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Pokémon Dragon's Dance

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Chapter 9 - Part One

Wow, what a fun reunion from a reader perspective! So many familiar faces here. (And a few new ones to watch.) Gio is deliciously upsetting here. So smug and self-assured.

It's also occurring to me that, uh oh, Gio and Jiro are both persian dudes. Jiro is so charming, and my wariness intensifies.

I'm also seeing some parallels between Lance's relationship to Jiro and his relationship to Archer. I think he's been disillusioned since then--it definitely seems like he had Archer on a pedestal way more than Jiro--but he's been both of their pet projects. They've both helped him become better, physically stronger and more politically savvy. And it seems like for Jiro as much as for Archer, part of Lance's role is to make his handler look good. Everyone wants to be the one to have discovered (and, yes, tamed!) Lance.

I hope we learn more about Kikuko soon! She seems to be chummy with Gio, but I'd be surprised if she weren't watching him as carefully as he's watching her. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Definitely something going on with her. And, awk, because eventually we know Lance is going to have to have a working relationship with her, right?

Another small thing I noticed is how much of a non-event Sakura is. I think most people would wax poetic about her red hair ... and of course Lance wouldn't. (I mean, her hair isn't even as fiery as his is, TBH.)

His hair lay smoothly now, the ends styled into stiff spikes.
I'm not entirely sure what hairstyle is happening here. Is this the moment where Lance's hair becomes as-seen-in-canon (and does that mean Jiro really just did him up like a 90's boy band singer?) or is it slicked back? Smoothly/stiff spikes makes me picture two different things.

When a miniryu or hakuryu shed, they could see the evidence of the change left behind. People aren't like that, Lance thought suddenly. The silk fabric clung uncomfortably to his arms and chest.
I'm enjoying the juxtaposition of these images, the skin shedding and the skin too tight.

"In other parts of the world, meowth are treated like royalty, or so I've heard.
Icemew would like to know your location.

When he spoke again, his voice was edged with pride. "Don't worry. You're my protege, and nobody's going to laugh at you."
Or else.

Jiro hailed them a ponyta taxi.
Oh that's a fun detail!

Parties aren't violent occasions anymore, of course—well, leaving aside that time Muno got in a fist-fight
LOLLL that checks out.

Do you know why she's stepping down?"
:c

"It didn't exactly look great.
Appearances matter a lot to Jiro. In this world, he's clearly not wrong to be paying attention to that, but I suspected in part 9b we'll get some glimpses of how he fails Lance by staying on the surface of things, away from root causes or real feelings.

"Can't have the occasion rained on," Jiro said, following Lance's gaze. "Not at a torch-passing ceremony."
1) I love that she's getting wet weather on her way out. 2) And once again we see that rain makes every scene better!

I actually don't think I've written a scene with rain in a long time. :-o I am overdue. I'm sure I'll get my chance though, lol.

In this role, I have tried my best to execute my duties faithfully; to remember my obligations to this community; to the people and pokemon that dwell here; and to the land and sea that we have been blessed with. I hope future generations will bear this blessing in mind, and shape their actions accordingly."
Aww, she cares about the right things. She's looking way past appearances. Her successors are not. :c

Johto gifted it to Kanto centuries back, as part of the peace accord—the Compact of Flame."
👀 Ooh.

"I swear to keep it, safe from storms and foes," the women chanted together. "And may the flames consume me, if I have sworn false."
I love what this suggests about Cerulean's history! I bet for most people these are just words now.

"Now remember, be polite, don't speak unless spoken to, and always smile.
Oh god I already hate this party.

He didn't recognize the burly man looming over him until he noticed the onix-shaped netsuke.
Aww, the netsuke's are such fun swag. Tells you exactly what each of them are about right away. And it makes sense that Muno would be hard to recognize in nice clothes lol.

Ah! Giovanni!"
Aaaaaah! Giovanni!

The man coming towards them stood out from the sea of haoris in his bright, double-breasted suit.
This tripped me up because coming/stood both felt like movement words.

"Go easy?" Giovanni said. He stared at Lance for a moment and then said sharply, "Would you go easy on me, young man?"

What kind of question was that? Lance met Giovanni's gaze squarely. "No."
fksdflsjdlfjsd
I love how Gio basically trapped him into giving an answer that justifies lots of unpleasantness from him down the road.
He truly has no idea how much Gio knows ... and yet, on a level he does know that they're already rivals.

young man
Every time someone called him this, I anggy.

A good man to befriend, though.
Lol, too late!

When a break came in the string of people, Lance asked him how he kept track of it all. Jiro laughed. "Can a krabby learn metal claw?"

"Yes," Lance said, his eyes narrowing.

"What about a sandshrew?"

"No."

"Well, however do you keep track of all that? It's the same skill, you just have to make the effort."
I'm tagged in this picture and I don't like it. My god, the knowledge I might hold if I cared about other things as much as I care about fictional pixel monsters.

"Mizuno Sukejuro," he introduced himself. The name struck a faint chord. Mizuno sits at the head of the Appropriations Committee. They hold the purse strings. Impossible to get anything into the budget without his support. "Jiro's new protege, are you? What a peculiar little pokemon you have there. Can I hold it?"
Ew, he makes himself gross immediately. Nice handling of this.

"Rii," Kaisho agreed, but without enthusiasm. Lance placed the miniryu gently into the politician's arms. The man ran a curious finger up her scales. Kaisho endured this until the finger moved on to the sensitive white of his fins. Then the miniryu whined and snaked up the man's arms to the back of his neck, out of the reach of his prodding fingers.
Some pronoun confusion here?

Lance answered honestly before he could pause to consider if he should.
Staying true to the brand, as ever and always.

"I know that it's important. Getting money and not getting money is like priorities, right? It's about what's worth doing and what's not."

That was why Noriko cared so much.
Oh man, Lance is getting his strings pulled by two different people at once tonight.

As if feeling his eyes on her back, she turned and directed an unblinking stare in his direction. It had the predatory, watchful quality of an arbok, and Lance shivered, remembering Jiro's warning.
😱
Perfect.

She cocked an eyebrow at Lance. "Are you planning to stick around?"

Lance didn't need time to consider his answer. "No," he said emphatically. He'd done everything Jiro had asked him to do, and he'd even spoken to one of Noriko's prized politicians. That was plenty for one night.
Oh good, Lance finally gets to do something for himself tonight, too. This dialogue was so snappy.

"Your gyarados has grown quite a bit, hasn't she?"

She knew. The certainty lodged like a biting pit in Lance's throat. Hamako must have recognized Ibuki that day on the beach.
sdkjfkldsfjsd fuck. Of course she does, though. She's not a fool or a trophy gym leader.

A rain-caller, Lance realized in awe.
:D Una approval.

"If you are too, what do you say we have ourselves a proper battle?"
Damn right. The only proper kind of battle involves lots of water.

A proper battle, Hamako had said. What followed was nothing like the practice battles Lance fought with Jiro. The wind stole the commands from his mouth and the water clogged his ears.
Ooh, such nice sensory detail here. This feels wild and only just barely in his control. They're not just giving over their trust and cooperation to pokemon here but to the storm itself.

He shouted hoarsely over the wind and rain. "Kaisho. Fly with me and use protect. Ibuki, hyper-beam!"

White-yellow light bolted from Ibuki's mouth, ripping through the shield of wind and scattering the two gyarados left and right. Toku shot forward into the gap. The roar of the rain cut out as a blue bubble shimmered up around them. The silence was more startling than the noise had been. Lance's ears felt scoured and raw. No water pounded his back. The gyarados hovered only feet away, one on either side. Their mouths roared furiously but soundlessly beyond the egg-shell barrier.
I lost track of where he was in this section because of telling Kaisho to fly with him. I wasn't sure if he'd switched from Toku to Kaisho at some point and how that was working.

Love the moment of sudden silence in the protect bubble, though!

Lightning flashed, painting white blossoms across the backs of his eyelids, and the smell of burnt flesh clogged his nose.
Mmmm yes.

The rain hadn't let up. It streamed down his neck, under his clothing, accumulated in his shoes. He was noticing the cold now.
Mmm squish squish. Yup. This made me wonder what kind of shoes he's wearing, though. Not sandals, I guess!

His muscles felt leaden and at the same time terribly light, as if ready to evaporate up into the sky and join the chorus of falling water.
Nice!

Lance remembered sitting in a conference room, spinning idly in his chair as conversation streamed over him. Oblivious. He hadn't understood what was being planned and he hadn't tried to understand it. He should have tried. Why hadn't he tried?
Ugh and he's trying so hard now and still getting yanked around, poor guy.

Do not allow yourself to be used."
Again: too late, lol. This is a good one for him to tuck into his pocket for the future, though. It's a powerful promise. Certainly, if anyone knows how shitty it is to be used, it's Lance. He's not trying to serve criminals by accident again.

his eyes falling to the hem of his pants, where water was running down onto the carpet.
Great detail. Womp womp.

"Nonsense. Those clothes were a gift, yours to do what you wanted with them. If that means destroying them on your first night out, so be it."
That went surprisingly better than I thought! He's giving off The Fun Uncle ™️ vibes here, but I can also imagine that the other side of this coin is "actions have consequences, Lance. You screwed up, so you figure it out. Hair flip, sashay away."

"Just what possessed the two of you to have a water battle in a thunderstorm?" Lance opened his mouth, but Jiro was already waving a dismissive hand. "More importantly, did you win?"
Great characterization moment.

It already felt strange for Lance to picture Kaisho as anything but the beautiful creature who had lent his body to the lightning and sung with the storm.
Lovely!

Very excited to see what the second half of this looks like and find out if my predictions about Jiro's nature are right. 👀
 
  • Heart
Reactions: Pen

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam
Location
Route 123
Partners
  1. mightyena
Hey hey! Apologies for being quite late, but I am here for the catnip review! I know this fic already is quite a few chapters in, but I'll give the first chapter a look. I'll point out things as I see/think of them and then give the meat of my review at the end.

Quick question: why refer to the Dratini line by their Japanese names but the other Pokemon by their English names? I looked up Miniryu, Hakuryu and Kairyu but then saw you mention Hoothoot XD

As I read more into this chapter, I take it because Blackthorn City/the Dragon's Den is meant to be so isolated that you're using a different language to designate that, correct?

Ibuki was only a year older, but she was already so much taller.
This takes me back to when I was a kid and was considered tall for my age--even among boys--because I had early growth spurts. Now I'm shorter than average XD

Standing in the shadow of the bonfire, her expression was impossible to read.
I thought this read oddly since fires cast light.

Wataru imagined the hoothoot from earlier standing stock still on its perch, yellow eyes alight with anticipation.
This caught me off-guard since canon Hoothoots have red eyes.

he ducked and weaved around her invisible partner, every gesture calling out to be completed.
This reminds me of an episode from Princess Tutu where the protagonist dances a pas de deux alone, and though she lacked a partner, everyone was amazed by how well she danced!

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

~*~

Wataru woke to someone's foot in his face.
Ha, nice transition.

The blue of the sky matched Toku's back, the sun was full, and he couldn't spot a single cloud.

...

"So what if I'm hafu?" Wataru demanded of the clouds.
I realize the second one may have just been an expression, but it took me out of the moment XD

"I don't have a mom. And Uncle's not my dad, either," he continued, picking up steam.
Ah.

If those indicators weren't enough, the weird sheen of his vest marked him a complete gaijin.
Ah, a 外國人!

A large bug with spotted red wings buzzed out from the back of the wagon.
Ledian(ba?)!! Such an underused Pokemon, but so cute!

"Cheri berries are a paralyze heal," Wataru said, a little annoyed.
Looks like he's got a bit of an arrogance streak!

Wetness blurred the sky above into a smear of yellow stars. But it's not. It's not my home anymore.
What a touching ending!

I know this chapter is over a year old and you've had plenty of feedback on it, so I will likely provide nothing new to you. But I am an expert at providing people with excess flattery! I quite liked this and I thought it was very good! I could see Wateru's punishment being exile coming and thought you did a very good job of setting that up. Exile does seem harsh for a child (I assume he's still considered a child by the clan's standards if he's dancing the Miniryu dance) so it does seem odd in that way; I realize that the clean wants safety and privacy but exiling a child can very well be a death sentence. I suspect this is explained further in future chapters, though.

I also thought that Wataru being of mixed race is interesting! Peoples' reactions reminded me to that of Atlanteans in Aquaman thinking about their queen having a baby with a human man (idk if you've watched Aquaman but it was a movie I quite liked, heh). it's heartbreaking that a child is taught to have shame for the origin of a parent, but it does fit in with what I know from Asian cultures in real life. I guess it also provides an explanation for Lance and Claire being related when their hair colors are on opposite ends of the colour spectrum :P

This was a fun read! You provide a very rich culture and strong characterization. Toku is super-duper cute and Wataru is as well :) I am also behind on reviewing, but I'll put this on my list to get caught up on!
 

Panoramic_Vacuum

Hoenn around
Partners
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Well, I'm here now, so why not pick up where I left off with Chapter 8? Post-Rocket Lance starts with a strong opening, though it's not entirely clear how much time has passed since that fateful night. Something tells me it's been maybe another season or so? Enough that the trail has gone semi-cold, enough that he's feeling bold enough to play Batman, swooping in at night and disrupting Rocket plans. (Ah ha, okay two years have passed. It comes in later in the chapter. I don't think it needs to be presented any earlier, just me musing at Lance's growth since then.)

I really enjoy the seedy underground pokemon fight club he's a part of. There's a lot to be learned about how to handle himself in non-league fights. That, and I hadn't even considered all his info and possessions are still somewhere at Rocket HQ. Hearing about the hakaryu cape from Clair, that hurt. :(

Lots of lovely description here to flesh out Lance's current world. The description of Toku's aqua tail attack was particularly lovely, especially that it has environmental effects to creating that much water to be used as a weapon. Then we get onto Hideyoshi and his gaudy jacket, fancy parties wearing Kaisho like a scarf, and Lance's disdain for all the things Saffron brings to the table, but being unable to shake them off while he still has his self-appointed mission in mind. Love the worldbuilding/worldmelding, too, with the Hunter J reference. There's a definite flavor to everything in this chapter's opening that Lance is involved in seedy affairs right now. Perhaps that's why Jiro's appearance sent a bunch of red flags dancing for me (though I now know what his appearance meant, I still can't shake some unease that seems to hang around his character. No good deed...)

The run in with Noriko was a lovely little surprise. It's the right kind of slap in the face that Lance needed (and then later when she lays out that he's ruined a lead they'd been working on. You can feel how much it kills him to know he's hurt and not helped with what he's doing). The line about vigilantes "not knowing what to do" feels really poignant given how much Lance has bounced around in his journey so far, not really finding his place anywhere. Dragon master hopeful, league trainer, rocket grunt, vigilante. And now, where we know he's landed in the end: the G-Force. I love his roundabout way of getting here; makes him a jack of all trades, master of none, and that fits young Lance. Speaking of, it's interesting how comfortable he is with using the name, now. Or maybe it's discomfort with the old one. Either way, it's a nice transition to show he's growing, changing, more willing to move forward. It feels like a big step for him.

The man from the party! Lance had completely forgotten about him.
Me too Lance, me too. All that excitement with Rocket and the G-Force certainly did put Jiro on the back burner, but not any more. He's here! I think I already had given you my thoughts on who this Jiro fellow might have been (yellow, yellow, gold, and more yellow in Saffron... Definitely a trainer of renown. Of course I remembered too late that we already knew about Saffron's Gym Leader situation, but my guess wasn't too far off base)

The battle with Jiro was proper fun, and again I love the way you've visualized the pokemon's moves. Power gem is one in particular that gets a big ol' ??? when it comes to what on earth it is from the games alone. I really like what you've done with it here, and I can't help but wonder if it manifests differently for different pokemon that use it (with it being off-type for Kint). The setting for the battle on top of the windy hill was also lovely. Lots of environmental interaction to make the battle not a simple exchange of moves. (More on this later b/c I think the success of this battle makes the one later feel a bit lacking in comparison)

Really though, kudos for giving Jiro a proper power scaling worth of someone in his position. Not only is he powerful, but with a type that doesn't seem to garner that kind of spotlight. Great choice and overall character design for him. That and what opportunity for young Lance in this chapter! An apprenticeship and a proper evil-fighting position all within 36 hours or so! It came as quite a relief that he didn't have to choose between the two in the end. We know Lance did choose justice but I'm glad Noriko was there to slap some sense into him (again).

And now we're at the final battle, which more kudos are in order for imagining it as the huge spectator sport a top-tier League battle surely must be. That, and as any top-tier sport should have, you've commentated the battle for us! A great take on how to experience a pokemon battle. My only gripe for this choice is that the running commentary left no room for Lance's reactions. We got some musings at the end that he didn't feel much, but that feels a bit dishonest. If he didn't feel anything, he could have been anywhere watching on tv or listening on the radio. The stadium must have been massive, but there had to be some sort of sights, sounds, or feelings that came from viewing a high-octane pokemon battle in person. Did the stadium shake with every impact? Was the heat of the fire felt even from the top rows? Did the roar of the crowd get Lance's blood pumping as if he were the one battling instead? I think if there was more to evoke what Lance was feeling rather than just seeing, this battle would have had more impact beyond the high-level tactics.

Rule number one of exhibition matches—battles between Kanto and Johto always end in draws.
I love, love, love this. This unspoken rule between two regions that happen to share a League. The tension practically oozes off the page here.

A lot has gone down for Lance in this chapter, and it feels like this sort of "boulder rolling downhill" shift in momentum. He'd be fighting his way uphill tooth and now and maybe, just maybe, he's crested that hill. On to the next!
 
Ch: 9 The Protege, Part Two

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
The Protege, Part Two

Light. And noise. Lance buried his face deeper into his pillow. He could feel his mind treacherously unmooring from the warm shore of sleep.

The knock came again. "Lance, are you up yet?"

I'm up now, Lance thought mulishly, but he didn't make any move to leave bed. He felt as if Toku had sat on him.

"I promised Muno we'd visit him in Pewter today, and the morning's already half gone!"

Muno? Lance sat up, frowning. Why were they going to see Muno? He didn't remember anything about that. He climbed out of bed and opened the door. "We're going to see Muno?"

Jiro was sitting at the table in a yellow bathrobe. He grinned, and Lance rolled his eyes. Jiro always had far too much energy in the morning.

"You really were out of it last night. Yes, we're going to see Muno today. Now come on, breakfast is on the table. Eat up, and we'll be on our way."

When Lance had polished off his rice and was halfway through his miso soup, a flaw in Jiro's plan occurred to him. "Pewter's more than a day away."

"Not if we fly."

". . . Oh." Lance blinked, shoved a slice of pickled radish into his mouth, and went to get dressed.

The storm had blown over in the night. Outside, the sun shone brightly and the breeze was fresh and salty. It really was a perfect day for flying. Toku sniffed the air and let out a pleased rumble.

"You'll fly on Asahi?" Lance asked. Jiro hadn't released the fearow yet. He lifted his ditto off his shoulder and set her on the ground.

"Today I thought I'd try something a little different. What about it, Gigaku?"

For a moment, the ditto's face showed nothing more than a cocky smile. Then she expanded outwards like she'd been blown full of air, her color shifting from pink to golden yellow. An instant later, a kairyu towered over Jiro. She raised her head and roared.

Jiro chuckled at the dumbfounded look on Lance's face. "You've seen Gigaku transform before."

Not into a kairyu, Lance thought, but didn't say. What makes a kairyu any different? Jiro would ask, and Lance wouldn't know how to answer. He hadn't spoken to Jiro about his life in the Ryu's Gift. The subject never seemed to come up, and Lance wasn't sure he wanted to raise it. The thought of home still throbbed like a dull pain.

They quieted as the kairyu rose into the sky. The day was too brilliant for words. Toku's wing beats were slightly sluggish from the storm-battle last night, but the wind stayed strong, making flight easy. Mount Moon spread out before them. Conveyor trains glinted below like fish moving in a stream.

Lance was hit with a rush of disorientation as he looked down at the winding mountain path. What if time and place were bound together, like double-faced fabric, and somewhere below he was still walking, a miniryu coiled around his neck?

"Your shed-skin is down there," he whispered into Toku's ear, fighting back a wash of vertigo. He raised his voice to Jiro, trying to distract himself from the sensation of being in two places at once. "Why are we going to see Muno?"

"He asked me for help last night at the party. Seems he's got a bit of a headache to deal with—a resurrected fossil pokemon that's become an absolute terror. The laboratory doesn't have the means to house it properly and so it's been going around destroying mining equipment. Some kind of flying type that's been able to elude everything Muno's thrown at it, apparently. I told him you'd handle it."

"Me? Are you not up to it?" Lance asked solemnly. Toku snorted.

Jiro caught the teasing and laughed. "Listen, I'm doing you a favor. It's good to have people in your debt. Eventually, you can come and collect."

The sun had fallen from its zenith when they landed in front of a tall building some distance from Pewter City. Muno stood waiting outside, accompanied by a woman in a long white coat. His face bristled into a smile as they dismounted.

"Flew, did you?" he exclaimed. "Had Natsume already booked it back to Saffron?"

Jiro shrugged. "I didn't check. Teleportation always leaves me with a stomachache, you know. Flying's much more pleasant."

"You're not wrong about the stomachache," Muno said with a grimace. "But your timing's good. We spotted it less than an hour ago, lurking around the west camp. That's only a short walk from here. Oh, and this is Doctor Amari, a researcher from the Pewter Institute."

The woman offered them each a short bow. "Thank you for taking the time to help us out," she said, as they began to walk. "It's all gotten a bit out of hand. When the grant came through to fund the resurrection, I'm afraid there was a little less attention paid to post-resurrection containment than was necessary—"

"More than a little," Muno interjected with a snort.

The researcher shot him an annoyed look. "We're grateful for Leader Muno's assistance," she said, a trifle coldly. "Initially there was a hope that as a rock-type specialist, he would be capable—"

"Call it a rock-type all you want, it's a goddamned winged thing. Outside my wheelhouse. Above my wheelhouse, I should say."

The two were all but glaring at each other now and Jiro was barely managing to hold back an amused smile. "Excuse me," Lance said to the researcher, hoping to distract her. "What do you mean by resurrection?"

She turned to him, her disgruntled expression vanishing. "Fossil resurrection. The reviving of extinct pokemon." Lance's face stayed blank. "Let me put it in simple terms. Millions of years ago, different pokemon lived in this area than do now. Many of these ancient pokemon died out completely, but their fossils remained in the rock. We excavated one of these fossils and brought the pokemon back to life. It's all been quite thrilling."

"Millions?" Lance said, trying to wrap his head around the idea. "It must have been very different then." Less people, less noise. He remembered how shocked he'd been when he'd first come to Pewter and heard the booms and blasts of the mining machines. The ancient pokemon had probably been shocked too.

"Very different," the researcher agreed. "Wetter, for one thing. Vast chunks of Pewter were underwater at that time. Aerodactyl were quite common then. From the spacing of the fossil remains, we suspect they used to live in flocks. That could very well be the reason for this aerodactyl's erratic behavior. Clearly they aren't meant for solitary life. Now if we could just resurrect a few more, enough to form a proper flock—"

"Full of bright ideas, aren't you!" Muno exclaimed through a scowl. "A whole flock of those things harrying my miners? No thank you. One is more than plenty."

From the rising din, Lance guessed they were getting close to the mining site. In another few minutes, they reached the edge of the camp. An onix was coiled protectively around a large rigging. Several of the miners had abandoned their work to watch the sky, where a dark grey shape circled. Suddenly, there was a loud roar and a white blast shot towards the rigging. The onix's stones flashed a protective silver as it flung itself in the way of the blast. An explosion shook the campsite—when the smoke cleared, the onix lay slumped to the ground. Muno swore and ran into the fray, two more onix appearing at his side.

"I think that's your cue," Jiro said. Lance nodded and climbed on Toku's back. He sent out Kana and smiled as the charizard appeared, huffing fire.

"Feeling up to an air-fight?" Lance asked her, not surprised when she bared her teeth in a grin. The three of them took off towards the gray pokemon—aerodactyl, the researcher had called it. Kana let out a trumpeting roar, drawing the aerodactyl's attention. It shot forward. Closer, Lance made out a spiked head, a blade-shaped tail, and a massive jaw, where another hyper-beam was already building.

Toku swerved left and Kana right. The beam drilled into the cliff behind them, leaving a smoking hole several feet deep. Kana spat back a shimmering cone of fire. But the aerodactyl didn't even try to move out of the way. It waded into the flames as if unbothered by the heat and emerged with its wings glowing white.

The attack caught Kana in the belly. She buckled, but recovered quickly, swiping out with a metal claw. Her attack met with empty air; the aerodactyl had retreated out of reach. It's fast. Now the pokemon was circling back. Light struck off its head, which had taken on a metallic sheen.

"Air slash," Lance called out, when it was close enough that he could make out the bright amber of its eyes. The blast caught the pokemon squarely in the face, slowing its momentum enough for Kana to maneuver above it. She landed a green-fisted dragon claw on its back. As it sagged from the blow, Kana slammed a metal claw into its head.

With a whine, the pokemon dropped. It caught a low draft and circled back up, but didn't move to attack, watching them warily from a distance. Lance noticed the way its ears were flattened and the edged tips of its wings were angled inwards. He didn't think that was the posture of a pokemon preparing another attack.

"What do you think?" he asked Toku. She let out a ponderous rumble and then winged towards a cliff ledge that overlooked the mining camp. The pokemon followed. Toku called out to it and after a moment's hesitation, it joined them on the ledge, a few feet distant with its wings drawn protectively around its body.

"Hello," Lance said, stepping closer and keeping his hands tucked to his sides. The pokemon was as big as Toku—Lance's head would have fit easily inside its long jaw. Its skin was thick and rock-like, but not actually made of rock, Lance saw as he stepped closer. "We don't mean you any harm." He'd noticed that the aerodactyl had aimed its attack at the mining machine, not the people or the onix, and he thought he knew why. If he and Toku had returned to find the Ryu's Gift overrun by ravenous machines, he doubted they would have acted any differently. "You've been sleeping a long time," he told the gray pokemon, who tracked his approach suspiciously. "Everything's changed. I know that's hard. This is your home, but you don't fit here now."

He wasn't sure if the pokemon followed his words, but Lance's tone seemed to reassure him. He stared with unblinking yellow eyes as Lance extended his hand towards the side of his snout. But Lance noticed a tensing in the aerodactyl's neck muscles and withdrew his hand just as the pokemon snapped at it. Kana let out a roar. She smacked her claw hard against the aerodactyl's head. Her wings fanned out behind her, the threat clear. Lance waited to see if the aerodactyl would unfurl his own wings and resume the fight, but after a moment he dropped his head and let out another low whine.

Steadying himself with a breath, Lance extended his hand again. This time, no tensing came. The pokemon's skin was rough like a cliff-side, pocketed with grooves and divots. As Lance stroked at its snout, the pokemon snuffled and closed its eyes. Lance edged closer, fascinated by how the rocky skin gave way to tough, membranous wings. A ridge jutted up from the pokemon's back and small, three-clawed hands extended from the tips of its wings.

The wing muscles rippled under his hands. Suddenly, the pokemon surged forward, knocking Lance off his feet. Strong claws clamped around his side, and the ground fell away.

Stunned, Lance hung limp. The ground swam back into view—distant and at the same time, all too close. This wasn't like flying on Toku's back. There was nothing separating him from the fall except for the painful jut of claws against his stomach. He twisted his head around and made out Toku and Kana on their tail. But they were growing smaller—the aerodactyl was outpacing them.

Ridges rose ahead. They'd left the valley behind and were climbing the side of a mountain. Without any warning, the pokemon let go.

Lance opened his mouth to scream, but the impact knocked the sound out of him—a soft impact, he realized through the red rush of panic. He sat up hazily. He'd been dropped into the center of a large nest, lined with moss, leaves, and fur. There was a loud flapping and then the aerodactyl settled in behind him. Something rough and warm dragged through his hair. A . . . tongue?

As Lance sat there, too baffled to move, the sensation came again. He twitched as the tongue ran down his neck. A claw gripped his shoulder, holding him in place. The tongue resumed its work.

I'm being groomed, Lance realized. He began to laugh shakily. The sound made the pokemon pause. It let out an uncertain whine. "It's all right," Lance said, beginning to smile. "You can keep going. My hair could probably use it."

When Toku and Kana, snorting and leaking steam like a Saffron factory, finally found them, Lance waved cheerfully. The charizard huffed. She stamped forward and entered into a cautious exchange of sniffs and nudges with the aerodactyl. Toku came over to Lance's side and rumbled a question.

"I'm fine, Toku." Lance looked back at the aerodactyl, who had taken to the air and began a playful back and forth with Kana. "I think he's lonely." The kairyu followed Lance's and nodded after a moment, her eyes softening.

Lance sighed, flopping down onto the aerodactyl's nest, which was surprisingly comfortable considering the aerodactyl's thick skin. Kana and the ancient pokemon seemed completely at ease now, trading blows back and forth. After a few minutes, they landed and began to fuss with each other's wings. It occurred to Lance that Jiro and Muno were probably wondering where he'd gone. Reluctantly, he sat up and whistled to Kana.

"We should head back." Lance looked at the aerodactyl, thinking that the researcher had been right. Even if they could find him a quiet valley to live in, free from mining noise, he would still be unhappy without company. Lance frowned. They should have thought about that before they woke the aerodactyl up.

"I'll make sure they don't leave you alone."

Or worse, stick him in a glass cage, like they'd done to Kaisho. Lance's chin set. No, he wouldn't let that happen.

Lance wasn't surprised to see the aerodactyl follow Toku and Kana without any prompting. After a few minutes flying, the mining camp came into view. The camp looked calmer now, though work still hadn't resumed. Toku spotted Jiro standing off to the side, and landed by him. The aerodactyl hung back in the sky, circling low.

"What happened to your hair?" were Jiro's first words. Lance jerked a finger towards the circling pokemon. "Hah! Don't tell me it's adopted you."

"I think he may have," Lance admitted. "Do you know what's going to happen to him, Jiro?"

"The researchers will probably want him back. Although . . ." Jiro trailed off, a thoughtful look on his face.

"What happened?" Muno hurried towards them, shooting dark glances up at the aerodactyl. As he neared, the pokemon swooped down and landed in front of Lance. He bared his teeth at Muno, who took a hasty step back, his hand falling to his belt.

"It's all right!" Lance said, giving the aerodactyl a quick pat on the neck. "He doesn't mean me any harm." He wondered which of them he was trying to reassure.

Muno stared. "You've tamed the damn thing . . ?"

"Oh excellent!" Doctor Amari had joined them. "Very nice work. If you can just lead him back to the lab, we can take it from there—"

"Not so fast." Muno crossed his arms. "Take it back to the lab? And then what? What's changed? You still don't have the cash for a psychic security team. Until you do, I insist you keep that thing in a pokeball and don't let it out."

Lance's eyes narrowed. The researcher looked similarly affronted. "Don't be ridiculous. We didn't go through all the work of resurrecting this gorgeous pokemon to lock it away. We'll take stricter precautions this time—and anyway, that's our business, not yours."

"It's my business as gym leader, and you'd better remember that! The safety of Pewter is my responsibility."

The researcher snorted, no longer bothering to hide her disdain. "The safety of Pewter? When children are getting lung conditions from your mining—"

"Without the mines, those children would starve," Muno snapped.

When a tense silence fell, Lance seized the opportunity to interject, "What if he came with me?"

"I wouldn't object," Muno said, just as the researcher answered, "That would also entirely defeat the point of this. We resurrected that aerodactyl in order to study it!"

"Doctor Amari." They all turned to Jiro, who continued in a soft but deliberate voice. "If you'll allow me to make a brief point? From what I've heard, your institute has a serious need for funding and further resurrection research will be impractical until that funding is realized. Now, my protege here will be competing very visibly in tournaments and other high profile matches. If he competes with your aerodactyl—well, that's quite the advertisement for your work, isn't it? You're sure to receive all sorts of attention. Indeed, I would offer my personal guarantee of it."

The researcher wavered. Her gaze dropped to Lance's arm, still resting on the aerodactyl's neck.

"You make a good point," she said at last. "I'll need to talk it over with my colleagues, of course. Would you mind coming back to the Institute with me? Your word as a member of the Elite Four would hold some weight."

"Happy to," Jiro said. He winked at Lance, and followed Doctor Amari down the trail. Muno lingered, ignoring the glowering aerodactyl.

"Before I forget—and if your bodyguard permits—I owe you this. Doubly owe it, now." He handed Lance a badge fashioned in the shape of a boulder.

"Thank you, Muno," Lance said with a short bow. "I was happy to help."

"Well—" Muno tugged at his ear. "I'd better get back to the boys. We're behind schedule enough as is. I won't forget this, though."

The aerodactyl remained on high alert even after Muno hurried off. He stood stiffly, his sharp eyes darting from cliff to cliff as if seeking out further threats. Something about the stance gave Lance a painful twinge of nostalgia.

"There was a man I once knew who was very sharp-eyed and cunning," Lance said slowly. The aerodactyl's ears pricked up and one amber eye settled on him. "He never missed his mark. Maybe that's why they called him Archer."

Lance faltered. His stomach clenched at the name. Since he'd left Team Rocket, he'd tried not to think about Archer at all. Every time he did, questions threatened to bury him like one of Muno's cave-ins. Was Archer also a murderer? Had he hoped to make Lance into one?

"It suits you," he finished in a whisper. He half-hoped the aerodactyl would reject the name, but the pokemon let out a pleased croon and licked Lance on the cheek. Lance tried the name again. "Archer."

This time, it came easier.

~*~​

Jiro returned to Saffron the next day, but Lance remained in Pewter three more weeks, part of the deal Jiro had struck with the Pewter Institute. The researchers had all sorts of tests they wanted to run, and Lance did his best to coax Archer through them. The aerodactyl was an early riser. Lance got up while the morning was still gray to watch him and Kana make a loop of mountain—Kana had taken to Archer immediately. They shared the same quick-burning spirit, quick to quarrel and quick to make up.

When the three weeks were through, Lance set off down the road to keep his appointment with Leader Fiorelli. He could have flown to Viridian—that would certainly have been the quicker way. But he wanted some time to himself and his pokemon before he returned to the noise and bustle of Saffron city. It was good to fall asleep huddled up next to Toku, warmed from the heat of her body.

They kept off the main road after a wagon nearly swerved into a ditch at the sight of Archer, roaring happily in the morning air. Their progress was slow and not very quiet. Archer broke trees; Kana fought beedrill hordes. In one such battle, she lit up the edge of a cultivated field. That delayed them some more. Lance had to find the farmer to offer money and his deepest apologies. But the old couple were gracious. Kana had only charred the corner of their field that they left unharvested for the wild pokemon. They invited Lance to dinner, and that evening he sat quietly in their dark, low-roofed house, listening to their rambling talk.

The road needed fixing. The extra traffic to Viridian was well and good, but the ruts hadn't been patched for five years and the path was terribly treacherous after sunset. All of Kanto could use some fixing, really. Well, who could expect any different with a ghost-witch for a champion? Ghosts and metal cities. These were dark days, indeed.

Lance kept a respectful silence. He lingered the next morning, helping with a few odd jobs. Kana chased off a pinsir colony that had been nesting nearby and worrying the old couple's crops.

A few days after leaving the farm, he spotted Viridian's welcome sign, staked by the road. It looked new.

Lance's memory of Viridian was a distant one, of run-down huts and summer silence. But the town seemed livelier than he remembered it. Many of the houses were newly roofed, and the small Pokemon Center seemed at the verge of capacity. The Viridian Gym's arching white roof crested high above the other buildings. It was visible from every part of town, shining like a mountain peak. For a moment, Lance was reminded of the way the casino in Celadon had towered, unmissable, over the rest of the city.

Entering the gym, Lance found himself in a brightly-lit room, scattered with suede coaches. A receptionist in a white blouse stood up behind the desk.

"Are you here for a gym challenge?" When Lance nodded, she asked for his name, and then said, apologetically, "I'm afraid Leader Fiorelli is having a late lunch."

"Will he be long?"

"Not more than a half-hour, I'm sure. You're welcome to wait here. Would you like some water, tea?"

"No, I'm fine." Lance hesitated. "Would it be all right if I let out my pokémon?"

"I don't see why not, as long as they're well-behaved."

That left out Kana and Archer then, Lance thought with an internal grin. Toku settled next to him on the couch, resting her snout on his shoulder, but Kaisho soared around investigating the room. He ended up hovering near the receptionist, eyes fixed on her long braid. She looked up from her work and offered the hakuryu a slightly nervous smile.

"He likes your braid." Lance spoke up from the couch. "It is very pretty," he added politely.

This won him a more natural-looking smile. The receptionist held up the end of her braid to Kaisho. "You're very pretty too," she told the hakuryu, the tension leaving her shoulders. "You like my braid?" Kaisho trilled and darted closer. "It's a tradition in my family. All my sisters have beautiful braids. Well, except for my youngest sister." The smile slid from the woman's face. "She cut hers off."

"Like Hunter," Lance muttered under his breath, discomforted by the memory. Hunter was also someone he tried not to think about these days.

The receptionist stiffened. "What did you say?"

"You reminded me of someone I know. Knew." Lance faltered as the receptionist stared at him and mumbled, "Hunter. She was also from Viridian."

The harsh ring of a bell cut off the receptionist's words. She retreated behind her desk, looking slightly pale. "Leader Fiorelli has returned," she said. "Please follow me, Challenger Lance. And if you could please return your pokemon to their balls? Thank you."

They passed down a long corridor and through a broad set of reinforced doors. The stadium was dimly-lit by orange lamps hung mid-way up the walls, but even by the low light, Lance could tell the room was huge. The battlefield was a mixture of rocky terrain and sandpit. There were three elevated boxes—to the right, the referee stood with two kadabra; opposite, Giovanni sat in a high-backed chair. The remaining box, presumably, was meant for Lance.

Giovanni spoke without rising. "A pleasure to see you again, young man," he said courteously. "I have Jiro's word that you'll give me a riveting battle."

"I'll try not to disappoint you, sir," Lance said. Jiro claimed Giovanni was the best battler of all the gym leaders. Lance had been looking forward to their fight ever since Cerulean. He added, "And I hope you won't disappoint me," and then tensed, wondering if it was inappropriate to tease this man as if he were Jiro. He'd been friendly enough back at the party, but sitting up in his high-backed chair, face half-hidden by shadow, he seemed intimidating and remote.

Giovanni's chuckle echoed through the stadium. "A bold tongue. Let's see if you can live up to it."

As soon as Lance had taken his place in the challenger's box, a blue barrier sprang up behind him. There was no one watching from the rafter seats, so Lance could only assume that the protective barrier was for the benefit of the building. Giovanni's battling style must be powerfully destructive, to require two kadabra to maintain the shielding.

The referee announced that the battle would be three on three. Giovanni's first pokemon was a nidoking, unusually large. The light gleamed off its spiky armor. Lance hesitated before settling on Archer's pokeball. The aerodactyl's wings and thick skin offered natural advantages against a poison-type like the nidoking, and Lance thought Archer would enjoy the chance to fight.

The aerodactyl took to the air with an ear-splitting shriek. He made straight for the rafters—probably reminded of the Pewter cliffs—and ran head-first into the psychic barrier. He let out a whine as he was pushed back by the invisible force, turning to cast Lance a beseeching look.

"It's all right, Archer!" Lance called up to him. He pointed towards the nidoking, who was watching them with disdain. "There's your opponent."

It was a good thing the referee chose that moment to raise her flag, signalling the official start of the battle, because Archer didn't wait for the gesture to spring forward. He harried the nidoking with a rapid series of wing attacks, letting out a satisfied roar with each strike. Before the nidoking could land a counter-attack, he retreated into the air, crowing.

Giovanni watched the back-and-forth calmly from his chair. His stillness gave Lance an uneasy feeling. The nidoking, he noticed, barely seemed fazed by Archer's barrage. It had moved with each strike—not trying to dodge completely, which would have been useless—but angling its body so that Archer's wings struck against the thickest portion of its back armor. The pokemon clearly knew what it was doing.

And Giovanni still hadn't spoken a single command.

Maybe he should have saved Archer's first real battle for a less experienced opponent. But it was too late for second thoughts. Distance was the way to go, Lance decided. That was where Archer's wings lent him an advantage. Attacking close would forfeit that.

"Hyper beam," he called out. The heat of the beam fused the sand together, casting a trail of glass, but the nidoking had already vanished. Dug under the floor, Lance realized, taken aback by its speed. Archer let out an irritated roar and began to circle close to the ground.

"Keep your distance—" Lance began. Even as he spoke a purple tail peeked out from the sand. Archer moved like lightning. But when his jaws bit down on the exposed tail, the nidoking shot up from the ground, its left claw alight.

"Iron head!" Lance shouted, moving to the rim of the box, but the nidoking's punch had already caught Archer across the skull. As he reeled, the nidoking leaped forward and pushed him to the ground, one massive claw pinning each wing.

"Sludge wave." Giovanni spoke his first command without rising from his chair.

The nidoking grinned. As Archer roared his indignation, the nidoking bent over him. Thick, purple-black liquid oozed from its throat into Archer's open mouth. The aerodactyl began to thrash madly, fighting to close his jaw, but the nidoking held it open with both its claws, using the rest of its body weight to keep him immobile.

"Hyper beam!" Lance tried, but Archer was beyond sense now. He twisted frantically, almost managing to break away, and then fell abruptly limp as the poison took hold. Veins of ugly purple bubbled up under his rocky skin. The sight turned Lance's stomach. He took the stairs down from the challenger's box two at a time, barely noticing the referee's call, "The challenger's pokemon is unable to battle. Leader Fiorelli is the winner."

Archer's rocky skin felt warm, like a heated coal. His eyes had shut but he twitched every few seconds, his claws clenching and unclenching. His breathing was erratic.

"A spirited pokemon, but not very wise." Giovanni's voice floated down, thick with amusement. "Archer, you called him? What an interesting choice of name."

Lance took a breath, fighting to keep his voice level. He didn't like the glibness in the gym leader's tone. He didn't like it at all. "I need to take Archer to the Pokemon Center now and get him treated. I'm sorry I couldn't give you the battle you wanted, sir."

"Nonsense! It would be a shame to end the battle now." The gym leader spoke into a device by his chair. "Miss Iwata, bring me the nidoking antidote." To Lance, he said, "The Pokemon Center would just treat him with my antidote anyway. Believe me," he said with a short chuckle, "Viridian isn't at the cutting edge of medical care."

Lance stayed crouched by Archer's body, running his hands gently over the aerodactyl's snout. The door groaned and the receptionist hurried in, a canister in her arms. Lance snatched it from her and sprayed the contents carefully into Archer's mouth. An anxious minute ticked by. Had the spread of the purple slowed? Archer's breathing did seem more regular.

"A rest in its pokeball, and it'll be right as rain," Giovanni said, an edge of impatience to his voice. "Shall we proceed?"

"All right," Lance answered, but his heart felt leaden as he returned to the challenger's box. He couldn't shrug off the thought that Giovanni could have defeated Archer in a less painful way if he had chosen to. Still, it had been Lance's fault for sending out a half-wild pokemon. He shouldn't blame his opponent for that.

His hand fell to Kana's pokeball. She could handle this.

"Be careful at close range," Lance told the charizard in a low voice, as she materialized at his side. "It will try to pin your wings."

Kana huffed her understanding and directed a dark look at the nidoking. As the referee called out the new match-up, Lance noticed Giovanni pulling something from his pocket. His eyes narrowed. It looked like . . . a giant pair of glasses?

"Sandstorm," Giovanni said in a ringing voice.

A wind stirred across the battlefield that had no clear source. The sand whipped up. Lance raised his sleeves over his eyes as the air clouded with grit. He could just make out the figure of Giovanni, still reclining comfortably. Behind his glasses, he—unlike Lance—could see the battlefield clearly. Lance twisted his head from side to side, but he couldn't find the nidoking.

Kana was keeping to a high altitude. Her tail flame burned like a beacon through the sandstorm: the concealment would only work one way. A hunk of rock sped through the air like a fast-moving stormcloud. Kana dodged narrowly. She broke the next few boulders with her claws, but they seemed to have no end. The winds were intensifying, forcing Kana towards the ground. Lance could barely keep his eyes open now—even a quick glance stung horribly.

Hold on. Why bother looking? Their strategy was clear enough. They meant to bring Kana close to the ground, where she'd be vulnerable to the same maneuver that defeated Archer. He shut his eyes.

"It'll come from below, Kana! When it comes, grab it!"

For a minute there was only darkness behind Lance's lids and the rushing sound of the sandstorm. Then Kana roared. The nidoking must have made the leap.

"Fire spin!" Lance shouted and opened his eyes.

A vortex of flame shone in the middle of the sandstorm, like a sand-beast that had grown a fiery heart. The wind fell off and the sand settled, but the vortex continued to burn. Lance counted fifteen seconds until the flames dispersed. Kana soared up with a roar, and the nidoking dropped to the ground. The referee hesitated as the nidoking struggled to its feet.

"Air slash," Lance said sharply. The blow knocked the nidoking back, and this time it did not make a move to rise.

"Nidoking is unable to battle. The challenger is the winner."

Lance let out a breath. His still eyes stung horribly from the sand. Kana flew to the side of the box. "That was a beautiful fire spin," he told her, running his hand down her neck.

"That's more like it," Giovanni said approvingly from across the battlefield, removing the glasses and placing them back in his pocket. He flicked his wrist and a marowak appeared. The pokemon stood only three feet tall, but Lance didn't miss the sharpness in its eyes as they locked onto Kana, nor the deliberate way it twirled its bone boomerang. When the referee's flag rose, the marowak became a blur of movement, but no attack came. It spun across the sand, throwing up and catching its club. Each time the boomerang returned to its hand, the white of the bone seemed to shine more brightly.

Lance narrowed his eyes. "Air slash," he called out. The marowak caught its boomerang and darted to the side, the blast passing harmlessly by him. When Lance blinked, there was not just one marowak but ten, arrayed in a circle beneath Kana. In unison, the marowak threw their boomerangs.

Kana ducked beneath the ten spinning clubs and blazed out with a flamethrower. The fire devoured the copies one by one, leaving the battlefield empty. Lance realized the ploy too late. Kana was only feet from the ground.

"Up!" he shouted, "Go up!"

Before she could rise, the rebound of the boomerang caught Kana in the head. She stilled, dazed, and the marowak shot up from the sand, catching the end of her tail in one hand. With its other hand it caught the boomerang. Reacting on instinct, Kana whipped her tail up—the marowak used the momentum to spring onto her back.

"Fire spin," Lance said quickly. But as the flame rushed up from Kana's tail, the marowak moved. It tapped its boomerang in a rapid pattern across Kana's right wing; the wing sagged as if it had become sheeted with metal, and her flight went lop-sided. The marowak jumped to the left wing. The boomerang struck out once more, too fast for Lance's eye to follow. Kana dropped into free-fall. She hit the sand with a dull thump, belly-first, and whined—the sound was high-pitched and tight with panic. Her wings hung limply at her side.

How had that—but there was no time to ponder how. The marowak was advancing down Kana's back, boomerang in hand.

"Your tail flame!" Lance shouted. "Kana, calm down, use your tail-flame—"

His words reached her as the marowak raised its boomerang over her head. Fire flared from Kana's tail, rippling out like the surface of a lake, but the boomerang had already hit home with a sickeningly sharp thud.

Kana's head drooped. The fire dissipated. Lance stared at her motionless body, stunned.

"Her wings," he said, unable to keep the panic from his voice, "what did you do to her wings?"

Giovanni smiled and spoke affably. "No need to get yourself worked up. My marowak has perfected the art of dislocating bones. She knows to make the injury non-permanent. I'm not in the habit of crippling my challengers' pokemon." He let out a short chuckle.

Non-permanent. From a distance, Kana's wings looked like two crumpled kairyu capes.

The gym leader's words had been spoken in a reassuring tone, but Lance heard a darker implication hanging behind them. He could have crippled Kana, if he'd chosen to. He could have taken her wings away for good, and Lance would have been helpless to stop it. He couldn't shake the feeling that Giovanni wanted him to understand that—to understand how powerless he had been at that moment. Lance clenched his fists around the metal rim of the challenger's box. His legs felt shaky.

Giovanni's smile was disquieting. The man was still reclining comfortably in his chair, but his relaxed posture now seemed to Lance like that of an arbok before it struck. For a moment, he wanted to call an end to the battle. Then anger flooded him, hot and simple with clarity.

No. He didn't want to end the battle. He wanted to win it.

"Recalling her won't damage her wings further?" Lance asked tightly.

"You needn't worry. That's quite safe."

Red light wrapped around Kana.

"Your final pokemon?" Giovanni asked. He leaned slightly forward in his chair. "I hope you don't intend to deprive me of dueling a dragon."

Toku didn't make a sound when she materialized into the dimly-lit stadium. Catching Lance's mood, she turned, and their eyes met. "They hurt Kana," Lance said to her quietly. "The marowak's fast. The bone's the threat, not the rest of it."

Toku nodded. She winged to the center of the stadium, still silent. Lance felt his breathing slow to match hers. She weaved gracefully through the air, in a dance the marowak down below was powerless to interrupt. The yellow luster of her scales shone with their own light, like gold ore in a dark mine. Below, the marowak multiplied. Each image watched with an upturned skull as Toku danced.

"Up," Lance called, as ten bommerangs sang through the air. "Twister."

The wind punctured every false image, turned the false boomerangs into empty air. The real boomerang was born aloft by the updraft.

"Dragon claw," Lance said firmly. Toku caught his meaning. Green dragon-fire sprang up around her claws. She bore down through the air and cleaved the boomerang in one clean strike.

The fragments hit the sand without a sound. The marowak flinched. As if in a trance, it stepped forward and bent slowly over the bone fragments. It turned up towards Giovanni's box and let out a keening whine.

A deep silence fell. Giovanni stirred.

"So you have a ruthless streak after all," he said, recalling the marowak. "Very well. I see your dragonite has some power. You will find I have some as well."

Their eyes met across the stadium, and Lance raised his chin. Anger simmered under his skin. Over Giovanni's head, Lance thought that he caught movement in the rafters. He looked up, but the shadows were impenetrable.

The release of a pokeball drew his gaze back down. The pokemon was taller than Toku and certainly heavier. Its body was a fortress of gray and orange rock. The horn that jutted from its head gleamed a sharp silver. Its red eyes rose to Toku, and the two stared at each other in stiff, combative silence.

"Stealth rock," Giovanni said. Five hunks of rock rose from the sidelines and hovered in a circle around Toku. The kairyu eyed them warily, but the stones didn't move any closer. "Earth power."

A column of sand shot up beneath Toku.

"Twister," Lance said sharply. The blast scattered the sand, but it reformed an instant later. A second column shot up, then a third. The columns moved towards Toku like circling gyarados.

Rocks above. Sand below. Giovanni's pokemon had the power to animate both at once. And Toku was trapped between them. But as the sand-columns and stones converged, Lance was subsumed by calm. This he understood. There were no tricks here, no poisons, no illusions, just the pure power of earth and rock.

Toku had power too. And Lance knew the word for it—for anger that became power.

"Outrage," he said softly.

A red tinge spread down Toku's scales, like the deepest and hottest coals of a fire. Wind surged around her. The columns of sand were pushed back to the protective barrier. As the rocks closed in, Toku spun, her claws shining green and her tail pulsing blue. She blurred. When her form resolved, the stones were gray dust falling to the ground like fresh snow. Air rushed around Toku, forming into rapid, invisible armor. Giovanni's pokemon summoned more columns of sand as Toku approached, but she tore through them. A silver glow flashed across the pokemon's body. Both its arms extended, hard with metallic light.

Their collision sent out hairline cracks in the floor. The pokemon's hammer arms faltered against the wind that covered Toku like armor. Her green-fisted claw caught it under the chin.

"Megahorn," Giovanni called out. He was standing. Lance hadn't noticed him get up.

The blow caught Toku in the chest, but she hardly seemed to feel it. She grabbed the pokemon by its horn and heaved it into the air as if it weighed no more than a lump of driftwood.

"Rock wrecker!" The shout came from Giovanni's box. Midair, the pokemon's skin erupted into rocky crests. Energy rippled around it, distorting the shape of the air. Toku surged up to meet it, born up by a tornado of swirling green and red. The room burst with light. For an instant, Lance saw everything illuminated clearly—Giovanni standing at the edge of his box; the watcher in the rafters, straight-backed and silent; the two kadabra with their spoons raised. The light was too intense. Lance shut his eyes.

When he eased them back open, Toku hung alone in the air, panting. Giovanni's pokemon had left a crater several yards deep into the ground, where it now lay slumped. There was a large hole in the ceiling. Sunlight fell through, making a warm yellow circle on the sand. Lance stared up in confusion, then looked around. The blue of the psychic barrier was gone.

"Well." Giovanni's voice was level. Hearing him, Lance wondered if he'd imagined the frantic note in the gym leader's final command. He nodded up at the damaged ceiling. "Jiro was right. You leave quite the impression."

He stepped down from his box and crossed the battlefield—what remained of it. Lance met him, Toku hovering protectively at his side.

"Sorry about the roof," Lance said, even though, in all honesty, he wasn't.

"A hazard of this job," Giovanni answered dismissively. "It seems Jiro wasn't exaggerating your capabilities. I fully expect great things from you, young man." There was an almost triumphant gleam in his eye that Lance didn't know what to make of. Giovanni had lost. Why did he look so satisfied? "You have earned yourself the Earth Badge."

When Lance had tucked the badge away, Giovanni's hand remained outstretched. "A custom we have in my home country," he said, reaching out and lifting Lance's hand in his own. He moved their clasped hands up and down.

"Are you from very far away?"

"Quite far, yes. The journey took two weeks by boat. I spent them in an orange crate." A broad, humorless smile crossed Giovanni's face. "To this day I can't stand the stink of those damn things."

An orange crate?

But Giovanni's face was a mask that invited no more questions. As the gym leader made for the doors, Lance ran his eyes around the stadium one last time. The rafters were empty. Had he imagined . . ?

The receptionist stood waiting for them in the ante-room. She bowed and spoke quickly to Lance, "You forgot your notebook, sir." Lance blinked as she thrust a plain black notebook into his hands. He hadn't—but she had already retreated behind the desk, and Giovanni was facing him again.

The man had half a foot on Lance, and Lance felt every inch of it as Giovanni set a hand down on his shoulder. The gesture was almost fatherly, but Giovanni's smile cut like a knife.

"Great things," he said again.

~*~​

At 10pm, the nurse politely but firmly told Lance that visiting hours were over. Archer and Kana lay on separate beds in the Pokemon Center room. The aerodactyl hadn't woken since the gym battle, but his breathing was level as he slept, and the purple tinge had all but faded from his skin. Kana was awake, sniffing unhappily at the stiff gauze that had been taped over her wings.

"Kana," Lance said to her, "I have to go now, but I'll be back in the morning. Keep an eye on Archer for me, okay? He's going to be confused when he wakes up. It wouldn't be good if he brought down the building."

Kana nodded, wiggling into a more attentive posture. The task would distract her from her wings, Lance hoped. "And try to leave your wings alone. I know it's uncomfortable, but if you mess with them, they won't heal right."

Back in his room, he sat down on the bed, exhausted. The badge they'd won sat next to the plain black notebook on the bedside table, hastily placed there when he'd returned from the gym battle. Frowning, he picked up the notebook and leafed through. The pages were blank, until he came to the last one, where someone had scrawled, "Iwata Hachi (she goes by Hunter now) is my sister. If you know anything about her, please call me."

A number had been written underneath. Lance stared at the page for a while, blinking slowly. Finally, he set the notebook back down, climbed beneath the bed sheets, and fell into a dream.

Kaisho had called the rain. Lance stood on the rain-slickened shore before a boat, but the sea was too high for the journey home and the air stank of oranges. He turned away, but the waves rose and dragged him down. Water filled his mouth, salty and cold. When he fought his way to the surface, he saw a figure obscured by shadow, watching him from the deck of the boat.

"Help!" Lance called out. The figure watched him in silence and did not stir. He wore all black and a cap hung low over his face. Then the light shifted, and his eyes were green and blue.

Lance woke to darkness. The soft shadows of the room curled around him. He pushed off the covers, which had turned stiflingly warm, and padded to the window. A half-moon shone dimly through the early-morning mist.

"A dream." His words settled into the silence like silt at the base of a pond. Lance shivered, suddenly cold. Dream or no dream, he was sure now.

The watcher in the rafters—had been Archer.
 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
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9b - The Protege Part 2

Some of us "read the first time for plot" and then say wise things later. I'm just gonna jump right in with ... whatever comes out, and I'll see what intelligent thoughts I can cobble together after.

He could feel his mind treacherously unmooring from the warm shore of sleep.
Not sure about "treacherous" (like, waking up is not a dangerous activity), but I like the unmooring/shore image.

Jiro was sitting at the table in a yellow bathrobe.
Lol, of course he is.

Not into a kairyu, Lance thought, but didn't say. What makes a kairyu any different? Jiro would ask, and Lance wouldn't know how to answer. He hadn't spoken to Jiro about his life in the Ryu's Gift. The subject never seemed to come up, and Lance wasn't sure he wanted to raise it. The thought of home still throbbed like a dull pain.
Ooooof. Lance understands Jiro here--he can have the conversation without even opening his mouth--but Jiro does not understand fundamental things about him.

Conveyor trains glinted below like fish moving in a stream.
Love, get in here! (Lovely image, BTW.)

What if time and place were bound together, like double-faced fabric, and somewhere below he was still walking, a miniryu coiled around his neck?

"Your shed-skin is down there," he whispered into Toku's ear, fighting back a wash of vertigo. He raised his voice to Jiro, trying to distract himself from the sensation of being in two places at once. "Why are we going to see Muno?"
Oh man, Lance. Our baby is not okay.

The laboratory doesn't have the means to house it properly and so it's been going around destroying mining equipment.
Omg, a kindred spirit.

I told him you'd handle it."
🙃

"Listen, I'm doing you a favor. It's good to have people in your debt.
Lance is missing the connection between these sentences, lol.

a stomach ache
I usually see this as one word!

"Call it a rock-type all you want, it's a goddamned winged thing.
Haha, Muno, you are perfect, please never change.

Clearly they aren't meant for solitary life. Now if we could just resurrect a few more, enough to form a proper flock—"
Muno said what I was thinking a second after this.

An onix was coiled protectively around a large rigging.
He protecc

a tail-shaped blade
The reverse, no?

Toku swerved left and Kana right. The beam drilled into the cliff behind them, leaving a smoking hole several feet deep.
Nicely done.

It caught a low draft and circled back up, but didn't move to attack, watching them warily from a distance.
This is nicely done, too. The body language so beautifully conveys both where fossil fren's head is at and Lance's expertise.

The pokemon was as big as Toku—Lance's head would have fit easily inside its long jaw.
🙃

"Everything's changed. I know that's hard. This is your home, but you don't fit here now."
Wow, we are not projecting at all.

But Lance noticed a tensing in the aerodactyl's neck muscles and withdrew his hand just as the pokemon snapped at it.
Good eye, Lance.

The wing muscles rippled under his hands. Suddenly, the pokemon surged forward, knocking Lance off his feet. Strong claws clamped around his side, and the ground fell away.
This was such an effective passage!

"I think he's lonely."
:c I think you are too, baby.

Even if they could find him a quiet valley to live in, free from mining noise, he would still be unhappy without company. Lance frowned. They should have thought about that before they woke the aerodactyl up.
Pff, but Lance, empathy is hardddd.

"The safety of Pewter? When children are getting lung conditions from your mining—"
🙃 Ahem, ahem.

"Doctor Amari." They all turned to Jiro, who continued in a soft but deliberate voice. "If you'll allow me to make a brief point? From what I've heard, your institute has a serious need for funding and further resurrection research will be impractical until that funding is realized. Now, my protege here will be competing very visibly in tournaments and other high profile matches. If he competes with your aerodactyl—well, that's quite the advertisement for your work, isn't it? You're sure to receive all sorts of attention. Indeed, I would offer my personal guarantee of it."
Oh, fuck. So Lance gets to rescue this baby ... for the cost of getting these chucklefucks more funding to resurrect more creatures they don't know how to care for and don't see as creatures with feelings. Lance cannot get off this ride to save his life.

He handed Lance a badge fashioned in the shape of a boulder.
Yay! 🎉

"There was a man I once knew who was very sharp-eyed and cunning," Lance said slowly. The aerodactyl's ears pricked up and one amber eye settled on him. "He never missed his mark. Maybe that's why they called him Archer."
Oh NO
LANCE
We have got to get you a baby name book or something, my guy.

They shared the same quick-burning spirit, quick to quarrel and quick to make up.
Aww, friends.

He could have flown to Viridian—that would certainly have been the quicker way. But he wanted some time to himself and his pokemon before he returned to the noise and bustle of Saffron city.
A smol rebellion. Resisting the pace of modern life.

Their progress was slow and not very quiet. Archer broke trees; Kana fought beedrill hordes.
Love the understatement here. They're like his rowdy football bro buddies.

The short "hanging out with farmers" bit was very Fellowship of the Ring.

summer silence.
Mmmm. ❤️

shining like a mountain peak. For a moment, Lance was reminded of the way the casino in Celadon had towered, unmissable, over the rest of the city.
👀 Yes, Lance. Exactly fucking like that.

"He likes your braid." Lance spoke up from the couch. "It is very pretty," he added politely.
Aww, Lance. But, oof, * sad Hunter sounds. *

The smile slid from the woman's face. "She cut hers off."
Oh NOOOOOO.
OMG, exactly sad Hunter sounds.

face half-hidden by shadow, he seemed intimidating and remote.
✅

"It's all right, Archer!" Lance called up to him. He pointed towards the nidoking, who was watching them with disdain. "There's your opponent."
LOL omg, Gio must be utterly tickled by this. They've both got Archer on a leash in a way now.

The nidoking, he noticed, barely seemed phased by Archer's barrage.
*Fazed
The handling of its movements was really nice throughout though! You can see its experience and its toughness.

Even as he spoke a purple tail peaked out from the sand.
*Peeked

fell abruptly limp as the poison took hold. Veins of ugly purple bubbled up under his rocky skin.
Oof. Nice description though.

"A spirited pokemon, but not very wise." Giovanni's voice floated down, thick with amusement. "Archer, you called him? What an interesting choice of name."
dfjsdkljfklsdjf

He couldn't shrug off the thought that Giovanni could have defeated Archer in a less painful way if he had chosen to.
🙃 🚨

Still, it had been Lance's fault for sending out a half-wild pokemon. He shouldn't blame his opponent for that.
Oh my god, Gio is gaslighting him without even opening his mouth.

Hold on. Why bother looking? Their strategy was clear enough. They meant to bring Kana close to the ground, where she'd be vulnerable to the same maneuver that defeated Archer. He shut his eyes.
THE POWER OF HEART

The gym leader's words had been spoken in a reassuring tone, but Lance heard a darker implication hanging behind them. He could have crippled Kana, if he'd chosen to.
🚨🚨🚨

It turned up towards Giovanni's box and let out a keening whine.
"Daaaaaaad!"
I loved Lance's pep-talks to his pokemon between each switch. Learning. Communication.

Over Giovanni's head, Lance thought that he caught movement in the rafters. He looked up, but the shadows were impenetrable.
?!
I know what this is now, having read to the end, but my first guess was something Kikuko-related.

There were no tricks here, no poisons, no illusions, just the pure power of earth and rock.

Toku had power too. And Lance knew the word for it—for anger that became power.
Yessss 👏

"Megahorn," Giovanni called out. He was standing.
👀

There was a large hole in the ceiling.
Sorry not sorry.

"Sorry about the roof," Lance said, even though, in all honesty, he wasn't.
Ahahahaha. The first of many times Lance will come in and wreck Rocket property, I'm sure. "Oops."

The gesture was almost fatherly, but Giovanni's smile cut like a knife.
Ooooooof.

The watcher in the rafters—had been Archer.
ldskfkdsfldks
God, what must he have been thinking hearing Lance swinging around a pokemon that could only have been named for him???

Jesus fuck. Okay.

I think this chapter did a nice job of establishing that Lance (and his friends!!) will be in for a rough time as shit inevitably escalates with the Rockets. He's really not prepared, even with Jiro teaching him all he knows. Like, Lance went in thinking, "Maybe I'll give my new friend a chance. Could be fun!" And Gio was not here to play. He was here to teach Lance a lesson, exactly the way he might teach a lesson to a dog. But, Lance learns fast, he's strong, and his anger is righteous. So he definitely will have a fighting chance, too. (And, of course, we know how it has to end because GSC exists. But this feels like the right place for us to land on.)

Kana and Archer ( 🙃 Laaaance why did you do this to yourselffffff) as friends makes so much sense! She's the closest thing to something like himself he's seen.

And I am forever unquag about Archer the aerodactyl, but I can see why Lance keeps doing this. It's the same reason our little squad writes fic: to process his life and experiences by making it into a story he can understand. And reclaiming that story to give it new meaning.

But also, my god, so much oof.

He is very not over Archer.
 
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Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
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It's been way too long since I read this fic than I'd care to admit, but I managed to get around to reading the interlude chapter and hope to read more eventually.

This chapter being in second pov and also being seen from Giovanni's eyes was not what I expected, but I still found it very cool. You did well in selling Giovanni's personality and his way of thinking.

I liked the scene with the gym leaders gathering. The dramatic irony of team rocket's head honcho just being there and everyone being none the wiser was amusing to say the least. Seeing Giovanni's deduction of each and every one of them and how much of a threat they pose or how he plans to get rid of them or use them was fascinating to see.

Giovanni gave some insights on what he thinks real power is, where it lies and how it should be used best. It's very good to see that his motives aren't as cartoony as the canon Giovanni. In fact, Giovanni tends to be much more meticulous in fics than he's been in canon honestly which is always good to see.

The glimpses of Lance's activities were also nice. I'm interested to see what exactly Giovanni has in store for him and just what kind of clash they will have at the end of the day. All in all, a pretty great interlude into the time skip of the next chapter.
 

Blackjack Gabbiani

Merely a collector
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Catnip time! Goodness golly this is a good fic. Thank you for writing it! Lance never really stood out to me in canon but this really makes him pop.

Though some of the time frames have me a bit thrown off. Some areas barely have electricity and this is around 1990? Aerodactyl lived a thousand years ago, not millions? Color me a bit confused with things like that. Another thing that throws me a bit is some of the names you use. The champion is named Akane? So she's Whitney? Oh no she isn't Whitney. And using the name Hideyoshi made me snort because what are you doing this far from Ransei sir only not. And why did all the other Rocket execs get their English names but Ariana is Athena?

You have a spark for making minor characters stand out. Every time you introduce someone like Hunter or Aki or whoever, I think they're going to play a much bigger role than they do. Though as we see here, we probably haven't heard the last of Hunter (and I'm going to be watching for anyone described as having a braid now!). I was really glad we hadn't seen the last of a certain water master, and I hope she shows up again later.

How HAS the Dragon Clan managed to stay so isolated? Though I guess the somewhat slow spread of technology has played a role in that, but still, trainers are everywhere and wandering the countryside.

It seems *really* easy to take on a new identity in this verse. Wataru just needed to make some stuff up and boom, he's a fully registered trainer. I wonder if that's going to come into play at some point.

Until you showed a picture of Jiro I was imagining him looking like Ikutsuki from Persona 3, the way you described how he dresses.

Is Bruno the master of the fighting dojo or is that a red herring?

Love how Giovanni doesn't even bother to learn Surge's name, just calls him "the Unovan" and belittles his perceived intelligence despite being a foreigner himself.

Though on the subject of Giovanni, since you're using more or less animeverse here, something stood out. You described his father as having the power, essentially, when it was his mother who was the crime boss, in fact the Rocket boss before Gio himself. Will that come up at some point as well?

What determines if a Dratini is a "stormcaller" or not? I'd love to see you get into that.

Anyway I greatly enjoyed this and I hope to read more!
 

kintsugi

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look, I should probably feel some sort of emotion for trying to substitute reviews instead of shitposts here, but I tapered off reviewing and then two/three chapters came out with hints of another multipart one being worked on soooooooo ... I'm just saying the birds are pretty kind. this is purely for the Vigilante at the moment.

Act 2 opens up with a bang. I like the return to show-fighting as a way to get by--it's the one thing Lance is pretty good at, but it's famously lacking in getting him what he actually wants, but also it makes for great visuals. The graduation to a larger stadium does make it feel like some time has passed since the interlude, and I guess Lance finally realized that the mask doesn't really matter since he's the only one in the entire country to have a kairyu so like.

I don't know how much of this chapter actually felt like Vigilante work (or arguably if I wanted more of it to; I think it was paced nicely; just musing on titles here)--since we catch things at the tail end this really feels more pre-protege than post-vigilante, if that makes sense. I think that's pretty helpful for setting up the next two chapters, but at the same time this is the first section in a while where Lance gets to make his own decisions before officially being mentored by someone else (Hideyoshi roughly calling the shots here notwithstanding), so I do wish we got to see a bit more of those Good Decisions in action. Giovanni's interlude, with the battle hall and the references to the power plant sabotages, made it seem like this was more of an active thing, and I do like how Lance seems routinely used to meddling at this point, but this is one where I feel like time passed but I do wonder what happened in that interim time.

(truly though. strategic genius. a guy in a rocket uniform keeps showing up when a charizard and a dragonite do. no one will ever know.)

Overall though the scenes here are really nice. We get a good feel for progression/growth; fully evolved Toku is a beeeeeg dragon! But also being a big dragon/befriending a big dragon isn't giving her and Lance what they really want--they've triumphed in a way but they aren't really getting anywhere. Also, best girl is still here to show you that cats are cool and do not give a Fuck about dragons. Which is great memetically but is also nice narratively since it establishes, in a realistic way, that this isn't a story that'll get solved by steamrollering through everyone through sheer force, and even if it could be, Lance isn't in a position to do that yet.

Lance visa arc when? Now that he doesn't have ID it seems like that's definitely the most illegal thing he's tried to do so far.

some line-by-lines:
Someone with binoculars might have noticed the reddish tinge clinging to her scales, but only a dragon master would have recognized what Toku was actually doing—opening herself to the speed and power of the ancient ryu.
Cool detail, cool setup for Jiro secretly being a dragon master (the obvious conclusion), nice nod to Lance being a fucking cheater with three underlevelled dragonite curbstomping my typhlosion in pokemon gold smh
One glance at the tyranitar's "trainer" confirmed Lance's suspicion. He was facing a wild tyranitar and someone stupid enough to stand in the stadium near him.
This was a nice bit of cutting narration that I liked. Snippy enough in Lance's voice but also very telling.
The upward sweep of Toku's tail stole the moisture from the air. Lance took a breath, his mouth suddenly bone-dry, as a ten-foot whip of water extended from Toku's tail.
Are the shields only for the audience? There's references to the trainer's feeling the earthquakes as well--seems like that could potentially lead to some unsportsmanlike behavior, which felt odd for a tournament setting in a world that places human safety much higher than pokemon safety.
Hideyoshi directed a glare at the light fixture above Lance's head. "I've got some information you might want to hear. Concerning—" He drew an exaggerated R in the air.
I like how things tie neatly here. Lance is focused on stopping Team Rocket, in a sense preventing him from doing things that could probably be more effective (like becoming Jiro's apprentice)--but either way he's still a pawn to someone.
The locker room was empty. Lance changed quickly, swapping his bright red outfit and cape for a jacket and loose pants. The cape, made of faux spinsilk, was a mockery of a kairyu cape. It was slippery, insubstantial, and already fraying at the hem. Every time he held it, Lance couldn't help but think of Ibuki's cloak, abandoned at the Team Rocket headquarters. His gut twisted sharply.
ah silly me being worried for human Hunter and regular Hunter. my heart. this poor cape.
Another man was with him—something about him struck Lance as vaguely familiar.
This is how you'll know I reread this chapter recently--if I'd remembered this line earlier I would've absolutely mentioned that the reason Jiro looks familiar is because he bears a passing resemblance to his father, Muno.

srsly tho is this a setup for something or?
Lance glanced nervously up to the shelftops where Toku and Kana lay waiting, but the light didn't illuminate that far up.
I was curious how they didn't spot Kana's tail flame when she was stealthing, especially since it becomes a target later on.

Kana's tail-flame was the only light left-making her and Lance clear targets.
Hyphen instead of em dash here, I think.

"We're here, Kint."
BEST GIRL
Lance wondered if he would have found it beautiful, if some twist of fate had made this place his home.
I don't know if this is a real grammar rule, but having the comma here makes me want to read the two if's as parallel rather than the second one being conditional on the first. Words are failing me atm so here's pseudocode:
Lance wondered if he would have found it beautiful, if some twist of fate had made this place his home.
Lance wondered:
1) if he would have found it beautiful
(and he also wondered)
2) if some twist of fate had made this place his home

Lance wondered if he would have found it beautiful if some twist of fate had made this place his home.
Lance wondered:
1) if he would have found it beautiful
(but only)
a) if some twist of fate had made this place his home

The omission hadn't been conscious at first, but as Lance spoke, he realized that he was avoiding the man's name.
ha yes well you see luckily this--
Jiro has one who keeps imitating my miniryu. I bet I could work out the difference if I tried."

Noriko's eyes narrowed. "Jiro? Jiro of the Elite Four? Yes, he does, but—I'm sorry, are you saying you know him? Personally?"
I wanted something a bit more in Noriko's dialogue for her train of thought here--how she jumps to Lance knowing him personally instead of just being a fanboy. Maybe like "Jiro? Jiro of the Elite Four? Imitating your miniryu?"
"Indeed. I was there at the 1990 Silver Conference when her flareon tore through the largest steelix I'd ever laid eyes on with Flare Blitz, her signature move. A stunning sight."
Between this and the all-dialogue bit of this section it makes for a fun/sad AU to Let It Ring, I think.
"Anyone else would be down for the count after a feint that brutal, but Flareon holds on with Endure and strikes back with a mind-boggling Superpower attack, lifting the snorlax and slamming it down, vulnerable to a Fire Spin."
um akshually you can't use Endure and a move that would trigger a Counter in the same turn--
Between the driver's seat and the seats along the back, there was a raised cushion, white with shed hair. If Lance had wondered whose car this was, that left him with no doubt.
This is a really lovely detail, and one that I'm glad Lance would notice.
Jiro read the confusion on Lance's face. "Technically a draw, but Akane could have swung it if she'd wanted to. You could drop a mountain on that flareon and it would still get up. Rule number one of exhibition matches—battles between Kanto and Johto always end in draws. It's just one of those things."
Also a great detail. Definitely makes sense for two regions that are a bit at odds.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
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Ahhh I always let these pile up. I loved reading all of your feedback and it's been super motivating in pushing through the most recent chapters.

I have reread this review several times because it's so on point and keeps giving me feels/evil cackling for future chapters.

Gio is deliciously upsetting here. So smug and self-assured.
Why shouldn't he be? Things are going great.

It's also occurring to me that, uh oh, Gio and Jiro are both persian dudes. Jiro is so charming, and my wariness intensifies.
Wow, stereotyping people by their very good cats. For shame.

I'm also seeing some parallels between Lance's relationship to Jiro and his relationship to Archer. I think he's been disillusioned since then--it definitely seems like he had Archer on a pedestal way more than Jiro--but he's been both of their pet projects. They've both helped him become better, physically stronger and more politically savvy. And it seems like for Jiro as much as for Archer, part of Lance's role is to make his handler look good. Everyone wants to be the one to have discovered (and, yes, tamed!) Lance.
Parallels between Archer and Jiro? I would never.

I hope we learn more about Kikuko soon! She seems to be chummy with Gio, but I'd be surprised if she weren't watching him as carefully as he's watching her. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Definitely something going on with her. And, awk, because eventually we know Lance is going to have to have a working relationship with her, right?
Kikuko content is coming.

Another small thing I noticed is how much of a non-event Sakura is. I think most people would wax poetic about her red hair ... and of course Lance wouldn't. (I mean, her hair isn't even as fiery as his is, TBH.)
Already discussed this in DMs, but Sakura is the oldest of the Waterflower Sisters and is not Misty. Misty will show up at some point, but she's still pretty young.

Is this the moment where Lance's hair becomes as-seen-in-canon (and does that mean Jiro really just did him up like a 90's boy band singer?) or is it slicked back? Smoothly/stiff spikes makes me picture two different things.
Asking the real questions. I edited this to make it vaguer because I have not fully worked out the Lance's hair style arc.

I'm enjoying the juxtaposition of these images, the skin shedding and the skin too tight.
This fic is just shedding imagery for days.

Icemew would like to know your location.
Hah, yep, I was thinking of that when I wrote it.

Oh that's a fun detail!
I really enjoy doing the lower tech pokeworld where it's not all cars cars cars. Cars exist, but why would Cerulean want them? If you need to get somewhere fast, there's teleportation, and if you're not in a complete hurry, ponyta taxis are a stylish way to travel.

In this world, he's clearly not wrong to be paying attention to that, but I suspected in part 9b we'll get some glimpses of how he fails Lance by staying on the surface of things, away from root causes or real feelings.
Watch this space, I guess.

1) I love that she's getting wet weather on her way out. 2) And once again we see that rain makes every scene better!
raaaaaainnnn

I love what this suggests about Cerulean's history! I bet for most people these are just words now.
Once the ryu fought with fire and ash . . .

And it makes sense that Muno would be hard to recognize in nice clothes lol.
100%. His usually look is hard helmet, mining clothing, and lots of dirt.

Aaaaaah! Giovanni!
Heh, this made me smile.

He truly has no idea how much Gio knows
Information asymmetry and the resulting dramatic irony is so fun to play with. I wrote a scene recently where every character and the reader all know different things. A good time.

Oh man, Lance is getting his strings pulled by two different people at once tonight.
Maybe even more than two.

sdkjfkldsfjsd fuck. Of course she does, though. She's not a fool or a trophy gym leader.
Hamako knows her gyarados.

This feels wild and only just barely in his control. They're not just giving over their trust and cooperation to pokemon here but to the storm itself.
To me a big part of a trainer's role in the battle is environmental. They have to be attuned to the flow of the battle and at the higher levels, know when to step in and when to trust.

This made me wonder what kind of shoes he's wearing, though. Not sandals, I guess!
Sandals can collect water too I think! Squelch squelch.

Ugh and he's trying so hard now and still getting yanked around, poor guy.
You can just copy and paste this comment for the new few chapters.

Again: too late, lol. This is a good one for him to tuck into his pocket for the future, though. It's a powerful promise. Certainly, if anyone knows how shitty it is to be used, it's Lance. He's not trying to serve criminals by accident again.
😁

He's giving off The Fun Uncle ™️ vibes here
That's an excellent summation of Jiro.

Hey Starlight! So glad you enjoyed the first chapter, and I really appreciated hearing your thoughts.

As I read more into this chapter, I take it because Blackthorn City/the Dragon's Den is meant to be so isolated that you're using a different language to designate that, correct?
Yep! And the kairyu line have particular significance to the Dragon's Clan, so I wanted to denote that.

This takes me back to when I was a kid and was considered tall for my age--even among boys--because I had early growth spurts. Now I'm shorter than average XD
It's really that time when a year's difference in age can feel so massive and unbridgeable. Wataru is feeling that gap in a lot of ways with Ibuki, but height's the most obvious.

I thought this read oddly since fires cast light.
Fire cast light, which cast shadow! No shadow without light.

This caught me off-guard since canon Hoothoots have red eyes.
Lol, shame on me for picturing owls and then subbing in hoothoot. Changed!

This reminds me of an episode from Princess Tutu where the protagonist dances a pas de deux alone, and though she lacked a partner, everyone was amazed by how well she danced!
Haven't seen that one but I'm a sucker for the concept.

I realize the second one may have just been an expression, but it took me out of the moment XD
Nice catch, I changed clouds to sky.

Ah, a 外國人!
Yup!

Looks like he's got a bit of an arrogance streak!
Oh, he very much does.

Exile does seem harsh for a child (I assume he's still considered a child by the clan's standards if he's dancing the Miniryu dance) so it does seem odd in that way; I realize that the clean wants safety and privacy but exiling a child can very well be a death sentence. I suspect this is explained further in future chapters, though.
Next chapter will go more into why this isn't a death sentence in Uncle's eyes, but Wataru is on the verge of adulthood by the clan's standards--he's correct that this would have been his last year dancing the miniryu's dance.

I also thought that Wataru being of mixed race is interesting! Peoples' reactions reminded me to that of Atlanteans in Aquaman thinking about their queen having a baby with a human man (idk if you've watched Aquaman but it was a movie I quite liked, heh). it's heartbreaking that a child is taught to have shame for the origin of a parent, but it does fit in with what I know from Asian cultures in real life. I guess it also provides an explanation for Lance and Claire being related when their hair colors are on opposite ends of the colour spectrum :P
I won't lie, this headcanon 100% began to explain the hair color difference. Though it evolved into a lot more than that. That's a huge part of the fun of writing canon characters for me--you come up with something to make sense of something tiny detail and then it takes on its own life.

You provide a very rich culture and strong characterization. Toku is super-duper cute and Wataru is as well :) I am also behind on reviewing, but I'll put this on my list to get caught up on!
❤️

Ahh Pano your reviews are always so thorough and lovely.

Post-Rocket Lance starts with a strong opening, though it's not entirely clear how much time has passed since that fateful night. Something tells me it's been maybe another season or so? Enough that the trail has gone semi-cold, enough that he's feeling bold enough to play Batman, swooping in at night and disrupting Rocket plans. (Ah ha, okay two years have passed. It comes in later in the chapter. I don't think it needs to be presented any earlier, just me musing at Lance's growth since then.)
* pulls out spreadsheet, pushes up glasses * so Lance joined Team Rocket when he was 14 (in the late summer), but by the time he breaks from them he's 15 (according to his abandoned ID). So about a year.

That, and I hadn't even considered all his info and possessions are still somewhere at Rocket HQ. Hearing about the hakaryu cape from Clair, that hurt. :(
Last bit of home except for Toku, all gone 🙃

Lots of lovely description here to flesh out Lance's current world. The description of Toku's aqua tail attack was particularly lovely, especially that it has environmental effects to creating that much water to be used as a weapon. Then we get onto Hideyoshi and his gaudy jacket, fancy parties wearing Kaisho like a scarf, and Lance's disdain for all the things Saffron brings to the table, but being unable to shake them off while he still has his self-appointed mission in mind. Love the worldbuilding/worldmelding, too, with the Hunter J reference. There's a definite flavor to everything in this chapter's opening that Lance is involved in seedy affairs right now. Perhaps that's why Jiro's appearance sent a bunch of red flags dancing for me (though I now know what his appearance meant, I still can't shake some unease that seems to hang around his character. No good deed...)
Gosh, you and OSJ are so distrusting. It's not a crime to be a charming man with a very good cat.

Lance's has not had the greatest success in extricating himself from shady stuff since chapter four, really.

The run in with Noriko was a lovely little surprise. It's the right kind of slap in the face that Lance needed (and then later when she lays out that he's ruined a lead they'd been working on. You can feel how much it kills him to know he's hurt and not helped with what he's doing). The line about vigilantes "not knowing what to do" feels really poignant given how much Lance has bounced around in his journey so far, not really finding his place anywhere. Dragon master hopeful, league trainer, rocket grunt, vigilante. And now, where we know he's landed in the end: the G-Force. I love his roundabout way of getting here; makes him a jack of all trades, master of none, and that fits young Lance.
Yeah, he still doesn't quite know the answer to Okido's charge to know your goal. He thought the answer was Toku becoming a kairyu, because if she became a kairyu he could go home, but now that feels impossible. So, fight team rocket --> ??? --> profit

Baby is still very rightous and very much at loose ends.

Speaking of, it's interesting how comfortable he is with using the name, now. Or maybe it's discomfort with the old one. Either way, it's a nice transition to show he's growing, changing, more willing to move forward. It feels like a big step for him.
He's got some thoughts on Wataru vs Lance in an upcoming chapter that I won't preempt, but yeah. I think it's more the latter--Wataru doesn't fit him anymore, even if he's still not completely able to reckon with being Lance.

I think I already had given you my thoughts on who this Jiro fellow might have been (yellow, yellow, gold, and more yellow in Saffron... Definitely a trainer of renown. Of course I remembered too late that we already knew about Saffron's Gym Leader situation, but my guess wasn't too far off base)
yellow, yellow, gold and more yellow just about sums him up

The battle with Jiro was proper fun, and again I love the way you've visualized the pokemon's moves. Power gem is one in particular that gets a big ol' ??? when it comes to what on earth it is from the games alone. I really like what you've done with it here, and I can't help but wonder if it manifests differently for different pokemon that use it (with it being off-type for Kint).
Omg, I love that you're the only reader who recognized power gem without prompting. Truly your Ronk expert title is earned. Yeah, power gem is so bizarre, and for a persian, I wanted to connect it to the gem, since that feels like the one organic connection a persian has to rocks/minerals. I do think how it manifests would very pokemon by pokemon.

Really though, kudos for giving Jiro a proper power scaling worth of someone in his position. Not only is he powerful, but with a type that doesn't seem to garner that kind of spotlight. Great choice and overall character design for him.
I do think that having a powerful trainer with a non stereoptypically powerful pokemon is a great cheat sheet way to signal power and expertise. I almost find it more difficult writing Lance's super powerful base stat team because there's less push to substitute innovation for power.

My only gripe for this choice is that the running commentary left no room for Lance's reactions. We got some musings at the end that he didn't feel much, but that feels a bit dishonest. If he didn't feel anything, he could have been anywhere watching on tv or listening on the radio. The stadium must have been massive, but there had to be some sort of sights, sounds, or feelings that came from viewing a high-octane pokemon battle in person. Did the stadium shake with every impact? Was the heat of the fire felt even from the top rows? Did the roar of the crowd get Lance's blood pumping as if he were the one battling instead? I think if there was more to evoke what Lance was feeling rather than just seeing, this battle would have had more impact beyond the high-level tactics.
Yeah, heard. I was just really sick of writing battles by this point. I may go back and flesh this out at some point. There is a stadium battle coming up that is more anchored.

I love, love, love this. This unspoken rule between two regions that happen to share a League. The tension practically oozes off the page here.
The Kanto-Johto relationship is very important to this whole project and I have many thoughts on it.

He'd be fighting his way uphill tooth and now and maybe, just maybe, he's crested that hill.
😁 we shall see

Some of us "read the first time for plot" and then say wise things later. I'm just gonna jump right in with ... whatever comes out, and I'll see what intelligent thoughts I can cobble together after.
I greatly enjoy your instant reaction line-by-lines.

Lol, of course he is.
he fashion

Lance understands Jiro here--he can have the conversation without even opening his mouth--but Jiro does not understand fundamental things about him.
To be fair to Jiro, Lance is less good at the opening your mouth to share fundamental things about yourself aspect than Jiro is.

Oh man, Lance. Our baby is not okay.
what do you mean, he's fine. all the stuff chaos in his life and all the things he's witnessed have definitely not made a lasting impression.

Lance is missing the connection between these sentences, lol.
Hah, yep.

Haha, Muno, you are perfect, please never change.
He's so fun to write.

The reverse, no?
Still can't believe I wrote that.

This is nicely done, too. The body language so beautifully conveys both where fossil fren's head is at and Lance's expertise.
Ah I'm glad this worked.

Wow, we are not projecting at all.
Not at all.

:c I think you are too, baby.
Noooo I already told you he's fine.

So Lance gets to rescue this baby ... for the cost of getting these chucklefucks more funding to resurrect more creatures they don't know how to care for and don't see as creatures with feelings. Lance cannot get off this ride to save his life.
Yup yup. You do something good, but it has costs.

gotta get those badges

Oh NO
LANCE
We have got to get you a baby name book or something, my guy.
He has a baby name book it's called life

Love the understatement here. They're like his rowdy football bro buddies.

The short "hanging out with farmers" bit was very Fellowship of the Ring.
Omg I would never have thought of that description but yes, rowdy football buddies for sure.

Yes, Lance. Exactly fucking like that.
Just a simile, nothing to see here.

OMG, exactly sad Hunter sounds.
:smile:

LOL omg, Gio must be utterly tickled by this. They've both got Archer on a leash in a way now.
Gio is very amused.

Oh my god, Gio is gaslighting him without even opening his mouth.
The man has skills.

I know what this is now, having read to the end, but my first guess was something Kikuko-related.
Not a bad guess!

ldskfkdsfldks
God, what must he have been thinking hearing Lance swinging around a pokemon that could only have been named for him???
Indeed

He's really not prepared, even with Jiro teaching him all he knows. Like, Lance went in thinking, "Maybe I'll give my new friend a chance. Could be fun!" And Gio was not here to play. He was here to teach Lance a lesson, exactly the way he might teach a lesson to a dog. But, Lance learns fast, he's strong, and his anger is righteous. So he definitely will have a fighting chance, too. (And, of course, we know how it has to end because GSC exists. But this feels like the right place for us to land on.)
I'll be 🤐 here but a nice summation of Gio and Lance.

Kana and Archer ( 🙃 Laaaance why did you do this to yourselffffff) as friends makes so much sense! She's the closest thing to something like himself he's seen.
They're insta BFFs. Flockmate!! Kana likes the others, but since she became a kairyu, Toku's been too serious for fun, Kaisho is still doesn't love rough-housing, and Ibuki is great, but unfortunately lacks wings and mock battling her carries the serious risk of getting wet.

And I am forever unquag about Archer the aerodactyl, but I can see why Lance keeps doing this. It's the same reason our little squad writes fic: to process his life and experiences by making it into a story he can understand. And reclaiming that story to give it new meaning.

But also, my god, so much oof.

He is very not over Archer.
Reclaiming is a good way to put it.

And re Archer . . . yeah, so it turns out persistently refusing to think about or talk about the people who hurt you doesn't help with moving on. Who knew.

It's been way too long since I read this fic than I'd care to admit, but I managed to get around to reading the interlude chapter and hope to read more eventually.
Adam! So nice to hear from you and glad this interlude landed well for you. It definitely hits a bit of a different tone!

The dramatic irony of team rocket's head honcho just being there and everyone being none the wiser was amusing to say the least. Seeing Giovanni's deduction of each and every one of them and how much of a threat they pose or how he plans to get rid of them or use them was fascinating to see.
Absolutely, and I had so much fun with writing it. Machiavellian style characters who are plotting constantly are a good time. Especially as a contrast to Lance, who definitely doesn't have plotting as his forte.

It's very good to see that his motives aren't as cartoony as the canon Giovanni.
hrrr drrr world domination doesn't quite do it for me. The fun part of canon character fic is being able to bring in all this nuance.

Catnip time! Goodness golly this is a good fic. Thank you for writing it! Lance never really stood out to me in canon but this really makes him pop.
Blown away that you read the whole thing through for Catnip! I know it's a fair bit of words. Thank you, and I'm so glad to hear this gave you a new appreciation for Lance.

Though some of the time frames have me a bit thrown off. Some areas barely have electricity and this is around 1990? Aerodactyl lived a thousand years ago, not millions? Color me a bit confused with things like that.
Good catch re aerodactyl--that should be millions. Re the general timeline, I see pokeworld's development and usage of technology not being quite aligned with our own, because of how the presence of pokemon changes things. So, for example, there's a lot less pressure to develop fast airplanes because pokemon can teleport. Pokeworld also has a pretty significant divide in how technology is distributed. Cities like Saffron have tech more readily available, but there are plenty of areas, especially in rural Johto, where that stuff hasn't reached and is actively resisted. Government is super decentralized in Johto and as yet, efforts to create a network to develop better national travel through roads and trains hasn't been successful. There's a strong culture of self-sufficiency among the various localities and their suspicious of the closer entanglement that better communication and travel promises.

The champion is named Akane? So she's Whitney? Oh no she isn't Whitney.
Yup, Akane is an OC =/= Whitney. Pokeworld is so sprawling it's hard to avoid reusing names, unfortunately.

And why did all the other Rocket execs get their English names but Ariana is Athena?
Ariana sounds very mundane and undignified in comparison with the rest, so I went with Athena for her. Since I see these names as being self-chosen/Giovanni-bestowed, not as worried about consistency--they aren't birth names.

You have a spark for making minor characters stand out. Every time you introduce someone like Hunter or Aki or whoever, I think they're going to play a much bigger role than they do. Though as we see here, we probably haven't heard the last of Hunter (and I'm going to be watching for anyone described as having a braid now!). I was really glad we hadn't seen the last of a certain water master, and I hope she shows up again later.
Aw, thank you! Really great to hear they came alive from you. And yes, you have not seen the last of Hunter, or Aki, or Hamako!

How HAS the Dragon Clan managed to stay so isolated? Though I guess the somewhat slow spread of technology has played a role in that, but still, trainers are everywhere and wandering the countryside.
They live up in a mountainous area that's pretty difficult to get to, and people who aren't traders, including trainers, just have no reason to venture up that way.

It seems *really* easy to take on a new identity in this verse. Wataru just needed to make some stuff up and boom, he's a fully registered trainer. I wonder if that's going to come into play at some point.
Definitely easier in Johto than Kanto at the moment.

Until you showed a picture of Jiro I was imagining him looking like Ikutsuki from Persona 3, the way you described how he dresses.
Heh, a little too buttoned up for Jiro, but I definitely see how his turtleneck + jacket combo evoked that.

Is Bruno the master of the fighting dojo or is that a red herring?
Nicely spotted, he was! And then he accepted a position on the Elite Four, leaving his dojo behind.

Love how Giovanni doesn't even bother to learn Surge's name, just calls him "the Unovan" and belittles his perceived intelligence despite being a foreigner himself.
Giovanni practices self-exceptionalism.

Though on the subject of Giovanni, since you're using more or less animeverse here, something stood out. You described his father as having the power, essentially, when it was his mother who was the crime boss, in fact the Rocket boss before Gio himself. Will that come up at some point as well?
I kind of write a blend between game and anime verse. If I had to pick one as the baseline, it's probably game verse, though. Like, Red is running around right now, and Ash Ketchum isn't. So while I've taken some things from anime canon for Giovani, like his very good persian, I'm not wedded to it.

What determines if a Dratini is a "stormcaller" or not? I'd love to see you get into that.
The Dragon's Clan doesn't really know! Some hakuryu seem to have the power and others don't. I'll put on my Prof Okido hat for a moment and say that the 'dragon' type seems to have affinity with both fire and water elements, and rain callers may be ones who are more closely aligned with water.

a review and not a shitpost? who even are you

I like the return to show-fighting as a way to get by--it's the one thing Lance is pretty good at, but it's famously lacking in getting him what he actually wants
✅

I guess Lance finally realized that the mask doesn't really matter since he's the only one in the entire country to have a kairyu so like.
They're, uh, kind of distinctive.

I don't know how much of this chapter actually felt like Vigilante work (or arguably if I wanted more of it to; I think it was paced nicely; just musing on titles here)--since we catch things at the tail end this really feels more pre-protege than post-vigilante, if that makes sense. I think that's pretty helpful for setting up the next two chapters, but at the same time this is the first section in a while where Lance gets to make his own decisions before officially being mentored by someone else (Hideyoshi roughly calling the shots here notwithstanding), so I do wish we got to see a bit more of those Good Decisions in action. Giovanni's interlude, with the battle hall and the references to the power plant sabotages, made it seem like this was more of an active thing, and I do like how Lance seems routinely used to meddling at this point, but this is one where I feel like time passed but I do wonder what happened in that interim time.
Not sure if this is just general musing or if you think something should be expanded? This chapter sort of kicks off where I feel like the story becomes interesting to me again.

But also being a big dragon/befriending a big dragon isn't giving her and Lance what they really want--they've triumphed in a way but they aren't really getting anywhere.
"All we have to do is get strong."

Which is great memetically but is also nice narratively since it establishes, in a realistic way, that this isn't a story that'll get solved by steamrollering through everyone through sheer force, and even if it could be, Lance isn't in a position to do that yet.
See above, and yeah, in a sense this whole fic's a deconstruction of what power actually is.

Lance visa arc when? Now that he doesn't have ID it seems like that's definitely the most illegal thing he's tried to do so far.
You were shitposting, but that's literally the next chapter, soo

Are the shields only for the audience? There's references to the trainer's feeling the earthquakes as well--seems like that could potentially lead to some unsportsmanlike behavior, which felt odd for a tournament setting in a world that places human safety much higher than pokemon safety.
Yep, shields section off the audience, not the trainer. I see pokemon training as a bit analogous to something like high-speed car racing, where the danger and risk of injury to the person is part of what grants it mystique. Historically, pokemon trainers were the people who fought on the front lines of wars and that ethos still informs the modern view of pokemon training and the respect that pokemon trainers are accorded. There's also some logistical issues with shielding the trainer--they're more disconnected from the battle and might miss certain sensory cues. If a protect shield can block a sonic burst, it definitely blocks a human voice, so there would have to be some relay system for commands--but what if that became disabled during the battle? Then a trainer would essentially be a bystander to their own fight.

But Pen, you say, what about potential tort liability? I'm glad you asked. I think it was established pretty early on that pokemon trainers can't sue a stadium hosting pokemon battles for negligently inflicted injuries, on the theory that by agreeing to the battle, the trainer assumed the risk. Intentional injury is a different story, obviously. Audience members, however, were able to successfully sue in some cases, and so that led to the adoption of the shields. There's definitely some people pushing for tournaments and battle halls to adopt trainer shielding, but the pushback to that is pretty strong in the trainer community. It's seen as adulterating the art.

Injuries are actually most common in non-stadium battles, where no one has any shielding, and the pokemon are less proficient at controlling their attacks. Unsportsmanlike behavior in tournament settings isn't that common because refs know what to look for and the league is very strict about suspending trainers, even when no intentional acts can be proven, on the basis that a certain less of recklessness/lack of control indicates the trainer's inability to professionally compete.

Lance is focused on stopping Team Rocket, in a sense preventing him from doing things that could probably be more effective (like becoming Jiro's apprentice)--but either way he's still a pawn to someone.
He's a very convenient blunt force instrument.

This is how you'll know I reread this chapter recently--if I'd remembered this line earlier I would've absolutely mentioned that the reason Jiro looks familiar is because he bears a passing resemblance to his father, Muno.

srsly tho is this a setup for something or?
Jiro's something of a celebrity--Lance has seen his face on magazines but never paid any particular attention.

I was curious how they didn't spot Kana's tail flame when she was stealthing, especially since it becomes a target later on.
Good q. I wonder if a charizard can contract their own flame? It would make sense to me, since they can inflate it.

I don't know if this is a real grammar rule, but having the comma here makes me want to read the two if's as parallel rather than the second one being conditional on the first. Words are failing me atm so here's pseudocode:
Lance wondered if he would have found it beautiful, if some twist of fate had made this place his home.
Lance wondered:
1) if he would have found it beautiful
(and he also wondered)
2) if some twist of fate had made this place his home

Lance wondered if he would have found it beautiful if some twist of fate had made this place his home.
Lance wondered:
1) if he would have found it beautiful
(but only)
a) if some twist of fate had made this place his home
I have some weird comma hangovers from studying Russian, which treats commas as mandatory in certain constructions, including if constructions.

I wanted something a bit more in Noriko's dialogue for her train of thought here--how she jumps to Lance knowing him personally instead of just being a fanboy. Maybe like "Jiro? Jiro of the Elite Four? Imitating your miniryu?"
I'll play around with it.

um akshually you can't use Endure and a move that would trigger a Counter in the same turn--
I definitely lean on one sign of great battling expertise being the ability to use moves in unison or close unison.

Definitely makes sense for two regions that are a bit at odds.
They have a lot of history.
 
Ch 10: The Citizen, Part One

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
The Citizen, Part One

Thank you, Lance. I know I can count on you.

Lance tugged a tuft of grass from the hillside and twirled it in his hand. Next to him, Toku lay stretched out on the grass, slumbering after their afternoon sparring session. He raised a slice of tamagoyaki to his lips, then lowered it without taking a bite. Overhead, the fearow exchanged screams.

"Something on your mind?" Jiro said in a mild voice. "You've been miles away ever since you got back from Viridian."

Lance startled. "It's nothing. I'm just tired."

He'd met with Hunter's sister in a cabin on the outskirts of the town.

"My fiancé's," she told him as she set the table with quick, fluttering hands. "He's at work, though. We can speak in private. I'm sorry to make you come out all this way, but people around here are terrible gossips."

She was uneasy. When the tea cups were set out and the tea poured, she sat, but her hand kept rising to smooth down her blouse. Lance sipped his tea in silence, not knowing how to begin.

"Hachi's in trouble, isn't she," Miss Iwata said at last. She seemed to find her confirmation in Lance's face. "I thought so. She looked so desperate the last time she visited, and when I saw what she'd done to her hair . . . but she wouldn't tell me anything. Maybe I pressed too hard. She left before I served dessert."

"Have you heard of Team Rocket?"

"Team Rocket?" She raised her head. "Yes . . . I think so. Some kind of trainer organization, aren't they? I've heard the name, at least."

Lance spoke harshly. "They're criminals. Bad people."

"And Hachi joined them. That's what you mean?" The color had leached from her face. "And you . . . how do you know?"

Because I joined them too.

Shame curdled in his chest. He couldn't say it.

"I'm an agent with the G-Force," he said instead. The words rose readily on his tongue, even though he hadn't planned them. "We're investigating Team Rocket. I met Hunter in the Rocket training camp. Undercover," he added sloppily, but Miss Iwata didn't seem to notice the slip.

"The G-Force," she repeated in a troubled voice. "That sounds serious. Please believe me when I say Hachi has a good heart. She hasn't had it easy since Mother died. I tried my best to raise everyone, but Hachi was always difficult. Sullen. Played more easily with her little nidoran than with the other children. She thought they looked down on her."

"I know." Lance interrupted hoarsely. "I know she's not a bad person."

A smile loosened Miss Iwata's face. "You know? I'm so glad. I'm sure Hachi wouldn't do anything really wrong. If you could find her, convince her to come home . . ."

She traced the lip of her saucer with a nervous finger.

"Maybe I can help," Lance had said slowly. "But in return, I'm going to need you to help me."

He'd left the cabin feeling like an imposter who'd just pulled off a successful con. She'd taken him at his word easily—too easily. For all she'd known, he could have been an imposter, a member of Team Rocket sniffing around for weak links. She hadn't even asked him for ID.

And maybe he really was an imposter. He still wasn't a real member of the G-Force. He hadn't yet told Agent Noriko the deal he'd made with Miss Iwata or who he'd seen at Giovanni's gym.

Archer was there, watching me.

Watching you? he imagined her saying in response, her eyes sharpening. Why would he watch you?

Because he cared about me, Agent Noriko. At least, I thought he did.


Even the imagined conversation made Lance wince. Lately, he'd been feeling like two separate people. One wore bright colors and sparred with Jiro, made cheerful small talk at stuffy parties and navigated Saffron's crowded streets with ease. The other was a shade: known to nobody, belonging nowhere.

Jiro was still watching him, one finger drumming against the lid of his bento box. Every time Lance thought about telling him about the Rockets, he didn't know where to begin. Jiro trusted him. If Lance told him the truth, would that change?

"I'm glad, you know," Lance blurted out, buoyed by a sudden upsurge of guilt.

Jiro's hand stopped drumming. "Glad?"

"That I became your apprentice. I like training with you."

Spending time with you. Lance felt his face begin to redden as Jiro's mouth crinkled into a fond grin. "Well, it's mutual. Things have been more interesting with you around. Keeping me and Kintsugi on our toes."

The persian lifted her head and mewled dismissively, but after a few moments she shifted position, one of her paws coming to rest possessively over Lance's foot.

"In fact," Jiro said, "There's something I've been meaning to ask. How would you like to become my peer instead of my protege?"

"Your peer? You mean—"

"Join me on the Elite Four," Jiro finished for him, leaning forward. "The hustings begin in three months."

"The hustings?" The word rang a vague bell, but Lance couldn't put any meaning to it. "I don't actually know . . ."

"Of course. I keep forgetting you aren't from Kanto. The hustings are an old tradition, dating back to the unification of the fiefdoms. Every four years the current champion and any would-be champions tour from town to town accepting challenges. If you defeat Kikuko at the hustings, you'd be offered a place on the Elite Four."

"Champion Kikuko," Lance murmured, remembering the old woman's disconcerting gaze. "Is she a lot stronger than you?"

Jiro laughed. "Well, I don't know about a lot. It's hard for us to spar properly—we have incompatible styles." His expression darkened. "In more ways than one. I don't want to give you the impression it will be easy. But I think you could pull it off. And you wouldn't be alone. I've also got to up my training for the hustings."

"Why? I thought you said they were only for the champion," Lance said with a slight frown.

"The champion, and would-be champions."

It took a moment to sink in. "You mean you—"

"I've decided enough is enough. Time to throw my own hat into the ring." Jiro ran a hand through his hair, the gesture uncharacteristically sheepish, and spread open his arms. "What do you think?"

"I think you'd be great," Lance said with conviction, sitting up straighter. "You're strong and a good speaker. You're already solving people's problems, like we did with Muno, and you're not even the champion yet. Champion Kikuko—" Lance hesitated, remembering how the old couple he'd met outside of Viridian had spat her name like a curse. "Nobody seems to like her much."

"So surprising, considering her charming personality," Jiro murmured under his breath. A smile spread slowly across his face. "Thanks, Lance. The vote of confidence—it means a lot."

Lance returned his smile, mind whirring. He thought of the way people turned when Jiro entered a room, the way they flocked around him, chattering like pidgey. It meant something to be on the Elite Four. It meant having a voice that people listened to. Surely he'd be able to do more about Team Rocket if he joined them. He wouldn't have to feel like a fraud when he heard the words, Thank you, Lance. I know I can count on you.

And Jiro could help him. Three months was a long time to figure out the best way to come clean about Team Rocket. He'd find the words, and then there would be no more secrets.

"If you're serious about this," Jiro said, "there's one thing we're going to have to get sorted. Only citizens can challenge at the hustings. The timeline's a little short, but I know one or two people at the immigration office. I'm sure they'll let us rush the paperwork."

"Citizens?" Lance repeated.

"Just a formality. Don't worry, Johto and Kanto have a close visa relationship. You'd be able to see your family anytime you wanted—do you have family in Johto?" Jiro's chuckle sounded forced. "All this time and I don't think I've ever asked."

The wind was picking up. Lance shivered and drew his jacket closer, avoiding Jiro's gaze.

Yes, he wanted to answer. Yes, I have family in the land you call Johto. There's my cousin Ibuki, and my uncle, though he never wanted me, and my aunt, though she was always strict. Family's a matter of blood. Distance and time can't take it away.

Miss Iwata's pale face floated into his mind, asking after her sister. Her concern had been tangible, like condensation on the morning air. Lance tried to fit that expression to the faces of his memory and could come up with nothing except the stern chisel of Uncle's jaw and the disgusted way Ibuki had looked down at him as he huddled on his sleeping mat.

It had been five years. Maybe they'd forgotten him—maybe forgetting him had been a relief.

He swallowed and bent down to scritch Kintsugi's chin, hoping the fall of his hair would hide his discomposure.

"Hey." Jiro's voice was gentle. "The only family that counts is the family that sticks with you, okay? Kintsugi's my family. So's Asahi. Those assholes who happen to share my blood—who didn't want anything to do with me until I made it—they aren't my family."

Kintsugi mewed her agreement. She unfolded from the ground and pushed her paws into Lance's chest, knocking him back on the grass. With a vigorous purr her paws kneaded his chest as if trying to work every doubt out of him. Lance let out a ragged laugh. He cleared his throat.

"So what's the plan? For beating Kikuko."

Jiro narrowed his eyes, but accepted the change in subject. "I was thinking you could start by heading to Fuschia. Spend some time with Koga, pick up some knowledge about poison-types and dirty tactics. You still need his badge, don't you?"

Lance nodded. The year he'd spent chasing rumors of Team Rocket activity had never brought him within the borders of Fuschia Town.

"That'll make a good excuse. Try to learn what you can from him, though it may not be easy; that man's as closed as a cloyster."

The sun had dropped as they spoke. A red glare crept through the haze and another rush of wind made Kintsugi mew a loud complaint. Jiro rolled up the picnic blanket, Lance woke Toku, and they wound their way down the hill in silence as the street lights flickered on. Lance still found the way Saffron City transitioned from day to night startling. The drab grays became potent blacks; magnemite connected to neon panels floated above the major boulevards, washing the streets with fluxing, kaleidoscopic light. Somewhere, music was playing—a pulsing, spine-rattling drumbeat. With each beat, Lance heard Jiro's question, reverberating grimly in his head.

Do you have family in Johto?

Lance shut his eyes against the burn of the neon lights. In the privacy of his mind he answered, I don't know, anymore.

~*~​

Fuschia lay nestled in a wide-ranging forest, several miles inland of the sea. From the air, the forest made an odd picture. A gap ran through it, clear of all growth like a furrow. The forest on one side seemed substantially denser than the other.

Archer touched down where the road curved away from the coast. The sea made him skittish, but he relaxed as the smell of salt faded and the air dried out. After a few hours, they reached a massive archway, painted an ostentatious red. Carved letters proclaimed, Welcome To Ninja Land! The archway was littered with glossy posters depicting lithe figures wielding gleaming shuriken.

Lance frowned. Noriko had told him stories about the ninjas of Fuschia: they were cunning warriors, silent as ghosts and deadly as the poison-types they trained. They hadn't sounded like the kind of people who advertised.

A crash drew Lance's attention back to Archer. The aerodactyl was harassing a swarm of spinarak by the roadside. One spinarak—small enough to fit into Archer's jaws thrice-over—let out a disgusted hiss and spat a swathe of spin-silk. Lance whistled before Archer could reprise with a hyper beam.

"Don't destroy other people's homes," Lance said wearily. Archer's eyes widened and he let out a crooning whine. "Trees aren't like mountains. You can do a lot of damage here." He stepped over to the spinarak and dropped into a quick bow. "Please excuse us."

The small pokemon chortled. It was perched atop an old sign, almost unreadable between the dirt, the lichen, and the overlapping spinarak webs. Lance squinted and made out small, square letters.

You are entering the sovereign lands of the Unified Ninja Clans. 17 Revised Kanto Code 2000-b establishes the sovereignty of Ninja Clan law within the borders of the Fuschia Region. Consult with the Bureau of Information to learn your rights here.

The spinarak blew another gob of sticky silk, this time at Lance. With a last chortle the pokemon swung itself upward, out of sight. Lance sighed. The goop was already hardening over his shirt.

"No, you still can't use hyper beam," Lance told Archer before he could open his mouth, and tramped under the gate.

The wind carried the stink of refried grease and the shrill shrieks of children. Shortly, they came to a wide pavilion, dense with stalls and chattering people. Archer twitched, his head swiveling back and forth. Lance had been trying to acclimate him to larger groups of people, but Saffron was simply too enclosed for the aerodactyl's comfort. At least here the air was open; if Archer got too nervous, he could fly.

A large crowd had gathered up ahead around a man dressed in eye-catching black. He struck a dramatic pose next to his golbat and called out in a carrying voice, "Who here dares to take the ninja's challenge?"

The ninja's challenge, it turned out, consisted of two pokemon trying to tag each other with staining berry juice. The man's golbat was very fast; Lance watched a geodude, a pikachu, and a pidgeotto toss their paint at one of its double-team illusions before getting tagged just as they realized their mistake.

It wasn't a very good double-team, though. Giovanni's marowak had created figures with three-dimensional forms. This golbat's illusions were paper-thin and rippled with the wind. Lance didn't blame the challengers for not knowing the difference—it was obvious they weren't experienced trainers. But the amateur quality of the attack irritated him. He studied the ninja again with a dubious eye. His form-fitting black clothing gleamed in the weak sunlight. It was the kind of black casino dealers wore. The kind of black meant to stand out.

When the man called out his challenge again, in a voice that now struck Lance as slightly bored, Lance stepped forward, Archer at his side. Interest lit in the man's eyes.

"And where might you be from, challenger?"

It was a harder question now than it had been a week before. Lance chose to answer it with a shrug.

Their battle, if it could be called that, was short and not particularly stimulating. The thin fakes didn't fool Archer: the aerodactyl dove straight at the golbat and clipped it with berry juice before it could swerve away. He would have followed up with a bruising steel wing if Lance hadn't whistled sharply to call him back.

"That's quite the speedy pokemon you have there!" the man said to Lance with a forced grin. "On the gym challenge, are you?"

"Something like that," Lance said, accepting the object the man thrust into his hand. He examined it as he walked away—a plastic shuriken with the words "Winner" inscribed in the center. The trophy was as half-hearted as the golbat's double-team attack had been. Lance swallowed his disappointment. For some reason he had expected more from the home of the ninja clans, the founders of the G-Force. This was all just bad illusions and tourist tricks.

A man from the crowd fell into step beside him, drawing a suspicious glare from Archer.

"Well done," he said.

Lance answered more sharply than he intended. "Not really. I don't think he's a real ninja."

"Not a real ninja? You shock me."

The sarcasm in his words was thicker than the grease in the air.

Startled, Lance gave the man a once-over. His garishly patterned shirt and souvenir pendant marked him a tourist. But the clothing didn't match his fluid, controlled stride or the way his eyes rose to take in the whole pavilion with a single glance.

"I don't think a real ninja would be so flashy," Lance said thoughtfully. "He would know how to hide in plain sight."

The man said nothing, but his pace quickened. His course led away from the pavilion into a residential area, strewn with well-maintained huts. A few children were splayed on the grass, casting stones, but they scattered as Lance and the man approached.

Lance didn't ask where they were going. He had a suspicion about who this stranger was that only strengthened when he noticed the way the man's patterned shirt bunched over his waist.

They skirted along the edge of the village and then passed back under the eaves of the forest. Lichen hung thickly from the trees here, and the roots grew in close tangles. Lance remembered the view he'd had from the sky—this must be the older portion of the forest. The path was thin and badly-marked. It diminished as they went until there was no path at all, at least to Lance's eye. But the man moved without hesitation even as the branches formed into a dense canopy and the shadows thickened. Archer let out an uneasy croon.

When the man came to a sudden halt, Lance almost ran into him. They'd come into a small clearing, and the canopy was open enough to let in dappled light.

"Your mentor is a terrible gossip," the man said in a slow, stiff voice. "You've come for your last badge?"

"You're Koga?" Lance said, unable to keep the statement from slipping into a question.

The man turned, his face cast in mottled shadow. He was middle-aged, with no silver streaking his hair, though the frown lines imprinted on his face made him seem older. It was a harsh face, thin-lipped and angular. He scowled.

"A ninja is not in the habit of giving out his name to one who has not earned it."

"Test me, then," Lance said easily, squaring his stance. "I'll earn—"

The man was looking behind him. Not at him. Behind him.

Lance threw himself to the side just as a gob of webbing shot from between the trees. He rolled: the bitter scent of soil and decomposing leaves entered his nostrils. Where he'd stood before, the ground was carpeted with white goop. Through the branches, he caught a flash of purple and red—the warning colors of an ariados. A roar drew his eyes up. Archer circled an enormous crobat. And only feet away, closing fast, was a venomoth, wings heavy with powder, close enough now that Lance could see the light reflecting off its small incisors—

"Whirlwind!" he yelled and flung his arms around the nearest tree. The wind hit like a hammer. The trees groaned and swayed, and from somewhere in the distance came the sharp crack of a branch splitting.

When Lance opened his eyes, the venomoth lay stunned, its wings twitching weakly. His hand dropped to Kana's pokeball—then he hesitated, remembering the nearby village with its wooden huts.

He threw Kaisho's ball just as a shrill note pierced the air. It seemed to penetrate straight into Lance's head, beating silver fists against his mind. A supersonic. Archer howled, writhing like a trapped magikarp. Pure white light tore from his mouth, scorching the tree tops. Lance smelled smoke, then felt static as Kaisho's electric pulse caught the venomoth from behind. It twitched for several seconds, awash with fizzing light, before falling limp.

"In the trees," Lance told Kaisho, pointing. Another hyper beam crackled into the clearing, missing Lance by less than foot. Archer, still braying madly in the clouds. Lance called out Toku, on her back even before the light solidified. They sped upward, into the open sky.

Lance's breathing steadied. From the air, everything was clearer. He whistled sharply, and Archer twisted his head up, tracing the sound. In his amber eyes, Lance saw a terrific struggle towards clarity. The crobat took advantage of his distraction to lash out with an air slash. The blow sent Archer reeling back, but he somersaulted, and when he rose again, his wing-beats had steadied. At Toku's questioning rumble, he let out a deep croon. The two turned their gazes on the crobat and let fire hyper beams in unison. The afterimage blazed behind Lance's eyelids. When it faded, the sky was clear.

They winged back down to find Kaisho coiled in guard-position over the venomoth, crobat, and ariados. The trees behind her were blackened and the air had taken on an acrid tinge. Lance turned at Archer's triumphant call. The aerodactyl dragged their attacker into the clearing, spiked tail wound around his throat. In the course of the battle, he'd shed his tourist garb like a false skin. Underneath, the clothing was a green so dark it was almost black. His face was completely blank—if the blade at his throat bothered him, it didn't show in his eyes.

"I am Koga," he said simply. It didn't sound like a concession.

Lance frowned at him, blood still pumping hotly from the unexpected fight. "Do you ambush all your challengers?"

"Only the ambitious ones."

In a movement too rapid and somehow innocuous for Lance's gaze to follow, he extracted himself from Archer's grip and then was bending by his fallen pokemon's side. Archer roared, but Lance whistled him back before he pounced. Koga checked his pokemon carefully, lingering longest on the venomoth's wings. At last he seemed satisfied, and all three vanished in white light. He stood, casting his gaze around the clearing. Lance tensed as Koga stuck his hand into the folds of clothing, and Toku rumbled, but the object he tossed through the air was no weapon. Lance caught the badge on reflex.

"What you came for," the ninja said. He turned away.

If I lose him now, I may not find him again.

"Wait!" Lance called out. "That's not what I came here for. I came to meet you. To learn from you."

"From me?" The words were threaded with mockery. "What would you learn from me?"

Koga spread out his arms in a gesture that encompassed the scorched and broken trees, the destruction of their impromptu battle. His eyes shone with a hard, unfriendly light.

Lance's indignation fell away as he looked around the clearing, seeing the scene through Koga's eyes. Koga had attacked him. But his pokemon belonged to this place. Their webs and spores didn't do harm. Lance had.

"I'm sorry," he said, coupling the words with a bow low enough that his eyes left Koga's face. "This is a very old forest. I should have taken more care."

When Lance lifted his eyes, the ninja was still there. That was something, at least. But his hard expression hadn't changed. Lance studied the way he held himself, his back straight, his chin tilted upward—the picture of a man undaunted despite his defeat. A proud man, Lance decided.

But that pride was hard to square with his behavior earlier. What kind of pride let him stand by while charlatans drew coins trading on the false name of ninja? If Lance had found someone flashing a false kairyu cape—but that thought stung oddly, and Lance forced it away. He met Koga's gaze head-on.

"Don't they dishonor your traditions? Why do you allow that?"

Something flashed in the ninja's eyes, but the man tamed it before Lance could decipher the emotion.

"What do you know of our traditions?" he demanded.

"Not much," Lance admitted. He stepped forward. "But I know the ninja clans once saved Kanto. I know they were responsible for the founding of the G-Force. I know enough to know your name should not be taken lightly."

Koga seemed to consider this. Then he spoke, in a sing-song tone completely at odds with the tension tightening his jaw. "Tell me, what did you see when you first entered Fuschia?"

Lance knew that tone. It was the voice the elders put on when they were asking riddles. But the question didn't sound like a riddle. What had he seen? He'd seen a bold red archway. If he tried, Lance could even remember the writing from a few of the posters.

He opened his mouth—and closed it. No, this was too important to rush. When the elders asked their riddles, the obvious answer had never been the right one. Though that had never stopped Lance from giving it . . .

Memory swelled up like a sudden updraft. He was lying on the fragrant grass, tickling Toku's belly. Above, the sky was a startling azure, and the air was warm and languid. At intervals, Elder Kyo asked questions, and he threw back whatever words were floating at the top of his mind. No question had seemed worth the effort to think its answer through.

If Lance could find that past-him, he thought he might shake the boy and shout, Wake up! Clear your ears! This matters.

Would it have changed anything, if he'd answered differently that terrible day?

The sunlight shifted. A hot beam found its way into the clearing, forcing Lance to blink against the glare. He became aware of the forest again, of Koga's unblinking stare.

"I saw two signs," he said softly.

There was a long pause. "Correct. Well, at least you are in possession of eyes. Two signs—one to be seen, the other to be obeyed. In Fuschia, we keep our own laws. Here one may not fight with fire in battle, nor may an active psychic pass our borders. Were you to commit a crime here, that crime's punishment would be left to the discretion of the clans. And when my service as gym leader comes to an end, the league will not choose my successor. Do you think we have won this lightly? You say that this forest is old. What would you say of the forest you passed through before?"

"It was younger," Lance said, frowning. He remembered the view from the sky, and certainty seized him. "It burned."

"It burned," repeated Koga, his voice low and grim. "Yes. One hundred years ago, Kanto forgot her gratitude. Her people distrusted us—distrusted our isolation, our pride, our independence. They whispered that we plotted secret war. With this mood at its fervor, the champion of Kanto perished by poison. It was not surprising. In those days Kanto was a nest of swarming arbok. My people had nothing to do with it, but what does a simple truth like that matter to the frightened and leaderless? The whispers swelled into an avenging sea.

"They came for us. Burned the webs of our ariados, the nests of our venomoth. Our forest. Our homes. It brings me no satisfaction to say that for every life of ours they took, we took in return two of theirs. And after, when half our lands wore garments of ash, we came to the negotiating table all the same. Such pragmatism has ever been the way of the ninja. A treaty was signed. A gym founded. The lands devastated by the fire were opened to the rest of Kanto, our gaping wound for them to tramp in. Our leader journeyed to the Sacred Flame, and there she bowed and swore once more our allegiance to the champion.

"So. You ask why I suffer those fools who parade before tourists under the name of ninja? I tell you that my people have suffered far worse. We know that this thing some call pride is little more than a bright cape, to be donned and doffed as circumstance allows."

His eyes bore into Lance fiercely, full of anger, full of challenge.

Lance didn't think before he answered; the words flowed from him like water running downhill.

"My people burned too. It was called the Battle of the Five Valleys. Every valley burned. That was before I was born, and now the valleys are green again. But my people still hide themselves away. And so no one in Johto sees the glory of the kairyu, or the proud red of a kairyu cape."

My people, Lance thought, his tongue catching. Why was it so easy to fall back into claiming them? He closed his eyes for a moment and saw a low fire, a woman weaving between the wings of a dragon, but the image seemed distant and strange. When he looked back up, he found Koga watching him closely. For the first time there was something like softness in his face.

"We hide as well," he said. "We hide in plain sight. That was astute of you to see. We parade the fangless arbok, allowing them to trash and adulterate our heritage, all in the name of their sense of safety, for upon that sense our own safety rests. An honorless, precarious existence, do you judge it? But the blood of our mothers and fathers fashioned it, and that is honor enough. Champion Kikuko understands this. She knows our struggle, respects our sovereignty. The clans know her. We do not know Adachi Jiro."

Lance startled at his mentor's name. This was about politics, then. And where politics began, Lance's comfort ended. If only Jiro were here. He was knowledgeable, tactful, charming—everything Lance wasn't. But Jiro was back in Saffron, and Koga's gaze was expectant.

"You don't know him. So, why do you assume he'd be worse than Kikuko?"

Koga's lips curved into a grim smile. "I do not know him, but I know his kind. He is from the Saffron Megapolis. Such people have no understanding, no ability to see beyond themselves. They think it would be right and fitting if all Kanto became Saffron's fief. Had they the power, they would extinguish the Sacred Flame and put in its place electric lights, thinking that those burn brighter. These city-folk are all alike: arrogant, self-centered, too busy talking to listen."

"I'm listening," Lance said. "And I know Jiro, even if you don't. I promise he—"

Koga spoke over him in a hard voice. "Promise no promises on the behalf of others. There's as much sense in that as the summer sun promising to shine in winter."

"Then I promise for myself." Lance lifted his chin. "Do you doubt my word?"

Koga stared at him, so long that Lance began to feel uneasy.

"I do not play at politics," Koga said in a slow, deliberate voice. But that wasn't true, was it? Lance thought. This whole conversation had been politics from start to finish. "Kanto's internal affairs are of no interest to the ninja clans, except when Kanto's endless squabbles and industrial enterprises put our way of life at risk. Champion Kikuko has been a good friend to us. There is no more to say on the matter. But you—" Koga nodded, as if coming to a decision. "You I will teach, if it is teaching that you have come for."

He stepped into the shadow of two trees and vanished, but the wind bore back his voice.

"Come with me."

~*~​

In Fuschia, the morning bell rang promptly at dawn. The first morning, Lance stumbled to his feet, feeling like he was twelve again. He had been given a private room, large enough for all of his pokemon to stretch out together. As the bell chimed again, Toku yawned and flopped over on her side. Archer blinked open a single eye, then drooped it shut. Only Kana seemed at all excited by the idea of rising. She butted her head into Lance's side, huffing curls of smoke.

They stepped outside together. Fires had been lit in the main clearing, and the savory smell of porridge woke hunger pangs in Lance's stomach. He saw children grouped around one fire, yawning and bickering. Nostalgia rose like bile; he averted his eyes and made his way over to a squat woman who seemed to be directing most of the activity.

"Can I help?" he asked quietly.

She eyed him warily, everything in the tightness of her face speaking the word "outsider," but after a pause she answered, "There's wood to be cut. And that big orange lug can help tend the fires, as long as it doesn't burn the houses down."

Kana snorted, but shuffled without further comment over to the furthermost fire, where the kindling hadn't yet caught, and stuck her tail into the wood.

It was another two hours before Lance, sweaty and a little light-headed from exertion, sat down to eat. Only one fire was still lit: most of the community had dispersed. Lance had gulped down a few spoonfuls of lukewarm porridge when he felt a hand on his back. Koga stood over him. The ninja gave a short nod, almost approving, and said, "When you've eaten, come find me."

Jiro had always been an amiable teacher, cracking jokes, softening any criticism with a quick word of praise. Koga had no such compunctions.

"You are sloppy," the ninja snapped when Lance and all his pokemon stood before him. "Too much power, not enough subtlety. There is nothing admirable in blowing out a candle with a hurricane when a single breath would do the same. You can overwhelm many opponents this way, that is true. But Kikuko is not one of them."

It was the first and last time Koga invoked the champion's name. He set them a series of bizarre exercises—knocking a solitary twig off a tree, destroying an egg without breaking the glass it rested on. Kana's first air slash snapped the twig—and continued cleanly through the trunk of the tree behind it. Lance had winced as the tree crashed down, and Koga had smirked, his point made.

The days that followed were long and frustrating. Kaisho was the first to succeed, scorching her egg with a single spark of electricity sent zagging through the air.

"This one remembers what it is to be weak," Koga announced. "That is good. That is the essence of strength. The arbok must always remember his time as an ekans; the ariados must treasure the fragility and cunning of the spinarak."

It was easy to fall into the rhythms of the ninja village. Lance knew the pace of life here, and slipped into it like a rediscovered skin. Elders told late-night stories, their time-worn faces gilded by the firelight; children played invented games and whined as they did the washing-up in the river; ekans sunned on the slanting rooftops like purple-skinned miniryu. Sometimes the nostalgia grew so acute that Lance would see a flash of blue and turn, expecting to see his cousin running past.

He knew Toku felt it too. His other pokemon were thriving in the clean, pine-fresh air and open space. Archer went off with the golbat flocks, biting and scuffling and shrieking happily. Kana had become fast friends with the cooks, stoking their fires and nabbing the first taste of every meal. Kaisho was fascinated by the silk-weaving. He watched the looms spin, his eyes bright and focused. Even Ibuki seemed content, mud-bathing in the river and surfacing occasionally to have her belly tickled by the bolder children. But Toku hung back, her green eyes clouded. Some nights, Lance woke to a coldness and found the place by his side empty.

One such night, Lance threw on his jacket and waded into the chilly, pre-dawn murk. He found Toku on the roof and joined her silently. Her scales glowed, even in the weak moonlight. Her eyes were shut.

"You could go back," Lance said.

Toku's antenna stiffened, but she otherwise gave no sign that she had heard.

"Home. Without me. I was the one who was banished, not you. And I think—" Lance drew a breath, the words coming hard. "Toku, I think they meant banished for good. But you're a kairyu. The whole world belongs to you—the Ryu's Gift is still your home."

His words trailed off like a failing stream.

Toku opened her eyes. Hurt blazed in them so brightly that Lance flinched. She whined—a thin, high sound—and shoved her face into his shoulder, like she was a miniryu again, trying to coil around him, to find safety in the fold of his shirt. Lance felt wetness gather in his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her neck, holding her close and listening to the rise and fall of her breath.

Strength and wisdom. That was what it took to raise a kairyu. Lance had never known what wisdom meant, and if Koga was right, maybe he'd never understood strength either.

"It was easier, wasn't it?" he said softly. "Before."

There were things they couldn't unsee now; obligations they couldn't shrug aside.

Toku nudged him onto her back. They flew for hours, until the sky grew bright.

For the rest of the day, Lance was bleary-eyed and distracted. A few children approached him for a game of stones, but he waved them away. He sat in a patch of sunlight, idly stroking an ekans in her tender spot just under the venom sacks. It surprised him when the light failed, and the evening fires began to crackle. On half-sleeping legs, he approached the cooks.

"How can I—" he began, and was cut off by a laden tray shoved into his hands.

"Master Koga's evening meal. He requested that you bring it to him."

Lance had never received that honor before. Surprised, he made his way to Koga's dwelling, a small, inconspicuous hut at the edge of the town, almost subsumed by the eaves of the forest. Koga nodded to Lance as he set the tray down.

"Stay a moment," he said. He didn't touch the tray, but watched Lance for several minutes, as if gathering his thoughts. "You have been a diligent student. But the lesson you most need, I can't teach you. You should visit Lavender. Ghost pokemon obey their own rules—you'll need to learn them, if you wish to have any hope against the champion."

"Thank you," Lance murmured. He bowed, and prepared to go, but Koga's voice halted him.

"This is . . . not a dismissal. That is one course—you do not have to take it. You are welcome here, as long as you choose to stay."

His voice lacked its usual gruffness. In the dark gloom of evening, his face long and stern but his eyes almost soft, he might have been Uncle.

A lot of things might have been, Lance thought with a bitter pang, but they aren't. Pretending couldn't bring anything back.

"Thank you," he said again, but his voice was clipped, and Lance knew Koga heard the refusal written there. The ninja nodded back, unsurprised.

The next day, Lance climbed on Toku's back. They were gone before the morning bell chimed.
 

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Chapter 10a--no pull-quotes this time, just some before-bed stream of consciousness.

Take this one with a grain of salt, because I very well might just be looking for something to pick at, but the flashback at the beginning was a little nebulous for me, I think because it covered both the conversation in the cabin and the imagined conversation with Noriko. It felt like we pulled out of it twice, once for un-Noriko and again to get back to Jiro. I also wanted to know what Hunter's sister promised to help Lance with, though maybe it comes up in the second half of the chapter?

The rest was, unsurprisingly, a delight. I loved Lance LARPing as a G-force agent in real time, how desperate Hunter's sister is for answers to trust a cosplaying teenager for help omg.

Lance's homesickness x feeling out of place is so palpable and painful here. The moment on the roof stands out. (My heart my heart!) Very cinematic and on-brand for canon Lance.

I enjoyed both meeting your rendition of Koga and getting to know Jiro a little more, the contrast between them. Jiro's definitely carrying some shit, oof. But his priorities are so different from Koga's--and Lance's. I don't think Jiro has bad intentions, but I think Koga is right to "never heard of him." Lance can project desire to make change all he wants, but Jiro seems to be looking out for his own ambitions. He remembers to ask after Lance as an afterthought. (And OH NO, Lance, protect your heart, kid.) And we have no reason to think he'd be looking out for Koga and his people at all. He's not coming to them with fire, but that's sure not the only way to do harm in Kanto.

It'll be really interesting to see how Koga shifts over time. He claims to be apolitical, but we know he actually will eventually join the Elite Four himself. I'm also seeing some parallels between his history and Archer's story about Gio and the volcano. Different attitudes about power, different attitudes about destruction. Either way, I like him. He's salty in a way that feels earned. Reminds me of my gruff n tough old cowboy neighbor from childhood.

Excited to visit Lavender Town! Heavy stuff afoot there. And still nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop re: visa.
 

BossCar

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/His
Chapter One - The Miniryu Dancer

Wataru palmed a smooth, flat stone and rolled it from hand to hand. The sky had darkened to a dim 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 circles 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-made 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 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, red 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 of the bonfire 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 sky. "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 thick 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 and Masako 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."

When they reached the cheri bush, 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 shouted, 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 cave. 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.
I like the focus on Lance. As with many canon characters, he's not exactly developed. I don't mind the Japanese names, tbh. I use English names, but I understand where you're coming from. Descriptive writing's on point.

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.
Descriptive writing's on point throughout the first chapter.
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.
Looks like you missed a quotation mark at the end, but that's not a big deal.

It's happened to me more times than it should 😳
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.
😫

You captured emotion well here.

Writing's good overall (y)
 
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kyeugh

you gotta feel your lines
Staff
Location
the freaking swamp
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she/her
Partners
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  2. custom/gfetchd-kyeugh
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the protege, part ii

hey pen! here for catnip. i don't remember exactly where i was review-wise on this fic, but i've been dying to read some more of it, so i figured i'd just read the most recent chapter and review as i go rather than revisiting something old. i hope to come back to those skipped chapters later and offer thoughts!

this chapter has two main things going on, so i'll start with the first: archer the aerodactyl! what a painful name. i really enjoyed his introduction here, and think that this take on fossil resurrection makes a lot of sense for your world—pog, we brought back a very powerful ancient pokémon, whoops we don't actually have anyone competent enough to keep it from going sicko mode. muno's frustration with it was perfect, and the friction between him and the scientist felt very real. this fic has a lot of the new world colliding with the old, and this little conflict felt like a microcosm of that. i adored how archer is characterized as equal parts dog and bird—the grooming is so precious, and there's something really sad and understated about the fact that he's nesting.

i've been curious about how lance would pick up his aerodactyl, because while i didn't really question it in the games—he's a dragon guy, there's only so many dragons, he's rich and famous and if he wants the dinosaur then sure let him have it—it seemed a little odd for your version of lance to have an extinct pokémon spun up for him. the personal bonding and rescue component to their union here feels right for his character, and i appreciate the way it's essentially an ad campaign as well—feels just right for the direction his character is taking under jiro.

my only real quibble with this part is that i found it a bit arbitrary that he decides, ok, i'm done fighting now, i'll come sit with you. it seems like he was impressed by lance's strength (and the strength of his pokémon), and therefore decided to play nice, but the progression there just felt sudden. during their fight, it didn't really feel like he was testing them—mostly it felt as it was described initially, i.e. a rogue pokémon being subdued. i think i would have liked to see his change of heart toward lance et al. played out a little more there.

next, the battle with giovanni! actually, let me back up a little—hunter! i liked hunter a lot, and honestly didn't expect her to return. really cool seeing that callback here, and what with archer appearing in the stands during the battle, i wonder what's in store for lance's old rocket "pals." anyway, you do an outstanding job depicting giovanni as a guy with a whole hell of a lot of streaks—cruel, narcissistic, winning (:wink:), you name it. i really enjoyed the way you illustrated his mood via his posture; the battle legitimately felt really tense at the end, partially because of the actual events unfolding but also because giovanni was standing up and becoming excited/nervous. it's really cool how you were able to change the feeling of the battle through little cues like that. the stakes in the battle felt really real here, and had me hooked. breaking the marowak's bone was an unexpectedly, though understandably, cruel and decisive move from lance (that was his mother's femur, you ghoul!). guess he is a little hot-headed, as his hair would imply. although lance doesn't know it yet, we as readers know who giovanni is and what his business is, and that added context pushes his characterization from intimidating over the line to frightening and chilling. your villains command so much respect.

great stuff all around here. i'm really liking the plot threads you're setting up for here—the eventual return to the rocket shenanigans, plus hunter!!! looking forward to it greatly. keep up the awesome work!
He could feel his mind treacherously unmooring from the warm shore of sleep.
this is such a solid line.

"Fossil resurrection. The reviving of extinct pokemon." Lance's face stayed blank. "Let me put it in simple terms. A thousand years ago, different pokemon lived in this area than do now. Many of these ancient pokemon died out completely, but their fossils remained in the rock. We excavated one of these fossils and brought the pokemon back to life. It's all been quite thrilling."
i wonder, is aerodactyl only from a thousand years ago in this world, rather than millions? is she dumbing it down for lance? or have they just not figured it out yet? if they're far enough along to resurrect pokémon from fossils, and have knowledge that the landmasses and oceans were shaped differently at that time, it seems odd that they'd still (erroneously) believe the fossil's only a thousand years old, but admittedly i don't know much about the actual progression of thought on this stuff.

Kana spat back a shimmering wall of fire.
i had kind of a hard time visualizing a wall being spit, and then that wall moving forward. maybe a wide cone...?

Lance noticed the way its ears were flattened
ngl, i always saw those as horns, but bulbapedia describes them as ears too. i'm gonna have to re-evaluate my life.

"You've been sleeping a long time," he told the gray pokemon, who tracked his approach suspiciously. "Everything's changed. I know that's hard. This is your home, but you don't fit here now."
ooof. poor buddy. not exactly lance's experience (maybe sort of an inverse?), but i'm sure he can relate nonetheless.

He wasn't sure if the pokemon followed his words, but Lance's tone seemed to reassure him. He stared with unblinking yellow eyes as Lance extended his hand towards the side of his snout.
why the switch to he?

Stunned, Lance hung limp. The ground swam back into view—distant and at the same time, all too close. This wasn't like flying on Toku's back. There was nothing separating him from the fall except for the painful jut of claws against his stomach. He twisted his head around and made out Toku and Kana on their tail. But they were growing smaller—the aerodactyl was outpacing them.
i think i wanted a little more panic here.

I'm being groomed, Lance realized. He began to laugh shakily. The sound made the pokemon pause. It let out an uncertain whine. "It's all right," Lance said, beginning to smile. "You can keep going. My hair could probably use it."
omfg? this might be the best thing ever to happen in fanfiction. also ew lance, wash your hair.

When Toku and Kana, snorting and leaking steam like a Saffron factory, finally found them, Lance waved cheerfully. The charizard huffed. She stamped forward and entered into a cautious exchange of sniffs and nudges with the aerodactyl. Toku came over to Lance's side and rumbled a question.
damn, that is actually a gigantic nest if a more or less grown human, an aerodactyl, a dragonite, and a charizard can all fit inside with enough room for them to walk around. my mind would be blown. it's pretty sad that he's building a nest at all, come to think of it—is he expecting eggs any time soon?

Lance got up while the morning was still gray to watch him and Kana make a loop of mountain—Kana had taken to Archer immediately. They shared the same quick-burning spirit, quick to quarrel and quick to make up.
awwww. relationships between pokémon on the same team is something i feel like i don't get enough of.

It was good to fall asleep huddled up next to Toku, warmed from the heat of her body.
interesting—is she warm-blooded?

The road needed fixing. The extra traffic to Viridian was well and good, but the ruts hadn't been patched for five years and the path was terribly treacherous after sunset. All of Kanto could use some fixing, really. Well, who could expect any different with a ghost-witch for a champion? Ghosts and metal cities. These were dark days, indeed.
i hope he returns and fixes some of these specific issues later. it would be so sweet.

He lingered the next morning, helping with a few odd jobs. Kana chased off a pinsir colony that had been nesting nearby and worrying the old couple's crops.
lance and kana, johto's premier wandersword team! wanderball...?

Lance's memory of Viridian was a distant one, of run-down huts and summer silence. But the town seemed livelier than he remembered it. Many of the houses were newly roofed, and the small Pokemon Center seemed at the verge of capacity. The Viridian Gym's arching white roof crested high above the other buildings. It was visible from every part of town, shining like a mountain peak.
boy, i wonder where they got the money to pour into improving the town's infrastructure. probably somewhere awesome.

That left out Kana and Archer then, Lance thought with a private grin.
i wasn't sure about "private grin"—is the receptionist no longer looking? did he turn away?

"Like Hunter," Lance muttered under his breath, discomforted by the memory. Hunter was also someone he tried not to think about these days.

The receptionist stiffened. "What did you say?"
omg is she coming back!? bring her back pls!?

Maybe he should have saved Archer's first real battle for a less experienced opponent.
tenor.gif


The heat of the beam fused the sand together, casting a trail of glass
holy shit so cool

"Archer, you called him? What an interesting choice of name."
OOOP

Believe me," he said with a short chuckle, "Viridian isn't at the cutting edge of medical care."
dang, i never really thought about some pokémon centers being better than others. they're all just magically 100% effective in my mind. the idea of your pokémon sustaining serious injury or death bc its nurses were incompetent... oof.

But as the flame rushed up from Kana's tail, the marowak moved. It tapped its boomerang in a rapid pattern across Kana's right wing; the wing sagged as if it had become sheeted with metal, and her flight went lop-sided.
oh man, this is way too cool. i think you can drop the hyphen here, btw.

Giovanni smiled and spoke affably. "No need to get yourself worked up. My marowak has perfected the art of dislocating bones. She knows to make the injury non-permanent. I'm not in the habit of crippling my challengers' pokemon." He let out a short chuckle.
omg BONES. that goes so hard, omg. i hope this pokémon comes back sometime, this is way too cool of a gimmick to never appear again.

"Earth power."

A column of sand shot up beneath Toku.
this wouldn't actually affect toku, would it? i'm guessing you pulled back on the immunity here to make the battle more interesting?

When Lance had tucked the badge away, Giovanni's hand remained outstretched. "A custom we have in my home country," he said, reaching out and lifting Lance's hand in his own. He moved their clasped hands up and down.

"Are you from very far away?"

"Quite far, yes. The journey took two weeks by boat. I spend them in an orange crate."
hah, i love the alien-ness of the handshake. i think you want *spent here at the end?
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
Some belated review replies ❤️

Take this one with a grain of salt, because I very well might just be looking for something to pick at, but the flashback at the beginning was a little nebulous for me, I think because it covered both the conversation in the cabin and the imagined conversation with Noriko. It felt like we pulled out of it twice, once for un-Noriko and again to get back to Jiro.
Yeahh, I struggled with the opening to this section for ages, and I'm still not 100% satisfied with it. Kept trying different things and returning to this one. Would be easy enough to not have the imagined conversation with Noriko, I guess.

I also wanted to know what Hunter's sister promised to help Lance with, though maybe it comes up in the second half of the chapter?
You'll understand in chapter 40--

I loved Lance LARPing as a G-force agent in real time, how desperate Hunter's sister is for answers to trust a cosplaying teenager for help omg.
He's super official and totally knows what he's doing.

It'll be really interesting to see how Koga shifts over time. He claims to be apolitical, but we know he actually will eventually join the Elite Four himself.
When even Lance is sus of your claims of apoliticism . . . yeah, I've grown quite fond of Koga and have a lot of thoughts about his path to the Elite Four.

I'm also seeing some parallels between his history and Archer's story about Gio and the volcano. Different attitudes about power, different attitudes about destruction.
They both have a defining crisis in their community, but have taken very different lessons away from it about power. Of course, Koga's happened to his ancestors; Archer's happened in his own time. Koga has a lot more distance, even though his people are still living with the aftermath.

He's salty in a way that feels earned. Reminds me of my gruff n tough old cowboy neighbor from childhood.
That's a great way to describe him.

Hi bosscar! Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out Dragon's Dance! I'm glad you enjoyed the description and the exploration into Lance's character. You're right, canon doesn't give us much, so it's been fun for me to fill in the outlines.

Quick punctuation note--when there are multiple paragraphs of dialogue from the same speaker in a row, this is signaled by having a quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, but not at the end, until the final paragraph of speech, which is what's going on in the paragraph you quoted.

Thanks again, and hope you enjoy the rest of the story!

i hope to come back to those skipped chapters later and offer thoughts!
Definitely would love to hear your thoughts, they're always insightful!

archer the aerodactyl! what a painful name.
no it's fine, everything is fine.

this fic has a lot of the new world colliding with the old, and this little conflict felt like a microcosm of that.
For sure!

i adored how archer is characterized as equal parts dog and bird—the grooming is so precious, and there's something really sad and understated about the fact that he's nesting.
Baby wants a pack.

i've been curious about how lance would pick up his aerodactyl, because while i didn't really question it in the games—he's a dragon guy, there's only so many dragons, he's rich and famous and if he wants the dinosaur then sure let him have it—it seemed a little odd for your version of lance to have an extinct pokémon spun up for him. the personal bonding and rescue component to their union here feels right for his character, and i appreciate the way it's essentially an ad campaign as well—feels just right for the direction his character is taking under jiro.
Yeah, I spent a fair bit of time puzzling over it, but in the end it the parallels were so natural. And Jiro's role is important--Lance can bond with the aerodactyl, but that's not enough for them to be together. Jiro's better at navigating that kind of thing.

my only real quibble with this part is that i found it a bit arbitrary that he decides, ok, i'm done fighting now, i'll come sit with you. it seems like he was impressed by lance's strength (and the strength of his pokémon), and therefore decided to play nice, but the progression there just felt sudden. during their fight, it didn't really feel like he was testing them—mostly it felt as it was described initially, i.e. a rogue pokémon being subdued. i think i would have liked to see his change of heart toward lance et al. played out a little more there.
Noted, I'll see if I can add in a few more details. Part of the dynamic is that Lance and co are fighting Archer in a way he recognizes--aerial combat--which is easier for him to understand than fighting rock-type pokemon is.

i liked hunter a lot, and honestly didn't expect her to return.
Hunter knows she's not the protagonist but she doesn't give a shit.

anyway, you do an outstanding job depicting giovanni as a guy with a whole hell of a lot of streaks—cruel, narcissistic, winning (:wink:), you name it.
Hah, that's a great way to put it.

i really enjoyed the way you illustrated his mood via his posture; the battle legitimately felt really tense at the end, partially because of the actual events unfolding but also because giovanni was standing up and becoming excited/nervous. it's really cool how you were able to change the feeling of the battle through little cues like that. the stakes in the battle felt really real here, and had me hooked. breaking the marowak's bone was an unexpectedly, though understandably, cruel and decisive move from lance (that was his mother's femur, you ghoul!). guess he is a little hot-headed, as his hair would imply. although lance doesn't know it yet, we as readers know who giovanni is and what his business is, and that added context pushes his characterization from intimidating over the line to frightening and chilling. your villains command so much respect.
Aw, I'm really glad this all worked. Trying to make Giovanni and Archer appropriately intimidating has been one of my goals with this fic. With Giovanni, he's just so controlled that I think it makes an impact when he suddenly loses that control, even if it's only for a moment.

ngl, i always saw those as horns, but bulbapedia describes them as ears too. i'm gonna have to re-evaluate my life.
eat the canon

Honestly, pokemon physiology is so random, I often read bulbapedia to get an interpretation on it.

omfg? this might be the best thing ever to happen in fanfiction. also ew lance, wash your hair.
I was definitely channeling that feel when your cat starts grooming your hair. It's the best thing.

damn, that is actually a gigantic nest if a more or less grown human, an aerodactyl, a dragonite, and a charizard can all fit inside with enough room for them to walk around. my mind would be blown.
They nest on cliffs so there's plenty of non-nest space to stand.

relationships between pokémon on the same team is something i feel like i don't get enough of.
Kana and Archer brotp

interesting—is she warm-blooded?
Ugh, I'm not sure I can be definitive about that. I take a lot of cues from reptiles in writing them, but also reptiles can't produce massive energy bursts on demand.

lance and kana, johto's premier wandersword team! wanderball...?
Lance and co would be so happy in Wandersword world. No cities! Low tech! Much fighting!

boy, i wonder where they got the money to pour into improving the town's infrastructure. probably somewhere awesome.
Giovanni is a stand-up guy and he is making Viridian great again.

i wasn't sure about "private grin"—is the receptionist no longer looking? did he turn away?
Ah, what I really meant was 'internal grin.'

dang, i never really thought about some pokémon centers being better than others. they're all just magically 100% effective in my mind. the idea of your pokémon sustaining serious injury or death bc its nurses were incompetent... oof.
I headcanon that in rural areas people have to be a lot more cautious when they're pokemon battling.

omg BONES. that goes so hard, omg.
This was the end result of 'how do I make marowak badass.'

this wouldn't actually affect toku, would it? i'm guessing you pulled back on the immunity here to make the battle more interesting?
I'm pretty common sense about type match-ups. Flying types are immune from ground attacks because they're usually not on the ground, but there's no magical ability that stops pillars of sand from hurting them if the sand could reach them. Also, I will never accept that the magnemite line can get hit by earthquake. they FLOAT IN THE AIR.

Thanks for the really in-depth review and hope you enjoy The Citizen!
 
Ch 10: The Citizen, Part Two

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
The Citizen, Part Two

The tower that stood at the center of Lavender Town had been formed from thick slabs of stone; it rose aslant, the walls rough and somehow wild. Lance took the place for Champion Kikuko's old gym, and it wasn't until he stepped inside that he realized his mistake.

He stood in a dimly-lit lobby. Long, low benches, scattered with dark figures—some sitting up, others sleeping—lined the walls, and the air was clogged with the overlapping scents of sandalwood and cinnamon. In the corner a stand sold flowers, gold-embossed paper, and neatly-bound sticks of incense. A steady stream of people passed between the stand and the staircase that led up into the tower. All wore loose, dark clothing and had an inward, preoccupied air.

An attendant in a black kimono approached Lance as he hesitated in the middle of the room. She spoke in a stiff voice, her eyes fixed on his pokeballs.

"This tower is for mourners, young man. Please do not disturb the spirits of the dead or their ghostly guardians."

"The dead?" Lance repeated, and then he understood. This place was a grave-site. He paled, an apology for his intrusion rising on his lips, but before he could speak it an old woman approached and tugged lightly at the attendant's sleeve. The attendant handed her a thin wooden plaque, carved into a shape that was difficult to make out in the low light. The old woman whispered a hoarse thanks and began to shuffle towards the staircase.

"What is that?" Lance asked. In the Ryu's Gift, the dead were burned. Their remains were mingled with the soil of the innermost valley, and their names spoken each year at the Festival of Ash. Lance had never thought before about how Kanto might honor their dead.

"A rapidash token. It's said that rapidash can travel between this world and the next if they so choose. Mourners write messages to their loved ones on these tokens, praying that the picture holds the potency of the original and might reach the lost spirits on the other side. Still others believe that the ghost pokemon who dwell in this tower read the messages left behind; sometimes the words written there will intrigue them, and they will carry the message themselves."

"Is that true?" Lance blurted out before he could think better of the question. He snapped his mouth shut, feeling strangely exposed.

The attendant looked hard at him. "True? To answer that, I'd need to first pass over to the other side myself. There are things that are beyond true and false, young man. They have their own existence in our spirits." Her face softened, and she held out another rapidash-shaped token. "They say that to the dead, all places are one. If there is someone you wish to write to, here is as good as anywhere else."

Lance took the token gingerly. The wood edges were rough, unfinished.

"Pens are by the stairway," the attendant said, and left on soft-toed shoes as silently as she had approached.

The staircase wound narrowly; the steps were high and unevenly spaced. On the lower floors, Lance saw neat rows of gravestones. People were laying flowers, burning incense sticks, and cleaning the stones with buckets of soapy water. As Lance continued to climb, the arrangements of grave-markers grew more disordered, and the people thinned out. When he found an empty alcove, Lance ducked inside. There were only three gravestones here, dark with the dust and dirt of accumulated years, the inscribed names unreadable. A single window let in muddied light, and the air smelled of old, decaying wood.

Lance sat cross-legged on the floor, turning the rapidash-token over in his hands.

Uncle had never told him that his parents were dead. Gone, he had said, the first time it had occurred to Lance to wonder why everyone else had a mother and a father but he only had an uncle and an aunt. Gone, he had said, and his expression was such—so stiff, so startlingly fragile—that Lance had never found the courage to ask again. But the first time Lance was old enough to join the Festival of Ash, he had stood close by Uncle and heard him whisper Riku when the time came to recite the names of the dead.

Riku, he had said, and two other names that Lance later learned belonged to Uncle's parents. There had been no fourth. Once, he had taken that to mean his mother wasn't dead; now, with sudden darkness, he wondered if Uncle just hadn't considered her worth mourning.

Reciting the names was important, though. Kairyu-ancestors watched over the spirits of the dead and protected them from being devoured in the tearing winds of the beyond-world. But the kairyu couldn't protect spirits that strayed outside the bounds of the Ryu's Gift. That was why the festival was necessary; each year, the spirits heard their names and were reminded not to stray.

If his mother was dead, her spirit had probably wandered far away by now.

To the dead, all places are one.

Lance took up the token again, studying the figure's curved legs, the fly-away tail. Maybe there was some power here. Maybe, if he wrote something, she would—

He didn't know her name, though.

Lance hesitated, pen dangling limply from his hand. Mother of, he began to write, and was forced to stop again, caught between the kanji for Lance and for Wataru. Wataru was the name her spirit would know, but Wataru was a shed-skin, a lie. Could a lie survive the crossing between the worlds?

The anger curled slowly over Lance, like a thick fog rolling in off the water, until he was all but choking on it. He didn't know his mother's name. They'd taken that from him, the way they'd taken everything else.

How was he supposed to know who he was, if he didn't know his own past?

His hand clenched. With sudden, frenzied force, he threw the token across the room, where it hit the gravestone and fell to the ground with a muffled clatter. Lance got to his feet, feeling hot, almost woozy. He sped down the staircase, taking the steps two at a time, and almost knocked over an old man making his laborious ascent. Judgement flashed through the man's eyes, burning into Lance's back.

The outside air was cold but clear of scent. Lance took it in large gulps, panting.

Enough. Enough with dead spirits and the ghosts of the past.

He had come here to face more tangible ghosts.

~*~​

But Lavender's ghost pokemon didn't seem inclined to face him. As soon as dusk drew in, the air thickened, and the shadows began to move. Down the main boulevard, Lance found ghastly lurking behind every stall, looping lazy circles around street lanterns, surfing the wind that blew in cold from the mountains. But whenever Lance drew too close, Toku roaring a challenge, the purple gas retracted like a blown candle and, in a blink, the shadow was gone.

"They're not fighters, boy," an old man commented from a takoyaki stand. It was late, an hour before midnight. Most of the other stalls had closed up, and the street was sparse and lifeless.

Lance turned. "But Champion Kikuko trains ghosts."

"Ah, well, Kikuko's a rare one," the man said. He held out his hand, the gesture so casual that it took Lance a moment to work out what was expected. The old man waited patiently as Lance fumbled with his money purse. Coins in hand, he continued, "If you're really determined to make sport with ghosts, you should stop by her old gym, on block nine. Not all of Kikuko's pokemon followed her to the Plateau, you know."

The gym had no signs or distinguishing features. Lance wandered past it several times, until at last one of the local kids pointed it out in exchange for a quick, wondering pat to Toku's muzzle. He frowned as he took in the gym's outer facade. Everyone in Lavender had spoken of Kikuko with respect, but the gym's disrepair told a different story. The purple paint was soiled, and one window visibly cracked. The door slid open at his touch.

Stepping inside, Lance was hit with the pungent odor of rattata droppings. The air felt warmer than the chilling autumn outside, even though no fires were lit and no heaters hummed. White daylight crept through the unshaded windows, illuminating a small entry-space partitioned off by thin panels, their delicate paper torn. Lance could see through to a larger room, likely the former battlefield.

The room was littered with pieces of old furniture and scattered objects—here a rocking chair, missing one arm; here a cracked clay teapot, incongruously perched on the seat of a wheel-less bicycle. Lance studied the panoply of objects in bemusement. It looked like a hoard of merchants had chosen this spot to dump all their defective wares.

As he bent to examine the teapot, Toku let out a soft rumble. Her antenna had flared, and her eyes flicked warily from one corner of the room to another. Lance felt it too, a stillness to the air that suggested imminent movement. A watchfulness.

The teapot wobbled. Surprised, Lance took a step backwards and smacked into something cold and wet. He spun: a haunter hung an inch from his face, its tongue lolling-a bloated, unnatural pink. It cackled as Toku lunged, dispersing into nothing and reforming at the other end of the room.

Lance and Toku exchanged glances. The haunter watched them with startlingly white eyes. It hadn't vanished yet. That was something.

"We're looking for a battle," Lance called out. "What do you think?"

A muffled chuckle rose from behind him, but Lance resisted the urge to turn. The air around the haunter began to vibrate and flash in red and blue. A confuse ray.

"Close your eyes, Toku," Lance warned. She struck out sightlessly with a blast of wind in the direction the haunter had been, but it was already gone. "Behind you!"

The shadow ball was about the size of a melon. It whizzed harmlessly past Toku's head as she winged to the right and sent back another clipped blast. This time, Lance noticed, the haunter didn't dematerialize. It tumbled upwards, spinning in dizzying circles.

Did preparing an attack anchor it somehow to the material world? Lance's eyes narrowed.

"Wait until it builds another shadow ball, then try an aqua tail."

Toku crooned her agreement. She hovered in the air, her tail whipping lazily. The haunter vanished again, reappearing behind Toku's back. Black energy gathered in its hands—

"Now!"

Toku's water whip cleaved through the air, striking the haunter across the face with an audible smack. It let out a high whine, and floated backwards in a bobbing up-and-down fashion that Lance could only describe as a limp. Its body seemed more tangible, too. Preparing an attack and taking one, Lance decided. That was where they were most vulnerable.

Before he could call out a closing command, the furniture in the room began to rattle. The light cut out, as if the windows had been shuttered. Lance ran forward, relying on his memory of where Toku had been. His hand found her smooth scales, and she rumbled reassuringly.

When the lights returned, they found themselves surrounded. Ghastly and haunter had formed into a circle around them, so closely packed that their purple and blacks blended into one single ring. The haunter they had been fighting had vanished.

Toku tensed, and Lance dropped his hand to his belt, wondering if they needed back-up, but the seconds ticked into minutes, and the ghost pokemon didn't attack. Their attitude was intent, not menacing, Lance decided. He let his arm fall away from his belt. Catching his change in mood, Toku also relaxed her stance.

Lance studied the silent ring of ghosts again. They'd intervened after Toku hit the haunter. Were they—protecting it?

"Battle's over," Lance said, stepping forward with his hands held carefully away from his pokeballs. "That's the message, right? I'm sorry—I didn't mean to frighten your friend or push him past his limits. We're used to fights that go on longer, but that's our problem, not yours."

There was turbulence in the ring, and then a single haunter emerged. The same one from before, Lance realized. Its gaseous body was vaguely teapot shaped.

"Thank you," Lance said to him, keeping his voice gentle. "It was a good battle. We learned a lot." He raised his gaze to take in the rest of the assembled ghosts. "I hope we can do it again without making anyone uncomfortable. What if you gave me a sign, to show that the battle's over." With sudden inspiration he added, "Like this," and stuck out his tongue.

There was a silence like an indrawn breath. Then the teapot-shaped haunter began to cackle, and the others joined him, until the room was resounding with groaning laughter. The ring broke apart—some ghosts vanished into the furniture, others hung in the air, studying Lance and Toku with bulging eyes. The teapot-shaped haunter floated back towards the teapot, crooking its hand for Lance to follow. Its body merged with the teapot, until only the whites of its eyes were visible.

"Is this your home?" Lance asked, examining the dark-red surface and the long crack down the snout. "It's very nice."

This place was home to all of them, he realized, casting his gaze around the room. All at once, the gym's neglected state took on a new meaning. It wasn't lack of care, but respect for the pokemon that lived here.

After that, Lance returned every few days. The ghosts weren't hardy or persistent fighters—most of the battles ended when Lance's pokemon managed to land a single blow. Some days not a single gastly or haunter was inclined to fight, but they could always be induced to play tag. They particularly enjoyed blinking out of sight just as Archer's jaws snapped shut around them, giggling at the aerodactyl's frustrated roar. But Archer learned: soon he was bluffing with a bite, only to lash out with his spiked tail at the form that had just materialized behind him. Kaisho and the teapot-shaped haunter got on particularly well. A week in, Kaisho began to huff out dark wisps, much to the haunter's excitement. The ghost took on the role of tutor, until Kaisho could manage to spit a shadow ball about the size of an apple. That attack hit the ghastly and haunter no matter how discorporeal they were. Lance was sure it would come in handy when they went toe to toe with Kikuko.

One overcast morning, Lance and Toku entered to find the abandoned gym in a state of uproar. Ghastly whizzed through the air; haunter spun in whirling sets of two. Lance watched in bemusement from the entryway.

"Did something good happen?" he ventured.

A voice answered him from the far end of the room. "They're shockingly sentimental creatures."

Startled, Lance turned to find an old woman sitting in the broken rocking chair. She wore a simple purple dress, and her eyes were like small black stones.

Kikuko!

While Lance stood at a loss for words, the champion pushed herself to her feet. She approached him slowly, her gengar-headed staff clunking against the floor with each deliberate step.

"Took your time this morning, didn't you," she said. "Sleep in late? Enjoy that while it lasts. You reach my age, you won't sleep at all."

Her laugh came out a harsh murkrow-call. The ghosts joined in, their cackling like a chorus.

Lance remembered himself enough to drop a bow.

"Champion Kikuko," he said, "what—"

"You know my name. But I don't know yours. Someone told me, but I forgot it. Well?"

"Lance. I—"

"Lance? What kind of name is that? If your mother gave it to you, she must be a fool."

His fists clenched before he could stop them. "Where I got my name isn't your business, is it, Champion?" he said, proud that his voice had stayed level.

"Sure isn't. I just want to know where you got that hair. A bottle, I expect."

Lance stared. Behind Kikuko, the ghastly and haunter had arrayed themselves like the train of a gown. The teapot-shaped haunter broke away from the others and floated up to Kikuko's head. Its body distorted in a complicated series of shapes, before finally it pointed at Lance.

"Hmph. Clay Teapot claims you've been tolerable," said Kikuko. Her tone suggested that, personally, she had her doubts.

"Is there something you want from me?" Lance said, not managing this time to keep the mounting anger from his voice.

"No," Kikuko said sharply. "You're the one who wants something from me." She jabbed her staff at him. "You want my champiancy. Why?"

"Do I need a reason?" Lance shot back.

"Need? No. It's a free country, with the usual terms and conditions. Not your country, though, is it? Xatu knows where Jiro picked you up. Johto, someone told me. Well, there's plenty of power to grab in Johto, if you're in the power-grabbing business. Ah," she said, tapping her staff against the floor. "It was Giovanni Fiorelli who told me that. He claims you're quite the battler."

Giovanni's name brought a sour taste to Lance's mouth—a flash of crumpled wings and a satisfied smirk. "It's not his country either, is it," he said quietly.

Kikuko flashed him a quick, evaluative glance. "Well, perhaps not. And so, you think Adachi Jiro should take my place. He does have fewer wrinkles—I can't argue with that." She gave another unpleasant chuckle. "Go on, then. You want a fight, don't you? Here I am, ready for a fight."

She wore no pokeballs. But when held out her staff, Lance realized she didn't need them. A shadow oozed from its tapered end and pooled into the form of a grinning gengar. Two haunter split from the bangles Kikuko wore on either wrist. Their dark arms elongated until they had encircled the battlefield. A sharp blue light sprang up, surrounding Lance, Toku and Kikuko in a convex bubble.

To protect the ghost pokemon's homes from the fight, Lance told himself, trying to ignore how the light hemmed them in. Toku stepped in front of him, her antenna flaring.

In the silence that followed, Kikuko's gengar produced a shadow ball in its left hand like a magician pulling a coin from mid-air. A second popped up in its other hand; a third materialized above its head. The gengar began to juggle all three until they blurred, while Lance watched in mounting disbelief. All the haunter he'd fought had needed time to grow their shadow balls. If Kikuko's gengar didn't need that time, how would they be able to strike it?

Without warning, the gengar lobbed the three balls toward Toku: one moving straight, one curving left, one right.

"Send them back," Lance called out.

Before, that would have meant a single, massive twister from Toku. But Koga had taught them to be more precise. Toku beat her wings, summoning three miniature vortexes. Each trapped a shadow ball and sent it spinning back. Just before they impacted the gengar, the ghost vanished.

Predictable, thought Lance. Toku knew how to handle this. She reared around, her fist blazing with dragonfire, except that when the gengar rematerialized, it wasn't behind her.

It was above.

The shadow ball sent Toku reeling back. Snorting, she caught her bearings and sent a whip of water lashing up through the air. Lance expected the gengar to vanish again, but it stayed in place, grinning.

And Toku's aqua tail missed. The water whip hit empty air and splattered limply onto the floor, wetting the wood like a wayward burst of rain. Toku fluttered backward, her puzzled expression mirroring Lance's.

The gengar still hadn't moved.

"Dragon claw," Lance tried. Toku lunged forward, both fists glowing. Again, the gengar stayed visible. It flitted between Toku's blows with ease, a gaping grin still fixed on its face and widening as Toku's movements grew more and more frenzied.

Something was wrong. Was the gengar really moving that quickly? Or was it that each time Toku's claws neared its shadowy body, the angle of her attack changed just enough to go wide of her mark. And . . . His eyes narrowed. The blue glow cast by the protective bubble had tinted Toku's scales the sickly green of corroded copper, but Lance thought he saw another shade overlayed—a pinkish gloss coating Toku's scales.

A psychic attack!

But to use psychic energy like that . . . the few psychic pokemon Lance had fought used their power like a blunt hammer, a pushing wave of energy that could either attack or repel. This was far more subtle and controlled, and the implications set his heart pounding. Toku couldn't beat what she couldn't hit.

"Enough, Toku! That's not going to work. Try a dance."

She drew back, avoiding a parting shadow ball, and began to loop easily through the air. With each somersault, her body gleamed more brightly, until the warm light chased both pink and green off her scales.

Kikuko tapped her staff twice against the ground. The gengar raised its stubby arms; shadow overtook the floor like a flood of tar. Gengar-shaped figures formed out of the dark morass and hurled themselves up towards Toku with unsettling speed.

"Full twister!" Lance shouted.

The blast tore into the tarry shades, rupturing them into chunks. But those chunks of shadow sought each other out like water droplets on a leaf, until they had reformed. The gengar shades advanced again as if Toku's attack hadn't even occurred.

They'd have to hit the real thing, Lance decided, gritting his teeth. As Toku splattered gengar-shade after gengar-shade, he scanned the battlefield until he found Kikuko's gengar, camouflaged by the dark purple of the shadow patch. The edges of its body looked distinctly solid, at least: maintaining this attack must be keeping it anchored.

Lance waited until the progress of Toku's mid-air fight brought her above the gengar. Then he called out, "Aqua tail down!"

Toku didn't bother looking. Her tail slashed through the air the instant Lance had finished speaking. The gengar twisted its eyes up, extended one stubby hand into a massive fist . . . and caught the water whip.

The shades receded and the pool of shadow vanished. Pink light, more distinct now, ran from the gengar's fist up the stream of water, onto Toku. The moment hung in a tableau. Then the gengar brought its arm down. Toku had no time to break away; she hit the ground with a heavy thump.

Lance flinched at the impact. The gengar re-materialized over Toku, who lay prone. Not enough time for a dragon claw or enough momentum for an aqua tail. And the angle was all wrong for a twister—

Koga's lesson first lesson came back to Lance. The arbok should remember its time as an ekans, and the kairyu—her time as a miniryu.

He called out a move that Toku had not resorted to once since her evolution. "Thunderwave!"

Her eyes snapped open. Static rippled up her tail, trapping the gengar in a prism of snapping and popping electricity. Lance grinned, and Toku's snout curled in satisfaction. She winged up from the ground, her claw glowing with green dragonfire—

"Lick it," said Kikuko.

Pink and somehow wet, the tongue lolled from the gengar's mouth and caught Toku under the chin. Her body stiffened; her arm went limp, the green light extinguishing. Before Lance could speak, the gengar had darted forward and grasped Toku's head, tilting it until their gazes met. Its eyes throbbed with a pure, pulsing red, so intense that Lance found he couldn't look away.

The flap of Toku's wings slowed and then ceased. Her eyes fell shut. Lance inhaled sharply as she hit the ground again, still as a sunken stone.

But the gengar wasn't finished. Its shadowy arms once again clasped Toku's head, almost tender. The air became sweet, redolent with a scent very much like blossoming koiking grass. Gold light collected around Toku's antenna, then flared out, filling the room with a bright haze that seemed to ripple with images. Lance made out the Ryu's Gift as if from a great height, every valley quilted with red and orange blossoms. He blinked, and now he was surrounded by fellow kairyu. Their welcoming croons morphed into horrified rumbles. He—Toku looked down.

Her claws were bright with blood.

"No!" Lance heard his own thin shout as if from a distance. He plunged into the cloud of gold; a numbness at once seized his body. "No, that's not yours, you have no right—"

"That's enough, Staff. This is a friendly fight."

Kikuko hadn't raised her voice, but when she spoke, the vision cut out. The room grew dark again, and the fragrance of blossoming plants gave way to the bitter tang of old wood. The gengar somersaulted away, bits of gold clinging to its mouth like the remnants of a tasty stew. Trembling, Lance cradled Toku's head in his lap. She was still gripped by unnatural sleep; under her closed eyes, her scales were wet.

Clunk.

Clunk, clunk.

Lance heard Kikuko's approach, but didn't acknowledge it. A long moment passed before she spoke.

"Go home, boy." Her dry voice was neither mocking nor triumphant and somehow that neutrality made it all the more terrible. "Go home, and stop meddling in what you don't understand."

Lance knelt there long after the hollow clunk of her walking stick had faded away. Long enough that Clay Teapot floated out from the shadows and licked him cautiously, as if checking for signs of life. Toku stirred in his arms. She blinked fogged green eyes and let out a mournful croon.

"You're wrong," Lance said to the silent room. The haunter and Toku both flinched at the harsh rasp of his voice. "We don't have a home. And we're not going back."

He noticed his hands were shaking, but at least—at least his eyes were dry.

~*~​

"Don't sound so glum, Lance!" Jiro's bright voice poured over the phone line like a balm. Lance imagined him throwing out his arms expansively as he spoke. "Honestly, it might have been for the best. You know what you're up against now, and Kikuko will be complacent. She'll think, I've beaten him once, I can do it again."

"Would she be wrong?" Lance said in a low voice.

"I beat you once. Do I beat you every time, these days?"

That drew an involuntary smile from him. "Only when you cheat."

"Substitution is not cheating, it's strategy. And strategy is how you'll beat Kikuko. Come back to Saffron! We've still got a month left before the hustings and anyway, you've got an appointment."

Right. Lance had almost forgotten about that.

The immigration office was stuffy, overheated, and smelled faintly like the spoiled remains of someone's forgotten katsu don. The clerk assisting Lance had an air of limitless exhaustion, but she was kind enough, and didn't blink when he told her that the name he wanted didn't match the name on his visa.

There were some questions to answer first. Lance obediently recited back the date of the Hoennese invasion, the start of the Thirty Years War with Johto, the signing of the Compact of Flame. He told her that the Unified Clans of Fuschia held 'limited sovereignty,' as Koga's grim face flashed through his mind.

"Congratulations, Lance," she said at last, stamping a final form. "Expect your official ID in ten to fourteen days."

As he stood, surprised by how exhausted he felt after doing nothing more than sit for the past three hours, she added, "Welcome home."

The words, spoken mechanically but not without a vein of sincerity, staggered him. He murmured something incoherent in reply, bowed, and bolted for the waiting room, where Jiro sat with a celebrity magazine, his sunny-day yellow scarf a beacon against the gray walls. When he caught sight of Lance, his face split into a grin.

"Everything go well? Excellent." He steered Lance out of the building and into the dusk of early evening. "You must be starved; I know I am. I thought we could check out the new Kalosian restaurant that opened in the east end. I've heard rave reviews, though if you're in the mood for something less rich, Chef Nozawa always saves a seat for me, even though the lines at his place have gotten outrageous. We could—"

Lance poked him in the side, cutting off the stream of words. "Could we go somewhere not fancy? Somewhere quiet?"

Jiro's eyes softened. "Of course we can. It's your celebration, not mine."

They settled on a home-style cafe, neglected next to a booming soba shop. The owners realized who Jiro was halfway through the meal and after that became exceedingly attentive, fluttering to the table with "free sides" and waiting anxiously as he tried each one and obliged them with an effusive compliment. Still, the food was warm and hearty, and Lance found himself relaxing, lulled by Jiro's chatter. He seemed determined to catch Lance up on Saffron's latest goings-on, never mind that half of it involved people and places Lance still only vaguely recognized. When their plates were clear, Lance slipped outside, leaving Jiro to fight with the owners over his extravagant overpayment.

It was a typical Saffron night. Lance breathed in the smoggy air, remembering something he'd told Jiro when they first met. Too gray and too dark, too smelly and too dirty. None of that had changed, and Lance doubted it ever would. He fit uneasily into Saffron's maze of gray buildings, its claustrophobic avenues and always-on lights. It wasn't the home he would have chosen.

But it was the home that had chosen him, and that had to mean something.

Lance tilted his head, staring at one of the streetlights until it blurred into a star.

Maybe it meant everything.
 
Last edited:

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Okay, so, surprise surprise, I actually read chapters 6–10 part 1 casually a while ago, and I also read chapter 10 part 2 for this review. I'm just going to kind of go over all of that.

I rise above the mob.

He says, in unison with several other low-ranking recruits.

The tower that stood at the center of Lavender Town had been formed from thick slabs of stone; it rose aslant, the walls rough and somehow wild.

Somehow?

We've still got a month left before the hustings and anyway, you've got an appointment.

I feel like there should be a comma before the "and"

but she was kind enough, and didn't blink when he told her that the name he wanted didn't match the name on his visa.

similarly, shouldn't there not be a comma before this "and"?

It did surprise me just how little Lance really thought about what he signed up for with Team Rocket. First impressions really do count for a lot with him. Of course, he realizes his folly later on, perhaps no more clearly than in this paragraph:

Lance remembered sitting in a conference room, spinning idly in his chair as conversation streamed over him. Oblivious. He hadn't understood what was being planned[,] and he hadn't tried to understand it. He should have tried. Why hadn't he tried?

I think he's a similar archetype as Haru in The Suicune's Choice. He understands pokemon as well as or better than humans. He hates injustice but doesn't know, really, how to fix it. But Team Rocket seems like they have an idea, and Archer seems cool. The Sacred Flame seems like it has an idea, and Maliki seems cool.

It's not a perfect parallel, though. Haru has a much clearer idea of what he's getting into with the Sacred Flame. They're not keeping him in the dark. At present I think Haru has to decide how much he wants to sacrifice to strike back against the injustice he sees, whereas Lance is kind of all-in at this point but is still struggling to get the results he wants. As Hamako suggested, it seems his struggle will be more with people continuing to manipulate him—or perhaps just outsmarting him in general.

It's unusual but realistic how little Lance's power and fortune have really helped him in his quest to improve the world. There were several points in this story that reminded me that he is very definitely the protagonist—particularly, his bruteforce victories during the Team Rocket initiation. I can't help but sympathize with Hunter, when she loses to him. She correctly criticizes him for his straightforward mindset and exploits it, and it just doesn't matter. She loses like an npc loses to a 5 year old's overleveled starter.

I was so used to Lance winning that it surprised me when he lost to Kikuko, even despite Koga's wisdom. Her parting words, "stop meddling in what you don't understand," have a ring of truth to them. Lance doesn't have a head for politics, and that's what he's getting into. Whether it will cause more harm than good, really, is hard to say—but I think Hunter is, more and more, going to be proven right, in an abstract sense. Lance's simplemindedness is going to continue to cause problems, even if it doesn't literally lose him pokemon battles.

I appreciate that Lance's ability to connect with/understand pokemon remains throughout the later chapters, exemplified in how he befriends Clay Teapot and the aerodactyl and how he teaches that random rattata hyper fang.

Prose wise, there may not be as many specific examples of this as I remember, but I noticed at several points that you relied on the reader's inference (more than I usually do, anyway), describing the results of actions rather than the actions themselves. Examples:

His hand closed around the crystal pitcher on the side-table. It shattered against the ursaring's claws.

Lance found his token, a laminated map marked with the final red x, and an emergency flare. The flare burst in red like an overripe fruit. When Lance looked back from the top of the waterfall, the light was still hanging in the sky.

Like, you don't say that he swings the pitcher, or that Lance fires the flare, or that he goes back up the waterfall, but it's all obvious. I think I could stand to do that kind of thing more—actually, I wrote a draft of a story in which one particular sentence definitely took this approach, but sadly I am not sure if it will ever be published.

I also like how Lance, for a moment, sees himself from the victim's perspective

He saw a dark uniform, a pale face, a red R. And a blocked exit.

Really a hard-hitting moment of self-awareness.

Also, the fight scene with Hamako was sick. The environment made it so much more exciting. I felt like I had a sense of the storm's power.

As an aside, I feel kind of bad for Ibuki (the human). She did care about Lance, and I imagine she would like to see him again.

Lance just isn't ready to confront his past, I guess. The latest update only confirms that. More and more, it seems like he wants to move on from it, but it's not like it's stopped haunt[er]ing him. I like how the latest update shows this in an immediate way. I want to see how that ends up being resolved.

P.S. It's sobering to think that even if Lance takes down Team Rocket, Kanto will still have all the problems that made him want to join them in the first place.
 
  • Heart
Reactions: Pen

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
The Citizen: Part 2

No pull-quotes because I read it on my phone uhhhhh a week ago, oops. But! This was an excellent chapter. Peak Pen: we've got a buffet of pokemon mythology/religion/ideas of the afterlife plus some really lovely conversation around battles and consent. Haunter fren was cute. Was that an intentional nod to polteageist or an accident?

I thought the Kikuko battle worked well. We can see that Lance is learning things, not just from the ghosts but from Koga and other mentors too, and he's synthesizing all that learning here ... but this ain't Kikuko's first rodeo, and it's not enough.

I hope we get to unpack her motives a little more! She's definitely flirting with the Rockets (not in a romantic way but in power-coveting way). Like, no way she doesn't have some kind of inkling of what Big G is up to. She's too smart for that shit. An alliance between them makes a sort of sense--they're both ruthless ... and yet both kinda threatened by lil baby Lance. Though I also get the sense that for each of them it's a keep your friends close and your enemies closer kinda deal; her comment to Lance about his immigration status makes me think she doesn't feel very generously toward outsiders, and I can't imagine her feelings about Gio are any different. Keeping her title is clearly important to her, too, and I wonder what that's about. We definitely know what it means to Lance (or will mean)--not just recognition but belonging and a chance to make meaningful change, maybe, if he's lucky. Kikuko doesn't seem especially eager to make political change. If she were, surely Kanto would be in a different state right now. The state of her former gym says a lot about Kanto under her leadership, actually. Sure, it's for the ghosts and it makes them happy. But it's also absolutely in disrepair.

ALSO, I gotta say...

I think he's a similar archetype as Haru in The Suicune's Choice. He understands pokemon as well as or better than humans. He hates injustice but doesn't know, really, how to fix it. But Team Rocket seems like they have an idea, and Archer seems cool. The Sacred Flame seems like it has an idea, and Maliki seems cool.

When ARE we getting the end of SC, huh??? Haru I miss u.
 

BossCar

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/His
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 he would 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 at 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?

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

~*~​

Uncle wasn't waiting alone. A stranger stood at his side—he 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, she softened her voice. "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 the two of 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 pick her way back towards the river, 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 watched 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 sew 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, and everywhere he turned, buildings cast long, trailing shadows. The building in front of them was low and sprawling, and larger than the largest hut in the village. 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 let out a whine 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 overhang.

"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 continued 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 sprang back, they fell to the carpet, where they hissed and simmered.

"Charmander!" the old man snapped. The small pokemon raised its head defiantly. "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 sprang forward, stubby claws flashing. Toku slithered 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 sides. 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 charge. 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're strong enough to 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 with a pained yelp.

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 to 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 thickset, 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—"

A cold feeling swept over Wataru. 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 work hard 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 sank 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. Every morning, Wataru woke with the sun 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."
Here for catnip! (I left a comment for Chapter 1 a little while back.)

"Please," Wataru said again. Tears burned at 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?

Wataru ran, unspoken words caught like bitter berries in his throat.
Oof, the feels. It hits differently when it's a Pokemon involved, as anime episodes like Bye Bye Butterfree has shown.
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, she softened her voice. "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 the two of 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 pick her way back towards the river, until she was hidden by the curve of the valley.
Another hit to the feels, and I like your characterization of Ibuki/Clair overall. That uncle needs to lighten up, though.
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."
So If I pieced this together correctly, what Ibuki handed Wataru was actually Toku, but concealed. Toku's smart for revealing herself at that moment, as she must've known that it was "safe" to do so.

But there's going to be issues down the line. His uncle will definitely notice that Toku is missing. Unless he already knows but Ibuki's glare made him back off or something. She's not someone that you want to get on the bad side of.
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.
You can tell that Wataru/Lance isn't that familiar with the outside world. I wonder if Team Rocket will come into the picture later on. I kinda get a foreshadowing vibe here.

I liked the part with Wataru/Lance, Toku, and the Charmander. It was nice of them to help out the Charmander with that move. I can see that Charmander trying to follow them, or Wataru adding to the team. So perhaps this is also foreshadowing something? :unsure:
"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."
Yep, he's definitely not super familiar with the outside world if "trainer" isn't a word he's heard used often. It is the Pokemon world, after all.

Overall, a solid chapter. I really need to read more of this fic.

There's an interesting dynamic going on here. You've got Wataru, who doesn't seem like he's ventured out that much. So this is arguably a good experience for him to have, but it's also bittersweet. He had to say bye to Ibuki, and he was supposed to leave Toku. But Ibuki and Toku clearly had other plans.

Keep up the good work.
 
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IFBench

Rescue Team Member
Location
Pokemon Paradise
Partners
  1. custom/chikorita-saltriv
  2. custom/bench-gen
  3. charmander
  4. snivy
  5. treecko
Hello! I'm here to read chapter two of this for catnip!

The first part made me feel extremely sorry for Wataru all over again. Not only does he have to leave his home and everything he knows, he also has to leave Toku. Well, until Ibuki sneaks them to Wataru, but still. It's heartbreaking to see this poor kid lose almost everything.

It's interesting to see just how little Wataru knows about the outside world. Really hammers in the "fish out of water" situation that he's in.

"He couldn't mean forever . . ."

This line really stings. Poor Wataru. I feel so sorry for him, having to go through all this at such a young age.

The battle, while short, was really descriptive and well done!

Neat how Toku prefers apricorn pokeballs to regular pokeballs.

Awww. The section where Toku was drawing was adorable! And it's good to see that Wataru has a goal again now.

The riddle about Lugia and travellers was a really nice way to end the chapter! It's very symbolic for what lies ahead for Wataru.

Overall, this was a really nice chapter! I enjoyed it a lot!
 
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canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
  2. custom/houndoom-elliot
  3. custom/yamask-joanna
Hey! Here for Catnip, picking up where I left off, the third chapter.

The rainy days were the worst, because on those days it was impossible to escape Professor Okido.

out of context this becomes very frightening

maybe Kana was a ryu like that.

i got bad news for you kid

"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.

it was only at this point canis realized this was, in fact, a journeyfic

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

>starts conversation unprompted
>unloads huge rant
>leaves before the other one can respond
chad

Wataru followed him in silence, thinking. onix, the man had said.

Missing capital at onix.

"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."

This is a nice, quick way of showing how gym leaders' teams work.

"Some fancy water-type, I expect. Well, let's see how you handle graveler's magnitude."

*screams in PMD*

But good luck making any headway against graveler with an electric-type

I read this as a typo the first couple of times, wondering if you wanted to say "Graveler" as a name or "a graveler", but now I realize this is probably plural and therefore correct. Still, I didn't expect a plural there, so it might be clearer to go with a singular.

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.

and shes just kind of hurt after this. pokemon really are built different

The twister was already weakening, with Toku still trapped underneath the rocks.

I was confused by this for a while, thinking I'd missed a section where some rocks actually fall onto her and trap here, but I suppose you meant that she was trapped in the situation of the rocks looming above her.

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.

I'm having trouble picturing how this played out since I can only imagine a scenario where she would end up striking the onix in the face or front.

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.

whoa! we got a Thing

Periodically, she opened her mouth and watered the rocky ground with flaming embers.

thinking emoji

His dreams were filled with the crash of falling rocks.

rocks fall everyone dies AND it was all a dream, very brave to utilize both of these tropes at the same time

---

Planning to read only this chapter and not the second part, I was worried that I'd get only half of a chapter, but this felt like a chapter in itself. It doesn't really feel like there were any loose ends left this chapter, so I wonder why it's part one of two, but I suppose I can't really make a judgment without having read the second one as well.

Excited about OC old timey gym leaders! It's like a new region in an old region. Have to confess that I actually anticipated Wataru to meet Brock because I am not smart. I also like the description given to not just the buildings but the changing landscape. Goes beyond the same tree sprites / models we see on the map, and it seems the anime too had the towns looking rather homogenous. Of course someone could say "they're pretty close to each other actually so they're gonna be similar" but to that I say desert in New York.

Also impressed (as I always am) about a battle scene that kept me engaged. Usually action bores me very easily and I just zone out when this stuff happens, but here it's snappy and to the point without sacrificing description. The emotion visible from the narration also helps guide how the situation is going, which is always a plus for me since I'm usually kind of trash at keeping track of where everyone is and what they're doing.

That's about it for my thoughts. Solid chapter and a pleasure to read. See you around.
 
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