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

    Join now!

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
BeGUQyf.png


They knew that Gaiien could be dangerous, but they didn't expect anything like this. Three trainers set out on their badge quest in a wild land cloaked by the shadows of old legends. Ancient powers awaken, and demon pokémon, giants, and hybrids converge for a showdown they couldn't imagine.

three giant dorks go camping with their pet monsters and meet the devil and all his angels


dbhfb5u-1e9c0534-ad7f-4a83-8496-c81b8e3e3017.png

Gods and Demons is rated PG-13 or Teen for violence, body horror, familial abuse, peril, poor decisions, and mimes. Technically it's probably rated M because the F words show up in Chapter 1 and don't stop, but M tends to conjure up an expectation for sexual content and there is only a small sprinkling thereof in a late chapter. Sorry.

I started Gods and Demons in 2004 and stopped working on it in 2007. I came back to it in 2014 and rebooted it with new mechanics and a new concept for the pokemon world, one where pokemon aren't so much on the side of magical animals as they are beings of energy, alien spirits with their own ecology that exists alongside the matter world. The mechanics and alternate history of the world are slowly spelled out over the course of the story, but I've discussed them in other threads and you can always talk to me directly if you want your ear talked all the way off.

If you want to read a pokemon journeyfic that attempts to grapple realistically with how pokemon training and the pokemon world functions without being grimdark or pessimistic for """"realism's"""" sake, while maintaining a sense of wonder at and reverence for the natural world, this is [I hope] the fanfic for you. Also, there are giant kaiju pokemon that show up like natural disasters and that's a whole thing.

Gods and Demons 1 is finished, as is a bridging story that goes in between it and 2. As I work slowly on Gods and Demons II: Electric Boogaloo, I wanted to take another pass at the first one to standardize some of the terminology and in-universe concepts as they've evolved and to remember a bunch of character arc and theme shit that I promptly lost track of whoops, as well as prop up some of the chapters that previous readers mentioned were a little weak. This won't be a rewrite, I already did that, thank you very much, but just some touchups and occasionally extra scenes. The full thing as it is is currently on FFnet, AO3, deviantart, and PokeCharms, and I'll update those sites with these new TR edition chapters as I go.

This story incorporates my fan region, Gaiien, which has eight gym leaders, and more than 150 fakemon. As they're mentioned in the story, fakemon will get a hyperlink to my deviantart where an image, pokedex entry, evolution line, moves, base stats, etc. are presented for each fakemon. Canon pokemon are in there too but the story expects you to be familiar with them beyond a ~ten word description or so. There will not be extensive bulbapedia-like descriptions of any pokey. ;)

I very much accept any and all feedback and give it due consideration. Even criticism like "you lost me here" give me something to learn from, and fluffy squee comments are wonderful. Typo corrections are great. I want to hear what YOU thought.

Gods and Demons is about leaving home and finding independence when you don't fit in to the standard mould, discovering and growing yourself and your power, and punching the devil in his fucking face.

Part 1: At World's End (190k, Done)
Prologue: Prisons
Chapter 1: Runaways
Chapter 2: The Near Road
Chapter 3: We Waited
Chapter 4: Killer Pokémon
Chapter 5: Adept's Prayer
Chapter 6: Our Lady of Thorns
Chapter 7: Hanging Tree
Chapter 8: Songs for Lost Girls
Chapter 9: Royal City
Chapter 10: Forest Fire
Chapter 11: Guilt
Chapter 12: Ensouled
Interlude: The People of the Crossing
Chapter 13: The Far Road
Chapter 14: Paraslit
Chapter 15: Dark Water
Chapter 16: The Gang Fights the Devil Part I
Chapter 17: Loremaster
Chapter 18: Reversal
Chapter 19: Dead Island
Chapter 20: Endure
Chapter 21: Songs for Monster Girls
Chapter 22: Down in Darkness We Found What We Fear
Chapter 23: Ouroboros
Chapter 24: The Sea Gives Up Her Dead
Chapter 25: O M N I S U R F
Chapter 26: The Gang Fights the Devil Part II
Chapter 27: The Last Road
Epilogue: Down in Darkness We Were Reborn

Part 1.5: So Comes Ice After Fire (30k, Done)
I. Windfall
II. Frost and Starlight
III. The Dragon
IV. Eight
Epilogue: Time All Things Upends

Part 2: Among the Exiles (In Progress)
Part 2.25: She'll Find You and She'll Kill You (Tentative)
Part 2.5: How to Train Your Demon (Tentative)
Part 3: A Time for Monsters (In Progress)



 
Last edited:
Prologue

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
Prologue

Prisons / Vigils / Preludes and Nocturnes / A Warning / A Fall, Down Into the Dark

Ten years ago


The crowd moved as one, their finery shifting and catching the light as they followed the action across the arena, hit and counter-hit. Ferocious pulses of electricity, of darkness, of poison and acid stabbed and arced through the air, crackling off the powerful shield that protected the audience. A succession of pokémon stamped and cracked the arena floor, trading blows, feet and claws and paws leaving broad gouges in the substrate or floating above it.

The trainers would have been on that floor, once; the old clan adepts had fought alongside their pokémon—fought as their pokémon—on storm-swept battlefields for the glory of their queens and princes, or against monsters, or evil gods.

Nocturna raised her arm and pointed at her opponent's mega-evolved electivire, her cape and robes billowing in timed gusts from carefully placed wind machines. A mega stone glittered at her throat, inset in a necklace of silver scales.

"Venoquake, Amarna," she pronounced in rolling tones that echoed over the sound system.

Her mega-evolved drapion, all legs and spikes and snapping pincers, pointed its double tail skyward and began raining down globs of purple poison.

"What good is an attack that doesn't hit?" came the reply from her opponent, drawling in his Kalosian accent. "Show them how it's done, Octavia. Wild Charge!"

The mega electivire skittered, spiderlike, its body supported by a host of black cables multiplied in the battle evolution. It dodged between clots of poison, closing in on the drapion.

Electricity crackled between them as the lightning around the electivire grew in intensity, and it darted in close, fists clenched around the thunderbolts like a god—

The drapion slammed the arena floor, and the wave of power sheared through the arena substrate—

"Leap, Octi!"

—passing under the electivire's darting cables near-harmlessly, only mild spurts of energy reverberating up the thin appendages to its body. Its head ducked as it drew in for the Wild Charge, electrical arcs already raking its opponent, the drapion cringing away downward—

The electivire was blasted away with a cry, a gout of poison- and ground-type energy exploding all around it, summoned up from the arena floor by the drapion. It hit the ground hard, cables splaying uselessly as it rolled to a stop and turned to energy, fainting, the mega evolution falling away.

"What good is an attack that doesn't hit?" Nocturna asked, and she smiled, the glitter of a dozen lights and cameras on her, the roar of the crowd in her ears, and her opponent a distant figure who'd just lost his strongest pokémon.

x.x.x.x.x

Nocturna shut the door on her last few guests, pulling off the mask of her gym leader's costume and becoming Genevieve Park again.

She breathed out, a long exhalation, and stepped into a stone tunnel dug centuries ago when the gym had been a castle built by Gaiien's original inhabitants, the people of the Second Crossing.

The match had been a success, an S-tier exhibition against a professional trainer from Kalos. She'd won—she'd been expected to, a gym leader on her home turf with her best pokémon—but more importantly, the match had been well-attended and appreciated, and the audience thrilled by the ripples of power and skill of the trainers.

Orthrus raised their heads as she came to her apartments.

She stripped off her sweaty robes, the black silks rippling with birdwing iridescence. Removing her mega stone necklace produced its usual moment of wooziness and she sat down in her armchair carefully.

Orthrus stumped over. "Good fight?" they chorused.

Gen petted the zweilous's heads as she waited for the dizzy spell to pass. "Perfect, it will be on the internet in a few hours, I'm sure. The league officials were pleased."

There had been a crackdown recently on nepotistic gym appointments, so greater scrutiny was paid to every new gym leader—but in Gen's case this was more a formality. No one wanted the Sunset Mountain gym, or not for long.

Gen had used her mixed-type team for this fight, a succession of bruisers she'd brought together as a professional trainer back in Johto. Even then she'd gotten along best with dark-types, their melancholies and sharp humor reflecting her own. When the conditional acceptance for her Gaiienese gym leadership had come in, she'd hastily assembled a dark-type roster, and several of those pokémon had since left, amicably traded, as she worked on a team she could depend on.

She didn't need a constantly rotating roster to keep everyone below level thirty, as the tier one gym leader might; Sunset Mountain was the tier seven gym, and getting everyone at par had been the challenge. Even if they pushed the level limit a bit, the long winters tended to be almost devoid of battles, so their strength would decline naturally after the rush of the summer season.

She could even shut down the gym if she wanted to, the league administrators had said. Porphyry City's steady rains might be preferable to the meters of snow and brutal wind that would turn the old mountain castle icy, and leave her alone in its echoing chambers as the staff departed.

The previous gym leaders always had. But Gen thought of the old clan-leaders who had remained through storm and siege. She had a duty.

That was what she told herself, at least.

Her pokédex beeped, the concierge reporting that all the guests had retired to their rooms in the gym, or had left to the pokémon center or other accommodation. Gen sent her a quick thank-you and hopped into the shower.

Well past midnight, Gen disabled the security system on her floor, and she left through a maintenance door into a stairwell. It ended in a cul-de-sac and more doors, and one door she unlocked, following a tunnel that sloped downward to a final door set in a construction partition covered in warning signs.

She tossed a dusk ball to the ground, releasing a shiny caligryph in flash of purple light.

The bipedal griffin straightened, looked at her sternly. "Don't do this, Gen," he said.

"I know, Albus. But I can't not."

Beyond the door was a vertical tunnel, and on the caligryph's back she floated down, down, down.

A part of her mind wondered, as it always did, at her calmness: the equanimity of the sacrifice, drugged, gliding down into the dark.

At the bottom was a cave, and in the cave was something enormous: it was midnight blue streaked with silver, the fur ticked to look frosty in the light, and it slithered out to meet her. It was as big as a bus and longer, its many-legged coils falling away into the dark.

It hit the barrier and hissed.

From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial, and she spilled the vial on the plate, and with an iron rod she pushed the plate across an invisible line.

The creature licked at the blood, dragging the plate across the stone. The ceramic screeched as it dragged. The creature's eyes were flat black, mirrors at the right angle. It rubbed up against the barrier, groaning, fur mashing against it as if it was a glass window.

Free me.

They had no idea why or how it was imprisoned in the cave, no idea what it was except for the ice- and dark-type auras suggested by pokédex analysis. Things could pass the shield, but not it, not pokémon.

They had no idea how the barrier worked or when it might fail.

No one kept the Sunset Mountain gym for long. The people of the Second Crossing had built it centuries ago as a warlord's stronghold, its narrow paths and sheer drops proof against siege, but their enemy had been inside the walls, all along. They'd delved too greedily and too deep, as the poet said.

Gen's time in the tournament cycle had wound down and she'd applied for gym appointments for years without success. The system was bogged down with certifying alternate gyms while the primary positions were often held by the old clans defending an ancient privilege, or just Third-Crossing families with land and connections. Everyone had the same rights to food, shelter, medical care, education on Gaia, the world of pokémon, but who you knew still mattered.

She came to Gaiien, a wild-west league just barely incorporated, its Third-Crossing cities still growing. People leave Sunset Mountain after six months or less, the league officials had told her; the workers say it's haunted and the local people avoid it and the pokémon too.

The mountain, the mountain, the mountain.
She'd asked the native people, the people of the Second Crossing, with their eyes that shone in the firelight and pokémon that never saw a pokéball. They told her stories about queens and princes, gods that left and gods that stayed, and of demons that stole vitality and granted terrible powers.

Free me.

Dark-types were immune to psychic attack; a newborn could shut out a mind-probe from a master. Sometimes, though, they could learn how to send them.

The thing in the cave, its serpentine coils stretching far away into tunnels, sent her blistering commands that she could not follow. She had no idea how to lower the barrier, and neither did it, which was what had saved her.

Deep under ice, under earth, under stone, it spoke to her, and she gave it blood and sugar and scanned it with her pokédex and deleted the scans before she went back up, before it could sync.

It spoke to her, dark-type to dark-type specialist. Had the other gym leaders heard it? They'd had other type affinities, some of them. They'd had the sense to run, perhaps. But a gym leadership was more than a cushy summer position, more than teaching, more than battling. Type specialists had stood as bulwarks against strange and terrible things, once. They still could.

She had a duty.

Free me.

Eventually it tired and shuffled away into the dark, sleeping through its long imprisonment. A part of her wondered if her own was just beginning.

x.x.x.x.x

see what you do is, you write a huge mysterious prologue that has nothing to do with the story for another uhhhhhhhhh 24 chapters, that will hook them
 
Last edited:
Chapter 1

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
Familial abuse (emotional, physical, financial), fantasy racism, bad feelings about high school

Chapter Summary

Our heroes attempt to get their affairs in order before setting off on their journey. High school continues to be a bummer.

x.x.x.x.x

Chapter 1

Cruelty / Runaways / High School Does End / Regrettable Footwear Decisions / Treacherous Hopes

—June 11th–13th 128 CR


Moriko's bike picked up speed as she hit the incline, the road switchbacking down toward the beaches and the boardwalks. The wind took away some of the mugginess; it was a hot, humid day, and it would only get worse.

In the harbour the big ships from Kanto and Hoenn were coming in with the tide, ready to offload finished goods like packaged food, clothes, and electronics, before being loaded back up with raw materials from Gaiien: barrels of oil, pallets of timber, ores and minerals. The water glittered in the sun, though there were clouds massing right where the sea became sky.

Moriko woke her pokédex, its interface glowing above the device strapped to her wrist. "Weather forecast, Port Littoral," she said. Thunderstorms, it said, the symbol flashing a little lightning bolt. She sighed, cheeks puffing, andnoting the timepedaled faster.

The boardwalk activity was picking up as the sun grew less intense: there were beach loungers, runners and cyclists, paddleboarders in the bay, surfers at the shorebreak, trainers socializing and battling their water pokémon at the protected beach. A mystic in frayed red robes and layered prayer beads under one of the sprawling beach willows examined pokémon and made proclamations about their potential and need for further training, while their trainers left donations of food or old clothing.

Moriko hurried to the ice cream hut, riding in balanced on one pedal and locking up quickly. She pulled on the uniform polo over her sport top and set the blue-and-yellow hat on her green hair, adjusting it briefly before joining the others behind the counter.

It was mechanical work: what order, what cone, what size, what ice cream? There were heavier Unovan-style flavors and the lighter, icier Kantonian style, and a shiny new machine dispensed soft serve. Kids often wanted the premade bars in the shape of cartoon animals or pokémon that melted grotesquely, the colors running and gumball eyes dropping out. It was busy, not too much time to socialize, which she preferred. A blur of people went by, their bright beachwear unfocused in her memory.

Eventually the crowd thinned, the sun sinking, and she and the other servers moved to tidy up, washing scoops and emptying containers. The manager, Chiyo, did inventory and sent them to bring in flavors from the deep freeze to soften for tomorrow in the regular freezer.

The beach emptied as the sky darkened and then clouded, and they closed early at the first few flashes of lightning. The thunder muttered in its wake and wind stirred the sand; the surf was heavier and lights glittered out in the waves, probably marqueel and lanturn up from the reefs.

Moriko went to unlock her bike and Tarahn was there, fawning for attention from the other servers. The raigar's bells tinkled gently as he rolled onto his back, inviting tummy rubs, and he rubbed his cheeks against their hands.

"Oh no, a fierce pokémon appears," Moriko said dryly.

"Tarahn is so cute! How often do you train with him?" one of the other girls asked.

"Supposed to be every day but you know how it is with school," Moriko said, "he gets bored and just chases pidove in the city all day."

The raigar imitated an angry human, shaking a paw in censure. "Moriko! I've never chased a pidove in my life. That is libel!"

"Slander."

"No, you!" Tarahn had a bright pink, rhinestoned collar on to make him look less wild, but he'd gotten in trouble for battling without a trainer before.

Thunder rumbled in the east, and they all hurried to get on their bikes. Moriko sped off toward the slope; the incline was a workout without getting caught in the rain, and Tarahn trotted beside her, bells jangling and his yellow-and-purple motley fur glowing under the streetlights.

"Sorry about the boredom," Moriko grunted. The bike was in a low gear, the pedals whirling but the bike inching along. "I should…"

"It's fine, it's fine," Tarahn said. "A few more sleeps."

"Excited?"

"Can't wait to see the prairie again, and the little streams, and the trees—and even further. There's another sea, I heard," Tarahn said. "And battling! Battling every day, and battling gym leaders, and—"

They reached the house as the rain came, fat warm drops bursting on the pavement and splashing Moriko's legs with road dust. Tarahn leaped ten feet from a standing start onto the overhang and then the roof, little tracers of electricity glowing on him as he took power from the storm. He laughed, tail lashing and bells jangling discordantly, shooting blue-and-yellow Thunderbolts harmlessly into the air. Moriko watched from the veranda for a while, as the lazy lightning bolts crackled from cloud to cloud and the rain haloed all the lights in the street.

She looked carefully in the windows before she went inside, racing up the stairs so as not to attract a conversation.

x.x.x.x.x

"Are your parents okay with it?"

"They've come around." Russell chuckled through the computer speakers. "It was 'absolutely not' and then 'no, consider your education' and then 'I don't think it's a good idea' and then the dreaded 'it's your choice'. But now they're telling me horror stories about kids who have gotten hurt, and buying me equipment, and telling me about how half the stuff that the trainers do in movies is extremely illegal…"

"Oh yeah, like in Kanto Quest, they stow away on the freight train and it's wistful and adventuresome rather than an accident waiting to happen."

"Honestly I'm not even sure if I would get on a train anymore, lairon and magneton are always just straight up eating the steel rails and stuff."

"It won't interfere with going to university though?" Moriko asked, resuming their earlier topic.

"I think we can do six badges this summer with time to come back and get everything squared up at the end of August. Four for sure, six probably. The last two of the eight are up north and you want to do those at the beginning of the season anyway in late June, early July, so the window will be well past. I convinced the 'rents that it's all good practice, having a plant-type pokémon is a big deal for forestry engineering."

"Nice, there you go."

"What about you? Don't want to think about it?"

Moriko laughed, twirling her mouse cursor nervously. "I'll come back to the ice cream shop and we'll see after that, I don't know… what could I do with Rufus… or Tarahn, I guess work at a power plant or something."

"You never know, you might meet a wild pokémon looking to break into public television. We'll work out this summer, find our specialties."

"Nice. It'll be fun. It'll be hard, but fun, I hope."

"Are you going to grad?"

They were on voice so Russell couldn’t see the sneer, but she bet he heard it. "So I can watch people who hate each other cry about how they'll miss each other and swear to be friends forever? Nah, I can see way more convincing performances on TV."

Russell laughed. "You should though, I think you'll be surprised. And I think people will be curious to see you dressed up."

Moriko restrained herself from spitting bile at that. "Can't afford the salon, I'd rather spend that yen on more pokéballs or food."

"Oh, well, if it's money, my mom might—"

"I really couldn't."

"Think about it!"

"Sure," she said, shutting down the topic. "Listen, I better make my lunch. See you tomorrow, okay?"

"No problem, see you."

Moriko listened for a moment at the top of the stairs before she went down, but she was too hasty: to her dismay, her aunt and cousin were still in the kitchen.

"Oh hi, Mori," Angela said, syrupy. "I'm going out with Dave and them, do you want to come? You can't wear that though," she added.

It was Moriko's normal outfit; she folded her arms over her shirt and moved toward the fridge.

"See? She's grumpy, oh well. See you later, Mori! Bye Mom!"

"Have a good time, Ange. Moriko, don't make me tell you to do the dishes," Aunt Rachel said.

"I just got home!"

"You've been on the computer for a while, you need to pull your weight around here."

Moriko's eyes flicked over to the piled-up garbage and recycling, Angela's undone chore, and she went over to the sink to start running water. Her aunt hovered around the kitchen and then swooped in to criticize: don't use the brush like this, that plate is still dirty, don't bump the bowls against the sink, rack the dishes like this, rack the utensils like this—

"It sounds like you should probably do this yourself," Moriko said tightly, leaving the remaining dishes in the soapy water as she stripped off the rubber gloves.

"Finish that chore, and you can do Angela's as well since she's out," Rachel said primly, withdrawing to her office. "Or no money this week."

A hot prickle of anger ran up her spine at that, but she needed her allowance, needed it to get out of this stifling house for a few precious months. She finished the dishes and hauled out the waste to the curb for pickup. She stood outside for a while, listening to the patter of the rain on her rain coat and on the bushes in the garden, and breathing the cool air.

Tarahn appeared, soaking wet, and rubbed up against her legs. She crouched, running her hands through his wet fur.

"It's okay," he said, purring. He bumped her nose with his.

Moriko nodded, anger a hard, hot lump beneath her sternum. She recalled Tarahn to his pokéball for the night and headed back inside.

She started to pack her lunch, grateful for the empty kitchen, when Rachel reappeared, pissed off about something and showing it by slamming the door to her office. She started tidying the still-wet dishes, throwing them into the cupboards with maximum clatter. Moriko was already throwing things into her bag, desperate to leave the room, but her aunt swooped over, snatching a bag of chips out of Moriko's hands.

"None of those, you're getting fat," her aunt said, and actually pinched her on the arm. "Look at you! In my house, gorging on my food, spending my money—"

Moriko fled into her room, the tirade following her up the stairs, gaining momentum; doors slammed and angry steps sounded on the stairs. Moriko put a chair under the door handle, but Rachel went by this time.

"What the fuck," she said, muffled by a pillow. "What the fuck."

Tarahn reappeared from his ball, totally dry, and she sat on the floor and hugged him, shaking. He patted her awkwardly with one paw.

"Five more sleeps," he said. He purred, licking her hair delicately, the faint sulfurous odor of poison on his breath. "I could break something, scratch something?" he suggested, mischievous.

"That would be satisfying," Moriko said, wiping her eyes.

She thought about taking scissors to the hated plastic-covered guest couches, but that would be too obvious, too escalating. A prank, like letting a street pokémon run around the house with muddy paws, was easier to pass off as an accident. She could give them an apple or a lemonade for it.

Gods, she'd love to summon an electrode right in the living room when no one was home and watch the matchsticked place fall to earth from a safe distance. It would be mean to Uncle Kaz, though, who she rarely saw not on his computer, his face pale blue from the screen's light in the dim room.

After a while, Moriko sighed and dabbed at her face with a tissue. She took stock of her belongings: her pokémon training stuff was hidden at Russell's house after a previous blowup, but there were a few more things she should probably hide.

x.x.x.x.x

Moriko thought about skipping class. Their exams were over; there were a few wrap-up lectures, last-minute chances to chat with their teachers or counselors, more on the basis that someone at the school district thought they should all still be at school than for any real need for further instruction. They all had senioritis in its most vigorous form, and the school's struggling air conditioning didn't help.

Their teachers had given up lecturing by about 10 AM and they spent their classes sitting around and chatting. In Calculus, Ms. Kurogawa connected her laptop to the classroom projector and started playing a livestream of a minor summer tournament in Orre.

History was taught by Prof. Hawthorn II, a retired professor, and he gave a presentation on giant pokémon, repeating the information they'd had drilled into their heads since kindergarten: obey pokémon rangers and police; stay with pokémon with shield techniques; keep your pokédex or phone charged.

Slides of historic photos flicked past: the kaiju ho-oh torching old Saffron Town; Hyper Beams crisscrossing in a distant nighttime exposure as a giant gyarados and its cohorts levelled Sevii 0 Island; an aerial photograph of the poison swirling in Vermillion Bay after a giant tentacruel attack.

"A giant pokémon destroyed the Second Crossing's technology and sent half of the survivors fleeing back to Terra. Only with the help of their descendants were those who made the Third Crossing able—" Hawthorn paused, turning toward the message his computer had projected at him and squinting at it briefly.

"Moriko," he said sharply, making her jump a little in her seat. "School counselor." He checked the clock on the computer screen. "Take your things."

A couple of people oohed half-heartedly and were immediately quelled by piercing looks from the professor.

Moriko was confused, but made her way to the front office; the A/C seemed to be less labored here, which was a relief and made up for the annoyance of being singled out in class.

She was directed to the back through a series of faintly antiseptic-smelling hallways. She passed offices and desks that she knew objectively held only boring paperwork, but she couldn't help feeling an instinctive dread, Angela's fourth-grader voice coming through the years to wheedle you're in troooooouble.

Mrs. Ellis greeted her perfunctorily; she was a tall, pale woman with a collection of bracelets that jangled when she typed. Moriko vaguely remembered her from a career studies class and various club weeks.

"Your aunt gave me a call and asked me to talk to you," she said, slumping in a desk chair. "She said that you hadn't applied to any schools for next year, and she wanted you to talk to someone."

Moriko shifted uncomfortably. "I applied to the Saffron Institute of Technology, but I didn't have the marks." Because Russell was going there. Stupid.

"Anywhere else?"

"No."

"What program?"

Moriko shrugged.

The counselor looked at her severely. "What's the plan for this summer?"

"I'm going to do a few gyms in the Gaiien League."

"While exciting and romantic, being a professional pokémon trainer is not a realistic career option, especially for someone who hasn't had formal training since age ten or so."

"I know, I just want to do that this summer, Russ is coming along—"

Mrs. Ellis tapped something on her tablet, her fingers flicking to call up a file. She looked impressed at what she was seeing. "He gets the luxury of a lackadaisical summer. What are you going to do in the fall?"

"I—I'll work, I work at the ice cream place on the boardwalk. Save some money."

"Are you going to do that forever? Look, I assume you have a good relationship with your pokémon? What species are they?"

"Burnox, and, uh, raigar."

She tapped the names into a search engine and looked at the results for a moment. "You kids are all wild for pokémon battling, but other jobs use pokémon, vital careers with pokémon in necessary roles, fulfilling and interesting ones. What's your email? I'm going to send you a list."

Moriko's pokédex beeped and displayed the message, which contained a map with pins floating over the Gaiien region.

"Weather stations on Sere Island, harbour traffic in Porphyry City, steelworks in Port Brac, forestry and mining in the Neck. Assuming you get that far this summer," she said, sniffing. "See these places, the people, the pokémon working there. Maybe you'll catch a water-type with more ambition than you."

Moriko studied the map. "So let's say steelworking is cool or whatever, what do you do? Is there a school for pokémon?"

"All the work I put into career week..." Mrs. Ellis muttered, pulling out a desk drawer and flipping through pamphlets, some of which she tossed at Moriko. "You're too late to apply for most of these but look at them for next year."

Moriko gathered up the pamphlets while the counselor kept talking.

"Look," Mrs. Ellis said finally, "I remember what it was like, being a teenager, being lovestruck—"

"That's not—"

"Oh of course it's not!" she threw up her hands in a cascade of bangles. "Whatever, whatever the situation is, you need some independence, and you can get that by looking realistically at your educational and financial situation, and making decisions about your, your future. You need to talk to your family and get things sorted out, your aunt was very expressive on the phone."

"My aunt—" Moriko shut her mouth, the words tangling up; there was no way to describe it, everything sounded too dramatic, too much, the truth surely not deserving those maudlin terms. "They're not… that helpful."

Mrs. Ellis watched her, her expression probing, and finally handed her another pamphlet. "It's possible for young adults to get outside support, depending on what kind of educational path they're taking," she said pointedly. "Do your pokémon journey thing and make some decisions."

"Is that everything?" Moriko said, suddenly exhausted by her questioning.

"I want to help you," Mrs. Ellis said, "and the best way to help yourself is to make a realistic plan. Just keep that in mind."

Moriko nodded and got up to leave.

"Email me if you have questions," the counselor called after her. "Talk to your pokémon professor!"

The bell was a few minutes away from ringing, so she waited outside the south exit for Russ. He came out chatting with Huynh and Sosuke, and parted with them as they headed home.

"I miss anything?"

"Some stuff from Hawthorn's life," Russell said. "He was born during the Crossing War and told us about some of his memories, like the first fossil pokémon being created and the first mewtwo. He managed to participate in the Indigo League when it was basically a war between the triads and the old clan-masters. What did the counselor have to say?"

Moriko frowned, jarred out of wistfulness for Hawthorn's journey in old Kanto. "My aunt called her, she knows about me going on a journey this summer."

Russell hissed in sympathy. "It worked while it lasted I guess." He looked at her sidelong. "Mor, maybe… don't go home. Maybe don't."

She shrugged. "Where am I gonna go?"

"My house, anytime, most of your stuff is there already. Or Prof. Willow's lab, she would let you stay no problem, there are beds for traveling trainers. The pokémon center."

"I don't wanna put you out. The pokémon center might be fine, might as well get used to that," Moriko said, considering. "She called the counselor, she wants to blow up on me again. She'll just follow me to the pokémon center or something if I don't go take it."

Russell fiddled with his bike silently, unlocking it. Finally he put his hand out and shook her a little by the shoulder. "You have Tarahn with you?"

"He's somewhere." It was cruel to just keep him in the ball all day.

"Mor… I think you should have him when you go home."

"What, what are they going to do?"

Russell shrugged. "What are they going to do?"

They rode their bikes together in silence for a while, the bike lane crowded with kids heading home after school and a few couriers not yet finished deliveries. Delivery vans and buses rushed by across the verge, electric engines whirring. Summer flowers were well in bloom to either side of them, trees groomed to overhang the path invitingly. City pokémon called from trees and greenspaces; an ordinary dog barked from someone's yard, invisible behind the lush garden.

Russ and Moriko paused at the intersection where their paths diverged.

"I'll come with," he said.

Moriko shook her head. "I'll get a last couple of things and come over, alright?"

Russ looked at her, lips thin where he was biting them, and nodded. "Call me if you need anything. I mean it."

There was an oppressive air over her aunt and uncle's house when she came up. Moriko braced herself for the fight, the last effort to stop her from leaving.

Her aunt and uncle were in the kitchen when she walked in; Kaz, ever cowardly, slunk away to his office, jamming his headphones onto his head.

Rachel rose, striding over to her, eyes hard. "Moriko. You need a plan. No more jokes."

Moriko pressed her fingers against her eyelids; she felt herself shrinking, suddenly cowed by the attention and questioning. "Can we not—can we just—"

"What do you think you're going to do? Do you think this trainer thing is going to work out? Run the numbers!"

"I just—I want—I'm old enough for the league, so I'll do that this summer—"

"You think you can make it in this league? It's for trainers who have been working since they were ten, trainers with eight badges from a different region already. Don't waste the time."

"I've been training—"

"Two pokémon and the first gym is a ground-type gym, good luck. Get your shit together, Moriko." Her aunt sighed. "I'm sorry you're doing this. Look, just keep working for the summer, and practice with your pokémon to get into a technical school. There are plenty of jobs that need a fire- or electric-type—"

"Good, then traveling through the league will be good practice!"

"It's a totally different skill set—"

"Stop—this is—I have a plan! I have a budget! This is what I'm doing this summer! I'm taking an absence from the ice cream place—"

"You're already replaced. Idiot. I had to beg Chiyo to give you that job."

Moriko sputtered. "No—you—I got that job! You didn't even know—"

"You owe us!"

Moriko jumped as Rachel smashed a dinner plate, the ceramic shards tinkling across the countertop and falling to the floor.

"Everything we've done, everything we've put aside for you—"

A bubble of rage broke in Moriko's throat. "Why am I here then?" she yelled. "I didn't ask for this, for you to hold this over me every time I want to do the slightest thing! You want me to leave, you're always telling me to, and when I finally—"

"Ungrateful, pigheaded, wasteful, lazy—"

"Shut up! Shut up!"

"You walk out, you go—"

"You're fucking right I am!" Moriko went up the stairs, calculating what she would grab. Enough of this.

Rachel's words floated up the stairs behind her. "Don't come back here! Go out into the woods and starve in a hole in the ground! You idiot, you dumb Half brat—"

"Racist now too! Classy! Classy as fuck!" Moriko yelled back.

"If only Kaz's brother had married a human being—"

The rage filling her to her fingertips, Moriko seized and hurled a chair down the stairwell to the empty landing. "Don't talk about them! Don't you fucking—"

"An animal living in my house, sneaking around with boys, useless—"

Moriko threw the last few clothes and keepsakes into her school bag, breathing hard, trying to see clearly, trying be sure that she could live without whatever was left. It would all be destroyed as soon as she left the house for the last time.

Seized by inspiration, she turned her desk onto its side and wedged it under the door handle, and exited her room through the window, stepping out onto the old tree and half-climbing, half-sliding to the ground.

Rachel saw her as she crossed the lawn back to her bike and came out, still hurling abuse, slurs, old-fashioned racist epithets that were more comical than stinging.

"You stupid—your parents—you're going to stay in this house and stop wasting time and money—" Rachel seized her by the arm, and Moriko fought to break her surprisingly strong grip.

"Don't touch me!"

Rachel hit her face with the edge of her hand.

Moriko sat down in the driveway heavily, more surprised than actually hurt. She put a hand to her cheek.

"What—what the fuck—"

"Look what you made me do, you streak of filth, you Half—"

Rachel screamed, jumping back as lightning cracked between them.

Tarahn was running up; he put his body between her and her aunt, guarding Moriko. He snarled at Rachel, electricity crackling along his purple and yellow fur.

He wasn't a tournament pokémon whose special attacks could hurt humans, but it was the look of the thing, Moriko thought dazedly.

"I can't believe this—after everything we've done for you!" Rachel screamed. "I'm calling the police, I'm calling the rangers—a pokémon attacking—out-of-control—help! Help me!"

Tarahn growled after Rachel as she staggered back inside, still calling out for help. Moriko rose, hauled up the bike, arranged her bags. She looked past her aunt's face, spit-flecked and mottled with rage, at her uncle standing uselessly in the doorway, holding a phone in one hand.

Were the neighbors watching? Were the rangers coming? Moriko watched herself, as if she was outside her own body. She turned away and rode off, Tarahn loping beside her.

x.x.x.x.x

Russell let her in and didn't say anything.

Sylvia came to the door, claws clicking on the tiles, and licked Moriko's hand. She scratched the timbark behind the ears, digging her fingers deep into her mossy fur.

She added her bag to the pile in the guest room: secondhand hiking bag, tent, tarp, cooking supplies, freeze-dried trainer food, pokéballs, remedies.

"How bad was it?" Russell finally asked.

"It was really bad. Surprisingly bad," she said, bemused, floating. Her cheek hurt now; her aunt had caught her along the cheekbone and eye orbit.

"Do you… do you want to tell anyone?"

Half brat, Moriko thought. Hafu kid runs away from home, distresses kind modern family who was fostering her.

"No," she said. "I'm eighteen. Let's let it be over."

Russ watched her, looked away. "Okay," he said. "Okay. Do you want...?"

She didn't know. "Let's...let's just play a game, or something. The pokémon must need something."

Moriko wandered into Russ's kitchen, and he followed.

x.x.x.x.x

Moriko waited for the other shoe to drop, and almost didn't answer when an unfamiliar number called her phone. It was from the bank.

"Ms. Sato?"

"Speaking?"

"We've detected some unusual activity on your account, did you intend to move the entire balance of your account this morning?"

Moriko went cold, her stomach dropping and turning hard and sick.

She thought of her uncle pecking away on his own computer. He was always on it.

The bank had stopped the transfer, but it took a trip there in person to sort out and open a new account. One her aunt and uncle didn’t know about.

She rode back to Russ's house in a daze; eventually she had to stop and walk her bike or she was going to hit somebody. She made it back without incident, somehow.

Russ did a double-take when she came in. "Whoa. Hey. Hey. What happened?"

"They used my computer to transfer all of my money," she said.

He looked at her incredulously. "Who? All—have you been to the bank?"

"Yeah. Yeah. It's fine now. I should have—I should have…taken it? Destroyed it? I didn't think—" She slumped onto a chair in the kitchen.

"Who? Rachel? Kaz?" Russ frowned, color coming into his pale face. "Moriko—this is—Moriko, that's a crime. That's theft. Let's call—are you—are you going to make a police report?"

Russ was angry, he was actually angry, and her blankness turned into a swirl of dread and embarrassment. "No—no—it's all fixed—let's just—" Her vision went blurry, eyes leaking treacherously. "I can't—"

"Hey, no, it's cool, it's not your fault, don't feel bad," Russ said, sitting down with her, grasping her hand, and keeping up a stream of quiet reassurances until she got a hold of herself.

"I'm sorry, I just—"

"Mor, it's fine, you didn't do anything wrong."

She nodded, sniffling. "I—they always told me that they were going to send me away, and here I am going—" her voice arced.

"They just said that stuff to mess with you—they'll do, they'll say whatever to mess with you," he said. "They—Moriko, the stuff you've told me, they've always—it's not okay. Okay? Parents don't do that stuff."

Sylvia trotted in and pushed her head into Moriko's lap, and she scratched the timbark's head for a few moments.

"It's okay, Moriko," the timbark said. "Don't be sad, okay? I'll Vine Whip whoever is making you sad."

Moriko drew a shivering breath. "Thanks, Syl."

"Mor, let's go to the police, okay?" Russ urged.

"No," she said. "No, I don't want—what would even happen—I just want to go on the journey, and they'll want to," she faltered, "if there's a, a trial?—I'll have to stay here, and I just, I cannot—"

Russ waved a hand. "It's up to you! I'll do whatever you want. We're still on. Whatever you decide to do, I'll help you."

"Thanks, Russ." She gripped his hand.

"I've got you. Both of us," he said, rubbing Sylvia's green ear. "Right?"

"Vine Whip," Sylvia muttered, licking Moriko's hand.

x.x.x.x.x

Moriko hid in the guest room for as long as possible. Eventually, hunger won out, as did Tarahn aggressively flopping onto her on the guest bed.

"Let's do something," Tarahn groaned, as she heaved his 50-kilo weight off her legs.

"You're right," Moriko muttered.

She crept out of the guest room to make herself something small from the fridge, only to be intercepted by Russ's mom.

"Hello, Moriko. Are you going to grad?"

Russ's mom wouldn't hear of the peanut butter sandwich Moriko had intended to make, and instead plied her with bars and cookies, heated up lasagna with actual meat, and shoved cut vegetables and hummus in front of her at the table. Moriko's eyes prickled treacherously, and she ate, face downcast, as Julie kept up utterly pleasant conversation.

She was tall, like Russ, and had merely titian hair where his was a crimson genehance, but something about her eyes, her smile, was the same as Russ's.

Moriko had fantasized that Julie Katsev-Scott had adopted her, more than once, though that would make it weird that—never mind—and anyway...

Deep down, Moriko knew, that Russ and Russ's mom were just being polite. They were just better at keeping up the facade than her aunt and uncle. All families were 'like that', or would become so, if she was in them. She was tainting Russ's house by being here.

Moriko shook her head. "It's a waste of time. I don't want to be there and no one's looking to see me."

"Russ is."

Moriko's stomach did all kinds of sick flip-flops. Stupid! Stupid! Russ was gay, he would never—well, maybe he—stupid! Stupid! Shut up!

Julie pushed some paper money across the table. "A little grad present from me. You can do what you want with it. What you want. I'll make sure that you and Russ are well stocked for food and pokémon stuff before you leave, so don't worry about that."

Moriko's breath caught, looking at the bills, with their portraits of leaders from a century ago. "I… I shouldn't. You've already done—"

"It's yours. Happy graduation, Moriko."

She took the money, head spinning. She wasn't going to grad. Russ's mom didn't have to know what she really spent it on.

Russ wasn't—there was no reason he'd want to see her at grad. They were friends, and he'd be looking at the other guys at grad, dressed up. She racked her brain if it was something he was keeping secret from his parents, and she couldn't remember, so she kept quiet.

She biked out to the trendy shops on the cliffside for something to do, making a wide berth around the murkrow tree where the dark-type pokémon liked to swoop down on passerby and call them rude names. There were a couple of kids battling in the square, a clawbit and an eevee more wrestling than using any recognizable pokémon techniques. She thought of Rufus guiltily; she hadn't even properly seen him this week with everything going on.

She saw some girls from school getting their makeup done, laughing together and then bundled into someone's dad's van to head home to get dressed. A frisson of something—doubt, fear, longing—ran up her arms, and she found herself looking at the time on her pokédex.

Did she need a ticket? She thought it was just for the food, you could turn up at the hall for nothing.

It was going to be stupid, it wouldn't be like a real grad on TV, at the real high schools in Kalos and Hoenn. It was going to be a shitty rinkydink outregional town's community center party.

Was she actually considering this?

No. Yes. No.

x.x.x.x.x

Yes.

Moriko found something black at the gown rental place, a shapeless tube for a shapeless body, but it looked… okay. And she could move in it, the slashed sides letting her walk.

Heels? No. Flat dress sandals. She slapped the paper money onto the rental counter, saw pokéballs, potions, travel food dry up and blow away, and she cursed herself, but she was doing this, somehow.

She managed to get a walk-in at a salon that the internet said wasn't too expensive, but it was trendy and the hairdressers had chic haircuts and outfits in a mishmash of styles, tartan and silk and denim stamped with ironic Terran logos and diluted clan-emblems.

Her assigned stylist had long hair slashed with expensive proprietary genehance colors and lilac iris implants, the kind of striking look that Moriko assumed was fashionable.

He grasped Moriko's green hair, freed of its ponytail, as she sat in the barber's chair. "What a great color! Is it a genehance? Or are you second?"

"Half," Moriko said.

"That's good to know," the stylist said, turning a caddy of hair products around. "The hair structure accepts colors or perms differently than normal hair."

"I just want it styled," Moriko said nervously, noting the 'normal'. "No dyes. Please."

"Definitely, no problem. This is for your graduation?"

"Yeah, it's tonight, and there's a party, so…"

"Very nice, did you have a look in mind? Let's go through some magazines," he added, seeing Moriko's stricken look.

The hairdresser eventually produced a sleek and subtly curly style that framed her face well, applying an enhancer that made the forest green richer and shinier, hinting at blue and purple tones.

The makeup artist went to work with concealer and eyeliner, smoothing out an old scar and making her orange eyes seem pretty and glowing instead of the usual wolf-in-the-firelight gleam.

See? I can play too, I can look good, she thought.

She ignored the little pulse that said "fake" over and over.

x.x.x.x.x

Moriko set out into the evening painted and garbed for battle. No bike, because of the gown, and Russell had already left, probably joining their schoolfriends in a rented limo, so she walked.

This, regrettably, gave her time to think, and her stomach got tighter and tighter the closer she got. She made an averting gesture at a particularly ghoulish thought, and then looked around bashfully to see if anyone had seen her, as good as talking to herself.

Sunk cost, Moriko thought, checking her face in her pokédex camera to make sure the makeup was all still in place. She tucked it back into the little shoulder purse, which tapped against her leg as she walked.

She imagined striding into the hall boldly, doors crashing open and music rising in a crescendo as she appeared, everyone's attention on her.

She snuck in through the kitchen.

A couple of servers started to tell her that she wasn't supposed to be there, but turned back to their tasks when they saw her making a beeline for the hall doors anyway.

Her graduating class wasn't that big, but there was a confusion of tables and decoration to push through, and then…

She walked up to Russell and he smiled like the sun.

"Looking good," he said.

She smiled back, and her eyes dropped shyly. The tuxedo flattered his tall figure, for all that it was a generically sized rental, and he looked great with muted makeup and styled hair. She pushed away a treacherous thought, an impossible and unfair one.

We're friends. It's fine. It's fine. He smiled.

No one else noticed her.

Russ was standing with their classmates: Angela, Dave, Yuki, Ahmad, all the rest—Angela flicked her eyes over Moriko and said nothing, and so no one else said anything either.

She stood around, yelling to Russell over the music occasionally when there was a break in his conversation. The music changed after Shun said something to the DJ and everyone piled closer to the stage to start dancing.

People looked at her, and their eyes slid off quickly when she saw them looking.

She found herself standing alone, hovering between cheap party cutouts and whirling masses of tissue paper, hanging back with the servers clearing used plates and cups while everyone else danced and smiled and cheered.

What am I doing here? Moriko thought, and some of the numbness fell off at last, and she crushed her plastic party cup in her hands. I am trying, she thought, furious. I am trying so hard. This was supposed to be it. This was supposed to work. Why isn't it working?

You're not real,
she thought. You're not real and they can smell it on you. They know. They have always known.

She slipped outside between songs.

What is real, then?

Pokémon. Battling. The road.


The night air was cool and bracing, washing away the shut-in closeness of the hall, and when she breathed it in it felt like medicine.

What a waste of time. What a waste of money. Well—now she knew. She'd exhausted all her little distractions. There was only one thing left, the thing she should've gone after first. She looked up and saw faint stars overhead, imagined the mountains waiting for her beyond the prairie, beyond the foothills.

"You can't leave," they'd told her, over and over, and now that she was old enough there were new reasons, and her heart had even invented a few. Stupid. Stupid. She should have left on her birthday, she should have gotten on a ship and gone to Hoenn when she was thirteen, ten, she—she'd wasted so much time.

She started walking home. The rented sandals pinched her feet and the rented dress swished as she walked, constricting. She keyed her pokédex, the projected screen appearing in the dimness. "Taxi," she said, and she looked at the rates displayed and shook her head.

Walk home, hafu girl. Half brat. Half-Second Crossing kid, weird, violent, just like—

Stop. Don't. Tears stung her eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid—

A pair of eyes appeared ahead, in the darkness.

Moriko swore, pokémon-less, weaponless, unable to run in the stupid dress and stupid shoes, but then Tarahn's bells caught the light, and she breathed out in a rush.

She bent awkwardly in the dress to scratch his cheeks, losing her fingers in his fur.

He licked her hands. "Everything okay?" the raigar asked.

A juddering, sobby sigh. "Everything's dumb."

"It wasn't good? Are you going home already?"

"Yeah. It was stupid."

"No one wanted to dance with you? I can, if you want," Tarahn said. "It's like this, right?" He stood up on his hind legs and put one paw on her shoulder, then swayed a little, his tail whipping around to keep his balance. "See? Human dancing."

A smile cracked onto her face, despite herself, despite everything.

"Thanks, sparky," she said, as he dropped back onto all fours. She wiped at her eyes, and then swore at the smudged mascara. "Let's go. These shoes were a bad choice."

"Shoes don't make sense!"

x.x.x.x.x

Huge thanks to everyone who offered commentary on the Prologue and Chapter 1 as I got ready to get into posting on TR, including Meri, Negrek, St. Elmo, and my buds on PokeCharms Tailon and Psycho_Monkey. I agonize about these early chapters and whether they're properly interesting, so drop me a line with your opinion.

Chapter 1 Poll: Which of the Gaiien starters do you pick?
Sylpup
Volcalf
Seakitt
 
Last edited:

kintsugi

golden scars | pfp by sun
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
  5. custom/meloetta-kint-muse
  6. custom/meloetta-kint-dancer
Okay, wow, I've been meaning to look at this for ages and I didn't. Here we are. a lil tipsy Minimal concrit/line reactions since this is really really old work and you're like 230k words ahead of me, but still! Anyway. Here are completely blind reactions to this fic.

Prisons / Vigils / Preludes and Nocturnes / A Warning / A Fall, Down Into the Dark
oh shit so we're playing THAT kind of game

Ferocious pulses of electricity, of darkness, of poison and acid stabbed and arced through the air
I feel like I'm probably stepping directly on someone else's toes, but to me "of poison and acid" feels unnecessarily redundant -- I imagine the dichotomy between a poisonous and an acidic attack is visually hard to parse, and the main sensory aspect in this scene was visual. I think in some contexts, stressing the differences between these would work -- but is it a pulse of electric current or electric voltage? what even is a pulse of darkness -- since it's pokemon I feel like maintaining the flow of the scene is more important than introducing the idea that poison and acid damages are different in such an early scene. Not sure.

The trainers would have been on that floor, once; the old clan adepts had fought alongside their pokémon—fought as their pokémon—on storm-swept battlefields for the glory of their queens and princes, or against monsters, or evil gods.
Oh shit so we're playing **THAT** kind of game

"What good is a missed attack?"
I find myself wishing that the repetition was a bit more direct? Either "an attack that doesn't hit" or "a missed attack" earlier -- usually when you're smugly mocking people you don't go through the effort of rephrasing their words, I feel?

Electricity crackled between them as the lightning around the electivire grew in intensity, and it darted in close, fists clenched around the thunderbolts like a god—
oR a DeMoN
i feel like i'm gonna make this joke a lot

The system was bogged down with certifying alternate gyms while the primary positions were often held by the old clans defending an ancient privilege, or just Third-Crossing families with land and connections. Everyone had the same rights to food, shelter, medical care, education on Gaia, the world of pokémon, but who you knew still mattered.
this feels like important stuff that'll get answered later tbh

From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial, and she spilled the vial on the plate, and with an iron rod she pushed the plate across an invisible line.

The creature licked at the blood, dragging the plate across the stone. The ceramic screeched as it dragged. The creature's eyes were flat black, mirrors at the right angle. It rubbed up against the barrier, groaning, fur mashing against it as if it was a glass window.
as does this

see what you do is, you write a huge mysterious prologue that has nothing to do with the story for another uhhhhhhhhh 24 chapters, that will hook them
you jest but it sort of worked haha

and then from your sig:
198k words
fuck

thank god

The prologue is interesting to me -- sort of feels like a more amped up version of the Nidorino vs Gengar battle that opens Pokemon R/B -- here are the battle conditions, here are some characters, here's what you could be in fifty levels, etc. There are a lot of new mechanics being introduced here, which I feel took precedence. My main takeaways were that this is a fan region, there are fakemons (and cool ones, oh my. the link feature really does you a ton of favors here imo). The characters are a bit of a black hole, but judging by the length of my remaining scroll bar, that's addressed in ch 1?

It's a strange mix of ominous prologue and, like you said, scene-setting that I imagine will be more useful in 24 chapters -- but very interesting still. My general takeaways were sort of "raised eyebrows?? but interested???"

to be continued in chapter 1 haha
 

kintsugi

golden scars | pfp by sun
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
  5. custom/meloetta-kint-muse
  6. custom/meloetta-kint-dancer
So I see you weren't kidding about the closing note about the prologue not quite having relevance for a while longer. This was a lot of fun, though. Moriko's backstory gets set up in a much more grounded way, and we get a ton of cool side characters that I'm interested in seeing later. I really liked how you wove mundane details into the narrative -- kids want ice cream sandwiches shaped like dinosaurs, the school counselor is slightly sad that no one reads her brochures -- it went a long way towards making the events of the story feel real.

June 11th–13th 128 CR
looking forward to seeing what happened 128 years ago tbh

She sighed, cheeks puffing, and noting the time, pedaled faster.
Dropped comma here, I think? "she sighed, cheeks puffing, and, nothing the time, pedaled faster" looks bad, though. Might I suggest our lord and savior em dash?: "she sighed, cheeks puffing, and —noting the time—pedaled faster"?

The raigar's bells tinkled gently as he rolled onto his back, inviting tummy rubs, and he rubbed his cheeks against their hands.
There's not really a good place to put this, but I like how much care you put into each of the fakemon -- the dex entries are cool, but in general the concepts are also a ton of fun! A prankster cat! The forks become a cute hat! The joke is that you're paralyzed and poisoned. Amazing.

Tarahn had a bright pink, rhinestoned collar on to make him look less wild, but he'd gotten in trouble for battling without a trainer before.
this is ... an interesting setup


"Honestly I'm not even sure if I would get on a train anymore, lairon and magneton are always just straight up eating the steel rails and stuff."
kind of a weird grammar thing? I noticed a lot of comma splices, but only in dialogue bits -- it sort of emulates spoken word, so I understand why it's there, but I did notice it a lot. Not sure if it was intentional or not.

"What the fuck," she said, muffled by a pillow. "What the fuck."
This chapter was an emotional roller coaster tbh

Slides of historic photos flicked past: the kaiju ho-oh torching old Saffron Town; Hyper Beams crisscrossing in a distant nighttime exposure as a giant gyarados and its cohorts levelled Sevii 0 Island; an aerial photograph of the poison swirling in Vermillion Bay after a giant tentacruel attack.
oh fuck so it's THIS kind of story, part iii

"While exciting and romantic, being a professional pokémon trainer is not a realistic career option, especially for someone who hasn't had formal training since age ten or so."
I liked the nod to the meta here! For me it makes a lot of sense that you * could * start training young, but it's expensive and also a huge potshot to do so -- sort of like declaring you'll become a pro sports player when you're 10. It's a decision that comes with consequences. I liked how you set up this conflict throughout the first chapter.

"See these places, the people, the pokémon working there
* sad people and humans sounds *

"Everything we've done, everything we've put aside for you—"

A bubble of rage broke in Moriko's throat. "Why am I here then?" she yelled. "I didn't ask for this, for you to hold this over me every time I want to do the slightest thing! You want me to leave, you're always telling me to, and when I finally—"
"Racist now too! Classy! Classy as fuck!" Moriko yelled back.

"If only Kaz's brother had married a human being—"
I find myself wishing that the aunt was ... less shitty, I guess? The coming of age via journeying conflict is a really compelling one already; there's so much that Moriko feels that the world expects her to do and I think this was all pretty tangible throughout this chapter. Equal parts of her want to a) figure out her place in the world b) eat ice cream on the beach with jester cat. There's a solid mood conveyed in the first dialogue quoted here that I think is a good conflict on its own -- the guilt of not living up to expectations, not being your best self, not being good enough for other people -- that to me was more compelling without the further characterization of her aunt? Once we learn that her aunt is racist and physically/emotionally abusive, I feel like that ends up detracting from the conflict posed earlier -- there's no more nuance, and of course the aunt is wrong, so Moriko is justified to do whatever she can to stick it to the shitty aunt.

"We've detected some unusual activity on your account, did you intend to move the entire balance of your account this morning?"
oh noooo. oooof
my heart. kids not knowing about finance. being fucked over for it. having to fix it. I know I literally just typed that her relatives are TOO EVIL (TM), but this hit a certain vibe for me, haha. I really liked the imagery of her uncle pecking at the computer btw.

"I just want it styled," Moriko said nervously, noting the 'normal'.
Likewise, I thought this was a better way at poking at societal issues than the aunt screaming "HALFIE SCUM".

Stupid. Stupid. She should have left on her birthday, she should have gotten on a ship and gone to Hoenn when she was thirteen, ten, she—she'd wasted so much time.
oh wow, existential despair about wasting your youth in chapter 1. mood.

"No one wanted to dance with you? I can, if you want," Tarahn said. "It's like this, right?" He stood up on his hind legs and put one paw on her shoulder, then swayed a little, his tail whipping around to keep his balance. "See? Human dancing."
what a CUTIE
 

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
I'm glad I actually got off my ass and read this! Will do my best to keep up and review (but, fair warning, I always say that and I'm still behind on reviewing all my favorite fics).

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the prologue at the start - well-done battle but I didn't really get a lot out of it and probably could've done without it, interesting worldbuilding hints but kind of infodumpy - but then we got to the bit with the trapped creature down in the caves and oh, man, that's creepy and hair-raising and super intriguing. I am so ready to see this come to a head in 24 chapters. I think it kind of helps that you establish this is the seventh gym, too, because that gives such a clear timeline for when to expect to see more - we're going to go this entire journey knowing this thing is below the seventh gym, and each gym will be bringing us closer to it. Oh man. I dig it.

Chapter one I thought kicked off a little slowly too - I'm not sure we really needed to hear about Moriko's ice cream job, and although the exchange with Tarahn in the first scene was cute I think you could probably cut that scene entirely without losing much? - but once it got going, I thought you did a really great job getting us invested in Moriko and making us care about her journey. Her shitty abusive home situation is one thing, but the way that it's messed with her head and how you portray that through her POV is just heartbreaking - she needs this journey, to get away, and I'm rooting so hard for her to just get out of there and never return. Also Russell is pure and good and so is Tarahn and they are friends.

More intriguing worldbuilding, too! What I'm gathering so far is that the Second and Third Crossings (and presumably a First) are events where people from Terra (i.e. "our" Earth) have crossed over to the Pokémon world? (Which hilariously reminds me of TQftL, but that's another story.) The Third Crossing happened with help from the descendants of the Second Crossing refugees who returned to Terra, but presuuuumably Second Crossing humans like Moriko's mom are the descendants who've been there the whole time between crossings? And obviously they are noticeably different from the Third Crossing humans who came from Terra much later, and are a minority that's otherized and looked down on (so pretty analogous to various native populations on Earth?).

The story overall feels very grounded and real and the world feels very thought-out, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it. I enjoy your writing style a lot - you get a lot across with small details without getting bogged down with them.

Some quote reactions:

"Finish that chore, and you can do Angela's as well since she's out," Rachel said primly, withdrawing to her office. "Or no money this week."
This struck me as a bit much as I was reading it. Docking her allowance for not doing somebody else's chores, when they were just here and allowed to go out without comment? After reading the rest of the chapter I can kind of believe her aunt would do that, but when this is one of the first bits of Rachel you throw at us, before you really solidify the grounding in Moriko's reactions that makes the abuse just about work, it's just got kind of a cartoony feel, like one of those over-the-top "look at how MEAN and UNFAIR everyone is to my OC!!" openings.

I have mixed feelings about the overall degree to which Rachel is abusive - I think you do ultimately manage to sell it, to me at least, because Moriko's psychology and mindset growing from that abuse is so firmly grounded in a real gutpunch sort of way, but it is pretty extreme and Rachel herself doesn't feel like a genuine, three-dimensional character so much as just an evil force of nature. I've heard plenty of absolutely horrific stories of abusive parents, so I know these sorts of people exist, and when I can buy Moriko I'm willing to buy this is her aunt, or at least that this is how she sees her aunt. But she doesn't really feel like a human being. Whether that's a problem probably depends on how much of a role in the story she has from here; if the point of her is simply being a backstory element, just the embodiment of Moriko's abusive home life, I think you're probably fine.

Kaz, ever cowardly, slunk away his office, jamming his headphones onto his head.
I think you're missing a word in here?

"We've detected some unusual activity on your account, did you intend to move the entire balance of your account this morning?"

Moriko went cold, her stomach dropping and turning hard and sick.

She thought of her uncle pecking away on his own computer. He was always on it.

The bank had stopped the transfer, but it took a trip there in person to sort out and open a new account. One her aunt and uncle didn’t know about.
Hmm, how does this work? If they recognize her as the owner of the account, and the transfer as possibly illegitimate and contact her about it, surely she can just tell them "No, I did not make that transfer, someone's gotten ahold of my PIN/password, please reset them"? I'm not sure how a whole new account can be necessary here.

Moriko hid in the guest room for as long as possible, but eventually hunger won out, and Tarahn aggressively flopping onto her on the guest bed.
This doesn't quite parse very easily, I think - I assumed you meant "flopped" until I squinted at this again and realized this could make sense if parsed as if [hunger] and [Tarahn aggressively flopping onto her on the guest bed] are two things that won out. I'm still not 100% sure if that's what you were going for (wouldn't Tarahn flopping onto her keep her in the guest room, instead of stopping her from hiding?).

Deep down, Moriko knew, that Russ and Russ's mom were just being polite. They were just better at keeping up the facade than her aunt and uncle. All families were 'like that', or would become so, if she was in them. She was tainting Russ's house by being here.
Ohhh, this hurts.

She took the money, head spinning. She wasn't going to grad. Russ's mom didn't have to know what she really spent it on.
Moriko she just said you could spend it on whatever you wanted ugh

Russ wasn't—there was no reason he'd want to see her at grad. They were friends, and he'd be looking at the other guys at grad, dressed up. She racked her brain if it was something he was keeping secret from his parents, and she couldn't remember, so she kept quiet.
MORIKO YOU ARE FRIENDS OF COURSE HE'D LIKE TO SEE YOU EVEN IF HE'S NOT INTO YOU ROMANTICALLY OR SEXUALLY

Anyway I'm invested, please help Moriko and wrap her in a blanket from me and give her cocoa
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
I reviewed this prologue in, like, 2016, but I've forgotten what happens enough to review again, I think! Going to try to actually stick with this as it updates, since it's been on my to-read list for so long.

This does a good job setting up that this is a new region with its own politics. I liked the tension between Gen's performative role as a gym leader and this other, much more solemn, secretive, dangerous role she finds herself in. I wanted to understand a bit more Gen's fascination with the older ways and where this sense of duty she has comes from. Especially as someone coming from a different region, her determination to fulfill the role better than past leaders there is interesting. I'm also curious whether she's been accepted by the people native to the area, or what her interactions with them have looked like beyond hearing some stories.

Line-by-line comments below! When something isn't working for me in a sentence I usually rewrite first to try and pin down what's bothering me, and I usually leave the rewrite in case it's more illustrative than my explanation.

Preludes and Nocturnes
Neil Gaiman vibes 👀

Ten years ago

The crowd moved as one, their finery shifting and catching the light as they followed the action across the arena, hit and counter-hit. Ferocious pulses of electricity, of darkness, of poison and acid stabbed and arced through the air, crackling off the powerful shield that protected the audience. A succession of pokémon stamped and cracked the arena floor, trading blows, feet and claws and paws leaving broad gouges in the substrate or floating above it.
Something about this paragraph trips me up a bit and I'm trying to put my finger on it. Part of it is a certain repetition of the sentence structure. Each sentence has [verbed and verbed] in it and there's a lot of clauses piled up on one another with commas. The overall impression I get is less of intense action and more of a kind of list.

"The crowd moved as one, their finery [shifting and catching] the light as they followed the action across the arena, hit and counter-hit. Ferocious pulses of electricity, of darkness, of poison and acid [stabbed and arced] through the air, crackling off the powerful shield that protected the audience. A succession of pokémon [stamped and cracked] the arena floor, trading blows, feet and claws and paws leaving broad gouges in the substrate or floating above it."

In this last sentence, the focus seems to shift between the pokemon's fighting and the impact on the area. The last clause shifts abruptly away from the impact on the area and goes back to describing how the pokemon fill the space of the arena in a way that muddies the impact. 'Finery' struck me as a bit jarring in terms of word choice--it's very elevated/archaic in a way that doesn't match the rest of the narration.

Maybe, "The crowd moved as one, their clothing catching the light as they followed the hit and counter-hit in the arena below. Pulses of electricity, darkness, and acid arced through the air and crackled off the powerful shields that protected the audience. A succession of pokemon traded fierce blows, stamping and roaring. Their feet and claws and paws left broad gouges in the arena floor."

The trainers would have been on that floor, once; the old clan adepts had fought alongside their pokémon—fought as their pokémon—on storm-swept battlefields for the glory of their queens and princes, or against monsters, or evil gods.
This makes me curious about where the trainers are? They aren't on the floor itself, but the shields are only mentioned as shielding the audience? Are they on raised platforms or something?

I like the invocation of how the traditions of pokemon battling have changed over time.

Nocturna raised her arm and pointed at her opponent's mega-evolved electivire, her cape and robes billowing in timed gusts from carefully placed wind machines. A mega stone glittered at her throat, inset in a necklace of silver scales.
Love these reminders that the drama is manufactured here, and the way the mega stone is described more as jewelry than a weapon.

Her mega-evolved drapion, all legs and spikes and snapping pincers, pointed its double tail skyward and began raining down globs of purple poison.
It feels a bit weird to have the drapion described as "all legs and spikes and snapping pincers" when the main sentence shows its tail doing the action.

The mega electivire skittered, spiderlike, its body supported by a host of black cables multiplied in the battle evolution.
A little confused by the wording of the cables supporting it. Does it use them to balance, or to move, or . . ? Having the sentence end on "battle evolution" makes it feel like the narration is caring more about the fact the pokemon is mega-evolved than the action it's performing.

"What good is an attack that doesn't hit?" came the reply from her opponent, drawling in his Kalosian accent. "Show them how it's done, Octavia. Wild Charge!"

The mega electivire skittered, spiderlike, its body supported by a host of black cables multiplied in the battle evolution. It dodged between clots of poison, closing in on the drapion.
I wonder if the dialogue could be integrated a little differently here? I know it's an exhibition, but it seems like the action would be a little rapid for them to say all this.

"Wild Charge, Octavia! Show them how it's done."

The mega electivire skittered, spiderlike, between the clots of poison. Electricity crackled across its body as it closed in on the drapion.

"After all, an attack's no good if it doesn't hit," her opponent added in his drawling kalosian accent.

Electricity crackled between them as the lightning around the electivire grew in intensity, and it darted in close, fists clenched around the thunderbolts like a god—
I have some trouble envisioning this because the electricity feels like it's doing some different things. I both get a sense of general, diffuse electricity growing in intensity, and an image of the electricity as a more solid thing that the electivire can hold/is concentrated around its hands/arms.

The drapion slammed the arena floor, and the wave of power sheared through the arena substrate—
Oooh, I loved sheared as a verb here. Substrate also works here in a way I don't think it did in the earlier paragraph.

—passing under the electivire's darting cables near-harmlessly, only mild spurts of energy reverberating up the thin appendages to its body. Its head ducked as it drew in for the Wild Charge, electrical arcs already raking its opponent, the drapion cringing away downward—

The electivire was blasted away with a cry, a gout of poison- and ground-type energy exploding all around it, summoned up from the arena floor by the drapion. It hit the ground hard, cables splaying uselessly as it rolled to a stop and turned to energy, fainting, the mega evolution falling away.
The action in the first paragraph confused me. I think what happens is, the drapion dodges the electivire without really getting hurt by the electric attack . The electivire draws in to the deliver the wild charge (which I thought the drapion had just dodged) and this time its electric attacks do hit the drapion, who cringes away. But "energy reverberating up the thin appendages of its body" doesn't really sound near-harmless, and the switch in subject from the drapion to the electivire with "it" left me lost the first time I read.

"What good is a missed attack?" Nocturna asked, and she smiled, the glitter of a dozen lights and cameras on her, the roar of the crowd in her ears, and her opponent a distant figure who'd just lost his strongest pokémon.
This feels a little list-y again. We've got the glitter of the lights, the roar of the crowd, the distant opponent, but less sense of the relations and how they're fitting into the scene. Especially with the lights, is the emphasis that it's blinding and overwhelming? Or is she playing to them? Like, maybe,

"What good is a missed attack?" Nocturna asked. She smiled towards the glittering lights of the cameras, the roar of the crowd pounding in her ears.


Nocturna shut the door on her last few guests, pulling off the mask of her gym leader's costume and becoming Genevieve Park again.
I like the sharp delineation here between her gym leader persona and her real self. Very superhero-esque. I was a bit confused by the terminology of "guests" though. I would understand fans queuing after a match, but I'm not sure what it means for her to have guests.

She breathed out, a long exhalation, and stepped into a stone tunnel dug centuries ago when the gym had been a castle built by Gaiien's original inhabitants, the people of the Second Crossing.
Was also kind of confused with the setting. She closes the door on her guests and steps into a stone tunnel?

She stripped off her sweaty robes, the black silks rippling with birdwing iridescence.
I like the description, but this doesn't seem quite the place for it. Feels like it would have fit better in the battle sequence, when the performative aspect is being stressed. "Sweaty robes" has a nice quality of deflation--oh, she's a real person, not some mythic persona--but then we get a pretty descriptive clause that doesn't really fit in with that. This feels more like the place for contrast--do the silks look differently in the light of her apartments than they did under the stadium lights? etc

Removing her mega stone necklace produced its usual moment of wooziness and she sat down in her armchair carefully.
Always appreciate objects of power taking a toll on their users!

Not sure the "and" linkage here is doing much. Could just be two sentences.

"Perfect, it will be on the internet in a few hours, I'm sure. The league officials were pleased."
Little bit confused with the worldbuilding here. This implies to me matches only end up on the internet if they're successful? Does the league not put all matches up? Are matches not supposed to be posted but popular matches end up on the internet nevertheless?

There had been a crackdown recently on nepotistic gym appointments, so greater scrutiny was paid to every new gym leader—but in Gen's case this was more a formality. No one wanted the Sunset Mountain gym, or not for long.
Hah, long overdue crack-down, considering canon gym leaders. I like that attention is being paid to this. But the way these sentences are related through me off a little, because no one could point to nepotism in Gen's case, right? She's from a different country.

Even if they pushed the level limit a bit, the long winters tended to be almost devoid of battles, so their strength would decline naturally after the rush of the summer season.
Ooh, interesting. Not a take I've seen too often, but it makes sense. Can't keep up those levels unless you battle.

She could even shut down the gym if she wanted to, the league administrators had said. Porphyry City's steady rains might be preferable to the meters of snow and brutal wind that would turn the old mountain castle icy, and leave her alone in its echoing chambers as the staff departed.

The previous gym leaders always had. But Gen thought of the old clan-leaders who had remained through storm and siege. She had a duty.
Are the old clan-leaders that she's thinking of from Gaiien? I'm curious why she feels she has a duty when she'd pretty much an outsider and past gym leaders have shut the gym down in winter.

Re the first paragraph, maybe, "She could even shut down the gym if she wanted to, the league administrators had said. Porphyry City wasn't exactly pleasant in the winter, but the city's steady rains were nothing compared to the meters of snow and brutal wind that would turn the old mountain castle icy. When the staff departed for the winter season, she would be left alone in the castle's echoing chambers."

or had left to the pokémon center
left for or departed to, I think

Gen sent her a quick thank-you and hopped into the shower.

Well past midnight, Gen disabled the security system on her floor, and she left through a maintenance door into a stairwell.
The transition here was a little abrupt. Even just changing the sentence structure so it's not Gen verbed, Gen verbed, would help with that, I think.

It ended in a cul-de-sac and more doors, and one door she unlocked, following a tunnel that sloped downward to a final door set in a construction partition covered in warning signs.
Think this should be split up a bit. Maybe, "It ended in a cul-de-sac and more doors. She unlocked one, following the tunnel that sloped downward until she reached the final door. It was set in a construction partition and covered in warning signs."

She tossed a dusk ball to the ground, releasing a shiny caligryph in flash of purple light.
Bless you for putting in links to the fakemon. So nice to be able to just click and see what it looks like. And I love the concept of a truth quill and a lie quill.

The bipedal griffin straightened, looked at her sternly. "Don't do this, Gen," he said.

"I know, Albus. But I can't not."

Beyond the door was a vertical tunnel, and on the caligryph's back she floated down, down, down.
Hm. If the pokemon can talk, I want a bit more of a sense of them as characters with autonomy. If Albus doesn't thinks she should do this, why does he take her down anyway?

A part of her mind wondered, as it always did, at her calmness: the equanimity of the sacrifice, drugged, gliding down into the dark.
It's a cool line, but seems a little overwrought considering what actually happens? She's not a sacrifice.

At the bottom was a cave, and in the cave was something enormous: it was midnight blue streaked with silver, the fur ticked to look frosty in the light, and it slithered out to meet her. It was as big as a bus and longer, its many-legged coils falling away into the dark.
Little confused by "fur ticked to look frosty." Not sure how you're using ticked there?

"and it slithered out to meet her" disrupted the flow of the sentence a fair bit. Maybe cut, or use "as"?

From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial, and she spilled the vial on the plate, and with an iron rod she pushed the plate across an invisible line.
The ands seem a little excessive here. I feel like the effect you'd want here is some tension, maybe solemnity/fright, and I don't get that from the repeated and structure. Some extra details could help too--does she focus on these objects and avoid looking at the creature? Or does she watch it as she prepares the plate? Does it watch her?

Like, "From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial. The vial she spilled carefully onto the plate. Not lifting her gaze from the creature that watched her unblinkingly back, she corked the vial and used an iron rod to nudge the plate across the invisible line."

The creature licked at the blood, dragging the plate across the stone. The ceramic screeched as it dragged.
Double drag here. I like the image of its tongue dragging the plate as it licks. Very much not how a domestic animal would lap liquid off a plate, so it really sells the size and monstrousness of the creature.

The creature's eyes were flat black, mirrors at the right angle. It rubbed up against the barrier, groaning, fur mashing against it as if it was a glass window.
Not sure if this is meant to be "eyes were flat black mirrors at the right angle" or separate thoughts "eye were flat and black, and reflected light like mirrors at the right angle."

In the second sentence the three its, not to mention the fact that it stands for both the creature and the barrier, make the sentence a little hard to parse.

Things could pass the shield, but not it, not pokémon.
What about humans? I assume not, but it's weird not to have it listed.

They had no idea how the barrier worked or when it might fail.
Ooh, shivers.

The system was bogged down with certifying alternate gyms while the primary positions were often held by the old clans defending an ancient privilege, or just Third-Crossing families with land and connections. Everyone had the same rights to food, shelter, medical care, education on Gaia, the world of pokémon, but who you knew still mattered.
Yus, inject politics of gym leader positions into my veins.

She came to Gaiien, a wild-west league just barely incorporated, its Third-Crossing cities still growing. People leave Sunset Mountain after six months or less, the league officials had told her; the workers say it's haunted and the local people avoid it and the pokémon too.

The mountain, the mountain, the mountain.
She'd asked the native people, the people of the Second Crossing, with their eyes that shone in the firelight and pokémon that never saw a pokéball. They told her stories about queens and princes, gods that left and gods that stayed, and of demons that stole vitality and granted terrible powers.

Free me.
I like that we get the league take and then the native people take on the mountain.

Dark-types were immune to psychic attack; a newborn could shut out a mind-probe from a master. Sometimes, though, they could learn how to send them.
Ooh, creepy.

Deep under ice, under earth, under stone, it spoke to her, and she gave it blood and sugar and scanned it with her pokédex and deleted the scans before she went back up, before it could sync.
Love the idea of her deleting the scans before she goes back up. Says without saying that what she's doing is illicit and she knows it, but can't stop.

The thing in the cave, its serpentine coils stretching far away into tunnels, sent her blistering commands that she could not follow. She had no idea how to lower the barrier, and neither did it, which was what had saved her.
So if it did, does it have the power to force her to do what it wants?

But a gym leadership was more than a cushy summer position, more than teaching, more than battling. Type specialists had stood as bulwarks against strange and terrible things, once. They still could.

She had a duty.
Strong set of lines here.

Though, I felt like one of the earlier lines implies that she's been obeying its orders? Like, the way she's been feeding it and seems drawn to it don't exactly sound like her prepping to defend against it. Sounds more like she half-wishes she could free it.
 

kyeugh

you gotta feel your lines
Staff
Location
the freaking swamp
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. farfetchd-galar
  2. custom/gfetchd-kyeugh
  3. custom/onion-san
  4. farfetchd
hey! so glad to finally read this. i've tried reading it on ffn before, but ended up failing because, well, reading stuff on ffn really sucks tbh. so i'm really glad it's finally here, and posted incrementally no less! really looking forward to keeping up with it and probably becoming the latest g&d stan in due time.

prologue

the battle at the beginning is fun. i'm not usually super given to battles, but i was hooked by the little snippets of worldbuilding you revealed through your descriptions. in particular i was fascinated by the very stilted, made-for-tv feeling of it—a cheering audience safe behind barriers, the trainers commanding from afar with their snappy one-liners. i will say that the use of fakemon here, particularly ones without art, made the battle a little harder for me to visualize than it might have been otherwise. it was tricky for me to follow the action while i was also continuously updating my mental image of what these pokémon look like.

the conversation with the zweilous/recollection about her teambuilding etc was somewhat interesting but felt a little dragged out given that it ultimately wasn't all that immediately important (and we end up moving off this character after this chapter anyway). some good nuggets in there, but i think it could probably be condensed.

echoing everyone else's view that the subterranean homesick blob is SUPER intriguing. i'm really into this kind of thing and excited to see how it develops. i'm also a big fan of some of the worldbuilding you've done around the mountain. this chunk in particular jumped out at me as super fucking awesome:
The mountain, the mountain, the mountain. She'd asked the native people, the people of the Second Crossing, with their eyes that shone in the firelight and pokémon that never saw a pokéball. They told her stories about queens and princes, gods that left and gods that stayed, and of demons that stole vitality and granted terrible powers.
like, damn, lol. so cool. REALLY excited to really dig into the guts of this world you've built, it sounds like it's way up my alley. your details about the Crossings and the sociopolitical structure of the world—"everyone had the same rights to food, shelter, medical care, education on Gaia, the world of pokémon, but who you knew still mattered"—are great, and i'm excited to learn more. going on what i know of you from chat, i have high expectations, haha.

minor nitpick, but this line jumped out at me as a bit of clunky/run-on:
From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial, and she spilled the vial on the plate, and with an iron rod she pushed the plate across an invisible line.
might've been an aesthetic choice but my eyes kinda tripped reading it, so it didn't really work for me personally.

see what you do is, you write a huge mysterious prologue that has nothing to do with the story for another uhhhhhhhhh 24 chapters, that will hook them
precisely tbh!

chapter 1

i love the way you bring us into moriko's hometown. the description of the boardwalks reminds me a lot of the beach towns around my state, but the cargo ships firmly root the area as colonial/industrial in addition to the touristic vibes of the beach? and i love the way you tie it into the environment itself, with the weather and the humans/wild pokémon in the sea responding to it—it all just feels really cohesive, i got a very strong and specific sense of space and you managed to impart that pretty concisely.

it keeps throwing me for a loop when the pokémon talk, haha. i'm like "ohh cute jester kitty! he wants belly rubs!!!" and then he just says a normal sentence and i'm like oh yeah, lol. not a fault of your writing or anything, i just keep not expecting it. makes me wonder it would be like if my cat could speak, haha.

"I think we can do six badges this summer with time to come back and get everything squared up at the end of August. Four for sure, six probably. The last two of the eight are up north and you want to do those at the beginning of the season anyway in late June, early July, so the window will be well past. I convinced the 'rents that it's all good practice, having a plant-type pokémon is a big deal for forestry engineering."
this is fun, feels both intimately tied into the world but also just like very realistic teenager thoughts, haha. there was a bit of info-dump in the prologue, but you're kicking ass at drawing details out naturally in this chapter. it's a blast to read.

gonna agree with butterfree that moriko's aunt here is a bit cartoonish in this first scene with her—i don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility for someone to act like this, and i've seen it done well before (hate to mention the Liberal Bible but i think uncle vernon/aunt petunia from harry potter do this quite well), but she does indeed feel more like an Agent of Angst than anything else. i don't think it would be gratuitous or too on-the-nose for moriko to privately reflect on how she ended up in this situation, or why rachel is so venomous, rather than just reacting with knee-jerk, in the moment anger (even if that anger is justified).

love the senioritis going on here. the teachers just Giving Up on teaching is hilarious, i'd nearly forgotten what that was like. i suspect the bit about giant pokémon is setup for later goings on, but it manages to be legitimately interesting without overstaying its welcome.
"While exciting and romantic, being a professional pokémon trainer is not a realistic career option, especially for someone who hasn't had formal training since age ten or so."
✋😩👌 that's the lore i like to see tbh.

i'm getting mixed vibes from mrs ellis—she seems very short and harsh, but then goes on to say that she "wants to help" moriko. if she's really trying to be helpful/sympathetic here, the comment about catching a pokémon "with more ambition than you" plus her reaction to the "lovestruck" thing seem a little over the top. maybe she's just Like That but i she was giving me a bit of whiplash.

moriko's confrontation with rachel is explosive, but i can't help but feel something is missing. not that their relationship feels particularly unbelievable or anything, it just seems sort of odd, like... why now? why didn't this come to a head ages ago? why did they take her in at all if they were this hateful and prejudiced all along? it's undoubtedly heartbreaking, and her chat with russ about it afterwards was a punch to the gut, but it feels like there's something missing from their dynamic.

Moriko hid in the guest room for as long as possible, but eventually hunger won out, and Tarahn aggressively flopping onto her on the guest bed.
hm, this sentence reads a little awkward, particularly because of the last clause. maybe "... but eventually hunger won out, and Tarahn flopping onto her on the guest bed helped accelerate the process as well" or something like that? idk, just feels like a bit of a fragment.
Stupid! Stupid! Russ was gay, he would never—well, maybe he—stupid! Stupid! Shut up!
omg. uh oh...
"What a great color! Is it a genehance? Or are you second?"

"Half," Moriko said.
ooh, so are the waves of human colonization on gaia what constitute a race? very interesting.

the ending, with her preparing for graduation and then having her hopes dashed, was really heart-wrenching. i went back and forth while reading about whether it was really a necessary scene, but ultimately i think it's a great send-off—very symbolic of the fact that despite her best efforts, there's nothing left for her there, and she's just going to have to leave that pain behind and look forward. no better place for that than a graduation ceremony. it does a great job at underscoring her feelings about her own identity as well.

overall i think this chapter iterates over the same couple themes a lot—her home life is bad, she doesn't have a satisfactory plan—and while it was fun to read as-is, i think some rearranging could condense the chapter a bit while delivering these ideas just as effectively. that said, i really liked this chapter a lot. you do a great job at establishing what kind of character moriko is, and i'm already rooting for her so hard after just a single chapter spent with her. it's pretty much impossible not to want the absolute best for her. sorry if my tone came off as a little critical here, i genuinely enjoyed this a ton. i'm really excited to see her take on this awesome world you've built, and i'm looking forward to reading more!
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
This was a great chapter--it introduced Moriko, her world, and her problems in a way that felt organic. The world feels very lived in--almost mundane at times--and then boom, you hit us with a tantalizing reference to epic history and danger. I think I may just not be a prologue person, but for me this chapter made a much more compelling introduction to the story and world. Since Moriko's our protagonist, I know the issues being set up here are going to pay off immediately, and not get dropped. A lot of the worldbuilding from the prologue about the different crossings and ancient epic monster pokemon comes through in this chapter anyway.

Moriko feels very fleshed-out, and she's a sympathetic POV. You can see the places she's put up walls, the issues she doesn't want to think about, and her reactions to the abuses of the chapter feel very real. I like her supportive friendship with Russ, but also the way that's bogged down by all these things--the inequality in their personal resources, her unrequited crush. You do a great job depicting him as full of indignation on her behalf and trying so hard, but also how there's places his ability to relate hits a wall.

On the topic of the abuse . . . I do want to echo kintsugi and dragonfree to say that the abusive stepmom did feel cartoonish. It was very Cinderella/Harry Potter early books--and both those are more fable-style stories that don't exactly align with the more realistic tone of this story. That said, I don't think your only option is to tone down the evil aunt. One thing that would have made the family situation feel more realistic to me would have been to not make the sister-cousin evil, just oblivious and self-centered and following mom's lead. The one line we get from her, ["Oh hi, Mori," Angela said, syrupy. "I'm going out with Dave and them, do you want to come? You can't wear that though," she added.] basically feels like mini-evil aunt. I think it would make the family situation a little more 3D if the sister isn't actively malevolent, but that doesn't matter because step-mom poisons everything. Oh yay, time for me to do that thing where I write words to try to show what I mean. Feel free to ignore:

["Oh hi, Mori," Angela said, glancing up from her phone for only a second. "I'm going out with Dave and them. Uh, you can come if you want."

"Not dressed like that, though," Aunt Rachel interjected. It was Moriko's normal outfit; she folded her arms over her shirt and moved toward the fridge, wishing Angela hadn't said anything.

Her step-sister raised her head from her phone and blinked. "Oh, yeah. Not like that, obviously." She looked over to Rachel, who gave a short nod.

"I didn't want to go with you anyway," Moriko muttered under her breath.

Angela's face reddened. "You're always so grumpy. Don't know why I even bothered to ask."

The door slammed behind her.

"That was rude, Moriko," Aunt Rachel chided her. "And don't make me tell you to do the dishes."]

Something like this could also help explain Moriko's "I taint everything" feeling with Russ' family, if her own family situation contains these occasional good faith gestures that then get used by Rachel as a way to prove that Moriko is The Worst.

aa45135d964617415f5db9b91a7e7f34.gif


Another place I thought could have some potential expansion of her relationship with the family is the question of how they learn Moriko wants to go off on a journey. If Moriko and Angela have an all-right-ish relationship enough that Moriko let it slip to her, that could give the revelation an extra twinge of betrayal.

Line-by-line comments and reactions:

High School Does End
Lies.

Moriko's bike picked up speed as she hit the incline, the road switchbacking down toward the beaches and the boardwalks. The wind took away some of the mugginess; it was a hot, humid day, and it would only get worse.
Strong opener here. I get a sense of place and movement and that "only get worse" line sure feels like it's talking about more than the weather.

In the harbour the big ships from Kanto and Hoenn were coming in with the tide, ready to offload finished goods like packaged food, clothes, and electronics, before being loaded back up with raw materials from Gaiien: barrels of oil, pallets of timber, ores and minerals.
Ooh some insight into the economies at work here. I like the contrast between Kanto/Hoenn selling the finished goods and Gaiien exporting raw materials. Minor line edit, I don't think you actually have to say "finished goods" the contrast is clear from the items listed, so "In the harbour the big ships from Kanto and Hoenn were coming in with the tide, ready to offload packaged food, clothes, and electronics, before being loaded back up with raw materials from Gaiien: barrels of oil, pallets of timber, ores and minerals."

Moriko woke her pokédex, its interface glowing above the device strapped to her wrist. "Weather forecast, Port Littoral," she said. Thunderstorms, it said, the symbol flashing a little lightning bolt. She sighed, cheeks puffing, and noting the time, pedaled faster.
It's a mundane moment, but done so nicely. "woke her pokedex" is great verb choice and feels almost ominous. I like all these indicators of the coming totally not figurative storm.

A mystic in frayed red robes and layered prayer beads under one of the sprawling beach willows examined pokémon and made proclamations about their potential and need for further training, while their trainers left donations of food or old clothing.
Yes! This absolutely checks out. I love when people come up with clever in-world explanations for silly game mechanics.

Kids often wanted the premade bars in the shape of cartoon animals or pokémon that melted grotesquely, the colors running and gumball eyes dropping out. It was busy, not too much time to socialize, which she preferred. A blur of people went by, their bright beachwear unfocused in her memory.
Again, this mundane moment is livened by the description, and sets Moriko's mood. Especially like the line about "bright beachwear unfocused in her memory."

Eventually the crowd thinned, the sun sinking, and she and the other servers moved to tidy up, washing scoops and emptying containers. The manager, Chiyo, did inventory and sent them to bring in flavors from the deep freeze to soften for tomorrow in the regular freezer.

The beach emptied as the sky darkened and then clouded, and they closed early at the first few flashes of lightning. The thunder muttered in its wake and wind stirred the sand; the surf was heavier and lights glittered out in the waves, probably marqueel and lanturn up from the reefs.

Moriko went to unlock her bike and Tarahn was there, fawning for attention from the other servers. The raigar's bells tinkled gently as he rolled onto his back, inviting tummy rubs, and he rubbed his cheeks against their hands.
Just a quick prose note: every sentence here is an and-construction. Maybe keep an eye on that and vary up sentence structure a bit.

The thunder muttered in its wake and wind stirred the sand; the surf was heavier and lights glittered out in the waves, probably marqueel and lanturn up from the reefs.
I'm just such a sucker for that rising storm vibe and you're nailing it.

"Oh no, a fierce pokémon appears," Moriko said dryly.
Ahaha, great first line.

The raigar imitated an angry human, shaking a paw in censure. "Moriko! I've never chased a pidove in my life. That is libel!"

"Slander."

"No, you!" Tarahn had a bright pink, rhinestoned collar on to make him look less wild, but he'd gotten in trouble for battling without a trainer before.
Huh, pokemon talk but aren't allowed autonomy. Interested to see where that goes.

Thunder rumbled in the east, and they all hurried to get on their bikes. Moriko sped off toward the slope; the incline was a workout without getting caught in the rain, and Tarahn trotted beside her, bells jangling and his yellow-and-purple motley fur glowing under the streetlights.
For example, re and-constructions, think this would flow better as, "Moriko sped off toward the slope; the incline was a workout without getting caught in the rain. Tarahn trotted beside her, bells jangling and his yellow-and-purple motley fur glowing under the streetlights."

They reached the house as the rain came, fat warm drops bursting on the pavement and splashing Moriko's legs with road dust. Tarahn leaped ten feet from a standing start onto the overhang and then the roof, little tracers of electricity glowing on him as he took power from the storm. He laughed, tail lashing and bells jangling discordantly, shooting blue-and-yellow Thunderbolts harmlessly into the air. Moriko watched from the veranda for a while, as the lazy lightning bolts crackled from cloud to cloud and the rain haloed all the lights in the street.

She looked carefully in the windows before she went inside, racing up the stairs so as not to attract a conversation.
This paragraph was a delight to read. The gorgeous thunder storm scene and play between Moriko and Tarahn then deflates so quickly into stomach-tension when Moriko has to go inside.

Russell chuckled through the computer speakers.
Half wanted something here about how the computer speakers modify his voice.

"It was 'absolutely not' and then 'no, consider your education' and then 'I don't think it's a good idea' and then the dreaded 'it's your choice'. But now they're telling me horror stories about kids who have gotten hurt, and buying me equipment, and telling me about how half the stuff that the trainers do in movies is extremely illegal…"

"Oh yeah, like in Kanto Quest, they stow away on the freight train and it's wistful and adventuresome rather than an accident waiting to happen."

"Honestly I'm not even sure if I would get on a train anymore, lairon and magneton are always just straight up eating the steel rails and stuff."

"It won't interfere with going to university though?" Moriko asked, resuming their earlier topic.
Their dialogue here is great, flows really naturally and you can feel their closeness. Particularly like how Moriko jumps back to the earlier topic--I feel like conversations with good friends are often like that 'serious subject-pizza tangent-back to main subject.'

"Are you going to grad?"
This threw me for a few seconds--I thought, "grad school??"

"Can't afford the salon, I'd rather spend that yen on more pokéballs or food."

"Oh, well, if it's money, my mom might—"

"I really couldn't."

"Think about it!"

"Sure," she said, shutting down the topic.
Liked this exchange a lot too. I get the sense they've had similar conversations before.

"Oh hi, Mori," Angela said, syrupy. "I'm going out with Dave and them, do you want to come? You can't wear that though," she added.

It was Moriko's normal outfit; she folded her arms over her shirt and moved toward the fridge.
My way long response to this is already above, but I guess I'll just reiterate that this one-two of evil sister evil aunt really felt like it was hitting me over the head with teh evil familyz.

A hot prickle of anger ran up her spine at that, but she needed her allowance, needed it to get out of this stifling house for a few precious months. She finished the dishes and hauled out the waste to the curb for pickup. She stood outside for a while, listening to the patter of the rain on her rain coat and on the bushes in the garden, and breathing the cool air.
This really worked for me though. Seeing her tamp down her anger in this section makes the part where it busts out take on more weight.

She started to pack her lunch, grateful for the empty kitchen, when Rachel reappeared, pissed off about something and showing it by slamming the door to her office. She started tidying the still-wet dishes, throwing them into the cupboards with maximum clatter. Moriko was already throwing things into her bag, desperate to leave the room, but her aunt swooped over, snatching a bag of chips out of Moriko's hands.

"None of those, you're getting fat," her aunt said, and actually pinched her on the arm. "Look at you! In my house, gorging on my food, spending my money—"

Moriko fled into her room, the tirade following her up the stairs, gaining momentum; doors slammed and angry steps sounded on the stairs. Moriko put a chair under the door handle, but Rachel went by this time.

"What the fuck," she said, muffled by a pillow. "What the fuck."
This sequence worked for me too. It's the way Aunt Rachel appears almost like a hurricane, a force that can't be accounted for, and Moriko is just reacting.

"I could break something, scratch something?" he suggested, mischievous.

"That would be satisfying," Moriko said, wiping her eyes.

She thought about taking scissors to the hated plastic-covered guest couches, but that would be too obvious, too escalating. A prank, like letting a street pokémon run around the house with muddy paws, was easier to pass off as an accident. She could give them an apple or a lemonade for it.
So I'm very curious about this. It seems like a huge way the aunt could have power over her would be the pokemon. I'm kind of surprised there haven't been threats to put Moriko's pokemon up for adoption when it misbehaves, or anything of that nature? Since Tarahn is one of Moriko's few friends, that would be horribly cruel and so feels in-character for evil aunt. I would kind of expect Moriko to be freaked out about Tarahn doing anything that could get him booted.

Gods, she'd love to summon an electrode right in the living room when no one was home and watch the matchsticked place fall to earth from a safe distance. It would be mean to her uncle, though, who she rarely saw not on his computer, his face pale blue from the screen's light in the dim room.
The mental image of the electrode explosion is pretty stunning.

The uncle exposition comes a little too rapidly here. I don't really understand how the uncle fits in from this.

After a while, Moriko sighed and dabbed at her face with a tissue. She took stock of her belongings: her pokémon training stuff was hidden at Russell's house after a previous blowup, but there were a few more things she should probably hide.
Oof.

History was taught by Prof. Hawthorn II, a retired professor, and he gave a presentation on giant pokémon, repeating the information they'd had drilled into their heads since kindergarten: obey pokémon rangers and police; stay with pokémon with shield techniques; keep your pokédex or phone charged.
Eh, clearly won't be relevant to this story.

Slides of historic photos flicked past: the kaiju ho-oh torching old Saffron Town; Hyper Beams crisscrossing in a distant nighttime exposure as a giant gyarados and its cohorts levelled Sevii 0 Island; an aerial photograph of the poison swirling in Vermillion Bay after a giant tentacruel attack.
oooh yesss

"A giant pokémon destroyed the Second Crossing's technology and sent half of the survivors fleeing back to Terra. Only with the help of their descendants were those who made the Third Crossing able—" Hawthorn paused, turning toward the message his computer had projected at him and squinting at it briefly.
Haha I see you cutting off extremely relevant information to control the flow of exposition. I'm good with the way the exposition's been integrated so far. I feel like I'm in good hands.

She was directed to the back through a series of faintly antiseptic-smelling hallways.
Antiseptic gives me hospital vibe more than high school. High school kind of . . . smells more, I feel like? And is cleaned less.

"While exciting and romantic, being a professional pokémon trainer is not a realistic career option, especially for someone who hasn't had formal training since age ten or so."
I always love when pokemon training as a profession is the equivalent of "I want to be a professional basketball player." Everyone plays basketball; basically no one is going to make it professionally.

She looked impressed at what she was seeing. "He gets the luxury of a lackadaisical summer. What are you going to do in the fall?"
So, the guidance counselor feels a bit cartoonish and unrealistic to me. I feel like the narration is doing the everyone is out to get Moriko thing a little too hard. It's hard to see a professional casually looking up another student's stats/plans and using them to shame the first student?

Maybe you'll catch a water-type with more ambition than you."
This also feels very, um, not professional, and I'm not sure why we need it. This conversation can be sucky for Moriko without the counselor being a completely unprofessional dick.

"Look," Mrs. Ellis said finally, "I remember what it was like, being a teenager, being lovestruck—"

"That's not—"

"Oh of course it's not!" she threw up her hands in a cascade of bangles. "Whatever, whatever the situation is
This too. It's so dramatic. She's seeing an endless train of kids, why's she so invested in Moriko's crush?

"My aunt—" Moriko shut her mouth, the words tangling up; there was no way to describe it, everything sounded too dramatic, too much, the truth surely not deserving those maudlin terms. "They're not… that helpful."
Excellent. Love how you capture that feeling of just not being able to take this terrible experience and make it words you can say because, how can you say it?

"Is that everything?" Moriko said, suddenly exhausted by her questioning.
Think this would read stronger as, ["Is that everything?" Moriko said, suddenly exhausted.]

"He was born during the Crossing War and told us about some of his memories, like the first fossil pokémon being created and the first mewtwo. He managed to participate in the Indigo League when it was basically a war between the triads and the old clan-masters. What did the counselor have to say?"
Yup, clearly we missed all the good shit. Thank you gods of exposition metering.

"He's somewhere."

It was cruel to just keep him in the ball all day.

"Mor…"

"What, what are they going to do?"

Russell shrugged. "What are they going to do?"
What are they going to do?? The regulations of this world have been so fleshed out, but the regulations on pokemon running around like this seem like kind of a gap. Is this a potential problem or isn't it?

Kaz, ever cowardly, slunk away his office, jamming his headphones onto his head.
Um, who is Kaz?

"You think you can make it in this league? It's for trainers who have been working since they were ten, trainers with eight badges from a different region already. Don't waste the time."

"I've been training—"

"Two pokémon and the first gym is a ground-type gym, good luck. Get your shit together, Moriko." Her aunt sighed. "I'm sorry you're doing this. Look, just keep working for the summer, and practice with your pokémon to get into a technical school. There are plenty of jobs that need a fire- or electric-type—"

"Good, then traveling through the league will be good practice!"

"It's a totally different skill set—"

"Stop—this is—I have a plan! I have a budget! This is what I'm doing this summer! I'm taking an absence from the ice cream place—"

"You're already replaced. Idiot. I had to beg Chiyo to give you that job."

Moriko sputtered. "No—you—I got that job! You didn't even know—"

"You owe us!"
So this back-and-forth confused me a bit. If the aunt dislikes Moriko so much, why is she opposed to Moriko going off on a journey? Is she worried that Moriko won't get a job and will somehow bum off their family for eternity? Aunt seems chilly-hearted enough to say "you're of age, go away" if that happened, though. And I'm also confused by the aunt saying "keep working this summer" and "you've already been replaced"?

"You walk out, you go—"

"You're fucking right I am!" Moriko went up the stairs, calculating what she would grab. Enough of this.
Damn right. I like you you show this reaching fever pitch.

"If only Kaz's brother had married a human being—"

The rage filling her to her fingertips, Moriko seized and hurled a chair down the stairwell to the empty landing. "Don't talk about them! Don't you fucking—"

"An animal living in my house, sneaking around with boys, useless—"
Oh my.

"You stupid—your parents—you're going to stay in this house and stop wasting time and money—" Rachel seized her by the arm, and Moriko fought to break her surprisingly strong grip.
Again, if the aunt is so opposed to Moriko staying with them eating their food or whatever bullshit, why fight Moriko going off on a journey so hard?

He wasn't a tournament pokémon whose special attacks could hurt humans, but it was the look of the thing, Moriko thought dazedly.
Sneaky getting the worldbuilding in during such a climactic moment. And this makes sense. If Moriko had a murder beast Aunt would probably be dead at this point.

"How bad was it?" Russell finally asked.

"It was really bad. Surprisingly bad," she said, bemused, floating. Her cheek hurt now; her aunt had caught her along the cheekbone and eye orbit.
You capture the after-shock of this really well.

"We've detected some unusual activity on your account, did you intend to move the entire balance of your account this morning?"

Moriko went cold, her stomach dropping and turning hard and sick.

She thought of her uncle pecking away on his own computer. He was always on it.

The bank had stopped the transfer, but it took a trip there in person to sort out and open a new account. One her aunt and uncle didn’t know about.
Well, I really like the horror of guardians messing with you through your finances. The logistics, though . . . either Moriko has a shared account with them or she doesn't right? If she does, then they're allowed to move the money and the bank wouldn't be calling up, because either name on the account can do it. If they aren't on her account and they used her passwords or something . . . seems like saying 'I did not authorize, here change my passwords' would be enough.

"Yeah. Yeah. It's fine now. I should have—I should have…taken it? Destroyed it? I didn't think—" She slumped onto a chair in the kitchen.

"Who? Rachel? Kaz?" Russ frowned, color coming into his pale face. "Moriko—this is—Moriko, that's a crime. That's theft. Let's call—are you—are you going to make a police report?"

Russ was angry, he was actually angry, and her blankness turned into a swirl of dread and embarrassment. "No—no—it's all fixed—let's just—" Her vision went blurry, eyes leaking treacherously. "I can't—"
Yeah so if they weren't on the account, he's right, but yeah I'm a little confused this. I really like how Russ is all righteously "let's sic it to the bastards" and Moriko is like "overload, cannot process, let's just nothing."

"No," she said. "No, I don't want—what would even happen—I just want to go on the journey, and they'll want to," she faltered, "if there's a, a trial?—I'll have to stay here, and I just, I cannot—"
Poor baby.

Russ's mom wouldn't hear of the peanut butter sandwich Moriko had intended to make, and instead plied her with bars and cookies, heated up lasagna with actual meat, and shoved cut vegetables and hummus in front of her at the table. Moriko's eyes prickled treacherously, and she ate, face downcast, as Julie kept up utterly pleasant conversation.

She was tall, like Russ, and had merely titian hair where his was a crimson genehance, but something about her eyes, her smile, was the same as Russ's.

Moriko had fantasized that Julie Katsev-Scott had adopted her, more than once, though that would make it weird that—never mind—and anyway...
Aww, this is real poignant because it's all these things Moriko wants but can't have--loving parent, Russ.

Deep down, Moriko knew, that Russ and Russ's mom were just being polite. They were just better at keeping up the facade than her aunt and uncle. All families were 'like that', or would become so, if she was in them. She was tainting Russ's house by being here.
I think I need to see a little more buildup to this or how the family's cultivated that sense in her, because thus far Moriko has seemed pretty assured on the front that she's not the problem in her household.

Russ wasn't—there was no reason he'd want to see her at grad. They were friends, and he'd be looking at the other guys at grad, dressed up. She racked her brain if it was something he was keeping secret from his parents, and she couldn't remember, so she kept quiet.
It's sweet how she's being so considerate of Russ here even during peak distress.

She imagined striding into the hall boldly, doors crashing open and music rising in a crescendo as she appeared, everyone's attention on her.

She snuck in through the kitchen.
Ahaha, relatable.

What am I doing here? Moriko thought, and some of the numbness fell off at last, and she crushed her plastic party cup in her hands. I am trying, she thought, furious. I am trying so hard. This was supposed to be it. This was supposed to work. Why isn't it working?

You're not real,
she thought. You're not real and they can smell it on you. They know. They have always known.

She slipped outside between songs.

What is real, then?

Pokémon. Battling. The road.


The night air was cool and bracing, washing away the shut-in closeness of the hall, and when she breathed it in it felt like medicine.
I really appreciate you including this story beat. I think a lot of fics would have gone from storming out of home straight to decision to become a trainer. But you give Moriko this beat of really really trying to make it work, to have a life here that's tolerable, and she feels she can't.

"No one wanted to dance with you? I can, if you want," Tarahn said. "It's like this, right?" He stood up on his hind legs and put one paw on her shoulder, then swayed a little, his tail whipping around to keep his balance. "See? Human dancing."

A smile cracked onto her face, despite herself, despite everything.
So sweet!!

"Shoes don't make sense!"
I blinked at the screen for a solid thirty seconds here. This cuts off real abruptly? Maybe end on a few more lines of her dancing with Tarahn, trying not to think about anything except the moment.

Chapter 1 Poll: Which of the Gaiien starters do you pick?
Seakitt, obviously. It's an otter cat. I mean. Need I say more??
 

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
@kintsugi thank you so much for your reviews orz

I feel like I'm probably stepping directly on someone else's toes, but to me "of poison and acid" feels unnecessarily redundant -- I imagine the dichotomy between a poisonous and an acidic attack is visually hard to parse, and the main sensory aspect in this scene was visual.

I like your analysis here a lot, FWIW generally you can tell the type of an attack in my setting because it tends to turn into color-coded energy on some level. I also have a handful of fake types including Acid, so fortunately or unfortunately this flowery imagery just means "they shot each other with purple and green shit" :V lol

I find myself wishing that the repetition was a bit more direct? Either "an attack that doesn't hit" or "a missed attack" earlier -- usually when you're smugly mocking people you don't go through the effort of rephrasing their words, I feel?

I, fuck, I meant to directly repeat here :V lol

My general takeaways were sort of "raised eyebrows?? but interested???"

Yassssss good, goooooood

it went a long way towards making the events of the story feel real.

thank you!!!! I struggle to balance the details at times because I do think they add verisimilitude and are something I look for and enjoy in others' work, but there are a few sequences I've typed up already going "lmao this needs to be cut down"

looking forward to seeing what happened 128 years ago tbh

>:3c

"she sighed, cheeks puffing, and —noting the time—pedaled faster"?

I like it, fuck yeah em dashes

I like how much care you put into each of the fakemon

Thank youuuuuu I'm not 100% happy with every one of my fakemon but in all of them I try to make them something cool/appealing to me at the very least, even if sometimes the concept has been scooped already (or more than once, oof) by the canon or other, better fakemon artists lol

I noticed a lot of comma splices, but only in dialogue bits -- it sort of emulates spoken word, so I understand why it's there, but I did notice it a lot. Not sure if it was intentional or not.

Comma splices and not putting a comma before a coordinating conjunction are some of my bad habits because of the headlong and run-on way I formulate thoughts lol so I appreciate them being pointed out. In dialogue I let/may let comma splices stand because that's just how I want the dialogue to sound; only a few of my characters would actually have a semicolon in dialogue :V and making it a full stop changes the sound of what they're saying enough that it depends on the character's voice, if that makes sense.

I liked the nod to the meta here! For me it makes a lot of sense that you * could * start training young, but it's expensive and also a huge potshot to do so -- sort of like declaring you'll become a pro sports player when you're 10. It's a decision that comes with consequences. I liked how you set up this conflict throughout the first chapter.

Yeah pokemon training is nice compared to pro sports IRL because your window of age for being a pro isn't so small, and in fact arguably you and your pokemon might only get better with age until your stamina/reaction time/etc. actually plummet. But the I'm Going To Be A Professional Tournament Battler As My Career Goal is on the order of "I'm gonna join the NBA" unrealistic. And there are actually many other careers that use pokemon in good, fulfilling, and publicly responsible ways that aren't so Red Queen's Race-y and Min-Max-y... (points down the road about 100-200k words) lol

Once we learn that her aunt is racist and physically/emotionally abusive, I feel like that ends up detracting from the conflict posed earlier -- there's no more nuance, and of course the aunt is wrong, so Moriko is justified to do whatever she can to stick it to the shitty aunt.

I appreciate your temperature check here a lot; when I wrote these chapters I was deep in /r/RaisedByNarcissists and /r/LegalAdvice, and so the stuff Moriko's aunt and uncle do is enraging and awful but also kind of a lukewarm on the (arguably might be /r/CreativeWriting by another name) RBN scale. :V lol I'm not sure if I'll make any changes here, but I guess FWIW the social and societal issues will keep coming but tend to be more subtle in this guy and the sequels.

my heart. kids not knowing about finance. being fucked over for it. having to fix it. I know I literally just typed that her relatives are TOO EVIL (TM), but this hit a certain vibe for me, haha. I really liked the imagery of her uncle pecking at the computer btw.

This was one thing I wanted to explore a bit in my worldbuilding, which is why I do kinda dwell on it in this chapter-- how do you control kids if they have all these super powered monsters? And I think the answer is the usual ways-- not driving them so far that they realize that actually they can defy social customs (until you do, oops), financial control, emotional control, etc. I remember on the original Gods and Demons like *mumble* years ago someone asked "if it's so bad why doesn't Moriko leave" and like, absolutely fair question, but I think it does take a lot to work up to that level of defiance as a kid who just wants to be comfortable and taken care of, even in a society where kids leaving home to train monsters in the woods alone is a thing (not as much of A Thing as 10 year old Ash mcfucking just going out there, see next couple chapters).

But as you do get older you get the insight and independence to go, "wait, what the fuck", viz. all the discussions my siblings and I have had about our collective terror of gradeschool teachers and "getting in trouble" but then as adults we came to realize that actually the system of permitting and not permitting bathroom visits was kinda draconian and insane, for instance, lol

Anyway that's a lot to say "why did it take 9k words for your OC to leave home Keleri" SHE'S GOING, OKAY lol

what a CUTIE
>:3c babey
 

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
Thank you so much @Dragonfree !!

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the prologue at the start - well-done battle but I didn't really get a lot out of it and probably could've done without it, interesting worldbuilding hints but kind of infodumpy - ... we're going to go this entire journey knowing this thing is below the seventh gym, and each gym will be bringing us closer to it. Oh man. I dig it.

Thank youuuuuuu, I fuss over these first couple chapters a lot because AM I!!!! HOOKING THE READER!!!!! but I think ultimately it may be a good representation of what the rest of the story will be like, infodumpy bits and all :V lol

Chapter one I thought kicked off a little slowly too - I'm not sure we really needed to hear about Moriko's ice cream job, and although the exchange with Tarahn in the first scene was cute I think you could probably cut that scene entirely without losing much?
Negrek mentioned this as well, and I do think you guys are right, although I think there's a merit in the "mu"/nothingness/ordinariness of the moment between the "what the fuck is that thing" in the prologue and how things escalate in this chapter. Definitely a potential "kill your darling" situation though :V

Her shitty abusive home situation is one thing, but the way that it's messed with her head and how you portray that through her POV is just heartbreaking - she needs this journey, to get away, and I'm rooting so hard for her to just get out of there and never return. Also Russell is pure and good and so is Tarahn and they are friends.

YASSSSS CRY FOREVER

More intriguing worldbuilding, too! What I'm gathering so far is that the Second and Third Crossings (and presumably a First) are events where people from Terra (i.e. "our" Earth) have crossed over to the Pokémon world? (Which hilariously reminds me of TQftL, but that's another story.) The Third Crossing happened with help from the descendants of the Second Crossing refugees who returned to Terra, but presuuuumably Second Crossing humans like Moriko's mom are the descendants who've been there the whole time between crossings? And obviously they are noticeably different from the Third Crossing humans who came from Terra much later, and are a minority that's otherized and looked down on (so pretty analogous to various native populations on Earth?).
You got it!!! (also tell me of the TQFTL history >:3c) I drop bits and pieces of info through the story with some more details in an interlude chapter, and the Second/Third divide becomes more important in the sequel.

it's just got kind of a cartoony feel, like one of those over-the-top "look at how MEAN and UNFAIR everyone is to my OC!!" openings.
lol oh nooooooo, like I said above to kintsugi, I appreciate these comments because the stuff I have happen to Moriko is intended to be annoying and maddening but not over-the-top. Bad and unfair but not out of any particular malice so much as just "this kid is being dumb, just do the thing" (same with the school counselor).

I think you're missing a word in here?

Yes I did, thank you :V lol

Hmm, how does this work? If they recognize her as the owner of the account, and the transfer as possibly illegitimate and contact her about it, surely she can just tell them "No, I did not make that transfer, someone's gotten ahold of my PIN/password, please reset them"? I'm not sure how a whole new account can be necessary here.

Some dialogue I deleted here made this clearer actually :V lol Basically from an electronic point of view, the above would be enough, but having your bank account hacked IRL often involves more social engineering than clackety-clack *hacker voice* I'm in expertise, especially when it's a parent/guardian getting access to a child's account. In my setting you'd fucken hope there would be more knowledge and protection against scams like this, but Gaiien is actually a bit of a small place and those types of personal relationships are what allow abusive parents/guardians to fuck with their kids' money and credit. :V Moriko should actually move everything to a completely new bank, is what they would tell you to do on reddit basically.

This doesn't quite parse very easily, I think - I assumed you meant "flopped" until I squinted at this again and realized this could make sense if parsed as if [hunger] and [Tarahn aggressively flopping onto her on the guest bed] are two things that won out. I'm still not 100% sure if that's what you were going for (wouldn't Tarahn flopping onto her keep her in the guest room, instead of stopping her from hiding?).

Ohhhh I see your confusion, I think I can express this differently. My cat flops onto my body while I'm laying abed to get me to get up finally. :3

Anyway I'm invested, please help Moriko and wrap her in a blanket from me and give her cocoa
Moriko has a good day 2020
 

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
VERY much appreciate your line-by-line comments @Pen orz

Something about this paragraph trips me up a bit and I'm trying to put my finger on it. Part of it is a certain repetition of the sentence structure. Each sentence has [verbed and verbed] in it and there's a lot of clauses piled up on one another with commas. The overall impression I get is less of intense action and more of a kind of list.
I am guilty of setting up certain rhythms of description depending on the scene, so I appreciate hearing that it just felt repetitive for you here, lol :V The hope was that it would have a certain poetic quality.

I was a bit confused by the terminology of "guests" though. I would understand fans queuing after a match, but I'm not sure what it means for her to have guests.
That's a good question, I think I would think of it as a certain pretentiousness from Nocturna xD She doesn't have fans, she has guests that were invited by the league to watch her match in person at her former medieval fortress

Was also kind of confused with the setting. She closes the door on her guests and steps into a stone tunnel?
Also a good question, I think I was thinking a delineation between the public areas of the gym/fortress and the ones purely for function, like stepping from offices into a bare concrete stairwell.

Little bit confused with the worldbuilding here. This implies to me matches only end up on the internet if they're successful? Does the league not put all matches up? Are matches not supposed to be posted but popular matches end up on the internet nevertheless?
Oooh I like all the possibilities here lol, I think what I was going for was the first one, the league would only post its own recording if the match (i.e. Nocturna) made them look good/provided an appropriate performance.

Hah, long overdue crack-down, considering canon gym leaders. I like that attention is being paid to this. But the way these sentences are related through me off a little, because no one could point to nepotism in Gen's case, right? She's from a different country.
She might have other connections since I'm sure pokemon battling/type specialization turns into one of those weirdly small worlds, but because of the nepotism resulting in poorly-skilled leaders, now every leader is scrutinized and evaluated/should always have been/etc.

Are the old clan-leaders that she's thinking of from Gaiien? I'm curious why she feels she has a duty when she'd pretty much an outsider and past gym leaders have shut the gym down in winter.
Nocturna is a history fan and an overachiever xD, so she's giving herself responsibilities even beyond those of the modern gym leader... and also justifying to herself why she didn't run screaming from the thing in the basement

It's a cool line, but seems a little overwrought considering what actually happens? She's not a sacrifice.
>:3c

Little confused by "fur ticked to look frosty." Not sure how you're using ticked there?
Ohhhh I'm thinking of the domestic cat coat color where each hair is "ticked"/striped such that it seems to produce an outline of a different color. The "abyssinian" breed has this type of coat.

Like, "From her pockets she produced a plate and a vial. The vial she spilled carefully onto the plate. Not lifting her gaze from the creature that watched her unblinkingly back, she corked the vial and used an iron rod to nudge the plate across the invisible line."

Double drag here.
Thanks so much for the line-by-line here, I see some things I want to change. xD

Though, I felt like one of the earlier lines implies that she's been obeying its orders? Like, the way she's been feeding it and seems drawn to it don't exactly sound like her prepping to defend against it. Sounds more like she half-wishes she could free it.
>:3c

Thanks so much @qva and I hope you like it!!!
i don't think it would be gratuitous or too on-the-nose for moriko to privately reflect on how she ended up in this situation, or why rachel is so venomous, rather than just reacting with knee-jerk, in the moment anger (even if that anger is justified).
like I said up above, I really appreciate y'all's thoughts on these scenes. some of the WTF is Moriko's home life details get sprinkled in in later chapters but it might be worth revisiting to diffuse the EVERYONE IS MEAN TO MY OC odor in favor of more humanizing detail/context.

i'm getting mixed vibes from mrs ellis—she seems very short and harsh, but then goes on to say that she "wants to help" moriko. if she's really trying to be helpful/sympathetic here, the comment about catching a pokémon "with more ambition than you" plus her reaction to the "lovestruck" thing seem a little over the top. maybe she's just Like That but i she was giving me a bit of whiplash.
Mrs. Ellis I have trouble balancing and she might need another pass-- she's Right about realistic career choices and she's a fucken dick and she's a symbol of rushing young adults to make Big Life Choices they actually shouldn't yet and she's the system failing Moriko because Moriko fell into a hole of not being poor enough and not acting out enough to be noticed by social services, which is all a lot to put onto one short interaction that just reads as Someone Else Being A Dick To My OC, lol

moriko's confrontation with rachel is explosive, but i can't help but feel something is missing. not that their relationship feels particularly unbelievable or anything, it just seems sort of odd, like... why now? why didn't this come to a head ages ago? why did they take her in at all if they were this hateful and prejudiced all along? it's undoubtedly heartbreaking, and her chat with russ about it afterwards was a punch to the gut, but it feels like there's something missing from their dynamic.
That's a very fair question; part of it is the narcissist extinction burst: they love the control and will constantly berate you and threaten to abandon you while you're there, but as soon as you do finally leave their clutches all of a sudden it's you can't leave, I'll kill myself if you leave, I'll kill you if you leave, etc. whew

ooh, so are the waves of human colonization on gaia what constitute a race? very interesting.
Yassssssss, not to say that plain old racism doesn't exist anymore, but ideally it lost a lot of its systemic punch in the "reset" of people coming to a new dimension and giving up their Terran wealth and power. But because of space-time fuckery, the people who made the jump earlier are now Different...

the ending, with her preparing for graduation and then having her hopes dashed, was really heart-wrenching. i went back and forth while reading about whether it was really a necessary scene, but ultimately i think it's a great send-off—very symbolic of the fact that despite her best efforts, there's nothing left for her there, and she's just going to have to leave that pain behind and look forward. no better place for that than a graduation ceremony. it does a great job at underscoring her feelings about her own identity as well.
Thank you!! To some extent I think I cling to the suckiness of this chapter because it explains why Moriko doesn't turn around, despite what happens later >:3c

overall i think this chapter iterates over the same couple themes a lot—her home life is bad, she doesn't have a satisfactory plan—and while it was fun to read as-is, i think some rearranging could condense the chapter a bit while delivering these ideas just as effectively. ... sorry if my tone came off as a little critical here, i genuinely enjoyed this a ton.

Thank YOU for your comments, I really appreciate the critical read and suspect that I do belabor the point a bit especially when I'm trying to hook readers but force them to sit through several K of boring human drams before we really approach it, lol.
 

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
Something like this could also help explain Moriko's "I taint everything" feeling with Russ' family, if her own family situation contains these occasional good faith gestures that then get used by Rachel as a way to prove that Moriko is The Worst.
Oooh I like this suggestion a lot!!! Like I mentioned upthread, I appreciate you guys giving feedback on the potential cartoony/Dursley aspects of the emotional abuse.

This threw me for a few seconds--I thought, "grad school??"
Ohhhhhh interesting, "grad" instead of "graduation"/"prom" might be a western Canadian-ism on my part xD

So I'm very curious about this. It seems like a huge way the aunt could have power over her would be the pokemon. I'm kind of surprised there haven't been threats to put Moriko's pokemon up for adoption when it misbehaves, or anything of that nature? Since Tarahn is one of Moriko's few friends, that would be horribly cruel and so feels in-character for evil aunt. I would kind of expect Moriko to be freaked out about Tarahn doing anything that could get him booted.
This is a great point!!! In my setting, for all its faults, the system really is set up to try to ensure that pokemon have all the agency in moving from trainer to trainer or staying with their favorite (& can commonly leave their pokeballs etc). But that isn't to say that an abusive parent/guardian wouldn't try to force the kid to make their pokemon leave or make up a reason why it can't be around anymore. I suspect Moriko and Tarahn are defying unstated "no pokemon out of the ball in the house" rules in this chapter :V Oh no I'm sad now

Antiseptic gives me hospital vibe more than high school. High school kind of . . . smells more, I feel like? And is cleaned less.
This is a good correction although I don't know what I'd call the smell I'm thinking of... that cheap, pink cleaning fluid that seemed to be always around, lol

So, the guidance counselor feels a bit cartoonish and unrealistic to me. I feel like the narration is doing the everyone is out to get Moriko thing a little too hard. It's hard to see a professional casually looking up another student's stats/plans and using them to shame the first student?
Like I said to qva up above, I appreciate the temperature check on the guidance counselor, although I am starting to wonder how suck-ass my school's counselors were, super suck-ass apparently lol

What are they going to do?? The regulations of this world have been so fleshed out, but the regulations on pokemon running around like this seem like kind of a gap. Is this a potential problem or isn't it?
Ohhhhh this bit is actually "Russ: Moriko, do you have your 100-pound tiger on hand to protect you against your aunt?" and Moriko going "no, why do I need a tiger to protect me from my aunt?" :V

Um, who is Kaz?

Oop, that's the uncle

So this back-and-forth confused me a bit. If the aunt dislikes Moriko so much, why is she opposed to Moriko going off on a journey? Is she worried that Moriko won't get a job and will somehow bum off their family for eternity? Aunt seems chilly-hearted enough to say "you're of age, go away" if that happened, though. And I'm also confused by the aunt saying "keep working this summer" and "you've already been replaced"?
Very fair question, like I said to qva it's the narcissist extinction burst in all its self-contradictory glory :V lol

Thanks so much again @Pen , you've given me a ton of good stuff to think about.

Sorry also for quadruple-posting or whatever I just did, I know what was always verboten as an old forum poster, but I am just so wordy :V lol
 
Chapter 2

Keleri

I Like Cats
Staff
Pronouns
They/Them
Mentions of familial abuse and fantasy racism

Chapter Summary

Our heroes gain another traveling companion and head out to a regional park to catch pokemon.

Chapter 2

A Meeting / The Near Road / Regional Park / We Ran but It Was There Waiting

June 15th–18th, 128 CR

Moriko and Russell rode their bikes to Professor Willow's lab, an H-shaped building with a domed greenhouse and a fenced-off orchard that local kids trespassed on dares. It was outside of town on the road to Umber Village, set far enough back on the cliff for the view of the sea to be mostly obscured by the port's buildings.

A couple of machamp were carrying heavy bags of fertilizer to the greenhouse when they parked their bikes; they waved at them, and the pokémon waved back with spare hands.

The lab had a lived-in, homey feeling with all the grad students and postdocs working there. Potted plants and notice boards covered in local flyers were in abundance; rules about keeping hallways cleared had become a little lax. They passed rooms humming with machinery, or with students talking and music playing.

A gardevoir carrying a lab notebook passed them as they approached Prof. Willow's office. "Good luck! A big crowd today!" the pokémon said.

Russ watched him go by. "A crowd?"

"Russ! Are you—oh."

Moriko watched the new arrivals warily: Angela, Dave, Victoria, and Kai were all leaving, carrying day bags and wearing traveling clothes and stylish trainer belts, every inch the well-to-do questants. They looked like a still from a trainer drama with Dave's surfer tan and Vic's expensive genehance hair.

They stopped, seeing Moriko; the silence drew out as the two groups looked past each other, as tense as gunslingers.

"Russ," Vic said, sudden. "Come with us."

Russ blinked. "Uh, thanks, I'm good—why? I'm going with Moriko."

"You don't have to, Russ," Angela said.

"What?"

"After what she did?" Kai asked, his eyes flicking over to Moriko.

"After I did what?"

The group's faces crumpled in scorn; Moriko felt her lip curl, and she stared back at them, pugnacious, but tiny needles of dread lanced their way up her back.

"Oh my gods," Angela muttered.

Kai: "Seriously?"

The affability started to fall off of Russ's face. "What's this about?"

"What did she tell you?" Angela said, challenging.

Russ smiled. "I can't follow this conversation. I'm traveling with Moriko. Thanks for the invite."

Angela shook her head and walked past them, and the other three started to follow.

"Whatever you're getting, dude, it's not worth it," Dave blurted out.

"Excuse me?" Moriko said.

Russ jerked back. "I'm gay, you complete raisin—"

"Everyone's a little bit bi—"

"Holy fuck Dave, do not," Vic snapped. "Way to cede the moral high ground, ninnyhammer," she said, casting an apologetic glance at Russell. She clamped her hand around Dave's upper arm and dragged him off, half-seriously.

"Call me, dude, anytime," Kai said to Russ, over his shoulder.

"All the saints," Russell swore, when the hallway was empty.

Moriko's mind whirled. "What the hell was that?" What had she 'done'? And her stomach twisted, embarrassed at Dave's implication. How many people thought that?

She cringed and pressed on her eyes with the heels of her hands. Well, she could see how people came to that conclusion—the village weirdo and the nice boy who was friends with everyone was surely self-explanatory given the nature of the latter, but of course people would seek juicier rumors—

She nearly leapt as Russ touched her shoulder, and he jerked his hand away.

"Sorry—"

"No—it's—"

"I'm sorry," Russ said. He was blushing, the flush bright on his pale skin. "I'm sorry they were saying that stuff. I don't know what they were talking about." He pulled out his pokédex. "Do… you want me to find out? I'll message them."

I hate it who cares just leave it—but she wanted to know, the part of her that would click through to see violence, to watch in dreadful fascination, it wanted to know. Was it something about how she'd fought with her aunt? About school? About Russ? She felt sick at that last one.

"Of course, I mean, what if it's about you, they think I—hurt you or something—"

Russ nodded, going even redder, if that was possible. "Let's just go see Prof. Willow—I'll ask them later, when I'm less mad."

"Sure. I'm sorry Russ, what a clusterfuck—"

"It's not your fault. And for the record you've never—I can't even think of what they're saying—"

"I'm sure it's some rumor, some lie." She took a deep breath, thought of her aunt calling for help after she'd hit Moriko. It was just another distraction. They'd been telling her they wanted her gone since she was twelve, and now that she was going it was a crisis, somehow. "We're almost out."

Prof. Willow's office door was dotted with photos of her and her students and pokémon: here she stood in her professorial graduation regalia with Vivek as he was titled Professor Mulberry IV; here a candid shot of her registering junior trainer licenses for excited ten-year-olds; here Quintus the machamp lifted a giant barrel and winked for the camera.

Russ knocked and pushed the door open at the acknowledgement from inside.

"Hey guys! Everything okay?" Prof. Willow smiled at them; she was in her forties, average height with wavy golden hair and a colorful skirt peeking out from under her lab coat.

Moriko reddened, wondering how much Prof. Willow had heard with the door closed, and if she noticed how flushed and angry they probably looked.

Russ waved a hand. "Distract us, let's get going."

Prof. Willow shrugged. "Alright—Russell and Moriko," she said contemplatively, pulling something up on her computer. "Could I see your pokédexes?"

They passed them over. Moriko thought of the old, battered one she'd gotten as a preteen here, but they'd upgraded recently, and the current model looked great, still shiny. Hers was metallic green and silver while Russ's was red and gold, popular colors with a couple of decals slapped on to differentiate them.

Prof. Willow connected them both to her computer. "Since you two are leaving town, I'm going to upgrade the memory and download most of the pokédex and map features—right now they're accessed on an ad hoc basis, but the cloud isn't going to be much help to you in the wilderness."

"Thanks!" Russell said. "Do we owe you anything for the increased memory?"

"Not a problem, this is part of the observation and training you have to put up with as a starter trainer."

"Will it hurt the battery life or anything?" Moriko asked.

"It shouldn't, as long as your 'dex is in low-power mode—it will charge while you're walking, but keep an eye on it, sometimes it will get stuck trying to sync futilely or to an access point that's just out of reach."

Russ nodded. "Cool, we have powerpacks just in case too."

"I'm sure you'll use them. It will blow up with notifications if you come into town or to a hotspot after being away for a while, too, which can be alarming. One of my grad students had a black metal song as her notification sound, and as we drove into Verdure Town we had to listen to overlapping screaming about witches coming out of the dark forest until someone sat on her pokédex."

"…Field trips must be a lot of fun with your group."

"They have their moments."

"Are you able to upgrade us to the adult license as well?" Russ asked.

"Yes, that's part two—that will let you challenge the first gym and keep up to four pokémon. Once you get to tier four you can have six, and send me extras, but I don't recommend it until you have a couple of high-levels. Otherwise it's like having six kindergarteners with razor claws."

Russ nodded sagely. "Four deadly kindergarteners, though, that's fine."

"Your new team members will probably have less energy than Sylvia, if only because the thought of a pokémon needing more attention than that sylpup makes me contemplate alcoholism," Prof. Willow said dryly, tapping her keyboard. "This will take a few minutes."

Russ laughed; Sylvia had mellowed as she'd gotten older, but there had been a time when only she had three settings: sleeping, go fast, and go really fast.

"Could we go get Rufus while we're waiting?" Moriko asked.

"Good idea, he's in the back paddock," Prof. Willow said. She turned back to them. "Oh! There's also another trainer here looking for a group to journey with."

Moriko tensed, mentally running over the list of their classmates with trained pokémon.

"Oh—really? Who is it?" Russ asked.

"I'm not sure if you've met him before—he registered here and I gave him a seakitt a couple of years ago. He mentioned he wanted to try the league this summer, so I asked him to come around today if he was ready." Prof. Willow leaned forward. "He's already quite knowledgeable about training—he might be a help, in fact. Otherwise I'll send him to the pokémon center, and he can start trying to find a group there or online."

"Hmm…" Russell looked pensive. "You didn't suggest he go with Angela and them?"

Prof. Willow made a vague gesture. "I thought it would be good if you two had a third companion. Two is the bare minimum, and there have been a few ranger alerts this month, out in the hinterlands. If it doesn't work out you guys can split up at the next town, too. Don't commit to anything with a stranger, but I'd consider it a favor if you gave him a chance."

Russ nodded. "Sure, we can chat with him at least."

They left Prof. Willow to the pokédexes and went out, passing the last couple of labs and a classroom where a grad student was giving a talk to some middle schoolers. The grad student was explaining some principle of pokémon growth or battling, but the young trainers were fidgety, eager to get back out to the practice yard.

Moriko and Russ pushed out the back doors to the nearby pokémon habitats. The fire-type paddock had several volcalf and burnox in it who belonged to other, younger starter trainers. They'd be more active in a few weeks as their trainers headed to summer battling classes, or just wandered into junior battles around town. Kids from families with more money might even take trips to other regions to challenge gyms there.

There was a steaming heated pool for the fire-types and grooming machines. A couple of other pokémon lounged around as well, including a ponyta and a hellion; they might be trades or presents, or owned by traveling trainers visiting or working for Prof. Willow.

Rufus lowed happily when he saw them coming and trotted out of the sandy paddock onto the lawn behind the lab. He was a burnox, a fire- and steel-type bull with a red-orange hide and dark spots, and spirit flames glowing along his head, neck, and tail.

He headbutted Moriko gently, and she nearly fell over.

"Hey buddy," she wheezed. "Are you ready to go?"

"A-yup," Rufus said. He hummed as she scratched along the biometal embedded in his flesh.

Tarahn burst out of his pokéball and greeted Rufus as well, the yellow-and-purple cougar rubbing his cheeks against the burnox's facial plates. "Rufus! We're going! We're going finally!"

Rufus licked Tarahn's nose, and the raigar sneezed and shook himself before leaping onto the fire-type's back.

"It's time for new places, and new pokémon to fight!" Tarahn fired off a couple of Thundershocks. "It's time for battles!"

Rufus rumbled and pawed the ground in agreement.

Moriko laughed with Russ at the performance, but guilt stung her. She hadn't paid them enough attention with school and all, and what had school gotten her? Not marks, that was for sure, and she hadn't done right by her pokémon, her lifeline.

It was going to be okay. They were leaving at last.

"Are you guys Russell and Moriko?"

They turned to see another trainer with a tibyss behind him, the final stage of the water starter Prof. Willow gave out. It was a midnight blue panther dotted with orange markings, tall and imposing: it had its row of orange spinal fins raised a little, challenging, even as its trainer tried to be casual.

"That's us," Russell said, approaching and shaking hands with the newcomer. "You are?"

"Matt. Matthew Reyes, nice to meet you."

Moriko shook his hand as well; they were of a height, but he was stockier, with brown skin a shade lighter than hers and dark blue hair. He was dressed the same as they were, with traveling clothes, a trainer belt, and a huge camping backpack that he'd left by the door.

"Who's this?" she asked, looking at the tibyss.

"Call me Maia," the pokémon said in a deep, hoarse voice.

Moriko smiled. "This is Rufus and Tarahn," she said, and the burnox dipped his head.

"Oh hello," Tarahn purred.

Maia inclined her head to the two of them, relaxing her fins a fraction.

Introductions out of the way, Russ asked, "I heard you needed a group to travel with?"

"That's right. I've got all my own gear, and I did a couple of summers in Johto as a kid, but I've been hearing all the horror stories here for years. Willow said that she had a bunch of trainers she'd mentored leaving this summer, so I figured this was the right time to go."

"Did you go to high school here? I've never seen you around."

Matt's mouth quirked. "I did distance learning. I was in and out of hospitals for a couple of years as a kid, and I got used to it. When we moved here I didn't want to do the new kid thing. You might have seen me at the dojo up on the hill, I battled there a couple nights a week."

"Oh nice," Moriko said, "I wish I'd gotten out there more often. That must be why Maia is fully evolved." See? She could have, should have trained more seriously. School and work... she should have fit it in.

"Yup, yup. Good practice."

Maia bumped Matt's shoulder with her head, and he scratched behind her ear and along her jaw. He was comfortable with his pokémon, who was affectionate; he seemed to be a good trainer.

"Prof. Willow was upgrading our pokédexes, let's go see if she's done yet," Russ said, to forestall an awkward silence.

Matt nodded and walked ahead, grabbing his bag; Maia seemed to take up the whole hallway as they passed through the doors back into the lab. Moriko recalled Rufus and Tarahn, and they went back inside.

"What do you think?" Russ murmured to her, hanging back from Matt and Maia.

Moriko flicked her fingers. "No objections. Let's see if we can make it to Umber."

x.x.x.x.x

They left the bikes with Prof. Willow; Russ's dad would come back to pick them up later. They checked their bags one more time, comparing with Matt's gear, before heading to the bus stop.

After the confrontation with Angela and her group, Moriko couldn't help whipping her head around at every vehicle noise. She glanced back down the road as if her aunt and uncle were about to come screeching up to try to haul her away. She tried to turn it into anger—come at me, then—but she just wanted to run. She kept touching Rufus and Tarahn's pokéballs to make sure they were still there.

Russ and Matt didn't share her nervousness, striking up an easy conversation about the league and battling. Moriko felt a giddy relief as the bus finally arrived, and by the time they reached the station outside of Port Littoral, she felt like a weight had lifted, though not that of her enormous bag. The bus station was busy with traveling trainers drawn in from Littoral and nearby villages, and workers commuting to distant sites like the power plant up the coast. It was the beginning of the league season, with high school seniors leaving school at last, and a few college-age trainers, late—their classes had ended in May or so.

Moriko's pokédex pinged with incidental contacts; it would be interesting to see if they kept running into the same trainers, or to see who would fall behind, or rush ahead, or go home. Moriko wondered if there would be a wait at the first gym in Umber Village, but it was so close to Port Littoral that some of these trainers might have the badge already after a weekend trip during the school year, if they already had the adult license. They might be going on to Verdure Town instead, or one of the regional parks.

"Excited?" Russell asked Matt, who was wiping his hands on his hiking pants over and over.

"Yeah! Yeah, I haven't left the city much. This will be a test. I can be a bit of a homebody."

"Oh, really? Did you live with your parents?"

"Yeah, they weren't around that often," Matt said lightly. "I rushed through the correspondence courses and did a lot of battling with Maia, some little jobs around town. I would have liked to do a few badges in another region, sooner, but the money wasn't there, or it wasn't the right time." He shrugged.

"I almost talked my parents into letting me and Moriko go to Kalos last year, but they just kept dithering until it was too expensive and everyone was pissed off. We should've just ran away from home, like in the old days," Russ said, dryly.

Moriko smiled, rueful; she'd definitely lacked the money for that one and trying to get her aunt and uncle on board had been futile. With hindsight it had been hopelessly naïve to think that they'd allow or pay for it. She tried to remember when it all had started, the yelling fights and capricious reversals that left her dreading coming home at times. It must have been okay, before; they'd taken her to get a starter as a preteen, and she and Angela had even been friendly, once.

She shook her head. "It would have been weird, anyway. Everyone would think we were more experienced, by our ages."

"Actually, lots of people are waiting until they're out of high school to do any badges," Matt said. "Kids still get a starter or a rescue pokémon at the pokécenter, but they just keep it as a pet until they're fifteen, sixteen."

"Really? Man, I charged out right at age ten. Junior license, starter pokémon, junior pokédex, the whole bit. I think you were there that day, too, Moriko, with your cousin."

She nodded. She remembered that gaggle of fifth graders and the younger, harried Professor Willow with her mentor, Professor Yew, and the random drawing of the pick order—there were starter pokémon, standard with predictable evolution times and abilities, as well as local rescue pokémon like clawbit or krabby.

They'd spent some time with the old professor, her experienced eye matching child with young pokémon, and Moriko had ended up with Rufus, who had been—still was—gentle and patient, and an ebullient battler as well.

"If the league allowed it, I'd have done the first couple badges last summer," Russ said. "We could've taken a bus there, it's the wild areas that are the problem."

"Yeah, that would have been safe enough. So some kids in Kanto or wherever are waiting too? There's nothing to worry about there, though. They don't even do badges during the summer?" Moriko asked.

"There's a lot of pressure to do summer exam prep, schools are competitive there," Matt explained. "A young pokémon is a lot of work, too, and people don't want to put in the time."

Moriko tried not to dwell on how she'd tried to put in the time and failed. Low-level pokémon needed a lot of attention. Higher-level ones were powerful and intelligent, but they expended a lot of energy and often slept away days or weeks in pokéballs. They'd had Professor Willow and her employees to keep their starter pokémon busy if needed, but Tarahn had gotten into mischief more than once, wandering around town. He'd been bored, and he wasn't a pet she could leave in the yard or on a windowsill.

Well, they were on their way. People shifted on the platform; they looked up and saw their bus approaching, the electric motor humming, and they lined up to board.

Eventually the bus pulled away, heading for the Seawood Regional Park. Moriko watched the buildings recede, hidden behind hills, and shifted so the scratchy upholstery wasn't touching her bare skin.

She felt like she could breathe, finally, as forest and fields whipped by out the bus window, and she tried to hold herself back from pressing her face against the glass.

Russ looked up at her from a book on his pokédex and smiled too, and he put out his hand and they bumped fists. "We made it," he said quietly.

"Freedom."

Moriko watched the scenery as the bus headed inland, and she started humming the theme from the Legendary games to herself under her breath.

x.x.x.x.x

Regional Parks were places where pokémon and trainers congregated; something about them was attractive to pokémon, which attracted trainers, which attracted pokémon looking for trainers. Pokémon could be quite aggressive at testing potential partners, so it was dangerous to go in without your own pokémon.

In the more populous regions, many wild pokémon had partnered with a trainer for a few seasons and then returned to the wild, powerful and attracting notoriety within their societies. It was common for young pokémon, especially those socially low-ranking, to seek out a trainer, and they usually had a clear expectation for the advantages a human trainer would provide.

Since the Gaiien League was newer, the stories that wild pokémon told each other about humans and human trainers were more garbled. Pokémon would still seek out trainers, but more rarely, and they would attack as they would with other wild pokémon, to try to establish dominance or defend a territory. They'd likely end up releasing caught pokémon who didn't have the right idea.

Seawood was in a valley, wooded with a river passing through it and the dry prairie beyond. The bus trundled down the slope, swallowed by trees, and the shadows of the tall cedars alternated with flashes of sun.

They spilled out of the bus with the other passengers, mostly other tier one trainers in new hiking gear staggering under their big bags. A few adult trainers with worn pokéballs stepped off as well and took fishing gear out of the luggage compartment of the bus.

They lined up for a campsite number from the park office. Moriko tried to eavesdrop to judge where others would be, whether to try to catch them for a battle or to try to avoid them. There was a healing machine, so battles would be fine, and they had potions in case a wild pokémon battle got serious further away. It would be good to conserve them—Russ had money from his parents, and they'd bought Moriko things too, but her budget didn't have a lot of wiggle room.

It was early evening when they came to their site at last and did a short inspection, making sure the water pump worked and checking overhead for dead tree limbs. The campsites were well-maintained, and caretaker ground-type pokémon built a slight grade in the soil, so they wouldn't be swimming in a heavy rain.

They let the pokémon out and pulled out their most perishable food for dinner. A couple of clawbit turned up to watch them, but fled as soon as Sylvia trotted over.

"Don't chase them," Matt said, hurriedly, and Sylvia glanced at him and then at Russ.

"They're usually too underlevel if they just run," Russ explained. "Little kids, probably."

Sylvia thumped her long, leafy tail on the forest floor. "Let's go look for some stronger ones!"

"Soon," Russ said, laughing. "Let's get set up here first."

Moriko and Matt set up the tents while Russ made sandwiches. They all had narrow one-person setups, although good friends who didn't snore might have been able to lighten their load with a single tent and leave behind some of the other redundant gear as well.

Moriko set up Russ's tent for him and definitely didn't notice how silky and new the bright synthetic fabric was compared to her secondhand one. She sighed at herself—her tent was fine. They'd tested them out on a rainy night in Russ's backyard, and her tent was as good as new after a touch-up with water-repelling sealant on a couple seams.

Rufus and Sylvia played, pushing each other harmlessly: the timbark was faster, darting in to tag the burnox repeatedly with her tail and then spinning away, and he reared up pretending to chase her around the campsite and between the trees. Maia watched, dozing in the shade with her head on her paws. Tarahn had climbed a tree, and his yellow-and-purple motley was visible from his smug perch.

After dinner they had a couple hours of daylight left, so Matt left his second pokémon, a huge dark brown ursaring, to guard the camp while they set out on a short walk.

They followed voices and passed a couple other campsites. Some were absent of campers, or had a guard pokémon—an old and high-level serperior slithered out of the trees near one site, and they gave it a wide berth—and some had fires set up and a pleasant smell of food cooking, or music playing on portable speakers.

The river split around an island nearby, and there were campers wading in the cool water, overhung by willows. Maia strode in smoothly and was hit by a stream of water from a silteel, who fled away toward the downstream fishers before she could retaliate.

Another group of trainers eyed them and then approached. They were well-dressed with day bags, like Angela's group, and Moriko tensed up imagining another confrontation.

"Hey! Are you guys from Port Littoral?" a girl asked, her hand on her trainer belt with two pokéballs.

"Yeah, where are you all from?"

"Beaumaris Town! It's further up the coast, with all the tidal power installations." She made a face. "It's good to get away from home, eh?"

"You don't know the half of it," Moriko said, relaxing. She heard a gurgle behind her; Matt hadn't stopped for pleasantries, and his tibyss had soaked her opponent with a water attack. "Were you looking for a battle?"

The other trainer smiled. "A short one, not to fainting."

"Fine with me." She selected Tarahn's pokéball, watched as the other girl held one out as well. "Ready?"

They released at the same time, good etiquette, and Tarahn appeared, eager, opposite a marqueel that hovered over the stones on the riverbank. It was bright blue and splashed with electric yellow and green, with growths resembling lightbulbs in a dorsal ridge.

Marqueel, the marquee pokémon. A water- and electric-type, it evolves from vitreel with age or with a thunder stone artifact. They are playful, a common sight in coral reefs. They gather energy from thunderstorms and the change in the tide.

"Is that your first pokémon?" Moriko asked.

"Yeah, they're all over the place near the power plant," the girl said. "I basically just reached in and took her home. Water Gun, by the way."

Tarahn sidestepped, half-hit by the jet of water, and leapt at the marqueel, his claws skittering on the stones. She wove out of the way and hit him with another water gun as he landed. The raigar growled and used an electric attack reflexively, but cut it off and slashed, his claws dragging venomous lines along the marqueel's bright scales.

"Flash, Jilly!"

"Copycat, Tarahn!"

The light-type technique was doubled, and a searing glow illuminated the riverbank, casting hard black shadows. Moriko shielded her eyes—it was rare to worry about special attacks at the junior level, but sometimes the non-damaging ones could get you. The other girl was left blinking as well, while Tarahn and the marqueel had both felt the full force of the Flash and were lashing blindly at each other.

Moriko looked at the other trainer, and they both recalled their pokémon. Tarahn had taken a couple of hits, but he'd be fine in the morning.

"Nice one," the girl said, and they shook hands. "Are you going to Umber Village next?"

"Yeah, first badge."

"I got it during spring break," the girl said, and she indicated a triangular badge on the inside of her light jacket; it was a stylized dust devil. "Verdure Town, next, for us—but we're a little out of practice. Gotta battle on our way there to fight at tier two."

"Good luck! Do you have a pokémon with a type advantage for the gym there?"

The girl smiled. "And that's another thing! See you 'round."

Moriko sighed gratefully as the other trainer rejoined her friends. There was at least one other person out there who was friendly and normal, and Moriko knew battling, she knew what to say—

"Hey! Wanna battle?"

Moriko looked over the new arrival and declined, seeing Matt and Russ moving down the riverbank.

He got aggressive. "You can't refuse a battle! Are you a trainer or not?"

She frowned, stung, but backed off toward her group. "Sorry, my pokémon is hurt."

"You have two pokémon! Come on!"

"She said no, buddy," Russ said.

"What, are you trying to poach?" Matt said scornfully.

Poaching was challenging someone right after a battle, catching them with weakened pokémon—it was a common way for the hero to lose in trainer dramas, softening the blow to their reputation. That "are you a trainer or not?" crack was straight out of Kanto Quest or Pokémon Journey Kalos.

"Why don't you battle me, then," the kid said. He tilted his hat at a rakish angle. "Or are you a coward?"

Matt laughed in his face. "Are you twelve? That doesn't work in real life."

"You have to, dude!"

"You have to kiss my ass, buddy."

The would-be challenger looked more and more confused at this gambit not working, and stalked off the beach to look for other targets.

"I thought this childish stuff would be done with everyone over eighteen," Matt said, groaning. "Who would respond to that?"

"He kind of pissed me off, I might have battled him," Moriko admitted.

Russ nodded. "Yeah, if you nettle someone—"

"You have to be careful," Matt said. "Even if it's not for money, you can be left in a bad spot with all your pokémon fainted."

Moriko glanced at him. "What, that kid? Like he's going to do anything—"

"You never know—"

"So weird," Russ interrupted. "Aggressively roleplaying the dark rival character from Legendary."

"I guess, and the hero has to fight with honor and accept any challenge, or something. Think again," Matt said. Maia came up behind him, and he scratched her neck, eliciting a deep purr. "I mean, not that I'd lose."

"Sounds like you're the cocky rival instead," Russ said.

As the sun set they walked back to their campsite, Maia leading the way with her bioluminescent markings glowing in the dimness. Rufus was a comforting presence beside Moriko, his spirit flames enough to see by without pulling out a flashlight.

Matt's ursaring grunted to them as they walked up, and it returned itself to its ball. Their camp seemed to be safe enough unattended, although with kids trying underhanded moves like back at the beach, they might have to pack up everything if they'd be gone for longer than a couple of hours.

Russ built up the fire, and soon they had a comforting blaze going. The evening was pleasant without it, but it would keep animals away while attracting pokémon. Russ revealed that he'd packed a small bag of marshmallows as well, and they set them roasting on sticks, and Rufus requested and received one that was black and on fire.

They sat around chatting and listened to Tarahn attempt to tell jokes, but something was lost in translation—or maybe they really were only funny to him, since Maia and Sylvia just put their heads on the side at what rhythm and intonation seemed to indicate was the punchline. His physical comedy drew laughs, at least.

At one point, Matt looked at Moriko across the fire and did a double-take.

"Are you... Half?" he asked.

Moriko's stomach tightened. He'd probably seen the reflection on her tapetum from the firelight. "Yes," she managed to say.

Matt tilted his head, and she saw it—the eyeshine on his yellow eyes.

He was part-Second Crossing. Like her.

She hadn't noticed it in the daytime, and lots of people had genehance hair and eyes, but you had to be part-Second Crossing to have that reflectivity.

Matt watched her with a hopefulness that he was trying to hide. "You said that you lived with your aunt and uncle?"

"Yes." She closed her mouth on all the things she could say about them. "They're Third Crossing."

What was unsaid hung in the air between them, and he said instead, "My mom is Second Crossing. Didn't tell me much about her people, though. Enough to make me wonder."

She looked away, out into the forest. There was nothing to say; she probably knew even less than him.

Matt went on: "I wanted to see if I could visit with anyone who knew more, an, an elder or someone. Some of the old clans were chased out of Johto and went north, or to other regions."

"I've heard there are more Second-Crossing people living in the north of Gaiien, but other than that I'm not sure," Moriko said finally.

"...Don't you want to know? Aren't you curious?" Matt asked, a thread of something—annoyance, scorn—creeping into his voice.

She shook her head, poking the fire with a long stick. "What use would it be? It's better if you hide it." She looked at him. "They'll use it against you. Maybe you don't know, since you were homeschooled—"

"Of course I know," Matt said coldly. "You can't hide, so don't try. The people of the Second Crossing—they have power, techniques we've forgotten—" He made a choked noise. Russ looked at him, but Matt waved a hand, dismissing.

Moriko shrugged. "It's better not to know. That time is over. I just want to… not be noticed."

Matt said nothing, his face set.

They let the fire burn down and then turned in for the night, the pokémon resting in their pokéballs, watchful with mysterious senses.

Moriko lay in her tent in the secondhand summer sleeping bag. A faint odor clung to both items, of someone's closet and the hydrophobic sealants they'd treated them with. Crickets sang in the darkness; wind rustled the treetops. Moriko thought of rain and checked her pokédex, but the signal was bad and the wi-fi hotspot too far away.

She lay there a long time, thinking, still wound up even after the long day and early start. And her heart sped up unmercifully every time she thought about what had happened: the screaming fight at the house, the problem with the bank, Angela's group watching her with disgust and wariness.

She thought of the kid on the beach challenging her. Are you a trainer or not?

She just wanted to leave. She'd tried to—fit in? gods, that sounded pathetic, but it was true: she'd tried to obey, tried to follow the path of a good student, tried to participate in the all-important milestones like everyone else—and she was a fraud, her heart wasn't in it and everyone knew. She should have taken her savings and run away, skipped school like the dramas—like the old tradition, to leave home and hearth to train with a master with a shared type affinity. There were regions where it was still allowed.

Well, she'd left at last. She didn't want any more trouble. Did that look like running?

She'd felt relief earlier in the day, renewed, skin shed and Moriko the trainer born at last, and now—what could her aunt and uncle do next? Would they try anything else? Send rangers after them? They were adults, they were properly registered with the league, they'd been vetted by a professor, their pokémon had been verified many times.

Moriko tried to imagine something properly nasty, but she could only summon up pranks—or ludicrously escalated situations: fire, murder, false accusations, TV drama absurdities. She groaned softly and covered her eyes.

Tarahn let himself out of his ball, the glow blinding in the narrow tent. He shuffled closer and sniffed her breath, whiskers tickling her face. "You're not sleeping."

She sighed. "I'm trying."

The raigar pricked his ears, turning his head briefly at something. He stretched out his forelegs like the sphinx and purred, wedged between her and the tent fabric, and she stroked his paws.

"What are you worried about?" he said eventually.

She entertained the idea of explaining complex human social expectations to a pokémon. Nah.

"You remember how my aunt attacked me? I'm worried that will happen again."

"That happens sometimes after you're in a battle," Tarahn said. "It's over, but your body doesn't know that. It helps if you go back into your pokéball for a while."

Moriko smiled and reached over, scratching his chin. "Where's my pokéball?"

The raigar's tail thumped, acknowledging the difficulty. "You can probably beat her in a battle anyway, she doesn't have any pokémon. So don't worry about it. I'll fight her."

"I wish. But she'll tell the rangers on you."

"I asked Maia if it was all right to fight a human who wants to hurt your trainer, and she said yes," Tarahn retorted. "I believe her, she's very smart."

Moriko laughed softly. "Only in defense—you can Thunder Wave her, if she wants to fight me." Not that that will do anything until you're level fifty.

"Good plan. Now you can fall asleep." Tarahn leaned forward, smelling her breath again. "You're falling asleep, right?"

x.x.x.x.x

Early summer light woke them, shining through the tent fabric. Moriko groaned and tried to turn over for a while, but shortly Russ was up and pinching her toes through the sleeping bag. Matt was already up, restarting the fire from embers. It was cool and breezy, and they cooked instant oatmeal with dried fruit and protein powder while planning the day.

"Have you ever caught a wild pokémon?" Matt asked Moriko.

"Not really I guess, Rufus was my starter and Tarahn followed me home."

"I can show you how, you need to—"

Moriko put out a hand. "No, no thanks, I'm good, I know how it goes."

"Are you sure?" Matt smiled, testing her. "Do you know what it looks like when a pokémon doesn't want to be caught?"

Moriko felt a prickle of annoyance. "Sure, it will run away after a couple of blows, or even when you first see it."

Matt nodded, reluctantly allowing that she might be familiar with this basic principle. "It's a waste of a pokéball otherwise. Sometimes you'll catch a pokémon who isn't interested, and it's better to just release it on the spot."

She nodded. "Yup, I know that one."

"Did you catch any pokémon?" Russell asked. "Other than your starter, I mean."

"No, I was given Bjorn as a teddiursa, so I was at the limit for the junior license. Would have been nice to go to another region and catch a few more."

"First time for everyone, then," Moriko said mildly.

They packed their day bags and headed out further into the park. The undergrowth was lush and mossy in the shadowed parts of the valley and drier on the south-facing slope, with long grass brittle and yellowed in the sun.

Russ was in the lead when they heard rustling, and a clawbit darted out in front of him. He had Sylvia's pokéball out after a heartbeat.

Clawbit, the hare pokémon. A normal-type, it evolves to warhare near level 18. They are a common sight all over Gaiien. They use their red ears and light-colored tail to signal one another at a distance.

The clawbit flipped to kick powerfully with its hind legs, and struck Sylvia as she leaned away from the attack. The timbark growled, snapping, but her opponent had already withdrawn and was kicking dirt at her face.

"Rootbind, Sylvia," Russ said.

Tendrils of energy snaked out of the ground and caught one of the clawbit's hind legs. It wrestled with them, squeaking, and erupted into a surprised screech as Sylvia bit its back. Furious, it scratched at her face, but she growled and shook her head, aggravating the attack.

"Syl, drop it!"

The timbark obeyed his command; Russ threw a pokéball at the clawbit's slumped form, and it closed and pinged a confirmation immediately.

"Nice one!" Moriko said.

Matt nodded. "Let's head to the next rest site, and you can get it healed up."

At a bend in the river there was an empty fire pit and benches, and Matt let Maia out to dip her paws in the shallow water.

Russ released the clawbit, and it reemerged still injured, but not phasing into energy, as pokémon did when severely hurt. He murmured something, spraying potion on its wounds, and the hare pokémon squeaked indignantly at the sting as they closed.

"Hey, I'm Russell," he said, holding out a bit of apple to the clawbit. "Thanks for the battle."

The clawbit sat up and looked at him with dewy eyes. It perked up its ears and nose at the treat he held out, and it ran like a shot back into the underbrush.

There was a beat, and Matt laughed—cruelly, Moriko thought, and she glared—but Russ started to laugh too.

"Well, I mean, that's pretty clear," Russ said. "Too bad."

"That's how it goes. You shouldn't have used Rootbind," Matt said. "It would have run away after a couple of attacks otherwise. Save yourself the pokéball and potion next time."

Russ smiled ruefully. "We'll see some others. Back to walking, I guess."

They saw few pokémon after that, just rustles and then nothing, or a pair of fleeing hindquarters. Birdsong and chipmunks were more common, and the hum of insects. At the next rest stop there were adult trainers fishing, and they'd had better luck with trout—no pokémon either.

"I was led to believe we'd be fighting off encounters with a stick," Russ said, rueful.

"I wish," one of the fishers said, a woman in hip waders. "Today is real sparse though, normally I have to have my barbaracle do a little battling. Something big might've flown over in the early morning and scared them into their hidey-holes."

"Like an aircraft?"

"Sometimes, but a high-level pokémon would make them hunker down too—it can be hard to judge their intentions if they're passing through and not a local elder. Nothing on my pokédex about it, though—the aura gradient would have been picked up by RES monitoring if it was big."

The Regional Energy Survey website was blank when they checked in at the next wi-fi hotspot, just the expected plant- and bug-type energy bands in the forest with blue water-type snaking through along the river. Nothing to explain where all the damn pokémon had gone, like a trail of foreign energy left by a legendary or a ronin.

Moriko was wishing she'd gone to another region again by their turn-around point—they were tired and hungry with nothing to show for it but Russ's failed capture and a couple of attacks traded with a warhare that fled.

They forded the river at a shallows, hoping the opposite bank would be more fruitful on the way back. Matt had Maia out and walking with them, and she sniffed at the roots of trees periodically before finally stretching up a large maple's trunk.

A chrystalis was under one of the branches, half-hidden in the bark; it was a light gray-purple, its faceted shell studded with crystalline growths.

Chrystalis, the cocoon pokémon. A bug- and crystal-type, it evolves from pilosite near level 10 and to papiliris near level 20. It is almost immobile, but can use special attacks to discourage opponents. When it evolves, the cast-off shell is valuable to collectors.

The chrystalis glared at them with one eye as they gathered around to peer at it.

"Want to fight?" Matt called up at it.

"Hark at this brave soul that wants to fight a cocoon," it replied. "Do you steal from infants as well?"

Matt grinned. "What, are you telling me you aren't interested?"

"I hid myself in this tree for a reason, killer. I can't move."

Maia lashed her tail suddenly, scattering an attack headed for her side: glittering stars flew into the undergrowth and dissipated.

"Well, I have one move," it added.

"You're not doing this unobtrusive cocoon thing very well," Moriko said.

"You should come with me and not worry about it." Matt stroked Maia's fur idly and nodded toward her. "She might even forgive you."

"I'm good," it said. "Go look for a clawbit leaving its parent or a duspine or something."

"We tried," Moriko said. "Where is everybody? We've been tromping all over the park, and we've hardly seen any pokémon."

"You think every pokémon knows everyone else? You think I do, wedged under a branch? It's a real hub for gossip—"

"You might say you're a… social butterfly?"

"Russ, no."

"Uh-huh. Keep looking, trainers. Maybe they're by the river, maybe they're fighting over a source, maybe the wartingers are fighting the dusquills again. Maybe a ronin came through and scared everyone. You tell me." 'Ronin' sounded weird when it said it, echoing with subtext and sub-televocalizations.

"Not a ronin, we'd see an alert," Matt said.

"Yeah?"

"Well… we should," he amended, flipping open his pokédex to check.

Moriko couldn't help wondering at that—the park did seem to be weirdly quiet, and RES said nothing was out there. Where was everybody?

"Listen," the chrystalis said grudgingly, "if there is something wrong… it doesn't look good that everyone's hiding, and you're hooting around as bright as anything. You call them ronin, but they have followers and hangers-on, nasty little lightningrods that like to play in the storm and laugh when you get struck. Know what I mean?"

"Yeah," Russ said. "Sorry to bug you."

"Russ."

"Your first pun was better," Matt commented.

"Do you need anything?" Russ added.

"Sure, pick those pieces of bark off the ground and hold them up here," the cocoon pokémon said. "No, the bigger one. Not the rotten ones. Higher."

Shortly the shed tree bark was wedged around the chrystalis, better shielding it from view from the path, and it closed its eye as they left.

x.x.x.x.x

They came back to the campsite frustrated and bored. Matt sidled over to relay his unique wisdom, as Moriko set up the evening fire.

"Where'd you learn to build fires? That looks terrible."

Moriko snapped dry twigs, arranging them and papery bark under the tented sticks. Her smile was as brittle as the kindling.

"A ten-year-old could make a better fire than this."

"Maybe you'd like to do it if you're not busy thinking up gradeschool insults?"

"Nice try. Well, if you put it like this—"

"Do your own work!"

"It's easy, just—"

Russell sighed and waved to Rufus, who stepped over. Russ lit a match and tossed it into the kindling, and the fire-type concentrated, inhaling and exhaling. The fire flared, consuming the largest logs.

Matt laughed. "I'm surprised that even got started."

"It's straight out of a textbook—and we have pokémon, I could have stacked them any way!"

"It's more efficient if—"

"I don't care, okay?"

"I'm just saying—"

"Stop saying." Moriko stalked off to find some peace in the forest.

x.x.x.x.x

They made it to Umber Village, just barely.

In the end they didn't catch any pokémon, despite walking farther and farther afield, and even packing up their camp to spend the night in wilder woodland. There was a faintly oppressive air over the park, and the other trainers they spoke to had no luck either. The only people who seemed to walk away happy were the fishers with coolers full of steelheads.

There would be other opportunities to add to their teams, so they decamped and returned to the park office to catch the bus to their next stop.

They saw plenty of regular animals from the bus windows: the fields alongside the road were fenced with bleached gray wood and often contained livestock out to graze. There were usually one or two pokémon watching over the herds, a bright spot of color amid the brown and black and white.

Animal predators tended to give pokémon a wide berth, and a high-level pokémon could hurt a wolf or a bear with elemental attacks as well as teeth and claws. They could get bored, though: pokémon didn't need to eat, absorbing energy from their surroundings, and so they slept a lot or wandered or conceived extended dramas with their herdmates.

The bus let them off at the fueling station in Umber Village in a swirl of dust and mirage lines floating above the road, though it was barely midmorning. It was going to be a scorching day: the sun was wilting the bleached fields of foxtails and wild grass beyond the town. The wind made waves in the grass as grasshoppers buzzed and hawks were a dark smudge far overhead.

They walked to the pokémon center and saw Angela and the rest leaving. Moriko averted her eyes and kept walking to the counter.

"Hey," Russ said to them.

"Hey."

They all stood around awkwardly.

"Sorry about where we left everything," Dave said, finally. "How's it going?"

"Could be better, didn't catch anything in the Seawood," Russ said. "Did you guys just get here?"

"Told you we didn't miss anything by skipping the park," Kai said to Vic, who shrugged.

"Nah, we're heading out," Dave said. "We hit up the gym, not too tough."

"Check it," Victoria said to Russ. She flipped something into the air and caught it, probably the gym badge.

"Oh nice, did you have trouble with types?" Russ asked.

Moriko tried not to eavesdrop too obviously; Victoria had chosen the fire-type volcalf as her starter as well, and she was wondering how the other trainer had handled it.

"Nope, I saw a trader earlier this year and picked up an arctrix. No problems."

Oh. Arctrix was an ice-type.

"Cool cool," Russ said. "Are you guys going to stop at the next park or keep going to Verdure?"

"A ground-type would be nice for badges three and four," Victoria said, counting them off on her fingers, "so I think we'll spend a couple of days in Tsugaru for sure."

"Nice, we'll probably be along as well."

Angela checked her pokédex. "Let's move out, everyone—the bus is waiting. See you later, Russ."

"Good hunting, all."

Dave clapped Russ on the back and shook his hand, saying something to him quietly, and he followed his group out the pokécenter doors.

Moriko finished her registration and gave Rufus and Tarahn's pokéballs to the attendant for a quick heal. She sat down at a waiting-room table, letting her bag fall to the ground with a grateful sigh.

Matt joined her after handing over his pokémon; it was Russ's turn at the counter now. He nodded at the doors where Angela and her group had departed.

"Friends of Russ's, but not yours?" he asked.

Moriko shrugged. "They're jerks. Russ gets along with everyone, though."

"Even you?"

"Matt, shut it."

x.x.x.x.x
 
Last edited:

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
Wow, a lot of world-building in this chapter! I'm loving how fully integrated pokemon are into the world, without replacing the sort of benchmarks we're used to in our world: school, jobs etc. I get a strong sense of how the pokemon journey is part of popular culture from the references to popular shows and Moriko's romantic ideas about just running off. But the reality of the pokemon journey thus far is a lot more mundane and regulated in a way I appreciate. It is a lot to digest but all the details like pokedex syncs and updates, alert-systems for powerful pokemon, different levels of trainer licenses make the world feel very real.

I did feel a bit like the world-building overwhelmed the character interactions at times. Moriko's continued reaction to the aftermath of leaving is well-done and I like the way you're introducing Matt's brand of jerk--controlling, passive aggressively insulting--but I wanted a bit more of how Moriko feels about this. Does she want to ditch him now that they've reached Umber? The end cuts off pretty abruptly. I wanted a little more there, even if it was only a few lines letting me know where Moriko's at with all this. Her internality drops out in this last segment--I can infer that she's very not happy about running into Angela and crew, and not enjoying Russ doing his whole 'I get along with everybody' thing--but it would have been nice to get some insight into her head as the chapter ends.

they waved at them, and the pokémon waved back with spare hands.
Suuuper minor, but I think "their spare hands" would stop me from stumbling over this.

The lab had a lived-in, homey feeling with all the grad students and postdocs working there. Potted plants and notice boards covered in local flyers were in abundance; rules about keeping hallways cleared had become a little lax. They passed rooms humming with machinery, or with students talking and music playing.
Ooh yes, love this scene-setting.

"rules about keeping hallways cleared had become a little lax." This sentence threw me a little. Feels a little out-of-POV, I guess--is Moriko really that knowledgeable/concerned with the lab's internal rules?

Moriko watched the new arrivals warily: Angela, Dave, Victoria, and Kai were all leaving,
I get what you mean but new arrivals/leaving as a combo wasn't super clear to read.

They looked like a still from a trainer drama with Dave's surfer tan and Vic's expensive genehance hair.
I love that anime hair is a crucial part of your world-building.

"Russ," Vic said, sudden. "Come with us."

Russ blinked. "Uh, thanks, I'm good—why? I'm going with Moriko."

"You don't have to, Russ," Angela said.

"What?"

"After what she did?" Kai asked, his eyes flicking over to Moriko.

"After I did what?"

The group's faces crumpled in scorn; Moriko felt her lip curl, and she stared back at them, pugnacious, but tiny needles of dread lanced their way up her back.

"Oh my gods," Angela muttered.

Kai: "Seriously?"

The affability started to fall off of Russ's face. "What's this about?"

"What did she tell you?" Angela said, challenging.

Russ smiled. "I can't follow this conversation. I'm traveling with Moriko. Thanks for the invite."

Angela shook her head and walked past them, and the other three started to follow.

"Whatever you're getting, dude, it's not worth it," Dave blurted out.

"Excuse me?" Moriko said.

Russ jerked back. "I'm gay, you complete raisin—"

"Everyone's a little bit bi—"

"Holy fuck Dave, do not," Vic snapped. "Way to cede the moral high ground, ninnyhammer," she said, casting an apologetic glance at Russell. She clamped her hand around Dave's upper arm and dragged him off, half-seriously.

"Call me, dude, anytime," Kai said to Russ, over his shoulder.

"All the saints," Russell swore, when the hallway was empty.

Moriko's mind whirled. "What the hell was that?" What had she 'done'? And her stomach twisted, embarrassed at Dave's implication. How many people thought that?
This scene did feel a little over-the-top to me.

Russ waved a hand. "Distract us, let's get going."

Prof. Willow shrugged. "Alright—Russell and Moriko," she said contemplatively, pulling something up on her computer. "Could I see your pokédexes?"
I was surprised at first by how casual Russ sounds with the professor. I gather from the rest of the chapter that they've interacted with Willow a fair bit? I guess the normal convention of the games/anime didn't prep me for the world-building that Moriko/Russ have worked closely with Willow as they grew up.

"Will it hurt the battery life or anything?" Moriko asked.
Moriko asking the 👏 real 👏 questions

One of my grad students had a black metal song as her notification sound, and as we drove into Verdure Town we had to listen to overlapping screaming about witches coming out of the dark forest until someone sat on her pokédex."

"…Field trips must be a lot of fun with your group."

"They have their moments."
Amazing.

Russ laughed; Sylvia had mellowed as she'd gotten older, but there had been a time when only she had three settings: sleeping, go fast, and go really fast.
Ah, so the profs care for the pokemon of trainers with beginner licenses or something?

They turned to see another trainer with a tibyss behind him, the final stage of the water starter Prof. Willow gave out.
Clearly a person of taste.

After the confrontation with Angela and her group, Moriko couldn't help whipping her head around at every vehicle noise. She glanced back down the road as if her aunt and uncle were about to come screeching up to try to haul her away. She tried to turn it into anger—come at me, then—but she just wanted to run. She kept touching Rufus and Tarahn's pokéballs to make sure they were still there.
Strong paragraph here. Moriko's twitchiness rings really true.

She tried to remember when it all had started, the yelling fights and capricious reversals that left her dreading coming home at times. It must have been okay, before; they'd taken her to get a starter as a preteen, and she and Angela had even been friendly, once.
Ah, interesting. That makes it even harder, in a way, to remember a time it wasn't like that.

Kids still get a starter or a rescue pokémon at the pokécenter, but they just keep it as a pet until they're fifteen, sixteen."

"Really? Man, I charged out right at age ten. Junior license, starter pokémon, junior pokédex, the whole bit. I think you were there that day, too, Moriko, with your cousin."
This exchange confused me. Russ didn't actually go on a journey when he was ten, right? It sounds like he did exactly what Matt is describing?

Regional Parks were places where pokémon and trainers congregated; something about them was attractive to pokémon, which attracted trainers, which attracted pokémon looking for trainers.
"something about them" other than parks being an attractive habitat?

Pokémon could be quite aggressive at testing potential partners, so it was dangerous to go in without your own pokémon.

In the more populous regions, many wild pokémon had partnered with a trainer for a few seasons and then returned to the wild, powerful and attracting notoriety within their societies. It was common for young pokémon, especially those socially low-ranking, to seek out a trainer, and they usually had a clear expectation for the advantages a human trainer would provide.

Since the Gaiien League was newer, the stories that wild pokémon told each other about humans and human trainers were more garbled. Pokémon would still seek out trainers, but more rarely, and they would attack as they would with other wild pokémon, to try to establish dominance or defend a territory. They'd likely end up releasing caught pokémon who didn't have the right idea.
Interesting, particularly the idea of the slow diffusion of the concept of trainers into general wild pokemon discourse. The fact that pokemon can be universally understood in this world helps quite a lot with the problem of knowing whether a pokemon wants to be trained.

Poaching was challenging someone right after a battle, catching them with weakened pokémon—it was a common way for the hero to lose in trainer dramas, softening the blow to their reputation. That "are you a trainer or not?" crack was straight out of Kanto Quest or Pokémon Journey Kalos.
hah, love it!

"Are you... Half?" he asked.

Moriko's stomach tightened. He'd probably seen the reflection on her tapetum from the firelight. "Yes," she managed to say.

Matt tilted his head, and she saw it—the eyeshine on his yellow eyes.

He was part-Second Crossing. Like her.

She hadn't noticed it in the daytime, and lots of people had genehance hair and eyes, but you had to be part-Second Crossing to have that reflectivity.

Matt watched her with a hopefulness that he was trying to hide. "You said that you lived with your aunt and uncle?"

"Yes." She closed her mouth on all the things she could say about them. "They're Third Crossing."
This second crossing/third crossing stuff has been nicely sprinkled about. I don't really get what it means yet but it seems like you're taking a sci-fi route? Like, space-crossing or something? That's oddly unexplored in fandom so cool to see.

She'd felt relief earlier in the day, renewed, skin shed and Moriko the trainer born at last, and now—what could her aunt and uncle do next? Would they try anything else? Send rangers after them? They were adults, they were properly registered with the league, they'd been vetted by a professor, their pokémon had been verified many times.

Moriko tried to imagine something properly nasty, but she could only summon up pranks—or ludicrously escalated situations: fire, murder, false accusations, TV drama absurdities. She groaned softly and covered her eyes.
Also liking this reaction. Makes me a bit worried that there is something Moriko hasn't thought of here!

"That happens sometimes after you're in a battle," Tarahn said. "It's over, but your body doesn't know that. It helps if you go back into your pokéball for a while."

Moriko smiled and reached over, scratching his chin. "Where's my pokéball?"

The raigar's tail thumped, acknowledging the difficulty.
Ooh, love this. Nice moment of cross-cultural communication.

"First time for everyone, then," Moriko said mildly.
Lol, she's pissed. Matt's assholery is being woven in pretty subtly, which is nice after the Means Girls esque stuff.

"Want to fight?" Matt called up at it.

"Hark at this brave soul that wants to fight a cocoon," it replied. "Do you steal from infants as well?"

Matt grinned. "What, are you telling me you aren't interested?"

"I hid myself in this tree for a reason, killer. I can't move."
Snarky cocoon! But . . . I'm curious why "killer" is the go-to epithet? Worrying . . .

"Do you need anything?" Russ added.

"Sure, pick those pieces of bark off the ground and hold them up here," the cocoon pokémon said. "No, the bigger one. Not the rotten ones. Higher."

Shortly the shed tree bark was wedged around the chrystalis, better shielding it from view from the path, and it closed its eye as they left.
Ah, this was sweet.

"Where'd you learn to build fires? That looks terrible."

Moriko snapped dry twigs, arranging them and papery bark under the tented sticks. Her smile was as brittle as the kindling.
Moriko really does not need this shit from random traveling companion.

"Even you?"

"Matt, shut it."
Pretty abrupt end here.
 

Meridian

local liminal entity
Location
The Casca Region
Pronouns
any/all
This second crossing/third crossing stuff has been nicely sprinkled about. I don't really get what it means yet but it seems like you're taking a sci-fi route? Like, space-crossing or something? That's oddly unexplored in fandom so cool to see.

For me this makes more sense as I read the ch.14 interlude, for the most part, before I actually started Gods and Demons.
This and a fair bit of other stuff is up on the gaiindex blog. Link, although it is readable on the ao3 version too.

A part of me had a chuckle this morning as I saw that Chapter 2 went up on here a day after I finished re-reading on ao3.
I've said it before, but I'm enjoying the hyperlinked pokemon names more and more.
Pen's already hit on some of my favorite parts about your worldbuilding, but it's worth saying again: Love 👏 Some 👏 In-Universe 👏 Pop-Culture (and worldbuilding flavor text)
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Notes on the prologue:

In general, I think you did a good job describing the fight scene. I like how you described the electivire's movement as "spiderlike"--it struck me as a good synonym. I think this is the only part I had trouble visualizing:

The electivire was blasted away with a cry, a gout of poison- and ground-type energy exploding all around it, summoned up from the arena floor by the drapion.

I don't exactly know what poison and ground-type energies are supposed to look like, so I wasn't totally clear on this one. It could just be me, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

Also, the paragraph I mentioned above, as well as the paragraph right before it, use the present progressive tense in instances where it might be more appropriate to use simple past tense. My understanding is that quick or sudden actions (like an explosion of energy) are generally best conveyed that way--at least, according to conventional wisdom. And maybe it would make more sense to describe the blast before saying that the electivire was sent flying, since that's the order in which the events happened? I don't know, I'm not an expert on this stuff, this is just my intuition talking. Don't get me wrong, this isn't anything that's severely impacting my enjoyment, but there may be potential for small improvements.

She breathed out, a long exhalation

I think this is a bit redundant; it would be fine to just say "She let out a long breath" or something like that.

Orthrus raised their heads as she came to her apartments.

Should "her" be "their"?

She stripped off her sweaty robes, the black silks rippling with birdwing iridescence

Yay, nature-related metaphors!

Anyway, the prologue definitely has some intrigue, and leaves me wondering why Gen is bothering to feed that weird creature.

Notes on Chapter 1:

"I'm going out with Dave and them, do you want to come? You can't wear that though," she added.

I would get rid of "she added", it read a little awkwardly to me, and isn't required for this sentence.

Also aunt Rachel sucks lol (unfortunately though, I can't say she's unrealistic)

but that would be too obvious, too escalating

I think maybe provocative would be a better word than "escalating"

She was directed to the back through a series of faintly antiseptic-smelling hallways.

"Directed" sounded weird to me, maybe "funneled" would be better?

but other jobs use pokémon, vital careers with pokémon in necessary roles, fulfilling and interesting ones.

I think this could be rephrased; the way the word "pokemon" was used twice sounded weird to me. Maybe "but there are other fulfilling, interesting careers centered around pokemon" or something.

They rode their bikes together in silence for a while, the bike lane crowded with kids heading home after school and a few couriers not yet finished deliveries.

I think it should be "not yet finished WITH deliveries."

Russ looked at her, lips thin where he was biting them, and nodded.

I like the body language there.

She was tall, like Russ, and had merely titian hair where his was a crimson genehance

I couldn't figure out what genehance means.

she crushed her plastic party cup in her hands

Again, I appreciate the body language

Also, this part from earlier:

She imagined striding into the hall boldly, doors crashing open and music rising in a crescendo as she appeared, everyone's attention on her.

She snuck in through the kitchen.

I felt that having Moriko enter though the kitchen was some good characterization, and I like the juxtaposition of those two paragraphs.

Anyway, my overall thoughts were that this chapter was pretty draining--probably intentionally so, since Moriko's perspective is meant to be kind of depressing. But, yeah... between that and the slow pacing, it's kind of tough to read through. On the one hand, she's clearly been abused and emotionally damaged, but on the other hand, her conversation with her counselor implies that her problems are at least partly caused by her own lack of planning. I do like her relationship with Tarahn, and it was endearing when he tried to dance with her. We don't really get to know what his thoughts are on things, though, from what I remember. Maybe there could have been a couple more scenes where Moriko confides in/builds her relationship with him, like after her aunt tries to steal her money and she retreats to the guest room. I feel like that could have balanced out the sadness a bit, and maybe set some things up for later. Just something I would have liked, I can't speak for other people.

Also, maybe the bit at the ice cream shop could have been cut.

Your prose is solid imo, it's functional and for the most part leaves us to focus on Moriko's thoughts and feelings, which I felt were pretty realistic.

I really appreciate the hyperlinks for the fakemon, thank you for including those.

That's all I got for now.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
  3. custom/roserade-adam
This fic has been hyped up quite extensively in the server, and I've finally decided to check it out now and see what the excitement is all about.

As soon as I started the prologue, I was surprised and intrigued by the abundance of fanmon. Sure, we only see a few here, but this fic by far has the highest density of them I've seen already. It's a bit refreshing, and also, good call on linking artworks of the fanmons since I otherwise would've struggled to picture them in my head. I already struggled to picture the Mega drapion and Electivire earlier too >->.

That aside, I do like Genevieve in the prologue too. I'm a bit bummed that we may not see more of her till twenty or so chapters in, but I look forward to see the actual main cast in the first chapter proper.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
  3. custom/roserade-adam
Boy, I never would've guessed the first chapter of this fic would be this heavy after what I read in the prologue. I guess you did leave behind a cw, but I underestimated how much of this chapter would be encompassed by that. This isn't a criticism of this fic, just lamenting my lack of preparation going into this lol.

The first chapter did do a solid job setting up the main protagonist, Moriko. This would be the second fic I've read where the 'Hafu' protagonist is being discriminated against for what they are. The other being Pen's Dragon Dance. And both for their exotic natural hair dye.

You did an excellent job of portraying Moriko's fears and anxieties throughout this chapter. Her aunt is a really nasty fellow, but I hear some people think she's over the top? I wonder what it says about me that people like the aunt are the norm here… Anyhow, I really felt a lot of the emotions Moriko went through.

On the world building front, I once again love all the fanmon designs sprinkled across this chapter. Raigar's look and sound awesome, though they're obviously not a mon for everyone with their playful and mischievous nature. The jester bells are also a nice addition. The other fanmons were also pretty solid and I almost want to draw some of them too.

Overall, this was a hard hitting but solid first chapter. I look forward to seeing where Moriko's journeys will take her, and if she'll find peace of mind away from her troubled home.
 

Dragonfree

Moderator
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
  2. mightyena
  3. charizard
  4. custom/scyther-mia
Here reading chapter two! Finally! Look at me actually keeping up with a fic!

I enjoy the depiction of Pokémon working mundane non-battle-related jobs here early in the chapter; just feels very normal as part of the world.

Russ jerked back. "I'm gay, you complete raisin—"
"You complete raisin" is a fantastic insult.

I'm so mad at these kids and their rumour-mill, you have no idea.

"I'm sure you'll use them. It will blow up with notifications if you come into town or to a hotspot after being away for a while, too, which can be alarming. One of my grad students had a black metal song as her notification sound, and as we drove into Verdure Town we had to listen to overlapping screaming about witches coming out of the dark forest until someone sat on her pokédex."
Ahaha, amazing. Love this worldbuilding stuff about the Pokédex as a real, practical device; super grounded and real.

After the confrontation with Angela and her group, Moriko couldn't help whipping her head around at every vehicle noise. She glanced back down the road as if her aunt and uncle were about to come screeching up to try to haul her away. She tried to turn it into anger—come at me, then—but she just wanted to run. She kept touching Rufus and Tarahn's pokéballs to make sure they were still there.
Oof, this paragraph hits hard in its innocuous-looking way. In general Moriko's insecurity and self-loathing just aches. The way she's been beating herself up about not training her Pokémon enough and how she should have been able to balance school with it really adds to it too. Please protect her.

Moriko smiled, rueful; she'd definitely lacked the money for that one and trying to get her aunt and uncle on board had been futile. With hindsight it had been hopelessly naïve to think that they'd allow or pay for it. She tried to remember when it all had started, the yelling fights and capricious reversals that left her dreading coming home at times. It must have been okay, before; they'd taken her to get a starter as a preteen, and she and Angela had even been friendly, once.
Huh, interesting! Wonder if this will be explored.

It took me a bit to get the conversation on badges; I'm not sure if it's actually that it's confusing or just that I kept being interrupted while reading and had completely forgotten the exchange started with the bit about them having been considering going to Kalos and that's why they're implying it would've been odd for them to be so old while also talking about how the League doesn't allow it.

Moriko sighed gratefully as the other trainer rejoined her friends. There was at least one other person out there who was friendly and normal, and Moriko knew battling, she knew what to say—
LET MORIKO BE HAPPY

Russ built up the fire, and soon they had a comforting blaze going. The evening was pleasant without it, but it would keep animals away while attracting pokémon. Russ revealed that he'd packed a small bag of marshmallows as well, and they set them roasting on sticks, and Rufus requested and received one that was black and on fire.

They sat around chatting and listened to Tarahn attempt to tell jokes, but something was lost in translation—or maybe they really were only funny to him, since Maia and Sylvia just put their heads on the side at what rhythm and intonation seemed to indicate was the punchline. His physical comedy drew laughs, at least.
These bits were cute. A bit sad there still isn't much characterization to Rufus, other than this little bit about the marshmallow - where Tarahn is a real character already, it doesn't feel like Rufus means very much to Moriko in comparison, which I guess makes sense if he's spent most of his time at the professor's, but still. Hope there's more of him to come.

She entertained the idea of explaining complex human social expectations to a pokémon. Nah.

"You remember how my aunt attacked me? I'm worried that will happen again."

"That happens sometimes after you're in a battle," Tarahn said. "It's over, but your body doesn't know that. It helps if you go back into your pokéball for a while."

Moriko smiled and reached over, scratching his chin. "Where's my pokéball?"
Love this - they're both sapient but just think pretty differently. It's so cute how he wants to help in his own kind of way. I would die for Tarahn, such a good cat.

Love the conversation with the wild Chrystalis, too - so good to see wild Pokémon just casually being characters.

I also like how Moriko doesn't enjoy Matt insulting her fire-building abilities, even in an entirely friendly, jokey way - it's got to be too close for comfort to the way she's genuinely been treated. I don't read Matt as trying to be a jerk there, at least at the moment, but the friction between them is extremely understandable.

Dave clapped Russ on the back and shook his hand, saying something to him quietly, and he followed his group out the pokécenter doors.
Hmmm, don't like this. (In-universe, I mean. Guessing this is followup on the rumour mill from earlier.)

Lots of good stuff in this chapter. It did feel a little slow and heavy on worldbuilding exposition, though - I love the worldbuilding in this fic, it feels very real and lived-in, but a pretty significant portion of the chapter is noticeably primarily there to tell us about the worldbuilding, and at least for myself, I think it was a bit much of that and a bit too little stuff actually happening, in comparison. There's good character work here, though, and I continue to intensely want to protect Moriko. Tarahn is so lovely. All I want is for this girl and her cat to be okay.
 
Top Bottom