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Pokémon Hey, Space Cadet!

Author's Notes + Ch1

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
SUMMARY:
Connor Murdoch is fresh out of Snowpoint's trainer school and embarking on the gym circuit along with his childhood friend and friendly rival, as young trainers do on most years. This year is slightly different. His hometown is at risk of losing its gym and academy funding after years upon years of diminishing trainer output. The strength of the Sinnoh Regional Association and its Pokémon League is under greater scrutiny, almost twenty years after its golden age ended in sheer catastrophe. And there is, of course, Team Galactic, the developing rebel faction with unknown goals, who will cast a great shadow over the coming months.
All of this is too much for Connor and his one friend. Maybe someone will fix it before it blows over, and maybe it'll be him. But that's unlikely. Right now, his focus is on the gyms, and solely on the gyms. And maybe figuring out the visions he's been having lately. Don't worry, he knows who's responsible for them, and he swears they're not all bad...

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hello! Here's a thing I've been writing. It's based off Platinum, albeit quite a bit loosely. You'll see what I mean, but the gist of it: the main characters are OCs and I've tweaked certain other elements a little. I wanted to write something about the legends of Sinnoh with special focus on the Lunar Duo, and have ended up doing it in the most convoluted way possible, so like... expect a lot of that, eventually, and expect a lot of lore that I just sorta made up, too.

There'll be a lot of ground to cover if things turn out as planned. Massive thanks go out to TR's very own Panoramic_Vacuum for helping me out with some beta-reading and ironing things out, and also for just generally being a sound individual. :>

More precise content warnings will be provided with each chapter, but generally speaking: this story will heavily contain strong language, repeated allusions towards depression/self-loathing, derealisation and violence.

Currently I've got the first five chapters up on AO3, and three after that are varying degrees of done. I'm gonna aim for a post schedule of every Monday for these first eight chapters, but I can't make too many promises beyond that. There will be a good few hiatuses while I go off and write/edit the story in chunks; rest assured that I'll be working on this ruddy thing until further notice.

As for feedback: feel free to leave whatever thoughts you think are necessary! I might be slow to implement any suggestions, in part because it's a habit I need to break and in part because my focus switches erratically between fixing old chapters and writing new ones (I try to focus on the latter, but hey, sometimes things go up and something doesn't sit right with me about them), but I do sincerely appreciate your readership, and any opinion you may have on the story is one I'd more than welcome. :>

Anyway! Without further ado...


CHAPTER ONE: Go to Sleep. Everything is Alright.
- Shortened the first half of the chapter to make it move faster. And also to hopefully make the identity of Connor's attacker a little clearer.
- Certain parts amended slightly to read a bit smoother
- Renamed the chapter. I thought the Roy Orbison quote was fitting. There's another paraphrase from the same song slipped in here!


The weather had been unusually good over the past few days, but there was no time to enjoy it now. Something had gone terribly wrong somewhere down the line, and there was no time to speculate on where, but the issue was simple. Right now Connor Murdoch was alone, hundreds of miles away from home, and he was not equipped for this. How could anyone have been?

This was a matryoshka doll of situations he should not have been in, but long story short, he stood in the Valley Windworks, he had someone to look for, and the corridor ahead of him didn’t seem to end. It stretched out as far as he could see, which admittedly wasn’t that far because the lights were out, but it still raised questions. There could’ve been other explanations, like the chance that unbeknownst to him the building was a miracle of architecture that was so much bigger on the inside than out. Connor couldn’t muster anything more reasonable than this. He knew it didn’t make much sense. He went with it anyway.

A quick glance over his shoulder reassured him the door hadn’t vanished and wasn’t planning to do so any time soon. In spite of what he told himself, he could have left at any moment. Doing so would’ve allowed him to go about the rest of his business without thinking about any of this. Floaroma was a nice town full of nice people, like the guy he’d promised to save. Connor had never met him before, but his eight-year-old daughter loved him enough to chase a complete stranger up for help. She was just the sort of person he just couldn’t bring himself to disappoint.

Sometimes, he wished he had a better brain, or at the very least better ideas. Right now he had nothing except the plastic on his belt and the dark corridor before him. The big room behind him had been empty when he checked it, much to his bewilderment. Half-finished work hung over the room, and cold coffee lingered in a mug emblazoned by words: “Best dad in the world.” Out of everything, that stuck with Connor. Good dads don’t leave their children’s gifts behind if they’re going far, and as far as it concerned him, the sort of people who took those gifts away were probably murderers, too. Life was still here, but by process of elimination, it had to be on the other side of shadows.

Connor peered again into the darkness as a bead of sweat trickled down the back of his collar. No foe faced him at the other end of the corridor to be fought with hands or his pokémon. What was he so afraid of then? He was in control here, he would do this on his own terms. After all, the only sensible reason for the hallway to have been dark was that the lights were off, and not because something was actually down there. That was absurd, and thinking so reassured him as much as it could’ve done. It didn’t get rid of the shadows, though, nor did it mean he was absolved of greeting what lay on the other side of them. If things played out the way he expected— and he considered himself an optimist here— this meant intruding on a hostage situation. That was a big if. He was… scared? Scared was just a word. Some feelings can’t be summed up with a word. Like this one, for example; this was more the sort of feeling that Connor had to promise never to feel again. That promise fell on deaf ears. He stood in an industrial complex at the mercy of hands unseen, with no way out that made him feel any better about himself. He was alone. This was scary. He was scared.

But being scared didn’t help anybody. Action did. Every step on laminate floorboards rang sharp in the air, alerting whoever was in the dark to his approach. Except he swore he was still alone, and there was nothing to be afraid of. Darkness only meant that no lights were on. Besides, nothing moved in the shadows. Empty shadows were as good as a friend.

Something moved in the shadows.

He stopped. His heart almost followed suit. Something moved in the shadows.

He didn’t hear it make a sound, though he couldn’t say for sure, because his heartbeat drowned out everything else. But just because he hadn’t heard a thing didn’t mean a thing hadn’t heard him. Faltering breaths squeaked out from his dry, chapped lips, and his fingers thrummed against the pocket of his jeans in an uneven rhythm. It was probably nothing… as if probably guaranteed safety. Most likely just a wild drifloon or something; the poor creature was probably the victim of an offhand breeze and got stuck inside. Still, if it attacked him, he would have to fight back. Connor couldn’t risk causing that scene — nor could he risk facing the cops. He tried to make himself as big as possible to ward off the intruder. Which was kind of silly, because he was the intruder, and there’s not much you can do to make yourself big when you’re all of five feet tall.

Something had crept up on him, though. It was a smell. Not a stench; upon arrival it didn’t knock him dead on his feet. Nor was it a particularly bad smell, either; its presence was neutral. Maybe even nice in different circumstances. But not here. No building that was in use every day — no building that was in use right now — should have reeked of dust. Particles scratched against his throat, and he could’ve sworn he was choking. Breathing should have come naturally, like moving, but he found himself unable to do either. He surely hadn’t gone more than five meters this whole time, but the hallway felt five meters darker, only illuminated by leftover specks of light.

Out of instinct, his hand cupped the warm plastic home of his closest friend. The pokéball was still there — why wouldn’t it have been? Of course, he was unable to do anything with it; hurling it at shadows was at best a waste of energy and at worst certain death.

What path was he to take, then? Plan A had been to pass through without incident, which was such a basic task that he hadn’t considered a plan B necessary. But he stood on the precipice of an incident anyway. It wasn’t like this made leaving any more a noble option, though, because he hadn’t accomplished anything here yet. Here he was, at a crossroads: leave with no dignity, or stay for the sliver of hope that things would turn out alright. He took one step forward… and then another…

…and in no time at all, fatigue had nearly overcome him. Moving had become an act of dragging his body around like a dead weight, while every part of him pulled together into a yawn that he could not contain despite his clenched jaw. His eyelids only grew heavier, until keeping them open was a great exertion. Everything was exhausting, and there was no escape; he was bound by an obligation to the child he'd met… when was this? Couldn't have been more than half an hour ago, but he wasn't keeping track. He barely felt like he existed. He wanted to dissolve into a puddle until his head stopped aching. He wanted to sleep. He had to sleep.

But his moment of weakness left him vulnerable, and he realised this too late to go unnoticed. It was the shadows themselves that moved, as if getting into formation. Whatever lurked here spoke to him, and he heard it not through his brain, but through carvings that flashed across his mind.

“You will not find your truth here, child.”

Connor tried to respond, but found himself dazed and without the strength to stand. Turning back wasn't an option, he reminded himself. Vague colours started to swirl off in the far edge of his vision, though they were merely formless blobs against the oblivion that lay ahead. Perhaps this wasn't necessary. Perhaps he could give in. What strength did he have to go on? All he had to go was go to sleep. Then everything would be alright. He closed his eyes…

The thought of abandoning the girl outside, leaving her too without a father, jolted him back. He couldn't turn back, could he? He reached a hand out, his arm stretching and locking before him. But he made contact with nothing in the blank space ahead — the shadows retreated from his touch. For a brief moment, there was a glowing light. It left him.

Why was he here?

“I can't leave,” he mumbled. “I-I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't… there's someone who needs me. I need to help her. I can't have her… I'm sorry. Please let me through.”

Where was he? Could he even stand? He'd intended to say that, but in his state, he wasn't sure how much was intelligible. How much longer would this last? A rising tide of bile formed in him and rose, but he resisted the urge to puke; what impression would this have made to the one that spoke to him? He was pathetic, but he wasn't an idiot. There was no way he would pass. But the key was that he had to try.

The voice did not respond, but that didn't matter all that much. It hadn't gone away. Everything was the same, and Connor felt numb. Nothing felt quite real; he turned back, but the rest of the hallway had been reduced to a smear that swayed in his vision alongside his head. He turned back to meet nothingness once more, and tried to speak. His words came out as fragments, interspersed by yawns.

“…I shouldn't have done this. I don't want to hurt you, but… I had to try… who are you?”

“I understand. Forgive me.”

An inky tendril reached out and wrapped around him, constricting him for just a few moments. This stole the air from his body, it ripped the last bit of resistance out of him, and then it disappeared to leave Connor alone. Then, the drifting off began.

Sleep did not come immediately. It was more of a falling sensation; he was a ragdoll with nothing underneath him. There was no energy in him for mustering resistance, and he was pretty sure that the corridor got further away with every passing moment. He was falling, and he tried to muster concern.

The one thing he had to cling onto was that he didn’t feel dead. There was no way of knowing, but he was certain that dying was supposed to feel more natural than this. His body and soul were supposed to peacefully part ways, and he'd just stop being there. This hadn't happened. He was still here, still intact, just falling into a comfortable nothing. Maybe it was a good thing he was still around. It wasn’t like dying did anything for the people of Snowpoint, or the man he was trying to find, or anyone, except for making Mum very upset.

His last thought before everything faded was a question: was he really only here to keep others happy?



At some point, he eased his eyes open. When had he closed them? When had he landed? Before his answers came, light crept in from all corners of his vision so brightly that it stung his retinas. He squinted as the world came back into view, much less familiar than it had been.

It was immediately obvious why it was so bright; there were no walls. The hallway he’d come to know was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the entire Windworks building was gone and he was left sprawled out on his back under the open sky. Except it was nothing like any sky he’d ever seen. A crimson pool had replaced the usual cheery blue, and bits of sludge oozed by, passing themselves off as clouds. Through all the oddity, he spotted something familiar. The rocky spire of Mt. Coronet sliced through the gloom, a burning white halo threatening to swallow it from above. It had an equal chance of being the sun or the moon, but that didn’t matter much; it didn’t resemble either so much as it was an indiscernible white hole around which paint coalesced. Silhouettes pierced the distant sky, their forms closer to decommissioned space shuttles than buildings.

It was all a bit much, really. Looking on at all this, he found himself unable to do anything except blink in disbelief, and ask himself “what the hell?”. None of what he saw could’ve been real; not so soon after he’d been in the hallway on what had otherwise been a fairly normal day. Yet he was there. He felt it as he laid his hands across the ground. They hurt where he had scraped them earlier. He was in this world, touching something in it, and if he wasn’t to trust his sense of touch… what was there to trust?

His fingers curled in frustration, digging his nails into the ground to try to drag himself back to reality, only to find a cold hill had become his unloving mattress. Frost covered every blade of grass, forming one white mass that bit at his tender palms. March was never particularly warm in Sinnoh — no month was, really — but it was never this cold, especially not lately. He sat up, hugging his chest to try and stay warm.

Shivering, he squinted into the distance. It was as if the world changed under closer scrutiny. The silhouettes towering over the nearby city morphed into cathedral spires, spawning a whole city around them. Houses sprung up all around, but every one was devoid of life. As Connor’s eyes followed the roads he noticed they were empty, too. Every single inhabitant of the city took refuge in a great big stadium, painted with oddly muted colours. Only so many people could fit inside. More people straggled along outside it, trying to push and shove their way in.

A part of him wanted to go and join them to see what the fuss was about. But he found himself having second thoughts as he rose to his feet: he loathed crowds. So focused on swallowing down his rising panic, Connor nearly jumped out of his skin as broken church bells rang across the sky. But it didn’t stop at one chime. One more rang out, then another, then another. The resultant cacophony was a patchwork of noises that fit together like a glove to a foot, loud enough to cleave the sky in half. He watched as the crack spiderwebbed, splitting the sky into many pieces, each drained of any colour.

He wanted to count them. It was the first thing he thought to do. First to calm his racing heart, and second to try to inject some reason into what he was witnessing. It made more sense if he operated under the impression that this was a riddle he had the means to solve. Connor liked riddles; they actively discouraged panic. They were logical devices. They could be explained away. But as he scrambled to explain this one, the noise only digging further into his ears, something horrible dawned on him: there was no explanation. So he started running.

Connor was never the most athletic person, and he was never more acutely aware of this than now. Every sensation that coursed through his body was unpleasant. Carbon dioxide ran like sandpaper against his throat, the grating sensation of which bled down into his lungs. His shins were splintered wood connected to his feet by nothing more than tissue and hope. It didn’t help that the air was as thick as molasses either. In the end all of his efforts to run amounted to very little movement at all. The world moved around him, if anything. It was nothing more than a strange slush of colours now. But though he was alone, he couldn’t shake the feeling something guided him through it.

Was he the center of this universe now? Did everything orbit around him? All these questions swirled around his head, with no immediate hope of an answer in sight. But as he scrambled to unlock whatever puzzle he’d been given, he found something in lieu of a key. It was… less of a thought, really. More of an instinct. Something he wasn’t consciously telling himself and could not justify. Praying had never really been a part of his routine, and he’d never grown particularly acquainted with any form of scripture. But he knew where his legs were carrying him. The unseen hand that guided him was taking him to the house of the gods.

It felt as though the motion of his body existed in tandem with the motion of the world outside him, but there was no stopping either, because he simply couldn’t; all responsibility fell on the white hole in the sky. So when several fingers sprouted out of that hole, each touching horizons in every direction, Connor didn’t know how to process it except to keep running. He watched as the tendrils took a form that lay just outside his grasp. They didn’t seem to have any single colour, shape or set of rules that defined them, and staring at them expecting them to justify their presence seemed like a futile gesture. They were flatly-prismed-rectangles, black and red and gold and blue at the same time if perceived in different ways. They were holes whose specifics were made up by the brain, it felt; a placeholder perceivable in so many ways but genuine in just one.

Connor was still trying to figure out which one, exactly, when everything jerked in one spasmodic motion, and for a moment he was separated from what he knew. It was the strangest moment he’d ever existed in. No buffer separated him from the rest of the world for a second: the silent filter between his eyes and what they saw vanished, and everything screamed. The sensation was as though sharp metal edges sprouted right into his pink fleshy brain. He found himself looking in all directions but totally unsure what to make of any of it. Everything changed depending on how he looked at it, but no way could’ve been right because everything hung in perpetual change. Beams of light bounced around his head, and the eyes he trusted to decipher this world had failed him. Every sense worked overtime the moment those things sprouted into the sky, every lobe of his brain overpowered by an ether that reeked of ethanol, and though he tried nothing could overcome it.

Finding himself overwhelmed, he blinked. Just for a second. To stop the onslaught.

When his eyes re-opened, there was nothing. He stood alone in the void, save for the object his heart desired. Above him rose the spires of the cathedral. As his eyes swept across the ancient stone, a solid pool settled at the bottom of his chest. It weighed him down, threatening to plunge into his stomach and tangle everything up inside. He took deep breaths, focusing on keeping himself together as though it was all he could do anymore. His gaze swept from the foot of the staircase to the idols perched atop its eaves. He found himself quaking.

Connor had grown up in the ever-looming shadow of the great forbidden temple at the heart of Snowpoint, which survived because people wanted it to survive. They wanted it so hard that basically everyone in town knew someone who worked there. It wasn’t easy, but it was a living, and it kept the temple up. It kept whatever lurked inside it, too. Not that anyone knew what that was, exactly, because they were rarely allowed to disturb it. Entire ecosystems flourished inside those halls, in part because it was too much work to comb over every minute detail of the damn thing and in part because the wild had a right to live there. Nobody knew where it came from, exactly; they just let it be, because it was just as much their home as Snowpoint was Connor’s, or Mum’s, or anyone else’s.

This, on the other hand, was Hearthome Cathedral. This was a monument, a house built for Arceus. Bigger buildings probably existed, but more intimidating ones… seemed out of the question. Even when the sky was something else, those spires still touched it, not ending but instead becoming part of an unpierced rubber ceiling. It had finally merged with a god, yes, but not that one. Against the empty world, those polished marble bricks were the brightest thing he had ever seen; they were so pure and glistened so hard, their light sterile enough to sear pink blotches into his retinas that stayed whenever he blinked. Nothing suggested this was made for living, and nothing had lived there. It stood unblemished without effort, because defiling the houses of the holy was basically heresy. Some people were perfectly happy shoving a middle finger in the faces of the gods. But not here. Not in this place.

As if drawn by a magnet’s pull, Connor trudged forward, footfalls heavier and heavier the closer he came to the foot of the stairs. Traversing the stairway required him to haul his carcass as far as he could know, which the moment dictated was both too far and nothing at all. At the end lay a vanishing point that, as he approached, slowly revealed itself as a doorway. Its doors were made of cross-stitched oakwood and at least three times his size. Like many things, they changed under increasing scrutiny; the oakwood extended and collapsed into an open maw by its own free will.

Every step rang out across the marble floor, reaching an empty world where no sound was heard because nobody was there to hear sound. He was totally alone, like he was the only thing that really existed. The thought made him… content, somehow, as selfish as it was. It was his house now. So into it he went.

The cathedral was hollow, sparse and cavernous, more so than most caves. No light crawled in through any window, though the echo of every footstep gave life to the candles that flanked him; they weren’t much, but they allowed Connor more sight the further in he went. No matter how polished the marble walls were, they devoured the light, giving the impression that the building was held up by rock in its natural form. At the altar, a pair of sharpened pillars jutted out from the walls, crimson chains snaking down their length like veins pumping diluted blood. Before them lay rows of empty pews that could’ve seated thousands. Each was marked with an insignia: a wheel centered on nothing, punctuated by four outward-facing spears with jewels encrusted in each. Connor hadn’t seen such a symbol before, and it stuck with him as he walked further down. It had to mean something, at least.

But this felt wrong. Hearthome Cathedral’s greatest pride was the stained glass window at the altar. It was so steeped in splendid imagery with so many colours, crafted out of such a deep love for Sinnese lore and all its deities. None of it meant a thing if Connor couldn’t see it. The spectacle had gone, an amorphous blob taking its place in the unlit void. There should’ve been someone there. Was this world devoid of Arceus? Of the rest? Did he somehow supplant the entire pantheon in this realm of nothingness?

It felt weird thinking about all this, because in case that this was actually happening and wasn’t just in his head (which was not, he reminded himself, his fault), there was a real chance this was the last thing that would ever happen, anywhere.

The walk had to end at the altar. The path he had been carried down did not immediately extend beyond this point. Standing before his destination, Connor was faced with the discordant trumpet tones at the end of the universe. A plate lay before him, engraved with the same wheel insignia. Two things sat in its center. One was an entire star distilled into a milky white globe complete with particles locked in an uneven waltz around it. The other was a rock with countless hexagonal faces, so dense that specks of dust seemed to slow as they inevitably fell near it.

An open book sprawled upon the table offered him an explanation. Unfortunately, its contents were written in a vaguely familiar script: ancient Sinnese runes, copied over from carvings on rock face. As recently as last year he studied history, and he hadn’t planned to go any further because his B grade was enough, frankly. This disqualified him from being even close to an expert on runes, or understand any of this outside of maybe a few key words; he leaned in ever closer to the page, hoping that, maybe, he’d be lucky enough—

It was over in an instant, and he was helpless to stop it. A loud crack shattered his eardrums and his spine ignited in pain, searing every one of his nerves; suddenly he wasn’t quite Connor anymore. A streak of bright blue blinded him, and when his eyes re-opened he found all he could do was see. Signals from his brain congested at its stem before they could reach his fingertips. For the second time, he was locked in his own body and unable to reach out for help… but then, who was there to give it? There was no helping the fact that the world had entirely melted away. All that remained was the altar, the strange orbs, and the open book, the information from which began gushing through an open door and into his head:

“All that you have ever known is owed to the hatching of the egg, which was the beginning. Arceus emerged as all matter spewed forth into the ether, and all that remained of the egg was the seventeen shards of its tectonic shell, each having meaning carved into it in utero by the thousand hands of Arceus. But the universe they spawned into, beyond the deep pool of matter, was empty. Arceus looked as far as they could see in any direction, and though it stretched out forever, it had no meaning. It only stayed the same, neither living or ever dying. So, they decided, they would create life for death to trail onto. And thus, Palkia and Dialga emerged from nothing; space began to move outwards, matter began to take form, and the march of time began.”

In plain view, a universe was born, centered on the two unnameable artifacts held on the altar. It progressed in the same vein universes do; stars began to form, obtained gravitational pulls, eventually had planets orbiting them thanks to collisions caused by their gravitational pulls — all for Connor to watch without the ability to interfere. Eventually, the projection changed focus, centering on the one planet he knew: the one orbiting his star, in the middle of his galaxy, floating on the little speck in the cosmos that he called home. Earth was not really home when he saw it, at least not yet. It was more of a nondescript blue-and-green orb that looked a bit silly compared to the rest of the solar system. This was all very cool, and a spectacle if ever there was one, but he couldn’t help but ask: what was the point of this? This didn’t answer any of his questions.

Except something strange happened that moment. Right above his home, the fabric of space seemed to stretch too far and, like a cheap plastic bag, tore open; from it emerged an impossibly shaped meteor. He only saw it for a moment or two, but it didn’t really seem the sort of thing that could be perceived in just three dimensions, nor did it refract the sun’s light as it should have. It was either gold, gray, or not there at all. Then it burst open like a fist above the world, with crimson tendrils on the tips of its countless wings, ready to consume. It was, in a sense, alive.

“But what is taken from the ether must eventually be returned. In the image of those that ruled space and time came their antithesis: Giratina, lord of worlds beyond comprehension, emerged to strike the gods. Though it was outnumbered, its hundred wings, unbound by the laws of physics, allowed it the upper hand. It landed an endless flurry of crushing blows upon those who denied it repayment, and their retribution fell on deaf ears, all while the mouth through which it emerged swallowed entire solar systems. Time and space hung on the same loose thread as their kings when they fell through our atmosphere, their impact so mighty it split the seas. There they landed, prone and helpless. Had Arceus not intervened, they would have surely died, taking the world with them.”

Amidst the all-consuming darkness, a halo formed from seventeen divine slabs of rock. Each took a different form, the text on each glowing violently in the same golden hue as the finally materialised holy wheel that plagued these visions. The glow faded into fireflies, lighting up the dark while coalescing into a form that seemed to defy observation, with more arms than could be counted and eyes who sliced the ether like a sword through skin.

“’O Plates of my own flesh, lend me your strength just once more. Allow the universe to fight as one, and purge this darkness for all of time.’ Those were the words they spoke as the hands that created everything seized Giratina, bending it into an unfamiliar form long enough for Judgement to be cast. Infinite supernovas scorched the universe, casting forth all of the energy Arceus could muster in one tremendous burst. Giratina was vanquished, sealed in a dimension of its own as punishment. Yet it was Arceus who repaid a debt that day: their body had ruptured in all places, their blood spewed out in wisps of smoke, and they could do no more. Unable to stand, they let out one final cry before their resting place became a shrine out of reach. There they rest forever, to return one day when the final trumpets are blown.”

In the dying embers of light, there was Sinnoh. Entirely unpopulated, but that was undoubtedly the land he knew: Mount Coronet, a blanket of white bordering it from the north and a sea of green from its south.

But what of the Plates?

“In time, life blossomed across the land. It was the pixies born of the lake first, whose powers combined to form the first species capable of reproduction — the root of all mortal beings— Mew. After the First Child, other creatures manifested from day and night, the sun and sea, the land, sky, and stars. However, none were blessed with knowledge of where the final fragments of Arceus’s egg lie. When the light cast forth, all were forced into different nooks and crannies of the world, their power never to be reclaimed by mortals.”

The tone took a pause before returning, poisoned and bitter like ink dripping through his head. The words from the page blurred and vanished, replaced by the voice he'd heard back in the shadowed hallway nearly a lifetime ago: “But here you are and here I am, bound together in an altar at the end of your world. We are not really here, but the logical path of our shared history leads us to a painful, bitter end. It is all thanks to you, and your horrible, insatiable desire to leave something behind after you exit the mortal plane.”

One Plate hung in the air, the same colour as excavated brain matter and thicker than any encyclopedia. As hard as he focused, Connor was confused by the words carved upon it:

“What good is knowing without making the decisions? Will reason keep you safe at night when the killer comes to the door?”

As if by direction he glanced back from the altar to the doors he’d come through. There was still nobody there. For now, the cathedral was safe from killers, and he couldn’t help but feel he’d just read something entirely irrelevant. Just as soon as the thought hit his mind, the Plate’s sheer radiance burned his eyes, and his agony found no mouth to escape through. He could only look for a second before he had to blink to stop himself from going blind.

When his eyes reopened, he found that a creature had spawned in front of him. It was tiny, feline and pink, soaring through the air with no baggage to weigh it down. He marveled at the creature where it bobbed, only to recoil in shock as it was seized by a colossal three-pronged hand, crushing it within its grasp. The hand belonged to… something akin to what it had just erased, but something entirely divorced from it. For a start, its skin seemed to have lost most of its pigment. Its body was slender, bordering on emaciated were it not for its muscle mass — though, he had to admit, for something with such tremendous arm strength, almost all of that mass went to its legs, chest and neck — and with such a mighty head on thin shoulders that it required what resembled… a second neck? But what stood out most to Connor as it tore the sky asunder was the look behind its eyes.

Its manner was monstrous and intense, so much so that he could not bring himself to look for more than a few seconds. But he sensed that the titan knew it should not be there. Some grand mistake had been made, as though the pen that recorded destiny had exploded and its ink contaminated the page. Its presence here could not have been a part of the master plan, but here it was, cleaving open the universe and ripping the finely-interwoven threads it was built upon like a sword through yarn.

Innocence. It wanted to claim innocence, but knew it could not. All its life had been hesitation, and its punishment was to face this crimson sky and these final church bells… It was the same scene Connor had just lived through, and was doomed to repeat again. But this time, there was no cathedral to run to; there were no fragments of this reality left to cling on to. There were, instead, one thousand shadowy hands clinging to Connor’s back, dragging him away from the empty stage, all while the same voice that had accompanied him through this apocalypse unlatched itself from him.

In spite of everything they had seen, the tone it took as it spoke to him one more time was not one rooted in anger. Both parties seemed to know that anger would fail to persuade either of them. While still unfaltering and firm as it always was, there was a real air of desperation in its voice that it seemed eager to hide. But Connor knew how desperation sounded. He would go to the same lengths to hide his own. Maybe, just maybe, the voice really was him; maybe it would finally lead him to a love of himself. But not now. Not in this world. Maybe in another.

Because there was no friendship in its message:

“I am sorry we had to meet like this, but for your sake, leave this alone. The road ahead will endanger you. I have plied this toil myself: it will not lead you to satisfaction, nor will it grant you control of your destiny. Learn from my mistakes. Leave.”

The message was a warning.
 
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Negrek

Triple Cross
Staff
Welcome to the forums! I saw you taking a look at some other people's fics, so I figured I'd pay yours a visit in turn. Glad I did! This is a promising start with a lot of things that appeal to me personally.

I think you do a wonderful job of the atmosphere here, especially at the very beginning, where Connor's trying to convince himself there's nothing to be afraid of in the shadows. The build of tension in that part was great, capped off by Mewtwo's(?) cryptic words that throw Connor right back into confusion and paranoia. You also do a nice job of the dreamlike, alien landscape of what I'm guessing is the Reverse World, or a vision of it. You obviously have a lot of fun with your surreal imagery, and I think you do a good job of capturing a dreamlike feel, where things kind of make sense or hang together on a symbolic level but don't proceed logically. I think the atmosphere and figurative language are the real standouts of this opening chapter.

I don't remember the Sinnoh storyline super well, but I think this is an actual canon event, yeah, where the player character is supposed to go into Valley Windworks to find one of the workers who was taken hostage in the Galactic takeover? I can see what you mean about this being based on Platinum, but loosely, heh. I'm curious whether after this intro things will go back to more normal training stuff for a bit, or if we're going to be going full-on Arceus and Giratina stuff from the start. One way or another, I think it's probably a wise choice to start things off here at the Windworks rather than at the beginning of Connor's journey as you'd expect in a lot of trainer fics; I'm guessing this is where his story really gets interesting, and how! It's nice not to get through a lot of typical opening work to end up here.

The lore you set up here is really compelling, a nice fleshing-out of the typical Sinnoh/pokéworld myths. But what I liked best about the ending section of the story was that I thought that you set up a nice sense of doom and inevitability: Connor's going to get caught up in a story governed by powers way beyond him, not by choice, and it's going to end in disaster. Things are falling apart, things aren't as they should be, and Connor isn't someone who's going to save it, but someone who's going to bring everything crashing down--and there's nothing he can do about it. Defiitely curious about where this is going to go and love the sense of epic tragedy established here. And I'm always here for Mewtwo, so I'm excited to see how he plays into everything else that's going on!

One thing I was curious about--the seventeen plates of Arceus are emphasized pretty heavily here, but at one point in his vision Connor sees the sky split into "sixteen distinct pieces." I'm wondering if that was also supposed to represent the plates and the number is just a mistake or something to do with the number of plates changing across generations. If it's not intended as some kind of reference/clue, maybe mentioning a specific number isn't the way to go here; to me it makes the line stick out as something significant and noteworthy.

While I liked the atmosphere you set here, I did at times feel like things were moving a little slowly--maybe a little too much imagery here and there, heh. This is a very introspective chapter, with like 90% of it just being Connor in his own head, which can be really tricky to pull off without it getting claustrophobic. In particular, things felt slow to me after Connor first hears the voice in his head; there's almost a thousand words of him freaking out about it before he decides to take another step, and in the end his dithering over what exactly was meant by "your" truth felt a bit repetitive to me. The scene-setting in the Reverse World might also have gone on a bit long, although I really enjoyed the description of the Snowpoint temple!

Overall your prose is quite polished--no real problems with basic grammar or punctuation or anything, for sure! I have some notes about specific lines under the spoiler if you're interested.

There were a few places where the tense felt off to me, generally because you were using some form of "had x" where I didn't think you wanted to.

Still, if it attacked him, he would’ve had to fight back.
Should be "he would have to fight back;" making it "would've had" puts it in the past, while Connor's thinking about the future here.

It could not have been human.
Should be "couldn't be human."

But he sensed that the titan knew it should not have been here.
Pretty sure you want "should not be" rather than "should not have been."

Sometimes I wasn't sure of your word choice; felt like the word you were picking didn't quite convey what you were going for. For example:

No building that was in use every day — no building that was in use right now — should have reeked of dust.
I don't generally think of dust as having much smell, much less a reek.

He sat up, pulling his arms into his chest to try and preserve heat.
The "into" here makes me think he's literally pulling his arms into his chest, like a turtle or something. Quite an image! I think you just mean he pulls them tighter against his body, maybe crosses them or hugs himself?

Carbon dioxide ran like sandpaper against his throat, the grating sensation of which bled down into his lungs.
It's odd to me that you pull out carbon dioxide specifically here, rather than air--what's special about it, divorced from the nitrogen, oxygen, etc.?

There did seem to be a lot of screaming in this chapter--you used that word enough that I definitely noticed it, heh. Maybe look to diversify word choice a little there? At times it felt a little over the top to me, e.g. the "screaming of pained palms" when Connor scrapes them. Doesn't seem like it should be screaming levels of hurt, especially compared to what else happens to him this chapter.

At times I think you get a little carried away with the figurative language, to the point where I'm not sure what's actually happening, or maybe things seem grandiose beyond what makes sense to me. Fine if that's what you're going for, but I wasn't sure that you were. For example:

His head throbbed, too; the sound sliced into his brain and came out the other side as sharp angles snaking through the air.
What sound? His words? And I'm not sure what you're getting at with the image of something slicing through his brain and then coming out the other side.

This wasn’t inside his head, because it simply couldn’t have been; when he reached out with his fingertips, the world changed in kind, so this thing that he had heard couldn’t have been his fault.
Not sure what you mean by the "when he reached..." bit.

In spite of how much he hurt, he couldn’t scream. He wasn’t there. Instead there were two empty halves, one reaching out for help and the other running for the door. Neither could do anything, which shouldn’t have been the case; he jerked, thrashed about and cried, and none of it did a damn thing. He was a prisoner in his own skull, banging at its walls for dear life, and nobody was there to tell the difference.
This confused me because I didn't realize it was supposed to be all inside Connor's head up until the last sentence of the paragraph. I was also confused by the whole "being pierced through" thing--it sounded like you were being literal there, but at no point later on was any reference made to a stab wound or Connor's surprise that there wasn't one.

General typos and such:

He felt it as he lay his hands across the ground.
Should be *laid his hands.

Like many things, they changed under increasing scrutiny; the oakwood extended and collapsed into an open maw by their own free will.
You want "its" instead of "their" here, since "the oakwood" is singular.

Eventually, the projection changed focus, centering on the one planet he knew: the one orbiting his star, in the middle of his galaxy, floating on the little spec in the cosmos that he called home.
*speck, not "spec"

All in all, I think you're off to a good start, and I'll look forward to next week's chapter. I can't really let a good Mewtwo story pass me by. ;) Glad to have you around, and glad that you've found some other stories to interest you here as well.[/spoiler]
 

zion of arcadia

too much of my own quietness is with me
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. marowak-alola
I do love me some Twin Peaks energy. And the title gives me Bowie vibes. (And is that chapter title a TWEWY reference? Dope if so. Even if it isn’t, it’s a clean af chapter title.) All good reasons to check this out.

“The weather had been unusually good over the past few days, but there was no time to enjoy it now.”

Something I pay a lot of attention to is the first sentence of a story. It’s a great way to set the tone and pace. Doubly so since the prose feels very deliberate here. On first read, this opening sentence—paragraph, really—instills a sense of urgency right off the bat. Our protagonist is in a precarious situation with no support, and the safety of a little girl’s father is at stake. It immediately establishes stakes and tone, and Connor as a protagonist who is at his core a good if insecure (and also traumatized?) human being willing to help a total stranger.

I also noticed the emphasis on time. If taken in a vacuum, this first sentence can be seen as a variation of ‘stopping to smell the roses.’ Connor tends to fall into negative thought patterns and often ignores the good moments. Now, granted, the situation he’s in is quite serious, but given what we’ve seen of him so far, I could see this as an aspect of his character arc.

Another interesting detail: the first paragraph is devoted to concepts of time while the second touches on concepts of space. (The matryoshka dolls; the endless hallway; the Valley Windworks appearing bigger on the inside than the outside.) It’s a clever allusion to both Palkia and Dialga without ever explicitly spelling anything out.

Whenever I see anything in reference to David Lynch, I always think of the phrase ‘finding the uncanny in the familiar.’ While there are elements of that here (such as the coffee mug in the abandoned room), it seems more like ‘finding the uncanny in the unfamiliar.’ Even though Floroama and Snowppint fulfill similar parallels to Twin Peaks—small towns with secrets buried just beneath the surface—the emphasis is on the Valley Windworks and just how alienating it is to Connor. Things are very clearly very wrong.

Bonds between children and their parents seem like another potential story motif. It was curious how the first half has a lot of focus on the father Connor is trying to save, while he himself only ever mentions his mom. The other neat aspect of this is that Judeo-Christian religions have a paternalistic underpinning. I’m not sure how exactly Arceus and the other ‘god-like Pokémon’ are going to be portrayed from here on out, but it’s worth noting. And if more inspiration is taken from Shintoism, there’s still a lot of similar material. Example:

“When human beings respect and worship the spiritual beings endowed with supernatural powers, then they reciprocate it by bestowing us with benefits in the areas of health, wealth, and other materialistic pursuits.”

Miller, Vincent. Shinto - The Way of the Gods: Introduction to the Traditional Religion of Japan.

It implies a level of hierarchy and a transactional relationship.

The pacing overall felt a little… odd. Like it was fast and slow at the same time. I think there are a couple reasons for this. Even though we spent 2k+ words standing in a hallway, we covered way more ground than one would ever see in the typical ‘oversleep, wacky shenanigans, get starter’ journey fic. We’re placed right in the thick of the inciting incident with no preamble, firmly establishing the short term goal, Connor as a character, Connor’s character motivation, setting, and tone. It basically skips the call to the adventure and plunges us straight into the unknown. Which, to be fair, I find quite refreshing.

On the other hand, the second half of the chapter has a massive pivot. Before that point the conflict is small-scale, contained—the second half has a grand scale with major focus on the broader cosmology. I guess you could argue it’s the Red Room scene of Hey, Space Cadet! but there was more preamble to the Red Room scene in Twin Peaks. I think Twin Peaks also benefited from having moments of genuine, joyful connection despite the overall sadness of the pilot. There’s no equivalent of James and Donna coming together in the wake of tragedy. Which isn’t really a pacing issue, more an observation, but still. I can see the second chapter connecting these opposing spheres together, but the first chapter on its own is somewhat jarring.

Interesting that we never meet any of Connor’s Pokémon here.

I really like your prose. It does sometimes feel like it might benefit more from first person given how deeply in Connor’s head we are for the whole chapter, but that’s a minor quibble. There are a number of delightful turns of phrases, rhetorical devices, and metaphors that really let Connor shine as a character and paint the world with an evocative brush. I was especially partial to the matryoshka metaphor mentioned earlier, that was some great imagery.

He was… scared? Scared was just a word. Some feelings can’t be summed up with a word. Like this one, for example; this was more the sort of feeling that Connor had to promise never to feel again. That promise fell on deaf ears. He stood in an industrial complex at the mercy of hands unseen, with no way out that made him feel any better about himself. He was alone. This was scary. He was scared.

I love the way this builds. A lot of your sentences are written with a sense of dramatic hyperbole only to be undercut with a wry observation (such as “It stretched out as far as he could see, which admittedly wasn’t that far because the lights were out…”), but here it just builds and builds and creates this fantastic tension and catharsis with three simple words.

Besides, nothing moved in the shadows. Empty shadows were as good as a friend.

Something moved in the shadows.

He stopped. His heart almost followed suit. Something moved in the shadows.

Another series of sentences I just really liked for its combination of tension and character.

Silhouettes pierced the distant sky, their forms closer to decommissioned space shuttles than buildings.

Probably my favorite instance of imagery. Very cool and the adjective “decommissioned” is such a simple addition that makes the tone so much dourer.

Other random observations:

They were a question: was he really only here to keep others happy?

While perhaps a little on the nose, you can tie this existential question into both the religious imagery—touching back on the concept of transactional relationships—as well as Mewtwo as a character. There’s a lot of loaded iconography and existential themes associated with Mewtwo and they seem to dovetail well with Connor’s own internal struggles.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned that I really like Connor? Because I do. He’s a firm contender for best boi.

Every single inhabitant of the city took refuge in a great big stadium, painted with oddly muted colours. Only so many people could fit inside. More people straggled along outside it, trying to push and shove their way in.

This paragraph caught my attention on a re-read. There’s not enough here for me to form anything concrete, but I did jot down a couple notes:

Contest Hall? Spectacle as a form of worship? Sport as a form of community? Of religion?

I think if that is the Contest Hall, you sort of have a trio of three important buildings positioned in this opening chapter. Snowpoint Temple, Hearthome Cathedral, Contest Hall. The implication of Snowpoint Temple as a dying relic of the past, Hearthome Cathedral as the empty yet imperious final vestige of the old guard, and the sports stadiums as the ‘new’ religious center could have some neat thematic implications regarding modernization, faith, community, and more.

Enjoyable read, keep up the good work! A poem as thanks for your effort and time. (I put it in spoilers just cuz it’s a little long.)

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
 
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slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
Some responses under the cut -- thanks so much for the comments; I'm touched that y'all took such a thorough look at this! I'll try and get chapter 2 posted before the end of the day.
I think you do a wonderful job of the atmosphere here, especially at the very beginning, where Connor's trying to convince himself there's nothing to be afraid of in the shadows. The build of tension in that part was great, capped off by Mewtwo's(?) cryptic words that throw Connor right back into confusion and paranoia. You also do a nice job of the dreamlike, alien landscape of what I'm guessing is the Reverse World, or a vision of it. You obviously have a lot of fun with your surreal imagery, and I think you do a good job of capturing a dreamlike feel, where things kind of make sense or hang together on a symbolic level but don't proceed logically. I think the atmosphere and figurative language are the real standouts of this opening chapter.

I'm very happy to hear this -- a statement that replies to the whole review, basically! This chapter is, as I write this, about 16 months old, and it was my first real go at writing something so heavy on the atmospheric/surreal side of things. Glad to hear that it still holds together fairly well, and that the dreamlike, vaguely apocalyptic feel manages to come through; it brings me a lot of joy to see you picking up on this. (On a related note: that's not quite Mewtwo! They do appear in the dream (and this won't be their last appearance, ofc), but they're not the one speaking to Connor outside of it.)

I don't remember the Sinnoh storyline super well, but I think this is an actual canon event, yeah, where the player character is supposed to go into Valley Windworks to find one of the workers who was taken hostage in the Galactic takeover? I can see what you mean about this being based on Platinum, but loosely, heh. I'm curious whether after this intro things will go back to more normal training stuff for a bit, or if we're going to be going full-on Arceus and Giratina stuff from the start.
- You're correct! This does pick up from that point in the story.
- There's a little bit of both. The next two chapters cool things off a bit, the three after that elaborate on what happened here (kind of). And then they'll get a bit more normal afterwards for much of the rest of the first... uh, third of the story, if I can stick to my plans.

One thing I was curious about--the seventeen plates of Arceus are emphasized pretty heavily here, but at one point in his vision Connor sees the sky split into "sixteen distinct pieces." I'm wondering if that was also supposed to represent the plates and the number is just a mistake or something to do with the number of plates changing across generations. If it's not intended as some kind of reference/clue, maybe mentioning a specific number isn't the way to go here; to me it makes the line stick out as something significant and noteworthy.
Yeah, this is fair; these two things are linked, but you're right, this doesn't particularly work. It's supposed to symbolise something that becomes relevant in, like, four chapters anyway; it does an unclear job of it, and honestly, I don't think the plates require further evoking than they get in this chapter. Cheers for pointing this out, and I'll also get round to implementing the individual line corrections when I can!

While I liked the atmosphere you set here, I did at times feel like things were moving a little slowly--maybe a little too much imagery here and there, heh.
Also reasonable! The pacing is the critique I get most for this chapter, which is very valid because I did cram everything I could in there, which means it moves at a glacier's pace, lmfao. It's something I'll keep in mind going forward (though chapters four through six might also be a bit of a funny read for this reason; I'm intrigued to hear your thoughts when they eventually go up).

Thanks so much for your comment, once again -- this story might not be quite as 'Two-centric as Salvage (which I've read about four chapters of, and do intend to leave my thoughts on at some point when I'm not as busy but tl;dr I like it a lot), but I hope it's enough to keep you tided over anyway. :P

I do love me some Twin Peaks energy. And the title gives me Bowie vibes. (And is that chapter title a TWEWY reference? Dope if so. Even if it isn’t, it’s a clean af chapter title.) All good reasons to check this out.
Happy to oblige on all counts! To respond to each of these observations: what can I say, I'm a big fan of the show (more on this later); I can def see the Bowie allusion in the title and like it a lot now that you mention it, but to be honest I stole the title from a Car Seat Headrest song (who no doubt had Bowie in mind here); I've never actually played TWEWY, but I think its title may have been in my mind when I came up with this -- glad you still think it's good!

I also noticed the emphasis on time. If taken in a vacuum, this first sentence can be seen as a variation of ‘stopping to smell the roses.’ Connor tends to fall into negative thought patterns and often ignores the good moments. Now, granted, the situation he’s in is quite serious, but given what we’ve seen of him so far, I could see this as an aspect of his character arc.
Yep, lmao. Excited to see your thoughts on some things that happen later on :~)

On the other hand, the second half of the chapter has a massive pivot. Before that point the conflict is small-scale, contained—the second half has a grand scale with major focus on the broader cosmology. I guess you could argue it’s the Red Room scene of Hey, Space Cadet! but there was more preamble to the Red Room scene in Twin Peaks. I think Twin Peaks also benefited from having moments of genuine, joyful connection despite the overall sadness of the pilot. There’s no equivalent of James and Donna coming together in the wake of tragedy. Which isn’t really a pacing issue, more an observation, but still. I can see the second chapter connecting these opposing spheres together, but the first chapter on its own is somewhat jarring.
I'm very intrigued that you made this point. Like, it's a GREAT one now that you mention it, and I honestly hadn't considered it myself. I started Twin Peaks, like, the week this chapter went up; I don't remember if I'd seen episode three by this point? Either way, this is not the last Certified Black Lodge Moment(tm) in the story -- and yeah, chapters two+three kiiinda bridge that gap between the sweet and the unnerving.

This was a very thorough review, and I'm very happy you found so much to talk about; it really did bring a smile to my face when I read it. As I said before, there's a few things here that you're basically right about and I hadn't even considered them! It always brings me a lot of joy when that happens, so once again, thank you ever so much for taking such an in-depth look at this. It's greatly appreciated! :D
 
Ch2

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
After uploading this chapter and then doing some more reading on here, I've decided to change to the lowercase form of pokémon capitalisation for this story. I've gone through and made the necessary edits where I could find them. But also, my eye for stuff that's already been uploaded can be sloppy! If you see any stragglers or mistakes here, please let me know; this applies to future chapters too. :P
- Reworked the whole chapter! Wasn't quite satisfied with the quality of the prose, and more importantly, bits of it just didn't make much sense to me.

CHAPTER TWO: No More the Sub-Mariner
(Content warnings: strong language, hospitals, mentions of parent death)


"Uh-huh. I… see."

By the time Connor stopped talking, Dr. Danae Calchas of the Floaroma Medical Centre's psionics ward had long since stopped smiling. Her notes had been taken with the utmost care, and she lingered on them until she knew what to say. This took a moment.

Connor also needed a moment. Yesterday, he'd been strapped to a chair and examined by a gardevoir to check for any long-term damage. This wasn't neurosurgery, technically; this was a psychic examination that prioritised his mind over the physical organ that contained it. This was a necessary procedure, so his protests didn't matter all that much, but it was more pleasant than he expected — mostly painless, and done under anaesthesia. He thanked the gardevoir profusely when he came around, and still felt awestruck about seeing one up close. Outside of use in medical and therapeutic fields, they were rare, and powerful enough that eveh being acquainted with one required permits and proof that having one around was necessary. But that was besides the point. The gardevoir regarded him with heavy confusion, but its beak-like mouth furrowed into an uneasy smile anyway.

He tried to break the ice by saying what came to mind. "…I hadn't seen one up close before, but gardevoir are really great, aren't they? I get why people think they're distant relatives of decidu—"

"I'm going to be honest," said the good doctor, "I've not really seen a case like yours before."

"Oh." He couldn't mask the disappointment in his reply. Or was it concern? He didn't really know how he felt right now, and started fiddling with his hands. Being able to touch things kept him grounded, despite everything else. "Um… what do you mean by that?"

"Well, after episodes like yours, where a psionic encounter leaves the patient unconscious for so long, we're mostly interested in short-term effects at this stage. Usually, with a patient's description of what happened and some examination over a few days, we can get a pretty good idea of your prognosis and figure out how best to treat you. This is, of course, where your examination yesterday came in handy."

"…And how'd it go?"

Dr. Calchas turned back a few pages in her notes and laid her eyes on the page, sighing and rubbing the bridge of her nose as if to clear her mind before she looked back to Connor. This didn't put him at ease. In fact, he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd shortly regret asking.

"I don't mean to alarm you, because our initial impression is that you're recovering well in spite of everything. But our gardevoir… he wasn't actually able to find all that much. Not, uh, in the normal sense; there was something that was actively driving him away from the bits we were interested in. Sort of like a defence mechanism, in fact, which isn't too uncommon. But one that can almost completely shut out a gardevoir is very rare; the sort of pokémon we'd expect to be capable of that seems like it would have k— uh, put you in a much worse state than you're currently in. And what's more, what we were able to find… um, how much do you know about ancient mythology, Connor?"

That was an odd question. Already under pressure, he darted his eyes to one side and tried to consider how to answer. "Not much; I got one of the highest marks in my old school's history class, but that was much more modern history… why do you ask?"

"Do you know the name Giratina?"

"Uh— I do, I think! I don't know where I've heard it before," he replied, wracking his brain. He didn't remember anyone ever saying it to him, but the name rang a bell; he couldn't deny that. "Who is it?"

"I don't know. We got in touch with the library at Canalave about some of the phrases we picked up; there were mentions and images of Dialga and Palkia, and we figured it was probably related to that. The records didn't have much to say on it. They found a few texts on old myths, which mentioned Giratina stories being a tradition mostly known by lorekeepers in Celestic, Snowpoint, and Canalave. All of whom are famously secretive, of course; you mentioned being from Snowpoint. Does any of this ring a bell to you?"

"Oh, no; uh, I never really spoke to our local circle of them. Not about that sort of thing, anyway; they're very clear about not disturbing, uh… history, and all." There were also only three or four of them still around. They took on some apprentices, but the inner workings of lorekeeping had always been beyond him. "Wait… I don't think I should know about this, right?"

"By all accounts, no. I think it's safe to conclude that you found this out from whatever it was you encountered in the Windworks, but that's the Association's jurisdiction now. As for you," she said, putting down her notes, "policy dictates that we keep you here for one week and keep an eye out in case anything else happens. After that, we'll decide on a next step. I'm obviously still unsure, given how little we were able to piece together about this, but if nothing major happens, you should be good to go free once the week is up. I'd advise that you use this time to take it easy, relax, and try to keep yourself stimulated. Try not to focus on it. Your mind's no different from all the squishy bits of you, after all; it needs rest just as much as it needs engagement, and wears out under stress."

"That makes a lot of sense," replied Connor, nodding as he got up. "Uh… this won't get in the way of my training, I don't think; I'll try and take it easy. I guess I could do with the week off. What about my pokémon?"

"They're fine. The Pokémon Centre's looking after them until you're back on your feet and doing better. You don't need to worry about them for now."

Connor couldn't help but worry about them. He'd never been more than a week without Ronnie, after all. But this wasn't the time to protest that. He'd see how he got on for a few days, he decided, and then raise the point with the doctors if he needed it.

He thanked Dr. Calchas for all the hard work and headed back to his bed, not in the best spirits he'd ever been in. There was nothing he could really do for now except try to move on. The Association was the Association; he didn't know how well he trusted it to figure out what happened and fix it. He wasn't exactly filled with confidence by this turn of events, but it was something, at least. All he could do was sleep on it and try to put it behind him.

…But that wasn't quite possible, he found. He tried to wrap his head around the things he'd saw after the creature he'd met sent him to sleep, and it made him toss and turn in bed that night. It was all so vivid, and it felt so real. He'd been warned not to look further into it, but how was he to see those things — the end of the world, the Plates of Arceus, the two felines — and move past it? Why did someone who knew all this go to the Windworks anyway, and why did that someone tell him all this? Was it deliberate? Why did they hide in the shadows before attacking? How did it make him sleep?

In his head, he went through a list of pokémon that could've possibly done such a thing; he remembered how they spoke to him, warned him away for both his own sake and theirs. There was one particular set of stories that came to mind here.

He dared not think about them right now.

That night, he dreamed that hundreds of hands reached out from a dark temple door into the cold. He dreamed of returning to a home that was just beyond reach.



The days started blurring together quickly enough. Building a routine in hospital was hard, because there was nothing much to do beyond talk to people and play on his phone. He wasn't a hugely conversational person, truth be told, and being cooped up in isolation only made things worse, not better. Especially when he was being monitored by the staff. It was likely necessary, yes; that didn't mean he had to like it.

One upside to all of this was that the doctors were conducive to letting him have his starter pokémon around while he recovered. After all, he reasoned, it made for a good way to relieve stress, and Ronnie — being an aron — was very low maintenance.The Pokémon Centre in town would care for the rest of his team until he was discharged, which was fair; his room wasn't big enough for three pokémon to roam around it, and he just about had the energy to care for one. For now, this was for the best.

Not that Ronnie minded being the centre of attention, of course. As he curled up next to Connor looking for pets, his trainer wondered if he'd been a purrloin in his past life.

Thankfully, the hospital also had a phone an internet connection, which meant he could communicate with the outside world. For example, he could let Florence know how he was doing. As he opened Uproar, the favoured VoIP app of trainers worldwide, he found himself overcome with nerves to the point that his hands started shaking. She must have been so worried. She had been in Floaroma that day, in fact. The two of them were going to leave that night; she'd gone to a gathering of trainers a few hours before, which wasn't his sort of thing. So he stayed behind and wandered around town, where he was approached by the girl.

He regretted this decision.

There was the barrage of barely comprehensible shitposts they'd exchanged when they last spoke over text, a few hours before the incident. She'd sent a picture of herself with seven or eight of her fellow trainers from all over Sinnoh, all of them smiling and all of them about her age. There were a few increasingly concerned messages from her from that evening, concluding with her heading to the Pokémon Centre. Connor winced at this. There was no way he could have responded, but a wave of shame rose through his body regardless. He wished he could've done something.

The day after, there was long message where she'd found out what had happened. The folks at the Pokémon Centre explained what had happened, and that Connor was out cold at the time, but was under close monitoring and would probably be fine. They'd encouraged her to head off to the next town for now, so she did, and she apologised for her absence in the message. She concluded by wishing him a quick recovery, asking him to message her when he could, and sending him a heart emote. Then there were check-ins over the next two days with updates about her journey. Eterna was a pretty nice city at this time of year, apparently.

Right now, she was offline. That made sense. She was probably busy. Still, at the first chance he got, he started typing his reply:

DogManStaryu: lolllllll so I'm back! still here, sadly, and won't be able to leave for a few more days. sorry if I worried you there, but we're doing alright! as for how I got here… uhhh it's a whole thing and I'll have to explain the next time I see you. ronnie and I are fine over here, in the meantime; glad to see youre doing good :)

He took a photo and attached it to the message. It showed Ronnie looking into the camera, his head nestled into his trainer's lap and leaning against the grey of his T-shirt. That was probably enough, he figured; he sent it and waited. He felt inconsiderate asking her to come and visit when she was miles away, busy with preparing for the next gym and looking after her pokémon. So he didn't. Still, he couldn't help deflating a little. This was a lonely place; having his friend to talk to was a luxury he'd never again take for granted.
It wasn't entirely lonely. Ronnie looked around, head-bumping Connor in the chest and forcing him to look down. "Ohhh, I know," he said, unable to suppress an uneven grin. "We'll be out soon, don't worry." His restless friend indulged, he glanced back at his phone to see Florence typing:

InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: BABY!!! HIII RONNIE
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: godssssss OKAY im glad youre up and doing well!! ty for checking in with me. any idea when youre out
DogManStaryu: Soon(tm) I hope. think it'll probably be four or five days from now? shouldn't be too long but I cannot WAIT
DogManStaryu: they even had a gardevoir take a look at me lol. fascinating stuff! I've got a lot to tell you
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: ohhhhh idk if i can call you lucky here but smh
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: can't believe you got to meet one without me!!! you rotten bitch
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: glad youre okay <3


That was on-brand, and the sort of thing he imagined her saying out loud while cackling. She was the more expressive of the two, both over text and in person. They kept talking for a bit before Florence got back to her business, and Connor got back to sitting around wishing he could go back to his business.

They talked every day over the coming days, providing updates on their varyingly eventful weeks. It was great to be able to talk to her, but he marked each day until the end of the week. Then he could get out and catch up with his friend. He looked forward to it with great enthusiasm.

…Mostly.

Of course he'd have to tell her about the dream, and how he'd gotten in there, and all of the unthinkable things that had happened. All of it, with no detail spared. He'd made thorough notes on his phone, making sure everything he could recall was on record. He didn't want to forget. It was imperative that he didn't. This was too important to gloss over, and she'd want to know. She had a right to know, in fact; this was her friend that this happened to!

And he dreaded it, on some level deep down. There was no way he'd be taken seriously. Did he really deserve to be taken seriously? What had he expected to happen, if not this? He'd been stupid, and all of this was scarcely believable even to him.

But all of it had happened, and that was the only reason it made even a lick of sense. And he had ideas about it all, but they were just that. This was just speculation.

Connor tried to stop worrying about it every time it came time. He got back to doing what he was before, which, most of the time, was staring at the ceiling. Waiting.



Eventually, the week ran out, and for that he was eternally grateful. The idea of spending a week in a room hibernating with Ronnie was only good on paper, he'd learned.

Not that Ronnie was bad company or anything. Quite the opposite! Him and Florence were the only ones keeping him sane, and Florence was off in a whole other town. The pokémon had gotten just as antsy as his trainer cooped up like this, but just hanging out was the best way this week could've been spent, all things considered. There just wasn't much worth doing.

The doctors also didn't think he needed medication to treat this in the long-term, as things turned out. By all accounts, he was a happy and healthy young man. Relatively speaking. Only his dreams had really changed. They were sharper than usual, often depicting scenes he felt like he knew but couldn't exactly place. He swore they were his memories, but they played out all wrong. He was told that this was apparently normal, and that with a bit of luck, he'd soon be sleeping soundly again.

Also, he had a visitor from the Association on the day he was to be discharged, and he was reduced to a bag of nerves. To be more specific, he had a visit from none other than the Association's very own Professor Rowan, who wanted to check on him and talk about the Windworks incident. What was he to say but yes?

Everyone in Sinnoh was at least aware of Rowan, but he was an elusive man that Connor knew an above-average amount about. Which wasn't a lot, as it turned out. While studying for his trainer scholarship exams, he scoured through archives of his lectures for inspiration; any time a new one went live, he scrambled to watch it. He didn't have a TV in his house, so he'd always head to Florence's whenever Rowan made one of the two or three fleeting appearances he allowed himself per year. Sometimes he’d be on the news. Other times he'd show up on it’d be as part of some science documentary or whatever. Once or twice about ten years ago, he showed up on a celebrity game show and got asked a bunch of questions about music. Specifically, old Kalois progressive rock. It turned out that was one of his favourite subjects. Everyone he knew agreed this was bewildering, but nobody really complained.

Beyond that, most of the things Connor read about him were a mix of conjecture and mythology, coming from online forums and odd news article where some poor reporter tried to doorstep him. A lot of the time, they were told to shove their microphones "where Arceus ne'er looks". All things considered, Connor's opinion of Sinnoh's long-serving head professor was one of high respect tempered by mild terror.

He sat in his room, watching the clock and waiting for him to arrive, trying to come up with answers to possible questions in his head. What were you doing in there? Well, someone asked me to go in, he'd explain, and I didn't have the heart to back out.

Why's that?
was the natural follow-up to this question. There's a variety of reasons, of course; I didn't want to risk her dad—

Okay, why didn't you go and get someone else's help?
was the natural follow-up to that.

W-well, uh... I didn't really know how to explain it to her, that... uh, that she'd gotten the wrong person, a-and it was getting late; I didn't want to wake anybody—

You understand that this is your fault, right?


This is how the conversation was going to go. He found himself unable to face the ticking clock and buried his head in his hands, wishing that a hole in the ground would open up and swallow him. How fun it was, he thought, to be the biggest idiot in the entire world. Now he had to waste Rowan's valuable time with this. Oh, he wasn't going to be happy.

He felt the weight above his lap shift a little, and removed his face from the dark of his hands to find Ronnie gazing from mere inches away. Whatever his trainer had going on up there was beyond those wide, confused eyes. He nudged his head into Connor's chest, expecting pets.

"Yeah, maybe you're onto something." Connor felt the tension lift from the air as he wrapped one arm around his pokémon's steely back and laid his spare hand on Ronnie's forehead, gently stroking both parts. This satisfied Ronnie, who chirped and then rumbled in response.

Maybe Connor was overthinking things just a little

The door rattled and creaked open, and he darted his head in its direction. In stepped his guest on a work outing. He was bigger in person, somehow; he must have had at least a foot and a half on Connor, and his frame was almost as wide as the door he came through. He wasn't smiling. He rarely was.

"Sorry to have kept you waiting there, lad," he said as he hung up his coat. "I'd say it was the traffic, but I got the train here."

"W-well, trains are like that, sometimes," Connor replied with a curt nod. "Thank you for coming." He realised that this was a joke, but by now it was too late to laugh.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world." Rowan spoke quickly as he took a seat at the table near the bed that Connor sat on. He pulled out a notepad and pen, and gave his subject a friendly glance through his wire-framed reading glasses. Despite the thickness of his moustache, which may well have put a proud walrein to shame, his smile was visible and decidedly polite. "Now, just for the record, please state your name."

"Uh my full name?"

"Aye."

"…Yeah, why wouldn't it be, hah. Sorry. I'm, Connor. Um — M-Murdoch, that is."

"Alright, we're at the right place. Connor, I believe you're from Snowpoint, aren't you?"

"Y-yeah, that's me." He noticed himself speaking barely above a mumble, and he struggled to make eye contact with Rowan; his hands were preoccupied with Ronnie at the moment. Arons were ever-so-slightly lumpy to the touch on their hard backs, and loved rubs where their metal-like coats met their softer underside—

"I trust they've been looking after you and your friend here, haven't they?"

"Oh, uh, both of us, yeah; Ronnie's, um, I had to… he was staying at the Pokémon Centre until I asked if I could have him around, to help keep the stress off. I mean, I couldn't imagine being away from him all week." Thinking about having him on hand helped soothe Connor. A warm feeling settled in his stomach as he went over his pokémon's choice scratching spots, and he found himself unable to buck his smile off. "I mean, the time that I was out was the longest we've been separated since I met him, when I was… five, I'm pretty sure. Oh. I-I'm rambling a little here, aren't I?"

This got the slightest laugh out of Rowan. It was even deeper in person, somehow! He looked up from his notes and made direct eye contact with the trainer on the bed, raising a hand up to halt him. Clearly, he was getting a kick out of this. "Nonsense! Why, I should thank you for indulging me. It's always a delight to hear about young folk and their pokémon, and your friend — Ronnie, was it?"

"Yeah!"

"He seems more than happy in your company," opined Sinnoh's foremost expert on pokémon. "If I weren't busy, in fact, I'd ask if I could give him some pets of my own."

"O-oh!" Connor felt himself light up as he scooted over to make some space. He was in his element now! "Well, you can, if you want; he's pretty friendly with strangers, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind!"

"Ah, perhaps after our conversation. As a reward, that is, if he's well-behaved."

Right, the conversation. That's why he was here. For information. Connor nodded and undid his scooting, fixing his attention focused on the large man in the chair. "Y-yeah, that should be good; he's good at behaving. I promise he won't be a problem!"

Rowan nodded once in return, then turned his attention back to his notepad. "Now, Connor," he began. "You're not in trouble — for all intents and purposes, you're a witness here. I'm just going to ask you some questions about what happened at the Windworks. The only thing I need from you is your attention, a set of honest answers, and that'll be that. I doubt this will take too long, and I should be out of your hair by about lunchtime. Do I have your co-operation?"

"Yeah," said Connor, "that's fine by me!" Rowan had a knack for diplomacy, he had to admit. Why was he at ease now? "I'll, er, do what I can. If you don't mind me asking, the guy who actually got kidnapped… he's okay, right? D-did you hear from him?"

"Mr. Kavus is fine, yes. My colleagues say he was as thorough as he could be in his current state when providing answers. He is one of three witnesses available. The second was his daughter, and you're the third."

That was a relief. Connor loosened up some more — then Rowan's words dawned on him. "You said 'his current state'. Is he okay?"

"There are some gaps in his memory, regarding the ordeal."

"Oh," replied Connor. "That's... sorry. It's not my business."

"Don't worry about it. It's only natural to worry about your fellow man. Now, I trust you're ready?"

Connor took a deep breath and ran over everything he had in his head, only answering when he was satisfied. Only one of his arms focused on Ronnie, but the little guy didn't seem to mind. "As ready as I'll ever be." This was true. He felt truly confident now.

Rowan had dealt with trainers like him for more than twenty years now. Of course he'd learn a thing or two about opening them up.

"Okay. Tell me what happened."

He did exactly that, pouring over everything he could remember. First there was Mr. Kavus's daughter, asking him if he was a trainer, and explaining that her dad needed help before giving him a key to the Windworks and asking him to go in. The state the room was in when he got there. "...He got that mug back, didn't he?" asked Connor.

"They have since been reunited, yes," said Rowan.

"Okay, good. That's good to hear. Th-this might sound silly, but I had been worrying about that, to be honest."

"I've heard sillier things." The professor went to elaborate, before he realised he'd stumbled into something that he felt obliged to acknowledge. He cleared his throat solemnly. "If it means anything, I'm sorry about what happened to Gus. He was a good man."

"Oh, um, it's fine. I mean, it's ancient history, really. I mean, I was two when it happened." He had experience in playing it off by now.

"Right, right, of course. Anyway, continue."

He then recounted how he headed down the dark hallway, where exhaustion overcame him and the shadows manifested into shape. As he recalled the part where he was warned to go away, he found himself stumbling on his rationale. "I don't know why I didn't. Sorry. Obviously, I know I should have ran and gotten help by now, but… I don't know what happened there, I just felt compelled to be a hero. That was dumb of me. I'm really sorry."

"No use in worrying about it now," said the professor, still taking notes. "All you can do with your mistakes is learn from them."

That much was true. He swallowed the urge to apologise for apologising, and then he continued until he reached the last part of his story. The feeling that came to mind was that of mutual understanding in the air, the thing he couldn't quite place — maybe he misremembered it. The important part was the shadowy tendril lurching out to attack him. The next thing he knew, he was falling. Then he had a dream. Why did Rowan pause at this part? What was with the glimmer of surprise breaking through his poker face as he covered this part? Why did he stop? Connor tried not to dwell on that. He gulped, and found himself trailing off.

There were a few moments that seemed to drag on before the professor noticed the pause, glanced up from his notes, and waved a hand. "Oh, er... don't mind me. Please continue."

Rowan spoke much more quietly that time. He could not mask his concern.

Connor wrapped up his story by detailing all the relevant bits of his dream, all of which was noted down in as much detail as possible. Elaborations were provided when asked for.

Eventually, when everything had been covered, Connor paused, thrummed his free hand across his lap, and nodded. "That's all I can really offer. Sorry if it isn't enough."

"This is more than enough," sighed Rowan. "You've been very helpful. Thank you. I've got many findings to discuss thanks to this information, and it'll be a great help in tracking down Team Galactic."

"Oh, okay," said Connor.

Then something clicked.

"Wait. If you don't mind me asking, who's Team Galactic?"

While putting his notepad in his pocket, Rowan paused for a moment, and looked up as if to ponder something. There was a look in his eyes that marked a brief consternation, before he looked at Connor with that legendary sternness of his. It was even more unsettling in person; Connor felt his movements slow until he froze completely. He felt like a worm under the study of a braviary.

This was that mild terror he felt.

"I will tell you everything that is relevant to you, and not an drop more. It is a matter of national security that cannot get out. Mr. Kavus was, at least, able to provide a name for the group behind the attack, and in theory, everything that happened to you. I am sure you are aware of how troubling the information you have provided is, should these two events be related. But I cannot stress this enough: this must not be allowed to get out. Am I clear?"

"Yes," Connor replied, his voice eking out at just above a whisper.

"Good. Thank you." His demeanour softened. He was still as stern as anyone Connor had ever seen, and the chill that overcame him was only amplified by Rowan's size. But his shoulders dropped in relief, and there was at least a hint of understanding and courtesy on his face.

Come to think of it, it was odd that the Association's head professor was asking him about all of this. But Rowan knew how to conduct himself. He was a natural at this, it seemed to Connor. He didn't want to push it any further, and chose not to ask why they'd sent him.

Still! He had a name for the group responsible! He had something to look out for, and if he was so inclined to be on the lookout… no, he didn't want to think about that for now. That was for future Connor to worry about. But if this Team Galactic were responsible for the Windworks incident, then they likely knew about… the creature that forced him to have his dream. Were the two working together? It seemed like it.

Not worrying about it was difficult. There were many, many fears that future Connor would reasonably have. Even in the present, Connor had most of them already. He tried not to think about it. He tried to change the subject.

Ronnie cooed next to him. He had behaved, as promised; in fact, he'd forgotten his pokémon was there. At some point, the petting had stopped. But he had behaved.

"Um... sorry if this is a bit out of place, given everything, but did you wanna, y'know… say hi to my friend?"

"Ah," said the professor, allowing himself a courteous grin as he approached Ronnie. "Of course! How could I forget about your reliable partner? Why, such courage deserves to be rewarded. Doesn't it, little one?"

Ronnie took as well as his trainer could have ever hoped to Rowan, staring at him with those wide blue eyes before nuzzling into the palm of his hand. Connor watched on, trying to keep his mind on the events in his immediate vicinity.

He failed, and was overcome by the notion that sooner or later, he had to do something.
 
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Ch3

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
CHAPTER THREE: The Forest


Connor’s time in Floaroma wasn’t particularly happy, but that didn’t mean he wanted to leave. In fact, he found himself a little sad that his time in town didn’t let him appreciate how lovely it was. Floaroma was a quaint little town that reminded him of home, just smaller and much more colourful with the scores of Gracidea flowers marking the meadows. As the story went, these flowers were given as gifts of gratitude; they bloomed every year as a show of thanks to the migrating shaymin who fertilised the soil and brought life to the land in years gone by. That was very long ago, of course; whether shaymin even existed anymore was a source of academic contention. Connor hoped they did, and that one day they’d come back home.

Maybe some day he’d come back here too, under better circumstances than these.

He wasted little time in embarking on his journey. Before setting off he wanted to visit Mr. Kavus and his daughter to make sure they were both alright, but he had no idea where they lived and finding out felt intrusive. Besides, Professor Rowan said they were fine, and Connor took his word on that. He had no reason not to — in fact, he could still scarcely believe that he'd kept himself together so well when meeting one of his all-time heroes. That was something to be proud of, at least. With some luck, they’d meet again later down the road.

Once again, Connor hoped, under better circumstances.

Leaving at two o’clock in the afternoon meant that he’d have to find some place to sleep along the path and continue his journey the following morning, which meant that he would have to wait a day before seeing a general store. As such, he picked up some supplies before leaving — kindle wood to keep warm overnight and food for his friends. Some iron ore for Ronnie, which was stocked at most reputable Pokémarts; seaweed pellets for Wendy the shellos, and general pickings for Rottenhat. Being a staravia, he’d eat anything.

He took everything to the cashier. She scanned it and handed it back to him, and he put it in his bag. “Kindle wood… I take it you’re out camping, then?”

“Aye,” said Connor. “I’m heading off to Eterna for my next badge, so I’m gonna be spending the night in the forest. Wouldn’t want to freeze, now, would I?”

“Oh, so you’re a trainer! Best of luck to you, then! Are you going to be visiting the haunted old chateau?”

“Cheers—”

It took him a second to process that last sentence, but when it hit him it made him pause for a second or two. An old chateau in the woods was certainly news to him, but clearly, this was no an ordinary one. “Uh, sorry, I don’t— this is my first time hearing about this. Haunted?

“Sure is!” The cashier grinned wide, clearly relishing her chance to play lecturer. “Centuries ago, it goes, wealthy family hacked down half of the forest and drove out the native pokémon to build that house. They lived in that house for centuries — until the 50s, in fact — when they just… disappeared.”
That seemed an awfully vague word to use, Connor thought. “D-did anyone ever find anything? Bodies, a note explaining their departure, any signs of entry — uh, did anyone even look?”

“That’s the funny thing,” she replied. “They looked high and low for ‘em. Couldn’t find hide nor hair of anyone, though; they practically tore out the floorboards in the process. Except for the little girl and her kirlia. There’s not an official story about what happened here, but between us two, everyone’s pretty sure about it: the two investigators saw her playing all alone, like nothing was wrong. They asked her to come in for questioning, but she didn’t budge. Asked her where her parents were, but she just played it off. Like it was a joke. Then she invited them to stay for dinner—”

“I don’t think I’d take her up on that,” said Connor.

“See, you’d think! But they said yes, and the girl took them out to the big dining room at the back of the house, then she just… disappeared. Then a butler came and served them dinner; they both ate, but it just made them hungrier. Didn’t say how it tasted. Then the butler asked them to leave once they were finished — but, uh, then he disappeared too, and… there was her kirlia, dancing and laughing in the path of the two as they tried to leave. Nobody’s really sure what happened from that point onwards. See, turns out that the investigators just… abandoned their whole lives once they left, at least up to that point.”

“Uh… what do you mean? Like, they just ran away?”

“Pretty much. Didn’t even get their paychecks for it, they just… left. Which is damn stupid if you ask me, but I digress. Took fifteen years for someone to find them; one of them was a priest who told them all everything. The other was a sailor who ended up drowning, I think. Probably a normal response to whatever was in there, right?”

“Mmm.” Connor found himself compelled by the tall yarn spun here, something about it didn’t sit right with him. He didn’t exactly doubt any of it, of course. Something just sat odd with him here. “So the house is just… there, still? And people can go visit it?”

“Yeah! Pretty cool, right?”

“A little, it just seems… off, somehow. I dunno. Surely it’s unsafe?”

The cashier let out a genuine belly laugh, as though Connor had told her a joke that he wasn’t even in on. “See, you’re right. Should’ve been torn down long ago, I think, but you can just still go inside. The house was left to ruin, and the forest just grew back around it. People have tried, of course, but they’ve not succeeded. I think the last disappearance associated with it was the year Julius Kreutznaer did his round of the circuit, funnily enough.”

Connor did the math in his head. That was, what — 28 years ago, then? He found it funny how fitting it was. This story seemed to end with Sinnoh’s greatest ever trainer appearing one day, solving problems that had nothing to do with him just by existing. The evil was put at bay, and then everything was fine. Until he stopped existing.

“Anyway,” continued the cashier, “I think it’s harmless now. You hear reports of people going inside and being spooked by lights turning on and off or little girls offering to play with them. Sounds a bit more like it’s just an oddity these days, and if anyone wanted it still up, I’m sure they’d make a big deal marketing it or something. They just… don’t. It’s still there, untouched.”

“Huh,” said Connor. “That is really odd. At least they could just tape it off and renovate it? That wouldn’t really hurt the historical value of the place, it’d probably make things a bit safer, and… uh, they own the land, don’t they?”

“Yep. Eminent domain and all, plus nobody who’s related to the family or anything has stepped forward to claim ownership.”

“…So why don’t they? Surely it’s a matter of public safety, if people are disappearing in there.”

“I don’t know. I’m a cashier, not a journalist.”

“Oh, right, of course,” said Connor. “Sorry.”

“Not yet, anyway. This job’s helping me through college, heheh.”

“Oof,” winced Connor, who did not envy the dual workload. “Best of luck! I’m not ready for college yet, myself. I’ve got the whole trainer’s challenge to do first. Well — I want to do it, of course, but even if I didn’t, I do sort of have to. It’s for personal reasons, y’know?”

“That’s just how it is sometimes. I take it you’re an academy trainer, then?”

“Aye. Academy of Snowpoint.”

That seemed to throw the cashier just a little off her guard. Connor didn’t think it was that odd, but he got it. “Oh, may the gods be with you, then! It’s been a few years since a Snowpoint trainer really made waves, hasn’t it? I don’t think I remember ever seeing one get all eight badges; I don’t even know if my parents have, either. No offence, of course.”

“None taken,” said Connor. She was right, as discouraging as it was. There was a first time for everything, and both parties knew that, but neither of them said it. After all, not everything came true.

“Anyway, I’ll stop talking your ear off and let you pay for these. Once again, best of luck in what you’re doing. I’ll keep an eye out for you, and if you get past Canalave… well, you’ll be too famous for the likes of me, but I’ll buy you a drink if I ever get the chance. That is, if you’re old enough by the time I next see you.”

Canalave was gym number six on the standard circuit. Connor wasn’t sure of the exact number, but people often said something to the effect of “four or five trainers clear Byron for every hundred that try the circuit”.

There were slightly more than that competing this year — 137, to be exact. Of this number, three of them came from Snowpoint. There was Connor, there was Florence, but there was also Tomar who neither of them really knew but were associated with anyway. They had a group chat on Uproar but nobody had spoken in it for two months.

Anyway, only one Snowpoint trainer had made it to that last five per cent in the last six years: Moira Rosencrantz, who later suffered the indignity of getting knocked out in her own hometown. She was also Florence’s sister, and it was by no coincidence that trainers ran in the family.

Connor realised he had just been standing here for a while without saying anything. So he wished the cashier a lovely day and left, continuing down the road ahead.

He now knew that somewhere off that road lay a haunted house, the sort of thing that Connor knew would never fall into his lap otherwise. It didn’t sound like the safest, most sensible thing to look into in the immediate aftermath of leaving hospital for one supernatural incident.

But there was no denying it: he was intrigued. This was something new, and it was something he would be lucky if he ever got the chance to look into again. Besides, this wasn’t the Windworks. There was no hostages, no Team Galactic, no creature lurking in the shadows ready to strike with the promise of nightmares. There was no duty involved. This just sounded interesting.

More than that, it sounded like a fun group adventure, too. Florence loved this sort of thing. She probably already knew about it, in fact; she’d already passed through. There was no way she’d miss this sort of thing. And she was likely still in the area. This sounded like something to do, because they’d have to catch up eventually. So Connor pulled out his phone and hammered out a message to her.

DogManStaryu: hey, forgive me if this is a weird question; i’m heading out to eterna right now, i’ve just set off from floaroma, and someone’s just told me there’s a haunted chateau in the forest. firstly, what‘s the deal there; second and more importantly, would you be down to meet me there? i get it if you’re not though and i’m def not surprised if you’re already out of eterna

A few minutes later, she replied:

InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: DUDE
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: i’d love to!! theres some cool pokemon you can go see there and theyre kinda bastards but its charming. the haunted thing though??? i dont know if anywhere else in sinnoh is like it, it’s WILD
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: meet you at the forest entrance?
DogManStaryu: sounds good beo! i’ll see you there :)
DogManStaryu: *bro
InTheCourtOfTheNidoqueen: no no beo is good actually
DogManStaryu: …fair enough, i suppose!




Sure enough, Connor found his friend leaned against a signpost next to the forest gates. A warm smile lurched onto his face as Florence’s features came into view, including an identical smile taking hold on her face as if by psychic connection. He jogged the last bit of the way with Ronnie in tow, though both of them were a little weary in the legs by now. Ronnie felt it harder. He was not built for trekking.

But finally, there was time to rest and catch up, and in such good company too. Connor and Florence mutually approached one another, before the latter wrapped the former in a firm embrace as such close friends do.

“Long time, no see!” she said, patting him on the back. “Did you get tired of the hospital’s continental breakfast?”

Florence was good at cracking wise, and having known him for about three quarters of their lives, she knew how to push the buttons that made Connor laugh. “I did!” he replied, gently easing out of the hug to throw his hands up in defeat. “What can I say? Not even the Elite Four could dream of such luxury — I even got to meet a Gardevoir.”

“Ugh, yes.” She shot Connor a withering and very serious glare, to let him know just how sincerely hurt she was. “You lucky bastard. You’re going to have to tell me how that happened — but, er, I trust you’re feeling better now, right?”

He waved the concern away and smiled a smile that was in spite of it all. “Yeah, I’m all good. Would’ve been nice to get some medicine for it, I’ll tell you, but for now things are fine — er, they’ll likely continue to be fine, too. It’s… nothing, really. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

But it wasn’t nothing, and his woozy smile gave that away. Or was it his hesitation? Either way, Florence looked at him with great uncertainty—

“Have you done something new with your hair, by the way? It looks fantastic.”

“Oh, er — thank you!” she replied. It wasn’t the smoothest way to move the conversation along, but he genuinely meant it. She’d wrangled up her curls and tied them up at the back, letting them fall across her nape and leaving the effort there. The result was chaotic, though it was the well-tempered sort of chaos that made it easier to keep out of her face, among other things. Vanity be damned, she was proud of her face — her long thin nose, big grey eyes and the smile anchored to them; she spoke to her annoyance when it was covered by a tangled brown mess.

The talk continued as the two went down the forest path, mostly undisturbed. It was a peaceful night; there were a few trainers about, often in the middle of their own conversations — they’d share a friendly glance and a wave with Florence and Connor, and they’d return the favour and be on their way. This early in the circuit, there was none of the high-stakes rivalry and bragging that made the whole spectacle an easy target for criticism. Mostly it was just well-wishing and encouragement, sometimes unspoken.

There were hardly any wild pokémon out, either. They often tended to keep to themselves at this time of night. Connor wasn’t all that keen on disturbing them right now. Not that he ever particularly was, beyond for the purpose of expanding his team for the circuit. Sure, wild training was a necessity on these early stages of the circuit, but he tried to keep any disturbances to a minimum. Two of his three pokémon were in their balls, which he didn’t mind all too much — recent technological advancement ensured they were safe and humane pokémon carriers fit to be used for a few hours at a time, so long as they were provided with adequate enrichment.

Florence was similarly accompanied by her piplup — Ponty, she was called. Ronnie greeted Ponty with wide-eyed nodding and kept his eyes on her, but kept his distance beyond that; Ponty did the same, and barely acknowledged her new travelling companion. This was true for much of the world around her, really; her only focus was on following her trainer, and as Florence pointed out, looking dignified.

“By the way,” she continued, “how’s Ronnie doing? I take it he’s excited to kick Gardenia’s butt.”

“Oh, you know him. I think he’s just been aching to get out of hospital, really, but… I think he’s confident. As am I.” He turned to his ever dutiful companion and beamed at him. “Aren’t we, buddy?”

Ronnie grunted back at him in excited reply, his eyes closed with glee. He was in great position to take on Gardenia’s team by virtue of his natural resistance to their attacks. Besides, he had Rottenhat by his side. He had nothing to worry about.

“Yeah, you’ll be fine,” agreed Florence as she took out her badge case. She had her badge from Gardenia already, embossed with green squares and little white tree trunks beneath them. “An aron and a staravia should definitely be enough — I mean, I got through a good chunk of her team with a murkrow. Though it was a bit of a pain negotiating Ponty out of taking part, especially when she’s so close to evolving, aren’t you?”

Ponty honked back and flapped at her weary trainer, before laying a flipper on her chest like an offended monarch.

Connor smiled at the little penguin with all his encouragement. “Well, you’ll just have to beat up on the poor gym leader you see next, won’t you?”

“Don’t feed into her ego,” chided Florence. “She’ll think she’s Mew by the time she’s fully grown.”

That only made him smile some more. “Maybe she is. Maybe Mew’s just taken that form to trick you out of all your treats — I know I’d do that, if I were her.”

Florence raised an eyebrow. “If you were a god?”

“Well, yeah. What else would I do? It’s not like I’d have to worry about, like, training. Or getting a job.”

This got a giggle out of her. “That’s true,” she said.

The trek continued, and the pokémon of the forest remained elusive as the trees got thicker and the path darkened. Old black lampposts lit the way for those passing through, built with half domes on top of them to minimise light pollution. This kept the stars of the night sky visible, though tonight they were not joined by the moon. After all, it was the night of a new moon.

Connor tried not to think about the connotations of that, for now.

The trees that lived in the guts of the forests were old giants, each one about three stories tall. Between them lived colonies of wurmple, budews, silcoon, cascoon, seedot, kricketot, bunearies, and even some roselias. This made the forest an ideal training ground for Gardenia’s gym — more importantly, it made for a rich ecosystem, albeit one that mostly wasn’t visible at this time of night. Mostly.

The wind carried a newfound chill with it this deep into the woods.

Silcoon and cascoon hung from tree branches like sentient sleeping bags, their protruding eyes following Connor’s party while they passed through. There were no beautiflies out and about tonight; this was the hour of their nocturnal brethren.

Dustoxes were bigger than one would expect in the flesh. At a minimum, they were about four foot tall from the tip of their antennae to the bottom of their wings, and length-wise their wingspan was that plus a foot. Compared to mothim and its butterfly counterparts, there was something a little bit ridiculous about their tremendous size and their funny faces. They always seemed to be smiling, yet their big yellow eyes hung onto their face like yellow pouches furrowed by an invisible brow. Just from a conceptual standpoint, Connor thought, they walked a fine line between malicious and silly. He couldn’t help but respect that.

“Psst.” Florence nudged him, then gestured to one of her four pokéballs like a thief who gleefully held something they shouldn’t have, even if it didn’t hurt anybody. “I caught one while I was passing through,” she whispered. “She’s gorgeous!”

Connor stared intently at the ball, his eyes almost bulging out of his head. “Oh, I bet she is! What’s her name?”

“Bimp.”

Bimp?

She waved the question off dismissively. “It’s a good name. She likes it, at least — an elegant name for an elegant girl.”

“Hey, I don’t disagree!” said Connor, as though he felt the need to defend himself. “I support Bimp in her endeavours; I just had to make sure I heard you right, is all.”

“Might I suggest cleaning out your ears, then?”

“That’s unfair. You know my auditory processing issues.”

“Yeah, yeah, I have them too; get in line, bub.”

They kept on going down the path until Florence went into the tall grass, which Connor almost said something about. He took a look around at the area, though, and noticed that there didn’t seem to be any pokémon living there. In fact, the grass seemed scarcely alive; the only thing that moved it was the chill wind blowing through the area.

“Not long to go now.” Florence didn’t turn back as she said this. She remained focused only on what lay ahead. Connor didn’t blame her.

The trees out here were decrepit corpses. Their roots popped out of the ground and their branches drooped, unadorned by leaves. Moreover, they seemed… more distant than they had done earlier. Further away from him, and obscured everything — even Florence and Ponty in front of him, the latter of whom seemed gloriously unaffected by everything. Ronnie, meanwhile, was the polar opposite; he had dropped back behind his trainer, occasionally whining in fear. (Connor would reply with some variant of “Hey, don’t worry,” or “It’ll be okay.”)

Beyond that, though, there was a creeping dread in the air. Perhaps it was all the dead plants, or it came from the house itself; either way, Connor felt something that wasn’t there before. For all he knew there was a seismic shift taking place, and he just couldn’t hear it.

Everything Connor had heard about this place seemed much less far-fetched now. As a matter of fact, he had his own theory about it. Maybe the ghosts of the chateau were not human spirits, he thought. Maybe they were the ghosts of trees, who had taken up a different form to trick those intruding on the area. This thought wasn’t exactly reassuring, nor was he quite sure where he got the idea from — it was wildly implausible, even if it seemed otherwise here. If nothing else, he got a kick out of picturing this: just standard trees, innocent enough in the human world, dying and being reborn as angry spirits who drove rich people out of house and home and then pretended to be their ghosts. After all, the spiteful, petty tendencies of nature were certainly not new to Sinnoh.

Eventually, Florence stopped walking and crouched at the side of a tree. Her voice dropped to a whisper as she turned to Connor, who followed suit. “Alright, we’re here. Take a look.”

The fog cleared right before the two, revealing a wide garden through which a path had been laid out. It led to the biggest house Connor had ever seen. It was also the most dilapidated house he’d ever seen, and it was evident nothing had called it home for a long time now. The crimson wood that adorned it had long since been chipped away at; filth and erosion caked the granite that formed the walls. The vastness of the windows only helped draw attention to the sheets of dust on them. Those spots had been rubbed clean by intruding trainers like the two of them, eager to get a look inside, but to no avail — it was dark in there. The tiles on the roof had started to fall off, as though someone had tried to form a giant mosaic out of them and then died before anything came to fruition.

Time had ravaged this place. But its sheer size and faded grandeur made Connor certain that, seventy years ago, this house would’ve been far more impressive than depressing.

For whatever reason, though, the garden stood in a much cleaner state. Flowers of all different kinds grew in neat patterns, forming stripes of yellow, blue and pink between ornately trimmed hedges that decorated the path that led in. There were even some gracidea flowers among them, arranged to form neat circles in each half of the garden.

Connor remembered the story about shaymin and gratitude. “…What’s the deal with all the flowers?”, he whispered.

His friend shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe ghosts just like gardening.”

“Fair enough.”

“Gods,” she continued, “where else do you get chance to see something like this? It’s so strange that something like this is just… abandoned to time, yet all the flowers...”

There was that hint of something dark in the air again. It gave Connor the shudders. “Y-yeah,” he said, “uh… can you feel that in the air?”

She paused for a moment to think about this, as if to see if there was anything else unusual she was missing out on. “…No. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, uh, no reason. It’s all good.” He took a deep breath before continuing, as if he hit the refresh button on his brain. It didn’t work so well. “S-so, um, what’s the plan? Do we just… go in, have a look around, say hi to the ghosts and leave?”

It was here that he felt his friend slap her arm around his shoulder, giving him a warm look from the side. “It’s okay if you wanna stay outside,” she said. “I can personally vouch for the ghosts — pricks that they are — not being all that harmful, really. They’ll just try to fuck with you, is all — er, don’t go into any rooms unannounced, by the way, especially if you hear a TV in any of ‘em. But I understand if that’s a bit much! No pressure whatsoever. They’re just weird little fellas; beyond the historical importance of it, you’re not missing all that much.”

Connor was presented with a choice here. The first was to talk about something he really didn’t want to talk about, ruining the vibe of hanging out with a friend and unnecessarily worrying her and ruling out the possibility of seeing something of genuine historical interest — not to mention the spiritual side of it, too. The second was to swallow it and go inside, and talk about this at some later date.

“O-oh, I promise it’s no big deal,” he said after some deliberation. “Really! I’ll be fine — the hospital chat can wait until later. I do want to go in and see those ghosts, after all, and you can vouch for it. I’ll want to see this at some point in my life. Why not now?”

“You’re absolutely certain of this?”

He nodded. “You’re my friend. Not to mention, you’re the expert on this between us two. I trust you, and I trust this’ll be a good time.”

There was that shuddering feeling in the air again. He gave a thumbs up, but it only lasted for a split second; he felt himself shaking. “I-I’m, uh, just a little nervous is all.”

This was true. But nerves were probably all it was. Anyway, Florence nodded decisively after some thinking of her own. “If you say so, then I’m not going to stop you. Let’s do this, brother.”

“Actually,” he said, smiling unevenly — why did this come to mind now of all times? — “don’t you mean beother?”

Florence gave him a most serious look, and scowled like she truly meant it. "You know what I meant," she said, barely masking a chortle.

The pair headed across the path and around a long disused stone fountain. She opened one of the big red doors at the front — the door was scarcely used, and required a bit of lifting and shoving to really manoeuvre. Perhaps this obstacle was just a sign of many greater ones to come, a smaller domino whose fall set a colossal chain in motion.

Or maybe it was just an old door. Florence held it open for Connor, and for Ronnie and Ponty following just behind; once the party was all in, she proceeded in. The door shut behind them.
 
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The Walrein

Pokémon Trainer
Partners
  1. gulpin
  2. kricketot
Hello slamdunkrai! I'm here because zion of arcadia submitted your fic for Catnip Circle. Admittedly, I might not be the best person to review this, since I tend to dislike prolonged abstract dream sequences, but I'll try to give it a fair shake.

To start off, I thought the use of descriptive language was one of the first chapter's strong points, and it did a good job of creating a dreamlike atmosphere in the 'end of the world vision' scene. However, I feel like the combination of starting in medias res with having such a slow, introspective opening was to the chapter's detriment. The main problem is that I have no investment in Connor at the beginning, and not enough context is given about the hostage situation for me to care about that, either. I think it would've helped to give more of an explanation of why the father was taken hostage and by whom, and why Connor felt like he had to tackle the situation alone (modulo his Pokemon). That would at least give us a better idea of what's at stake and how much danger Connor might be facing, and even a quick explanation like "Connor didn't trust the regional authorities to get anything done against Team Galactic, given their past performance" could've made it feel less like Connor's holding an Idiot Ball.

Additionally, the first scene had a sort of dreamy feel to it, which I thought lessened the impact of the vision scene (since there was less of a contrast) and also made me think that there were going to be no lasting consequences to anything that occurred, which decreased my engagement. I think it would've been more effective to start off with events clearly taking place in physical reality, and then slowly increase the level of weirdness/abstraction.

Regarding the vision scene, the imagery was well done, but I wish I had more of a clue of how the origin story Mewtwo(?) shares is going to be relevant to the plot of the fic, or why this is all getting shown to Connor in particular. As it is, I really had no idea what direction the fic was going to take at the end of the chapter, and the "end of the world" shown was too vague for me to really get invested in Connor trying to prevent it. There's a balance to be struck between giving away enough detail to be interesting while still maintaining enough mystery to create intrigue, and, for my preferences at least, I found this part fell too far on the side of withholding information.

However, I did at least find it compelling enough to read the second chapter. I'm not sure if I'll keep up with this fic after that, but even if not, it was nice reading something so different from the usual trainer-fic opening.

Some thoughts on specific quotes below:

This was a matryoshka doll of situations he should not have been in, but long story short, he stood in the Valley Windworks, he had someone to look for, and the corridor ahead of him didn’t seem to end.

I really liked the description of "a matryoshka doll of situations he should not have been in", but after reading chapter 2, I'm uncertain which situations Connor thought were bad outside of just being in the valley windworks. Did he consider it a mistake that he ended up in Floaroma town to begin with, or even to have gone on his trainer's journey?

Half-finished work hung over the room, and cold coffee lingered in a mug emblazoned by words: “Best dad in the world.” Out of everything, that stuck with Connor. Good dads don’t leave their children’s gifts behind if they’re going far, and as far as it concerned him, the sort of people who took those gifts away were probably murderers, too.

I'm not really sure what you meant here. In what way did the father leave his child's gift behind if the coffee mug is just sitting in his office? Also, coffee mugs seem to me like a very reasonable thing to leave behind if you're going on a long trip! Additionally, I'm confused at why Connor considers the coffee mug to have been taken away - is he assuming that the Team Galactic hostage-takers decided to kidnap the guy's mug alongside him and then just left it in the room in Valley Windworks for some reason?

No foe faced him at the other end of the corridor to be fought with hands or his Pokémon. What was he so afraid of then? He was in control here, he would do this on his own terms. After all, the only sensible reason for the hallway to have been dark was that the lights were off, and not because something was actually down there. That was absurd, and thinking so reassured him as much as it could’ve done. It didn’t get rid of the shadows, though, nor did it mean he was absolved of greeting what lay on the other side of them. If things played out the way he expected— and he considered himself an optimist here— this meant intruding on a hostage situation.

This seems to contradict itself - Connor doesn't think there's any foe facing him at the other end of the corridor, but he also expects that he's going to be intruding on a hostage situation? Also, I'm not sure why he considers a hostage situation to be the optimistic case - wouldn't the optimistic case be more like "the eight-year-old girl was confused and her father wasn't actually kidnapped?" I guess he's comparing this to the alternative of Team Galactic having already executed her father?

I'm also not sure why Connor would think of "something [being] actually down there" as an alternative explanation for the darkness other than the lights being off, even just to mentally dismiss it. Did the corridor appear dimmer than it should've given the level of lighting, such that it might've seemed that there was some darkness-aura-generating creature there?

Every step on laminate floorboards rang sharp in the air, alerting whoever was in the dark to his approach. Except he swore he was still alone, and there was nothing to be afraid of.

Again, this seems to contradict the idea that Connor believes he's walking into a hostage situation. In that case, wouldn't it be reasonable to be afraid of the hostage-takers hearing you sneaking up on them?

Particles scratched against his throat, and he could’ve sworn he was choking. Breathing should have come naturally, like moving, but he found himself unable to do either.

I thought this meant that Connor was literally unable to breathe and was asphyxiating when I first read this, but I'm guessing it's meant figuratively(?) since this idea is immediately dropped afterwards, given that choking to death isn't something you can just ignore. I'd suggest either deleting the bit about him not being able to breathe, making it more clear that it's figurative, or adding a line about Connor's breath rushing back to him after a few panicked moments or something.

He surely hadn’t gone more than five meters this whole time, but the hallway felt five meters darker, only illuminated by leftover specks of light.

I'm not sure what "the hallway felt five meters darker" means - I took it to mean that the ambient lighting had decreased as if Connor had gotten five meters further away from the hallway's light source, but given that Connor thinks he might've walked up to five meters away from the light, why would that even bear mentioning?

Out of instinct, his hand cupped the warm plastic home of his closest friend. The Pokéball was still there — why wouldn’t it have been? Of course, he was unable to do anything with it; hurling it at shadows was at best a waste of energy and at worst certain death.

This might be a bit nitpicky, but I think it might've been worth an explanation why Connor wouldn't already have his Pokemon out, which would seem to be a good idea if he's potentially walking into an ambush by the hostage-takers. Presumably this is because whatever Pokemon he has would be too unstealthy or too slow to keep up with him, and I guess it's not unreasonable for the reader to assume this without explicitly being told, but I think this could've been a good opportunity to introduce what Connor's Pokemon are.

What path was he to take, then? Plan A had been to pass through without incident, which was such a basic task that he hadn’t considered a plan B necessary. But he stood on the precipice of an incident anyway.

When I first read this, I thought "Plan A had been to pass through without incident" was referring to passing through the entire Windworks without incident, which conflicts with Connor's expectations about finding a hostage situation. But on second reading, I think it's just supposed to be referring to Connor passing through that particular section of the hallway, maybe, although it feels strange to describe something an action so basic as a 'plan'. I think this could be more clear. (Side note: What was Connor's plan for dealing with Team Galactic if he met them, anyways? Was he hoping to take them by surprise? To negotiate with them? Did he even have a plan?)

In any other situation, he would have been gone in a flash, yet… something bothered him.
+
Yes, it was absolutely a minor thing compared to the brain intruder, and Connor knew it was, but there was that phrasing. Your truth. Not truth, as a concept. Not the trueness of any one thing. His truth, with the onus to find it on him. As though he’d lost it somehow, or was searching for it here. If it wasn’t here, then where was it?

Not just that, but there was the voice itself; harsh, but not hostile or mean. Growling, not to drive him away but because that was just what it did. Its owner wanted nothing to do with him, but it didn’t feel borne from a place of hatred for anything. Hell, if anything, it sounded more like the opposite: apologetic. Somehow, it knew that by turning him away, it disappointed Connor, and in turn, that disappointed it. Maybe he was looking much too deeply into it, but he was swift to remind himself he wouldn’t find such a truth without looking deeper.

Eh... I really didn't find it that believable here that Connor would be spending so much mental effort thinking about the non-sequitur of the voice talking about "his truth" and the exact tone of voice it was in, as opposed to worrying about the fact that he was just hit with a telepathic assault severe enough to knock him to the ground. I think explicitly pointing out the oddness of this ("Yes, it was absolutely a minor thing compared to the brain intruder") actually made this less convincing, and that it might've worked better if the audience was left with the weirdness of Connor not even noticing the oddness of his fixation. Maybe have Connor actually vomit in the middle of his mental monologue, but just ignore it and continue monologuing to drive home that something mind-screwy is going on.

“All that you have ever known is owed to the hatching of the egg, which was the beginning. Arceus emerged as all matter spewed forth into the ether, and all that remained of the egg was the seventeen shards of its tectonic shell, each having meaning carved into it in utero by the thousand hands of Arceus.

I thought the detail about the seventeen plates being created from the original eggshell was neat.
 

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
Hello slamdunkrai! I'm here because zion of arcadia submitted your fic for Catnip Circle. Admittedly, I might not be the best person to review this, since I tend to dislike prolonged abstract dream sequences, but I'll try to give it a fair shake.
Well, hi! Thanks for checking this out, even if that was by obligation. Right off the bat, I'm in a funny position here: until reading this I had no idea you could submit other people's stories to Catnip Circle, and there's a reason I hadn't submitted it myself, because I would really rather people didn't! This is just a matter of personal preference. Long story short, I'm entirely conscious that this is a bit of an odd one, and that these opening chapters set up a pretty weighty story. As such, I don't like it when people feel forced to read this -- especially not when there's so little of it currently up. Anyway, I'll try to give your review just as fair a response, and I want you to know that even if we seem to want different things out of this story, I do appreciate the feedback regardless. :V
To start off, I thought the use of descriptive language was one of the first chapter's strong points, and it did a good job of creating a dreamlike atmosphere in the 'end of the world vision' scene. However, I feel like the combination of starting in medias res with having such a slow, introspective opening was to the chapter's detriment. The main problem is that I have no investment in Connor at the beginning, and not enough context is given about the hostage situation for me to care about that, either.
This point has merit, honestly. I wrote it like this in part because I figured it picks up at a point that a reader familiar with the beat-by-beat plot of Platinum would recognise, and in part because though there are many differences between this protagonist and the canon D/P/Pt ones, this is the main point of divergence in their journey.
I think it would've helped to give more of an explanation of why the father was taken hostage and by whom, and why Connor felt like he had to tackle the situation alone (modulo his Pokemon).
Strongly disagree on the first part! Second bit is more fair, but Connor being approached to go and get help by the child of this guy and feeling compelled to go in and help, not sure what he's up against and pretty afraid, is indicative of his personality. He is, after all, a dumb seventeen year old in a position of (situational, and very minor) power, and him burdening himself with problems he feels like he can solve despite being pretty strongly outmatched is a flaw made relevant here. I probably took a bit too much liberty here, though; it's not 100% clear. Which does come with the dreamlike nature of it all, I guess?
That would at least give us a better idea of what's at stake and how much danger Connor might be facing, and even a quick explanation like "Connor didn't trust the regional authorities to get anything done against Team Galactic, given their past performance" could've made it feel less like Connor's holding an Idiot Ball.
Connor doesn't know who Team Galactic is at this point, and I didn't want to overload this opening chapter with details about him. Also, much as I love him, he is a bit of an idiot.
Additionally, the first scene had a sort of dreamy feel to it, which I thought lessened the impact of the vision scene (since there was less of a contrast) and also made me think that there were going to be no lasting consequences to anything that occurred, which decreased my engagement. I think it would've been more effective to start off with events clearly taking place in physical reality, and then slowly increase the level of weirdness/abstraction.
It might've been, ultimately, but I thought this was a fitting opening for the story I want to tell here. The dreamlike aspect of it in particular was very much intended as a setup, and I'm glad that got across! The point you raise about getting the impression of there being no lasting consequences to anything happening here is a fair enough hang-up though; I've not heard it before, but I can see how that'd come across. I guess my response is that I wouldn't have written it as an opener if it wasn't relevant, and I'm not sure right now if there's a way to keep the atmosphere while getting that across -- this is a story that consciously starts at the moment where Connor passes the point of no return, and it's not a coincidence that things get significantly more dreamlike from there -- but if/when I get round to revisions... probably not until I've made much more progress into the story, if I do it at all, I'll definitely consider this. And I'll consider it going forward, too. Thanks!

Regarding the vision scene, the imagery was well done, but I wish I had more of a clue of how the origin story Mewtwo(?) shares is going to be relevant to the plot of the fic, or why this is all getting shown to Connor in particular.
To answer each of these: it's not Mewtwo, this is just a first chapter and that'll be elaborated on later, and Connor's seeing this because he's in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As it is, I really had no idea what direction the fic was going to take at the end of the chapter, and the "end of the world" shown was too vague for me to really get invested in Connor trying to prevent it. There's a balance to be struck between giving away enough detail to be interesting while still maintaining enough mystery to create intrigue, and, for my preferences at least, I found this part fell too far on the side of withholding information.
I think we have different preferences here, and that's fine.

Cheers for reading, and for the comment! :> I honestly don't blame you for not wanting to keep up with this beyond this point; the story is going to continue in much the same vein as this, haha. I'm also happy to hear that you at least got something out of this being such a different start.
 
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Ch4

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
- Revised the "reveal" in this chapter to try and justify Connor's conclusion a little more
CHAPTER FOUR: Arceus Closes a Door, and Opens A Portal


The two trainers walked through the unlit corridor until they could no longer see, at which point Florence stopped. Connor nearly walked into her outstretched right arm; she held her piplup firmly with her left. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“You’re all good,” she replied. Connor could practically hear her wry smile, and he smiled too for a brief moment.

Then he looked into the vast empty space before him, which implied a big room in which no light shone. Maybe that was all there was. Just a big room, and no lights. A big room in which nothing ever happened. Thinking about it, Connor would've welcomed that.

But there was something in the air that he couldn’t place. Whatever it was made all his hairs prick up with anticipation. It moved through the air as fast as a crawling bug, and it was incomprehensibly vast. Was it bad luck descending on him? Did the chateau feel, and was this its way of warning away silly intruders? Or had the cold of the night just crept up on him? Connor couldn't answer as it wrapped around him like a tightening jacket. He couldn't see Florence, and she didn't say anything. Either she didn't feel it, or she was simply acting natural. She was good at that, if given time to prepare.

Connor swore he heard a pin fall in front of him; the surprise nearly launched him out of his skin. This was his mistake, as the living jacket constricted around him hard enough to pluck the air from his lungs. He decided to name this thing the Malice, with a capital M; its intensity warranted a proper noun. The Malice whispered inaudible tones in his direction, and he couldn't perceive them. All he heard as it held him was silence, and he noticed the absence, as it made him feel like there was a joke being told — one that he deliberately wasn't in on. The chokehold faded away while, outside, the wind continued to blow.

And time continued to move. Connor only noticed when Florence’s hand fell to her side, and as he exhaled, she turned to him to ask a question. “Are you ready?”

“Uh, I'm... not sure, if I'm being totally honest; s-something is definitely ahead, a-and… I don't know what it is, but it really creeps me out. It's not just me, is it?”

He was admittedly basing his actions off a vague something in the air. But Connor knew by now to heed warnings, and he chose to believe the Malice did exactly that. If it felt more urgent, it wouldn't have let go; if it wasn't real, he wouldn't have felt it. Did the Malice mind being called that?

Seconds passed without incident. Too many of them. No, he'd missed the incident. Florence had not responded. He stuck a hand out. She was no longer there.

Oh.

No other thought came to him. Oh, no.

Florence had disappeared, and Connor knew he was strapped for options when he was tapped on the shoulder by the evil nothing. He turned to look behind him, but this force he'd just now become acquainted with grabbed his cheek and forced him to look forward. No matter how hard he tried, and no matter how hard he swore he was more significant than this unseen thing, he could not turn to the door. Chills ambushed him, leaving his body wracked by premonition.

I guess I have to look into this, he admitted in defeat.

The candles of the hallway snaked like links in a chain, and they each lit up as he walked forward to reveal a foyer at the end of the hall. Florence wasn't there, but he felt the Malice beckoning him onward. He froze before stepping in; in fact, it was Ronnie who led the way in. Connor wasn't sure if the aron felt the same deep wrongness as his trainer, but as those two blue eyes glanced expectantly — and innocently — at him, he realised it didn't matter. He forced a smile onto his face, and Ronnie chirped, satisfied; here, Connor took the lead again with renewed hope in his heart.

Two staircases flanked the room, pots of bright lavender at the foot of each. At the opposite end lay an open doorway, with a statuette on each side — each one a hypno standing atop a pedestal. The walls were vast, featureless white expanses. Nothing moved. Beyond a lost trainer and his pokémon, and all the incidental things described here, the room was empty.

This soon ceased to be the case. A girl aged no more than twelve entered being, and stood totally motionless in the centre of the room. There was no blinking, and there was no breathing. Her hands politely crossed atop her belt buckle. She stared ahead and smiled, though Connor could not help noticing the sound of the Malice pounding the walls in every direction. This was silence, and it was inescapable in its volume.

Connor tried to approach, but gracelessly staggered forward; he found himself with a sudden lack of control over his movements. Though he wanted to leave, and he was sure that all elements of the chateau wanted him to leave, he couldn't do so without Florence. The apparition before him remained unmoved by his futile stumbling; to her, it didn't even register. Not when he stopped, on the verge of crying; not even when he looked her directly in the face, as determined as he'd ever looked at anything. Her expression only changed when he spoke. "What," he asked, "have you done w-with Florence?"

"What do you mean by that?" she replied, regarding him with her eyes clouded and half-open. "I didn't do anything."

Maybe he should leave. He wanted to leave, he wanted to leave so bad; there was no good outcome from him sticking around. "She was here with me just a minute ago, and now she's gone, a-and... uh... I'm being a little presumptuous, but you've just appeared here," he said. "You have to have something to do with this. Please. You took her and put her somewhere else, didn't you?"

There was no response.

"She's safe, isn't she?"

"Do not fear."

Connor felt the temperature rising; his hands twitched, and then he laid them against his coat and clutched. At least he could hold on to something. "But I-I've gotta be afraid; you've given me no reason not to be afraid, a-and truth be told, it makes me worry a bit more when you don't give a s-straight answer; all I want to know is, is Florence safe?"

She granted him an unspoken reply; her eyes flickered into red halos, her sclerae turning black. Connor had no time to be afraid before the dread in the air became almost toxic, nearly knocking him to the ground and tearing the white off the walls. Nothing but shadow replaced it. While briefly conscious, Connor felt like an astronaut who was not yet prepared to float in space. Yet there he was, weightless... until gravity came back to swing him across the room with the ferocity of a dhelmise batting for its prey.

At that moment, the room just stopped being there, and nothing broke Connor's perpetual fall. There were no walls any more. The ceiling had gone, but no stars shone from on high. All he could do was let this happen, and for his own dignity, try not to scream. At least he had Ronnie by his side, though he was unable to return his poor, frightened pokémon.

Only then did the girl speak. “Why would I want you to leave?” she asked as she stood perfectly still, descending through the air with the form of a plunging sword. She smiled and elaborated: “You can be useful to me.”

“Wh-what?” came his response between breaths. “Where’s my—”

The Malice shut him up. He felt it in his core, as sharp as a dagger right next to his heart. The girl looked at him with intent — she knew what she was doing, and there was no mistaking how much this was a game to her. If Connor had blinked, he’d have missed her eyes lighting up like stars full of glee.

He had to look away; he chose to look down. “When will this stop?” he asked.

“You have to be more specific. Everything will stop, eventually.”

“The fall! When will we stop falling?”

“Oh,” she said, feigning forgetfulness in the midst of his accidental scream. “Whenever you want to.”

But that was the thing! "That's the thing! I never wanted to fall in the first place!"

She did not respond. Her invisible threat remained on the table, reminding Connor that she could have acted on it if she so chose. He felt it with every beat of his heart; thinking about it for a brief moment, there was no proof at all that any of this existed to anyone but him. Maybe it was a bad dream, but still, the fall continued. If only there was an invisible floor just beneath him, or something to break his fall—

There wasn't. He just stopped, as if by magic.

He blinked hard, and felt his heart restart in his chest; he put his hands down to double check. There had been no impact. As though he had been plucked from the air, he just wasn't falling all of a sudden. Neither was Ronnie, though he seemed to be out cold. The poor thing.

Now on his feet, he gathered his bearings and cleared his throat. Of course, the problem he found with asking a question was the amount of choice that faced him. There was too much ground to cover in time that he wasn't quite sure he had. But that wasn't his priority, so he decided to start with the basics. Such as: “…What is this?” and “W-who are you?”

“I am many things,” she replied matter-of-factly, "and so is this."

"Okay," said Connor, greatly unhelped. Perhaps this was a good time to learn more about his host. Maybe that'd help; it was, at least, just the nice thing to do. He resisted the urge to collapse inwards and start heaving, and clutched his stomach as he spoke. “Is… i-is there a name that you, uh — you would prefer?”

“There isn’t, though I believe you’ve come up with one already.” She didn't laugh, but clearly she found something funny; her smile didn't admit any guilt she may have held, but it admitted something. "I am flattered by your reverence. A proper noun, did you say...?"

Wait, thought Connor, how did she—?

Her smile only widened. “I see you're keeping the questions to yourself,” she continued. “You're misguided, but I respect it. Better to keep your mouth shut than to ask a dumb question, right? Anyway, there are many things I can change, but your perception of these events is not one of them. You intrigue me, so I'll allow you to figure it out yourself.”

She wasn’t the Malice, Connor decided — no, he deduced it. From a gut feeling, sure, but he was pretty sure he'd figured it out. They were two distinct entities, but they were related. She controlled the Malice, maybe? Either way, that was a living thing with no form, and she was... presumably living; she was, at least, sentient, and she had a form. Maybe she controlled it. Still, Connor needed a way to commit her to memory, as this all felt a bit too impersonal; after all, she was more than just the being that gave him torment. He took her offer to heart and came up with something on the spot. "...Do you mind if I call you Mordred, actually? And the other thing — the thing that feels like it’s about to stab me — that… that can be something else. Is that okay?”

The feeling just beyond his heart softened just a little, though not enough to completely alleviate his fear for his life. She seemed perplexed at Connor’s words, as though he had misunderstood. She didn’t object, though. Or she didn’t care. Either way, it was beyond him.

“What is this, Mordred? Do you… do this to everyone, or am I unique? F-Florence said this place was haunted; she just wanted to show me around — b-but she wouldn’t have brought me here and abandoned me, left me in this mess if she knew it would be like this. I know her. She wouldn't do that, and when I felt the… when I felt you, I don't think she noticed it at all. And I thought it wasn't there, and to tell you the truth, I'm still not sure what all of this is. I can't say whether or not this is real, and then give you evidence for it. But it is! We both know it is, don't we? Yet she didn’t!

"Didn't you tell her something was up? Why? Where is she now? Please answer me; I-I know I shouldn't admit this, because you can just use it against me somehow, but... I don't know what I'd do without her. I think whatever it was, it'd be very unwise, a-and I'd do everything in my power to make you regret it. But I don't think I've got much power here... and you wouldn't feel a thing, would you? Oh, what's the point...”

As his voice trailed off, he realised he was staring at Mordred with eyes wide enough to plead with; that gaze wandered off to the side, leaving Connor with any ounce of fire that had sparked by accident during his rant.

She did not answer with anything more than an indifferent smile, and then she sprouted wings.

Eight long black tendrils, to be exact, though they were more like outstretched fingers curling as if grasping a cylindrical nothing. Each one must have been ten foot long — no, that was too precise; they each blossomed into something much, much larger. They were interminable, and indeterminate; there was no telling them from the oblivion of which the world consisted. What miserable oblivion it was, too. Despondent red splashes swirled around the void, the weight of which pushed against Connor from every direction.

But she didn’t seem to care. “Does this look familiar to you?” she asked, smiling.

It clearly did. Connor had not forgotten so soon. How did she know? “How do you—”

“I am surprised you hadn't figured this out by know! But I have a brother, you know,” said Mordred with sheer glee. She spoke as though her words were clearer than glass, completely ignoring the disconnect between this and everything else. Even so, Connor could not shake the feeling that there was a disconnect here. She practically sung.

“A brother?”

“You met him. You know him. I understand if you'd rather nothing to do with him, but you— you have heard the folk tales about him, haven't you?" much of your kin; I am the part of him he wishes he was, and he hates this of himself!”

But that couldn’t have been true. Connor was sure of it; that wasn't the case. What folk tales was she referring to? Who were they about? There was only one candidate. There was the creature who was cursed for stealing Cresselia's shadow, and forced to remain in solitude lest he spread his nightmares like seeds in the wind. The one who wished to repent and live peacefully, but could not, for the gods did not want him to go unpunished. That wasn't him. Connor was reduced to stammers in making his point. “…That's not… that's not…”

Mordred did not relent, beckoning nearer with a smile; her wings closed in around him, her contempt very clear to see.

It couldn't have been him, Connor reasoned, because he knew all the stories about his interactions with humans. There were the ones that were kinder, describing him as a timid, stoic creature who warded murderous spirits away from children and saved lost travellers from falling to their doom, all before disappearing from view. Then there were the cautionary tales that came with death tolls, about fools who left their windows open and wandered into the woods to beckon him in, only to find themselves falling into endless sleep. These couldn't have about been the same... the same individual as the one Connor had met. It wouldn't happen to him! He wanted no part in this! And besides, that D— that... could not have been the same one who was in the Windworks...

“Why aren't you saying anything?” asked Mordred.

“It's not… it's not…”

He was this close. But if he spoke it, it'd be real. He couldn't afford that.

She drew so close that their faces were practically touching, hers shoved against his. “Not who?”

“… D… Darkrai…”

At that moment, he glanced Ronnie from the corner of his eye. He was still passed out. Was he dreaming? The thought of a malignant influence there made Connor’s heart sink, as irrational as it was. Darkrai had no influence here, he was certain of that — and he swore, in that meeting, that his adversary made no effort to hurt him. Connor could direct no anger directed at him, anyway, and swore that the actions he had taken were not ones of hate — but the idea of Ronnie coming into harm over this…

He wasn't quite sure who to blame. Mordred was the target of his ill feelings right now, but this wasn't really her fault. The dancing green lights gave way to swirls of deep, melancholic blue. If Connor was to get to the bottom of this, he knew a reunion was inevitable. That scared him. He had been warned explicitly to keep away by someone who did not want to hurt him.

He swallowed all of his fears and took a deep breath. He was still in one piece. The things that scared him were now inevitable, but he had time to prepare. He looked back in Mordred’s direction after a long time spent in thought.

But she was no longer there.

He looked in all directions, and she’d simply vanished. The Malice had not gone away, oddly enough; was she still there, just invisible? It grew stronger, sending shivers all the way across every inch of his skin. One long, protruding spike threatened to dig through his back and come out the other side. He didn’t blame himself for staring straight ahead. Maybe there really was something behind him. The shudders only got worse when that feeling came on the other side of his spine.

And worse still when there came a faint roaring. It could have been a mighty starving engine if this was anywhere else, but this was nowhere, and there was nothing. Just Connor and Ronnie in a void forever.

There was no use fighting it forever. Dread already gripped every part of him, and he sweated it too. How could it get worse? Slowly, he turned around, and found an ever-expanding hole ready to swallow him. It radiated sheer contempt as though it were a dark star, going cold.

This was also the Malice. He felt it. It came for him.

He knew how silly it was, but deep down, he hoped that something would come and stop it — maybe Florence would come and reveal it was all a practical joke gone way too far, maybe he’d wake up after having another Darkrai dream. Maybe the world would end in that very split-second, and there’d be nothing to worry about anymore. That was the very worst case scenario.

Of course, none of this happened. The gap in space and time did not cease its expansion, and instead, Connor found himself drawn ever closer to it. The roar of impending nothingness was not silenced so easily.

This was a catastrophe of proportions that had recently been unfathomable to him. But he found himself strangely undeterred. After all, he was curious, and he sensed things could only get better than this.



Meanwhile, Florence had no clue what was going on. She had asked her friend a question — “Are you ready?” — and he was in the middle of saying something when he just stopped being there. He didn't make a sound during his departure, nor did he leave any footprints. Not that he was the sort to run off like that all of a sudden, but she turned around and there was simply nothing there. Her heart sank through her chest in no time at all; a haunted chateau, she couldn't help but think, was not a great place to disappear. There were no footsteps when he went away.

This was her fault. Something erupted deep inside her and unleashed bursts of terrible feelings — doubt in her heart, fear in her gut, fire in her lungs. This little outing was her idea — and it was a bad idea, trusting ghosts to act normal, but she hadn’t pictured this!

Still, she took a deep breath and pinched her nose, holding almost too firmly onto Ponty. She had to make this right somehow. There was no way of knowing what Connor was up to, let alone the spirits that had taken him… presumably. All she had to work off were presumptions.

First, she put her piplup on the ground. Ponty looked back at Florence along with her other active pokémon — Galdre, her gastly — and waited for directions. As she requested with a raised finger, they waited further, watching as she headed back down the hall, past a portrait of the family that once lived here (a mother, a father, two sons and a daughter). For a brief moment, she considered running to get help — maybe someone out in the woods would know how to help. Maybe there were nearby rangers on patrol?

She laid a hand on the doorknob.

…And then took it off. These were just maybes. She couldn’t know any of them for sure. Of course, a few minutes earlier she believed she knew that no harm would come to Connor. There was so much about this that was completely beyond her. Waiting to find out was a terrible idea, as was banking on finding some sort of advanced medium in the woods — and running all the way to the local rangers’ outpost and back seemed a poor use of precious time.

But maybe she could call them — except she didn’t know their number. Still, maybe the rangers at Snowpoint could reach out to them. They were always happy to lend a helping hand; if they could get in contact with their colleagues in Eterna Forest, then she could get to looking while they arrived and gave backup—

The line went dead immediately. Every time she tried it, nothing happened.

Outside help was completely off the table, then. This matter simply had to be solved by her, and her alone…

Her gaze wandered to Galdre, whose eyes were enormous as if he were on the verge of whimpering. She could’ve sworn the spirit of a fallen puppy had taken residence in that ball of gas—

It dawned on her. There was one resident ghost whose help was worth a try, at least. One too feckless to be involved in this ruse. “You’re a genius,” she said to the gastly, rubbing her hand against the dome of his spherical body. “I can’t thank you enough.”

Florence was almost certain he didn’t understand any of that. His pathetic gaze turned into a smile regardless. Unfortunately, the two of them would have to return to their balls here. Ponty made her thoughts known with an indignant screech and vigorous flapping, though her resistance was ultimately cut short. Florence felt a little guilty about this, even if it was for her own good. It was better to have her angrily safe than happily endangered.

Hopefully, she’d get used to this before she evolved. But that wasn’t important right now. Her only hope was the electric ghost, it seemed. How fun.

She made her way through the wide foyer, disregarding the ugly custard colour of its walls, and scrambled up the stairs at with the grace of an Ursaring hunting on all fours. Who was she to care about looking dignified, she asked herself? No-one was watching.

Besides, time was of the essence — there was no time to go through it all again. She made a dash across the carpet atop the stairs, crossed the landing and went down yet another hallway. This forked into another three corridors, somehow, with four or five doors marking each. She groaned inside, cursing the poor tastes of old money. Nobody needed fifteen rooms.

Thankfully, she knew which room she was after. She headed down the middle hall to the second door on the right, preparing to enter. For what felt like the ninth time today, she gathered her nerves before entering — which she would have to do calmly. Barging in would leave her prone to a surprise-but-not-really blast of electricity. She knew this from experience, because as the ghost justified it, “you surprised me when you barged in like that.”

She clenched the door handle, but could not turn it. Instead, overcome by a wave of embarrassment, she hesitated. She was (to understate things) wildly unqualified to talk to these spirits, let alone come in and strut around their house like a tour guide. Why had she ever thought this was okay? She wasn't a medium, and she didn't know anyone who was; she just liked reading about them!

But what else could she do?

Get it together, she told herself with a sigh. While it would have been better to face up to that before putting Connor in danger... it was better to admit this late than never. There was nobody around more qualified to help out.

With that in mind, she pounded on the door. There was no turning back.

The voice on the other side her spoke in sing-song, barely comprehensible through a door and crunching static. “I— fraid no—ksssshhhhhhhhssssshhhhk—ome!”

“Very funny,” she flatly replied. “I don’t want to fight you; I really need your help with something — someone very dear to me is in a lot of danger. First, I need to come into your room. Is that okay?”

—shhsssssshk—for a shock.”

She pinched her temple and sighed. “Please don’t try to shock me again.”

“I—shssshnnopromises. Come in!”

That sounded as promising as any answer she’d get, though that static irked her. “Thanks,” she said. She’d have to solve that before diving into her bigger problems. In she went. The door eased open.

An old television shaped like a box stood on all fours in the exact centre of the room, turned on but tuned to a sea of noise. The years had not been kind to this old machine. Dust caked the poor thing’s screen, rust coated the metal finish and knobs to operate; the wooden finish had started to chip away, while an embossed word just above its legs had faded. Florence had neither the means nor the time to look up how old this poor thing was. That was a shame. As she came close to it, she was sure she smelt faint burning seeping out of the back panel, ever so gently…

Best to make this quick, then.

“T—ksssskssssskssssshhhh— exhausting,” spoke the faceless ghost, from its decrepit place of residence. Florence noticed the two chairs before it — one green, one purple, both faded and missing chunks of their upholstery. She stepped over fallen books and strewn about paper from the three bookcases that made up the room’s walls to sit in the green one.

“Can you see alright?”

Shshsssshhhhssssshhhhhhk.” The ghost did not elaborate further.

“Uh… okay, this’d probably be a lot easier if you were in my phone, wouldn’t it.”

“Please!”

“Right,” said Florence. “And you’re not going to try and electrocute me?”

“May— e.”

She sighed and pulled out the darn thing, not bothering to look as the ghost entered it. This was the second kidnapping situation she’d been near, after some other incident years ago. This one was very different — ghosts were involved, it was likely her fault, and it felt so fucking... mundane wasn't quite the word. She just wanted to be anywhere else right now. But she had to be here. This was on her.

When that cheery weekend-morning-cartoon voice next piped up, it came from her speakers this time. It was marginally less grating without the harsh waves of static cutting through it. “Thank you, kind human! This is far more comfortable,” it said. “Now, to answer your question: yes, I could see you, and I still can. More clearly this time. I’ve got eyes, you know!”

It did. Big blue ones that sat in the middle of Florence’s phone screen as it hovered near her face and a little goofy smile just bridging the gap.

Hang on, she thought. “I didn’t know you could make it float.”

“Well, I can, but there’s nothing to worry about. I assure you!” said the ghost, waving about in the air doing a funny little dance. “I’m perfectly capable of staying balanced.”

She didn’t object to this, really; it just took her by surprise — whatever, she didn’t care. Best to get this over with. “In return for your temporary new home, would you be able to help me find someone? Long story short, he just… vanished, and I think it was one of the other ghosts you share this place with.”

“He vanished?”

She nodded, as if this were the most matter-of-fact thing she could ever say. “Into thin air.”

“Crazy,” said the ghost. “But that sounds like something my fellow tenants would do. They’re not very nice, and they can be very annoying, especially when you’re trying to do other things. Have you noticed that?”

“Not at all!” she replied, extremely un-sardonically.

“Well, the more you know.” She didn’t really appreciate the ghost winking back at her. “But, uhh… I can certainly help you out. If you don’t mind me asking, why did you come here again with him? I don’t often get repeat visitors; I think most other people find this place a bit too scary. Or, dare I say it, boring. But I knew your first visit wasn’t boring.”

Florence did not indulge the ghost that had nearly electrocuted her mere days previously. Not even when it stuck its pretend tongue out. “He asked me about it. I offered to go in with him. Simple as that.”

“Mhmmm. And are you two, you know—"

“Look, this isn’t a fucking quiz show, mate; don’t push your luck. Are you going to help me out or not?”

The ghost recoiled, visibly taken aback. Its smile dampened, as though out of ritual more than enthusiasm. Florence felt her frown all of a sudden. Her teeth were clenched, her nose upturned, and her heartbeat rang in her ears; tonight, her blood ran a little too warm. She looked at the ultimately well-meaning face on her phone and, amidst the far more urgent feelings, she couldn’t help but sympathise.

“…Sorry,” she said, breaking the silence she had created. “That was too much. I’m really sorry. I just— I don’t want to talk about my friend vanishing, I want to find him.”

“There’s no need to apologise.” The poor thing spoke in a more sullen voice, a glimmer of sadness present in that averted gaze. “He sounds like someone you couldn’t bear to lose. I understand. I will try to avoid questions about him as we proceed.”

Florence felt strange seeing her new ally in such a mood. After all, it had lived in a rotting old TV for so many years, got its entertainment from trying to zap the unfortunate strangers who wandered in, and its housemates were kidnapping bastards who only spoke to scorn and deceive. She didn’t think she’d be the one to break that mood by talking about Connor.

“…Er, thank you,” she replied, after that pause that dragged just a second too long. “Let’s just get on with this, shall we— what do you have in mind?”

“Well…” it began, pivoting to face the rotting old TV. It was here Florence realised she’d never seen the spirit outside some sort of electrical device. With those big eyes, it reminded her of a dwebble scuttling between new stones for shells. That old thing was an old shell, not fit for purpose — Florence knew this, and she assumed the spirit did, too—

“This might be a bit dangerous, so I’d advise standing behind one of those chairs, but I could open one last portal to the place I see the other spirits wander using this old thing… I say it’s dangerous because I’m almost certain that if I took both of us, there’ll be a bit of a, uh, y’know.”

Florence didn’t know, but this didn’t sound ideal. Still, she stared at the spirit, gesturing it to finish.

It did so with a hushed voice. “An explosion…?”

“If that’s the only way we can get to him, I’ll happily take it.”

“Woah— really, you’re sure? I didn’t even say that your phone could overheat and break, though it’s unlikely—”

“It’s just a phone,” she replied bluntly. “There’s thousands more like it, at the very least. I frankly could not care if you had to smash it into the wall a million times until it broke into a billion tiny little pieces. Just as long as we can get where we need to go.”

The face of the spirit stopped smiling again — was she really being so intense? She needed a long rest once all this was done, however long that took. She shrugged at it, not sure what else to say.

“I… okay, sure, that makes a lot of sense! You want to try and find your friend,” it said, its voice tinged by a half-hearted chuckle. Not the sort one got after telling a joke, Florence noted. “Uh, be warned; this place we go to… you won’t have your pokémon on you, but do be careful, and try not to freak out too much, if that’s okay? It’s not really a place designed for human comprehension — I mean, I’m going to be honest, I can barely make heads or tails of it myself…”

“Sure,” said Florence, taking her position crouched behind her chair. “I don’t care. Let’s just go.”

“Right you are. Now, you might want to close your eyes for this one — I don’t know how this’ll feel, to be honest; I’ve never done this with a whole other person before. Let’s hope it doesn’t hurt!”

Florence didn’t see what happened next. She did, however, hear it. She smelled it, too. There was a loud buzzing sound, like a swarm of beedril drawing nearer and nearer until something started to burn. She covered her ears just in time for the great and mighty pop, which sounded like an amplifier being plugged in and promptly dying horribly. Glass smashed in the process, and it was really smoking in here.

Before she could question how wise she was in trusting this, she felt something overcome her. Just for a brief moment, it was like wore a floating coat that left her weightless. Nothing could touch her, it seemed.

Then there was a painful kick that felt like a hammer to the ribs. Florence could not protest it, though. She was already gone.
 
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Ch5

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
CHAPTER FIVE: No Static At All

Connor found himself inside another room. What did the architect in charge have for liminal spaces?

Mordred wasn’t there, at least. Nor was the suffocating Malice. He appreciated the respite; it gave him room to look around without feeling like death. He sat on a bed in an unfamiliar room. An old radio stood on the bedside drawers. It had twiddly knobs for eyes, a big speaker for a face and a bunch of numbers for a mouth. Two big antennae stuck out of it, though Connor couldn’t imagine they picked up anything in here. Wherever here was.

The room had neither doors nor windows. Whoever owned it clearly loved slurpuff pink, though; the walls, the bedsheets, the curtains at the end of the bed frame — every surface in the room was touched by the colour. Whoever owned the room… they had to have been young. Their little good-luck bear sat between the pillows, tucked in. It looked just like the one Connor had tragically left back at home.

He didn’t see anything worth disturbing there.

Instead, he turned on the radio. The only other thing he felt fine using in this stranger’s room was the mirror, and what was he going to do there — see how he looked? He already knew that. One of those 70s power pop songs filled the air. The sort with jangly acoustic guitars and soft ooohs and aaahs in the background; the sort with big hooks, grandiose key changes and vaguely ironic lyrics about never giving up on being yourself or the joys of going to end-of-year school dances. It was a bit soppy on the face of things, yes, but there was something a little haunting about it. Like it was dedicated to something too good to be true.

A cold wind blew around the room with no entrance, giving Connor full-body shivers. He focused on the catchy if slightly bittersweet melody of the chorus in the air. All he could really do now was hope that things would pass, as they seemed to these days. It all seemed a bit fleeting, these things constantly happening; hopefully the chance to put all of this to rest would arrive soon. Just for a little while, some respite would be nice. But until it arrived, he resolved to approach this situation with as genuine a smile as he could muster; to do unto others as he wished to do himself, and hope that his loved ones knew they were just that.

No matter how vague it was, it was something he could look towards… though he would’ve been much more comfortable if it took a form.

As the song locked into its final, looping chorus, the crunchy guitars started to fade out while the jockey tried with varied success to glide his smooth voice over the airwaves. “You’re tuning into classics hour on krrsssshhhhtttt FM, and that was krshshshshshshsht as requested by a caller — dedicated to all the dreamers out there. Good— now, I’d like to take a break from the music for just a little moment…”

This was probably important, Connor decided. He sat and listened, his eyes fixed on the radio.

“…a word from us here at the station. Now, as much as we like to pretend we’re smooth talkers, I have to admit, I’d rather let— do the talking. After all, that is what you tuned in for. Nevertheless…” sighed the DJ. “…wherever you’re listening from, listener, we’d like to formally clarify some things. Recently, while the mic was sssssshhhhhhhh sssshsssssssskt — I’m not going to elaborate where I don’t need to. You’ve read the news. I’m sure all of you know what went down.”

The shivering air wrapped itself around Connor like a plastic raincoat, making him fidget in his seat and wince as it congealed around his skin. All of this was fake, he reminded himself. This room had no doors and no windows. This DJ probably wasn’t even real — all of the ostensibly important bits (the song name, the band, the station — any ounce of detail) were obscured by static. “This is fake,” he mumbled. “This is a nightmare.”

That didn’t make any of it go away. No matter how hard it came, the realisation that things were off did not turn them back on. The DJ continued to speak.

“We’re — and I, personally, am most sorry for any undue harm we may have caused to our dear listeners. None of us on the team want to hurt you. We value your companionship, and rewarding your patience with unwarranted fear or pain is the last thing we’d like. Frankly, we’re not that important. Nevertheless, though the choice of venue was deeply inappropriate… all of what was said was true. We meant every word of it. It was difficult to hear, yes, but… I’m going to bare my soul for you all here: sshhhhshssskkkrrrsshht. We could understand each other if not for the distance between us, yet that’s the problem with radio, isn’t it? It concerns me just as much as you.”

The DJ let out a sad little laugh, but Connor didn’t find it worth laughing over as he held himself tightly and shivered. Did this mean something to him? Anything? Or had he just tuned in on someone’s wayward prayer, to an audience of people who’d tuned in to a dream?

“Anyway, thank you for your time. Back to the music. Our next request is from a different caller, who asked for ‘the same song’. We’re enthusiastic tonight, aren’t we? I suppose the music will oblige…”

The peppy guitar riff kicked in again, and the DJ said his farewell. “Remember, music sticks with you, and we’re its messengers. If you look in the mirror, we’ll be there looking back.”

The shivers eased off as the DJ went away, though Connor still felt his mind in a spiral and confusion in his gut. That seemed to mean something. Surely, that was directed at him. As the song kicked back into gear, he slowly turned his gaze back to the mirror. A nagging feeling somewhere inside told him to go to it. So he did.

The reflection was almost his own. All his features were there: his big coppery eyes stuck either side of his slightly crooked nose, his ears sticking out in front of his hair like mug handles. It looked like him. Maybe some details had been distorted, or someone had made his skin — just a shade brighter than ochre — much paler than it usually was. Maybe it was his clothes. Had his jacket always been that baggy? Either way, the reflection was only there for a fleeting moment. Then it vanished. Everything in the mirror vanished, and like a door had opened there, a new space opened there. Suspended in the middle of it was a cube, purple in colour and crusty in texture.

Was this still just a mirror? He reached out to touch the glass of the mirror, and sure enough, his hand phased through it. He reached the cube without resistance and grabbed it — it squelched in his hand. He softened his grip.

This wasn’t rock. Not at all. It was old cake. He stuck it in his bag. Why was an old piece of cake suspended in blank space, exactly? It was beyond him. Connor wasn’t in much place to question things right now. There was nowhere else to go, so he stepped through the new hole in the room to explore the darkness.

As it turned out, he didn’t need to go all that far — only the length of a corridor in which there was no ceiling, no sky, and no walls. But there was a table. There was also a tremendous locomotive sound all of a sudden, which rang so loudly that he felt it between his ribs. Connor looked up and glimpsed a great grey worm passing up above. It was too far away to make out in much detail, but that was what it was! It travelled in a singular frictionless motion, and then disappeared into the ether like a spy plane into clouds. The unbearable sound stopped too; it left Connor's body, and he found himself able to move.

Anyway, the table — he was nearer it now. Many chairs sat around it, none of them used; an old bald butler stood there for a moment, smiling untroubled at nothing in particular. Then he floated off, not noticing Connor was there either.

“Where’s the Dread Plate, fuckface?” hissed… someone with utter contempt. Connor flinched at the sound of it, because there was nobody else.

Then he caught himself. The Dread Plate? That sounded important. He stood still and paid close attention.

“Be patient,” said the butler, “be careful. You seek a troubled old thing. The cramorant refused its food upon the sight of it, went hungry and perished; the delibird returned to his nest, solemn, and took his presents with him. Such ruin must be contained!”

“Oh, bite me, geezer — do you even have teeth? I know it’s here. Uxie said it would be here.”

He’d definitely heard that right, though it took him a moment to swallow it. Uxie, Guardian of Knowledge? His mind went back to the time he went with Florence to try and see the creature of their fables; the two of them swore they were heroes and called out his name. Uxie responded by withholding his presence and staying silent, either not hearing their message or not caring. This was as he had done for many decades, because no fit hero reached out to him. Florence and Connor weren’t heroes. Not then. They were seven.

That was besides the point; Uxie had said that?

The butler stopped mid-shuffle to look at the invisible individual. His wrinkled face lit up over the span of several seconds. There was something kindly about him; he emoted like a Torkoal. “…Oh! I didn’t know your kind was still graced; what bright news! In that case, the dissenting authority is beyond me. Follow me as I go…”

Connor didn’t understand a word he said, but he tried not to think about it. After all, there was no sense in chasing up all the little details when Uxie was in the picture. The butler floated into the empty void with his invisible guest in tow, and this lost trainer got up and went to the table to verify his concerns. Sure enough, there lay a thick slab, as old as matter itself and much more immutable. It was shaped like a coffin, with a set of characters carved into it. He recognised the script, but once again, he could not read it by himself—

“What purpose do you serve? How do you benefit the world by existing? Can you prove something would be lost if you turned to nothing now rather than later?”

Flinching back to his surroundings, Connor once again questioned how he knew that — and what it meant. Was this question addressed to him? His answer was simple; he’d thought about it many times before—

Connor was brought to his senses for the second time in a few seconds by a great crash mere feet behind him. He turned to see a woman uncrumpling herself, and was immediately drawn to her strange hair. Blood red, and shaped into a bob with a big pointed tuft on top like a braviary’s beak. This was quite the contrast from her outfit, which was just a creased pinstripe suit maybe half a size too big. She didn’t bother picking up the hat beside her, its dome caved in like a skull. He had to admit, he envied how well she carried herself, but that wasn’t the point.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

Connor placed her voice immediately. Uxie’s conversational partner was invisible no longer. “…U-uh, I wish I could tell you."

“No, what are you—”

She paused to weigh up her words, but nothing she could say would've put him at ease. Him? Specifically? Why did she say that like she recognised him? This wasn't a mutual feeling; he'd never seen her before in his life! He stammered, trying to ask for an explanation, but she interrupted him. “Fffffucking… forget I said anything. Is that the Plate over there?”

“Y-yeah, that’s it, I’m pretty sure; I-I don't really have a say in—”

“What do you mean you’re pretty sure, dumbass?” she replied while marching over. Of course, she still shot him daggers while heading over, just to make sure he was clear on how much she resented him. “It either is, or it isn’t. Did you just stumble down here without checking you were in the right place? Are you pretty sure the sky’s blue, too?”

Something boiled in Connor's gut, which was a change. He decided he didn't like her, but saw no use in protesting her words; more hassle was the last thing he needed. Instead, he craned his head over as she picked up her bounty; she saw him and turned her nose up at this strange boy, before squinting at the Plate's inscription for several seconds. Then she caved. “What’s it say?”

“I know this,” said Connor, ignoring the venom in her voice. As he prepared to speak the words that his finger hovered over, a strange feeling started to take hold. Somewhere, many miles away, a tidal wave battered a dam wall, preparing to reach a crescendo and let loose its full form—

His finger phased through the Plate.

This threw him out of it to the point that he barely felt real. The only thing tethering him was the fallen woman and the disgusted look she gave him. If melting was an option, he surely would have done it here. But she did not say a word. She had already asked her question.

Connor felt that familiar feeling of freezing up, and nearly choking on the nervous mass that formed in his throat. “Uhh… the Plate, it… it’s got some questions on it about… the, uh, purpose you serve, and what you bring to the universe, so to speak— uh, I think they’re rhetorical questions.”

“Fuck you,” she replied, as happy as she’d ever seemed. “Of course they’re rhetorical questions — to you. You’re too dense to understand them. Fucking trainers…”

“Uhh—?”

The woman did not dignify him with any further responses, and instead walked off. That made sense. She had her prize. She had no further business here. Without a word, she walked off, not bothering to turn back; her eyes fixed lovingly on her prize.

She vanished too, sooner rather than later.

Connor didn’t understand any of what had just happened. He was so hopelessly lost.

Another feeling crept up on him too, though. Not the Malice; Mordred was nowhere nearby. It was just him alone in here, wanting to scrunch up like an accordion. It was almost anticipation, but not quite. It was like watching a horror movie that he’d seen before, and still being caught by all the scares in it.

But this was new. “I haven’t been here before,” he reiterated to nobody but himself. “Why do I recognise this?”

Why he phrased this as a question, he didn’t know. Nobody would answer. Maybe he was just monologuing to an audience. It was hard to say. His train of thought was not particularly coherent at the best of times; why would it be now? Either way, he ran through it again in his head. It was obvious that Team Galactic got Darkrai on their side somehow

A red door materialised just before him in the middle of that thought.

“Ahhh,” he replied. He understood it like a chatot understood a square box fitting into a square hole.

So that’s what the Dread Plate could do.

Connor had many, many more questions, but the door presented to him assured him that no further answers remained here. It didn’t really soothe him — quite the opposite, in fact; his heart bounced around his chest like a cannonball, and he trembled with sharp pains in his chest and deep uncertainty on his mind. Nevertheless, as was so often the case these days, he had no choice but to accept what… something way beyond him presented just before him.

He put his hand on the door and opened it.



Florence was still completely lost, and that was fine. She wasn’t here for answers. She was here for her friend, and the spirit in her phone — Rotom, as someone once called it — was happy to help her. As things turned out, Rotom made for fun company in what would have otherwise been mind-numbing boredom.

“…and anyway,” said the creature, “as you say, the sun’s an ‘it’. Trees are an ‘it’. Both of those things are noble to be — certainly more noble than you and me, I think.”

“Oh, aye, definitely.”

“Do you think the moon’s an it?”

“Nah, but she could be if she wanted to,” she added. “She’s a lesbian, too.”

That got her an incredulous look from Rotom. “How would you know? Did she tell you?”

“She didn’t, but all the poets write about her like that. Looking down at all of us longingly, pulling the tides as she moves, guiding lost maidens through the woods with her love at night.” She side-eyed Rotom, smirking. “Call me a romantic, but you can’t tell me there’s a straight explanation for that.”

“I… don’t know enough about love to comment,” replied Rotom after some consternation. “Maybe. I think she could be. You’ve put some thought into this, haven’t you?”

“I studied our region’s literature at school for five years,” she retorted. “Gotta put that to use somehow.”

She did not elaborate, and Rotom didn’t chase her up on it. There was merely an unspoken agreement before they continued wandering the halls. For what was ostensibly a mirror copy of the chateau, this felt wrong. But she couldn’t be sure if it was just her memory. Maybe the walls were a different colour. Maybe it was just the wind, blowing in the wrong direction.

Then she passed by a window, and couldn’t help but steal a passing glance. It had been dark when she came in, yes, but the night didn’t obscure everything. The trees, the moon, even the overgrown grass just two feet away; all of it was gone, and no amount of craning her head brought it back.

Yet the wind remained, still blowing as it shouldn’t have.

Maybe it was all just a feeling. Even so, Florence didn’t like it one bit.

“Er… is it supposed to be like this outside?” she asked Rotom.

“It’s always been this way, every time I’ve visited. I couldn’t tell you why, though; I just pop in from time to time.”

Considering this, she took another look into the lingering black fog. She didn’t get her head around it, but something odd dawned on her. “Huh,” she said, clicking her tongue. No matter how strange this all felt, at least there was safety between these walls. There was no saying what was out there.

Thankfully, Connor wasn’t out there. Rotom had assured her of that much. Just unending nothingness, sheer cold and starvation. She tried not to think about it, and kept moving.

Florence turned to go down yet another of the hallways in the house's east wing. She wasn’t sure how many there were. She knocked on one door — no answer. She knocked on the next — still no answer. The hallway stretched out for many yards before her, thin and long and its carpet blue.

An old, tall butler turned the corner that lay about seven doors down, concern lighting up his face the moment he saw these two. “Are you lost, ma’am?” he asked, hurrying nearer. “What are you doing up so late?”

She didn’t move. She couldn’t say a word until he stopped, unsure what to make of his urgency… and his silent footsteps; she hadn’t heard him coming, nor did she see his shadow. Ah, well. This was something. “Er, forgive me if this sounds odd, but I’m looking for my friend — about yea high, same colour hair as me, two sprongs sticking out at the front; I… don’t suppose you’ve seen him?”

Thinking about his movements as he made them, Florence concluded he hadn’t seen such a mechanical man in her life. His movements followed a process. First, he sprung back upright, standing about a foot above her eye level. Then he started thinking, rubbing his chin with this very pensive look. That look contorted into something else when he was done: a smile. Then he raised a finger, then he replied. “I know who you’re talking about! He should be in one of these rooms, somewhere; I did see him. You just have to keep knocking, and don’t be afraid to peer inside. I can’t help you more though,” he said — still smiling. “Too much riff-raff in my house. Even I can’t make sense of it, ho ho!”

And then he kept walking, without thinking of elaboration.

Cool, thought Florence. Thanks. She bit her lip and tried not to throw her head in her hands, instead resigning for one, deep sigh.

The search continued.

It took the rest of this corridor, the one to the left, and halfway down the one to the left of that before anything of note happened. By this point, Florence could feel a pang of desperation set in. There was no saying how many doors marked every hall; they just seemed to keep… going, and going, every passing hallway sprouting four more she’d never seen. Maybe she had. They were all identical.

“I really cannot imagine this being necessary,” she said as she went along. “From a construction standpoint, anyway. What do you put behind this many doors?”

“Memories, probably,” replied Rotom, unusually matter-of-fact. “I don’t dare peer inside, usually; already feels like I’m intruding on someone’s privacy just being here.”

“Not mine, I hope.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it.” Florence just assumed that was a joke. She didn’t laugh. Right now, there were more important things to think about.

Anyway, the fourth door down this hallway replied to her before she could knock. Her eyes widened when she heard it. There was a warbling that came from behind it, like radio chatter in a different language and a much, much higher frequency. “Rotom, can you make sense of that?”

“I can’t! I’m not a universal translator, nor am I a psychic.”

“Noted.” She allowed herself just the faintest hesitation as she stood at the door — she justified this after the fact. This would take anyone some getting used to.

Then she opened the door. Just for a split second, but that was all it took for a colony to spill out. She jammed it shut immediately, but it was too late.

These were floating, sentient creatures shaped as… letters, and punctuation? Each with eyes on them and each one looking ceaselessly at Florence. Briefly, they assigned themselves in formation, communicating like massive insects or old computers — four rows of characters filled the hall to form a warning with their bodies. All these creatures were unblinking, all of them unfeeling, and all of them looked at Florence. “The light burns!”, read the message formed from their bodies. “Rejoice!”

The creatures remained in formation for several seconds before scattering without warning. They spoke in a dissonant language that could’ve been Morse code. Florence couldn’t tell. They went around her and flew down the hall before turning, never to be seen again.

“…What was that?” asked Rotom. It made a clear effort to pretend its cheery demeanour remained intact, as though it was just a disembodied digital thing. But seeing a set of one-eyed living letters clearly undermined the effort. Florence found she couldn’t ignore its voice cracking with nerves, nor its gaze shifting uneasily.

“I don’t fucking know,” she said through gritted teeth. “I thought you would know.”

She could barely hold her voice together herself. The message made no sense to her, and she did not trust it at all. Nothing good ever came from burning light. It did not make her want to rejoice. Quite the opposite.

In any case, she resolved not to think about it, and moved on from this formless mess of a conversation. Rotom did the same, laughing nervously all the while. Florence reciprocated the laughter. Neither of them fooled anybody.

Down the unending hallways, the two advanced. Florence had learned her lesson. All of the many, many doors she’d come across remained undisturbed, acknowledged with an uncertain look at best. None of them were numbered — this wasn’t an abandoned hotel, after all. It wasn’t supposed to be some abstract entity on the other side. It was that, but it was also a home, and that was what it tried to be. Things lived here.

Only as she focused on the long-stretching corridor and nothing else did she notice something. As the vanishing point inevitably drew nearer, the hallway got darker, narrower, made her claustrophobic like a miner wandering an abandoned shaft. Sure, this shaft had carpets and doors, but the veneer of invitation was just that: a veneer. The all-consuming darkness was just the same, no matter how it was decorated.

Florence caught herself worrying here. Just like an abandoned old mine, traversing this carried an unshakable feeling that it would all collapse in on itself eventually. Even less shakable was the feeling that her lungs would give way, first; maybe a noxious gas would creep in, just like an abandoned mine, or maybe the pressure would—

I wasn’t thinking about those things, she reminded herself. I wasn’t thinking about that at all.

Jolted back to the task at hand, she remembered she had a body. Not that she’d forgotten, and she couldn’t see it beyond her mind’s eye — she thought about it and found it hard to explain. She was familiar with feeling like she didn’t have a body, funnily enough.

She kept walking. It had gotten so dark around her that she could no longer see Rotom, which was unusual given the nature of the darn thing. “…Rotom?”

“Yes?” it said, from just next to her — she nearly jumped out of her skin, it was so close. But she could not see the light that should have come from the floating screen.

She felt her voice trail off as it left her mouth, as though she had been robbed of anything beyond a whisper. “Er, c-can you see me?”

“I can!” said the ostensibly cheery ghost. “Why? Is everything alright?”

“I don’t think it is,” she replied. “And your screen is on…?”

“…Yes?” said the very, very tenuously cheery ghost.

There was, all of a sudden, a very low humming sound from all around her, as if in reply. Where it came from was a mystery — it wasn’t Rotom. The humming was heavy. Physically heavy, almost; it weighed on her like a sky held up only by her. Which was untrue, obviously. But she could not turn around and call or run for help — looking back, there was no light behind her anymore. So she pressed on instead, tired of this.

Dread didn’t weigh a damn thing, after all. It was just a feeling. She continued on, undeterred, and determined not to think about it. Or about herself, for that matter. Malicious entities contorted her thoughts until they were heinous things she did not dare to touch. She wasn’t a pessimist, she told herself. Her duty was to find Connor, after which point they could work to talk about this, and the reasons behind his recent hospital stay — two things that surely could not have been related, though these two things happening to anyone separately were cosmically low. There was nothing to tie them together.

“Hey Rotom, you’re still there, right?” she asked.

“I couldn’t leave if I tried.” That answer would have been a joke minutes ago — had it been minutes? She’d lost track of time, and could not tell how serious this was. Rotom didn’t laugh. The weight only got heavier, the humming louder; somewhere, she swore she heard a scream.

That wasn’t Connor. His screams did not sound like that — she knew from experience; there was that time after Moira left, when the two of them studied for their final exams and the burden got too much—

She did not speak on this, but felt herself violently shaking, her fists clenched. There was no choice but to keep walking, but that did not mean she had to be happy about it. Not in the fucking slightest. She was better at this — better at keeping her thoughts on track than this, better at staying focused; she simply had to be. She had practiced this for years.

Florence would not crack. She decided this not out of obligation, but out of spite. She didn’t know who, or what, was doing this to her; maybe it was just some rogue faction that nagged at her in the dark recesses of her imagination like a swarm of bugs, or maybe it was the unknown entity or wandering spirits that lived here. Whatever the fuck it was anymore. She’d kill the bastard with her hands, either way. She was better than this.

“Are you still there?” she asked her sole companion in the unending darkness.

That companion did not respond beyond a whimper that came from several feet back.

She stopped dead in her tracks and slowly turned around, as though her partner detective had been caught by the killer they both stalked. “Rotom…?”

“Go away,” she heard it strain to get out. “Go away, go away, go away…”

Her immediate instinct was to step closer and approach it, as though she could offer any physical comfort to a pained spirit inside a phone. She would have tried were it not for a crackle of electricity.

“Rotom? A-are you good; is there something I can—?”

She was cut off by a strained scream, and then a great flash of light over awful buzzing that played on loop, over and over for many terrible seconds.

Then, silence. Awful, heart-dropping silence that filled the air, thick enough to crush any lingering diamonds in a blown-up cave.

“…Rotom?” she asked, just about managing to stifle a sob. “Oh, please tell me you’re okay…”

As much as she tried not to blame herself for the things that had befallen her and her (now two) friends, she was the one who’d come up with the ingenious idea to come and visit this wretched place. It would be a fun and harmless time, after all. All everyone had to do was respect the ghosts and observe them from a distance, to look but not touch. Like it was a museum tour. Like it was art.

But how could she have foreseen this, she asked herself? How could anyone? She couldn’t make sense of it herself, even as it happened — even the bits that had already happened were completely unfathomable. What a grand symphony of fuck-ups this was; of notes played in the wrong order.

At this point, she tried to turn off her brain for just a moment to recuperate. The humming had only grown louder, as constant and monotone as the vacuum of space — maybe it would swallow her at any moment. Maybe, just maybe—

She caught herself, and retraced her words. Maybe it would swallow her.

It.

Now
it made sense. Florence had her light bulb moment in an otherwise unlit universe, stretching out for untold miles if it ever ended at all. She only barely grasped it, yes, but at least she could finally conceptualise it. Knowing did not fill her with joy, exactly.

All of this was one incomprehensibly vast living thing, and she had passed through it all this time. And it lit up the dark with two glowing red halos, each much bigger than herself. No. Those weren’t halos.

They were eyes.

The two eyes rose from the ground as though they were atop a tower, and as they did, the darkness lifted around Florence. This revealed that she stood on the precipice of a different world entirely.
 
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Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
Hey! I read the first two chapters, but since it took me a while to get thoughts in order about this first one, I'll pop back for the second later on. I knew this was about Sinnoh going in, but I wasn't expecting such a large dose of mythos off the bat! That stuff is super my jam and I am very intrigued by what we've learned so far. The rendition of Arceus' creation and Giratina's reprisal was evocative and appropriately solemn. I loved the imagery of the two different temples. The Arceus temple speaks to a very prestigious, formalized religion, one where perhaps the outer structures of grandeur have supplanted its meaning--especially with the image we're giving of Arceus ruptured and out of touch with the world until the end times. In contrast, the Snowpoint temple is portrayed as both homely and ominous. It's close to the community, lived in, but also described as forbidden--a contradiction in multiple ways. The segment with Mewtwo and Mew was especially striking to me as well.

The whole chapter's very dreamlike and surreal, even before the actual vision starts. I do think I got bogged down in a fair amount of logic and logistical questions in the opening segment--why, if he expects conflict, aren't his pokemon out? Why does he think walking into what he expects to be a hostage situation is going to be more helpful to the person taken hostage than going for help? I like that we're opening with someone making a life-altering choice, but I still want that choice to make some sense to me. It's absolutely true that people do things for reasons they don't fully understand, but there's usually some reason they tell themselves, and it's difficult for me to see why Connor thinks going into this situation is a helpful thing to be doing. It felt almost like he's under compulsion or another force from the start, reinforced by moments of what seem to be omniscient knowledge even pre-voice speaking.

I enjoyed your focus on imagery and symbols; there was a lot to like in the descriptions, and I tried to highlight my favorite bits in the line by lines. At the same time, there's a denseness here, particularly in the opening segment, that made me at times feel like I was wading through the prose. There's a lot of doubling back and restatement of the same thought multiple ways. In small doses that's effective, but I think it's a technique that can spiral a bit left unchecked. Things definitely picked up for me as we moved into the myth aspect of the vision (after Connor blinks) and felt like they flowed with more momentum. The tone's an interesting mix of highly dramatic and stylicized, but in a way that ultimately feels detached. I don't feel like I get much of a sense of Connor in the first chapter, which does make sense, since he's under psychic interference for most, if not all of it. The first chapter leaves me more invested in the mythos than in the main character--though in the second chapter he definitely feels more realized as a person. I like your choice to start us out in a dark corridor right before Connor's life takes a turn to the nonmundane--maybe even to the profane, if we really were in the distortion world, in what felt like the opposite of consecration. It's also cool to see there being realistic consequences and follow-up in the next chapter--but more on that next time!

Disclaimer that I have a habit of parsing sentences against their own internal logic--if them not being meant to have internal logic is the point, please disregard, lol.

The weather had been unusually good over the past few days, but there was no time to enjoy it now. Something had gone terribly wrong somewhere down the line, and there was no time to speculate on where, but the issue was simple. Right now Connor Murdoch was alone, hundreds of miles away from home, and he was not equipped for this. How could anyone have been?
The assertive, declarative way this is phrased sets the tone right off the bat.

This was a matryoshka doll of situations he should not have been in
Hm, that implies nested bad situations, but it feels to me like there's only one situation here that he shouldn't be in.

and the corridor ahead of him didn’t seem to end. It stretched out as far as he could see, which admittedly wasn’t that far because the lights were out, but it still raised questions. There could’ve been other explanations, like the chance that unbeknownst to him the building was a miracle of architecture that was so much bigger on the inside than out. Connor couldn’t muster anything more reasonable than this. He knew it didn’t make much sense. He went with it anyway.
This paragraph feels like it's doing a lot of doubling back and forth more for the sake of it than anything else. I'm not sure logical parsing is appropriate to apply here, but I will anyway: The corridor doesn't seem to end. It doesn't seem to end because it stretches out as far as he can see. The lights are out, so this is not far. So in fact, the corridor doesn't seem to end because it's dark and he can't see where it ends. But we're told this still "raises questions." An alternate explanation to the corridor not seeming to end because he can't see the end in the darkness is that the building is bigger on the inside and actually endless. Connor knows that doesn't make sense, but goes with that explanation over the initial explanation.

In spite of what he told himself, he could have left at any moment.
Interesting, seems like we've hopped a bit into omniscient.

Right now he had nothing except the plastic on his belt
Wasn't sure why his pokemon aren't out. This seems like pretty much a textbook situation to have your pokemon out.

The big room behind him had been empty when he checked it, much to his chagrin.
Chagrin seems a little casual of an emotion for this situation, especially considering how dramatic the rest of the narration is.

Half-finished work hung over the room, and cold coffee lingered in a mug emblazoned by words: “Best dad in the world.” Out of everything, that stuck with Connor. Good dads don’t leave their children’s gifts behind if they’re going far, and as far as it concerned him, the sort of people who took those gifts away were probably murderers, too.
I didn't get the last part of the sentence--the point is that the mug hasn't been taken, so why is Connor talking about the kind of people who would take a child's gift away? The 'best dad' mug also strikes me a bit on the nose.

Life was still here, but by process of elimination, it had to be on the other side of shadows.
This has a nice rhythm to it.

No foe faced him at the other end of the corridor to be fought with hands or his Pokémon.
Was he really planning to fight with his hands? That part of the sentence feels a bit thrown in.

After all, the only sensible reason for the hallway to have been dark was that the lights were off, and not because something was actually down there.
Hard to hold onto those sensible reasons in the dark.

That was absurd, and thinking so reassured him as much as it could’ve done. It didn’t get rid of the shadows, though, nor did it mean he was absolved of greeting what lay on the other side of them.
"absolved of greeting" is a bit of clunky formation.

this meant intruding on a hostage situation.
This just objectively sounds like a bad idea. I get that Connor wants to help the girl, but I'm not sure why he sees doing this as helpful. Crashing a hostage situation sounds like a recipe to not just get himself killed, but perhaps the dad as well.

He was… scared? Scared was just a word. Some feelings can’t be summed up with a word. Like this one, for example; this was more the sort of feeling that Connor had to promise never to feel again. That promise fell on deaf ears. He stood in an industrial complex at the mercy of hands unseen, with no way out that made him feel any better about himself. He was alone. This was scary. He was scared.
This paragraph felt a bit self-indulgent to me. I'm not sure the exposition of what scared means served the effect of making me feel that Connor is scared or that it left me with a deeper understanding of what being scared is. We're told his feelings can't be summed up with the word scared, then given a tautology, then told the situation is in fact scary.

Every step on laminate floorboards rang sharp in the air
* sharply

Something moved in the shadows.

He stopped. His heart almost followed suit.
Nice.

But just because he hadn’t heard a thing didn’t mean a thing hadn’t heard him.
This was a fun bit of word play.

Faltering breaths squeaked out from his dry, chapped lips, and his fingers thrummed against the pocket of his jeans in an uneven rhythm.
I had trouble connecting squeaked to dry, chapped and faltering.

Most likely just a wild Drifloon or something
Flagging this due to your note about pokemon capitalization.

Still, if it attacked him, he would have to fight back. Connor couldn’t risk causing that scene — nor could he risk facing the cops.
This confused me. Why can't he risk facing the cops? How would fighting something here even end up with cops, since nobody is around? Why doesn't he want cops around, considering he thinks he's walking into a hostage situation?

No building that was in use every day — no building that was in use right now — should have reeked of dust. Particles scratched against his throat, and he could’ve sworn he was choking.
Reeked of dust reads oddly, particularly after you've clarified that the smell isn't a stench.

The choking bit feels like a bit of a sudden escalation from dust smell and scratchy throat.

Out of instinct, his hand cupped the warm plastic home of his closest friend. The Pokéball was still there — why wouldn’t it have been? Of course, he was unable to do anything with it; hurling it at shadows was at best a waste of energy and at worst certain death.
I'm not sure why he would assume/know that. It seems like in this situation you would want the reassurance of a friend who is more capable of fighting than you are.

Static leaked out of his brain, and the world slipped away from his fingertips. The overflow coalesced in the space behind his right eyeball, drowning itself in his skull.
The image of static leaking out of his brain doesn't make much sense to me; that implies static was there previously. The second sentence refers to overflow, which makes it sounds like something flowed in rather than out.

Trying to keep his head together left him vulnerable to the words that carved themselves across his mind:
This seems to imply that if he weren't distracted by trying to keep his head together he wouldn't be vulnerable to those words, which I don't believe to be the case?

He considered himself lucky that he hadn’t actually puked, because that would have caused a scene. But it didn’t matter. The scene was already here.
This is the second time the narration refers to causing a scene, which continues to be a puzzling phrase to me, considering he's in an empty corridor.

something put words in his brain, and it was nearer to him than he was to the door.
There's a real horror to that.

In any other situation, he would have been gone in a flash, yet… something bothered him.

Yes, it was absolutely a minor thing compared to the brain intruder, and Connor knew it was, but there was that phrasing. Your truth. Not truth, as a concept. Not the trueness of any one thing. His truth, with the onus to find it on him. As though he’d lost it somehow, or was searching for it here. If it wasn’t here, then where was it?
I'm not sure I bought this. Connor feels more like literary construct right here than a character.

Maybe if he spoke to it nicely, it would give him some direction.
Is direction really what he needs here? It seemed like straight-ahead was where he was headed.

“Please listen to me. I don’t know who you are, but I’m sure you mean well and I really don’t wanna hurt you. Honest, I swear! You don’t seem so bad at all, and I really appreciate, y’know… you not trying to kill me yet. I was wondering, if… if you could help me out here. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need to be, but there’s… something bothering me. There’s a kid out there whose dad is in here, and I got sent in to find him, but… uh, here I am, and here you are, and…”

How was he to make sense of any of this, either? Steeling his nerves, he decided he had to try, at least. Those words had to mean something.

“I don’t understand what you meant, by what you just said to me. Is the truth that there’s nobody’s dad there? Is there something else going on here? And how is it my truth, because I really don’t want to bother anybody, but I don’t know how any of this involves me? Or, um. I guess what I’m trying to say is… I’m a bit lost, and I need you to help me. Is that okay with you?”
This monologue oscillates a lot--'I don't want to hurt you' and 'Thanks for not killing me', 'I don't want to bother anyone' and 'I need you to help me.' It's oddly . . . pushy for being framed so hesitantly.

“I’ve not just said all that to myself, have I?”
His speech here sounds weirdly archaic. "I've not just [verbed]" is a pretty uncommon construction in modern conversation.

when he reached out with his fingertips, the world changed in kind, so this thing that he had heard couldn’t have been his fault.
Wasn't sure what it meant that the world changed when he reached out with his fingertips.

They established a rhythm in an arrhythmic world.
I liked this line a lot.

Instead there were two empty halves, one reaching out for help and the other running for the door. Neither could do anything, which shouldn’t have been the case; he jerked, thrashed about and cried, and none of it did a damn thing. He was a prisoner in his own skull, banging at its walls for dear life, and nobody was there to tell the difference.
This made for a cool mental image.

Before he could answer, light crept in from all corners of his vision so brightly that it stung his retinas.
Retinas is one of those words that stands out. I don't know if it's doing much work here--if the sentence ends on stung, we know what's being stung by the light.

The rocky spire of Mt. Coronet sliced through the gloom, a burning white halo threatening to swallow it from above. It had an equal chance of being the sun or the moon, but that didn’t matter much; it didn’t resemble either so much as it was an indiscernible white hole around which paint coalesced. Silhouettes pierced the distant sky, their forms closer to decommissioned space shuttles than buildings.
Loved the imagery here! (Though I don't get the bit about paint at all.)

He felt it as he laid his hands across the ground. They hurt where he had scraped them earlier. He was in this world, touching something in it, and if he wasn’t to trust his sense of touch… what was there to trust?
It's interesting that he puts so much weight in touch, but hasn't really described any tactile sensation other than pain or later, cold. There's no texture or anything.

The silhouettes towering over the nearby city morphed into Gothic cathedral spires, spawning a whole city around them. Houses sprung up all around, but every one was devoid of life. As Connor’s eyes followed the roads he noticed they were empty, too. Every single inhabitant of the city took refuge in a great big stadium, painted with oddly muted colours. Only so many people could fit inside.
Seems like he's seeing this bird's eye?

So focused on swallowing down his rising panic, Connor nearly jumped out of his skin as broken church bells rang across the sky.
I hadn't gotten a sense of him focusing on swallowing down panic in the sentences proceeding this. The narration felt calm.

The resultant cacophony was a patchwork of noises that fit together like a glove to a foot, loud enough to cleave the sky in half.
Glove to foot is a cool simile, but it naturally makes me think of something muffled, which is an odd pairing when it's supposed to be emphasizing a loud noise.

He watched as the crack spiderwebbed, splitting the sky into many pieces, each drained of any colour.

He wanted to count them.
That's an idiosyncratic response! I like the certainty of it.

Connor liked riddles; they actively discouraged panic. They were logical devices. They could be explained away. But as he scrambled to explain this one, the noise only digging further into his ears, something horrible dawned on him: there was no explanation.
I didn't quite follow this line of reasoning. It seems like the important thing about riddles is not that they have explanations, but that they are puzzles designed to be solved.

Carbon dioxide ran like sandpaper against his throat, the grating sensation of which bled down into his lungs.
I wasn't sure why there's suddenly carbon dioxide here or how he knows?

Was he the center of this universe now? Did everything orbit around him?
A bit on the nose for a story protagonist.

But as he scrambled to unlock whatever puzzle he’d been given, he found something in lieu of a key. It was… less of a thought, really. More of an instinct. Something he wasn’t consciously telling himself and could not justify. Praying had never really been a part of his routine, and he’d never grown particularly acquainted with any form of scripture. But he knew where his legs were carrying him. The unseen hand that guided him was taking him to the house of the gods.
If he grew up by the Snowpoint temple, from how you describe it it doesn't seem like praying or scripture is how religion is expressed there, but rather through work and care?

He watched as the tendrils took a form that lay just outside his grasp. They didn’t seem to have any single colour, shape or set of rules that defined them, and staring at them expecting them to justify their presence felt like walking down an Escherian staircase.
That is, futile. There's definitely a strong Escherian vibe to all this.

As his eyes swept across the ancient stone, a solid pool settled at the bottom of his chest. It weighed him down, threatening to plunge into his stomach and tangle everything up inside.
The image of a solid pool that weighs doesn't match the verb 'tangle' for me.

Connor had grown up in the ever-looming shadow of the great forbidden temple at the heart of Snowpoint, which survived because people wanted it to survive. They wanted it so hard that basically everyone in town knew someone who worked there. It wasn’t easy, but it was a living, and it kept the temple up. It kept whatever lurked inside it, too. Not that anyone knew what that was, exactly, because they were rarely allowed to disturb it. Entire ecosystems flourished inside those halls, in part because it was too much work to comb over every minute detail of the damn thing and in part because the wild had a right to live there. Nobody knew where it came from, exactly; they just let it be, because it was just as much their home as Snowpoint was Connor’s, or Mum’s, or anyone else’s.
Lots of interesting contradictions in this paragraph. The temple is forbidden, but everything that wants to has a right to live there. It's not clear what it means to work in a forbidden temple. They let it be, but many people work there, but they don't disturb anything.

Even when the sky was something else, those spires still touched it, not ending but instead becoming part of an unpierced rubber ceiling.
I was pretty confused as to where 'rubber' comes in as a descriptor for the ceiling.

They wanted it so hard that basically everyone in town knew someone who worked there.

It stood unblemished without effort, because defiling the houses of the holy was basically heresy.
These 'basicallys' stood out to me--they strike a much more casual, chatty tone than the rest of the surrounding narrative.

Traversing the stairway required him to haul his carcass as far as he could know, which the moment dictated was both too far and nothing at all.
Calling his body a carcass here felt like a bit much.

Like many things, they changed under increasing scrutiny; the oakwood extended and collapsed into an open maw by its own free will.
Think this might read more strongly without the "by its own free will" tag.

The thought made him… content, somehow, as selfish as it was. It was his house now.
Really interesting moment. Not sure I have the context to unpack it now, but I'll keep thinking about it.

No matter how polished the marble walls were, they devoured the light, giving the impression that the building was held up by rock in its natural form.
I didn't follow this. There are marble walls, but they devour light ie don't shine, and that makes them seem like they are natural rocks? Wouldn't their smoothness and regularity still keep them from looking natural, even if they don't gleam.

At the altar, a pair of sharpened pillars jutted out from the walls, crimson chains snaking down their length like veins pumping diluted blood.
Ooh, striking image.

Before them lay rows of empty pews that could’ve seated thousands. Each was marked with an insignia: a wheel centered on nothing, punctuated by four outward-facing spears with jewels encrusted in each.
There's something chilling about empty pews.

Hearthome Cathedral’s greatest pride was the stained glass window at the altar. It was so steeped in splendid imagery with so many colours, crafted out of such a deep love for Sinnese lore and all its deities. None of it meant a thing if Connor couldn’t see it. The spectacle had gone, an amorphous blob taking its place in the unlit void. There should’ve been someone there. Was this world devoid of Arceus? Of the rest? Did he somehow supplant the entire pantheon in this realm of nothingness?
Is this an inverse temple of the Distortion World? The image of stained glass in the dark is an interesting one. Is it really gone if it can't be seen? Or do you just have to trust that it will return with the light?

It felt weird thinking about all this, because in case that this was actually happening and wasn’t just in his head (which was not, he reminded himself, his fault), there was a real chance this was the last thing that would ever happen, anywhere.
I'm not sure why he would think this means the end times, but I suppose that goes to the dreamlike nature of the vision.

A plate lay before him, engraved with the same wheel insignia. Two things sat in its center. One was an entire star distilled into a milky white globe complete with particles locked in an uneven waltz around it. The other was a rock with countless hexagonal faces, so dense that specks of dust seemed to slow as they inevitably fell near it.
Love the detail about the gravity distortion and the dust motes.

Right above his home, the fabric of space seemed to stretch too far and, like a cheap plastic bag, tore open
I like the incongruity of this simile--very far from the elevated language and imagery of the rest of the vision.

He only saw it for a moment or two, but it didn’t really seem the sort of thing that could be perceived in just three dimensions, nor did it refract the sun’s light as it should have. It was either gold, gray, or not there at all. Then it burst open like a fist above the world, with crimson tendrils on the tips of its countless wings, ready to consume. It was, in a sense, alive.
Giratina! I like the rhythm of gold, gray or not there at all.

It landed an endless flurry of crushing blows upon those who denied it repayment, and their retribution fell on deaf ears
The usage of "on deaf ears" is strange to me here. That idiom means that the person isn't listening to you--it doesn't really apply to retribution.

There they rest forever, to return one day when the final trumpets are blown.
I like the use of final trumpets as a stands in for the end of the world.

In time, life blossomed across the land. It was the pixies born of the lake first, whose powers combined to form the first species capable of reproduction — the root of all mortal beings— Mew. After the First Child, other creatures manifested from day and night, the sun and sea, the land, sky, and stars.
Cool mythos with the lake trio forming Mew! The similar design, plus how emotion/willpower/knowledge definitely feel like proper ingredients for a mortal being.

The tone took a pause before returning, poisoned and bitter like ink dripping through his head. The words from the page blurred and vanished, replaced by the voice he'd heard back in the shadowed hallway nearly a lifetime ago
The way the first sentence is phrased makes it sound like the tone has been poisoned and bitter this whole time, but I think the point is that the tone changes here?

It is all thanks to you, and your horrible, insatiable desire to leave something behind after you exit the mortal plane.
That's a line I'll keep thinking about. I wonder how much this you is focused on Connor and how much it's a generalized 'you' to humanity.

“What good is knowing without making the decisions? Will reason keep you safe at night when the killer comes to the door?”
Huh, the killer at the door language feels in a different place than the rest of the vision. The reason thing feels like a jab at Connor, who is constantly trying to make sense of this.

Its manner was monstrous and intense, so much so that he could not bring himself to look for more than a few seconds. But he sensed that the titan knew it should not be there. Some grand mistake had been made, as though the pen that recorded destiny had exploded and its ink contaminated the page.
Loved this description. It really elevates Mewtwo as anathema.

There were, instead, one thousand shadowy hands clinging to Connor’s back, dragging him away from the empty stage, all while the same voice that had accompanied him through this apocalypse unlatched itself from him.
Interesting, with the thousand hands being associated with Arceus.

While still unfaltering and firm as it always was, there was a real air of desperation in its voice that it seemed desperate to hide.
Might want to reword with the double desperation here. And I wonder how the desperation is coming through if the voice is still unfaltering and firm--is he just feeling this through the psychic connection? I wasn't sure this paragraph needed to say the same thing so many times.

maybe for once, he had finally found a love of himself.
Didn't really follow this. At best the voice is not angry with him.

Because there was no friendship in the words it spoke:

“For your sake and mine, please do not come any further. You may find answers to those questions that plague you. You will not like them.”

They were a warning.
The last sentence reads a little funny to me, I think due to the lack of parallelism between 'there was no friendship' and 'they were a warning.' Maybe switching to singular for the final sentence--it was a warning.
 

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
Yo, this is a hell of a comment; thank you so much! :] I'm very glad to hear that this mythos-heavy kind of story is your thing. A fun anecdote, actually; the first time Dragon's Dance got recommended to me, it was after I'd scrapped the first draft of this fic but before I'd started work on the current version. A friend of mine who isn't on this forum showed it to me and said that it reminded him of the story I might have ultimately been going for that time round. Needless to say, things ended up changing a fair bit between versions one and two, so going off just the one story of yours that I've read, I'm pleasantly surprised that this sort of thing is up your street! :V (I'll also have to get round to reading the stories you mentioned in your response over on the DD thread, but that's a whole other thing. Back to the review!)
The Arceus temple speaks to a very prestigious, formalized religion, one where perhaps the outer structures of grandeur have supplanted its meaning--especially with the image we're giving of Arceus ruptured and out of touch with the world until the end times. In contrast, the Snowpoint temple is portrayed as both homely and ominous. It's close to the community, lived in, but also described as forbidden--a contradiction in multiple ways.
Good observations; glad this came across! :~)

The whole chapter's very dreamlike and surreal, even before the actual vision starts. I do think I got bogged down in a fair amount of logic and logistical questions in the opening segment--why, if he expects conflict, aren't his pokemon out? Why does he think walking into what he expects to be a hostage situation is going to be more helpful to the person taken hostage than going for help? I like that we're opening with someone making a life-altering choice, but I still want that choice to make some sense to me. It's absolutely true that people do things for reasons they don't fully understand, but there's usually some reason they tell themselves, and it's difficult for me to see why Connor thinks going into this situation is a helpful thing to be doing. It felt almost like he's under compulsion or another force from the start, reinforced by moments of what seem to be omniscient knowledge even pre-voice speaking.
Good point! I don't think I could justify his actions here, what with them being as ill-advised as they are, but rereading with a closer eye on this... you're right, there's not really a hugely satisfying internal explanation given from his own POV for why he's doing this (at least not to begin with, anyway). This should be a fairly easy fix, I think? I'll try and get to implementing it sometime this week. Cheers for pointing this out!
I enjoyed your focus on imagery and symbols; there was a lot to like in the descriptions, and I tried to highlight my favorite bits in the line by lines. At the same time, there's a denseness here, particularly in the opening segment, that made me at times feel like I was wading through the prose. There's a lot of doubling back and restatement of the same thought multiple ways. In small doses that's effective, but I think it's a technique that can spiral a bit left unchecked.
Funnily enough, you posted this review just as I was revising that after conferring with my much-valued beta reader... for reasons that were unrelated to the length, funnily enough, but a few hundred words were cut from the first half of the chapter and I think that makes it a bit less plodding. Glad you pointed this out in any case! I like to think that the pacing is kept more in check for future chapters (I'm still a bit funny about chapter two here, to be honest, but as things stand it's not much of a priority); as someone reading this with the distance of not having written it, I hope that's the case.

Things definitely picked up for me as we moved into the myth aspect of the vision (after Connor blinks) and felt like they flowed with more momentum. The tone's an interesting mix of highly dramatic and stylicized, but in a way that ultimately feels detached. I don't feel like I get much of a sense of Connor in the first chapter, which does make sense, since he's under psychic interference for most, if not all of it. The first chapter leaves me more invested in the mythos than in the main character--though in the second chapter he definitely feels more realized as a person. I like your choice to start us out in a dark corridor right before Connor's life takes a turn to the nonmundane--maybe even to the profane, if we really were in the distortion world, in what felt like the opposite of consecration. It's also cool to see there being realistic consequences and follow-up in the next chapter--but more on that next time!
Excited to hear your thoughts on that chapter! :] Connor is very much a reactive protagonist here, so him not getting much elaboration as a character feels like a consequence of that. Though as you alluded to earlier, I think I slightly whiffed the balance between him doing things (keeping going, coming up with reasons to do this, getting himself involved) and having things happen to him; I do wonder if giving him a more fleshed-out inner justification for doing what he's doing would add some character to him. (I also think that I whiffed something a little as to implying it was broadly psychic interference in this chapter. It basically is, but it's more specifically... something else. Which is why I did the aforementioned revisions to begin with!)

(Also: cheers for the line-by-line reactions! <3 I'll have a look at the bits of phrasing you singled out as being a bit clunky or difficult to parse and pick at edits there (at least, provided they survived the most recent revision to the chapter!). I need to work on how to respond to line-by-line reactions/making the suggested edits without getting overwhelmed, which is honestly 100% on me, but do know that I greatly appreciate having this to pick at to begin with.)
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
Partners
  1. reshiram
Here for Catnip and Chapter 1! This is a veeeeeeeeery intriguing setup.

You have a very good sense of suspense and intrigue, that permeates a lot of this - I have no fucking clue what's going on, but I sure as hell WANT to know!

You have very good and vivid prose and imagery to compliment this. It's very easy to picture, very poetic, and very surreal - I could see it all play out in my brain like it was a weird horror show or video game. The allusions to the Sinnoh myths are all very nice as well, keeps the whole thing thematically rooted in Pokemon.

The protagonist's reactions to all this are ones of reasonable fear, though I sense a whiff of "oh no not again." Relatedly the dry humor that peppers it in bits and pieces is delightful.

If I have any criticisms it's that... Maybe don't devote your ENTIRE first chapter to the spoopy visions? I mean they are very good and very well-written spoopy visions but for a first chapter I'm expecting to know more a bit more about our protagonist and what he's like unless it's a prologue setting up different stuff entirely but like. I dunno who your protagonist IS, I literally completely forgot his name even though I just reaad the damn thing. And I fully assume I'll get the info I want NEXT chapter (I didn't check so I could be being a dingus here) But it would have been nice at the end of this one or something with the spoopy visions being shorter.

Also I'm not sure what Pokemon is being referred to at the end there. Darkrai? Giratina? Some surprise eldritch fakemon that'll help us later?

But uh, don't mind the negative stuff too much. It's honestly what I think but also I only mentioned it in there because I needed to buff the wordcount - I normally try to keep my reviews positive. This is a great intro that makes me very curious about the rest of your story.
 

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
Here for Catnip and Chapter 1! This is a veeeeeeeeery intriguing setup.
Hey! Thanks for the review. :>

You have a very good sense of suspense and intrigue, that permeates a lot of this - I have no fucking clue what's going on, but I sure as hell WANT to know!

You have very good and vivid prose and imagery to compliment this. It's very easy to picture, very poetic, and very surreal - I could see it all play out in my brain like it was a weird horror show or video game. The allusions to the Sinnoh myths are all very nice as well, keeps the whole thing thematically rooted in Pokemon.
Thank you! That first line was definitely my intention; happy that that the bewilderment of it all came across. I'm also happy to hear that the imagery came out clearly.

If I have any criticisms it's that... Maybe don't devote your ENTIRE first chapter to the spoopy visions? I mean they are very good and very well-written spoopy visions but for a first chapter I'm expecting to know more a bit more about our protagonist and what he's like unless it's a prologue setting up different stuff entirely but like. I dunno who your protagonist IS, I literally completely forgot his name even though I just reaad the damn thing. And I fully assume I'll get the info I want NEXT chapter (I didn't check so I could be being a dingus here) But it would have been nice at the end of this one or something with the spoopy visions being shorter.
Yeaaaaah, dedicating the first chapter to that was very much a deliberate choice, sadly. :P Connor being a reactive protagonist that we only barely know about here is a consequence of that, though as I said in a prior response, I do want to tweak the opening half a little so that his reason for doing this comes across a bit more clearly. (Though to go back to your comment about the dry humour and resignation in his actions here: that's about 90% of what I wanted to get across for him here. He takes the role of a conduit here, he's basically just an anchor grounding these things in reality, and then he gets elaborated upon a bunch more in the coming chapters.)

Anyway: yeah, you will in fact get that info next chapter -- this was just chapter one, after all -- and the spoopy visions are just a feature of that.

Also I'm not sure what Pokemon is being referred to at the end there. Darkrai? Giratina? Some surprise eldritch fakemon that'll help us later?
No fakemon here -- read on and find out! But also, I'd encourage you to think about how those visions are being delivered. ;D

But uh, don't mind the negative stuff too much. It's honestly what I think but also I only mentioned it in there because I needed to buff the wordcount - I normally try to keep my reviews positive. This is a great intro that makes me very curious about the rest of your story.
That curiosity is the main thing, I suppose! Glad that it worked for you, and cheers for commenting.
 
Ch6 New

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
CHAPTER SIX: Return from Elsewhere

The two ruby eyes, each as big as a distant moon, belonged to a grey giant the size of a mountain. Its body snaked down from above Florence’s platform to… she couldn’t see where it ended. Its many wings arched from the sides of its back like jagged fingers with spikes for nails. It wore an ornate golden mask with mandibles that reached above its head, so high up that Florence craned onto her tiptoes and squinted to see. Atop the mask sat a two-pronged crown, the gap in which could have fit a small village. Surveying the head of the giant felt a little like looking upon the face of a cliff, so great was the sight — and this was no less of a natural wonder.

It looked back, of course. Those far-away moons ruby eyes landed on Florence as if by gravitational pull, with eons of experience in this world that the lost trainer could not have conceived mere minutes ago. It arched its neck up at such a degree that it could have pierced the heavens if so inclined; its movements could well have moved the earth, yet its scale and grace made them as natural as a planet in orbit. While this was the most tremendous effort that Florence had ever seen — and, as far as she knew, would ever see — it did not make a sound. The black-and-red stripes across its belly rose faster than a bullet train, and she braced herself.

But that wasn’t necessary. Its movements were effortless, wasting no energy that might have blown her away. It faced her down during this exercise, as if it were making a gesture she didn’t understand. After the mighty stretch, it stood still for a movement to observe its subject, before ducking slowly and deliberately to meet her at an even level… as even as was possible, anyway.

Only during this slow descent did Florence catch her breath, which frosted in front of her just as it would’ve back in her cold hometown. The cold had crept up on her in this sparse world, where bits of debris floated like atoms in her peripheral vision. There was a chunk of marble pillar here, boulders plucked from caves over there, and each thing lingered far away from its neighbours. To say that they were out of place was an understatement, and the whole world was collaged out of them.

There was also a man in the distance, sitting atop one of those pillar fragments and watching intently. Florence didn’t recognise him from this far off. At present, though, there were greater issues at hand than her fellow mere human.

The creature nudged its head closer to Florence, still fixed on the speck of dust-sized trainer. The gap between the two had closed enough for her to consider reaching out and touching the titan. But it was still too large for her comfort; there was every chance she would fall off her platform if she stretched out too far, and there was no daring to imagine what lay below. It did not seem inclined to do her any harm. If anything, it seemed curious.

She realised that it waited for her input. She swallowed her trepidation and steeled her nerves, attempting to figure out how to express herself to this vast thing. Many words formed in her throat — so many that a blockage formed. Standing with her mouth just slightly agape, she realised she’d never get anything done without letting it come naturally.

“I-I… I just want my friends back,” she mumbled, staring upon the titanic face — no, that wasn’t forceful enough; her voice was so small, she risked having her words swallowed by the void. She tried again. “Look, I know I shouldn’t have come here. I didn’t mean to bother you, o-or anyone. I’ve learned my lesson, a-and I know I can’t offer you anything. Not that you could… not that you c-could…”

Not that you could ever expect something from me, when you’re the size of Mount Coronet; that wouldn’t be reasonable, but what’s fucking reasonable anymore? That was what she wanted to say, but she was here to explain herself and nothing more; this was a familiar routine, and that didn’t fit into it. She put on her best hard-ass face and got to the point, ignoring the tears in her tired eyes.

“Just— please, let Connor and Rotom go, wherever they are. And I promise I’ll get out of here. I don’t want to disturb you a-anymore, y-you... big lug.”

She had no evidence they were alive beyond a gut feeling, and she knew Rotom far less than the boy who’d grown up a few houses away, but for some reason she was optimistic. This behemoth, who could well have spanned until the world’s end, seemed too gentle to do anything to them. She hoped she’d read it correctly. Admittedly, she could never hope to parse the giant’s inner workings, but it regarded her with what seemed like curiously — and it hadn’t tried to hurt her. That had to count for something! Florence chose to believe it counted for something.

It tilted its head and looked in her direction, as if its mask concealed a complex set of calculations that would answer all her concerns. She should have felt at ease here. She was in no immediate danger; everything was fine, or would be soon. They just had to be. Maybe she would feel better soon, when this was more than just presumptive.

Perhaps her unease came from the unshakable feeling that she was being watched with some interest. Not by the giant, no; there was something else she couldn’t place…

The giant set itself straight once again, ducking slowly and bobbing back up in a smooth motion — was it nodding? Florence assumed it was, but she didn’t want to place any undue expectations on it—

Space-time itself tore apart to cater to her, and all sound in this world was drowned out by an immense thumping that gave way to ringing hammer blows, the source of which could not be named. There was no giant, no debris, no platform anymore, because all of it had been replaced by the strobe-like flashing of black and white for which there was no source. This was an assault on all senses which tore all of Florence’s energy out of her, and left her physically and mentally exhausted as though she had just run through a pool of seeping molasses the size of a small city, just to get to where she needed to be — which was to wherever her friends were, somewhere that had to still be conceivable in spite of all this mess.

Then there was a door, and everything went still. Nothing else. Just a door.

Still in one piece, she staggered towards it and flung it open. After all, there was nowhere else to go.



Somewhere else, Connor walked into a small room and closed the door behind him. There was a chair open for him, directly in front of an old television whose face was obscured by static. In a failed attempt to communicate, its speakers sputtered like popping corn. There were more things in disrepair, of course; old books and bits of paper, loved and read studiously by someone’s ancestors, lay strewn out all over the place. A breeze blew through the broken windows, and the stars shone in the sky. The moon did not.

The many garbled lines on the screen distorted into waves; the sharp cascades of noise peaked and then started to part. Connor wasn’t sure what to do with any of this, naturally. Jumping out of a broken window was an awful idea, but he didn’t trust the door he’d come through — it’d either take him back there, or lead him to the woods of Eterna.

…without Florence, of course.

The crackling stopped while he considered this, which was considerate. In this silence, he heard a dustox flap its wings outside; for that matter, things were so quiet that he became privy to the nuanced conversations held by local bugs. It was all a bit beyond him, though; their language was too advanced. The outside world forced its stillness into the room while masquerading outside as a peaceful night. The television sputtering promptly resumed, though softer this time.

There was nothing on the table at the far end of the room except for an empty bowl. Placing a hand into his pocket, Connor noticed the cake from earlier hadn’t gone anywhere. It wasn’t like he’d eat it, really; taking old food from a void inside an old building without permission seemed rude, unhygienic and probably unfilling, too. So he went over and put the cake in the bowl, thinking nothing of it.

For whatever reason, this made the wailing white noise shrink into something more manageable:a soft, rolling hum. Only here did Connor notice his own body had stiffened until it was near the point of freezing, and he was panting like a houndour stretched thin. How long had things been like this?

The television bathed its partner in light; Connor had to admit, this made the decrepit old chair seem pretty inviting. After all, it gave him a chance to sit down and rest his weary bones. He was still trying to get his head around what had just happened, and he’d likely be figuring out for days to come. But for now he was no longer there, and he was so, so tired. So he took the seat, hoping that would be the end of his adventures here.

Almost immediately, these hopes were dashed.

All of his surroundings were now dark, which had definitely happened at some point before — Connor had long since stopped keeping track — and there was a bright light that shone from above like a projector aimed right between his eyes. He could not raise his hand to shield them, because just like that, he no longer took form. This was the sort of thing that just happened now. Everything happened for some made-up reason now, and everything went somewhere. A scene unfolded before him, and he could do nothing but watch. Any control he had over proceedings was, for a moment, relinquished.

A little toy robot marched across someone’s floor, its mechanical whirring punctuated by the pitter-patter of little footsteps. Laughter accompanied it, spilling from a boy with spiked hair, about nine years old. He sat totally engrossed by this, unable to suppress the wide open-mouthed smile that he cupped with his hands. The inseparable pair lay in the glow of his nightlight, on his bedside.

Eventually, the robot stopped in its tracks and bowed to the boy, who kept laughing and clapped like a spheal, mouthing something that was hidden to any external listener. The little toy lit up blue and stood back up, but when it looked around again, there was nothing — the nightlight had gone out, and the boy lay awake in bed. All that could be heard was the sound of distant thudding and yelling, dragging out across the night for much longer than it should have. There was no neat stopping point here, no number of bars at which the melody ended; there was no melody at all.

The invading cacophony was quelled into silence at some point, but by then, the boy had gone away.

But the darkness did not last forever. There were more lights, many more lights, all shining from above; the room was smaller, more intimate, much more sterile; everything wore a coat of stainless steel, including the table with a cage on it. Inside floated an orange lightbulb thing that was clearly alive, though it hid its face and its body drooped. It hung low and stared into the corner, clearly devoid of all will to engage with the clutter of machines around the room. There was a window at the far end, opposite the table. From this angle, though, there was no chance of glimpsing through it.

And there were speakers, which emitted a brief crackle and then a harsh wail of feedback which droned on for many protracted seconds. The line went dead for a moment. There was another sputter, and then the feedback took a back seat to the sound of nonsense words, only some of which could be understood.

“I’m sorry to keep you so long,” sighed the unseen speaker, who sounded like an old man with zero enthusiasm for his current project. “…your obedience here… great dividends in the long run… like a greater, better world for you and your friends, caged and uncaged. I won’t hurt you… I know you, we all know you! The boss… strange man, he pays me, he takes great interest in you… how hard it was? Just to find you? …open a whole new world— opportunities, you’ll have nothing to fear.”

The lights grew tenfold in intensity, and the sound of buzzing ramped up enough to make a chainsaw blush. There was mechanical beeping, and many things thrashed around, including a washing machine who sounded like a beating drum. There was no seeing underneath the white lights, but the washing machine and its shrieking companions may well have been marching about. A printer screeched like an out-of-tune saxophone, before spitting papers out like an overworked employee. A lawn mower buzzed across the floor, though it must have been disappointed. There was no lawn here. There were too many things to count, and the white light kept ramping up along with the sound, which escalated to banging and crashing and things coming apart; there was a knocking on the door—

There was little left that was discernible when the room went dark. So much debris had been laid out that it formed a sea. It was unclear where the fragments of some torn-apart thing started and ended. Panels belonging to one appliance or another were scorched beyond recognition, and the table wore a pattern of dents like a set of scars. The orange bulb sat in the cage, quivering. Its electric coat was much thinner now. The speakers were silent.

The door opened, batting away many broken things in its path. In stepped a gaunt silhouette, who was totally hollow but shaped like a man. He paused at the sight of the sad caged creature whose light had almost gone out; to him, things were not the way they had to be. This was despite his best efforts. The creature turned to look as he waded through the trash and slowly picked up the cage, where the creature’s light revealed just a flickering hint of sorrow in his softening eyes. This was a grave error on the man’s part, and he fixed this mistake immediately. Any energy wasted on feeling was diverted to the task at hand. With the cage in his arms, he slunk out as quiet as a thief, leaving the room almost as it had been before.

Nothing else happened in the room as the vision neared its end. The escaping duo tripped no alarms, nobody was there to man the speakers, and the room sank into all-obscuring darkness. All there was to focus on was an ill-defined blot of colour swirling around in empty space. Despite being the only spectator, Connor found himself unable to form much of an opinion here. He did, however, find some common ground with the little toy robot stumbling around in the dark.

He opened his eyes. When had he fallen asleep? He glanced back up at the screen for just a moment with a glaring headache, and—

“Csssshhk— are you still there? C—ou hear me? I don’t know how long I can l— like this…”

This disarmed him. He was there, yes; he wasn’t still there. Unless this was about someone else. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t want to leave anyone in the dark. “Uhh— um, I’m here, I think, but I don’t know if it’s me you’re after; I-I can just about hear you! The signal isn’t quite clear, though.”

“No, you’re not— after, but thank you,” came the reply. The static took the form of a deep breath, as if the thing inside the television had nerves to steel. Then it asked an important question. “I was wondering, have you see— n my friennnd?”

“Uh…”

“My-my-my friend?” Every syllable warped as it came out, giving it the cadence of a moving siren. “You know— friend came in looking for someone; said— not supposed to be here, wanted to find… I don’t remember who!”

Connor found himself overcome by shivers, and thought back to the dream he’d just had. Perhaps that meant something? No, that was just a dream.

A rattle came from behind him, and he turned around to see the door handle quaking in its socket. For a moment, Connor’s stopped heart jumped to his throat. What was this? Another intruder? “Hello?” he yelled out. There was no response except continued jerking; someone was desperately trying to come in. But the door wouldn’t budge.

Realisation came to his lips in no time at all. “Florence.

“—Her!” exclaimed the voice inside the television. “It has to be her! Do you kn—?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said, and then he got out of his seat. What else was there to say? Her struggle to get the damn door open continued; the least he could do was help. This was her, and she was okay; she had to be!

“W—, let her in!”

Connor felt his own palms sweat against the cold brass handle as he fumbled around and yanked it, trying to get a feel for the way it twisted on her side. This had to work! His arms shook like branches in the wind as the doorknob turned to his left; he went with it until he heard a click, and then he yanked the door—

Florence stumbled in from the total darkness on the other side, nearly falling over as she lost her grip on the handle. Connor threw himself to catch and keep her upright, unable to help but feel responsible for this. Maybe he didn’t have to pull so hard; maybe she’d have opened it herself. After everything, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he could have prevented all of this back in Floaroma if he’d been more responsible.

“You okay?” he asked his friend, who was now upright and still in his arms.

There was no response for a moment, except for a deep breath out as if she had to consider her answer. It came when she wrapped him in a hug of her own, and he felt her nodding over his shoulder. “Yeah,” said Florence. “I think so.”

Connor realised he was shaking a lot more than she was, and his mouth hung open for his shivering breaths. She seemed to be fine. How did she keep herself together, in spite of everything? He tightened his embrace just a little more, and tried to answer as coolly as possible. There was no use dwelling on this.

“Good, I’m glad,” was what he settled on.

He felt her head crane down into the cranny between his neck and shoulder, and as she looked over, she asked nobody in particular a question. “Hey, who broke the TV?”



The two trainers got far away from the chateau and the army of dead trees that guarded it, which seemed much sparser on their exit. Up above, the clouds parted to reveal the new moon, surrounded by stars. There had been words exchanged here and there as the two made their way out, just to alleviate the tension a little. But though it had been lightened, the dour mood still followed the two like a storm cloud. It was a subdued exit. Things were far from resolved.

Only when they were far enough away from the scene did they sit down to let things deflate. By now it was well past midnight. All of their pokémon were sent out of their capsules and slept peacefully in the company of their trainers. Ronnie lay his head on Connor’s lap, providing a weight to anchor him down. At Florence's side, Ponty sprawled across a blanket with feet and flippers spread out like a star. Next to her, Florence’s phone lay face-down and asleep, the faint buzzing noises coming not from any app, but from Rotom, who had taken refuge in it.

The little ghost raised the point that life in the chateau was no longer tenable, and Florence agreed. But though she wished otherwise, she wasn’t in a position to look after it as one of her own. In the morning, therefore, it was to be collected by the rangers, who’d help find a more suitable home for it.

It had been a tiring night. Connor felt that in his very core. Clearly, there was a need to move beyond this before the morning came; he couldn’t imagine getting to sleep without clearing the air about all of this. He owed her that much, and more. “...Look, I-I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t okay, after all of that.”

She shook her head and laughed dryly, before turning to Connor with a friendly wry smile that was just as tired as he felt. “It’s fine, honestly. You don’t need to worry. I mean, yeah, it’s… it’s a lot, isn’t it? But I’m sure people’ve survived worse. That’s how I’m thinking about it, anyway. Right?”

“I suppose that’s true, aye.” His eyes wandered to the very corners of his vision, focusing on nothing as he tried to figure out how to word this. There was no going back now. He’d already decided. “I just, um… I probably should have let you know that something was up. With the hospital thing and all that. I think one thing might have led to another there. So, um… I’m sorry.”

“Oh...” started Florence, and for a moment, Connor worried he’d said something wrong. “Please don’t feel compelled to apologise. I mean, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t have known that’d happen, really. I don’t think anyone could’ve. So don’t beat yourself up about it, alright?”

He paused to consider this, and couldn’t decide if he agreed or not. He couldn’t have foreseen it, but at the same time, this wouldn’t have happened without him. Maybe he was just apologising for being Connor. That was a state of being that brought with it bad decisions, worse consequences, and debts inherited from some evil past life and due for collection.

“At the very least, I think I owe you an explanation. I can’t quite say for sure, but, uh… I think this all might have been related. I’m pretty sure of it, in fact,” he said, barely able to hold off laughing in disbelief at the things he was saying. “If you could believe it!”

“...You know, I’m more open to new beliefs right now.” she replied. “But only tell me if you’re sure you want to. Are you?”

“Yeah,” he said. He didn’t sound certain enough that time, so he repeated it for his own sake. “Yeah — it might sound a bit far fetched, but I want to get it off my chest.”

“Go ahead, then.” She nodded and sat at attention, focusing very deliberately on him. “I’m all ears.”

“Haha, alright.” His laugh was very much a mirthless one, but Florence knew how to come off as an encouraging conversational partner. She had a knack for playing into his confidence, which she’d always say was in him the whole time. Even though she was the brave one, nine times out of ten she made him believe he was, too.

This was one of those times.

“So, uh — I was… let’s call it ‘trespassing,’ in the Valley Windworks. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been in there — u-uh, in my defence, someone had asked me to go in there. She, uh… her dad was… in trouble, and she gave me a key; I couldn’t not go in there— uh, anyway, that’s how I got inside. I don’t know how he got there, or what he was doing, a-and I should add I don’t think he wanted to be there either… b-but, um… long story short, I-I met D-Darkrai in there.”

That was the tough bit. Florence took this better than he’d expected; at most, her reaction was a double-take. She blinked hard, and he tried to figure out where to go next, inhaled, and glanced up at the moon. After all, it was privy to all of this, too.

“A-and… I don’t think he wanted to hurt me—”

“Woah, what?” Florence held a hand up there, giving him a wide-eyed look of horror. “You mean he hurt you?”

“Oh, no, not like that— well, I mean, he kind of did, yes, but it wasn’t… mean, if I’m making sense?”

“Connor, if he hurt you bad enough to put you in hospital— that’s objectively pretty fucked up! I don’t want to tell you how to feel, but… gods,” she began, dragging her hand down her pale face. “I’m mad on your behalf; he shouldn’t have done that. Fuckin’...”

Connor watched as she threw her hands up in the air, frustrated. His gut instinct was to apologise, but he stopped himself at the last minute. That seemed counterintuitive to the point she was making. It was a good point, too; maybe he was being a bit too calm about all of this. He tried to muster up some anger — that rotten Darkrai, hiding and taking him out when he was only trying to help someone, leaving him in hospital…

Connor had plenty to be mad about, but he didn’t have the energy to hold this grudge. How things had gone down at the Windworks, where neither of them seemed mad at the other. Meeting the creature that claimed to be Darkrai’s sister, which made Connor feel... something. He wasn’t sure what he felt then, but it wasn’t anger, and he had felt it so strongly.

Maybe that was the unshakable feeling he had. The one that said it wasn’t Darkrai’s fault, it was his.

“Sorry,” said Florence, as she became much less animated in the face of Connor’s sudden quiet. “Continue.”

“No, no, I-I think you’re right. I’m just… tired, I think. I know he was in the wrong here, and I should be mad; I just… not right now, you know? I really just want to know what’s going on. I mean, right before he sent me to sleep, I apologised, and he told me to forgive him—”

“Do you?”

“I don’t… think so,” he replied. “I’m just... not mad. Not right now. I think… he had to have a reason for being there, and I want to know what it is. You know the stories, right? You agree this is out of character?”

Florence opened her mouth and prepared to answer, but her response fell apart the moment sound left her lips. She stopped to consider this, arching her fingers together into a triangle that wobbled as she thought. She was just as familiar with the stories as he was, after all; printed in worn-out children’s books at the library and shared over the campfire late at night. Every kid in Snowpoint knew them by heart.

“...Yeah,” she finally said. “You’re right. I’m still pissed, but you’re right; that is odd.”

“Right, yeah. Then there was the dream he gave me… it felt so… real? Maybe it was a message, you know? Like… I just fell, and I was asleep. My dream felt so... real? I thought the world ended. I was in Hearthome, and something came from the sky; I rushed to the cathedral and everything went dark, and then I was told… how everything came to be, and then there was this big… cat thing; and everything went away, and he said something to me about not being able to control your destiny, and he warned me not to repeat his mistakes.”

“...Huh.” Florence looked at him very deliberately. She bit her lip, unable to hide her anger which clearly didn’t fade, but her glare softened. By now, she seemed to get it. “Do you think it meant anything?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know. But there’s the chance that it does, and I want to know more. Either way, I need to tell you what I saw in there. I promise this is the last of it.”

“Oh, go ahead. I don’t want to interrupt too much, just… y’know.” She couldn’t help but laugh just a little bit. “Nobody’s fucking you up like that and not hearing from me about it.”

That got him to laugh in turn. She was good at that.

“Obviously, I woke up three days later, you know that part. I didn’t expect it to come up again in much detail. But, uh… I met someone at the chateau who said she was Darkrai’s sister. She wasn’t Cresselia. I don’t know what she was; but that sort of thing just… isn’t really covered in any of the stories, is it? And I went through a portal, and I kept getting shown things, and… I don’t know what any of it meant, but it felt familiar. It felt like my dream, a-and I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. I could have been stuck there, for all I knew. Could you imagine if that’s how all this ended?”

His gaze flickered to Florence, who visibly shuddered. This was not a thought she wished to entertain. Neither did he. It made his skin crawl. He decided to move on, for both their sakes. “And then… then I got out, and I had a dream. I think it was about Rotom, but I’m not sure; either way, I didn’t know what Rotom was just then. And then I woke up and I could hear Rotom, and I heard you at the door, and…”

He took a deep breath and ran it over mentally, making sure everything was accounted for. Then he smiled a haggard smile at Florence. “That about takes us up to now.”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding as she took it all in. “Yeah, that’s… fuck. Okay. What a mess, eh?”

Connor could only laugh at this, as dry a laugh as it was. “That’s a good way to put it. I, uh… I probably should have asked this earlier, but did anything… happen to you back there?”

“Oh, I’d rather leave it for tonight, if it’s all the same to you.” She waved her hands as if to block the question. “It’s already long past midnight as it is. Won’t do either of us any good dwelling on it.”

“Yeah. I suppose that’s true,” he sighed. He wanted to push back on that. Something had to have happened to her; he’d seen the exhausted look in her eyes. It ate at him. But she was right. Both of them needed sleep eventually. “Uh… thank you, by the way. For listening to all of this, and not looking at me like I’m crazy. And I’m sor— I mean, I wish tonight didn’t go the way it did. But I-I’m glad we’re both still in one piece, and that I could have this talk. You’re a great friend, you know that?”

Florence, despite her best efforts, started blushing. “Yeah, I know that. Thank you for coming along in the first place, and for… I don’t know what else. For being my best bro yourself, I guess.”

“Actually,” he replied, “don’t you mean best beo?”

This made her pause for a moment. She was genuinely stumped by this, and Connor almost felt the need to explain the joke, but she would’ve got it anyway. There was a moment where she seemed to recall their conversation over Uproar, just a few hours ago. That felt longer than hours ago, but—

“Oh, fuck you,” she laughed. “Now, we should probably get to sleep. You know firsthand what Darkrai does to kids who stay up past their bedtime, right?”

He deserved that. The two of them grinned at each other before settling into their respective sleeping bags and calling it a night. Connor found himself struggling to drift off for a while, his many worries about the future coming to mind when he closed his eyes and tuned out the outside world. He kept thinking about it all. About Team Galactic, and their acquaintance, and… everything that lay inside the chateau. Very recently, none of this seemed possible. Now all of it had happened.

It was scary. He had his friends along to help, of course, and he’d definitely be sticking with Florence going forward. Things were made much more bearable when he wasn’t alone. Ronnie and the rest of his team were all sound asleep; he hoped they were dreaming well. He was just as grateful for their company.

Things would be alright. So he hoped. The road ahead would be difficult, but he could’ve been far worse off.

When sleep arrived, Connor dreamed about the full moon crashing into these woods.
 
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