cloak fell away and Toku raised her head, her fins twitching as the fresh air hit her.

"Ryu!" she said, sounding immensely pleased with herself. Wataru cocooned his arms protectively over her body.

"Oh ho, so we've got a stowaway, do we?"

"Please, sir," Wataru said, his mouth gone completely dry. "Please don't take her back. Toku and I only have each other now."

Mr. Inushi stared at them. Wataru couldn't tell what he was thinking—his face was like a mountain hidden by clouds.

"Go back?" he said at last. "My word, we're behind schedule enough as is. I want to reach Cherrygrove while there's still light to steer by."

When Mr. Inushi turned his gaze back to the road, Wataru slumped back, boneless with relief. Airi seemed oblivious to the significance of what had occurred. He began to chatter on about pokemon trainers.

"People, when they get their first pokemon, they go on a journey. A life-changing journey. Not everyone goes, I mean, a lot of us have to help out at home. I'm lucky, I guess, since I get to travel, even if I am stuck with Dad.

"But you're completely free!" Airi continued. "You could go anywhere, to all the gyms. There's seven, total. Some people say we should have eight, though, 'cause Kanto has eight and we wouldn't want to have less gyms than Kanto. They're only in the important towns, like Ecruteak, and Goldenrod, and Violet City . . ."

Wataru found himself tuning the other boy out. He ran his hand over Toku's smooth scales again and again, trying to convince himself she was really there with him.

The land was changing ahead, sloping down sharply, and the road was growing more and more rocky, causing the wagon to jerk and sway. Craning his head back around, Wataru tried to find the familiar crests of the Ryu's Gift, but there was nothing behind them except the sloping road and the scraggly trees that rose around it.

While they'd been talking, home had passed completely out of sight.

~*~​

Wataru must have slipped to sleep at some point, lulled by the regular, rocking motion of the wagon. He woke to a gentle shake and the murmured words, "We've arrived, lad. Welcome to Cherrygrove."

Wataru looked around blearily, holding off a yawn. Dusky light streamed in from the low-sunken sun, casting long, trailing shadows. Everywhere he turned, he saw buildings, each of them larger than the largest huts in the village. The building in front of them was low and sprawling. Something was engraved across its bright red exterior.

As Wataru squinted upwards, Mr. Inushi asked, "Do you know your kanji, lad?"

"I can read!" Wataru answered, indignant at the question. "But that's written strangely."

"It says, Pokemon Center: Welcome. You should memorize those words. Anywhere you see them, you're safe."

Welcome. If someone had written the word really quickly, not bothering with the annoying little markings, he supposed it would come out looking like that.

A small smile crossed his face. So he and the outside world had at least one thing in common—their bad hand-writing.

In the short time they'd spent staring at the red building, the sun had completed its descent. Clambering down from the wagon, his whole body sore from the awkwardly-positioned nap, Wataru noticed that light spilled out from every window. Strange, since the night was warm enough to sleep with just a blanket.

"Why so many fires?" he asked out loud. "Is tonight a celebration?"

"Not fire, electricity," Mr. Inushi corrected. "Cherrygrove has seen the light of the future."

Wataru managed a perfunctory smile as Mr. Inushi chuckled at his own comment. He still didn't get why the fires had all been lit separately, instead of at the center of town.

"We'll unload tomorrow, Airi," Mr. Inushi called out. "I'm going to get Fancy Toes settled in round the back. You take Wataru and get us our room, all right?"

Airi's chest swelled. "Sure, Dad," he said. Grabbing Wataru by the arm, he led him towards the red building. Wataru blinked as his eyes were hit by a wash of white light. The wide room they'd entered didn't have a single dark corner.

Airi was already dragging him forward to a low counter. He jabbed his hand down and a high-pitched ring shrieked through the room, making Toku flinch in Wataru's arms.

A moment later, a young woman ran in.

"Sorry," she said breathlessly, "we were just putting out supper. Hello, boys. Stopping in for a meal, or for the night?"

"Both," Airi said. "Me and him and my dad too. Dad's a trader. We need stable space for our ponyta."

"You're traders?" the woman said, her expression brightening. "How wonderful. What town are you coming in from?"

"We were up by Mahogany," Airi said. "Up North."

"Oh, it's horribly mountainous up there, isn't it?"

"That's right, Ma'am, but we manage." If the pride radiating off Airi had been light, it could have lit the whole room just as well.

"It's a bit busy tonight, but I'll squeeze you in somewhere. Name, please?"

"Inushi Airi."

The woman turned away and a brief clattering sound rose from behind the counter. "Thank you. Supper's just through the door on your left. Hurry before it gets cold!"

They came into an even wider room, still mysteriously well-lit. A loud hubbub hit them as they entered: the long benches were crowded with people. Wataru followed Airi to the far corner of the room, where a large pot of soup was waiting. Bread was set out next to the bowls.

"Pokemunch is in the bins," Airi said, pointing to an aisle of containers, each engraved with different kanji. Wataru gradually made out the words for "fire" "water" and "grass." He didn't see the distinctive spirals that made up "ryu."

"Do you want any of that?" he asked Toku, who was hidden now in the dip of his shirt. No one was looking their way, so he let the miniryu sniff at each container one by one. She wrinkled her nose and flicked her tail back towards the soup. "Good idea. Let's just share."

They'd done that often enough back home. A tamer and his ryu should share a single stomach, the saying went.

Dinner passed in a daze. The broth was hot, if mostly tasteless, and the room warm. Mr. Inushi joined them at some point, but he drank his soup down in a few slurps and then wandered to a different table, exchanging greetings with the men and women gathered there.

When his bowl was empty, Wataru followed Airi and Mr. Inushi to a small room, with stacked cots. He crawled into the lower one and remained there huddled, as Mr Inushi bustled back and forth through the room. At some point, the light vanished and sleep dragged Wataru down again.

~*~​

"Full name?" the white-capped woman asked for the second time.

Wataru shifted his weight from foot to foot, one hand rising to rub some sleep-dust from his eyes. It was too early for this, whatever this was.

"I can write it out for you," he offered.

The woman looked to Mr. Inushi, the plea in her eyes clear.

"What she means, lad, is she wants your family name too. Like how Airi has his own name, that's Airi, but he's also an Inushi, like me."

"Oh," said Wataru. They wanted his parents' names. He stared at the blank, perfectly white wall opposite him. "Can't you just put Wataru?"

"To look you up in the census records I need your full name," she said.

"Wataru is from a real small hamlet, Nurse," Mr. Inushi cut in. "I don't think you'll find him in the system. Might be best to just start fresh."

The woman nodded and shuffled around behind the counter. "You'll serve as witness?"

"Happy to."

As the two adults fussed over the forms, Wataru caught Toku's eye. The miniryu was snaking determinedly across the floor, towards the meal room. He wished he could sneak away after her. Mr. Inushi had insisted they come here before eating breakfast and Wataru's stomach felt decidedly hollow.

"Birth date?"

Wataru realized the adults were looking at him again. "What?"

"When were you born, lad?"

"About twelve winters ago," Wataru said, wondering why it mattered.

"But what day, what month, do you know?"

He stared back at them, his mouth slightly agape. Who knew the exact day they were born on?

"I'll put today's date then," the woman said after a moment, her tone slightly irritable. "In another year, you'll be thirteen. Does that sound right?"

Another year? That was too long.

"Make me thirteen now," Wataru shot back, since age suddenly seemed up for debate. "I'm as good as thirteen anyway."

Mr. Inushi and the woman exchanged a long look.

"April 22, 1976," the woman said finally. "Given name, Wataru. No known family name. Born in—" Her gaze rose to Mr. Inushi.

"Near Fusube mountain. I suppose that's as close to an official name as his town has."

"Born in Fusube. Fine." She bent over the paper for another moment, then offered it to Mr. Inushi, who scrawled his signature loosely. "It will take at least a week for the paperwork to reach Goldenrod. I won't be able to register him until they process it there."

Mr. Inushi nodded. "That's fine. Thanks, Nurse. We appreciate the time."

Wataru still wasn't sure what they were thanking her for, but he dipped his head in a bow. "Thank you," he added quietly.

The woman's face softened at the gesture. "Of course. And welcome to Cherrygrove."

Toku and Airi were waiting for them in the meal room, which was much less crowded now than it had been the night before. Breakfast was a thick porridge and strangely flavored tea.

"Eat quickly, boys," said Mr. Inushi. "We've got a lot of shopping to do today." He smiled at Wataru, his eyes sparking with sudden humor. "After all, today's your birthday!"

~*~​

"What's wrong with the clothes I have?" Wataru asked an hour later, trying not to raise his voice. The pack, sleeping bag, knife and lantern had all made sense. But his clothes had been made only last year and, unlike his festival attire, they still fit him fine.

"Nothing wrong with them, lad, but they do make you stand out. You don't want people gawking at you all the time, now do you? Besides, with what you're wearing there's nowhere to strap a belt." Mr. Inushi seemed to feel that point had been a finishing blow.

Wataru stared out at the racks of clothing, completely overwhelmed. "I can pick whichever ones I want?" he asked.

"In reason. Don't want to burn through your cash too quickly. But this stuff's all pretty cheap. Not like we're in Goldenrod."

So Wataru and Toku set out through the forest of racks that rose above his head. He was drawn at once to a billowing red shirt that made him think of the kairyu dancers. Toku let out a trill when they passed a long blue scarf. It was very soft to the touch and the same color as her scales. He didn't like the pants, though. They all stuck too close to his legs. At last he found a pair that were about the same brown as his current clothes and decently loose.

Mr. Inushi raised an eyebrow as Wataru returned with the clothes, picking a shirt out of the pile and holding it up to Wataru's chest. "Bit big for you, aren't all those?"

"I'll grow into them," Wataru answered, raising his chin.

His words startled a laugh out of Mr. Inushi. "So you will. A good philosophy to have, lad. Very thrifty. Guess I don't have to warn you about loose spending."

Wataru thought the ordeal was finally over, then, but there was one more stop, a small building with a blue overhanging.

"Can't leave out your pokemon," said Mr. Inushi. "If you have that dratini along, you're going to need a pokeball!"

Which was a small, white-red sphere with a strange, slippery texture. It reflected back the white ceiling light like the surface of a lake.

"What's it for?" Wataru asked.

"For your dratini. She can rest in it when she's tired or sick."

Toku was supposed to go inside that strange-smelling gleaming thing? Wataru stared down at it in disbelief. "How would anyone fit in there?"

"Ah, no use asking me, lad. Physics is beyond me. Here, I'll show you."

He placed the ball against Toku's head. There was a click and a flash of unnatural red light. When Wataru blinked, Toku was gone.

Hot, tight panic clamped down on Wataru. He was standing in a strange, over-lit room, stacked high with gleaming canisters bearing incomprehensible writing, and he was alone. He was wearing the clothes they'd just purchased at Mr. Inushi's insistence, and their smell was wrong, sharp and acrid, burning his nose just like the white ceiling light burned his eyes. This place was ugly and wrong and there was not a single thing to anchor him, to hold off the bright pain that started in the back of his head and moved forward into his eyes, because Toku was—

There again. Blinking up at him with confusion lodged deep in her dark eyes. Trembling, he opened his arms and pressed her close against his chest. His heartbeat was racing wildly and warm water had somehow trailed onto his cheeks.

"Don't—" he said, when he could finally breathe. "Don't ever do that again."

"My mistake, lad," Mr. Inushi said quietly. "I should have warned you."

Wataru stared at the pokeball, gleaming innocently on the floor. "What was it like?" he asked Toku.

Her nose wrinkled and tail twitched. "Riii," she trilled.

"Toku didn't like that. We don't want it," Wataru told Mr. Inushi firmly.

"It may be disorienting at first, but you're gonna need a pokeball at some point, lad. There's places pokemon aren't allowed. And with a rare one like you have—there are places it may be best to keep her hidden safely away."

"What do you mean, rare."

"What I'm saying is that there are some people who might be inclined to take that dratini away from you. She's valuable, lad. Are you following me?"

Toku gone. That would be the very worst thing. He tightened his grip so much that Toku let out a short whine in protest.

"Look, it's been a long morning," said Mr. Inushi, when Wataru didn't respond. "We'll deal with the pokeball some other time. Come on, lad. Let's see if Airi's kept himself out of trouble."

It took a moment before Wataru could move his legs forward. The town was busier as noon approached, and as they headed back towards the Pokemon Center, people streamed by on either side. Wataru found himself watching them suspiciously. Some people.

But how was he supposed to recognize them?

~*~​

Back on his cot, Wataru pressed his nose into the hakuryu cloth, taking in its smoky, familiar scent. He wished he could tell Uncle how wrong he was. Hafu or not, Wataru didn't belong here, in this bright, foreign place.

As he lay in his cot, Wataru realized for the first time that Uncle had never said how long the exile would last.

"You don't think he meant forever, do you?" he asked Toku.

The miniryu's eyes widened and she let out a low whine. Wataru wondered if she was thinking of her litter mates, the low, cool pools of Dragon's Den, the fragrant grasslands where the kairyu lay sunning—everything she'd left behind.

"He couldn't mean forever . . ."

But it was hard to imagine Uncle changing his mind after a month or even a year. Especially when Wataru had taken Toku with him when he wasn't supposed to. That was probably worth a second exile on top of the first one. The thought was so absurd that Wataru almost laughed.

He wondered suddenly if Ibuki had gotten into trouble for helping him out. They wouldn't kick her out too, would they?

No. The truth settled uncomfortably in his stomach. They would never kick Ibuki out.

Airi and Mr. Inushi had left for the afternoon, out to sell their wares at the daily market. They'd offered to bring him along, but Wataru had shaken his head. It was all too much to deal with, and he wanted some time to think.

But the more he thought, the worse he felt.

Toku let out a pleased trill as he held out his arm for her and swung out of bed. They wandered together over to the big room at the front of the center. A crew of children around Wataru's age had just burst in, talking loudly. They each had pokemon at their feet and gleaming white-red balls on their belts. Wataru wasn't close enough to catch their conversation and for the moment, he didn't feel inclined to move closer.

The door opened again, seemingly on its own. Wataru watched as an old man inched his way slowly inside. A suitcase hung at an awkward angle off one of his arms, and both his hands were balancing a stack of books. He was using his back to prop open the door.

Frowning, Wataru looked over to the loud group, which hadn't appeared to notice the old man's entrance. The space behind the counter was empty as well.

Someone should be helping him! Wataru thought to himself, wincing as the door narrowly missed the old man's back as it slammed shut behind him.

Wataru started at Toku's nudge. Oh right, there's me.

He caught up to the old man in the hallway, where he was staring at a doorknob as if he could make it turn from mental force alone.

"Can I help you, please?" Wataru said.

The old man jerked around. "Oh! By all means. Here."

The stack of what turned out to be very heavy books dropped into Wataru's hands.

"My room's just through here," the old man said, opening the door. "Lay them on the bed, there's a good lad."

"I really need to learn to say no to books," he said as he followed Wataru in. "No thank you, I already have enough on the subject. A simple sentence, but alas, completely beyond my capacity. Though, of course, it would be both simple and false, because it's just not possible to have enough on any subject, even the most narrow and mundane. As a phenomenon, evolution is neither."

He patted around his pockets and his face fell. Turning back to Wataru, he said, "If you want an autograph, I'm afraid you'll need to produce your own pen. I swear I start out with ten of the damn things, but by the end every single one's gone."

He wasn't a very old man, Wataru thought. Not old in the way Elder Io was. His hair still had traces of black and the wrinkles hadn't worked too deeply into his face.

"Look at you, Okido Yukinari," he muttered to himself. "Look at you and your over-swollen head. Lad has no idea who you are. Johto, Johto, Johto. Are you a pokemon trainer?" he asked Wataru, who had been enduring the monologue in polite bafflement.

Clearly he hadn't noticed Toku, who'd abandoned Wataru's shoulder for the warmth inside his shirt. Wataru nodded slowly.

"Well, stick around a moment and I'll show you something neat, as thanks for your help."

Wataru sat on the edge of the bed as the man busied himself with his luggage. This room was bigger than the one Wataru was staying in, and only had a single bed. The window looked out onto a blossoming cheri tree.

"Ah ha!" With a satisfied grin, the old man produced a pokeball from the depths of his suitcase. "That's the one. A week ago it would have been three. Ah well. You're impressive enough for three, aren't you?" he said to the ball.

A moment later, a small orange pokemon appeared in a burst of that same unnatural red light. Wataru had never seen anything like it before. Its tail, lit with a fire on one end, swished from side to side and its dark eyes flashed curiously around the room, before locking onto Wataru.

Before Wataru could say anything, a hot cloud of embers rushed through the air towards him. As he hastily sprung back, they fell to the carpet, where they hissed and simmered.

"Charmander!" The small pokemon raised its head defiantly at the annoyance in the old man's voice. "I can't bring you anywhere, can I? Did this nice young lad do anything to you? No? Well, then, why—"

"It wants to battle," Wataru said. The attack had startled him, but looking at where the embers had fallen, he could see he'd never been in actual danger of getting hit. It had been a challenge, not an assault.

"This one always wants to battle," the old man grumbled. "But as I'm always telling her, there's a time and place. If you could keep your cool for just five minutes," the old man continued, addressing the pokemon, "you'd be with your friends waiting for a trainer and all the battles you could ever want. But instead you're stuck back with boring old Okido Yukinari, because my girl, it would be professional irresponsibility to stick someone with you."

In answer, the charmander stuck out her tongue.

"Oh, very mature. Really helps your case, doesn't that—"

"Toku and I could battle her," Wataru interrupted. He felt bad for the small, orange pokemon, who was clearly itching for a fight.

"You—" The old man's surprised gaze fell on Wataru. "Well, why not. She could use some fresh air. Yes, why not." As the charmander moved eagerly for the door, the old man called out behind them, "I'll come if I hear any screams!"

~*~​

Toku raised herself up high on her belly as she faced the charmander. Wataru smiled at the change in her body-language. If Toku was trying to make herself look big, that meant she thought the charmander would make a decent fight.

"Once, the ryu fought with fire and ash," Wataru began. He could see the charmander's fire grow brighter in anticipation as he spoke, but the small pokemon made no move to begin the battle early. In fact, her head was tilted in concentration as she listened.

When Wataru had finished, Toku's challenging gaze shifted into a glinting red glare. The charmander whimpered and shook her head uneasily. Letting out a short hiss, she suddenly sprung forward, stubby claws flashing. Toku managed to move between the blows, though they were coming faster and faster as the charmander worked itself up.

"Wrap it now," said Wataru, when the angle of the charmander's strike left her off-balance. Before the charmander could recover her bearings, Toku's sinuous body curved tight around her, pinning her arms to her side. As Toku squeezed, the charmander huffed and whined. Directing her head downwards, she managed to expel a burst of hot embers. Wataru caught Toku's flinch as they simmered against her skin.

"If you can use the friction—" Wataru suggested. Toku only needed a second to complete the thought. The skin-to-skin contact of the wrap attack became a rippling static. The charmander twitched, its mouth falling slack. No more fire-attacks followed as Toku continued to press her advantage, constricting tighter.

At last, the charmander let out a subdued whine, edged with pleading. Toku loosened her hold, allowing the charmander to crawl away. The miniryu returned to Wataru with a smug look on her face.

"That was great, Toku. I bet there are a ton more ways we can use that new move of yours." Wataru bent down to examine the miniryu's skin where the fire-attack had made contact. The scales seemed irritated, reddened and slightly raised as Wataru ran his finger along them. Toku's huff told him that she found his fussing unnecessary. A ryu's thick scales could protect against almost any heat.

Wataru looked up to find the charmander watching them, something almost covetous in her gaze.

"You're pretty good too," Wataru told her. "Quick on your feet. Watching you made me think of someone really impressive. Her name's Kana, and she's one of the best dragon tamers in the valley."

The charmander moved closer, clearly listening.

"Toku and I," Wataru said, "we're from the Ryu's Gift. That's five valleys strung together. A long time ago, the ryu and my people made an agreement, that we'd always help each other and fight by each other's side. Do you know what a kairyu is? They're massive and can fly anywhere. And they can cut through solid rock."

"Char!" the small orange pokemon said. She suddenly balled up one fist, her face tightening with concentration. As Wataru watched, the fist began to glow a bright silver.

"Is that another move you know?" Wataru asked. He didn't recognize it. When the light faded as abruptly as it had emerged and the charmander let out a frustrated hiss, Wataru realized his mistake. "Oh, you're trying to learn it."

He sat back on the ground, thinking hard. She'd demonstrated the move when he'd mentioned the kairyu cutting through rock. Maybe that was what it was supposed to do? Wataru's gaze fell on a pile of old bricks stacked near the back of the Pokemon Center. Nobody would notice if he took just one or two . . .

The charmander watched with interest as Wataru dragged over three of the bricks.

"Can you do it again, with the light?" Wataru asked, fisting his own hand in example. The charmander followed suit, the silver light beginning again. "Okay, are you ready?"

He heaved one brick through the air towards the charmander. Letting out a surprised yelp, the pokemon darted to the side.

"No," said Wataru. "You have to—Toku, can you show her?"

When the second brick hurtled through the air towards her, the miniryu twisted her tail upwards and caught it in a tight coil.

"Nice one, Toku. You see?" Wataru added to the charmander. The small fire-type narrowed her eyes. Then she let out a short, challenging yip.

Toku wheeled around and sent the brick flying back towards the charmander, who struck out determinedly with her claws. But the silvery light wasn't there this time. The brick slammed into her chest and sent her tumbling backwards, letting out a howl of pain.

Wataru and Toku exchanged a glance. Maybe this had been a bad idea. "We should go back inside," Wataru said slowly.

"Char char!" The charmander was back on her feet in an instant, tail fire blazing and eyes insistent. "Charmander, char!" Her gaze was fixed on the final brick.

"One more go?" Wataru asked, and received a nod. "Fine, but this time you have to listen to me. Make the light right when I say and hold onto it, okay?"

Another nod. Wataru lifted the brick and prepared his throw. "Right. Now do it."

As the silver completed its spread over the charmander's fist, Wataru sent the brick sailing through the air. Charmander lunged forward, her fist still gleaming.

With a loud crack, the brick splintered. Charmander stared at the two fallen halves, her breath coming in quick pants.

"You did it!" Wataru shouted. "Just like a kairyu!"

The charmander's mouth curled into a wide grin. "Char!" she yipped back, in the cheeriest tone Wataru had heard from her yet. She shuffled forward to examine the pieces of brick. Then, balling her fist again, she split the nearest one with a silver punch.

Wataru couldn't hold back an answering grin. "You learn quick," he said, and Toku trilled her agreement.

"My, my."

They all jumped at the new voice. The old man had rounded the Pokemon Center and was watching them, his back resting against the wall.

"I heard shouting," he said, coming forward. "So, you've picked up metal claw, have you?" The charmander drew herself up proudly, fist once again silver. "Well done."

The old man's gaze fell curiously on Wataru and Toku. "And that's a dratini there, if I haven't gone completely senile. Where in the world did you find a dratini, young man?"

Wataru froze at the question, Mr. Inushi's words coming back to him. There are some people who might be inclined to take that dratini away from you.

"None of your business," Wataru shot back, aware that he was being rude and not caring. He scooped up Toku in his arms, gave the charmander a quick bow, and took off towards Mr. Inushi's room, his hands shaking.

~*~​

Airi and Mr. Inushi returned soon after with flushed faces, chattering happily. Wataru got the impression they'd had a successful afternoon.

"You just didn't let up, Dad," Airi was saying admiringly as they came in. "Oh, I can order it by pidgey-catalogue, she says, but you let her know just what junk they'll pass off to you if you can't test it out first!"

"That's right, my boy. It's a premium, getting to handle the wares yourself before the buy, and you've always got to keep your customer reminded of the fact."

Their two beaming faces fell on Wataru. "Hope you haven't been keeping yourself all cooped up in here?" Mr. Inushi said, some concern edging into his voice.

"I got out," Wataru said. He took a deep breath. "Mr. Inushi, can we try again with the poke ball? I'm worried about Toku. Some people have been noticing her."

Mr. Inushi's face softened. "Of course we can, lad. In fact, I was thinking it over at the market today and I picked you up something that I think'll help." He rustled around in his pack and pulled out another pokeball. Except this one was different. Not just the color, which was a green like the tender inner part of a tree, but the smell of it too, rich and oaky. It didn't make Wataru's stomach turn.

"That's an apricorn ball. Speciality of Azalea—I noticed one of their venders at the market. These balls are made from naturally grown shells. Might be a little closer to what you and your little gal are used to."

Toku sniffed the ball curiously. A moment later, she let out an approving trill.

"You want to try it, Toku?"

"See that button?" Mr. Inushi pointed. "Hit it once to recall your pokemon and once again to let her back out."

When Wataru pressed the indentation, Toku vanished. There wasn't a flash of light this time, but the ball grew warmer in Wataru's hands. Just touching it, he could tell Toku was safely inside.

Another click, and Toku was back. He noticed her fins were lifted slightly, a sign that she was pleased. "Was that better?"

Toku's trill was the last confirmation Wataru needed. Yes, this was better.

"Thank you, Mr. Inushi," Wataru said quietly, turning to face the squat, smiling man. It hit him suddenly how much time the trader had taken today, guiding Wataru through one thing after another, instead of doing that job that so clearly brought him joy. Whatever Uncle had told the man and however much money Uncle had paid him, nothing had obligated the trader to be so kind.

Wataru sank into a deep, full bow, the kind he would have made a dragon master. "Thank you for everything," he said again.

~*~​

As they entered the meal room for supper, Wataru stiffened. The old man from earlier was there, caught up in an energetic discussion. But he'd clearly noticed Wataru. His eyes tracked him across the room.

"Mr. Inushi," Wataru whispered, catching the trader by the arm. "See the man in the white coat? He's the one who was asking about Toku."

He was glad Toku was back to hiding in the dip of his shirt, safe from the room's prying eyes.

Mr. Inushi's face shifted into a scowl. "I see."

The old man chose that moment to break away from his conversation and cut across the room. "Young man," he called out to Wataru.

Mr. Inushi stepped purposefully into his path. "Good day to you," the trader called back jovially, but Wataru could see the tension in his shoulders. "Hope this lad hasn't been bothering you."

"Bothering me? Oh no," the old man replied, stopping a few feet away from them.

"Good to hear," said Mr. Inushi, nodding his head. "And I hope, Sir, that you haven't been bothering this lad."

The old man narrowed his eyes slightly, his back straightening. "I'm an awfully bothersome person, or so my daughter tells me. But I try my best not to bother anyone. My name's Okido Yukinari. Professor Okido. I don't think we've been introduced . . ?"

Surprise washed the scowl from Mr. Inushi's face. "Hang on, you're that pokemon professor everyone was goggling over last night. Here from Kanto, is that right?"

The old man, the professor smiled. "I see my reputation precedes me. That's right, I call Kanto home. I was here on a brief visit to my colleague in New Bark Town. My business is all wrapped up now, but I thought I'd stay on a few days to take in the sights. Is this boy your son?"

The question was asked with a skeptical air, as his eyes moved from Wataru's sharp features and blazingly red hair to Mr. Inushi's squat and rounded face.

Mr. Inushi's chuckle was friendly, though some of the wariness remained in his eyes. "Oh no, but he's my responsibility for now."

"Where exactly—"

"I can talk, you know," Wataru said suddenly. He felt emboldened by Mr. Inushi's presence.

The professor blinked, taken aback. Then he shook his head with a rueful chuckle. "Please accept my apologies. It's an awful habit one gets into at my age, of talking over people instead of to them. I hope you can forgive me," he said, looking Wataru straight in the eyes.

It was Wataru's turn to blink. He didn't think an adult had ever apologized to him before and seemed to mean it. "'S fine," he mumbled.

"Why don't we talk over our food," Mr. Inushi cut in. "These boys need to eat, you know."

Wataru kept an eye fixed on the old man as they all settled in at one of the tables in the back.

"I've seen you on TV," Airi piped up. "You showed all these different pokemon and had silly rhymes that went with them."

"Ah, one of the true joys of the job—an open mic to spout my poetry whenever I want it. Are you a pokemon trainer as well?"

Airi squirmed. "Sort of. I'm a trader-in-training, too."

The professor nodded, but his eyes were back on Wataru. "I believe I offended you earlier with my reaction," he said suddenly, "but, I confess, I was simply stunned to see a dratini just like that. This isn't the right habitat at all, for one thing."

"Why does everyone keep saying dratini?" Wataru muttered, the long-simmering irritation choosing that moment to spill out. "She's a miniryu."

"A miniryu, did you say?" A chord of excitement had entered the professor's voice. "Yes, of course, but that's a very old usage. Only pops up in out-of-date dexes or in myths. Miniryu being the diminutive of ryu, the archaic word for dragon."

Wataru narrowed his eyes, trying to make sense of all that. Archaic didn't sound like an insult, but . . .

"Miniryu, hakuryu, kairyu," the professor continued in a reflective voice. "Yes, that's right. That's the full chain. Of course, there have always been legends floating around about a lost community of dragons and their tamers—"

At the professor's words, a cold feeling swept over Watatu. Don't let your tongue wag, or the kairyu will be in danger.

"But—" The professor looked from Wataru's pale face to Airi, sitting frozen with his lower lip sucked in, to Mr. Inushi's flat-footed expression "—it's all nonsense, I'm sure. And absolutely none of my business in any case. Do I have that right?"

"That's right, Sir," said Mr. Inushi quietly. "I see you're a very wise and learned man. So I hope you're wise enough to let a subject rest."

A long, tense silence followed, in which Airi's slurping noises as he drank his soup were obnoxiously loud.

"Charmander took a real shine to you, lad," the professor said in a normal tone of voice, like nothing had happened. "Pitched me a mighty tantrum after you took off."

"She was really smart," Wataru replied, relieved that they'd left off talking about ryu. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone pick up a move so fast."

"Well, your direction didn't hurt, lad. It didn't hurt. Have you been a trainer long?"

"Toku and I have fought together a long time," Wataru said, still somewhat unsure what was meant by the word 'trainer.'

The professor nodded. "You know, I was quite the hot-shot trainer back in my day. Did very well for myself in the league, before I succumbed to the siren call of research."

Wataru didn't have to stretch his imagination very far to imagine it. There was something about the free-wheeling, confident way the professor spoke that put Wataru in mind of the dragon masters.

"Perhaps you have some advice for this lad," Mr. Inushi prompted. Wataru shot him an annoyed look. He didn't need advice.

"Well . . ." Professor Okido let out an awkward laugh. "I dispense advice with every breath, but if you're asking me to limit it down to one important thing—I'd say, know your goal. A lot of trainers are a bit aimless. Win this badge, win the next badge. The structure gives a certain momentum, but they get lost outside of it. So try to figure out what you're working towards, what you're trying to achieve. There was a time when I could have continued down the trainer's path, fought it out for my place on the pinnacle, but I asked myself, what do you really want, Yukinari? And, you know, it wasn't to be the best or the strongest, but simply to know the most."

Wataru stared down at the pressed wood of the table. Know your goal. He'd had a goal, once. Toku would become a kairyu and together they'd be masters. When the Ryu Odori came, he'd be chosen for the honor of the tamer's dance. But all that was impossible now.

He sunk into a deep stupor, giving only single-word answers to the professor's questions, until the man eventually switched his attention over to Airi and Mr. Inushi. Wataru knew the others were casting him concerned looks, but he couldn't be bothered to care.

Know your goal.

Everything suddenly felt like a cruel joke.

~*~​

Wataru knew Toku was deeply annoyed with him when she bit down hard on his ear. It was some time mid-morning, Mr. Inushi was back at the market, and Wataru hadn't moved from bed since he'd woken up.

"What do you want to do so bad?" Wataru muttered to her.

Her eyes glinted red for a moment. Battling, then.

"What's the point? Winning a hundred battles won't let us go home."

A frustrated whine rose from the miniryu's throat. This time she actually sent a spark of static down Wataru's arm. "Ouch! Fine, we'll go where you want."

His feet dragging, he followed her out of the Pokemon Center and round to the back, to the place they'd battled with the charmander. Toku set to work on a patch of ground where the grass grew scattered, clearing it so that only dirt remained. Wataru settled down on his knees to watch her, unsure of what the miniryu was doing.

Tense with concentration, Toku used her tail to draw five upside-down triangles in the dirt.

Wataru's throat went tight. "That's home," he said.

Toku nodded. The next shape she drew was harder to interpret. It was a tall blob, spiky on the top. As Wataru blinked at it, Toku let out a short frustrated whine. She slithered over to the base of a nearby cheri tree, gripping one of the fallen fruits in her teeth. When she laid the red berry at the top of the mystery shape, Wataru suddenly understood.

"That's me, isn't it? Thanks, Toku."

"Ri-i-i," Toku giggled, but she wasn't done yet. Another shape was emerging under the Wataru-blob. Her tail sketched wide, curving arcs, like . . . wings.

"A kairyu!" Wataru guessed. "Is that—you?"

"Rii!" Toku let out a pleased trill and curled up next to the picture, her eyes expectant.

And then, all at once, Wataru had it. "You mean, like with Master Kaisho! He returned on the back of the kairyu and that's how they knew he belonged to the clan. Toku, that's brilliant!"

The miniryu's pahrump informed Wataru that she was well aware of her own brilliance, thank you. Wataru fell back against the dirt, not caring that he was dirtying his new clothes. Relief made his muscles so loose and light that he almost felt like a hakuryu.

The answer was so obvious. Wataru couldn't believe he'd needed Toku to draw it out for him. When Toku became a kairyu, there'd be no question that he belonged in the Dragon's Clan. The elders called the raising of a miniryu into a kairyu the ultimate test of strength and wisdom. Everyone was probably mad that Toku had gone along with him, but none of that would matter if she came back as a kairyu.

"You're right," Wataru said. "All we've got to do is get strong."

~*~​

The days were coming more easily now. Wataru woke in the mornings and raced to the professor's room, where the charmander was waiting. She and Toku had taken to each other, and the charmander, who Wataru had started to call Kana, was eager to make up for her initial loss. As they fought in the quiet space behind the Pokemon Center, Wataru found himself standing in the middle, calling out advice to both sides, not just Toku. It made the fight more fun, even if Toku still managed to come out on top most of the time.

But Wataru knew in the back of his mind that this equilibrium couldn't last forever. Mr. Inushi was talking about the road to Violet City and the professor was haggling with the local sailors over his trip home. And as for Wataru . . . he knew he'd have to travel if he wanted to get strong, find more and better 'trainers' to battle. But staring at Mr. Inushi's big map left him lost and directionless.

So when the professor asked him one morning if he'd like to accompany him and Kana to Kanto, Wataru couldn't find any reason to refuse. Mr. Inushi had supported the suggestion. He seemed to think Toku would draw less notice in Kanto, far from the old legends of the ryu.

One bright spring morning, Wataru said his farewells to Airi and Mr. Inushi. The trader clasped him in a quick hug and gruffly told him, "Keep safe now, lad." He pressed the bundle of money he'd been safekeeping into Wataru's arms.

And then they were off, cutting across the rippling blue surface of what had at first seemed to Wataru merely a giant lake—

"Ah, the sea," sighed the professor, stepping up to the railing beside Wataru. "You know, there's a Johtanese riddle I've always found poignant. 'They say that Lugia only suffers the same traveler to cross her oceans once. How, then, can a traveler return?'"

The answer seemed obvious.

"You fly back," Wataru said.

He was startled when Professor Okido broke into a chuckle. "Oh my, I haven't heard that one before. I see. You'd fly back on this little one, would you?"

He smiled down at Toku, who was coiled tight around the railing, her eyes fixed on the blue expanse ahead.

"She'll be bigger when we fly," Wataru said, a little annoyed. He didn't understand why the professor was laughing, since he'd solved the riddle.

"Evolution . . . Well, in a way you've hit the nail on the head, my boy. The traditional answer is that the traveler who returns is not the same as the one who set out. The meaning of the riddle is, to put it simply, that the very act of a long journey changes people."

Wataru humored the professor with a nod. But he didn't think it mattered how far they went or how much water they crossed. When Toku became a kairyu, none of that would matter.

Like a mantra, Wataru whispered to the white-breaking waves, "When Toku becomes a kairyu, we can go home."
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
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silvally-grass
ah yes i remembered my FFN and my TR logins at the same time, how convenient

The sound was distant, but his name was clearly audible. "Wa-ta-ru."
I liked how you parsed this out! In my head though, I think the "wa" sound is a lot quieter than the others because of how the emphasis goes on "ta" and the sharp sound of "ru" -- I think the last half of that name would carry a lot more loudly than the "wa", if that makes sense?

She had to hold her newly-dyed cloak up with one hand to avoid it trailing the ground.
didn't fully get the detailing here -- usually dyeing is a pretty early step in the process?

Even Wataru's clothes knew he was too old for this—why couldn't Uncle figure it out?
really good description here

The miniryu's dance is a simple one—playful, sometimes clumsy. We welcome that imperfection in this dance of beginnings, as we celebrate the vibrant energy of youth, the boundless potential of our children."
this one too

Did Kana realize she'd just gained the only audience that mattered? Lit mostly by moonlight now, the dragon master didn't falter. She ducked and weaved around her invisible partner, every gesture calling out to be completed.
yes this one three, please

This is the last year I'll wear the miniryu's blue.
i mean he's not wrong

Once, the ryu fought with fire and ash. Now we are free, that time is past.
! I love this detail. It goes in-line with the philosophies of the clan, and Wataru casually chants it without really knowing what it means -- a lot of children's rhymes are rooted in grim stories. Really neat.

"Leer at it, Toku." The miniryu's eyes flashed red. The bug fluttered to a nervous halt. "Great. Now let's see if you can do what you did yesterday."
memes aside, I think dropping the actual names of the attack pulled me out of the immersion here.

He wasn't really supposed to enter Dragon's Den without permission. And to bring a gaijin along . . .
I like how you built this up to disaster. There are red flags in Wataru's mind, but since he's the viewpoint character he can't fully realize the weight of them.

As he wriggled uncomfortably on the rocky cave floor, it dawned on Wataru that this time, his punishment might be more than a few extra chores.
This line felt a little too on the nose for me -- very tell-not-show in the midst of the rest of your narration, which is more subtle.

What had they wanted? What would make people do a thing like that? It was called the Battle of Five Fires because the invaders had set every valley aflame.
yes good history that is such a good but sad battle name also is it a tolkien reference?

"I care!" Wataru shouted, stung at the accusation. "I'd die to protect the kairyu, you know I would!"

A look crossed Uncle's face that Wataru couldn't parse.
riku and unnamed mother died to protect the kairyu confirmed?

"He's a stubborn boy, Chief," Kana said slowly. She seemed to be choosing each word with care. "A stubborn ryu only learns by ice."
this line is straight fire

"I know sometimes you have been made to feel unwelcome here because of what your mother was. But this is a consequence of your actions, not your blood. Do you understand, Wataru? This is a consequence. It's not—I know it may seem to you like the end of the world. But perhaps you'll take to life outside these valleys. My brother—" Uncle's voice suddenly cracked. "My brother seemed to."
And this, too. It's such a messy thing to untangle. You set up the stigma that Wataru carries early on, and it's clear that a lot of the attention he receives is unfavorable, and in this very isolated case it's entirely Wataru's fault, but at the same time I can't help but feel that this assessment is somewhat incorrect. Of course the kid who you outcast and bully in class isn't going to learn the lessons he's not there for. But I like that that isn't really recognized; the case that Uncle puts forth isn't incorrect and I liked how you portrayed him during the back half of the chapter -- he's an antagonist here but he's not a villain.

I found myself a little frustrated that they seem to have one rule that absolutely cannot be broken (don't show the outsiders the kairyu) and they haven't drilled this into children's heads, especially since it's such an easy concept to grasp. If they have a blessing before battles, surely there'd be some similar rhyme for "never show the gaijin our cool shit"; this seems like the kind of thing that would permeate every fiber of a self-isolating society. The conceit of the fic relies on Wataru realistically not knowing this, and I think you show it off well by emphasizing how he's ostracized in his classes and (presumably) not raised by his parents -- so I think in-universe it makes sense still. There are some really good flags for things that Wataru knows but doesn't understand, like the battle blessing; I think I would've benefited a bit if there was something similar for the secrecy of the kairyu?

Very minor quibbles. I really liked what you put together here; the valley culture feels very real and tangible, and the dragon dance scene in particular was a treat.

A very short 8k indeed.
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
When Ibuki handed him the soap, he saw that her nails had gouged deep impressions into it.
oh no my heart

That doesn't mean you should—"
I think the word "deserve" would be better here? I wasn't sure how she'd want to finish this sentence in a way that the next word/phrase is something she doesn't want to say.

Stupid. Why had he wasted time on Toku's thunder wave attack, when what he'd really wanted to say was—

I'll miss you. I'm sorry.
no yeah just throw it on the ground i didn't need my heart anyway

"Nephew, Mr Inushi has agreed to do us a big favor. He's going to take you to the next town and get you set up with everything you'll need in the outside world."
... what did they tell him anyway? Pinky promise not to tell anyone, also we're exiling this kid, ditch him wherever?

"You could have done it, you know. You were much better than all the little kids dancing."

Wataru stepped forward to take the cloth. Then, on impulse, he threw his arms around Ibuki, pressing them into a tight hug. He couldn't remember a time Ibuki hadn't been there—bossy, all-knowing, comforting.

"I'll miss you," he whispered, ashamed to feel his eyes going wet. "I'm sorry."
somehow having him say it was actually even sadder than not saying it

"You have to cross the sea to go to Cianwood, so we don't go there. But we go everywhere else. Can't beat a wagon. Slow and steady and gets the job done is what Dad says."
I like how this line pairs with Okido's riddle at the end -- there are some who don't cross the sea at all.

"What's a train?" he asked finally.
"What do you mean, pokemon trainer?" Wataru asked, curious despite himself.
I admit I 100% expected a shitty joke to come out of this with Wataru thinking trainers and trains were related

A bit godless, but that's what technology does to you."

"Da-ad," Airi whined from his place in the middle. "Wataru doesn't want to hear stupid talk about politics."
mmm actually we do pls talk more?

I like how you paywall off the information like this, though -- there are logical reasons that we don't get to know these things and how you can coax them slowly into the story when they're relevant, but you set up enough stuff in advance that it feels natural when we actually get there. The Master Kaisho reprise is another good example.

"Oh," said Wataru. They wanted his parents' names. He stared at the blank, perfectly white wall opposite him. "Can't you just put Wataru?"
and? it seems like we're still dancing around his mother's name for a while?

"About twelve winters ago," Wataru said, wondering why it mattered.
Another year? That was too long. "Make me thirteen now," Wataru shot back, since age suddenly seemed up for debate.
Everything about this exchange was *chef's kiss*

Mr Inushi raised an eyebrow as Wataru returned with the pile of clothes. "Bit big for you, aren't all those?"
It sets up for a really good line, but unless they're comically overlarge is there any way that he could actually tell if they're too big without seeing Wataru wear them?

"No thank you, I already have enough on the subject. A simple sentence, but alas, completely beyond my capacity. Though, of course, it would be both simple and false, because it's just not possible to have enough on any subject, even the most narrow and mundane. As a phenomenon, evolution is neither."
There was a time when I could have continued down the trainer's path, fought it out for my place on the pinnacle, but I asked myself, what do you really want, Yukinari? And, you know, it wasn't to be the best or the strongest, but simply to know the most."
I like how you characterize Oak here -- we get a really good sense of him in the first few paragraphs that gets really fleshed out within the span of a few hundred words. Hugely effective.

"That's the one. A week ago it would have been three. Ah well. You're impressive enough for three, aren't you?"
are ... are these other two going to be important? It's too early in the timeline for Red and Blue but?

Wataru smiled at the change in her body-language. If Toku was trying to make herself look big, that meant she thought the charmander would make a decent fight.
You do this in a few places but I really like how you have Wataru paying attention to Toku and charmander's body language to gauge what they want.

A moment later, a small orange pokemon appeared in a burst of that same unnatural red light. Its tail, lit with a fire on one end, swished from side to side and its dark eyes flashed curiously around the room, before locking onto Wataru.
I wonder! It would probably get old to write, but wouldn't Wataru be shocked by pretty much any pokemon that lived outside of the valley? As far as he knows those are pretty much the only species that exist, so this would be like someone sending out a real unicorn?

"Why does everyone keep saying dratini?" Wataru muttered, the long-simmering irritation choosing that moment to spill out. "She's a miniryu."
"Miniryu, hakuryu, kairyu," the professor continued in a reflective voice. "Yes, that's right. That's the full chain. Of course, there have always been legends floating around about a lost community of dragons and their tamers—"
yes see exile really looks like a shitty solution when you don't explain to the kid exactly what he should and shouldn't be saying AND you let him keep the dragon

And then, all at once, Wataru had it. "You mean, like with Master Kaisho! He returned on the back of the kairyu and that's how they knew he belonged to the clan. Toku, that's brilliant!"
oh my sweet summer child

Excellent motivation for travel though!

"You know, there's a Johtanese riddle I've always found poignant. 'They say that Lugia only suffers the same traveler to cross her oceans once. How, then, can a traveler return?'"

The answer seemed obvious.

"You fly back," Wataru said.
"Evolution . . . Well, in a way you've hit the nail on the head, my boy. The traditional answer is that the traveler who returns is not the same as the one who set out. The meaning of the riddle is, to put it simply, that the very act of a long journey changes people."
This scene! Everything about this last bit was my favorite part of the story so far -- Wataru getting it but not getting it, Lugia (!), the real solution to the riddle. It's a really compelling concept and I imagine it's going to hugely parallel the rest of the story, but this is such a wonderfully concise way to put it. <3

I liked how you tied things together here -- the previous chapter felt a bit more disjointed, since you have to cover a lot more ground (introducing the major characters + the minor conflicts Wataru has with various characters + the setting of the valley + the major conflict of the story), so it feels a lot like a collection of small oneshot scenes; in this one, the central thread of Wataru coming to terms with his exile feels a lot more cohesive at holding each of the scenes together.

I have some general thoughts on the pacing of the story that I'm still kicking over, but tbh without the next chapter they feel really useless so I will hold off. What you have here has been really fascinating so far.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
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solrock
Pasting over from FFN in case that review is held hostage by internet goblins again.

[Neither he or Toku]
Neither ... nor *



[The outside world couldn't be that bad, if Airi had thrived in it.]
Haha shade.



[The furious way the water-ryu crashed through the lake never failed to center him. Even if the fight was for play, the gyarados gave it their all.]
Peak 12-year-old boy to pair “fury” and “grounded” lol.



[It's not your fault, Ibuki." Wataru was surprised to find his voice come out steady. "It's my fault. All of it. Okay?"]
Family bonding. 💔

[crumpled-looking paper and smooth metallic circle-stones.]
UH OH.

[There is."

Ibuki's voice caught everyone by surprise. She'd approached them quietly, though the flush on her cheeks indicated she'd just been running. The dark blue cloak from her hakuryu odori was clutched in her hands.]
So sweet!!

[Wataru answered, unsure of why he was having to remind everyone of this.]
Lol! The hazards of being in a story where everyone is well-intentioned.

[Mr Inushi squeezed in beside them]
Missed a period here. I see you’re doing it consistently throughout, but I think Mr. is generally preferred.

Fancy Toes!

[What's so special about that? Wataru thought unhappily. We have dancing too.]
Aw, honey.

[Another unfamiliar word. "Kanto?"]
Oh boy.

[to all the gyms. There's seven, total.]
Ohhhh I bet. Gotcha.

[While they'd been talking, home had passed completely out of sight.]
RIP.


[So he and the outside world had at least one thing in common—their bad hand-writing.]
Cute.

[Why so many fires?" he asked out loud. "Is tonight a celebration?"

"Not fire, electricity,]
Holy shit, poor Wataru. Una really would like him.

Wataru scoping out the food bins with Toku was so sweet.

["After all, today's your birthday!"]
Cute.

[, it would be professional irresponsibility to stick someone with you."]
Kali vibes.

[In fact, her head was tilted in concentration as she listened.]
! She’s soothed by the ancient words!

Mr Inushi is so nice! Apricorn was v thoughtful. And good of Lance to notice! Having a sweet interaction with the charmander seems to have cheered him up enough to look beyond himself for a second.

["I can talk, you know," Wataru said suddenly. He felt emboldened by Mr Inushi's presence.]
Yessss

[open mic to spout my poetry whenever I want it.]
Omg did Oak invent the pokerap?

[it's all nonsense, I'm sure. And absolutely none of my business in any case. Do I have that right?"]
This is so perfectly in his voice. That’s exactly how this character would clear up those worries.

[And then, all at once, Wataru had it. "You mean, like with Master Kaisho! He returned on the back of the kairyu and that's how they knew he belonged to the clan. Toku, that's brilliant!"]
TWO kairyu, I believe, Wataru. Wow Toku is so smart!!

[not caring that he was soiling his new clothes.]
I’d go with “dirtying.” Soiling made me think something else.

I knew the charmander would be Kana. She feels so earned. I didn’t think he’d get baby charizard so early, but it makes total sense.
The character interactions were so sweet and captivating all throughout. Big thumbs up. So, more Lance when???
 
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Reactions: Pen

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
This is the story of Lance.
Oh! Wasn't expecting this by the title but now it makes a lot of sense. Well then.

--

Heya, Pen! I'm here for Catnip, and I took a look at the first chapter. It felt like a long one, and it was a little slow at the start, but I found myself rapidly going through the latter half of the chapter once we got most of the exposition out of the way. For the first half, the highlight for me was the actual dance where a Dragonite (still can't get the Japanese name off the top of my head) descends to complete the dance, which was simultaneously a spectacle and a huge chunk of world building. really liked that.

Another thing about the general direction, and maybe this is just taste, but I found the author's note combined with the Japanese naming scheme a little confusing. I get why it was done, but going with Japanese names and so on ended up making me look up if some characters are based on anyone or anything from canon, since I don't recognize those. Also, "gyarados" is the same in Japanese, but "Hoothoot" is apparently "Hoho" so I'm not sure what the scheme is there, unless only the Dragonite line gets the Japanese treatment... Or something. I'm a little confused there.

"Ow!" Wataru's hand leapt to his head. Toku had bitten him—a gentle bite to the fleshy part of his ear.
The order of these sentences is confusing from a camera perspective. At first, I have no idea why he said Ow. His hand to his head--so was he smacked on the forehead? Oh, no, he was bitten--on the hand? Nose? Oh, his ear. It was just too much redirecting for what I feel should have been a snappy action.

"Well," said Uncle, making a show of turning his face to the sky, "the moon is full, so enough from me. Let's get this underway."

The village broke into cheers.
Something about the dialogue followed by the reaction felt disjoint. Solemn into grand enthusiasm, and it didn't seem to be acknowledged.

Letting loose another, almost triumphant roar, the wild kairyu took off into the night.

"Thank you," Wataru whispered, as the kairyu passed beyond the hills.

He followed Ibuki home in an unusually thoughtful mood.
The pacing here is way too fast. It's such a small portion afterward, too, that I wonder if you can just end the scene after the thank you, and maybe find a way to incorporate that little bit at the end elsewhere somehow? As it stands, the walking back just... happened without transition and felt jarring.

The miniryu's trill echoed his disbelief.
I really like the take you have on how the Pokemon communicate and have personality here. I was a little worried at the first half for how human-centric it seemed until around here, I think.

The council realized that our numbers were dwindling, as the numbers of our enemies grew. We had no wish to violate the philosophy of the ryu by seeking out needless conflict. So the council resolved to completely close our borders and let the knowledge of the ryu's home fade from the world.
I'm confused about the lore here. So, their numbers were dwindling, the enemy was growing stronger, but by simply... closing their borders, they avoided being defeated? How? Are their borders literally mystic walls? Did the enemy not have a passage inside because of some invisible policy? Did the dragons win by self defense? If so, why did they not win before, since clearly their numbers had dwindled? I don't see how closing borders and "hoping everyone would forget" would... work, particularly against an actively hostile and imperial foe.

"The remedy proposed is exile,"
And this, near the end, is probably my biggest puzzler. I don't understand why there was no further debate on this. We have a kid who isn't a good listener, but seems to be a good and talented fighter, but blabbed about the dragons to an outsider. And that's bad. Okay, that works out fine in itself. So the punishment is to... exile him. Where he can blab more.

Why though? They dismissed the other child as someone being whimsical if they spread the rumor, but that still seems like a huge risk to take. And if they think he would honor the dragons, it would seem odd to exile him and risk him no longer doing that--and, to double that up, if he's mixed-race and discriminated against for it, wouldn't that make him seem like an even bigger risk to be sent to the outside world with all this secret knowledge? Would they not suspect he would disrespect this tradition after being literally rejected from his home, just like that?

I just don't see why this wasn't such a big thing to debate.

--

Still, regardless of that, the prose itself was nice, and the other scenes I definitely enjoyed. My favorites, aside from the dance with the dragon, was Wataru's interactions with his Pokemon, and with Airi. I tend to enjoy interactions and dialogue, and while it feels like this chapter was a little light on it, the parts that had them were fun! Thanks for the read.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
@Namohysip Thanks for the thoughtful review! I made a few line-edits in the places you pointed out and hopefully clarified the history of the Ryu's Gift. No mystical walls, but it was in a pretty remote, mountainous area in an era without many quick ways of communication. They kept out of sight until they were forgotten about.

Re Wataru's exile, I've made a tweak that I think gets to the heart of it—the council does not allow Toku to join him in his exile. Boy talking about dragons who doesn't himself have a dragon isn't really something they're as worried about. (Of course, you can probably guess that Toku finds a way to come along in the end.) And they do trust that Wataru wouldn't be actively malevolent. They can see he cares deeply about the kairyu and wouldn't want to knowingly endanger them.
 
Ch 3: The Traveler, Part One

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
The Traveler, Part One

The days had turned long and dry when Wataru set out down the road. He'd wanted to leave straight-away, but paperwork had delayed him, the visa and trainer's card he'd need to stay free at Pokemon Centers. Wataru had the card now—a thin, gleaming rectangle bearing the words, "NAME: Fusube Wataru, HOMETOWN: Fusube City."

Fusube City. The professor had chuckled when he saw it. "If you're from a city, lad, Pallet Town's a regular metropolis."

The time spent waiting hadn't been so bad. The professor's ranch was home to more pokemon than Wataru had ever seen before in one place, and most of them were new to him. There were ponds and streams, wide-open plains, a fragrant garden and a heated terrarium. Wataru spent his days observing the different pokemon, who were sometimes game for a quick battle, at least those days when the spring showers didn't force him inside.

The rainy days were the worst, because on those days it was impossible to escape Professor Okido. The professor tried his best, but during a lecture on hereditary moves or during lunch, when Wataru was trapped at the table and the rain drummed relentlessly against the window panes, a question would inevitably slip out. Were dratini amphibious? Did the thunder wave attack hint at a latent electric typing? What diet, exactly, did dratini consume in the wild—

Some of the questions Wataru couldn't answer, others he didn't want to. The professor had been kind to him, but Wataru didn't like the thought of the man roaming the valleys of the Ryu's Gift, looking for a miniryu to bring back to his private ranch. None of the pokemon here seemed unhappy, but Wataru knew a miniryu would be. So he held his tongue, enduring the questions with shrugged shoulders until Kana finally grew bored and tried to set the professor's coat on fire again.

The charmander had begun to yip furiously when she realized Wataru and Toku were setting out for good. She sucked in a breath, her tail flame doubling, and Wataru watched in fascination, wondering if he was about to witness a full-throated flamethrower attack.

In the face of imminent fiery wrath, the professor had only sighed. "Say please."

Kana bared her teeth, her tail whipping dangerously.

"No one can say I didn't try to my very last breath," the professor muttered to himself. "Yes, you can go with him, if he agrees."

She'd marched over without waiting for Wataru's nod.

"Make sure to write!" the professor had shouted after them down the road.

Remembering, Wataru cast an uneasy glance towards his pack, laden down with a big book—dex, the professor had called it—and some sheets of paper. Writing was a pain and anyway, it wasn't like he had much to write about yet. The days were a blur of sun and heat. Around them the trees were fruiting, bright pops of yellow and red against the vigorous green of their leaves. The road was broad and easy to follow, and Wataru had it mostly to himself, other than the occasional passing wagon.

He liked the solitude. No one told him when to wake up or when to fall asleep, though on most mornings, Wataru woke with the light. Kana always rose to watch the sun rise. She stood outside the tent and turned to the east, her tail-flame flaring up three times as if in salute. Elder Kyo had once told a story about ryu who were born in the sun—maybe Kana was a ryu like that. He wondered if she dreamed about returning to the sun once she'd gotten her wings. At least it wouldn't be hard to find the way, Wataru thought, and wondered for a moment which direction the Ryu's Gift lay from this place. The next morning, he and Toku joined Kana in her morning salute. They stood together, and a warm breeze stirred Wataru's hair.

It wasn't long before he began to notice small huts and farms in the distance. Several hours later, the line of trees ended, and Wataru found himself in the middle of a town. The place was smaller than Cherrygrove and bigger than Pallet, but was unlike either in its air of desolation. The houses seemed badly cared for, their roofs unpatched, and many buildings had windows boarded over with wood rotting from the spring-time storms and summer heat.

The exception was a bustling construction site in the middle of town, where the buzz of machines and occasional shout broke the stillness of the midday heat. Wataru slowed to a stop, gaping upwards at the network of scaffolding and gleaming poles that stretched towards the sky. People moved far above in yellow hats and jackets.

"Impressive, ain't it?"

Wataru hadn't noticed the worker who spoke up from the shade of a nearby crane. The man's short beard was frosted with white, but Wataru could see the strength in his arms.

"What's it for?" he asked. From the height of the poles, Wataru could tell this structure was meant to be tall enough for a large tree to grow comfortably inside.

"You're looking, lad, at the soon-to-be Viridian Gym." Pride was evident in the man's voice as he came forward. He tipped back his head, perhaps imagining staring up at the finished building.

"I didn't know there was a gym here," Wataru answered. He found it hard to keep track of the endless settlement names, but the professor had repeated often enough that the nearest gym to Pallet was in Pewter.

The man grimaced. "There was a gym here once, thirty, forty years ago, maybe more now. Back when you didn't see a soul without a shoe or handkerchief hand-made here in Viridian. But once they started up those factories in Saffron, everyone forgot us. Shut our gym down, not a care at all for people trying to make their honest living." He darted forward abruptly, jerking up the hem of Wataru's shirt to peer at something. "Machine-made. Won't last you through the winter, you know."

Wataru nodded reflexively.

"Now, though," the man continued, "now we're getting it back. Back from that bi—that witch in Lavender—" He paused to spit at the ground. "Know who got it back, boy?"

The man didn't wait for an answer from Wataru, who was staring at the white globule of saliva on the dirt.

"Mr. Fiorelli. Learn the name, boy, learn the name, because I'll bet my boots the whole damn country's going to be learning it soon. Local boy, though not born here. He came as a lad not much older than you are now, fleeing some godsforsaken foreign place. Put his nose to the grindstone from the very first day, that boy did. One moment he's doing sums at the local shop, you blink and he's running the place. We knew he had big things in store for him, yes we did, but what I could notta told you, what I could notta guessed—" The man's finger jabbed out, emphasizing each word "—He. Came. Back. Oh yes. Not many would've. He came back to Viridian a rich man and said to me, Mr. Kimura, build me the finest gym in Kanto! A superb man, a very fine man."

The rant seemed to have tired the worker. He heaved in a few gulping breaths of air and retreated back into the shade.

Beyond the constant sounds of construction, there was little to see or do in Viridian, and it wasn't long before Wataru took back to the road, which ran along the edge of a deep and sprawling forest. In the days that followed, the three of them didn't lack for battles. Innumerable bugs were drawn to the light of his camp-fire.

Kana seemed to find it good sport; the charmander shot off burst after burst of sizzling embers, letting out a triumphant yip every time her opponent retreated back between the oversized trees. Often the interplay continued even after Wataru called it quits for the night. He'd roll out his mat, pull his blanket over his head, and fall asleep to the sound of hiss and yip, hiss and yip, interspersed sometimes by a static buzz and a satisfied trill, when Toku decided to take a turn.

In the second week, the trees grew sparser and the ground harder. The road sloped upwards now. Wataru began to find himself out of breath at the end of a long stretch of walking. Gradually, the trees thinned out almost entirely, giving way to a craggy landscape dotted with thick bushes and twisting undergrowth. The cabins he began to see were not isolated, but had been built in small clusters connected to the main road. The spacing between the clusters lessened as he continued. Finally, passing between two high-rising ridges as the sun set, Wataru entered the city of Pewter.

He ate the hearty stew offered at the Pokemon Center quietly that night. No one paid him any mind as he sat, listening to the lively conversation that spilled out around him. It was strange to hear so many voices after the silence of the road. Pewter was a mining town, an outpost that had grown into a sprawling city as the workers accumulated. The miners at the center praised the Pokemon Center's hot cooking, complained about the newest equipment, and bemoaned the summer heat.

It was terribly hot, worse with no trees to dampen the overbearing sun. The wind filled the air with dust and grit from the mining operations, setting Toku coughing every time they went outdoors. At last, Kana found an entrance into the winding caverns of Mt Moon free of any blasting equipment or towering riggings. The cool caves provided shelter from the stifling heat and made the perfect practice ground for Wataru's team. After all, it was common knowledge around town that the gym leader's pokemon were all native to Mt Moon.

A month's time found Wataru picking his way through a mining site, in search of a man called Muno. Things seemed quiet today, he noted. The big machines sat unused and for once the air wasn't rent by periodic booms. The miners seemed in low spirits as well, smoking in silence or talking softly in the shade of the cliffs. They guided Wataru through the site with lazy nods, until he came upon a stocky man with a bristling beard, hunched over on a big rock.

"Are you Master Muno?" Wataru asked in almost a whisper. He was unnerved by the silence and sense of gloom that pervaded the site.

The man didn't answer. Just as Wataru was preparing to repeat himself in a louder voice—they were probably all deaf from the constant clamor of the machines—the man said, "Who's asking?"

"Char!" Kana yipped defiantly, perhaps taking the man's failure to turn and face them as a sign of disrespect.

He looked up at the sound of her voice. "Oh, a challenger? You're out of luck, I'm afraid. Huge cave-in today. Took out my gym as well as half the camp. Badges all buried inside, too, and my league-assigned ref's taken off. Poor gal. Hope they stick her somewhere nicer next time."

A cave-in. That explained the silence, Wataru supposed. "Was anyone hurt?"

"One of my best drillers had his leg crushed, and six of the other men were hurt as well. No deaths, by Mew's mercy, but it was a damn close thing. If my onix hadn't been there to hold off the collapse until we'd evacuated, I don't know if I'd be sitting here right now." His fist clenched suddenly. "Dammit, I told them this junk was no good. But do any of those big-headed idiots in Saffron listen to a lunk like me?"

Wataru frowned. He'd thought, from the way the townspeople acted, that this man was like Uncle, the leader of his people. Why did he sound so helpless, then?

"Sorry, kid," Muno added, mistaking the look on Wataru's face. "I'd be happy to give you a battle, but without a ref, it won't be official, and you sure as hell won't get a badge out of it. Best if you hold off a week. Or maybe two. Who knows how long they'll take to ship it all out here."

"Oh," Wataru said. "Is that the only problem?" Everyone in this place seemed so obsessed with badges. As far as Wataru was concerned, the battle was the important part. "I don't mind about that."

The man stared at him for a moment, then stood, dusting his pants. "All right, kid. Follow me, then. I don't want to do any battling around here. The tremors could trigger a second cave-in, and none of us wants that."

Wataru followed him in silence, thinking. onix, the man had said. Wataru didn't recognize the name. Maybe he should have spent more time looking at the professor's dex. But in Wataru's opinion, reading about pokémon was next to useless. Watching them was the way to learn, seeing how they moved, how they fought, what moves they resorted to when frightened. The professor's book couldn't tell him any of that.

After twenty minutes of walking, Muno came to a stop. They were far from the mining site, now, on a leveler stretch of rock.

"This'll do," the man said. He rolled his shoulders twice and then put his hand on his belt. "How many badges you got, kid?"

"No badges," Wataru answered.

Muno's hand fell back to the last pokeball on his belt. "Then come out, Geodude."

Wataru watched the rocky pokemon materialize in disappointment. He'd been expecting something more impressive. "We've beaten loads of those before," he said. On his shoulder, Toku huffed her agreement.

Muno let out a short chuckle. "Cocky one, ain't you? All right, if you're bored with geodudes, let's see how you like graveler."

Two flashes later, a pokemon very similar to the geodude, but substantially larger, planted its feet on the craggy ground. Wataru had run into one or two of them practicing in the caves. They had watched him battle with unblinking eyes, but never offered challenge themselves, even when Kana sent taunting embers their way.

"Let's go, Toku," Wataru said. He'd learned by now not to expect time for a dedication before the battle. He let the words pass through his mind as Toku sized up her opponent. Once, the Ryu fought . . .

"Curious pokemon you've got there," Muno said. "Some fancy water-type, I expect. Well, let's see how you handle graveler's magnitude."

At the word, the graveler leaped high into the air. Wataru knew what would happen when it touched down, and so did Toku. She was already wiggling her belly against the rocky ground, gathering static just the way they'd practiced.

A shock-wave rippled out as the graveler impacted the ground, causing Wataru to topple backwards. Muno hadn't lost his footing, but his grin shrunk when he realized the attack hadn't touched Toku. The miniryu settled back on the ground, spare static still crackling across her scales.

"Hang on," Muno said, narrowing his eyes. "You've used a static charge to stay off the ground, haven't you? Well, well. I don't see that one everyday. But good luck making any headway against graveler with an electric-type."

"Leer," Wataru called out, ignoring the gym leader's commentary. The graveler looked down into Toku's glinting red eyes.

"Roll-out!"

At the command, the rocky pokemon tucked in its arms and legs. Toku tensed as it picked up speed, almost blurring. They'd met with this attack often enough in the caves, though. The added size and speed didn't change anything.

"Wait for it," Wataru muttered, watching the tip of Toku's tail, where the air was condensing. As the graveler hurtled forward, Toku edged to the side. "Now!" Wataru shouted. Toku's tail, sheathed in water, swung around to strike the graveler right where its body made contact with the ground. The angle of the attack sent it soaring into the air, unwinding from its tight curl.

Toku was already gathering water for a second attack. As she bore down, the graveler let out a surprisingly high shout, like the whine of metal on rock.

"Hold it, please," Muno called out. "I think Graveler's had enough, and I don't want it out of commission all day."

Toku shot Wataru a quick glance, and he nodded. She lay down her tail, letting the excess water drip to the ground, staining the rocks dark. Wataru let out a breath. They'd worked hard to perfect her aqua tail, but it was still a relief to see her pull off the move in battle.

"As the ref would say if she were here, the first battle goes to the challenger. Had a water-type move up your sleeve after all, did you?" Muno didn't wait for an answer. "Let's see how you do with my good friend onix!"

Wataru gaped up at the materializing form. The pokemon's basic shape was similar to Toku's, its body long and winding. But the resemblance ended there. Where Toku was slight and scaled, this pokemon's limbs consisted of enormous boulders. It looked down on Toku with a confident glare on its sharp, craggy face.

They hadn't seen this pokemon in the caves. Though—Wataru remembered times the walls had tremored, times a boulder would seem to vanish or reappear. Perhaps he simply hadn't known enough to notice.

"Get ready, Toku," Wataru said quietly. He didn't know this pokemon, but he could hazard a guess as to how it would make its initial attack.

When the ground began to shake, Toku was ready, lifting herself the scant inch off the ground necessary to escape the impact. But neither she nor Wataru noticed the onix's gleaming tail until it crashed into Toku, throwing her back heavily against the hard, rocky ground.

"Tricks don't work twice, kid," Muno rumbled. "You'd better keep that in mind."

Wataru watched as Toku slowly raised her head.

"Are you okay?" he whispered. The impact had looked brutal. Toku gave him a small nod, but he didn't like the stiff way she was holding herself, as if lifting her head off the ground required all her concentration.

Muno seemed to decide he'd let them rest long enough. "Finish it off with a rock throw!"

Normally, Toku could have dodged the falling rocks with ease. But as the onix sent up hunks of stone into the air, Wataru registered her stillness. Still winded from the impact, she wouldn't be able to move aside in time.

If there was just some way to repel the rocks from where she was—but they'd never pulled off that move successfully before!

Toku's urgent trill shook Wataru from his thoughts.

"Twister!" he called out before he could second-guess it. The rocks were only feet from Toku's prone body, which seemed impossibly frail against the rugged landscape.

The swirling wind that erupted from Toku's tail was more than she'd ever managed before. It was enough to halt the rocks, buffeting them up in defiance of gravity, but not enough, Wataru realized, to turn defense into offense and throw them back. The twister was already weakening, with Toku still trapped underneath the rocks.

"You have to get out of there!" Wataru shouted. The miniryu squeezed her eyes shut and threw her body backwards just as the rocks clattered down, kicking up so much dust that the battlefield was obscured.

When it cleared, Wataru found the onix looming over Toku, the two locked in a staring match. Toku's eyes burned a bright, defiant red, but that tactic could only work so long. Muni wasn't giving them time to think. "Iron tail, again!"

Time seemed to slow as the onix's silver tail swung towards them. Suddenly, Wataru glimpsed a way forward. "Wrap!" he shouted, hoping Toku would see it too.

As the tail swept closer, Toku threw herself into the air, clinging to the base of the onix's rocky joint. On the up-swing, Wataru cried out, "Aqua tail!"

Carried by the momentum of the iron tail attack, Toku fell through the air. Her tail struck cleanly against the enormous slabs of the onix's back, causing it to let out a short, displeased rumble. But Wataru could see the attack hadn't been enough. Toku was pressed close to the ground, her tongue flicking in and out. Fatigue.

A tug on his pants drew Wataru's gaze downwards. Kana was trembling, her tail fire lit brightly.

"You want to fight?"

Wataru looked back at the battlefield, where the onix had Toku trapped between its rocky joints, readying a wrap attack of its own.

"That's enough!" Wataru called out. "Toku, Kana's going to take over."

"Good decision, kid."

The onix uncoiled at Muno's nod, allowing Toku to worm her way back over to Wataru. Her eyes were dull with exhaustion and a dark bruise had already spread across her side. Wataru scooped her up onto his shoulders, where she lay almost limp. But after a moment, her tongue flicked wetly across his left ear.

As Kana stepped forward, bristling, the onix made a low, clanging sound. Laughter, Wataru thought. Kana must have thought so too, because her mouth twisted into a grimace and the flame rose higher on her tail.

"This little fire-type against my onix?" Muno said skeptically.

They were overconfident, Wataru realized. They didn't know Kana at all.

"Let's finish this off quickly, with another rock throw."

No use dodging, Wataru thought. It can hit from the sky and the ground.

"Break through like a kairyu!" Wataru shouted.

With a joyful yip, Kana jumped straight towards the largest of the incoming boulders, cleaving it cleanly in two with her fist.

"Land on its back and get to the head!" Toku's aqua tail hadn't done much against the boulders that made up the onix's body. Maybe the body hadn't been the right place to strike. "Now metal claw again," Wataru shouted, when Kana stood atop the rocky snake.

The onix sagged noticeably at the first blow.

"Shake it off—" Muno called out, a frantic note entering his voice. The onix reared, but Kana dug in her claws.

"Again!" Wataru shouted to her, though the charmander hardly needed his encouragement. She landed blow after blow with evident satisfaction. At the fifth, the onix slackened. Its head slammed down hard onto the ground, the rest of its body clattering behind.

As Kana stood triumphant atop her fallen foe, her tail flame doubled in size. It had grown brighter too, so bright it almost hurt to look at. The white light of the flame spread up Kana's tail, then through her whole body. When the light cleared, Kana stood taller, her claws sharper and her skull more pronounced. She scratched one new gleaming claw against her chest and let out a boastful yip.

"Well, well," Muno said, as Wataru and Toku showered Kana with praise. He'd come up quietly, and was watching them with a small smile on his face. "It's been some time since my onix has been laid low by a runt without a water-attack to its name. That's some fighting spirit your pokemon have got, both of them." Toku let out a short trill from Wataru's shoulder. "If anyone deserves a badge, you do, but I really am all out."

"I really don't mind," Wataru said again. At last he remembered his manners and dipped into a low bow. "Thank you for the honor of this battle, sir."

Muno chuckled. "It's me should be thanking you. Would have just sat stewing myself in the sun all day, not doing anything useful. I gotta send another letter to Saffron, even if it's just going to line their waste-paper baskets."

"About the equipment?" Wataru asked. "Master Muno, if it's so bad, why won't they listen to you?"

The gym leader gave a shrug. "My opinion isn't worth much these days, I'm afraid. The big cities need our steel, but couldn't care less about our lives, and that's just the way it is." His hand fell to his pocket. "Here now! I know what I can give you as a keepsake of our little fight." His palm opened around a fragment of stone that caught silver in the midday sun. "Moon stone fragment. Not big enough to sell on the market and you won't get an evolution out of it, but pretty. It's good to have pretty things."

Wataru took the stone, which felt oddly cool in his hands.

"Thank you, Master Muno," he said again.

The way back to the Pokemon Center was long and hot. Kana's tail swung back and forth as she walked, humming happily. Nothing in the world could have dampened the charmeleon's mood after her joint victory and evolution. Periodically, she opened her mouth and watered the rocky ground with flaming embers. Toku had fallen asleep on Wataru's shoulder, her snoring loud in his ears.

Wataru felt strangely melancholy as he made his way down into Pewter City. The absence of the machinery noises was disorienting, now that he was listening for them. It would be like Dragon's Den without the kairyu, he thought.

That night, Wataru slept uneasily. His dreams were filled with the crash of falling rocks.
 
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OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
The rainy days were the worst,
Reaching deep into the fiction well here, huh? ;) As we all know, adding rain to a scene always makes it better.

The professor tried his best, but
I liked this tension. Oak trying his best and failing means not being able to rein in his curiosity. And even if he’s kind and well-intentioned enough to take baby Wataru under his wing and give him a pokémon, it’s definitely not cool.

laden down with a big book—dex, the professor had called it
Oh god. Beautifully old school.

He liked the solitude. No one told him when to wake up or when to fall asleep
I think this is the appeal for anyone leaving home to go on a journey for the first time, but because of what we know about Wataru’s background—communal sleeping space, not having friends in his community—it’s more powerful.

The next morning, he and Toku joined Kana in her morning salute. They stood together, and a warm breeze stirred Wataru's hair.
Such a small but lovely moment.

The houses seemed badly cared for, their roofs unpatched, and many buildings had windows boarded over with wood rotting from the spring-time storms and summer heat.
Oof. Hard times in western Kanto.

But once they started up those factories in Saffron, everyone forgot us.
👀

He darted forward abruptly, jerking up the hem of Wataru's shirt to peer at something. "Machine-made.
You've done a really nice job here rendering the working-class construction worker vibe. That pushiness coupled with pride in their work, pride in being scrappy.

Now, though," the man continued, "now we're getting it back. Back from that bi—that witch in Lavender—" He paused to spit at the ground. "Know who got it back, boy?"
A G A T H A? I like that he tried to correct his language for Wataru, haha.

He came back to Viridian a rich man and said to me, Mr. Kimura, build me the finest gym in Kanto! A superb man, a very fine man."
Oh, excellent. This reminds me of how poor white folks talk about Trump because they want to believe that they too could climb that ladder—fitting parallel for Giovanni. And oof, Wataru is going to be punching up. He’s a kid fighting an adult. I guess that’s always the case in Pokémon, but it feels more imposing here already. Wataru Is learning what an onix is. Giovanni is commissioning buildings.

they didn't lack for battles.
Unclear who “they” is—needs clarity or a transition.

hiss and yip, hiss and yip, interspersed sometimes by a static buzz and a satisfied trill, when Toku decided to take a turn.
She protecc, she attack, but most of all ... he take a nap. This is a lovely visual.

The miners at the center praised the Pokemon Center's hot cooking, complained about the newest equipment, and bemoaned the summer heat.
This feels very real to life. Defining a place by what they complain about is 👌🏻

It was terribly hot, worse with no trees to dampen the overbearing sun. The wind filled the air with dust and grit from the mining operations,
Sensing a development vs. nature theme happening in Kanto.

The big machines sat unused and the air wasn't rent by the occasional sonic boom.
This seems to want an “as usual” or “for once” in here somewhere.

The miners seemed in low spirits as well, smoking in silence or talking softly in the shade of the cliffs.
Agh, great little details.

Huge cave-in today. Took out my gym as well as half the camp.
Oh fuck. How funny—we’ve both got Muno essentially dodging a cave-in of sorts.

Why did he sound so helpless, then?
Oof. That’s when you know you’re growing up: when the adults are no longer super heroes. Planting seeds for lessons about leadership and/or speaking truth to power.

"Oh," Wataru said. "Is that the only problem?" Everyone in this place seemed so obsessed with badges. As far as Wataru was concerned, the battle was the important part. "I don't mind about that."
This feels very fitting. Again, I can already see how you’re setting up for future conversations about actual leadership vs. the trappings of leadership.

This is the real-life mineral. The pokémon is spelled with an I.

But in Wataru's opinion, reading about pokémon was next to useless. Watching them was the way to learn, seeing how they moved, how they fought, what moves they resorted to when frightened.
Absolutely.

He'd learned by now not to expect time for a dedication before the battle. He let the words pass through his mind as Toku sized up her opponent. Once, the Ryu fought . . .
It’s both so sad and lovely that he’s had to internalize it instead. Kanto is already forcing him to speed up his pace. I wonder if he’ll have to process some internal tension as it becomes harder to make space for these spiritual practices.

Toku was already gathering water for a second attack.
Ooh, I like this because it makes me visualize her pulling the moisture out of the air.

Tricks don't work twice, kid," Muno rumbled. "You'd better keep that in mind."
YUP.

Wrap!" he shouted, hoping Toku would see it too.
I love this moment of hope and trust. Roll +Bond, Wataru! Though I’ll add that how she was wrapping was the only moment I felt a little lost in the battle and had trouble visualizing.

Toku was pressed close to the ground, her tongue flicking in and out. Fatigue.
Great details.

something wet flicked across his left ear.
I don’t know why he wouldn’t know it was her tongue. (She give a keeeess.)

the rest of its body clattering behind.
Oof, nice. You can really hear each piece hitting the ground.

The big cities need our steel, but couldn't care less about our lives, and that's just the way it is."
Biggest oof.

Not big enough to sell on the market and you won't get an evolution out of it, but pretty. It's good to have pretty things."
Aww this is cute, especially coming from big gruff man.

Periodically, she opened her mouth and watered the rocky ground with flaming embers.
Water x flames is too incongruous to me, even though I know you’re evoking the motion of it.

Satisfying battle! You can really feel how Wataru and his babies are bonding. All three of them are contributing their intelligence and their trust. Muno is so much more interesting me as a gym leader than Brock. The anime has ruined him for me.
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Wataru had the card now—a thin, gleaming rectangle bearing the words Fusube Wataru, Fusube City.
Partially because it's been three weeks since I read the chapter that made this his last name, partially because it's surname/first name in Japanese (which is a good detail!), partially because 3/4 of the words are foreign to me -- I really couldn't parse "Fusube Wataru, Fusube City" very well. Maybe "NAME: Fusube Wataru, HOMETOWN: Fusube City" or something to get that across better?

The professor tried his best, but during a lecture on hereditary moves or during lunch, when Wataru was trapped at the table and the rain drummed relentlessly against the window panes, a question would inevitably slip out. Were dratini amphibious? Did the thunder wave attack hint at a latent electric typing? What diet, exactly, did dratini consume in the wild—
I really like your wholesome but curious Oak in this -- easy as a reader to see that he's probably harmless, also easy as Wataru to see why he might not be.

Wataru knew a miniryu would be. So he held his tongue, enduring the questions with shrugged shoulders until Kana finally grew bored and tried to set the professor's coat on fire again.
cutie

In the face of imminent fiery wrath, the professor had only sighed. "Say please."
I love this detail so much, and the way he goes about this -- non-protagonist humans respecting pokemon is also *chef's kiss*

Remembering, Wataru cast an uneasy glance towards his pack, laden down with a big book—dex, the professor had called it—and some sheets of paper.
I like how we make fun of Mark for not packing light and Wataru is over here with an entire empty encyclopedia in his "fleeing home with just the clothes on my back" bag

Elder Kyo had once told a story about ryu who were born in the sun—maybe Kana was a ryu like that. He wondered if she dreamed about returning to the sun once she'd gotten her wings.
yes lore gud

People moved far above in yellow hats and jackets.
I wonder if he'd recognize hardhats as hats? I feel like if the Ryu's Gift had hats they'd definitely look different.

Shut our gym down, not a care at all for people trying to make their honest living." He darted forward abruptly, jerking up the hem of Wataru's shirt to peer at something. "Machine-made. Won't last you through the winter, you know."
oh it's gonna be that sort of story

"Now, though," the man continued, "now we're getting it back. Back from that bi—that witch in Lavender—" He paused to spit at the ground. "Know who got it back, boy?"
oh NO it's gonna be THAT sort of story

We knew he had big things in store for him, yes we did, but what I could notta told you, what I could notta guessed—" The man's finger jabbed out, emphasizing each word "—He. Came. Back. Oh yes. Not many would've. He came back to Viridian a rich man and said to me, Mr. Kimura, build me the finest gym in Kanto! A superb man, a very fine man."
OH NO IT'S GONNA BE THAT SORT OF STORY PART III
If this is setting up for lategame Giovanni antagonist I'm super hyped, though. Especially with the parallels of smalltown boys being kicked out of their homes and then coming back very much Changed by their journeys.

in search of a man called Muno
uno that's my name

Wataru frowned. He'd thought, from the way the townspeople acted, that this man was like Uncle, the leader of his people. Why did he sound so helpless, then?
it's gonna be that sort of story part iv

"All right, kid. Follow me, then. I don't want to do any battling around here. The tremors could trigger a second cave-in, and none of us wants that."
"Hold it, please," Muno called out. "I think Graveler's had enough, and I don't want it out of commission all day."
reasonable gym leaders 2020

After twenty minutes of walking, Muno came to a stop. They were far from the mining site, now, on a leveler stretch of rock.
this is like a mile? Which feels like a bit of a long time/beeg distance; not sure if that's what you were going for.

Wataru watched the rocky pokemon materialize in disappointment. He'd been expecting something more impressive. "We've beaten loads of those before," he said. On his shoulder, Toku huffed her agreement.

Muno let out a short chuckle. "Cocky one, ain't you? All right, if you're bored with geodudes, let's see how you like graveler."
this is such a wataru moment

They hadn't seen this pokemon in the caves. Though—Wataru remembered times the walls had tremored, times a boulder would seem to vanish or reappear. Perhaps he simply hadn't known enough to notice.
I really like this detail -- Wataru sees something new and assumes it's a thing he doesn't know, rather than the world being wrong. This is such a clever way to integrate that bit of his character.

The swirling wind that erupted from Toku's tail was more than she'd ever managed before. It was enough to halt the rocks, buffeting them up in defiance of gravity, but not enough, Wataru realized, to turn defense into offense and throw them back. The twister was already weakening, with Toku still trapped underneath the rocks.
*pushes up glasses*
this would be a lot of wind to keep rocks airborne and could easily be used to launch most lighter enemies at near-lethal speeds lol

But as the onix coiled itself around Toku, Wataru could see the attack hadn't been enough. Toku was pressed close to the ground, her tongue flicking in and out. Fatigue.
This is such a cute detail too, with Wataru able to recognize how she's feeling. But if onix is coiled around her I'm not sure how she can be pressed close to the ground?

"Break through like a kairyu!" Wataru shouted.
such a cute and childlike way to describe metal claw i love it

"My opinion isn't worth much these days, I'm afraid. The big cities need our steel, but couldn't care less about our lives, and that's just the way it is."
ah fuck it's going to be that kind of story part v

His palm opened around a fragment of stone that caught silver in the midday sun.
chekhov's rock??

The absence of the machinery noises was disorienting, now that he was listening for it. It would be like Dragon's Den without the kairyu, he thought.
the back to back "it" referring to different things threw me a little here

I like how we've moved away from chapters that make me feel generally just sad for Wataru to feeling sad about the entirety of Kanto; that's a fun flip wow golly. The worldbuilding is excellent though; Pewter as an abandoned mining town is very Relevant and I can see a lot of compelling conflict coming out of a technologically divided Kanto, with technologically inept Wataru at the center. Pure speculation, but this does feel like it's going to be central to the main conflict of this story, so -- I like that it's being set up early, and I also like *how* you set it up, where there isn't exactly a Bad Guy we can point to except for that one guy, just a lot of understanding that things don't have to be this way. It's wildly topical right now lol.

Battle was very cute, too. I also really like how trainers behave in this setting, and how Wataru, who can recognize how his pokemon feel, isn't the only one consciously trying to do that -- that's a behavior in side characters that I don't often see, and I love that Muno and Okido get it here.

So does he like not actually get all the badges because he doesn't really care about them, just getting stronger? That's a great way to skip the badge quest tbh.
 
Ch 3: The Traveler, Part Two New

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
The Traveler, Part Two

The walking pass cut high across Mt Moon. Below him, Wataru could sometimes make out the curve of the transport road. Out of sight, but not out of hearing, conveyors ran their shipments. The air was still warm when the path at last turned downwards, but a chilly breeze was beginning to blow in from the east. As he came around a bend, Wataru caught his first sight of Cerulean City—a vast expanse of blue sea blanketed by fluffy white clouds.

It was another day, though, before they could continue. Toku's shedding had come, her second that year. The sparse, rocky path wasn't the best place, but they made do, huddling in a small alcove while Toku twisted back and forth, inching slowly out of her old skin. When the shedding was complete, there was no stream nearby for her to soak in, and Wataru couldn't spare water from his bottle to soothe her newly exposed scales. So Toku spent the evening with her eyes closed in concentration, condensation beading over her body. They left the shed skin pushed behind a boulder—a dry, leathery husk, still a vibrant blue, though Wataru knew the color would fade with time, especially in the dry mountain air.

One day and another, and the mountains softened into rolling hills, speckled with green. The cool breeze was more constant now, bringing the taste of brine to Wataru's lips. He found himself hiking faster, eager to eat something other than dried berries and protein bars. In the leafy route that connected the mountain pass to the city, Toku stopped to nibble at the base of a patch of bright yellow flowers. If it suited Toku, Wataru decided it could suit him too. The roots of the flowers were sour, but the tang was pleasant and the grassy taste refreshing.

Catching the tell-tale white of artificial lights in the distance, Wataru hurried on. Cerulean City was huge. Its streets were paved with cobblestones—not that the streets were too visible beneath the crush of people streaming through. The Pokemon Center wasn't any less packed.

"There's at least another month left in the season," the on-duty nurse told Wataru when he checked in. "People won't abandon the beaches until the water freezes their toes."

Due to the abundance of guests, Wataru was placed in a shared room, lined with four sets of doubly-stacked cots. There was enough space to maneuver between them, but no more than that, and certainly not enough for his usual morning stretches. Wataru wasn't a stranger to sleeping tightly packed, but these roommates were louder than the ones back home had been. There was no group curfew, and so the door slid open and shut what seemed to be every five minutes, washing the room in blinding light each time. Wataru stuck his pillow over his head, but even that couldn't drown out the constant whispering and giggles that rose from the other beds.

The close quarters also left Wataru worried about Toku. People were constantly noticing her, saying, "Hey, that's an unusual pokemon you've got there? What's it called?" He'd snapped loudly at the first person to ask and glared long and hard at the second; now Wataru's roommates kept their distance and didn't bother inviting him to join them in the cafeteria. That wasn't a problem, though. Wataru was used to keeping his own company and preventing Kana from picking fights with the other trainers' pokemon was a full-time job anyway.

It was a relief to escape the city, staking out turf on the grassy route that ran to the beach and battling any passing trainers willing to delay their dipping. Wataru didn't spend much time at the beach himself: Kana hated all the water and the salt irritated Toku's still fresh scales. Besides, the noise was worst at the beach, high-pitched hooting and even screaming that had Wataru flinching around to see who was in distress.

The nights the constant open-and-shut of the door made sleep impossible, Wataru began to study the professor's book. On one such night, he flipped a page and found a sketch of a pokemon very much like Toku staring up at him.

Dratini, he read. Folk Typing: Dragon. Scientific Typing: Unknown. Lives in proximity to water. First stage of the Dragonite line. (See Dragonite.) Rarity: Mythic.

Wataru turned the page, but there was nothing more written about miniryu.

~*~​

One afternoon, Wataru noticed a large crowd gathered by the edge of a stream. He pushed his way through to find himself staring at a large koiking, swimming determinedly up-stream against the current. It was making progress, but the miniaturized waterfall created by the rising cliffs was too steep for it to climb. A few chuckles rose from the watching crowd as the koiking flung itself forward and was once again buffeted back.

"How long do you think it'll try?"

"I've read they don't have any sense of time. Their mental clock resets like every five minutes. So it could keep on trying forever without realizing."

"Well I've read every koiking has a golden coin inside. Should we check?"

But this suggestion was booed down. When the koiking did nothing more exciting than persist in its frantic swim, the crowd slowly dispersed, until only Wataru was left. He wondered if it was true about the mental clock. Somehow, Wataru didn't think so. The koiking's eyes were narrowed in concentration and its leaps were becoming more wild, as if frustrated by its lack of success.

Pride, Wataru thought. That was probably all that was keeping it going.

Wataru felt bad for the small water-ryu. Especially after being watched by all those people, how could it just give up and let the current carry it away?

"Hey," he called out to it, "Let's battle."

Nestled inside Wataru's shirt, Toku let out a yawn, but Kana was game, chiming in with a taunting yip. One of the koiking's large eyes flecked over to them.

Wataru pointed down-river, where the current slowed and the water pooled. "We can fight there. And after we're done you can finish your climb."

For a moment, he thought the koiking would refuse. But its tail ceased its frantic beating and the koiking let itself be pushed down-stream.

When Kana reached the pooling water, the koiking attacked in a flurry, using its fins to strike up bands of water. Kana let out an irritated hiss as she was hit. The terrain was in the small water-ryu's favor: each time Kana struck out with a gleaming claw, the koiking vanished under the water, only to send another wave against Kana's exposed side. Toku peeked her nose out of Wataru's shirt to take in the spectacle of Kana, a fire-ryu half-grown, her tail flame blazing and crested head proudly raised, snorting and stamping as she tried to pin down the insistent fish. As Kana lunged forward yet again only to receive a splash of water to the face, Toku let out an amused trill.

The koiking froze at the sound, its eyes craning upwards until they landed on the miniryu. Taking advantage of the water-ryu's distraction, Kana swiped out her claws. Her attack knocked the koiking from the water to the grassy bank, where it flopped from side to side, gaze still fixed on Toku. The miniryu let out a questioning trill and the koiking gasped out a strained response.

"Put it back in the water, Kana," Wataru told the charmeleon, who complied with a small snort, her pride clearly still smarting from the one-sided battle. Wataru set Toku down by the stream side, where she listened to the koiking's glubbing with her ear fins angled forward.

"What is it, Toku?" Wataru asked afterwards, but the miniryu didn't seem inclined to share. She tended to stay moody in the weeks after a shedding. "I'll get you some ice cream," he decided. That frozen treat had definitely been the highlight of the new city.

Fifteen minutes later, Toku was licking away at an enormous vanilla swirl. Kana had turned her nose up at the ice cream and was sprawled out on the beach sand, her sulk gradually mellowing into a sunning session. It was another bright afternoon.

"Oh my."

Wataru lifted his head to see an elderly woman staring down at them. Her cheeks were sunken and her nose sharp; stringy hair dyed a bright blue fell down her back. She was wrapped in a light shawl patterned with waves and an open sky and her gaze was fixed on Toku.

"I haven't seen one of those since I was a gel," she said softly, dropping unceremoniously onto the sand by Wataru. She kicked off her sandals and dug her bare feet into the warm sand with a pleased sigh.

Wataru watched her warily. He'd been stopped by enough beach-goers with disposable yellow cameras that he'd learn how to shut these interactions down quickly. But—

"Seen one?" he echoed.

The old woman nodded. She waved one veined hand at the coast-side. "Fifty years ago—merciful Mew, I've gotten old—fifty years ago, if you can even imagine, this beach was a quiet place, frequented by fishers and no one else. No light-house, either. The fishing boats returned before sunset, or sometimes, when the moon shone full, they'd tempt fate and stay out a little longer.

"Of course, that wasn't always wise. A storm might creep up, quite suddenly, creating trouble for even the most experienced sailors. The waves turn choppy, the moon covers over, and a woman is forced to realize how lonely we are, poor finless, wingless creatures, caught far from our home shores. It happened to my mother and her small crew—a calm, silver night that turned nasty in an instant. A wave broke over the decks and a vicious wind tore through the sail. All would have been lost then, if not for the dragonite."

"Dragonite?" Wataru said with a start. That was the name from the book . . .

The old woman smiled. Her eyes had fallen closed as she spoke, as if seeing the sequence play out behind her eyelids. "Yes, a dragonite. The sailors told tales of them, of course. You'd catch a glimpse on full moon nights, a shadowed shape coasting above the waves with impossible ease. The dragonite were known to be deadly powerful, but kind. My mother found that out for herself. Just when all hope seemed lost and she'd resigned herself to the gaping maw of the sea, the ship tugged into motion. She looked up to the sound of beating wings and found a dragonite aloft over her, one enormous claw gripping the broken sail. It towed them in silence as the storm continued to crash, betraying no sign of exertion despite the ship's weight. At last, they were back in shallow waters. The dragonite took off as silently as it had come, and the current washed my mother and her crew safe to shore . . ."

The woman let out a long sigh. "Our quiet guardians, we called them. We built no shrines, but we sang to them on full moon nights, and I like to think they understood our gratitude. Of course, that was long ago. The light-house rose and shortly after, the dragonite sightings began to slow, until even during the brightest harvest moon, the skies stayed empty. Just us sailors and the beacon light of the tower to guide us home. Progress, to be sure. Fewer lives lost to the sea. But we lost the dragonite and we gained all this—" Her hand rose in a dismissive sweep of the crowded beach-side. "It can make an old woman melancholy, it really can."

"Kairyu—dragonite once lived here?" Wataru said, his head spinning. Toku made a small sound from his shoulder. "Is that why the koiking was looking at you so funny, Toku? Is that what it said?"

"A koiking, you say?" the old woman interjected, speaking over Toku's quiet trill of confirmation. "Little guides, we've always called them here. They swim upstream, always, as if seeking something. Gold, idiots speculate, but I've always wondered—" She fell silent for a moment. "Perhaps it's a foolish fantasy, but I've always liked to think the dragonite never completely left us. Perhaps they just hid themselves away, far from the lights and noise, in the immeasurable nooks and crannies of Cerulean Cave. The cave's never been fully explored, you know. Not profitable. Too many cliffs and watery rises, and no trace of ore to mine."

"You think the ryu are still here?" Wataru said. "Toku, do you think that's possible?"

He realized he was holding in his breath, waiting for the miniryu's answer.

"Riiii," Toku trilled at last. Yes. It could be possible.

"If you find that koiking," the old woman said, "it might be able to show you the way."

Wataru leaped to his feet like a fire had been lit under him. "Then what are we waiting for?"

He took off, ignoring Kana's indignant yelp, up the sandy beach, onto the leafy path, until he'd reached the same stream as before, with its small waterfall. But there was no sign of the koiking there.

"Riii ii!" Toku trilled suddenly. Wataru followed her gaze up above the waterfall, where he caught an orange flash.

"It made it up!" Wataru exclaimed, impressed by the water-ryu's tenacity. Scrambling up the steep incline, Wataru found the koiking resting near the bank. It had latched one fin around a deeply rooted reed to keep itself from being pushed back downstream.

"Hi again," Wataru said breathlessly. "We're trying to find the ryu. Do you know them? Miniryu, like Toku." He set the miniryu down by the stream side, belatedly realizing that she should probably do the talking. His foot tapped impatiently as the two spoke, exchanging trills and gulps. Finally, Toku nodded, her eyes sparkling.

"It does? And can show us?"

The miniryu's tail twitched uncertainly. Then she pointed it towards the pool of water the koiking was resting in.

Wataru thought for a moment, trying to make out Toku's meaning. "Like this pool? Oh! It knows, but it hasn't been before. Is that right?"

This time Toku's trill was satisfied. Wataru fell back on the grassy shore, his mind buzzing. Could it be possible? A ryu colony, all the way out here? And he'd be the one to discover them!

"Tomorrow!" The shout made Wataru and Toku both jump. The old woman had caught up with them and was standing beneath the waterfall, Kana at her side. "If you're going to traipse around in Cerulean Cave, you'll need supplies. And you'll need a guide." It was obvious she meant herself. "Can you tell that koiking to meet us here tomorrow, at dawn?

Wataru and Toku exchanged a glance. He'd seen enough of Mt Moon to know that the caves in these parts could be labyrinths, full of precarious passages and sudden dead-ends. And the old woman seemed to know what she was doing. Wataru wouldn't have known about the kairyu at all without her story.

"Do you think it's okay, Toku?" Wataru whispered.

The miniryu looked down on the old woman with a hard, evaluative gaze. "Rii-a," she trilled back softly. Okay for now.

"Excellent," said the old woman, before Wataru could answer her. "I'll see you at dawn."

~*~​

Wataru woke to a cold, rasping tongue dragging against his cheek.

"Toku," he groaned in protest, pulling his blanket up over his head. When Toku whined again, he sat up blearily. The sleeping room was silent except for the occasional snore, and the sky outside was dark, though a red glint suggested that soon it would be dawn—

Dawn!

The memory of yesterday lit through Wataru like an electric jolt. He flung aside the blanket and fumbled for his clothes in the dark. The air was freezing when he stepped outside. Knotting a scarf around his neck, Wataru set out at a run for the stream. He passed a few joggers and several fishers, but other than that, the cobblestone streets were empty. The stillness of early morning transformed Cerulean; for the first time, Wataru could imagine it as the quiet fishing town from the old woman's story.

The old woman was waiting for him by the stream. She'd managed to clamber up the cliff-side and was tickling the koiking on its stomach. The water-ryu's eyes were closed in pleasure.

"Finally!" the old woman exclaimed when she caught sight of them. Wataru noticed an overladen pack set down at her side.

"Sorry," Wataru panted. "We're ready now," he told the koiking. But the water-ryu didn't move until Toku let out a short trill.

Before Wataru could blink, it shot upstream, leaving them scrambling to follow. The stream continued straight upwards for several yards more, then twisted sharply left as the ground leveled. After twenty minutes walking, they found themselves at the mouth of a cave. The opening was small enough that Wataru had to duck and the old woman practically had to crawl inside. They had entered a narrow tunnel, lit a gloomy gray. Wataru shivered as a rush of cold air met them.

"So," the old woman began as they trailed after the koiking. "In all this excitement, I don't believe I caught your name."

"Wataru. And this is Toku."

"Mine's Hamako." After a pause, she added, "I can't entirely place your accent. But you're from Johto, aren't you?"

Wataru nodded slowly. "And you grew up here?" he asked politely in return.

"That I did. Though I traveled many years. Ship after ship, some of 'em big and some of 'em small. I saw Cinnabar and all the Sevi Islands. Even made a trip to Cianwood."

The small stream they were following joined with another tributary and then split again. At each crossroads, the koiking didn't hesitate before picking its direction. Water dripped loudly from the stalactites that lined the roof of the cave. After an hour of walking, Wataru's stomach began to rumble loudly.

"Hold on," Hamako said. Her pack fell to the ground with a thunk and she began to root around. "Ah, here they are."

The onigiri she held out to Wataru were loosely wrapped in seaweed and still warm. "Made them at 4am this morning. I couldn't seem to catch any sleep. Kept thinking about the dratini and dragonite. This little one sure seems confident, doesn't she?" Hamako said, nodding at the koiking. Toku and Wataru shared a rice ball, while Hamako fed the koiking with something else from her pack.

"I can take that," Wataru blurted out, when she made to heave the giant rucksack onto her back again.

Hamako laughed. "I'm old, not enfeebled. But I appreciate the offer."

She took off after the koiking, humming a cheery tune. His stomach full, and more awake than he had been, Wataru followed.

~*~​

At first, Wataru thought he was imagining it. But the rushing sound in his ears grew louder and more insistent as he walked, until it was hard to hear his own foot-falls. They rounded the bend and found themselves in a high cavern. The stream they had followed met with four others of equal size, all flowing out from a gigantic waterfall, taller than a tree and wider than a kairyu at full wingspan.

The crashing water was mesmerizing as it flowed down in its intricate, rippling whites. But Wataru's heart sank as he gaped upwards. Just how were they supposed to make their way up?

"Do you have rope?" he asked Hamako, shouting to make his voice heard over the din.

"Rope? I do. But rope won't be much help unless it's firmly staked up top."

She was right. Wataru eyed the sheer cliffs that edged the waterfall speculatively. He'd spent hours and hours climbing back in Dragon's Den—

"Don't even think about it. Those cliffs are slippery as seaweed. You wouldn't get more than a few feet." Hamako's gaze fell to the koiking, who was staring at the falling water as if stuck in a trance. "Well, little guide?" she called out. "It seems we're stuck."

The koiking blinked at the words and then started forward, towards the crashing whites. But this wasn't the miniature waterfall it had climbed before, Wataru thought. There was no way the small water-ryu could make it up.

Sure enough, the koiking fell back a moment later, carried by the swift current. She had to clench her teeth around a jagged stone to avoid being swept back further.

"She can't do it—" Wataru began, but Hamako shushed him with a gesture.

"Just watch," she murmured, her eyes fixed on the koiking, who was gazing up at the waterfall with narrowed eyes.

The koiking started forward again, her golden crest angled straight. Her tail worked furiously, churning up the water. When the small ryu hit the crashing spray, something changed. At first, Wataru thought he was just dazzled by the way the cavern light caught off the white water. But the white gleam was expanding—here extending into a long tail, here an enormous head that spiked into a tall crest—until at last a gyarados towered over them. The water glinted off her dark blue scales and the creamy white of her underbelly. Her large, fanged mouth was curved into a self-satisfied grin.

The expression put Wataru so in mind of Ibuki that for a moment he couldn't speak.

"Fantastic," Hamako breathed beside him. "Simply fantastic."

Toku's loud trill sounded through the cavern. Recovering from his daze, Wataru joined his voice to hers, making the walls ring with cheers. The gyarados basked in the attention, flicking her tail through the water to create rippling waves, reveling in her new weight and power.

"Yes, yes," Hamako said after a few minutes of this. "Very well done, but my blood's congealing into pudding, so let's be on our way." She strode over to the gyarados and hoisted herself up as easily as a dragon master would mount a kairyu. Wataru scrambled to climb behind her. To his embarrassment, he found himself clinging tightly to Hamako's woolen shawl as the gyarados started forward.

Seated on the back of a gyarados, the frantic rush of the waterfall seemed no more troublesome than a mild creek's current. Their guide—not so little now, Wataru thought—plunged up through the water. Cold spray slapped at Wataru's legs, but in less than a minute it was over.

They'd scaled the waterfall.

At the crest, the gyarados craned her head around. The ceiling was lower here, and the river wider. Wataru realized this place must be as new to the gyarados as it was to them, but there was only one direction to go. No tributaries split off that Wataru could see.

As they continued up the river, sunlight slipped in through cracks in the ceiling. Moss covered the rocks now and creepers wound their way up the walls, chasing the fragments of sunlight. Wataru noticed small streams winding off from the main river, forming into cascading pools. It was all beginning to remind him of the Dragon's Den.

"I think we're close," he whispered to Hamako, who nodded silently. Toku had snaked her way up the gyarados' back and was curled around its crest, her eyes fixed forward and her body tense with anticipation.

Another bend, and—Wataru raised a hand against the sudden outpouring of light. When the sun-spots faded from his eyes, he was looking up at the open blue sky, only partially obscured by the arcing rocks above. A wide lake stretched out before them, glistening in the morning light. Rivulets spread out from the lake like the veins of a leaf, depositing into puddles and pools. Creepers with small white blossoms lined the walls, and ice plant shot up from the rocky ground, reaching for the sky with silver-blue fingers. The air was wet and pleasantly cool.

Silently, Wataru slid from gyarados' back. His foot-falls echoed loudly against the rocks as he came to the edge of the lake and dipped his fingers in the cool water. Casting his eyes around the wide cavern, his gaze caught on a trace of sinuous blue. Wataru stood and began to walk towards a shallow pool, overhung by a smooth rock slab. There was something—

Wataru inhaled jerkily when he saw what was behind the rock. On his shoulder, Toku let out a low whine.

"Did you find something?" Hamako called out from behind him, but Wataru didn't answer.

Now that he knew what to look for, he saw them everywhere, a rainbow of dimmed blue, purple, and gray. The leathery husks lay strewn about the cavern, one behind almost every rock. Some of the husks stretched more than three meters—the shed skins of hakuryu.

"What is all this? What does it mean?"

Hamako's voice seemed to reach him from very far away. Wataru needed a moment before he could speak. His throat was tight when he answered.

"It means that miniryu and hakuryu lived here once, but now they don't."

The shed skins would dry out more slowly in a cool, damp cave like this one, Wataru thought distantly. It could be another half century before the husks crumbled to unrecognizable dust. Probably the miniryu had made the migration safely, clinging tightly to the backs of the hakuryu and kairyu. Probably none of them had perished in the journey, protected from wind and storm by their elders. But as Wataru looked from husk to husk in the silent, too still cavern, he couldn't shake the feeling that he was standing in nothing more or less than a graveyard.

Blinking the wetness from his eyes, Wataru finally turned to look at his companions. Hamako was crouched by the lakeside, her expression solemn. And the gyarados—swinging her head from side to side, she craned frantically into the pools and puddles, a lost look on her fierce new face.

The koiking must not have known, Wataru realized. How could they, unable to scale the waterfall? Were stories passed from mother to daughter of their cousins the ryu, who slept in shallow waters and lit the sky lightning? Had the water-ryu dreamed of one day scaling the waterfall, being welcomed as an equal into this secret place?

As if finally admitting to the evidence of her eyes, the gyarados let out an anguished wail. She rammed her head hard against one rocky wall, tearing through the white-blossomed creepers growing there. Her tail began to beat wildly, churning up quick-moving waves in the lake. Her eyes gleamed a frenzied red.

"She's going out of control!" Hamako called from the lake side. "She's new to this, doesn't know how to deal with the power!"

Wataru stared up at the thrashing gyarados, his breath rising and falling with strange steadiness. Perhaps it was because the gyarados was acting the way he wanted to act himself. Shout until he made himself hoarse, stamp his feet and throw rocks into the lake. But Wataru couldn't do that, because he had an obligation. He'd known it as soon as he'd known the husks of shed skin.

Stepping squarely in front of the raging gyarados, Wataru wished he had a long horn, the kind used to call the community together for celebrations or funerals. But all he had was himself. He put his fingers to his lips and let out a whistle that ricocheted from wall to wall. The gyarados ceased its screaming, turning its blood-red eyes on Wataru. Froth had collected on its wide-lipped mouth.

"Enough," Wataru said. His voice sounded so quiet after the piercing whistle. "Enough. We have rites to complete. The kairyu have passed from this place, the hakuryu and the miniryu too. We have to honor their passing." Sucking in a breath, Wataru turned back to Hamako, who was standing motionless, one hand hovering awkwardly at her hip. "If you could clap," he said, "a steady beat. That would help."

The old woman nodded. The gyarados' fury didn't seem to have rattled her. "Whatever's needed."

Her claps were loud and surprisingly powerful, the tempo slow.

"Toku," Wataru said, shutting his eyes for a moment. "Dance with me."

At the miniryu's soft trill, Wataru began the routine. Leg over leg, clap and turn, touch the sky and fall and spin. He'd never felt so heavy before performing these familiar motions. His steps echoed eerily through the cavern; this wasn't a dance meant for one. Then again, he wasn't alone, because Toku was dancing too, her small body twisting and somersaulting. The morning sun glittered off her scales, fresh from shedding and so vibrant in contrast to the husks surrounding them that it pained Wataru to look at her.

When the circular movement of the dance brought Wataru past the gyarados, he risked a glance up and saw that the water-ryu had closed its eyes and was swaying gently in time to Hamako's claps. The old woman was moving too, in an awkward shuffle as she kept up the beat. Her shawl flapped as she jumped, landing lightly on sandaled feet.

Toku trilled suddenly. She snaked over to Wataru's pack and came up gripping Ibuki's hakuryu cloak in her mouth. Wataru wrapped the well-worked fabric around him, breathing in its smoky scent.

"Faster, please," he told Hamako. He wouldn't have chosen these circumstances for his very first hakuryu dance. But Toku was right. It wasn't enough to honor only the miniryu.

The routine came to him as he began, the steps familiar from all the times he had practiced the dance in secret. He ducked and spun through the cavern, the hakuryu cloak flaring out behind him. His movements weren't as polished as Ibuki's had been at the Ryu Odori. But they were enough. Wataru was breathing heavily as he completed the final twist.

The kairyu dance should come next. Here, though, Wataru hesitated. It was one thing to take up Ibuki's cloak and dance, another thing altogether to attempt the sacred dance of the kairyu, which he had no right to. He'd have to find some other way.

"A battle would honor the kairyu," he said, thinking out loud. If he called out Kana, maybe she and Toku could . . .

Hamako's voice made him start. He'd almost forgotten the old woman's presence.

"A battle, you say? I'm not much of a dancer, but I think I can help you out there." She'd pushed back her heavy wool shawl to reveal four pokeballs clipped to her belt. "And I think our guide would like to participate," she added. "I think she'd like to do her part, wouldn't you?"

The gyarados' roar of agreement rang through the cavern. Hamako smiled and flicked a pokeball into the air. A second gyarados materialized in the lake, almost twice the size of the first.

Wataru's mouth fell open. "You had a gyarados? This whole time? But then why didn't you . . ."

Hamako shrugged one shoulder. "I could see this little one was close to evolution. She just needed a good enough reason to make the final push."

The 'little one' bared its teeth at the larger gyarados, who snapped back with something like a grin on its massive face.

"Shall we begin?" Hamako said mildly. With her woolen shawl drawn back over her body, she hardly cut an imposing figure, but her gaze was steady and intent as she looked out across the lake. "Crunch."

A blur of blue and white, her gyarados shot through the water and closed its fangs around the smaller gyarados before Wataru could blink. The bitten gyarados let out a howl and slammed her tail up hastily into her opponent's side. An aqua tail attack, but not a proper one. It hardly fazed the larger gyarados, who hit back at once with its own tail, this time glowing with hard, silvery light.

Watching the gyarados thrash back and forth across the lake, with Hamako uttering only a sparse word here and there, Wataru realized this wasn't really a battle—it was a demonstration. The larger gyarados was teaching the smaller one how to fight—where to bite, how to twist, when to make use of the water. Maybe the smaller gyarados couldn't appreciate it, caught up in their frenzied back and forth. But Wataru could. Every bite, every hit was a lesson.

At last, the smaller gyarados slumped down into the lake. She flipped so that her creamy underside was visible, an admission of defeat. Hamako smiled.

"You're a good fighter, little one!" she called out to the fallen gyarados. "Keep in mind, mastery is like a waterfall, and you're just now starting at the base." To her own gyarados she said, "Well done, Katashi."

The high screech that rang suddenly through the cavern made all of them start. Toku had slithered to the edge of the lake, where her gaze was locked onto Hamako's gyarados. The miniryu had arched herself up so high that only the very tip of her tail still touched the ground, the challenge unmistakable.

"You want to battle, Toku?" Wataru asked, surprised. Toku turned her dark eyes back on him for a moment, something unreadable swirling in their depths.

"Well," said Hamako from the other end of the lake. "I've always wanted to fight a dragon."

The lake was still turbulent from the gyarados' battle. Small waves rippled outwards, breaking gently against the rocks. Toku and Hamako's gyarados squared off, as the smaller gyarados watched from the shore. Something about Toku struck Wataru as different. Was it the morning light that was making her scales gleam so brightly? Strength and health seemed to radiate from her body.

Before a battle, dragon masters and their kairyu would always perform a brief dance. Wataru had taken that as a ceremonial gesture, a sign of the fighters' mutual respect. But had it been something more? Did the dance unlock some inner power in the ryu?

Hamako's gyarados was circling the lake silently. They seemed to be leaving the first move to Wataru.

"Thunder wave!" he called out.

"Block it," came the calm command from across the lake. Almost casually, the gyarados flicked its tail, sending up a wall of water that broke the electric beam into nothing but fizzling sparks. "Surf."

Again the gyarados brought down its tail, but this time the gesture carried more force. The wave that surged forward was ten-feet tall and rapid, bearing down on Toku and Wataru both.

"Twister!" Wataru shouted. He smiled at the whirling vortex that erupted from Toku's tail. The twister cut the wave down its middle, leaving the water to slosh harmlessly back into the lake. Since her shedding, Toku hadn't had a problem whipping her tail speedily enough to pull off the move that had baffled them back in Pewter.

"Waterfall."

The gyarados drew ribbons of water around itself and dove straight forwards. There was no time to move; it slammed Toku hard against the cave wall. Wataru sucked in a breath at the impact.

But Toku was already moving, her eyes lit a furious red. Wataru took it for a leer attack at first, until three swirling vortices erupted from the lake, each one wreathed in the same angry green light. The vortices closed in on the gyarados.

"Dragon rage," Hamako murmured. "Must be." Raising her voice, she called out, "Iron tail to break through and then crunch, Katashi!"

The gyarados' gleaming tail tore through one vortex and then the other, but the third was already upon it, a twisting mass of bubbling water.

"Twister, while it's stuck!" Wataru shouted. The cyclone lifted the gyarados out of the lake and slammed it back against the wall. We can do that too! Wataru thought, his mouth curving into a triumphant grin.

But the triumph was short-lived. The gyarados' tail slammed down, sending another wall of water hurtling towards Toku. She split the wave with a twister attack, but was unprepared for the fangs that followed, digging mercilessly into her newly-shed skin.

Thunder wave, Wataru wanted to shout, but Toku was far from the ground: there was nowhere to gather the static charge. He flinched violently as she let out a pained cry. Think, think. Anything that would make the gyarados let go—

"Twister, as big as you can make it!"

Toku's tail was still free to move, whipping the air into a whirlwind with force enough to push herself from the gyarados' grip. She landed in the pool and resurfaced a moment later, gasping.

Wataru wondered if he should call an end to the fight. Despite the earlier battle and Toku's attacks, Hamako's gyarados had only just begun to breath hard. Toku's tongue was flicking rapidly in and out, a sign of deep exhaustion, but when Wataru caught her eye, he knew he couldn't call a retreat. Toku was fighting for more than just herself; she was fighting for the honor of every single miniryu that had once dwelled here.

No, they couldn't back down now.

At Hamako's command, the gyarados once again brought down its tail. Tricks don't work twice, Wataru remembered Muno saying, but this trick had worked twice. The wave, Wataru realized now, was just a distraction for the direct attack that would follow. Breaking the wave would just be playing Hamako's game.

"Dive under it!"

Toku shot into the water just before the wave hit. Wataru had to jump back to avoid the leaping spray. When he caught sight of Toku's head breaking the surface, Wataru shouted, "Now use twister!"

Half air, half water, the twister made an impressive sight. But Wataru only intended the attack to serve as cover for their next move. When the gyarados broke through with its iron tail, Toku was ready. Her thunder wave struck head on, amplified by the water that still drenched the gyarados. The static leapt from scale to scale, making the gyarados wince and whine.

"Clever," Hamako said. The cavern had fallen silent, the only sound the fizz of static charge and the panting of the two ryu as they faced each other. The difference in size between them was almost comical; Toku could have fit easily into the gyarados' maw.

Wataru tried to take advantage of the sudden lull to form a plan. The gyarados might have lost some of its mobility, but it was still nowhere near defeated. He could see that Toku was dangerously tired. The earlier gleam had all but vanished from her scales. Hold on . . .

Toku needed more power. Perhaps what had worked once could work again.

"Dance, Toku," Wataru said quietly.

But when the miniryu began to twist through the air, it was not to the slow rhythm of the miniryu odori. Her movements were too elongated, too soaring. As she moved, the gleam returned to her scales, but stronger now, a powerful white light that spread up from her tail to her snout. When Toku threw herself into the air for a final leap, she hung there suspended, the white line of her body lengthening.

Wataru blinked heavily against the unbearably bright light. A musical trill echoed through the cavern, the sound high and pure, like the sky after the storm has broken.

When the light cleared, Wataru looked up into the solemn eyes of a gorgeous hakuryu. She flew through the air, over three meters long fully uncurled. The sun caught off her silver horn and the dark blue orb that adorned her neck and the tip of her tail. Her scales had darkened to a lustrous blue and her ear fins extended into gleaming wings.

"My word," breathed Hamako.

Wataru couldn't speak, overwhelmed by the graceful way Toku glided through the air. The gyarados were watching too; something bright and covetous sparked in the smaller one's eyes. Toku flitted down in front of Wataru, so they were face to face. A long tongue darted out and rasped against his cheek. The touch was cold enough to make Wataru flinch.

An instant later, he laughed, from exhilaration and relief.

Toku was still Toku, cold licks and all. As if coming out of a trance, he drew in another breath and looked across the lake to Hamako's gyarados. The water-ryu watched them warily.

"Dragon rage," Wataru whispered.

Toku shot up towards the open sky. At her trill, four seething columns of water erupted under her, pulsing with greenish light. The columns converged on the gyarados before it could muster any response, combining into a great, swirling tower.

Wataru watched the vortex, his heart pounding. Hamako was calling commands to her gyarados, but they were swallowed by the roar of the water. In the sky, Toku waited, her expression serene.

At last, the water subsided, splashing back into the lake. The gyarados floated on the surface of the water, its tail fins twitching weakly as if it were a koiking once more.

Wataru took a deep breath. Then he planted his feet and shouted, in a voice that rang through the cavern, "I dedicate this battle to the miniryu, hakuryu, and kairyu of the Cerulean Cave! Wherever they are now, let them thrive!"

As the echoes died down, Toku flew down to his side, and Wataru clasped her into an awkward hug.

"You can fly!" he whispered, his voice once again unsteady. Toku huffed out a laugh and dug her snout into his shoulder. "Oof! Watch the horn, Toku!"

He still couldn't believe it, even with her lustrous blue scales only inches from his face.

"Congratulations." Hamako's voice made him and Toku look up. The old woman had drawn closer and was watching them with a smile in her eyes. "Hold out your hand," she said. When Wataru did, she dropped something small and gleaming onto his open palm. "The Wave Badge. I think it's safe to say you've earned it."

"You're—" Wataru clamped his mouth shut before it could fall open again.

"Cerulean's Gym Leader?" Hamako gave a warm chuckle. "You really didn't know, then? I'd wondered if you were humoring an old woman."

Mutely, Wataru shook his head.

"Ah, then it seems today's been a day of surprises, for you as well as for me. I'm very grateful you let an old woman tag along. What I've seen today I'll hold to a special place in my heart. Your dragonair's a real beauty, whatever shore she hails from. I wish both of you the best of luck."

Wataru bowed, somewhat awkwardly with Toku still wrapped around him. "Thank you, Master Hamako. Without your wisdom, we'd have never gotten up that waterfall. And thanks to your powerful ryu, Toku evolved."

Hamako smiled. "Now don't flatter me. I did what any right-thinking gyarados specialist would have done in my place." She glanced around the cavern and let out a sigh. "Much as I'd like to stay here, they'll be missing me at the gym soon. I imagine you'll want to take some time to gather your thoughts. I can make my own way back, even if Katashi's too winded for the journey. You know, that lug—" She jerked a finger towards the stirring gyarados "—never dropped one hint about this place, even with all those long evenings I bored him telling my dragonite stories. Gyarados are deep waters, no doubting it. You'll find that out soon enough for yourself, I suppose."

Before Wataru could ask what she meant, the old woman had recalled her gyarados and released an enormous seaking.

"If you fancy a cup of tea and a longer chat, just stop by my gym," she said, seating herself comfortably on the fish's broad back.

The seaking cut silently down the river, and after a moment, Hamako passed out of sight.

~*~​

The rocks had grown warm from the sunlight when Wataru came over to the gyarados still resting on the lake-side. Above them, Toku soared through the air, exploring her new agility and power.

"Toku and I come from a place a lot like this one," Wataru said quietly. "Small pools, running streams, and a valley full of sunshine. That's where the kairyu live. Toku and I will go back one day. If you'd like, you can come along."

The gyarados huffed gently in Wataru's face, her breath warm and salty. A low rumble rose in her throat. Wataru didn't need Toku's nod to interpret the answer.

"I can't call you 'little guide,' anymore," he said. "May I address you as Ibuki? It's my cousin's name. For some reason, you remind me of her."

Overhead, Toku snorted. The gyarados lifted her head, her whiskers curling in satisfaction.

"Good," Wataru said softly. "That's good."

They lingered another hour more. The gyarados needed to regain her strength for the ride back, and Toku was content to spiral through the air, trilling her pleasure. Wataru wandered from rock to rock, running his hands absently over the old husks.

With Toku's evolution, he was closer to home than he'd been since he first stepped aboard Mr. Inushi's wagon. But as Wataru gazed down at the dried-out miniryu husks, home felt impossibly far away.
 
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kintsugi

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joke's on me i wrote the FFN version first so no quote feature 4 u

When the shedding was complete, there was no stream nearby for her to soak in, and Wataru couldn't spare water from his bottle to soothe her newly exposed scales.
But ... Aqua Tail in part one ...
tbh I don't care this motif of shedding is such a good one for this chapter

They left the shed skin pushed behind a boulder—a dry, leathery husk, still a vibrant blue, though Wataru knew the color would fade with time, especially in the dry mountain air.
this is going to be really important?? chekhov's shed 2020???

If it suited Toku, Wataru decided it could suit him too. The roots of the flowers were sour, but the tang was pleasant and the grassy taste refreshing.
This is such a good but bad idea. I love it.

"I've read they don't have any sense of time. Their mental clock resets like every five minutes. So it could keep on trying forever without realizing."
This metaphor seems pretty apt lol

As Kana lunged forward yet again only to receive a splash of water to the face, Toku let out an amused trill.
I really liked this detail, and it ends up being plot-relevant! Double duty.

her pride clearly still smattering from the one-sided battle
I think you mean "smarting"?

He set the miniryu down by the stream side, belatedly realizing that she should probably do the talking. His foot tapped impatiently as the two spoke, exchanging trills and gulps.
love it.

The expression put Wataru so in mind of Ibuki that for a moment he couldn't speak.
holy shit ibuki's relentless dedication to laundry was big brain foreshadowing the whole time i'm dying

and ice plant shot up from the rocky ground
Didn't fully follow this one -- is "ice plant" a type of species like "ivy" with a singular plural?

The koiking must not have known, Wataru realized. How could they, unable to scale the waterfall? Were stories passed from mother to daughter of their cousins the ryu, who slept in shallow waters and lit the sky lightning? Had the water-ryu dreamed of one day scaling the waterfall, being welcomed as an equal into this secret place?
Wataru stared up at the thrashing gyarados, his breath rising and falling with strange steadiness. Perhaps it was because the gyarados was acting the way he wanted to act himself. Shout until he made himself hoarse, stamp his feet and throw rocks into the lake. But Wataru couldn't do that, because he had an obligation. He'd known it as soon as he'd known the husks of shed skin.
This sequence is so excellent -- the transition from tragedy (he's not wrong though, right? if they hadn't migrated out there'd be skeletons as well as skins?) to duty, and the parallels that I imagine we're going to see paying off later re: a small fren struggling up an insurmountable obstacle and coming back very much Changed and still not being welcomed as an equal. I like how you keep Wataru distant but focused here, and when he finally dances the hakuryu odori it's such a lonely but poignant moment. The payoff from the beginning of the chapter is really good here, metaphors about growing up, leaving the past behind, ugh, good stuff.

The gyarados' fury didn't seem to have rattled her.
mmm yes this is good foreshadowing

"Dance, Toku," Wataru said quietly.
oh no my heart
this moment is so earned as well, I think.

Wataru took a deep breath. Then he planted his feet and shouted, in a voice that rang through the cavern, "I dedicate this battle to the miniryu, hakuryu, and kairyu of the Cerulean Cave! Wherever they are now, let them thrive!"
I think -- if you really wanted to break my heart -- he could instead start the battle with the "once the ryu fought with fire and ash" given that he'd just hidden that part of himself away last chapter and he has to look at it again. And, you know, Wataru saying "ryu bless this battle before you" while believing he's speaking for the dead would break my heart into tiny little pieces but would fit the mood here.

"Hold out your hand," she said. When Wataru did, she dropped something small and gleaming onto his open palm. "The Wave Badge. I think it's safe to say you've earned it."
skip the badge quest 2020! This was a really fun twist.

I really love how you incorporate the dex lore into this -- dragonite guiding lost travelers back to shore, magikarp trying to climb waterfalls. I like how you reinvent them a little too, and make the lore seem meaningful to the side characters in the world. The idea that there was a lost colony in Cerulean Cave is really clever as well; I get good Gyatso/ATLA vibes and you set a solid somber atmosphere for that part of the scene.

Hamako is also really fun here! I like that you drop hints about her real profession, and I really like how most of your side characters are just genuinely good people helping each other out. For me the highlight is the shedding motif, both for how it crops up double here and probably what it means in the full light of the story -- the timeskips between chapters let you skip over a lot of extra stuff, so I imagine next chapter will have a very different Wataru and Toku once more.
 
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OldschoolJohto

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Wataru could sometimes make out the curve of the transport road. Out of sight, but not out of hearing, conveyors ran their shipments.
👀 Nice world-building here. In Kanto, the city is never far away.

It was another day, though, before they could continue. Toku's shedding had come, her second that year. The sparse, rocky path wasn't the best place,
This said a lot to me about Wataru’s character. Even if other humans aren’t actually that far and the wilderness isn’t terribly perilous ... this still makes him immediately more vulnerable and exposed. Even with a belt full of dragons, he has to be able to rely on his own strength and sits somewhat.

Wataru wasn't a stranger to sleeping tightly packed, but these roommates were louder than the ones back home had been.
There was a divide between Wataru and the kids at home ... and there’s a different divide between him and kids here.

Hey, that's an unusual pokemon you've got there?
Is this a question-talker or a typo?

preventing Kana from picking fights with the other trainers' pokemon was a full-time job anyway.
Ha!! Especially if he’s avoiding pokeballs—though I guess Kana came with one by virtue of coming from Oak.

using its fins to strike up bands of water.
Not sure about bands, but I’m also not sure what else it would be. I appreciated the physicality of this battle though.

her pride clearly still smattering from the one-sided battle
Sugi already flagged this but—smarting?

I can take that," Wataru blurted out, when she made to heave the giant rucksack onto her back again.
Good kid.

Her large, fanged mouth was curved into a self-satisfied grin.

The expression put Wataru so in mind of Ibuki that for a moment he couldn't speak.
Fantastic. Really say a lot of about both him and Ibuki. She’s fearsome, but we know from chapter one that he finds the gyarados soothing.

Moss covered the rocks now and creepers wound their way up the walls, chasing the fragments of sunlight.
Pretty! Especially appreciating “chasing sunlight.”

Silently, Wataru slid from gyarados' back. His foot-falls echoed loudly against the rocks as he came to the edge of the lake and dipped his fingers in the cool water.
This confused me because I wasn’t sure where he was dismounting—I guess the-artist-not-yet-known-as-Ibuki squeezed next to the shore for him?

Wataru stared up at the thrashing gyarados, his breath rising and falling with strange steadiness. Perhaps it was because the gyarados was acting the way he wanted to act himself. Shout until he made himself hoarse, stamp his feet and throw rocks into the lake. But Wataru couldn't do that, because he had an obligation. He'd known it as soon as he'd known the husks of shed skin.
Again, this reminded me of Wataru in Blackthorn being calmed by watching the gyarados rage. He’s familiar enough with it not to be afraid, but he’s not watching passively anymore. He has a role to play and has to step up a little. Everybody’s evolving in this chapter, and probably him too.

Toku," Wataru said, shutting his eyes for a moment. "Dance with me."
💔

The routine came to him as he began, the steps familiar from all the times he had practiced the dance in secret.
This was really sweet and rang true.

Watching the gyarados thrash back and forth across the lake, with Hamako uttering only a sparse word here and there, Wataru realized this wasn't really a battle—it was a demonstration. The larger gyarados was teaching the smaller one how to fight—where to bite, how to twist, when to make use of the water. Maybe the smaller gyarados couldn't appreciate it, caught up in their frenzied back and forth. But Wataru could. Every bite, every hit was a lesson.
This was really sweet too. Brings to mind a karate instructor. Like, yeah, they’ll win against an inexperienced kid, but they’re also not out to hurt them. By extension, this says a lot about Hamako too.

It also brings to mind Sinnoh and what could’ve been. How near it would’ve been if each of those temporary traveling companions you pick up throughout the game turn around and battle against you instead of with you when you reach your destination—a proper farewell.

Since her shedding, Toku hadn't had a problem whipping her tail speedily enough to pull off the move that had baffled them back in Pewter.
Nice.

At Hamako's command, the gyarados once again brought down its tail. Tricks don't work twice, Wataru remembered Muno saying, but this trick had worked twice. The wave, Wataru realized now, was just a distraction for the direct attack that would follow. Breaking the wave would just be playing Hamako's game.
Hghjhgddhjjgfddhj learning. He’s making an active choice here to learn and to apply what he’s learned.

the sound high and pure, like the sky after the storm has broken.
Ooh, I like this one.

Gyarados are deep waters, no doubting it.
Great sentiment here. It’s a nice bit of world-building that gives us that sense of magical mystery.

"If you fancy a cup of tea and a longer chat, just stop by my gym," she said, seating herself comfortably on the fish's broad back.
Friend! It occurs to me that being a gym leader requires you to spend a lot of time with kids—hopefully you’re good with them. And what makes her good here is how seriously she takes him and how much space she leaves him to try and to do his own thing. I also love that writing her as an old lady a) gives us a badass old lady to see in action and b) sets up nicely for Misty.

I see what you mean about the themes of magic leaving the world. It feels like that’s what’s being mourned here—like Sugi said, it doesn’t feel like they died tragically but that they did in fact all leave together. With all that human activity encroaching, I can imagine why they’d want/need to. This made me curious whether “shed shell” is a found item that appears here in-game and you’ve extrapolated like crazy or if you’ve just fully eaten fleshed out the canon here.

It also occurs to me that Wataru is doing something here you don’t see often in fic. Yeah, he’s earning the respect of his pokemon by battling them, but he’s also showing them immediately that there’s value for them to gain by being with him.
 
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Cresselia92

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
She/Her/Hers
Oi there! Here I am with the catnip, even if a bit delayed. I'll start saying that I really like the premise: Lance's backstory! That by itself already intrigued me greatly. :D

I really liked the beginning. It's so calm and relaxing, and getting to see the interactions between Lance Wataru and his Dratini Miniryu was a treat. Though, I'll have to say that the usage of some Japanese names really confused me, like...

And tonight, she would dance the hakuryu odori.
I really had some initial trouble understading what "hakuryu odori" was and that forced me to pause as my brain registered the foreign words. I knew what a "hakuryu" was because I follow the Pokémon anime raw, but "odori" momentarily stumped me. It didn't help that "odori" means "smells" in Italian, so I imagined Ibuki dancing a "smelly dance" for a second, haha.

I'm glad that it went more in detail later, but I feel it would have helped a bit more to have a better clue of what that was earlier. Same with the names that appear later, like hafu and gaijin.

Ibuki waited outside as Wataru changed into his festival clothes, drumming her hand impatiently against the outer wall. The light blue headband was a struggle to pull over his bushy hair. Wataru wrestled with it for a minute, frustration welling up in his chest, before he gave in and asked Ibuki for help.
I really wish I got a better picture of how those festival clothes looked like. I've been in Japan during a festival and their clothes were simply amazing! It would have been lovely to have a bit of "scenery porn" here, to show the magnificence of the festival and the detailed design of the clothes. It would have helped in sucking me in into the atmosphere, rather than having to fill all the blanks by connecting the small details.

His festival clothes didn't fit right. When he'd first danced the miniryu odori at the age of eight, they'd been too big for him; now the legs were short and the cloth of his tunic stretched tight across his shoulders. Even Wataru's clothes knew he was too old for this—why couldn't Uncle figure it out?
This part was amusing. Yeah, Uncle, don't you see that the lil' boy ain't lil' anymore? :p

Wataru approached the pavilion at a slower pace. The scent of roasted meat and berries hit his nose, setting his stomach rumbling. He'd missed dinner, Wataru realized, and now it was too late to eat. Everyone was splitting off into their groups: Ibuki had already taken her place with the other blue-cloaked dancers. Glancing around, Wataru found his fellow miniryu dancers gathering in a disordered circle to the left. They seemed even smaller than usual in their silly-looking blue headbands.
Okay, this part made me wonder how young Wataru is. A young teen, perhaps?

Wataru scowled, tugging at the blue band, which pressed too tightly against his forehead.
I bet he secretly wished he was one year older in that moment. :p

"The middle dance, the hakuryu odori, is the dance of adolescence. Those that dance the hakuryu's dance can no longer be considered children. We admire the elegance and refinement of their movements, while acknowledging their continued striving. After all, the hakuryu has achieved much, but there is much that awaits her yet."
..."Her"? Who is "her"?

Uncle paused for a moment, his lips curving up faintly, and Wataru wondered if he was thinking about Ibuki. Glancing over, he found her among the other hakuryu dancers. Sweat beaded on her face, even though she wasn't seated too close to the fire.
Oh. Her? Hmm... I wonder if this is a Freudian slip. What are you thinking about, man?

A solemn note entered Uncle's voice as he continued, "Last of all, we dance the kairyu odori. The honor of this dance is reserved for adults at the peak of their potential. In the kairyu, power and peace are realized without contradiction. The energy of the miniryu is harnessed with the grace of hard-won wisdom. Not everyone can dance the kairyu's dance."
So, some people are doomed to dance the hakuryu dance all their lives? It would suck to be them, then, especially if this town thrived on the concept of power and widsom. They probably could end up being outcast as a result.

Would be interesting to explore this angle.

The drums began to pound loudly and the elders shook their rattles, creating a sound like wind passing through dry leaves. When Elder Kyo stood and lifted her hands, the children began to rise. Wataru jumped to his feet and raced to the front of the waywardly forming line, ignoring the dirty looks he received. He was the oldest in the group; he had a right to go first.
At first I wondered about the "dirty looks" and I thought it was because he was the oldest boy and a sign that he still wasn't mature or something. Funny how this part takes a different angle later.

Then the familiar beats of the dance began to fall and Wataru was jumping into the air, his body twisting automatically to the tune. Leg over leg, clap and turn, touch the sky and fall and spin.

The miniryu odori was a children's dance, but as he moved, Wataru forgot to resent that fact. It was fun to spin and leap in the torchlight, forgetting the eyes beyond it. When he jumped, it was just him and the night sky, and the brief, soaring moment where the jump almost felt like flight.

Wataru was breathing hard as the music cut out and the night filled with cheers from the audience. They weren't applauding for him, not really, but Wataru still held his head high as he filed back to his place. He and the other children plopped down on the grass as the dancers of the second circle filed into place.
Wow, this moment was breathtaking. I loved the concept of "touching" the sky and flying with a dance. :D

Again, a quiet clap signaled the start of the dance, but this time the drummers waited, their hands held high above their instruments. Wataru caught the distant call of a hoothoot as the dancers raised the ends of their cloaks in unison. One by one, they spun outwards, positioned like the overlapping petals of a poppy. As the drumbeat picked up, the pace of the dance grew more rapid. Ibuki and the others spun and ducked, their dark blue cloaks extensions of their arms.

Wataru held his breath when Ibuki shifted to the front for her solo. Had she managed to shake off her earlier nerves? Standing in the shadow of the bonfire, her expression was impossible to read. A lull fell in the music, and Ibuki brought her arms up slowly, the gesture meant to mirror a hakuryu's new potential for flight. Suddenly, the drums crashed down and Ibuki spun to the side, her cloak completing a graceful arc behind her. On the grass, Wataru released his breath as the solo performance picked up speed. All of Ibuki's moves were perfectly timed to the beat as she acted out the determined ambition of the hakuryu.
I couldn't help but think about the Dragon Dance as shown in the anime while reading that part...



And I was all "Dang! That's beautiful!"

Once the dance had ended and the second circle dancers joined the audience, Wataru crawled over to Ibuki.

"That was amazing," he whispered. "Your dancing was the best."

Ibuki didn't say anything, but she lifted her chin just a little, and her eyes sparkled. Wataru flopped back on the grass, satisfied that he'd made amends for earlier.
Yay! Friends once more! ^^

The excitement was tangible as the third circle took their places. Dressed in resplendent oranges and reds that caught the moonlight, the kairyu dancers instantly outshone everyone who had come before. They leaped, cartwheeled, and spun, always seeming on the verge of a collision that never occurred. Wataru imagined dancing with them, extending his arms in their sharp energetic movements. By the end of the dance, he was grinning, his legs still tapping out the fast beat even when the drums cut out. He almost wanted to leap up and perform the miniryu odori all over again.
That was a nice mood swing. First reluctant, now excited. He must really like ryu, huh?

Suddenly, a murmur ran through the crowd. Wataru craned his head upwards to see a kairyu passing overhead. As they watched with bated breath, the kairyu swooped down, hovering just meters from the dancer and the dimming firelight. Did Kana realize she'd just gained the only audience that mattered? Lit mostly by moonlight now, the dragon master didn't falter. She ducked and weaved around her invisible partner, every gesture calling out to be completed.

Wataru kept his eyes fixed on the kairyu, whose tail whipped lazily from side to side. There was something in the way the broad muscles of its back tensed, the stilling of its tail—

"It's going to happen!" Wataru blurted out, just as the kairyu let out a tree-rattling roar and entered the flickering circle of fire-light.

And the dance . . . changed. All the halted movements and strange turns transformed into a dance of perfect harmony. This was a wild kairyu, Wataru knew. It had never danced with Kana before tonight. But the two moved together as if they'd spent the last month in rehearsal. The dancer spun fearlessly, trusting the gigantic ryu to turn in time to avoid a collision.

The crowd watched in complete silence. Even the small children, who usually began to cry this late in the ceremony, hushed to take in the dance.
Confirmed: Kana is a Firebender!



But still, whoa! This must be something to behold! :o

This is the last year I'll wear the miniryu's blue.
Oh, you have no idea how right you are!

"He flew back," Wataru guessed. "On his kairyu. He flew back with two kairyu," he added defiantly. That sounded like a return worthy of a dragon master.

Elder Kyo's mouth hung slightly open. "Correct," she said after a moment. Regaining her balance, she continued, "His kairyu were named La and Ri. Yes, by returning with two kairyu, he showed the whole clan the depth of the expertise he had gained in his travels."
Ah! Beginner's luck! La and Ri... I wonder if those names have a meaning.

Silence fell, and a tight feeling took over Wataru's chest. No one was meeting his eyes.

Elder Kyo cleared her throat. "I said, which group will take Wataru and make a group of three?"

"Not three . . ." The comment was whispered too softly for Elder Kyo to catch, but Wataru heard it loud and clear. "Two and a hafu doesn't make three."
Okay, my first impression was that "hafu" meant "half", and that they were implying that Wataru was a weakling or something and didn't want him because he would have dragged them down. But then I realized it was a comment with almost xenophobic implications and my mood changed instantly. Rude, kids, rude!

Wataru's face flushed horribly. He managed to choke out, "Looks like they're all too scared to face me."
Hmm... Maybe yes, maybe no, Wataru. I feel like they don't want a muggle in their team.

Then, before Elder Kyo could chide him for his rudeness,
Excuse me? Who's the rude one here?

"So what if I'm hafu?" Wataru demanded of the clouds. "It's not like I'm any less than them. If I were, how come I always beat them? They're just mad, 'cause I always beat them." His voice didn't match the surety of his words. It cracked as he spoke, causing Toku to let out a concerned trill. "They're just mad there's not a single miniryu as strong as you, Toku," he said, hugging her close. He felt a raspy tongue lick his cheek in answer.
Aww, poor kid. It must suck to be considered like a outcast, huh? :c

"Okay, then. I'm still not going to battle with you. I'm not a kid anymore—I danced the hakuryu's dance and I've got duties today. I can't go goofing off with you."
Sheesh! You danced once and you suddenly aren't a kid anymore? What do those dances contain? Growth hormones? :p

"And she's not my mom," he said, settling on the ground, where he began to pull up and shred blades of grass. "I don't have a mom. And Uncle's not my dad, either," he continued, picking up steam. "So where do any of them get off telling me what I should do? I—"
*insert sad face here*

As Wataru rounded the wagon, he ran right into another boy. The boy had a nose and mouth and eyes, and seemed about Wataru's age, but other than that, he looked odd.
I bet he also had ears and hands. Confirmed: he isn't an alien!

"I'm Wataru," Wataru said, returning a fuller bow. "Right, let's get started." He clasped his eyes shut and chanted, "Once, the ryu fought with fire and ash. Now we are free, that time is past. I fight for my skill, I won't aim to kill. Ryu, bless this battle before you."

He opened his eyes to find Airi watching him with his mouth agape.

"Blessing's all done," Wataru said. "Ready to go?"

"Y-yeah. Koge, start off with a tackle!"

Wataru frowned as the bug started towards them. It was so slow.

"Leer at it, Toku." The miniryu's eyes flashed red. The bug fluttered to a nervous halt. "Great. Now let's see if you can do a thunder wave." Toku began to gather static from the ground. The sparks danced and flitted around her body. "I think you've got it. Try the attack now!"

As Toku closed her eyes in concentration, the bug shook off its daze. It started forward just as a thin line of sparks shot from the miniryu's head. With an alarmed cry, the bug sank to the ground, shivering from the static charge.

Wataru eyed their downed opponent in disappointment. Ibuki would have put up much more of a fight. Still, he was glad they'd had the chance to try out Toku's newest move for real.

"Do you want to keep going?" he asked the other boy.

Airi shook his head. "Nah, we're beat." He lifted the bug pokemon carefully in his arms, flinching as a small spark met his finger. "You two are pretty strong."
Well, that was kinda disappointing. I would have expected something more, to be fair. It gave me serious "Click Sleep Powder to win the battle!" vibes. But heh, I guess it makes sense that the Ledyba (is that what it was?) lost so quickly, if what the kid said is any proof. Kinda hard to become stronger if you never battle.

Wataru gave what he hoped was a modest shrug, but inside he was beaming. It was nice to hear someone admit it, even if that someone was gaijin and really weak.
Revel on the praise, Lan--Wataru!

"A kairyu?" Airi's eyes suddenly went wide. "Wait, you don't mean a dragonite, do you? Big, orange, flying dragon? Only the rarest and most powerful pokemon in all of Johto?"
I can already hear some distant Tyranitar roaring a big "Hey, what about us!?" :p

It was a perfect moment. So of course, someone had to ruin it.
Uh oh. Apparently luck didn't hold, huh? Who spotted and reported those two kids, btw? 🤔

He'd just made up his mind to ask Kana to let Toku go home, when footsteps began to clatter through the den. Wataru jumped to his feet, stumbling slightly on his numb limbs. He tried to straighten his back as Uncle came into sight, flanked by a battalion of distinguished elders and masters. Wataru didn't think he'd seen them all in one place before, except at celebrations and council meetings.

Soft mats were set down for the elders. Along with Uncle, the masters remained standing. Wataru realized that they'd fanned out in a semi-circle, with him at the center. The arrangement made him uneasy. He swallowed, wishing that someone would say something.
Okay. This sounds really bad.

The old woman gave a short nod. Pulling her shawl a little tighter around her, she said, "Long ago, it was known far and wide throughout Johto that no pokemon could best a dragon, and that these dragons dwelled in our valley. At the time, our clan lived separately from the mass of warlords who fought over Johto's land like two spearow at work on the same fruit. The clan bothered no one and asked for nothing. But these warlords were greedy for the advantages offered by the kairyu in battle. One bold tyrant gathered his troops and advanced war against our borders. His purpose was to capture the kairyu for his own use.

"We were victorious, in the end. But the battle was a costly one. The council realized that our numbers were dwindling, as the numbers of our enemies grew. We had no wish to violate the philosophy of the ryu by seeking out needless conflict. So the council resolved to completely close our borders. We retreated deep into the valleys and hid ourselves whenever outsiders came, until they assumed we'd abandoned this place. In this way the knowledge of the ryu's home faded from the world. Our current peace is the hard labor of many centuries."
Fascinating tale. So, they went into hiding to avoid Nobunaga intruders, huh? I can see why they're so secretive, then.

"No one's asking that of you," he said levelly. "However—" He glanced at the assembled members of the council. "It has been impressed upon me that your reckless behavior is part of a long and disturbing trend. We would like to think that the gravity of your actions today will mark the end of this behavior. But some believe your actions merit more than a reprimand, however strong. I was not initially inclined to agree. But your willfulness, your disregard for the precarity of our situation, I find very disturbing. Perhaps Elder Io's remedy is the correct one."

The old woman inclined her head. "Well-reasoned."

"The remedy proposed is exile," Uncle said. He turned abruptly to the dragon master who had stood silent throughout the proceedings so far. "What do you think of that, Kana?"

Exile? The word sent an icy tremor down Wataru's back. Slowly, his eyes rose to meet the appraising gaze of the dragon master. Her face betrayed none of her thoughts.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Aren't we going a bit too fast here? Exile... a child? Dang, that's harsh.

This time, Uncle's sigh was pained. "I know sometimes you have been made to feel unwelcome here because of what your mother was. But this is a consequence of your actions, not your blood. Do you understand, Wataru? This is a consequence. It's not—I know it may seem to you like the end of the world. But perhaps you'll take to life outside these valleys. My brother—" Uncle's voice suddenly cracked. "My brother seemed to."
Was that "life" supposed to be "like"?

"Toku's only a miniryu," Uncle said at last. "I'm sorry, little one," he added, looking down at Toku. "You can't go with him. We can't allow it."

Toku let out a hiss, which was more than Wataru could manage at the moment. He gaped up at Uncle, trying and failing to put into words the impossibility of parting from Toku. Ryu and their tamers were supposed to be bonded for life. That was the rule.

"But—" Wataru tried again.

Uncle cut him off. "I'm sorry. I didn't want it to come to this."
No! Anything but Toku! Don't separate them! D:

Home? Wataru blinked open his eyes as they left the cave. Wetness blurred the sky above into a smear of yellow stars. But it's not. It's not my home anymore.
Goodness, the poor kid. Just... where is he going to stay? He doesn't have anyone out of town... does he?

----

Alright! Here we are at the end of the review!

I've got to say that I really liked this. The culture of the village/town and the dance scenes were lovely and matched with a really great prose. I just kinda wished we got to "see" more of the festival decorations and feel more the vibes, as well as get to explore more the personalities of the various characters, but all in all this was still a satisfying read.

I'll definitely keep up with this story, it got me hooked. Good luck with the rest of this fanfic! :D
 
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