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Pokémon I, Isobel

Act 1: Out of Hand, Chapter 1 - One Last Ditch

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Hi! I posted a two-parter fic called Selling Out as a test run on this forum before I put it out everywhere else. I got a lot of use out of the comments, especially since it was essentially an edited first draft that was unpolished in quite a few places. Thanks to everyone who read that iteration, especially @The Walrein, @Pen and @OldschoolJohto as their reviews helped me figure out how to make the themes of my story more cohesive. Also @canisaries for giving me a boost with this edit.

I changed the title to something a bit more catchy and fitting for the themes of the story, since Selling Out only really indicated the influencer aspect of some of the characters and not the struggles of the protagonist. Most importantly, in this revision, I added more to the story to better tie in the characterisation and refine some of the worldbuilding. I also omitted some details I didn't have the scope to answer in the space of this story. But all in all, that's an extra 2k words worth of content. I will also be uploading the next two chapters over the span of this week.

Disclaimer: This is a Pokecentric fic, something that focuses on Pokemon protagonists dealing with their problems in the human world. The fic also ties into the wider world of The Curious and the Shiny and takes place in the same universe, but can also be read as a standalone fic. For TCATS readers, it’s not essential to the plot, but since the characters discuss Galar and struggle with finding their footing in a region that hasn’t established something like the PokeJobs system, this is relevant to that story’s themes.

Also, one of the characters here, Gloria Deo, isn't the same as the player character Gloria in the Sword and Shield games. I apologise for the confusion since I didn't realise this at the time and it happened to be an unfortunate coincidence.

Summary: Meet Isobel, a Machamp living on her own in Circhester! With the introduction of the PokéJobs programme, she's determined to step out of her trainer's shadow and find her own place in the world, but between money problems, self-doubt, loneliness, and an uncertain future, can't a girl catch a break?

Rating: T for swearing and references to alcohol.

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Act 1: Out of Hand

Chapter 1 - One Last Ditch

Isobel held the letter marked 'Urgent' in one of her four hands. The second hand scratched her head. The third one held a bowl of Lucari-O's cereal. The fourth hastily shovelled spoonfuls of oats and chocolate chips into her mouth.

This letter was addressed to Machamp Isobel, the name she assigned herself once she joined the postal registry. Even without opening it, she knew it meant her rent was late and she needed to pay her dues soon.

It had only been a month and a bit since she had moved into a place of her own. Though the teachers did their best to educate her on all these human responsibilities, rent was something that slipped past her this time. She had saved up a bit from various other jobs when she wasn't spending it on booze, but would that be enough to cover the rest?

She put the cereal bowl down on the kitchenette counter and looked to the rest of the apartment. Aside from the bathroom, this was the only room in the flat. The kitchen was in the same space as the unchanged bed in the corner. It didn't even have a TV, not that she needed one. But as little as she knew about reality TV, this place wouldn't end up as a feature on Escape to Galar anytime soon.

Still, it was her home, which she was starting to pay for with her own money. It felt good, or at least, she thought so.

You're wasting both your time and your money.

There it was, that voice in the back of her head. Isobel grumbled, trying to suppress it. No, she wanted to prove she could strike it out on her own. Where else did she have good enough wifi to stream the latest Scyther High episodes? She could've spent the rest of her days finding out if Night Terror and Scythe ever hooked up, since they were her favourite ship.

Oh yeah, and having a roof over her head that wasn't just a bunch of rocks or a canvas tarp also felt nice. Not to mention central heating. She wanted this, and she could keep it. She just had to work for it.

With the cracked phone her old trainer had given her, Isobel looked at the PokeJobs app for new roles to fill. She was already doing one to keep herself afloat, so what else could she find to fill the void? Nothing she was qualified for.

A lot of jobs for engineering, for instance, required more training than just having brute strength. There were a lot of creative jobs, but she never considered herself one of those artsy-fartsy types. The most she was qualified to be was a sandwich artist. Then there was something else, something that made one of her hands twitch.

"Huh," she thought out loud. She didn't want to get back into fighting on a league level, but when the thought of a paid fight struck her mind, it filled her with a certain urge. Not that she enjoyed it or anything; just that she knew she was good at it. She didn't move away from the training lifestyle for nothing, though.

Screw it. She had bills to pay. It's not like one or two fights meant anything by the end of the day anyway. With a few scrolls, a skim-read, and a final tap on the screen, she accepted the job as a 'temporary team member for Trevor'. Sounded self explanatory. She only read the '8,000 Pokedollars' part, since that would've been enough to cover her for the month. Once she finished this job and paid her rent, she was going to paint the town red.

* * *​

Despite how most people saw Machamp, Isobel preferred to dress to (moderately) impress. With a tank top, shorts (because they were comfy and easy to wear), and tabi shoes, she was ready to take on the day. Out of the apartment, down the stairs, and to the outside world of Circhester. She lived on the outer edge where they had built a new block of flats, so that meant transit to the inner city for work. Good thing she knew how to ride a bike. Dig through the city's trash and you can find anything as long as you put the elbow grease in to fix it, and Isobel had plenty to spare.

With it, she zipped down the roads with ease, sailing through the vehicular seas and passing through the luscious green parks with the flying taxis overhead. It got noisier the further she ventured into the city. The air was filled with the various squawks of Pokemon, the songs the buskers played, and the blaring of the traffic. This city was filled with chaos. And she loved it.

Everywhere she looked, there was something going on, especially with the advent of the newly introduced PokeJobs system. Human-speaking tour guides took bystanders through the various historical sites, educating them on who built what and other trivia. She got the language part down pat, but anything about history usually went through one earhole and out the other.

Teams of various flying types were dispersed throughout the streets. One group had perched themselves on telephone wires, scouting the area for pesky feral Wingull that snatched up other people's food. Another group glided through the air to deliver all sorts of munchies. Her bike paled in comparison to their speed, as one Rookidee took off like a bullet to take one boxed lunch for someone else's order.

Both humans and Pokemon filled one market with street food stalls, even competing with each other in one case. Two stalls faced opposite each other. One was a human ice cream vendor named Vanilluxuries. The other was an Appletun and Alcremie duo named Slurpuff All You Want, serving up cream-topped slices of apple pie with the assistance of a Cinderace.

Isobel briefly wondered if an Appletun eating its own shavings counted as self-cannibalism. Probably not. But Isobel didn't consider herself the best cook either, as she mostly subsisted off of pre-cooked pasta and Magikarp.

Still, it was nice to see other Pokemon like her working, even if it already existed in other forms before the system took off. The initiative just gave Pokemon the extra push to make a living out of it. Still, Isobel had to leave before the scent of that alleyway lured her away from her job.

Once she parked her bike somewhere safe, her first shift spinning signs for stores went by quickly. Whenever she weaved the hunk of metal between one pair of arms, she usually lost track of time as she let her hands guide the advert wherever it pleased.

Any other human could've taken her place, sure, but what human could do that while staring at their phone at the same time? She was basically getting paid while she watched the league matches on the Victreevee app. If anyone stopped her, technically, she could've said she was doing research for another job. That was half true. Aside from that, she needed that fix, that charge she got whenever a hit connected in those matches.

Speaking of which, Isobel surfed from video to video. One was a highlight reel of a famous Pokemon-trainer duo whose Grimmsnarl carried the whole match. She always found that hairy sweat mop gross, but their fighting prowess was admirable. She even saw bits of herself in him.

They left no room for their opponent to breathe since they manoeuvred each strand of hair with purpose to trap them, then bunched up their coat for the finishing blow. With each hit, the Grimmsnarl injected his own personality into the fight as he whooped and hollered with each movement. It was infectious, which reflected in the way Isobel flung the sign up in the air and caught it without realising it, as her arms took on a life of their own. She got a cheer from some of the bystanders for that one.

Even if she wasn't in the league any more, if she had the chance to, she would've taken the Grimmsnarl on just for kicks. Perhaps on her own terms that time, and not as a trainer's Pokemon.

Then she sighed, going to the saved videos stored on her phone. Her own league matches with her trainer were still on there, including one of the last ones, between her and a Mr. Rime. The only thing amusing about the fight was that clown's dancing, and they were just doing it for crowd appeal. Though the cards were stacked against Isobel, she still came out on top. Her opponent's moves were easily readable, and each psychic attack just as dodgeable.

When she watched herself in the playback, though, it served as a reminder of why she quit. Unlike the Grimmsnarl, her moves were calculated and cold. She had rehearsed them many times before. Her face tried to hide emotion, but occasionally, even when she had the upper hand, she'd frown. By the end of the fight, Isobel just stared back at her trainer with hollow eyes. She won, but the victory wasn't hers, it was her trainer's. It was always her trainer's from the start.

Who cares? It's not as if you matter anyway without battling—

"Hey," one kid said, dragging her out of her headspace. Isobel looked down at the tyke who wore a Pokeball belt and a hat with a crudely drawn badge on it. She could tell he wanted to be a contender.

"Yeah?" she said, shaping the human word carefully with her inhuman mouth.

His eyes glistened, fists pumped. "Can you teach me how to do that?"

Isobel tucked her phone into her pockets and grinned. "Well, I can't say I'm a good coach or anythin', but I can point you somewhere." She stepped back and spun the metal sign above her like a propeller. "It took me a few tries to even do this right, and this sucker's heavy. But I taught myself just fine with cardboard and watchin' people do the same thing."

"Oh!" The kid rubbed his hands together. "So I can do it at home!"

"Yeah, or anywhere you fancy. It's all a matter of practise, just like anythin'. Practise hard enough and you can do whatever you set your mind to."

"I will!" He gave a toothy smile "Oh, and can you do that flingy thing again?"

"You got it, kid," she said with a thumbs up.

Isobel poured all her attention into the sign for a few energetic spins, then with one graceful arc, launched it up into the air, higher than the building she stood in front of, and caught it. Seeing that kid smile filled the void in her heart. And if he went home taking her advice to heart, then that would've been her own little victory.

* * *​

In no time at all, her shift ended, just an hour before her next one with the trainer. Isobel reported back to the Pokeball store where they handed her a thin slip of notes. Just to make sure, she counted each note individually, which all checked out.

"Thanks," she said, returning the sign. "You guys don't forget to pay like some of the others do."

"Really?" the human clerk said. "Don't you have protections in place?"

"Yeah…" Isobel rubbed her head. "The council's still ironing out some of the kinks since it's a case by case basis."

"Sounds like a pain in the ass. I mean, we wouldn't be caught dead screwing over another Pokemon, since, yanno." Her gesture to the shelves of luxury Pokeballs filled in the blanks. "Plus we've got a lot to thank for since we've been seeing more customers thanks to you."

"D'aww," Isobel said, mockingly holding a hand to her cheek, "at least buy me dinner first before you flatter me, hun." She paused for a moment, then leaned forward, holding one pair of hands in a praying motion. "Would you buy me dinner?"

"Eh, we'll see."

Can't blame a mon for trying. Still, she left the shop with a heavier wallet than before.

* * *​

After lunch, Isobel hit one of the outdoor training areas for practise. It was a park with a bunch of outdoor equipment for her and other Pokemon to use, which was designed to work in all weather conditions. They had Mankey bars, cycling machines, and punching bags for bipeds, plus exercise wheels, scratching posts, and hurdles for quadrupeds.

There was even a four-armed chest press designed specifically for Machamp, perfect for toning her back muscles and biceps before the match. Plus, she had to burn off that piece of apple pie she had for lunch. That was like Arceus' ambrosia. She stationed herself on the unused machine.

As she sat, two Machoke eyed her from far away. One misplaced glance at them, and they started flexing their arms, trying to show off their muscles.

Not that she didn't have a trained eye for beefcake, especially for her own evolution line, but she didn't exactly want the attention. So Isobel looked away, pretending not to notice the Machoke duo until they approached, strutting towards her unashamedly like two naked emperors. Did it count as being naked if they had pants on, even if it was made of their own skin?

"Hey, wanna fight?" one of them said. "Y'look real strong, y'know. Real strong."

"Heh, yeah, brother," the other said, "I'd love her to pummel me anytime."

"Wait, what? No, we're challengin' her, not the other way 'round."

"But some guys like it like that, y'know."

They really were as dumb as they looked. Isobel put on the widest grin possible. "Where're your trainers? I'm sure they'd love to know you two are bothering a stranger."

To seal the deal, she stood up, towering over them and cracking the knuckles on all of her hands. It did the trick as both of them quietly slunk back to their own space. Good. With that, she sat back down and got to wor—

Nope, her phone vibrated just as she positioned her arms on the weights. From the ringtone of the Pokemon anime's first opening, she knew who it was. Crap. She didn't think to call her at all for the past month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.

That's not the real reason, and you know that.

She grit her teeth and pressed accept on the screen. It would've been nice to talk to her again, and she needed to get outside of her own head for once.

"Hey," she said, using her back pair of arms to push the press behind her. "It's been a while. What's up?"

"Oh, er…" her trainer Gloria said. "Just wanted to know if you've settled in okay."

"Pfft, yeah, absolutely." She grinned. "Work is just work, the room's fine, and y'know, Circhester's great as usual. Nowhere else I'd rather be."

"Good to hear, I guess?" She shuffled some papers in the background. "It's just that I got some letters here saying that your rent's overdue."

Isobel stopped using the machine and leaned forward, groaning. "Ugh, yeah, I know that too. Why do they need to send the bill—" No, wait, she remembered: Gloria was one of her references in case she couldn't have forked up the rent. "Forget it. But yeah, sorry 'bout that. I have been workin' every day though."

"I don't doubt that. I mean, I don't mind paying since money's not a big concern. Just that, I'd rather make sure you're, er, sure about this. You know I'll let you saddle along if you want to come back."

"Yeah…" She rubbed her head. "About that… you wouldn't be jealous if I told you I've signed myself up as a temp Pokemon?"

"Not really." Gloria hummed. "I thought you said you didn't like fighting anymore."

"I don't. I thought we went over this." She sighed. That wound didn't need re-opening. "But this guy's stinking rich and he's willing to pay, so I'll be able to cover the rest of my rent with this."

"Well, that's good, but, er, some trainers have clauses against other Pokemon signing up on their lonesome."

"Okay." Isobel huffed. "That sounds really dumb, to be honest."

"It is, but I don't know."

"Galar's supposed to be a land of opportunity for us, isn't it?"

"It's not that, but when money's on the line, some trainers want to know they can rely on another trainer's track record to let them know their Pokemon can put up a good fight and obey commands."

She ground her teeth at that. "I can do both if I need to! I didn't spend this long with you just sittin' on my as—"

"I know, I know, I wasn't implying that." She sighed that familiar sigh. She might as well have been tutting at her. "But, well, I'm sure you'll do fine. You can use me as a reference if the guy asks where you came from. Bye."

She hung up before Isobel said the same. Her fists shook, which she took deep breaths for. That calmed her down, but after that, she suddenly didn't have as much energy to exercise. The comment she made stuck with her for a bit. During this downtime, she looked at the app once more to see what the offer was, giving it a complete look instead of a skim-read. What she saw on there made her eyes pop.
 

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Chapter 2 - For Fight's Sake

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Chapter 2 - For Fight's Sake

Isobel had a lot of explaining to do. Her shoes slapped against the cobblestones as she charged through the streets. She was going up to meet the trainer near the Hero's Bath and hopefully get herself out of this jam.

Stupid. She was stupid. Stupid for snapping at her trainer and stupid for giving herself false hope over a phony contract. It was on a competitive basis, and she'd only get paid on the condition that Isobel won, not just for tagging along. She wished she had read the fine print there. But if she had Nomels, she might as well have made Nomelade if the trainer was still willing to pay.

Eventually, she reached the stone pillars which housed Circhester's biggest tourist attraction. Both a historical site and a popular bath-house, it was one of many reasons Isobel chose to move to Circhester in particular. Nothing like soaking up in the hot springs after a long day of work or exercise. Now wasn't the time to relax though as she tried to pick out her employer in the crowd.

There he was, dressed from head to toe in black designer gear, plus a golden chain hanging by his neck. He was as scrawny as a Scraggy, and looked like he was made of money even though his clothes were as plain as night. And who wore all-black in the summer?

Isobel put on her friendliest customer-facing mask and walked up to him. He looked up at her. She looked down at him. He said nothing at first.

"Oh, you're Trevor, right?"

He stepped in place. "And you are?"

"I'm Isobel, the one who accepted your offer." She extended her hand to his. A nice, firm handshake was customary between people working together. "Nice to meet—"

"Aw, shit," he said, "did you even read the thing? Can you read at all?"

So much for being civil. She squinted in response, leering down at him. "Yeah, I can. I know you asked for a trainer to come and not just a Pokemon."

"So why should I hire you?"

That was a good point. While she kept that poker face of hers, she wanted to die inside. No, she had to think of something quickly, or else live on a diet of Pokepellets for the rest of her days with Gloria. Well, the Pokepellets part was a lie, but still.

"Oh, no, I have a trainer, she's just… out of town. I thought I'd do her a solid and take on something on my lonesome."

"Oh yeah, her name and rank?"

"Gloria Deo, five stars."

Four stars since Isobel left, actually. She hoped that whatever he typed in, it would skirt around the ranking lie and show Gloria for the good trainer that she was. "Check out the league match between me and that Rime—"

"I know." Oh, c'mon, let a Mon speak for once!

The fight played out on his phone (not cracked unlike hers and with a gold case), and with each punch and kick Isobel flew at the opponent, Trevor made brief comments here and there. Nice form. Determined to win. Able to think on her feet, unlike most Machamp. Hey, that was just another Pokedex myth! But no matter. He put the phone away and sighed.

"Alright, fine, you're hired, but on one condition. You don't speak at all. Don't ask questions about what this is and don't let anyone else know you can speak."

She stepped back. If she remained within punching distance for this, she would've clobbered him without a second thought. "You gotta be kiddin' me. It's not like I'm some alien or anythin', more Pokemon are talkin' these days, y'know!"

"I know." He tucked his hands in his pockets, puffing out his chest. "But money's on the line here. If you go running your mouth, he won't think you're my Pokemon, and if that jerk finds out I hired you because of it, he'll call the bet off. He'll—"

"So it's a bet?" This was getting worse with each passing second. "You didn't put that on the job description."

"Pfft, who cares? The refs won't know. But this jerk I'm fighting will know I'm cheating by getting someone else's team member in."

Isobel balled her hands into fists. What had she gotten herself into? "You can't stop me from sayin' stuff, especially if I need to coach yo—"

"Coach me, who do you think you are?" He spat on the ground. "Like you're some master-class trainer. You're just here to carry out whatever moves I give you."

"But—"

"Do you want to get paid or not?" Stop interrupting! Isobel did all she could to not wring his neck, tucking her shaking hands behind her back. She already sold out the minute she chose this job. And yet, she needed the money. She sighed, putting her hands on her hips.

"Alright, yes, I wanna get paid. Do we have a deal?" Time for a second handshake. He squinted at it for a moment, then shook it.

"Okay, deal. Now let's just get a move on to the battle park. And remember, no talking."

Isobel sighed and tailed Trevor as he led the way. Not that she wanted to see his face, but no matter. Once this was over, she didn't have to worry about this situation for another month. At least the walk through Circhester proved as beautiful as ever. Colourful flowers were lined up in pots along the pavement paths. The buildings around her gave the city a timeless feel, with its bath stone architecture and symmetrical patterns. Looking at this, she almost forgot she was picking at some dumb trainer's scraps. Speaking of which…

"Hey, T-Vul!" A younger trainer went up to him, holding a sharpie. "Can you sign my Pokeball?"

"Hey, my Vully, sure thing," he said with a smile. So he must've been a celebrity of some sort, right? Isobel had to check.

Once the kid was gone, she turned on the city's free wi-fi and looked through the Rootom search bar to find this T-Vul, expecting a movie star or a rapper. Lots of celebrities were fake, bitter asshats in person, right?

She was disappointed to find out his Snap!App was his claim to fame with around 50k followers. Sure, it was nothing to sneeze at, but even a Scrafty could do better, and did by about 500k more followers. But anyway, most of Trevor's account was him showing off his clothes, his cars, both his clothes and cars, and his Pokemon, which he also sometimes dressed in designer wear. He had a Thievul and Raboot by the looks of it, though the Raboot was the only one smiling in the picture alongside their trainer.

She wasn't supposed to speak, but she might as well have humoured herself. "Psst," she whispered, "what's it like being a Snapper?"

"Ew, no, that's not what we call ourselves," he said. "But eh. I only have a few followers."

"Fifty thousand isn't a lot, then?"

"This other guy has 200k. He has clout, believe me."

"So… you're fighting him because he has more followers than you?"

"Part of it, but what's your point?"

"Just seems like one big pissing contest to me."

"Do you want me to call this job off? Then shut it."

That put that conversation to bed, then.

Once they got close to the park's entrance, Trevor took her to the corner where the two of them remained unseen and briefed her on how the fight would play out. 3v3, 1st to 2 wins, yadda yadda, she knew the drill already.

Since Isobel didn't have her Pokeball on her (not anymore since Gloria released and unregistered Isobel with her insistence), he brought both of his other Pokemon out to accompany him on the way. They didn't stop to introduce themselves. Once they started walking through the lobby, though, that's when the Raboot turned and sneered at Isobel.

"He's gettin' you to fight?" She snorted. "Like we're not good enough for him."

"We aren't," the Thievul said, head lowered, "we never are."

"Look," Isobel said, "this isn't a contest. I'm just here to pay my dues, then I'll be out of your hair. Or fur."

The Raboot crossed her arms and turned her head. "Whatevs. I'll show you."

"Just calm down..." the Thievul said.

"Oh yeah?" She kicked him in the side, making him fall behind. "Well, I'm calm now."

"C'mon, guys," Trevor said, eyebrows knitted, "get a move on. Don't need one of you down for the count before the fight starts."

Raboot joined her trainer while the Thievul joined Isobel's side.

"Both of them are such jerks," the Thievul said.

"I can tell," she said. "Name's Isobel."

"Bronze. So you're really here on your own? That's cool."

"Certainly doesn't feel cool right now." She sighed, then forced a smile. "But it has a lot of perks."

"Huh." Not another peep from him, which struck Isobel as weird, but oh well. That was the least of her concerns as the team entered the rented arena.

There were two sides of the audience. On Trevor's half, only a handful sat on the bleachers, while the other half had a dozen people on the contender's side. This guy wore colourful garb and looked nothing like the tech savvy guy Trevor made him out to be. If anything, he looked more like the type to meditate underneath waterfalls than go for joyrides with chrome-plated cars.

Isobel felt out of sorts here. It was like walking into a bar and having the patrons stare at you as you asked for drinks. Only because she had definitely done that once before and got asked to leave on account of alcohol being illegal and dangerous for Pokemon to consume. Still, she took a deep breath, calming herself as Trevor's team stopped, facing the other side.

"Ah," the guru guy said, "you have a new team member."

Isobel was about to speak when she covered her mouth. Keeping herself silent was harder than she thought.

"Yup, you know my old man. He had a few Pokemon knocking around, and as a parting gift, he gave me another one."

"Was that why you challenged me?" He smiled. "Now you have another Pokemon?"

"I…" Trevor rubbed his head. Isobel resisted the urge to laugh at that. "Look, Nil, I got her fair and square. Now, when are we gettin' started?"

"As soon as you're ready." He kept that smile. "I must warn you, since you challenged me, it's only customary for me to decide the order of each battle. So you know you will be severely disadvantaged since you're stuck with your weaker types."

Did that account for Isobel too? She hoped he didn't have a psychic up his sleeve that time.

"Alright, fine, I know what Pokemon you've got. Just… lemme…" He whipped out his phone and started recording, holding it out in front of him to his audience. "Yo, Vullies! We gotta mad sitch here. My beef with Nil's reached mad heights, and we're havin' a grudge match to decide who becomes top dog around here!"

He continued to brag about how his Pokemon would come out on top. It seemed like he was making a point of this, perhaps for the 'clout' as he called it. Trevor's voice was completely phony, along with his movements as he made devil horns with his hands and showed off his bling. The few followers in his audience, when asked to cheer, only did so half-heartedly, clapping like they were at a golf match.

"Is he always like this?" Isobel asked Bronze.

"Yes, unfortunately," he replied.

"Oh shut it, don't ruin the spirit of this match!" the Raboot said.

Compared to Trevor though, Nil seemed a lot more genuine. He didn't start bragging to the fans on his side or gloating about his riches. At first, Isobel wished she was on Nil's side instead. Then a cold sweat trickled through her. How strong were his Pokemon if he wasn't showing them off?

Once Trevor stopped showboating in front of the Snap, Nil answered that question as he released a Drizzile. The water type looked to Nil with reverence, and he returned it by stroking his neck.

"First," he said, "against your Raboot."

Nil certainly wasn't kidding when he said he rigged the match against his opponent's Pokemon. Trevor grunted, though he kept his cool and grinned. "I expected that would happen. She'll run circles around your lizard."

"Suck on a Muk, you smelly human!" the Drizzile shouted, which fell on deaf ears. Despite this, Nil seemed to understand the sentiment as he patted him on the back.

"Don't let him rile you up, just focus on the battle."

He gave him a thumbs up, and the Drizzile entered the fray as he faced the Raboot.

The ensuing match told Isobel a lot about Trevor's training style. He stubbornly commanded the Raboot to throw fire attacks at the opponent despite her severe disadvantage. She carried out her trainer's orders even though there were multiple opportunities for her to have improvised. She could've dodged quite a few of the attacks, but ended up drinking from the fire hose in more ways than one when Trevor insisted she attack anyway.

By the end of the match, the Rabbot was down for the count, blowing bubbles in the puddles that the Drizzile had formed.

"Well, we're doomed," Bronze said as his trainer went to collect that drenched loser.

"No, we're not," Isobel said, kneeling down to his level. "Not if you're willing to listen to my advice."

"But how can you? He's still my trainer."

"Well, I've worked around it before, and it's fine as long as you work within the rules. You've just gotta have confidence that it'll hit."

"But…" Bronze sank to the floor. "I… I don't…"

Nil withdrew his Drizzile and smiled. "Well, one to zero. I hope your Thievul can compare."

"Shut it." Trevor stomped his foot on the turf, signalling Bronze to come to his side. Isobel expected him to give a pep talk, but Trevor just pointed to the arena, leaving Bronze to enter the fray on his own. As he walked, his tail dragged behind him on the wet floor.

Next up on the opponent's team: a Frosmoth, whose presence spread a bitter cold to the air. Isobel flinched at the sudden chill. Bronze was lucky he had fur covering him, but not so lucky that he was outmatched in terms of typing. She predicted it would turn out the same as the last fight if she just stood there and watched.

The fight started at the blow of the whistle. Trevor commanded Bronze to swipe forward with a sucker punch. The Frosmoth flew back and blew a frosty spell at the puddles, instantly turning them to ice. Too late to stop running, Bronze slid across the surface. Trevor started swearing, then pulled himself together.

"Get up! Get up!" he shouted. "Go around the ice and try again!"

The Frosmoth didn't even give Bronze a sporting chance. She flew up, beating her wings to cast clouds around it. Then, she disappeared. Bronze stood still, trying to find heads or tails of his opponent.

Then, the whole arena went misty, covering Nil and the other half of the audience. Isobel crossed one pair of arms, trying to shield herself from the cold.

"J-just," Trevor chattered, "j-just go in there, slash at anythin' that moves! Do it!"

Bronze cocked his head at Trevor.

"Just do it, you—"

Bronze whimpered and flung himself into the misty fray. Crap, this was bad. All Isobel saw was Bronze flailing wildly at nothing, as if batting at the mist would've made it disappear. But where was the Frosmoth?

"Now!"

The Frosmoth emerged by Nil's command and planted her fangs into Bronze's shoulder. He screamed, slipping and sliding as he tried to shake off the biting bug.

Isobel's heart sank. It was never pleasant to see a teammate go through such pain for their trainer, or be on the receiving end of it herself. But this… what was this even for? Some guy's attempt to get imaginary internet points? Fake crap like this was why she left the league in the first place, though it was all a big lie to begin with. A sham to get dumb kids to go on a railroaded journey so the marts and leagues can keep making money off of them.

But you liked it, didn't you? So who are you to say what's fake?

She shook her head, snapping herself out of her daze. The Frosmoth had backed away at least, though it left Bronze with a slight limp as he walked to his trainer for the next move. Trevor was about to open that stupid trap again. She couldn't let that happen.

"Hey!" she called in her own tongue. Bronze glanced at her, followed by a glare from Trevor. She didn't care what his reaction would be as long as the other side didn't see what was going on through the fog. It's not like Trevor would've understood anyway. "Ignore that dunderhead, just follow my lead."

Bronze frowned. "B-but—"

"Play along for now, but listen out for my commands as well."

"C'mon, Bronze!" Trevor yelled, "just go back in there and keep attackin'!"

Bronze looked to Isobel once more and nodded, entering the arena. He stood still, awaiting her advice.

"Listen out for that Frosmoth. You're not gonna get anywhere if you just go in blindly. She'll probably want to bite you again. Once she gets close, bite her back, then see if you can plant your scent on her. That way, you can track her."

"Don't just stand there," Trevor interrupted, "sicc that moth!"

Bronze glared at his trainer, then stuck his tongue out at him before turning back to focus on the battle, ears perked up.

"Hey," Trevor growled, wagging a finger at Isobel, "what the hell are you playin' at?"

Isobel made a mouth-zipping motion and shrugged. Trevor's face scrunched up even more at that, though she ignored him for now. Bronze lay still, listening. His tail lightly swished behind him. Then his ears twitched. He leapt forward, swiping as the Frosmoth emerged from the mist.

He knocked her to the floor. Trevor stopped staring daggers at Isobel and watched as Bronze pounced on the Frosmoth, trying to get a bite in. She pelted him in the face with a bit of snow and flew off again, disappearing into the mist. However, Bronze didn't stop. He correctly picked out her position and swiped at her with another successful hit.

"It's working!" Bronze shouted gleefully. Isobel smirked at that as Trevor stepped back. Perhaps that put him in his place.

The mist weakened and the Frosmoth could no longer hide behind the arena's environment. She reverted to her original strategy of covering the floor with ice as Bronze tried to get another hit. Instead of sliding across the floor like before, though, he dug his claws into the frozen surface, using the traction to slow down.

Incredible. She didn't even have to coach him that time; that initial spark was all he needed to carry the match on his own. Adjusting his trajectory, Bronze leapt for the Frosmoth, using the ice to generate more speed.

"Change of plans," Nil yelled. "Bug Buzz!"

"Cover your ears!" Isobel yelled as she cupped the sides of her head. Bronze flopped onto the ice as he pawed at his ears, but he was already close to the Frosmoth.

They screeched, making everyone else in the arena flinch at the cacophony. It lasted for a few seconds, then stopped to Isobel's relief, but not to Bronze. As he got up, he wobbled from side to side, struggling to keep himself standing. If her own ears were ringing at that, she couldn't have imagined what it was like for Bronze.

Trevor didn't have any insightful comments this time, not that he was a wellspring of good ideas, instead using the opportunity to record the battle with his phone. The Frosmoth was flying straight towards Bronze. Crap. Crap crap crap.

Despite his weakened state, Bronze started running, using the slippery ice to gain speed. His movements were erratic; it was a wonder he didn't slip again. In response, the Frosmoth darted from side to side, throwing him off even more. Isobel knew what he was trying to do, though it would've taken some luck for Bronze to pull off. The two got closer. Two big Pokemon about to collide with one another. Bronze raised his paw, spun in the air, and threw a sucker punch at the Frosmoth's fuzzy body.

It hit, knocking her to the fence on the other side. She had no strength left to fly anymore. And with that, she laid still as Nil went to comfort her. Unlike his opponent, Trevor didn't join in to celebrate his Pokemon's well earned victory, turning the phone to the rest of the arena as he started recording again.

"Wasn't that badass, my Vullies? Don't mess with T-Vul, y'all!"

Unbelievable. Isobel's hands twitched, tempted to snatch the phone off him and seismic toss it into the sky. Not congratulating Bronze was bad enough, but Trevor taking all the credit? It was exactly why she left to get away from this nonsense.

"H-hey," Bronze said, snapping Isobel out of her funk. She knelt down to stroke his head.

"Sorry you got roughed up out there," she said, glaring at the clout-chasing trainer, "and all for that guy."

"I know." He rested his head on her knee, happily taking the ear scritches. "But this is the first match I've won in ages, so thanks. You're a good coach."

"A good coach?" She had heard that before, both from Gloria and her teammates. Not that she did much here in the grand scheme of things, but she smiled and patted his head. "I guess I am."

Bronze sat out on the other end of the arena. Now it was Isobel's turn to join in the fun. And just in time for Trevor to stop recording on that lame phone of his and come up to her.

"Look, whatever you tried to pull with him, knock it off with this next match. I'm your trainer, you follow my lead."

He wasn't her trainer. If her lips weren't sealed, she would've called him all sorts of off-colour names. She had a few human curses up her sleeve. But she relented and nodded. This would be the ticket to her paycheck.

With a sigh, she entered the arena, waiting for Nil to draw out the next Pokemon. Before the battle started, however, Isobel gave Bronze a thumbs up, who smiled for once. That cheer spread to her.

Instead of whipping out a Pokeball like he did in the previous rounds, Nil whipped out a phone instead, holding it up to his ear.

"Hello. Sorry to call out of the blue, but would you be able to come down to the Circhester Community Arena for a quick fight?"

Someone on the other end talked.

"Doesn't matter. Either way, it'll be my treat."

Trevor tapped his foot, looking at the referee who pretended not to notice him.

"Alright, deal. We're in arena 7." Nil put the phone back in his pocket and waited. A few seconds passed. Still nothing but dead air. Finally, Trevor snapped, about to stomp over to his opponent.

"What the hell do you think you're—"

Light flashed, and a Hatterene emerged from it to fill the void in the arena. The entire crowd fell silent at her release, and Isobel gasped. Even Trevor stood in stunned silence, and without a phone in his hand this time.

Hatterene weren't the kind to be messed around with. She had the psychic potency of an Alakazam, the emotion-detecting senses of a Lucario, and the wrath of a Gyarados. Even after all the battles she faced before, Isobel gulped at the sight of this emotionless banshee. Oh, wait, couldn't she have detected fear as well? Now what?

The Hatterene smiled. "You seem anxious. Maybe because I know a secret of yours." Before Isobel could respond, the Hatterene levitated to her trainer's side and waved a tentacle to the audience. "My name is Admirari. Not to worry, everyone. I can handle other people's emotions, no matter how intense. Isn't that right, Nil?"

She spoke as well? With that, the crowd dropped any sign of emotional restraint as they talked amongst themselves. Trevor just started filming. "What, my opponent's a talkin' Hatterene? What's up with that, my Vullies?!"

Unbe-freaking-lievable.

Admirari smirked, gazing at the two in the arena before levitating back to Nil. Even the way she carried herself in the air was regal, keeping her hat steady as she fluttered from one place to another.

"You expected me to appear out of the blue just for the sake of a fight?" she said with a sneer.

"Not usually." Nil said. "But even you like the odd match or two, don't you?"

"Why, yes." Admirari tilted her head. "That is the cross I bear as a Pokemon. But what's the point of this farce, anyway? You don't even need the money, do you?"

"Not particularly, no. But, well, do you know the sensation you get whenever we meditate in a deprivation tank for hours on end?"

"I don't need that nonsense to meditate. I can do it instantly."

"No, but whenever I do that, I am gambling a part of my own wellbeing to achieve enlightenment in some way. So, now it's come to this, one to one, so close to both victory and defeat..." Nil started chewing his nails, grinning with his eyes. Isobel didn't know why he didn't mention the bet, but she knew full well what was at stake.

Just before they entered the park, Trevor had mentioned that the bet between them was 40,000, making for 80,000 smackeroonies altogether. Isobel could've taken up driving lessons with that money. Maybe two months worth of rent. Maybe a flight to Alola. And Nil was willing to gamble half of it away because he had a kink about it. Goddamn rich people.

"Before we start," Admirari said, "can I have a little Machat with this Machamp?"

The referee nodded, and Nil did the same in turn, giving her the go-ahead.

"Where did you learn to talk?" Isobel asked, crossing both pairs of arms.

"Trainer. I asked for a private tutor and he paid. But never mind that, how about you?"

"Well, I learned from the—" Isobel grit her teeth. She would've said it involved the council's program in preparation for the PokeJobs opening, but she didn't need to dig herself a deeper hole. Damn psychics. "It's that obvious, is it?"

"Oh, you're like an open book." Admirari squinted. "You're covering for him, aren't you?"

Isobel looked to Trevor who stared at the two, though was none the wiser about their conversation.

"Don't rat me out to that trainer of yours," Isobel said. "I just want to pay for my flat."

"Hmm, fair enough. I just know for a fact that he wouldn't have a Machamp fall into his lap like that."

Why was this Pokemon on her case all of a sudden?

"I mean, it doesn't matter so much to me." Admirari tilted her head, glancing at Trevor. "I haven't known that trainer for that long and I hate him just as much as you do."

"Good, glad we've got something we can agree on."

"And in the end, I just want to play a beautiful game. So I will do you a favour." She turned back to her trainer. "May I suggest we both fight on our own terms, Pokemon to Pokemon? This Machamp seems capable."

"No," Trevor said, "I'm her trainer, I have the final say in what's going on."

"Ignore him." Nil earned a glare from the opposition for that one, but he pressed on. "It's your call, Admirari. I know you can carry the match by yourself, unlike that buffoon there."

"Hey, shut the fu—"

"No, you," the Hatterene butted in. "With an attitude like that, even without seeing a battle of yours myself, you do nothing to convince me you can put up a good fight with your training style."

"But yeah, you're a Pokemon, so you have no right to tell me I suck!"

"Says who?" She levitated to Trevor, towering over him as she looked down at the snivelling trainer. "Let me serve you a slice of the proverbial humble pie. There will be no room for trainers like you in the future, the way you continue. Us Pokemon know better by now, and Galar's better than ever for allowing more progress for us. So be a good boy and let the Machamp decide her own strategy as well."

Trevor backed away, putting his phone in his pocket. For the first time, he seemed rather flustered, like he'd come face to face with a bigger bully than he was. Served him right. The referee blew a quick whistle amidst this face-off.

"We've been seeing more of these types of battles, anyway. So go on."

"Y-yeah, alright, Isobel," Trevor said, "you're on your own now."

It didn't make her handicap against a psychic any better, but at least it would've given her the freedom to fight however she wanted.

"Thanks, I guess?" Isobel said to Admirari.

"You're welcome." Admirari levitated to her spot and made a little curtsy. "Even if the circumstances aren't so fun, I hope we can make the most out of this fight. Don't hold back, because I won't."

Isobel replied with a bow of her own, and she returned to her respective spot in the arena. She took a deep breath. She could do this. To prepare, she kicked her shoes off to the side, fully grounding herself on the arena's turf. She raised her arms, her hands curled into fists, and the balls of her feet bounced on the damp floor, still wet with the melted ice.

Inhale. Exhale. She remembered what Gloria told her ages ago. She didn't need flashy moves to succeed. Just her strength, endurance, and her reflexes.

The whistle blew. Purple lights flew towards Isobel like laser pointers. As she sprang back to her feet, another purple beam was approaching her. No time to plan a counter-attack. She ran as more Psybeams whooshed past her. Several frozen puddles lined a path ahead, leading to the arena's partition.

Isobel skidded to a stop before she hit the puddles, maintaining her balance. Yet Admirari was closing in, her tentacle almost in reach. Isobel focused her energy into a Heavy Slam and stepped forward, sliding across the slippery floor to bounce off of the partition's fence. Arms forward. Back arched. Feet off the ground. All of Isobel's effort focused into one attack.

Her forearms only grazed Admirari's hat before they got stopped. First, Isobel's arms froze, stuck in time, while the rest of her body was free, feet kicking the floor to try to pull back. Then the tentacle grasped her forehead, the frozen sensation spreading to the rest of her body. Isobel was immobile, like being encased in ice. Then time stopped. Admirari stood still, unblinking for what seemed like a minute.

You're not very smart, are you?

It was Isobel's inner voice, but not quite. It was distorted like it was being played through bass-boosted speakers submerged underwater. But why did this happen as soon as Admirari hit her?

You seem to attack through brute strength and not much else. It's a wonder you lasted in the league this long.

Her brain needed to shut up. But how were these her own thoughts? Why were they always so aggressive? What—

Time sped up and Admirari swung the tentacle forward, flinging Isobel across the arena. Isobel braced herself to land with a gymnastic's grace. She slid, barely managing to stop short of backing into the fence.

Isobel stuck the landing. She still went to her knees, though, trying to process what the hell had just happened.

That was all her. She didn't know if Admirari unlocked that inner voice of hers on purpose or if it was just amplified by the psychic voice. Whatever it was, she was sweating bullets, one hand on her moist forehead. This wasn't good.

Admirari raised her tentacle, about to strike again. Right, now wasn't the time to overthink things. Isobel stood, spitting on the ground before making her next move. Her shoes were by her side. Sure, it was below the belt, but it was still technically a move: Fling. With one swift motion, Isobel picked one up and lobbed it at Admirari. It missed, though not without stopping Admirari in her levitating tracks.

"A shoe, really?" she grumbled. "Please, have some class—"

Bonk! The heel of the other shoe struck that distracted Hatterene's face, stunning her. Isobel sprang forward. Admirari shook her head to recover. Isobel aimed a fist. The other raised her tentacle. Isobel struck first, socking Admirari in the jaw with a Mega Punch. She wound up for another, raising her other fist, ready to combo and hit… nothing?

Isobel tripped over her own feet, trying to regain her balance after whiffing that attack. Where did she—

"Crap," she whispered.

White light blinded Isobel. Her face was on fire. She stood still, rubbing her eyes as if chlorinated water had gotten splashed in there, but found no refuge. Another psychic wave blew her away, pinning her against the fence. Once wasn't enough for the Hatterene. The invisible force pulled her out and shoved her onto the grate again, and again, and again. Each hit knocked the wind out of Isobel's sails. She drifted in and out, trying to find a way out of this mess. The psychic force was impenetrable. Any attempts to resist were useless.

That isn't good enough, weakling. You used to be on top of things so long ago, and now you can't even fight back?

Her voice again. No, wait, how could it have been Isobel's? She wouldn't have beaten herself up like that, right? It was all that Hatterene's fault. Was she planning this all along?

How about we sift through some of your memories?

An invisible spoon stirred her brain like how Gloria used to stir the stew pot over the campfire. Wait, no, she didn't want to—

Isobel was back in the forest as a Machop, heartily slurping from the soup bowl with a smile on her face.

Then a freshly evolved Machoke, comparing her height with Gloria against a tree. Finally, she was taller than her trainer! Even if she couldn't speak the same language, Gloria picked up that she was proud of her size.

Then she was a Machamp again, except in a different place, sharing a beer with her trainer as they overlooked Circhester from the mountains. Gloria had picked up a six-pack once she had turned 18 and let Isobel have some. She was cool like that. That and Machamp were one of the few Pokemon that had the stomach for it, but that was beside the point. Although they didn't see as much of Circhester as they hoped, one day, they promised that one of them would see all the sights it offered.

You have all these good memories, yet you threw these away, and for what? So you could fight for a trainer you do not care for and for an empty cause?

No, this wasn't happening. What right did some psychic have to get into her head like that? How dare she tell her how to live her life? It was hers to decide what she did with it, right? Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe Admirari was right. What was she doing there? Why put herself through this mess?

"Go on, Isobel!" Bronze shouted from Trevor's side. "Fight back!"

Those words awakened something within Isobel. She opened her eyes, able to see again, though the world spun around her while she was still under the effects of the psychic spell. She forced her mouth open despite the invisible barrier.

"Shaddup—"

Oh-hoh, don't deny it. Admit it, you had a purpose back when all you did was fight. Just like the others, it scratched your back whenever you pounded the shit out of another Pokemon. Your trainer gave you that extra push. She supported you, taught you about the wider world. Then you didn't want to be with her anymore once you got enough of a taste for the league, just one badge away from leading her to completing her journey.

Isobel stayed silent for now, putting all of her mental energy into her fists. They shook, however slightly, but that was enough to know the barrier wasn't invincible.

Then somehow, you knew you wanted a change, but you didn't know what. Then you decided you wanted to live on your own like the other humans did. Like a few of the other Pokemon here started to do. You didn't want to be a Yamper sniffing after your trainer's scent anymore.

Each intruding thought weakened Isobel, clouding her vision. She couldn't give up, though. Yet moving through the telekinesis was like swimming through jelly.

But why are you here now? What reason do you have to live other than acting the lone wolf? You waste away your days on pointless entertainment and the bottle when you're not working, and when you are working, your mind's in another place. You don't even want to be there. Why sell yourself out?

Isobel grit her teeth, breathing in and out, in and out, trying to keep focus. First, her hands shook. Then her arms. Then the rest of her body trembled. She was almost there, she could feel it.

Even behaving like another human is just an act for you. You're still that same Yamper, chasing after another dream humans gave you. You have no ideals as an individual Pokemon. You have no identity, even less than a trainer's Pokemon. You're no one. You're nothin—

"SHUT UP!"

Isobel's fists broke through, throwing a quadruple Mega Punch at Admirari's chest. The Hatterene fell back, coughing and panting. The psychic force had lifted. Despite her exhaustion, Isobel pounced onto her, pinning her to the ground with one set of arms, ready to pound her face in with the other.

"You dare…"

Admirari winced and her face morphed into another Pokemon's, from a Hatterene to some horrid mix between a Machamp and a Grimmsnarl. The Grimmsnarl's fangs poked through the Machamp's cheek, grown like mutations. It was a monster, yet the Machamp half looked just like Isobel. But this wasn't her. It was—

Isobel punched again, pounding at the hybrid on the floor. Punch, pound, smack. Every fist thrown at that thing's face brought back memories, good and bad. Times spent partying after winning a gym battle. Times spent wandering through the routes at night alone when Isobel didn't know what to do with herself. Dancing with that Hitmontop when she found her groove. Shouting at the same Pokemon when he didn't respect her personal space. Feeling alone even though she was together with the group. Feeling like something was missing even though she had everything before her. Feeling like she stood in her trainer's shadow whenever she won. Not being able to express to her trainer how she felt or what little she understood about her own emotions.

She didn't stop. She wanted to, yet deep down, it activated that part of her she didn't want to admit: that urge to fight. That warmth inside her. Why did she pretend not to like this feeling? Asserting her power over a weaker being gave her such a rush. But she didn't want this. This gut feeling that she had to fight. She wasn't a monster. She was her own Pokemon. She had agency. She didn't make it this far to make it on her own just to give into her instincts, right? Right?

What are you even doing here, Isobel? You don't belon—

The referee's whistle blew. Isobel came back to reality. Admirari lay before her, crumpled on the floor, back into a Hatterene. Her senses must've been scrambled by the psychic attack.

"Alright, the match is over! Trevor here is the victor!"
 
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Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
Oops, I took too long to review chapter 1 and now you've already updated. My bad.

This story is pretty interesting if I'm being honest you did. A good job of making Isobel's character organic and relatable. We are able to understand the kind of pokemon she is and why she does things the way she does.

It seems she retired from pokemon battling because her former trainer was repeatedly dismissive of her woes. Even in the phonecall at the end, it didn't appear that Gloria was aware of how Isobel really feels and it's like she thinks Isobel is being unreasonable, which is a shame.

I don't know what's gonna happen next, but I'll be keeping an eye on this for next time.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
Hey Nebs, I'm here for catnip. I'm just reading part one right now, but I'm gonna try and read the rest sometime after part 3 comes out. I don't think I ever got around to reading the original version, so I'm going in virtually blind. With that out of the way, let's get started.

No, she wanted to prove she could strike it out on her own. Where else did she have good enough wifi to stream the latest Scyther High episodes?
I see what you did there.

A lot of jobs for engineering, for instance, required more training than just having brute strength. There were a lot of creative jobs, but she never considered herself one of those artsy-fartsy types. The most she was qualified to be was a sandwich artist. Then there was something else, something that made one of her hands twitch.
I like this paragraph, as it double serves as an example of what types of jobs are offered in the pokejob system, while also giving us some insight into Isobel's character and prior experience.

She only read the '8,000 Pokedollars' part, since that would've been enough to cover her for the month.
Oh no. It looks like "always read the fine print" is also something they didn't go over in her classes...

Two stalls faced opposite each other. One was a human ice cream vendor named Vanilluxuries. The other was an Appletun and Alcremie duo named Slurpuff All You Want, serving up cream-topped slices of apple pie with the assistance of a Cinderace.
Good old groan-inducing puns.

Still, it was nice to see other Pokemon like her working, even if it already existed in other forms before the system took off. The initiative just gave Pokemon the extra push to make a living out of it. Still, Isobel had to leave before the scent of that alleyway lured her away from her job.
The sentence structure here is kinda repetitive, with two sentences starting with "Still," in rapid succession. I don't think that was intentional, but I could be wrong.

Aside from that, she needed that fix, that charge she got whenever a hit connected in those matches.
Hmmmmm.......

Seeing that kid smile filled the void in her heart. And if he went home taking her advice to heart, then that would've been her own little victory.
This was just straight up adorable.

Nope, her phone vibrated just as she positioned her arms on the weights. From the ringtone of the Pokemon anime's first opening, she knew who it was. Crap. She didn't think to call her at all for the past

month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.
Looks like your paragraphing messed up here.

"Oh, er…" her trainer Gloria said. "Just wanted to know if you've settled in okay."
I believe it should be "her trainer, Gloria, said." I could be wrong on this one since it can be done with or without commas and a brief search to check myself didn't give a direct answer. But it feels like commas would be more intuitive in this case.

Her fists shook, which she took deep breaths for.
This sentence feels just a little bit off to me.

So, to start out, I really like what I've read so far. Isobel just feels like that everyday person that you want to root for (except, you know, she's got four arms 8P). She's not perfect, she has her vices, but she's just trying to get by. You do a great job of establishing her as a likeable character. Sure, she has her vices. But in general she seems like a good mon at heart. And the details and scenes that you've chosen to include say a lot both about the world, and who she is as a character.

I think the only issue I really have, and this is more of a nitpick to me than anything, is that the opening feels a bit abrupt to me. It does its job of setting up the scene, setting up Isobel as a character, and setting up what point she's at when the story starts, but the transition from those last two paragraphs to the next scene just feels a little sudden? I kind of feel the same for the last line of the section. To be fair, it does leave the chapter on a bit of a suspenseful cliffhanger, so I figure that was intentional.

But that's really the only complaint I have! I definitely want to finish this up, but with the next part coming in just a few days, I'm gonna hold off and then check it out sometime in the near future. Until then. Take care!
 
Chapter 3 - Who Am I?

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Chapter 3 - Who Am I?

Admirari had fainted, but was still in one piece. Yet Isobel's hands still shook. They still yearned for something to hit. No, she couldn't do this. She was in control of her instincts. Isobel pulled herself up and got back to her original spot before the battle, putting her remaining strength into her steps.

Those golf claps returned, even less enthusiastic than before. Trevor didn't even have his phone glued to his hands. Bronze wasn't there either, presumably back in his Pokeball. Nil looked worried there, not for the match, but for Admirari. Isobel fell to the floor, catching her breath. If Trevor had any potions in his pocket, now would've been a good chance to use them, though perhaps that was being too optimistic. To her surprise, he came up to her, handing her a potion to spray over herself.

The aching disappeared, which was better, but Isobel would've had to walk the rest off.

"Well, damn, congrats." He smiled, though it looked the same as the one performed for the Snap!App. "I really owe you one for all of this."

She didn't crack a smile, but at least it didn't get her to pull the opposite. He sounded sincere enough anyway. Remembering she couldn't talk, she patted his pocket, gesturing to his wallet.

"Ah, yeah, sure." He turned to Nil, stepping towards his rival as Nil tended to Admirari with a potion of his own. Soon, she was able to sit back up. Immediately, she went over to Isobel, scowling at her.

"What was that?" Admirari growled. "You went berserk there."

"Says you!" Isobel tried to control her tone. "You just turned my own thoughts against me!"

"I did no such thing!" She sighed and backed away, looking to Nil. "In any case, I did have a good fight with the Machamp. I'll see you at the centre."

"Of course." With that, Admirari teleported out of the picture, leaving the three on their own.

Nil extended one hand towards Trevor; the other hand's nails had bite marks, nearly gnawed off but still hanging there. Trevor stared at it for a moment, then his plastic expression came back, whipping out his phone again to take a selfie with the two of them. Isobel stayed out of the frame as she slipped her shoes back on, trying to wrap her head around what Admirari had said. At that point, Trevor's slang faded into white noise for her.

While this happened, the audience members started leaving, including those from Trevor's side.

"Honestly, he's such a tool in person, I can't believe..." one said as they exited. Trevor either didn't hear it or pretended not to hear it since his expression didn't change.

After they finished, they walked out, and all the while, Isobel wondered when the two would finally make the damn deal so she could get back home with her moolah. Once they were out of sight of the arena and back into the facilities of the battle park, the trainer duo came up close once more. With little comment, Nil handed the bills to Trevor, which disappeared into his wallet.

"It was a good fight," Nil said, his cool complexion warming a little. "Look, I know times are tough for you right now. And when it comes to striking out on your own—"

"Don't talk about that." Trevor scowled, backing away from the garbed mystic. Nil just shrugged and went back to his neutral expression.

"Suit yourself. Well, best of luck to your career, however that goes." Nil put his hands in his pockets and walked off, leaving the two alone at last.

Isobel's prize was just out of reach. She didn't know what Trevor was being so coy about, but it added a new fishy aura to him. Well, even fishier than before. Once Nil was out of earshot and eyeshot, Isobel glared at Trevor.

"Look, I dunno what you're plannin', but whatever it is, I want my money now."

"Yeah, about that…" All the colour drained from his face; he tugged at the chains hanging from his neck. "Look, I'm in hot water right now. Can I, um, pay you back later?"

Isobel took a few seconds to process that, then laughed in disbelief.

"Aw, man, you can't be serious." She shook her head. "After all this... no, just no."

"Yeah, I know." His expression wasn't lying that time, but that did nothing for her. "I admit, I knew I wouldn't have been able to win if it wasn't for you. And I'm sorry, I really am, but—"

"What, for treatin' me and Bronze like crap the whole time?" Another chuckle. "Yeah, you better be freakin' sorry, man."

"You don't understand!" He waved his hands, either shielding himself from her incoming wrath or trying to explain himself better. "I need every penny I can get, I'm flat out broke!"

"Says the guy wearing gold."

"That, uh, that's for the Snap! B-but, it's okay, it's okay. I'll give you your money once I've paid my lot off, I promise."

She tried to pull herself together, keeping her shaking fists behind her.

"That's not how this works. How should I trust that you're not gonna run off with everything after what you've done?"

He took a deep breath, clutching his chest.

"I-I don't understan— okay, just listen, please!"

"Enough." Isobel took a deep breath and stepped closer to him, looking down at his snivelling figure. "I haven't put up with your crap just so you could tell me this. I've got payments to make too, y'know."

"But—"

That was one too many buts. Isobel grabbed his shirt, tugging him by the collar.

"Listen, you fuckhead!" Isobel shouted, tightening her grip. "I scratch your back, you scratch mine, just like you'd do with anyone else! So pay me now or I'll seriously dunk your ass in a Sharpedo tank!"

"You—you can't!"

Isobel growled, grabbing his chain like a Yamper collar. "Then give me my—"

"Help! Help! I'm being attacked, help!"

Isobel froze, relaxing her grip. No, he wouldn't have stooped so low, but he totally did, as the commotion attracted a crowd of trainers.

"Please, help!"

"You shut your—"

A ball of aura darted towards her. Isobel had to let go of Trevor to avoid it, and he unfortunately got away. She would've chased after him if it wasn't for a black-vested Lucario approaching her. He was a patrol guard, fitted with a badged uniform that covered his spikes.

"Ma'am," Lucario said, "I'm not having another Pokemon fight a human on my watch."

She stepped back. What had she gotten herself into?

"B-but I—"

He raised his paw, which flared with blue energy. "You know how serious this is, right?"

Isobel wasn't there. This wasn't happening. Wait, she could've explained hersel—

No, you idiot, he won't believe you! Fight back, you coward, fight! You're fixing for one anyway!

No, she couldn't do that either. The only other option that sprung to mind was to get the hell away from there.

She ran: dodging people, dodging Pokemon, dodging aura spheres. It all went so fast. Isobel dashed through the streets, running through alleyways, hoping to shake the security off. She kept running, even though his footsteps no longer pounded the floor from behind. Then she stopped, catching her breath.

That Lucario still could've picked out her aura, though. She wasn't safe. Yet she hit a dead end. She had nowhere to hide. She tried to find anywhere she could escape to, but found nothing.

A moment passed as sense caught up to her. That Lucario had stopped chasing her. But why? He knew where she was. She didn't want to stick around long enough to find out. Maybe she could've told him about Trevor, but—

Isobel kicked a trash can over, muttering human curses under her breath. What a Machump she was. She could've avoided all of this if she had calmed down. Now she had no idea where Trevor was. She could complain to the PokeJobs site and get compensation there, but by the time she would've gotten it back, she probably would've been evicted by then.

Great, a wonderful way to cap off a wonderful day. She was all alone in that smelly, dark alleyway.

She faced the alleyway's exit as hundreds of glass pathways emerged before her. Where she'd go, whether she could've scrounged up enough to pay back the rent in time, if she'd move back in with Gloria, if she took a gamble and travelled the world. And out of all of them, she didn't know what to do, just like the Hatterene had said. All the junctions shattered before her, leading to one exit out of the alleyway through a path of shattered glass. The long way back home.

* * *​

After a lengthy bike ride, Isobel swung the flat door open and slammed it shut with the same force. If her neighbours complained, she didn't care. She was glad to be back home. Her drab, compact, and messy home.

In her morning routine, she didn't notice it as much, but the apartment needed a deep clean. Beer cans lay crumpled on the floor. Empty protein buckets and dirty dishes sat in random places on the kitchenette. Cereal boxes piled up on top of the recycling bin. Perhaps if someone else lived here or helped her out…

She shook her head. Who cared if the place was unclean? It was messy, sure, but it was her mess. She could take care of herself. Right?

Crap. Her hands shook again. Why was this happening? They didn't have lives of their own, right? No, she was in control. Deep breaths. Was there any beer left? No, there wasn't. It had been a few days since her last grocery delivery.

Isobel didn't want to leave the house. No more interacting with those stupid humans for a day. Yet she needed something else to take the edge off. Then she remembered she had saved something for an occasion like this.

Once, she'd convinced a stranger to buy her cigarettes using money she had lent to them. Most Pokemon couldn't drink or smoke, that much was true, since it wasn't good for them and they hadn't adapted to it to begin with. No clerk wanted to be liable for a Pokemon's poor health even though other humans freely poisoned themselves. Regardless, she'd bought it out of impulse, in case she was curious to try it out. Here, she was more than curious: she wanted a taste of humanity, to prove to herself she was still just like them.

Isobel fished through the kitchen drawer until she found what she was looking for: a lighter and a pack of Blue Numels. Everything was going to be okay; she just needed to get some smoke in her lungs.

Isobel charged over to the balcony, letting the cool breeze in as she slid the glass door open and closed. She leaned against the railing, looking at Circhester from up on the hill. Even from a distance, Circhester had that historical charm to it, especially when bathed in that orange evening light. It would've been calming if it wasn't for everything else.

Her hands shook again as she reached for the pack of cigs, still wrapped in plastic. Last chance for returns? Nah, she tore it open, exposing its contents.

Isobel took a smoke out of the pack and flicked the lighter a few times until it produced a naked flame. Wind cut through, which threatened to slice it away, but an extra hand shielded it from the breeze. Fire touched paper, and there it was: Isobel's first cigarette. Her shaky hand dragged it to her lips, just shy of singeing her grey skin. Puff, breathe in, hold, breathe out, wait, no, it was too much.

Isobel spluttered; the back of her eyes stinging. Ash lingered on her tongue. Bleh. She scrunched it onto the railing, putting the damn thing out, and flicked it out into the open, out of sight, out of mind. Even then, that damn taste was still in her mouth. Now, she was left with overpriced poison she didn't even want anymore. There was good poison, like the booze, and then there was bad poison, like this one. And just like today, she tried something new, only for it to blow up in her face.

She backed into the glass door behind her. All four of her hands tugged at her head. Then she was on the floor, knees tucked to her chest. Isobel was all alone on that cold balcony.

Stupid. She was so fucking stupid. Stupid for thinking she could've struck out on her own, and stupid for taking up this deal to begin with. What were these classes even for? Why did she ask Gloria to set her up with lessons in the first place? All that time spent studying, all that time spent not battling, all that time spent not making herself useful to the team, all so she could struggle in an even worse position than before. Why?

She didn't know.

That Hatterene, no, Admirari back there had nothing to do with this. Those thoughts earlier were all her own. Isobel had all the answers; she just didn't want to admit them.

From the first day she moved in, there was always that sinking feeling of 'what now?' She spent her first week sightseeing, wandering the streets, the parks, and finally checking out the Hero's Bath museum. Those were nice, but eventually, the novelty dried up, like how she ran out of money. That was her first wake-up call.

For days, she had surfed through the PokeJobs board, until she found a few odd jobs for a removal service. The work there was tolerable. The people were friendly, the other Machoke too, and they appreciated having a stronger Machamp like her on the team. That would've been perfect for her.

Except it wasn't. The pay itself wasn't all that impressive. In part because heavy lifting was easier for her kind, plus there was a culture of strength-training Machoke over paying them handsomely. It was good for building up muscles, but what was the point if she wasn't in the league anymore? She felt the same as when she was with Gloria.

She had left for greener pastures, then business was slow for a while. A stint at two different retail stores was enough for Isobel to learn she hated customer service. Not the 'helping people' part, just everything else surrounding it. The tedium, the crappy management, being out of depth with the petty things humans got hung up on like how presentable they looked for numerous stuffy occasions like work meetings and parties. At least with the new sign spinning job, she snuck in a bit of me-time, but that was still an escape from herself.

Underneath all of that, who was Isobel? She was at sea, getting swept up by the waves when she needed to find a damn raft to climb onto. There was no land to swim towards, only time as it stretched for days and days like the ocean. More time than Isobel knew what to do with, especially once she was on her own. All her friends and relatives were somewhere else. Yet she promised herself she'd be strong, for her sake and theirs. She didn't need to rely on anyone, especially not her trainer or another human. She liked it this way. Except she didn't.

No, she hated it. Hated being alone. Hated, hated, hated it. She wanted help. No man, or Pokemon, was an island. Even with Gloria, she made friends of her teammates, and, well, Gloria was a friend too. She still was. Then why didn't she talk to her after all this time until Gloria called?

She won't listen to you, she's ashamed of you, not being able to look after yourself. Just like your old chums back home.

She didn't want to remember that, but this couldn't go on. This voice was a part of herself she could no longer ignore. It seemed hellbent on self-destruction, and the only way Isobel would get past it was to face it head-on.

Isobel shut her eyes, trying to visualise this internal voice.

* * *​

She was a Machop again, standing in an inky black room. This voice manifested as a Grimmsnarl, towering over her as he bared his fangs.

"G-get away from me!" Isobel held her puny fists up. Before she could even fight back, the Grimmsnarl wrapped his hairy tendrils around her.

"What are you even doing here, Isobel? You don't belong here."

She fought against it, squirming and writhing in the matted hair.

"This world is a mess. You don't know where you stand with humans and other Pokemon. Pokemon like you can prance around like you know what you're doing while this system still binds you and sends the dumber ones to slaughterhouses. And you can't change any of it. Makes you want to give up, doesn't it?"

Isobel thrashed more and more, trying to find a way out of this hairy jungle and its tangling vines. That was until the hair started wrapping itself around her head.

"You love to fight. It's in your blood. Don't pretend you're anything different. It's the only thing that makes sense in this crazy world."

Then her mouth.

"You'll just be drifting from dead-end job to dead-end job. You have no passion. You don't truly want independence, you just want validation, that you're an adult, whatever that means in Machamp terms. It's not like anyone back home would've cared."

Then the rest of her body, encasing her in a follicular sarcophagus, save for her eyes.

"Why do you even need to go through all this trouble? So you can keep impressing those meatsacks even though you're nothing special? You think you're hot shit just because you're on your own in the big city."

It was right: she wasn't anything special. Nothing special. Not important. Not outstanding at all. No one would be proud of her. She wasn't worthy of love from anyone.

She sank further and further into the abyss, everlasting black surrounding her. Blacker than black. There were no thoughts left. Everything turned a blank as all light faded. Then a faint image emerged above her: a dwelling made of wood and stone home to many mixes of fighting types.

She saw herself years back as a Machop, way before all this started with Gloria. Isobel trained alongside her parents, two other Machoke, as they punched holes into piles of stones they had set up as practise dummies. She joined in, only to nurse her hand afterwards.

She knelt down, looking guiltily towards the two. Then they lowered themselves to her level and patted her shoulders.

They spoke, but no words came out. Still, their tone soothed her. At that point, she didn't have the strength to do what they did, but they kept reassuring her that her skills would come over time. There was no point shaming her when she still had room to grow. The rest of the dwelling would've said as much.

They fought alongside her, giving her a basis for her own fighting style. They accompanied her on trips to mountainous peaks where all of Galar stretched out before her. They did everything. Yet still, there was discord in her heart. She wanted to be stronger, like the other Machop, and yet she wasn't. Being herself wasn't enough for her.

One day, they asked if she wanted to go on a journey with a trainer. It wasn't exactly their place to meddle with humans, but at low points in their own youths, they went on journeys of their own and came back stronger, both in mind and body.

Isobel obliged. One day, she'd come back a better mon. Yet she never returned to the dwelling.

The image faded, and all was dark again. Dark except for a pinprick of light way up above.

"Stay down there. You're worthless, just like me. Just like you made me."

Worthless. So what?

Why did she have to prove herself to anyone, let alone a human, to feel worthy of anything? There was no one she wanted to live for but herself. She liked these weird comforts and curiosities. She liked being among lots of various people and Pokemon. And she liked to help others. The kid. Bronze. That was when she felt her best today. And she wanted to feel it again.

The light beamed down, loosening the blindfold.

Maybe she still had those fighting bones in her body. But it didn't define her. Nor did the human stuff. Still, there was plenty she liked about trading blows with other Pokemon. Living in the present. Testing her strength. Just the sensation of pushing her own mind and body to the limit. Nothing wrong with a bit of play here and there. Her parents would've said the same. Then why didn't she come back to them, like she didn't with Gloria until today?

That's what she wanted to find out. Years of fighting, and she still never found that inner strength, that full balance she needed. Now that strength was coming back to her, like rays of sunshine beaming over her.

The light flooded the void, and with the hair no longer covering her mouth, she could breathe again.

The Grimmsnarl faced her, baring his fangs. He chopped downwards, slamming his hand against Isobel. One strike would've pounded her to dust. Yet Isobel blocked the strike, catching the attack between her palms.

"You're right!" she said. "Battling is a part of me! And I didn't wanna admit it, but now I do. I'm sorry I pushed you aside!"

The hair covering her unravelled, and the two Pokemon turned into white light, brightening up that void. Isobel had evolved into a Machoke, and the Grimmsnarl had devolved into a Morgrem. The figure no longer towered above, and had shrunk to half her height. He whimpered, tugging on his locks of hair.

"I-I didn't mean to say those hurtful things. I just didn't like being ignored. I'm sorry too."

She didn't need to be angry with him or herself. Isobel knelt down, extending her hand to shake his paw. Then the void shattered into obsidian shards, letting the light in as it consumed the room.

* * *​

Isobel's eyes snapped open as her phone vibrated. There were four messages from Gloria.

'today at 6:31pm from OG Gloria'

'Oh hi'

'Saw sum of yr fight, u kicked ass!'

'R u ok?'

'Sry abut b4'

Isobel laid there for a moment, letting the night air cool her down. She didn't remember what she was doing before she opened her eyes, so it must've been a dream. The episode from before had still rattled her a bit. Breathe in. Breathe out. Eventually, she relaxed her grip on herself, and, well, got a grip on herself, not that she felt any better. She needed to talk to Gloria, properly this time.

Isobel went inside and padded to the sink to pour herself some water. All that time and she hadn't realised how dry her throat got from the smoking. Or from something else while she had that episode. Downing it in one gulp didn't do much to soothe her, but it got some of the taste out. With a sigh, she tapped the phone a few times and pressed it to the side of her head as she sat on the bed. Hopefully, her trainer would pick it up if she wasn't busy.

"Hey," Gloria said as music hummed in the background. "How did it go?"

"Terrible. But I'm glad to hear your voice after all this."

"Same. But… I thought you won."

"I did." Isobel huffed, clasping her head. A migraine was coming on just thinking about it. "Didn't matter anyway, the trainer ran off with all the money."

"All the money… excuse me, what?!"

"You heard me. Didn't give me a penny."

"Are you kidding me?" Footsteps thumped from her side of the phone. "He can't not pay you, you should take it to the police!"

"Well, they chased me last time for tryin' to talk some sense into this guy." She crossed one set of arms. "I'm not turning myself in for this stupid crap."

"No, but…" Another sigh. "That really sucks, Isobel. Look, whatever money you need to cover the rest of this month, I can—"

"Please don't." Isobel grit her teeth. "You're not bailing me out."

"Oh come on, I'm doing it because I want to, and what happened was really unfair."

"Yeah, I'll say. But please, don't just throw your own money away for it. And I'll figure something out, I'm sure I can. And that's not why I called you."

"It wasn't?"

Why did she seem surprised by that? It's not like Isobel asked for much help with this moving-out period. Isobel slumped to the bed, sighing.

"I don't wanna go back to the way things were. But I also think I made a mistake moving out."

Gloria kept silent.

"Well?" Isobel expected a response, but piped in before Gloria could take her turn. "I guess… I'm just not sure if I'm happier than I was. And I thought I would be. The minute I signed up for that programme, I dreamed of having my own space. Not just some rocks or a tent, but a place I could put stuff up in. Now I'm here, it's…"

"Different?"

"No. I feel the exact same. I still don't know what the hell I'm doing with my life."

"Who says you needed to know?"

"I dunno…" She rubbed her forehead. There wasn't a good answer for that, though it was on the tip of her tongue. A part of that dream came back to her, and she sighed again. "Just myself, I guess. Even before I met you, I set my hopes about myself way too high. Just wanted to come back stronger to my folks."

Gloria hummed, then took a deep breath.

"I get it. Mind you, even I don't know that much about what your family was like."

"It's been so long since I've seen them; I thought it didn't matter."

"I mean, family is family. I still think about what my parents are doing and if they're pleased I became a trainer instead of a doctor like they first planned."

Isobel couldn't help but chuckle at that, though that quickly subsided. What would her own parents think about her after everything was said and done? Now she had mixed with humans for so long and gained the ambitions of one?

"Do you think I should see 'em?" She rubbed one free set of hands together. "I dunno, it's been a while, so it might be really awkward, or…" The right words lingered on her tongue.

"I think they'd be glad to see you, and it'd probably be good for you to get out of the city."

"Maybe…"

"I mean, I think it's great that you stuck it out for that course and wanted to live somewhere you liked. I don't really think you sound very happy about this, though."

"It might just be this crappy situation, but no, I'm not."

"So… what would make you happy, then?"

Isobel turned in her bed, thinking of a quick response. It was something she always took for granted, yet it was still an abstract concept. How did she define happiness, anyway? From the pleasure something gave her, or the feeling of long-term satisfaction?

Then she remembered another part of the dream. The way her parents helped her. The way Isobel liked helping others. Those both felt nice. And she couldn't deny that there was always a part of her that wanted to battle. So why was she ashamed of admitting it? Now was as good of a time as any.

"The odd thing is, I still actually like fighting, after all this time."

"Yeah, it's just all the crap surrounding it you don't like. Understandable."

"Exactly. So, I thought about becoming a coach for other Pokemon. I could still fight sometimes to make my point, but I'd also be passing my knowledge down to others. I dunno, do you—" She stopped herself. Right, approval from Isobel wasn't needed, but it would've been nice to hear her thoughts. "Sounds good?"

"Totally! You helped mine out when a certain strategy wasn't clicking for them. Didn't she?"

Gloria called to her side of the phone. A pair of footsteps shuffled.

"Yeah, Izzy!" Hitmontop Eddy piped in. "Those flyin' types can't keep up with my moves now!"

It was good to hear Eddy's voice too. Maybe when things were less stressful, she'd give him a call through Gloria. At least, if he wasn't dancing, since he presumably went back to his spot where music played in the background.

"So, how about it? I'm sure there's plenty of room for you to do that. Times are changing, especially in this region."

Isobel scratched her chin. Yeah, saying it out loud, it only confirmed her resolve. Maybe she could've set up a page covering techniques, or arranged lessons for Pokemon, or other trainers. Video was all the rage now, wasn't it? Maybe that could've gotten her message across and would help influence the next generation of trainers and Pokemon alike.

Influence. Now that was a word she wanted to wipe from her memory.

Someone knocked outside, bringing Isobel's attention away from the phone.

"Hmm, I'll have to look it up," she said as she got out of bed to open the door. "I knew it was an option, but back when I did the tests, I didn't know that I was interest—"

Bronze and that patrol Lucario stood outside. Her heart raced.

"Uh, crap, can I call you back? Someone's here."

"Oh yeah, sure. Bye."

"And, uh, thanks a lot for listening. I really appreciate it."

"Anytime," Gloria said with an audible smile as she hung up.

With her out of the picture for now, it was round two against that patrolling Lucario. Isobel was at a blank there. Was he going to arrest her?

"Um, sorry, I'm—"

"No need to explain," the patrolmon said, looking down to Bronze. "This Thievul told me everything I need to know."

"I-I'm sorry I attacked that human! I just got so heated..."

She trailed off as the Lucario shook his head.

"Not to worry. Well, we don't exactly approve of betting in matches like these, though it's too late to really confiscate the money, so that evens out. And from what this fella told me, you got swindled out of a fair deal. Theft is a crime, and with you, well—" he patted his covered spike—"I was only doing my job. I've just seen bad things happen between trainers and Pokemon before."

Isobel sighed a breath of relief. She couldn't deny that, but what was he doing here?

"Well, in any case, I might as well give you what you're owed." The patrolmon took an envelope out of a satchel and handed it over to Isobel. "I know the PokeJobs system ain't perfect, but we've got to look out for each other, don't we?"

She opened the contents, revealing a stack of money, which she widened her eyes at. She thumbed through them, counting them in her head. 8 notes, 8,000 Pokedollars, just as initially promised. She didn't know how to process it at first. It was her pay, but having it brought back after all the crap she went through...

The Lucario cleared his throat. "You can thank this fella for bringing it to my attention."

"Oh, um, it was nothing." Bronze's tail wagged, betraying his meek expression. "Besides, it was the least I could do for—"

Isobel knelt down and hugged Bronze. It wasn't very dignified for people to cry. Especially not in Galar when the usual response was to put on a brave face and get on with it. But she wasn't a human, and Machamp like her were more open about their own emotions. So for the first time in a while, Isobel couldn't help herself, sniffling as Bronze wrapped his paws around her. Her extra hands rubbed the tears from her eyes even as she had Bronze in her clutches.

"T-thank you," she stuttered. "Jeez, the day I cry over somethin' like this…"

"Oh, um, don't mention it."

The two held that embrace for a moment until the Lucario cleared his throat. Isobel gently pulled herself away, sighing in relief.

"Before I go, well, I might as well say this Thievul needs a place to stay for the night."

Isobel cocked her head.

"O-oh, not like that," Bronze said as he shielded his face, "it's… oh, he can explain."

"He would like to leave his trainer. It's not really my department to deal with this issue, so I'll carry it over to those in charge of taking care of Pokemon so he can get properly unregistered later. And they'll also try to help him wherever they can. I don't want to force any obligation on you to let him couch surf, so if you know anyone else that could look after him—"

"Oh, no, it's fine," she said in a heartbeat, "he can stay with me for the night."

As much as she would've liked more explanation from the Lucario, she couldn't have turned Bronze away. So the patrolmon left, leaving the two of them alone. The apartment seemed even messier with the presence of another Pokemon.

"Sorry," Bronze said, "I didn't want to step on your toes, but, well..."

"No biggie, that's what shoes are for, hehe." She rubbed the back of her head. "We can talk about it inside if you wanna make yourself at home."

With that, Bronze entered, and she shut the door. While Bronze sat on the bed, pawing at the white covers, Isobel poured a water bowl for him. She also opened the fridge, hoping beer had magically appeared in there, but there was nothing but a half empty—no, half full carton of milk and some leftover canned Magikarp that smelled funny. A shopping trip was in order at some point.

There was still that taste of that cigarette left behind as she smacked her lips. The rest of the milk would do. She looked back to Bronze as he sprang up and dove into the sheets headfirst like it was snow.

"Um..." Isobel started.

"Oh!" Bronze's moustache bristled. "Sorry, force of habit."

"Nah, not a problem." Isobel laid the bowl on the bed, which Bronze happily lapped at while she sipped her drink. Still tasted fresh, which overpowered that awful ashy aftertaste. "So, you left Trevor."

"Yes." He looked to the balcony window, grumbling. "When he let me out to feed me, I caught onto the fact he didn't pay you and, well, I wasn't having it. Even if he didn't understand my rant, I think he realised how unreasonable he was being and let me go. At least, I hope so."

"Good riddance. I bet you're glad to be out of his hair."

Bronze flopped flat on his belly, tail sluggishly swishing on the bed. "I dunno. He wasn't… horrible, I guess. That money thing was it for me though." His eyes lowered. "I just stuck with him because I didn't know what else to do. Didn't wanna go back to the wild either."

Isobel hummed, surprised to hear of his origins.

"Don't tell me you put up with his shit all of the time without getting your own back."

Bronze tilted his head at the human curse, but continued.

"Well, not exactly. Humans like to wear these stupid shoes sometimes, I dunno, because they're more expensive and they like to show them off. Not that it makes much difference since they smell either way."

Isobel winced at that. "Ew. Go on."

"So Trevor bought these shoes one day, and he had to borrow even more money he didn't have for that. I heard his father cut him off, or something."

"Makes sense."

"I dunno much else about the human world outside my trainer, but even I knew he shouldn't have been wasting it on stuff he didn't need. He could've fed lots of Nickit cubs with that money. So guess what I did when he put those on."

"Mmm?" Isobel hummed as she took another swig from the carton.

"I peed all over them."

Her belly lurched, and she spat all the milk out into a stream, which splattered on the floor. Isobel clutched her stomach as she guffawed. Bronze seemed surprised at first, then joined in the amusement with high pitched squeals. This lasted for a few seconds. Once the laughter died down, Bronze slumped to the bed.

"This stinks. I thought I would've been happier once I left, but—" he buried his head in his paws, shaking—"I don't know what I'm going to do now. It must be nice, having your own den like this to yourself. You said it had its perks."

"Yeah, but it has its downsides." Isobel gulped the rest of the milk down, then stood up to wipe the mess from the floor with some paper towels. "Well, I like my own freedom, but I feel ya there." She frowned. "It ain't nice to try and make it alone."

Bronze uncovered his face, though it still had that look of worry. "I guess so."

Both of their stomachs rumbled, bringing them out of their funk. Isobel stopped mopping, stifling a titter. "Crap, I forgot to eat."

"Me too. I ran out just as Trevor was about to pour some for me."

"Well, that makes two hungry Pokemon." Isobel quickly finished cleaning up the last of the milk and stretched her arms. She had money in her pocket now, and some to spare before she had to turn the overdue payment to the bank, but that could wait until tomorrow when it reopened. "Whatever happens from here on out, I can at least treat you to some grub for now."

"O-oh, no, I can't ask that of you."

"No, seriously, I owe you one." She gave him a big smile. "You're a lifesaver, Bronze."

His whiskers twitched at that. "Well, you were nice to me, so..."

"Well then." She slipped on a four-sleeved jacket and headed for the door. "C'mon, it's my treat. Whaddya say?"

Bronze cocked his head, considering the request, and then joined Isobel as she turned the handle. Both their futures were uncertain at that point. For Bronze, the first steps into life without a trainer lay ahead. For Isobel, the challenge of carving out a niche as a coach, and possibly coming back to her old home. But those were worries for tomorrow. And whatever happened, at least they could face them together.

Isobel looked at her apartment one more time before she left for dinner. Even though it was messy and small, suddenly, having Bronze around made it feel less empty. She'd give it a good clean when she got back. Then there'd be enough room for herself, the Thievul, and the Morgrem in her mind.
 
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Cresselia92

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
She/Her/Hers
Oi there! Here I am with my Catnip!

I really wanna apologize for taking so long for this review. Real life matters stink, heh. But hey, at least I managed to finish this task at long last! :D

As usual, I'm gonna start with real time reactions to various parts of the story, before going more in detail with general comments and stuff in the end.

With this said, here we go!

---

Isobel held the letter marked 'Urgent' in one of her four hands. The second hand scratched her head. The third one held a bowl of Lucari-O's cereal. The fourth hastily shovelled spoonfuls of oats and chocolate chips into her mouth.

This letter was addressed to Machamp Isobel, the name she assigned herself once she joined the postal registry. Even without opening it, she knew it meant her rent was late and she needed to pay her dues soon.

Real problems for real Pokémon. That already makes her very relatable.

Where else did she have good enough wifi to stream the latest Scyther High episodes? She could've spent the rest of her days finding out if Night Terror and Scythe ever hooked up, since they were her favourite ship.

Whoa! A teen drama featuring Scyther or something like that?

...Must watch it. Is it on Banetteflix or something? :p

because they were comfy and easy to wear



It got noisier the further she ventured into the city. The air was filled with the various squawks of Pokemon, the songs the buskers played, and the blaring of the traffic. This city was filled with chaos. And she loved it.

"The air was filled" and "the city was filled" comes across as a bit repetitive to me. Maybe you could consider tweaking the sentence "This city was filled with chaos" with "This city brimmed with chaos" or something along those lines?

Teams of various flying types were dispersed throughout the streets. One group had perched themselves on telephone wires, scouting the area for pesky feral Wingull that snatched up other people's food.

Darn! I wish we had similar services here where I live. They would be so useful!

Both humans and Pokemon filled one market with street food stalls, even competing with each other in one case. Two stalls faced opposite each other. One was a human ice cream vendor named Vanilluxuries. The other was an Appletun and Alcremie duo named Slurpuff All You Want, serving up cream-topped slices of apple pie with the assistance of a Cinderace.

I quite like this part, and it would be ironic if most Pokémon went toward the human stall while most humans preferred the Pokémon stall.

But Isobel didn't consider herself the best cook either, as she mostly subsisted off of pre-cooked pasta and Magikarp.

Sounds delish.

View attachment 531

Any other human could've taken her place, sure, but what human could do that while staring at their phone at the same time?

Yeah, and it wouldn't surprise me if hiring a Pokémon was cheaper, too (maybe as a reference to salary disparity in real life). I mean, that kind of job would probably be nothing for a regular Fighting-type, let alone a Machamp.

Speaking of which, Isobel surfed from video to video. One was a highlight reel of a famous Pokemon-trainer duo whose Grimmsnarl carried the whole match. She always found that hairy sweat mop gross, but their fighting prowess was admirable. She even saw bits of herself in him.

(...)

Even if she wasn't in the league any more, if she had the chance to, she would've taken the Grimmsnarl on just for kicks. Perhaps on her own terms that time, and not as a trainer's Pokemon.

Ah, yes. Grimmsnarl, the male Pokémon version of Bayonetta. No doubt that may look gross. (Also, nice little reference to the fact that Machamp and Grimmsnarl usually compete against each other.)

"I will!" He gave a toothy smile "Oh, and can you do that flingy thing again?"

Missing dot here.

"You got it, kid," she said with a thumbs up.

Isobel poured all her attention into the sign for a few energetic spins, then with one graceful arc, launched it up into the air, higher than the building she stood in front of, and caught it. Seeing that kid smile filled the void in her heart. And if he went home taking her advice to heart, then that would've been her own little victory.

Aww. This was so adorable! ♥
"D'aww," Isobel said, mockingly holding a hand to her cheek, "at least buy me dinner first before you flatter me, hun." She paused for a moment, then leaned forward, holding one pair of hands in a praying motion. "Would you buy me dinner?"

"Eh, we'll see."

Can't blame a mon for trying. Still, she left the shop with a heavier wallet than before.

I mean, you could at least offer Isobel a hamburger. :v

Not that she didn't have a trained eye for beefcake, especially for her own evolution line, but she didn't exactly want the attention. So Isobel looked away, pretending not to notice the Machoke duo until they approached, strutting towards her unashamedly like two naked emperors. Did it count as being naked if they had pants on, even if it was made of their own skin?

Hmm... That's a good question. Here's another question: is the belt made of skin, too? 🤔

Nope, her phone vibrated just as she positioned her arms on the weights. From the ringtone of the Pokemon anime's first opening, she knew who it was. Crap. She didn't think to call her at all for the past

month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.

Oh, there's an extra space here. Not gonna lie, this threw me off for a second.

During this downtime, she looked at the app once more to see what the offer was, giving it a complete look instead of a skim-read. What she saw on there made her eyes pop.

Oh, snap. What did you do now, Isobel?

There he was, dressed from head to toe in black designer gear, plus a golden chain hanging by his neck. He was as scrawny as a Scraggy, and looked like he was made of money even though his clothes were as plain as night. And who wore all-black in the summer?

Fun fact: when I first read this, my brain automatically imagined a Clemont clone with brown hair wearing black clothes. I don't know why, but that mental image has stuck with me.

That was a good point. While she kept that poker face of hers, she wanted to die inside. No, she had to think of something quickly, or else live on a diet of Pokepellets for the rest of her days with Gloria. Well, the Pokepellets part was a lie, but still.

"Oh, no, I have a trainer, she's just… out of town. I thought I'd do her a solid and take on something on my lonesome."

Nice save there, Isobel! 👍

"Pfft, who cares? The refs won't know. But this jerk I'm fighting will know I'm cheating by getting someone else's team member in."

Isobel balled her hands into fists. What had she gotten herself into? "You can't stop me from sayin' stuff, especially if I need to coach yo—"

"Coach me, who do you think you are?" He spat on the ground. "Like you're some master-class trainer. You're just here to carry out whatever moves I give you."

Okay, now I really wonder what was Trevor's plan. Like, he needed a coach, but he also needed to win a bet, so... huh, did he want someone training his Pokémon, or he wanted to borrow a powerful Pokémon and use the whole "coaching thing" as a masquerade to the PokéJobs system?

...Speaking of coaching, you know the actual move Coaching, the Move Tutor attack that boosts an ally's Attack and Defense? Well, Machamp can learn it! Kinda amusing coincidence, isn't it?

But anyway, most of Trevor's account was him showing off his clothes, his cars, both his clothes and cars, and his Pokemon, which he also sometimes dressed in designer wear. He had a Thievul and Raboot by the looks of it, though the Raboot was the only one smiling in the picture alongside their trainer.

Oh, man. He's one of those kids, isn't he?

"Fifty thousand isn't a lot, then?"

"This other guy has 200k. He has clout, believe me."

"So… you're fighting him because he has more followers than you?"

"Part of it, but what's your point?"

Nah, I bet it's partly for the views. The challenges between influencers gather tons of views, after all.

"Oh yeah?" She kicked him in the side, making him fall behind. "Well, I'm calm now."

"C'mon, guys," Trevor said, eyebrows knitted, "get a move on. Don't need one of you down for the count before the fight starts."

Raboot joined her trainer while the Thievul joined Isobel's side.

"Both of them are such jerks," the Thievul said.

Like Trainer like Pokémon, I suppose.

Did that account for Isobel too? She hoped he didn't have a psychic up his sleeve that time.

Don't Jynx it... and yeah, facing an actual Jynx would be bad news, too.

He continued to brag about how his Pokemon would come out on top. It seemed like he was making a point of this, perhaps for the 'clout' as he called it. Trevor's voice was completely phony, along with his movements as he made devil horns with his hands and showed off his bling. The few followers in his audience, when asked to cheer, only did so half-heartedly, clapping like they were at a golf match.

Wanna bet that at the end of everything they will wish they were at a golf match?

"Suck on a Muk, you smelly human!" the Drizzile shouted, which fell on deaf ears. Despite this, Nil seemed to understand the sentiment as he patted him on the back.

Uuuh... y'know, using Muk as a term has given me a weird mental image. Just don't read it backwards...

The ensuing match told Isobel a lot about Trevor's training style. He stubbornly commanded the Raboot to throw fire attacks at the opponent despite her severe disadvantage. She carried out her trainer's orders even though there were multiple opportunities for her to have improvised. She could've dodged quite a few of the attacks, but ended up drinking from the fire hose in more ways than one when Trevor insisted she attack anyway.

By the end of the match, the Rabbot was down for the count, blowing bubbles in the puddles that the Drizzile had formed.

You know, it would have helped somewhat if you showed this part a bit more with some facepalm-worthy examples. Like, maybe there could have been a scene with Raboot Flame Charging into a Water Pulse and getting confused as a result. It would have helped paint a more vivid image of Trevor's horrible training skills.

"Shut it." Trevor stomped his foot on the turf, signalling Bronze to come to his side. Isobel expected him to give a pep talk, but Trevor just pointed to the arena, leaving Bronze to enter the fray on his own. As he walked, his tail dragged behind him on the wet floor.

Oh wow. This guy makes Silver and Paul pale in comparison.

Then, the whole arena went misty, covering Nil and the other half of the audience. Isobel crossed one pair of arms, trying to shield herself from the cold.

"J-just," Trevor chattered, "j-just go in there, slash at anythin' that moves! Do it!"

Bronze cocked his head at Trevor.

Yeah, I'm tilting my head at his lack of common sense, too.

Bronze whimpered and flung himself into the misty fray. Crap, this was bad. All Isobel saw was Bronze flailing wildly at nothing, as if batting at the mist would've made it disappear. But where was the Frosmoth?

"Now!"

The Frosmoth emerged by Nil's command and planted her fangs into Bronze's shoulder. He screamed, slipping and sliding as he tried to shake off the biting bug.

Poor Bronze. :c

"Don't just stand there," Trevor interrupted, "sicc that moth!"

Unless your Thievul is equipped with X-rays, you're asking the impossible here, pal.

Bronze glared at his trainer, then stuck his tongue out at him before turning back to focus on the battle, ears perked up.

Ah! You show it, Bronze!

"Hey," Trevor growled, wagging a finger at Isobel, "what the hell are you playin' at?"

Isobel made a mouth-zipping motion and shrugged. Trevor's face scrunched up even more at that, though she ignored him for now.

I mean, you told her to shut up, so. *shrugs*

"It's working!" Bronze shouted gleefully. Isobel smirked at that as Trevor stepped back. Perhaps that put him in his place.

This is canine nose for you! Smell that bug!

They screeched, making everyone else in the arena flinch at the cacophony. It lasted for a few seconds, then stopped to Isobel's relief, but not to Bronze. As he got up, he wobbled from side to side, struggling to keep himself standing. If her own ears were ringing at that, she couldn't have imagined what it was like for Bronze.

A Bug-type sonic wave hitting a Dark-type's sensitive ears? Yeah, I bet that wasn't pleasant.

It hit, knocking her to the fence on the other side. She had no strength left to fly anymore. And with that, she laid still as Nil went to comfort her. Unlike his opponent, Trevor didn't join in to celebrate his Pokemon's well earned victory, turning the phone to the rest of the arena as he started recording again.

"Wasn't that badass, my Vullies? Don't mess with T-Vul, y'all!"

Oh my goodness! What a joke of a person!

Unbelievable. Isobel's hands twitched, tempted to snatch the phone off him and seismic toss it into the sky.

Please, do it. I'd pay your rent if you do that.

With a sigh, she entered the arena, waiting for Nil to draw out the next Pokemon. Before the battle started, however, Isobel gave Bronze a thumbs up, who smiled for once. That cheer spread to her.

Woooh! You can do it, Isobel!

Instead of whipping out a Pokeball like he did in the previous rounds, Nil whipped out a phone instead, holding it up to his ear.

"Hello. Sorry to call out of the blue, but would you be able to come down to the Circhester Community Arena for a quick fight?"

Someone on the other end talked.

"Doesn't matter. Either way, it'll be my treat."

Trevor tapped his foot, looking at the referee who pretended not to notice him.

"Alright, deal. We're in arena 7." Nil put the phone back in his pocket and waited. A few seconds passed. Still nothing but dead air. Finally, Trevor snapped, about to stomp over to his opponent.

"What the hell do you think you're—"

Oh, nothing. He's just pulling off your same trick on you, my dear jerk. >:3

Hatterene weren't the kind to be messed around with. She had the psychic potency of an Alakazam, the emotion-detecting senses of a Lucario, and the wrath of a Gyarados. Even after all the battles she faced before, Isobel gulped at the sight of this emotionless banshee. Oh, wait, couldn't she have detected fear as well? Now what?

Well, darn! This is double bad!

Admirari smirked, gazing at the two in the arena before levitating back to Nil. Even the way she carried herself in the air was regal, keeping her hat steady as she fluttered from one place to another.

"You expected me to appear out of the blue just for the sake of a fight?" she said with a sneer.

"Not usually." Nil said. "But even you like the odd match or two, don't you?"

"Why, yes." Admirari tilted her head. "That is the cross I bear as a Pokemon. But what's the point of this farce, anyway? You don't even need the money, do you?"

"Not particularly, no. But, well, do you know the sensation you get whenever we meditate in a deprivation tank for hours on end?"

"I don't need that nonsense to meditate. I can do it instantly."

"No, but whenever I do that, I am gambling a part of my own wellbeing to achieve enlightenment in some way. So, now it's come to this, one to one, so close to both victory and defeat..." Nil started chewing his nails, grinning with his eyes. Isobel didn't know why he didn't mention the bet, but she knew full well what was at stake.

In other words, he found himself with the back on a wall and asked for the big guns. Gotcha.

Just before they entered the park, Trevor had mentioned that the bet between them was 40,000, making for 80,000 smackeroonies altogether. Isobel could've taken up driving lessons with that money. Maybe two months worth of rent. Maybe a flight to Alola. And Nil was willing to gamble half of it away because he had a kink about it. Goddamn rich people.

Yep, that's big money. But hey, at least you'll get some of it.

"And in the end, I just want to play a beautiful game. So I will do you a favour." She turned back to her trainer. "May I suggest we both fight on our own terms, Pokemon to Pokemon? This Machamp seems capable."

"No," Trevor said, "I'm her trainer, I have the final say in what's going on."

Yeah, because your directions have helped sooo much, didn't they?

"No, you," the Hatterene butted in. "With an attitude like that, even without seeing a battle of yours myself, you do nothing to convince me you can put up a good fight with your training style."

"But yeah, you're a Pokemon, so you have no right to tell me I suck!"

"Says who?" She levitated to Trevor, towering over him as she looked down at the snivelling trainer. "Let me serve you a slice of the proverbial humble pie. There will be no room for trainers like you in the future, the way you continue. Us Pokemon know better by now, and Galar's better than ever for allowing more progress for us. So be a good boy and let the Machamp decide her own strategy as well."

Trevor backed away, putting his phone in his pocket. For the first time, he seemed rather flustered, like he'd come face to face with a bigger bully than he was. Served him right. The referee blew a quick whistle amidst this face-off.

"We've been seeing more of these types of battles, anyway. So go on."

"Y-yeah, alright, Isobel," Trevor said, "you're on your own now."

Wow. That Hatterene put him in his place? I'm impressed.

Her forearms only grazed Admirari's hat before they got stopped. First, Isobel's arms froze, stuck in time, while the rest of her body was free, feet kicking the floor to try to pull back. Then the tentacle grasped her forehead, the frozen sensation spreading to the rest of her body. Isobel was immobile, like being encased in ice. Then time stopped. Admirari stood still, unblinking for what seemed like a minute.

You're not very smart, are you?

It was Isobel's inner voice, but not quite. It was distorted like it was being played through bass-boosted speakers submerged underwater. But why did this happen as soon as Admirari hit her?

You seem to attack through brute strength and not much else. It's a wonder you lasted in the league this long.

Her brain needed to shut up. But how were these her own thoughts? Why were they always so aggressive? What—

Wait... is mind invasion allowed? 🤔

Admirari raised her tentacle, about to strike again. Right, now wasn't the time to overthink things. Isobel stood, spitting on the ground before making her next move. Her shoes were by her side. Sure, it was below the belt, but it was still technically a move: Fling. With one swift motion, Isobel picked one up and lobbed it at Admirari. It missed, though not without stopping Admirari in her levitating tracks.

"A shoe, really?" she grumbled. "Please, have some class—"

Bonk! The heel of the other shoe struck that distracted Hatterene's face, stunning her.

Keke! This part is still amusing!

White light blinded Isobel. Her face was on fire. She stood still, rubbing her eyes as if chlorinated water had gotten splashed in there, but found no refuge. Another psychic wave blew her away, pinning her against the fence. Once wasn't enough for the Hatterene. The invisible force pulled her out and shoved her onto the grate again, and again, and again. Each hit knocked the wind out of Isobel's sails. She drifted in and out, trying to find a way out of this mess. The psychic force was impenetrable. Any attempts to resist were useless.

Yikes! This is telekinesis for you!

No, this wasn't happening. What right did some psychic have to get into her head like that? How dare she tell her how to live her life? It was hers to decide what she did with it, right? Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe Admirari was right. What was she doing there? Why put herself through this mess?

Yep. I'm pretty confident that messing up with someone's psyche should be illegal.

Oh-hoh, don't deny it. Admit it, you had a purpose back when all you did was fight. Just like the others, it scratched your back whenever you pounded the shit out of another Pokemon. Your trainer gave you that extra push. She supported you, taught you about the wider world. Then you didn't want to be with her anymore once you got enough of a taste for the league, just one badge away from leading her to completing her journey.

Yeah, about that. I really wonder what stirred this desire of wanting to be independent, especially after spending so long with her Trainer. I guess it could be a "bird leaving the nest" thing, but... I dunno, I still feel like there is this trigger missing.

Then somehow, you knew you wanted a change, but you didn't know what. Then you decided you wanted to live on your own like the other humans did. Like a few of the other Pokemon here started to do. You didn't want to be a Yamper sniffing after your trainer's scent anymore.

...Just like that? Living alone is a pretty big decision, I reckon. I wonder if she discussed that matter with her Trainer, and also how the latter took the news.

But why are you here now? What reason do you have to live other than acting the lone wolf? You waste away your days on pointless entertainment and the bottle when you're not working, and when you are working, your mind's in another place. You don't even want to be there. Why sell yourself out?

(Former) title drop!

Even behaving like another human is just an act for you. You're still that same Yamper, chasing after another dream humans gave you. You have no ideals as an individual Pokemon. You have no identity, even less than a trainer's Pokemon. You're no one. You're nothin—

Hmm... I guess even when you are humanoid, it doesn't mean that you are a "true" human, huh?

Admirari winced and her face morphed into another Pokemon's, from a Hatterene to some horrid mix between a Machamp and a Grimmsnarl. The Grimmsnarl's fangs poked through the Machamp's cheek, grown like mutations. It was a monster, yet the Machamp half looked just like Isobel. But this wasn't her. It was—

Who? :o

Isobel punched again, pounding at the hybrid on the floor. Punch, pound, smack. Every fist thrown at that thing's face brought back memories, good and bad. Times spent partying after winning a gym battle. Times spent wandering through the routes at night alone when Isobel didn't know what to do with herself. Dancing with that Hitmontop when she found her groove. Shouting at the same Pokemon when he didn't respect her personal space. Feeling alone even though she was together with the group. Feeling like something was missing even though she had everything before her. Feeling like she stood in her trainer's shadow whenever she won. Not being able to express to her trainer how she felt or what little she understood about her own emotions.

Wow. That's rough for poor Isobel. :c

"Alright, the match is over! Trevor here is the victor!"

Excellent! Time for the big money!

Isobel fell to the floor, catching her breath. If Trevor had any potions in his pocket, now would've been a good chance to use them, though perhaps that was being too optimistic. To her surprise, he came up to her, handing her a potion to spray over herself.

Well, color me surprised. Trevor actually did something nice?

"Well, damn, congrats." He smiled, though it looked the same as the one performed for the Snap!App. "I really owe you one for all of this."

My pal, you owe her more than one. Heck, after that brain invasion, you should also pay her the bill for a good psychiatrist.

"Ah, yeah, sure." He turned to Nil, stepping towards his rival as Nil tended to Admirari with a potion of his own. Soon, she was able to sit back up. Immediately, she went over to Isobel, scowling at her.

"What was that?" Admirari growled. "You went berserk there."

"Says you!" Isobel tried to control her tone. "You just turned my own thoughts against me!"

"I did no such thing!" She sighed and backed away, looking to Nil. "In any case, I did have a good fight with the Machamp. I'll see you at the centre."

"Of course." With that, Admirari teleported out of the picture, leaving the three on their own.

Hmm? So, that whole mental breakdown was triggered by something, rather than being a psychic manipulation? 🤔

"It was a good fight," Nil said, his cool complexion warming a little. "Look, I know times are tough for you right now. And when it comes to striking out on your own—"

"Don't talk about that." Trevor scowled, backing away from the garbed mystic. Nil just shrugged and went back to his neutral expression.

"Suit yourself. Well, best of luck to your career, however that goes." Nil put his hands in his pockets and walked off, leaving the two alone at last.

Oh? What is it you're trying to hide there, Trevor?

"Look, I dunno what you're plannin', but whatever it is, I want my money now."

"Yeah, about that…" All the colour drained from his face; he tugged at the chains hanging from his neck. "Look, I'm in hot water right now. Can I, um, pay you back later?"

...Are you kidding me? Please, tell me this is just a tasteless joke.

Isobel took a few seconds to process that, then laughed in disbelief.

"Aw, man, you can't be serious." She shook her head. "After all this... no, just no."

"Yeah, I know." His expression wasn't lying that time, but that did nothing for her. "I admit, I knew I wouldn't have been able to win if it wasn't for you. And I'm sorry, I really am, but—"

"What, for treatin' me and Bronze like crap the whole time?" Another chuckle. "Yeah, you better be freakin' sorry, man."

"You don't understand!" He waved his hands, either shielding himself from her incoming wrath or trying to explain himself better. "I need every penny I can get, I'm flat out broke!"

And you can't sell some of that stuff you have bought for your account... why? Just for show? I'm afraid shows don't buy bread, unless you're very lucky and very skilled, which is something you aren't. :v

"That, uh, that's for the Snap! B-but, it's okay, it's okay. I'll give you your money once I've paid my lot off, I promise."

Way to dig your grave deeper and deeper, punk!

"Help! Help! I'm being attacked, help!"

Isobel froze, relaxing her grip. No, he wouldn't have stooped so low, but he totally did, as the commotion attracted a crowd of trainers.

"Please, help!"

Honestly, after everything he has done so far, I'm not surprised by this cowardly move.

A ball of aura darted towards her. Isobel had to let go of Trevor to avoid it, and he unfortunately got away. She would've chased after him if it wasn't for a black-vested Lucario approaching her. He was a patrol guard, fitted with a badged uniform that covered his spikes.

"Ma'am," Lucario said, "I'm not having another Pokemon fight a human on my watch."

Another?

Isobel wasn't there. This wasn't happening. Wait, she could've explained hersel—

No, you idiot, he won't believe you! Fight back, you coward, fight! You're fixing for one anyway!

No, she couldn't do that either. The only other option that sprung to mind was to get the hell away from there.



Isobel kicked a trash can over, muttering human curses under her breath. What a Machump she was. She could've avoided all of this if she had calmed down. Now she had no idea where Trevor was. She could complain to the PokeJobs site and get compensation there, but by the time she would've gotten it back, she probably would've been evicted by then.

Great, a wonderful way to cap off a wonderful day. She was all alone in that smelly, dark alleyway.

Yeah. I bet her mood sure reeks as much as that alley.

In her morning routine, she didn't notice it as much, but the apartment needed a deep clean. Beer cans lay crumpled on the floor. Empty protein buckets and dirty dishes sat in random places on the kitchenette. Cereal boxes piled up on top of the recycling bin. Perhaps if someone else lived here or helped her out…

She shook her head. Who cared if the place was unclean? It was messy, sure, but it was her mess. She could take care of herself. Right?

The landlord, maybe? I doubt they would be glad you're keeping their room dirty.

Isobel didn't want to leave the house. No more interacting with those stupid humans for a day. Yet she needed something else to take the edge off. Then she remembered she had saved something for an occasion like this.

Once, she'd convinced a stranger to buy her cigarettes using money she had lent to them. Most Pokemon couldn't drink or smoke, that much was true, since it wasn't good for them and they hadn't adapted to it to begin with. No clerk wanted to be liable for a Pokemon's poor health even though other humans freely poisoned themselves. Regardless, she'd bought it out of impulse, in case she was curious to try it out. Here, she was more than curious: she wanted a taste of humanity, to prove to herself she was still just like them.

I'm not quite sure if smoking is the answer, darling. Or, well, I guess it is if you want the imitate the worst side of humanity. 🤔

Isobel took a smoke out of the pack and flicked the lighter a few times until it produced a naked flame. Wind cut through, which threatened to slice it away, but an extra hand shielded it from the breeze. Fire touched paper, and there it was: Isobel's first cigarette. Her shaky hand dragged it to her lips, just shy of singeing her grey skin. Puff, breathe in, hold, breathe out, wait, no, it was too much.

Isobel spluttered; the back of her eyes stinging. Ash lingered on her tongue. Bleh. She scrunched it onto the railing, putting the damn thing out, and flicked it out into the open, out of sight, out of mind. Even then, that damn taste was still in her mouth. Now, she was left with overpriced poison she didn't even want anymore. There was good poison, like the booze, and then there was bad poison, like this one. And just like today, she tried something new, only for it to blow up in her face.

Never tried a cig in my life, and after reading this I'm even less tempted.

That Hatterene, no, Admirari back there had nothing to do with this. Those thoughts earlier were all her own. Isobel had all the answers; she just didn't want to admit them.

Okay, I take that back. The Hatterene did nothing illegal. Isobel was just influenced, I suppose.

...Yeah, pun intended. :p

From the first day she moved in, there was always that sinking feeling of 'what now?' She spent her first week sightseeing, wandering the streets, the parks, and finally checking out the Hero's Bath museum. Those were nice, but eventually, the novelty dried up, like how she ran out of money. That was her first wake-up call.

Goodbye, land of dreams. Welcome to reality.

Underneath all of that, who was Isobel? She was at sea, getting swept up by the waves when she needed to find a damn raft to climb onto. There was no land to swim towards, only time as it stretched for days and days like the ocean. More time than Isobel knew what to do with, especially once she was on her own. All her friends and relatives were somewhere else. Yet she promised herself she'd be strong, for her sake and theirs. She didn't need to rely on anyone, especially not her trainer or another human. She liked it this way. Except she didn't.

No, she hated it. Hated being alone. Hated, hated, hated it. She wanted help. No man, or Pokemon, was an island. Even with Gloria, she made friends of her teammates, and, well, Gloria was a friend too. She still was. Then why didn't she talk to her after all this time until Gloria called?

This is so relatable.

She sank further and further into the abyss, everlasting black surrounding her. Blacker than black. There were no thoughts left. Everything turned a blank as all light faded. Then a faint image emerged above her: a dwelling made of wood and stone home to many mixes of fighting types.

Hm? So she... used to be a wild Pokémon or something?

One day, they asked if she wanted to go on a journey with a trainer. It wasn't exactly their place to meddle with humans, but at low points in their own youths, they went on journeys of their own and came back stronger, both in mind and body.

Isobel obliged. One day, she'd come back a better mon. Yet she never returned to the dwelling.

Now I wonder if she'll ever return there some day...

Why did she have to prove herself to anyone, let alone a human, to feel worthy of anything? There was no one she wanted to live for but herself. She liked these weird comforts and curiosities. She liked being among lots of various people and Pokemon. And she liked to help others. The kid. Bronze. That was when she felt her best today. And she wanted to feel it again.

Darn. This part resonated a lot with me, not gonna lie. I felt that whole "validation" thing, in more ways than one.

Maybe she still had those fighting bones in her body. But it didn't define her. Nor did the human stuff. Still, there was plenty she liked about trading blows with other Pokemon. Living in the present. Testing her strength. Just the sensation of pushing her own mind and body to the limit. Nothing wrong with a bit of play here and there. Her parents would've said the same. Then why didn't she come back to them, like she didn't with Gloria until today?

That's what she wanted to find out. Years of fighting, and she still never found that inner strength, that full balance she needed. Now that strength was coming back to her, like rays of sunshine beaming over her.

The light flooded the void, and with the hair no longer covering her mouth, she could breathe again.

Yes! She found the so-called light at the end of the tunnel! Good job!

The Grimmsnarl faced her, baring his fangs. He chopped downwards, slamming his hand against Isobel. One strike would've pounded her to dust. Yet Isobel blocked the strike, catching the attack between her palms.

"You're right!" she said. "Battling is a part of me! And I didn't wanna admit it, but now I do. I'm sorry I pushed you aside!"

The hair covering her unravelled, and the two Pokemon turned into white light, brightening up that void. Isobel had evolved into a Machoke, and the Grimmsnarl had devolved into a Morgrem. The figure no longer towered above, and had shrunk to half her height. He whimpered, tugging on his locks of hair.

"I-I didn't mean to say those hurtful things. I just didn't like being ignored. I'm sorry too."

She didn't need to be angry with him or herself. Isobel knelt down, extending her hand to shake his paw. Then the void shattered into obsidian shards, letting the light in as it consumed the room.

Hmm! Interesting metaphor here, with the Grimm representing the wilder part of herself. Also, cool mental fight!

"Are you kidding me?" Footsteps thumped from her side of the phone. "He can't not pay you, you should take it to the police!"

"Well, they chased me last time for tryin' to talk some sense into this guy." She crossed one set of arms. "I'm not turning myself in for this stupid crap."

"No, but…" Another sigh. "That really sucks, Isobel. Look, whatever money you need to cover the rest of this month, I can—"

"Please don't." Isobel grit her teeth. "You're not bailing me out."

"Oh come on, I'm doing it because I want to, and what happened was really unfair."

Proof that Gloria is a true friend, despite their falling out.

"I get it. Mind you, even I don't know that much about what your family was like."

"It's been so long since I've seen them; I thought it didn't matter."

"I mean, family is family. I still think about what my parents are doing and if they're pleased I became a trainer instead of a doctor like they first planned."

Isobel couldn't help but chuckle at that, though that quickly subsided. What would her own parents think about her after everything was said and done? Now she had mixed with humans for so long and gained the ambitions of one?

"Do you think I should see 'em?" She rubbed one free set of hands together. "I dunno, it's been a while, so it might be really awkward, or…" The right words lingered on her tongue.

"I think they'd be glad to see you, and it'd probably be good for you to get out of the city."

"Maybe…"

Sequel story where we find out what happens? Yes?

"The odd thing is, I still actually like fighting, after all this time."

"Yeah, it's just all the crap surrounding it you don't like. Understandable."

"Exactly. So, I thought about becoming a coach for other Pokemon. I could still fight sometimes to make my point, but I'd also be passing my knowledge down to others. I dunno, do you—" She stopped herself. Right, approval from Isobel wasn't needed, but it would've been nice to hear her thoughts. "Sounds good?"

"Totally! You helped mine out when a certain strategy wasn't clicking for them. Didn't she?"

Don't let your dreams be memes, Isobel.

Isobel scratched her chin. Yeah, saying it out loud, it only confirmed her resolve. Maybe she could've set up a page covering techniques, or arranged lessons for Pokemon, or other trainers. Video was all the rage now, wasn't it? Maybe that could've gotten her message across and would help influence the next generation of trainers and Pokemon alike.

Influence. Now that was a word she wanted to wipe from her memory.

So, how many folks want to see Isobel become a YouTuber? Anyone?

...

Whoa, no need to be so shy, you all!

"Not to worry. Well, we don't exactly approve of betting in matches like these, though it's too late to really confiscate the money, so that evens out. And from what this fella told me, you got swindled out of a fair deal. Theft is a crime, and with you, well—" he patted his covered spike—"I was only doing my job. I've just seen bad things happen between trainers and Pokemon before."

Makes sense, but then... what happened with that Trevor guy? Did he get what was due to him or not?

"Well, in any case, I might as well give you what you're owed." The patrolmon took an envelope out of a satchel and handed it over to Isobel. "I know the PokeJobs system ain't perfect, but we've got to look out for each other, don't we?"

She opened the contents, revealing a stack of money, which she widened her eyes at. She thumbed through them, counting them in her head. 8 notes, 8,000 Pokedollars, just as initially promised. She didn't know how to process it at first. It was her pay, but having it brought back after all the crap she went through...

The Lucario cleared his throat. "You can thank this fella for bringing it to my attention."

"Oh, um, it was nothing." Bronze's tail wagged, betraying his meek expression. "Besides, it was the least I could do for—"

Isobel knelt down and hugged Bronze. It wasn't very dignified for people to cry. Especially not in Galar when the usual response was to put on a brave face and get on with it. But she wasn't a human, and Machamp like her were more open about their own emotions. So for the first time in a while, Isobel couldn't help herself, sniffling as Bronze wrapped his paws around her. Her extra hands rubbed the tears from her eyes even as she had Bronze in her clutches.

"T-thank you," she stuttered. "Jeez, the day I cry over somethin' like this…"

"Oh, um, don't mention it."

The two held that embrace for a moment until the Lucario cleared his throat. Isobel gently pulled herself away, sighing in relief.

Hm? Did Thievul retrieve the money or is that part of the PokéJobs system? It wouldn't surprise me if Thievul took it, as his species is known for being into thievery (apparently).

"Before I go, well, I might as well say this Thievul needs a place to stay for the night."

Isobel cocked her head.

"O-oh, not like that," Bronze said as he shielded his face, "it's… oh, he can explain."

"He would like to leave his trainer. It's not really my department to deal with this issue, so I'll carry it over to those in charge of taking care of Pokemon so he can get properly unregistered later. And they'll also try to help him wherever they can. I don't want to force any obligation on you to let him couch surf, so if you know anyone else that could look after him—"

That's a quite bizarre system, but once again everything is bizarre here.

There was still that taste of that cigarette left behind as she smacked her lips. The rest of the milk would do. She looked back to Bronze as he sprang up and dove into the sheets headfirst like it was snow.

"Um..." Isobel started.

"Oh!" Bronze's moustache bristled. "Sorry, force of habit."

Thievul is a true fox, and I love that!

"Well, not exactly. Humans like to wear these stupid shoes sometimes, I dunno, because they're more expensive and they like to show them off. Not that it makes much difference since they smell either way."

Isobel winced at that. "Ew. Go on."

Well, shoes are shoes, regardless if you spent one dollar or one thousand for them.

"So Trevor bought these shoes one day, and he had to borrow even more money he didn't have for that. I heard his father cut him off, or something."

"Makes sense."

"I dunno much else about the human world outside my trainer, but even I knew he shouldn't have been wasting it on stuff he didn't need. He could've fed lots of Nickit cubs with that money. So guess what I did when he put those on."

"Mmm?" Isobel hummed as she took another swig from the carton.

"I peed all over them."

Bahahaha! How savage, Bronze!

"Well, that makes two hungry Pokemon." Isobel quickly finished cleaning up the last of the milk and stretched her arms. She had money in her pocket now, and some to spare before she had to turn the overdue payment to the bank, but that could wait until tomorrow when it reopened. "Whatever happens from here on out, I can at least treat you to some grub for now."

"O-oh, no, I can't ask that of you."

"No, seriously, I owe you one." She gave him a big smile. "You're a lifesaver, Bronze."

His whiskers twitched at that. "Well, you were nice to me, so..."

"Well then." She slipped on a four-sleeved jacket and headed for the door. "C'mon, it's my treat. Whaddya say?"

A nice action for a nice action.

Bronze cocked his head, considering the request, and then joined Isobel as she turned the handle. Both their futures were uncertain at that point. For Bronze, the first steps into life without a trainer lay ahead. For Isobel, the challenge of carving out a niche as a coach, and possibly coming back to her old home. But those were worries for tomorrow. And whatever happened, at least they could face them together.

Isobel looked at her apartment one more time before she left for dinner. Even though it was messy and small, suddenly, having Bronze around made it feel less empty. She'd give it a good clean when she got back. Then there'd be enough room for herself, the Thievul, and the Morgrem in her mind.

Wooh! I love this little hope spot!

---

Well then, here we are.

As a whole, I definitely liked this short story! You make it clear from the beginning what are Isobel's struggles with very realistic problems (like the rent payment and the lack of money), as well as paint a world in which it's hard for Pokémon to behave and be treated as equal to humans. Kinda reminds me some racial issues that happen in real life, too, but I won't dwell into that. It can be quite the can of worms to open, but how that unfair system is shown here is definitely good.

However, there are a few things that have made me scratch my head. The first one is how you display a Pokémon speaking human language, which you have as them speaking in italics. I feel like that can be quite confusing, especially toward new readers who read your works, as italics are generally used to show thoughts. And I remember that the very first impression I got when I read this story was that the Pokémon were speaking through telepathy, kinda like in the anime with the talking Pokémon. But then, I read the whole thing about them articulating their mouths to replicate human words and I understood, but it threw me off a little. So, I'd suggest putting a mention of that somewhere, maybe in the OP or similar place, so that folks are aware when they come across that stylistic choice.

I liked that you put some more focus into Gloria and showed that she cared about Isobel despite the separation, but I still feel like it could have helped to have a clearer idea of why Isobel wanted to live more like a human. Like, was she envious about the fact they have much more freedom than Pokémon? Did she crave that freedom herself and wish to become something more than just one teammate for a Pokémon? When did she realize that the merit for the fights went to the Trainer? Did they discuss that? Basically, what I see here is mostly the result, but not much of the cause of this decision.

The battles themselves served their purpose well, but as I've mentioned in the reactions, I wish the match Raboot and Drizzile was fleshed out a bit more. Show more of what makes Trevor such a terrible Trainer! And speaking of him, huh... kinda surprised he didn't get his just desserts. I would have expected that he got permanently banned from the PokéJobs system, at least, and yet he seemed to get away with whatever trickery he pulled from his sleeve. I mean, let's be real: not every crime ends up punished. I just find it strange that very little seems to have been done about the situation nor is there any reference of what the PokéJobs managers are planning to do.

With this said, I really like the whole addition with a bit of Isobel's past as a Machop and her mental struggle with her inner demon (I guess this is why you picked Grimmsnarl/Morgrem, huh?). It showed a bit more of what lead toward her decision of joining a Trainer, at least. And haha, I loved Bronze's savage moments!

And... I guess this is all? I can't think of anything else. Prose was good, there were a couple of formatting stuff that I've pointed out, and the concept was really great.

Nice job! Until next time! ^^
 

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Thanks a lot for the review, @Cresselia92! I'll go through some of your reactions first (I had a blast reading them), and then address your bigger criticisms with the story at the end.

Ah, yes. Grimmsnarl, the male Pokémon version of Bayonetta. No doubt that may look gross. (Also, nice little reference to the fact that Machamp and Grimmsnarl usually compete against each other.)
Thank god for Rule 63. As long as it's not the other rule...
Fun fact: when I first read this, my brain automatically imagined a Clemont clone with brown hair wearing black clothes. I don't know why, but that mental image has stuck with me.
If only he had Clemont's personality.
Okay, now I really wonder what was Trevor's plan. Like, he needed a coach, but he also needed to win a bet, so... huh, did he want someone training his Pokémon, or he wanted to borrow a powerful Pokémon and use the whole "coaching thing" as a masquerade to the PokéJobs system?
Yeah, the whole thing was just a front for a bet, and to borrow a powerful Pokemon.
...Speaking of coaching, you know the actual move Coaching, the Move Tutor attack that boosts an ally's Attack and Defense? Well, Machamp can learn it! Kinda amusing coincidence, isn't it?
Hmm, that gives me an idea...
Yep. I'm pretty confident that messing up with someone's psyche should be illegal.
You know, since I also brought up some of the stigma around certain Psychic species in The Inalienable Dreamless, and more Pokemon coming into society, certain laws could be introduced to put that into effect, though that could be for another time.
Now I wonder if she'll ever return there some day...
Hmmm...
Sequel story where we find out what happens? Yes?
HMMMMMMMMMMMMMM YES YES YES (this is happening and I'm drafting it as we speak)

I'm very glad you enjoyed it overall, while also pointing out where it fell a bit short. I will put a disclaimer in the future showing how humanspeak from Pokemon is formatted. To be honest, I regret introducing this and making it a part of all the other works, since I can't easily change it, but oh well.

Yeah, about that. I really wonder what stirred this desire of wanting to be independent, especially after spending so long with her Trainer. I guess it could be a "bird leaving the nest" thing, but... I dunno, I still feel like there is this trigger missing.
I liked that you put some more focus into Gloria and showed that she cared about Isobel despite the separation, but I still feel like it could have helped to have a clearer idea of why Isobel wanted to live more like a human. Like, was she envious about the fact they have much more freedom than Pokémon? Did she crave that freedom herself and wish to become something more than just one teammate for a Pokémon? When did she realize that the merit for the fights went to the Trainer? Did they discuss that? Basically, what I see here is mostly the result, but not much of the cause of this decision.

This was a problem with the previous draft too, though back then, I was still unsure about what wasn't working since I had a bit of tunnel vision. I've talked about it at length with you already on Discord, but when I read your comments on this, something clicked with me then and I understood the issue more.

I think because of the way the story was designed around Isobel's immediate conflicts, there wasn't enough room to properly slow down until the end. I tried to fix some of the vague points of her past in this version by adding in flashbacks of her as a Machop, which came after flashbacks of her working at various places. At that point, I thought I was dragging the pacing down, so if I tried to extend the scene even further to properly dive into all of her identity issues, it would've come across as a rushed infodump.

At the same time, this is a legitimate motivation and pacing issue. There does need to be something that justifies her actions to live in the human world, and what caused that intense desire; even if it was just a slow burn, it could've been triggered by a major personal event that got those thoughts churning. Introducing a character with this much baggage was a bit too ambitious for the scope/length of this story, and as a standalone story, it shouldn't be relying on a follow up to tie up those loose ends.

...I am going to sound like a big hypocrite, but that's partly why I'm writing a follow up right now. At the time, I didn't know if I wanted to extend Isobel's story, and I didn't just want to make Out of Hand 2: Electric Boogaloo since a follow up should ideally explore new ground for me. Now, I see the potential to explore new themes and ideas I haven't touched upon here. So again, this review reaffirmed my desire to write the follow up. That, and it's much more of a slice of life, so I can show more of those moments without risking too big of a change in pacing.

You know, it would have helped somewhat if you showed this part a bit more with some facepalm-worthy examples. Like, maybe there could have been a scene with Raboot Flame Charging into a Water Pulse and getting confused as a result. It would have helped paint a more vivid image of Trevor's horrible training skills.
The battles themselves served their purpose well, but as I've mentioned in the reactions, I wish the match Raboot and Drizzile was fleshed out a bit more. Show more of what makes Trevor such a terrible Trainer! And speaking of him, huh... kinda surprised he didn't get his just desserts. I would have expected that he got permanently banned from the PokéJobs system, at least, and yet he seemed to get away with whatever trickery he pulled from his sleeve. I mean, let's be real: not every crime ends up punished. I just find it strange that very little seems to have been done about the situation nor is there any reference of what the PokéJobs managers are planning to do.

This also ties into the pacing issues of this fic, since I didn't think there was much of a purpose to show the Raboot fight. At the time, I only thought the next two fights were really relevant since Isobel is an active participant in both of them, and there wouldn't have been much at stake with the Raboot fight anyway aside from introducing the fact that Trevor is incompetent. But actually showing some of the fight would've illustrated that. Someone else also pointed this out, so knowing about your specific issues also helped here.

I probably could've tied up the loose end of Trevor here, since there would've been some catharsis from that after the hell he put Isobel through. Though I also wasn't sure he would've suffered immediate consequences for it from the law since he handed over the money eventually to Bronze, who retrieved the money by finally standing up to Trevor. But for the tentative follow up, I'm planning on showing the aftermath of the match, so he definitely doesn't get off scot free. Also, at that point, I also saw him as more pathetic than villainous, since he's already knee deep in debt and disowned by his rich family, so I wasn't sure if dogpiling on him at that moment would've been too much. Though he definitely deserves it.

With this said, I really like the whole addition with a bit of Isobel's past as a Machop and her mental struggle with her inner demon (I guess this is why you picked Grimmsnarl/Morgrem, huh?). It showed a bit more of what lead toward her decision of joining a Trainer, at least. And haha, I loved Bronze's savage moments!

Even though I didn't end up fixing every issue in this version, and despite my earlier reluctance about this scene, I'm glad this part paid off, and that the inner demon aspect was a good fit for Isobel's character. That means I can also extend that idea in the sequel.

Again, thanks a lot for the detailed review, and I hope I can present a follow up to this story soon! :veelove:
 
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Bonus Chapter 1 - Are You Fur Real?

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
AN: I'm in the middle of writing a follow up to Out of Hand, which I hope to present before the end of the year if I can make it that far. For now, I want to share a drabble I wrote as an icebreaker, and one that's pure fluff, pardon the pun.

Bonus Chapter - Are You Fur Real?

Isobel woke up buried under a mountain of orange fur. It was all over the sheets, over the bed, on the floor, and who else did it belong to but Bronze, who was grooming himself in the corner of the room?

“Aw, jeez,” Isobel said, shielding herself from the morning light, only to get a lock of fur stuck in her eye. “Ah!”

“Sorry, sorry!” He scurried to another corner away from Isobel’s sight. “Please don’t be mad.”

“Nah, it’s fine.” She sighed, then blinked a few times to get it out. “You can’t exactly help moulting, can you?”

“No, I guess not.” Bronze came out from his ball of guilt and joined Isobel back on the bed. “Trevor always complained whenever I shed my fur around him. Though he was the one who always cleaned up my mess anyway.” He held out his paw beans. “If I had hands, I’d gladly help pick this stuff up.”

“Well, good thing I have four of ‘em,” Isobel said with a smile, waving her quadruple arms. “Jazz hands.”

“Jazz...? Isn’t that the noise someone makes when they sneeze?”

“Something like that.” She snickered. “Anyway, I have just the thing for this. Once I properly wake up.” She punctuated it with a yawn, then got out of bed to do some quick stretches. After she was done, Isobel got to work. First, she shook the duvet and patted at the bedsheets, sweeping the rest of the fur onto the floor. Bronze sat against the wall, watching intently, which Isobel took notice of.

“Actually, if you wanna help, I wonder if you can use that tail of yours as a brush. I could do with pushing all of this fur to one place.”

“Oh, of course!” Bronze immediately leapt to the occasion and tried to make a sweeping motion with his tail. He managed to get it all to one place, though he ended up shedding even more fur, making a trail in his wake. “Sorry again…”

“Oh, come on, you don’t need to keep apologising.” Isobel cupped the pile in her hands and tossed it in the bin. This was certainly a predicament. What would the inspector say if he decided to pop in one day? It seemed like the hoover was the right tool for this job. Then it struck her. “Wait there, I have an idea.”

Isobel fished out the vacuum cleaner from the broom closet. Turning it on gave Bronze quite the stir as his hackles raised at the noise. He gradually got used to it though, and stepped aside as Isobel scoured the carpet. He tried to say something, but his voice got drowned out by the suction noises.

Isobel turned off the hoover. “What?”

“What was your idea?” Bronze asked.

“Well, did Trevor ever groom you?”

“Yes, lots of times.” He looked to the side. “If I had to say one good thing about him, he cared about how I looked.”

“One good point out of a bajillion bad ones, then. Did he ever do it this way?”

Isobel gently moved the brush attachment to Bronze’s coat, only for him to step back.

“W-what are you doing?

“Trust me, I’ve seen lots of people grooming their Pokemon with this, and they loved it.”

“Wait, no, you’re not gonna suck me up, are you?!”

“Of course I’m not gonna do that, I just want to try this. Hold still a sec.”

She was about to turn it on again when Bronze bolted for the bathroom and tried to nudge the door shut. So he was playing hard to get, eh? Isobel simply pushed it open again. Bronze had nowhere to hide as her vacuum of justice closed in on him. He shut his eyes, possibly bracing himself for whatever impending doom came his way. She turned it on. He whimpered. Isobel briefly wondered if she went too far before the brush touched his coat. Then…

Bronze trilled as the hoover groomed his side. He flopped onto the floor, allowing Isobel to vacuum all the stray furs up. In no time, he was looking as good as new. Operation Deep Clean went better than she expected. Or at least, it would’ve done if the hoover hadn’t suddenly whirred to a stop.

Once Bronze came down from his bliss-like state, he cocked his head at the scene. “What happened?”

“I think I overestimated how much this bad boy could take," Isobel said, smacking the vacuum cleaner in an effort to get it to work again.

“Bad boy? How is it bad in any way?”

“It’s just an expression.” She tried to pry the thing open to examine what was going on. “But I think the fur clogged up the filter, and it--”

Fwooooosh. Once opened, the vacuum bag blew smoke right in Isobel’s face, leaving her a laughing, coughing mess.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
[Chapter 1]

Hey Neb! This is my review for Out of Hand’s first chapter (as I don’t have a whole lot of time to review more than that) but I’d like to say, this was a very strong opening chapter despite not having any actual action or critical stakes in it. I would argue that this is how you write a strong setup chapter while still keeping the reader interested and relating to the protagonist.

I think what’s working in your favor in this case, if I had to guess, was the fact that you have simultaneously the fantasy aspect of Pokémon that readers would be looking for, while also combining the urban / slice of life feel that I like to read about, and what a lot of people, because they’re human, can relate to. And I guess in another sense, the fact I know you actually live in the real-world equivalent of the region this takes place in, I have a sense that there’s more likely some authenticity behind that slice of life equivalent, too.

Anyway, onto the first chapter itself, it had a good opening paragraph as well. I liked the way you established her basic characteristics, and more importantly the tone of the setting, which I mentioned above. The world building of the first section was impressive because it interweaved both the state of the world with the content of where Isobel lives. I imagine this will come into play with how she operates within it.

I think it might have dragged a little near the middle with the scene with the sign waving, but at least you got to show how Isobel interacts with humans, and in general the human-Pokémon relationship. I think the strongest point was the phone conversation between Isobel and Gloria near the end. Definitely helped establish things between them in a more concrete way than just talking about it, and it really complicates the relationship from something simply black and white.

And of course, such a simple way to make a cliffhanger at the end! Argh! I really wanted to read on, but, well, I really didn’t have time, hence why I’m writing the rest of this review now rather than last night when I actually read it. Anyway, definitely expect me to be returning to this later, and until then, thanks for the read!
 

Flaze

Don't stop, keep walking
Location
Chile
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. infernape
Out of Hand was definetily an interesting read, though it took me a little longer to get through than I would've wanted to. I find the world you build throughout your stories really interesting, it kind of reminds me of canisaries' fics in the way you present a world where pokemon are slowly separating themselves from human and adapting to modern life, while trying to deal with all the consequences that come from that. I won't lie, it's an unusual take, but it's also really interesting and I like the questions you bring up.

I think the most interesting question behind this story is also its main theme and that's the idea of independence. Isobel, and so many other pokemon, are trying to find their way around a world that still prominently sees them as just pets they can battle with. They want to assert their independence but still live in a world run entirely by humans, a world that's also trying to figure out what place pokemon can take in their workings.

That question is what helps make most of the story works, the contrast between Isobel's past as a battler and its perceiving presence in her life, plus her typing, and the idea that she wants to be more than just that instinct, that she wants to be able to think and grow for herself instead of relying on someone else or feeling like all her achievements are attributed to someone else. And yet, she also isn't sure what path she should take and feels like every road she takes doesn't fit her.

Needless to say, it's a good metaphor for seeking independence in general, everyone has to break out on their own at some point, but life is hardly that easy. Just wanting to be independent doesn't mean you'll find what drives you in life and trying to find passion is always hard. I can attest to that as someone that still has trouble realizing if there's actually anything that truly lights a passion in him sometimes. It's a very real feeling and that's probably why those moments where Isobel is struggling with her own self-worth and wondering if she really has what it takes to live on her own, while also being embarrassed of asking for help and relying on her old trainer, hit really hard for someone that also had to make their own place in the world.

I also like how you draw comparisons between Isobel and the other pokemon she meets. You've got Trevor's pokemon which are still on his team, his raboot that's still very much living like he's her world and Bronze whose at a similar place that Isobel is at, but hasn't taken that step yet. Giving Isobel someone that's in her shoes but needs that extra push helps ground her more in a way, that even if she still has a long way to go and struggles, she's come farther than so many others have done. On the other hand, Isobel and the hatterene (I'm sorry, her name is kind of complicated and I can't remember it right now) have the opposite relationship, where hatterene, in part thanks to her typing, is almost on equal grounds with humans. She carries herself with confidence, is there because she wants to be and is allowed to be herself and even interacts with people just like any other human would. She's analogous with someone that's got their life figure out and can effortlessly navigate through it.

And well, I do like the place where it leaves off. Isobel's life doesn't get solved, but she does get an idea of what path she should take. Is it the right path? Who knows, maybe we will in your later story? but even then it's very true to life, because even when you feel like you've found your calling that doesn't mean you'll be able to succeed in it. I also like how you build up to that by showing us her coaching Bronze and highlighting her knowledge and experience with battling.

I will say that the third chapter...well the first half of it, I know what you were going with by focusing on Isobel's inner battle, and it's not necessarily a bad thing (I've done it myself before), but I do think that maybe it comes off a little too heavy-handed, maybe a little too dramatic all things considered. That and coupled with the fact that it's resolved somewhat quickly and that the real scene resolving Isobel's issues happens after that...well it has kind of an odd placement.

Character-wise, I think you do a good job of endearing us to Isobel and her plight and showcasing different kinds of personalities. That being said, I do think the supporting characters work better in how they relate to Isobel, which is fine since she's the focus. I actually found it kind of funny how you show Nill as being different to Trevor at first, only for him to be...not so different, just hiding it well enough.

I also liked the battle itself, it really highlights Isobel's experience as a fighter and your description was quick and impactful, plus you used actual martial arts as a basis, considering her stand and philosophy. I wouldn't mind reading a proper long fic of yours that features battles more prominently.

Overall, it was a good read, fun and entertaining while also somewhat topical considering the themes it deals with. I'll be happy to see Isobel again in another story and see how she's doing.
 

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Thanks for checking out the first chapter, @Namohysip! I'm really glad you're taking a look at this story, jumping in from TCATS, so it'll be interesting to hear your thoughts!

this was a very strong opening chapter despite not having any actual action or critical stakes in it. I would argue that this is how you write a strong setup chapter while still keeping the reader interested and relating to the protagonist.
It's interesting to think of stakes in terms of a slice of life story, since it's a lot less grander in scale, but there still has to be some sort of conflict personal to the protagonist for it to be interesting. The setting helps a lot in that regard, since the PokeJobs system is ripe for interpretation in SwSh.
I think what’s working in your favor in this case, if I had to guess, was the fact that you have simultaneously the fantasy aspect of Pokémon that readers would be looking for, while also combining the urban / slice of life feel that I like to read about, and what a lot of people, because they’re human, can relate to. And I guess in another sense, the fact I know you actually live in the real-world equivalent of the region this takes place in, I have a sense that there’s more likely some authenticity behind that slice of life equivalent, too.
Hmm, I know some people seem quite alienated by the setting since Pokemon are in a situation where they're still sort of second class citizens, except in a case similar to Canis' TPP setting where there's a range of 'civilized' (even though that's a broad term that might not apply to everything) and feral mon, so it also works against my favour in some cases. Still, it's interesting how you pointed it out since I was partially inspired by my trip to Bath, which is what Circhester was based on. So that influenced the infrastructure of this story and the setting.
I think it might have dragged a little near the middle with the scene with the sign waving, but at least you got to show how Isobel interacts with humans, and in general the human-Pokémon relationship.
The scene was a lot shorter and to the point in the previous version regarding Isobel's scene, which started with her already flipping the signs. I added some additional worldbuilding in the revision to give more context to the PokeJobs system, since I feared initial readers of the previous version found the setting and its relation to the PokeJobs system a bit underdeveloped. I see what you mean about it dragging a little, and that echoes my thoughts on some parts of this revision.

I'm glad you enjoyed this story overall, @Flaze! It's nice to see you jumping in after Deli's Delivery Service as well (I should probably reply to your review at some point). And I like your comparison to canis' fics since I love her stories, and have noticed some parallels with my setting and her TPP works, though I'd consider the setting a precursor to hers in some ways. I was mainly influenced by I Am Lucario by lupyne, which might push a few of your buttons if you enjoyed this and Seiren.

Needless to say, it's a good metaphor for seeking independence in general, everyone has to break out on their own at some point, but life is hardly that easy. Just wanting to be independent doesn't mean you'll find what drives you in life and trying to find passion is always hard. I can attest to that as someone that still has trouble realizing if there's actually anything that truly lights a passion in him sometimes. It's a very real feeling and that's probably why those moments where Isobel is struggling with her own self-worth and wondering if she really has what it takes to live on her own, while also being embarrassed of asking for help and relying on her old trainer, hit really hard for someone that also had to make their own place in the world.

THIS. Quite a bit of the story was also informed by my own experiences trying to strike it out on my own, and while I wasn't necessarily going for real-life parallels or allegories, I hoped that people would find it relateable and applicable to their own situations. Going into it, the main theme for this story, and Isobel's arc in general in tentative future stories, is 'your life is your own, but you alone have to find out what makes it worthwhile'.

And well, I do like the place where it leaves off. Isobel's life doesn't get solved, but she does get an idea of what path she should take. Is it the right path? Who knows, maybe we will in your later story? but even then it's very true to life, because even when you feel like you've found your calling that doesn't mean you'll be able to succeed in it.

There were a couple of criticisms of the older version that still carries over here, where some readers wished that Isobel had more options outside of being stuck pursuing a coaching career, on top of not knowing much of why Isobel wants to live this sort of lifestyle/doesn't want to return to the wild. I want to address these in the follow up since I can slow the pacing down a bit, but I'm glad that you like the way it ends here. I didn't want to end it with everything resolved, and since she has only spent a month on her own after moving out, it'll probably take a while for Isobel to find what she really wants, so this ending seemed like a good reflection of that. That and she'll probably find more opportunities later down the line anyway.

I will say that the third chapter...well the first half of it, I know what you were going with by focusing on Isobel's inner battle, and it's not necessarily a bad thing (I've done it myself before), but I do think that maybe it comes off a little too heavy-handed, maybe a little too dramatic all things considered. That and coupled with the fact that it's resolved somewhat quickly and that the real scene resolving Isobel's issues happens after that...well it has kind of an odd placement.

I worried that while editing this version, this scene would come across as a bit ham-fisted, and you've confirmed my suspicions there, so thanks for pointing it out. The original version initially didn't have this scene at all, and one new addition to this current version was Isobel's inner voice. It was set up to fix another flaw where Admirari was presented as a bit too malicious, and it wasn't clear if Isobel's freak out was as a result of Admirari getting into her head or Isobel's own thoughts, so I tried to make the latter more explicit here.

However, there was also another criticism that a few readers wanted to know more about Isobel's past and what got her involved with a trainer, so they had trouble buying some of her motivations that led her to this situation in the first place. So I also tried to address that by adding in more tidbits in this case. I think I might've overcorrected it here, especially since the third chapter is quite loaded with exposition. Cress pointed out that she still didn't have a clear idea of what triggered Isobel to want to live like a human, so I'm still on the fence about what aspects to fix in this story and what to address in the tentative follow-up.

I also liked the battle itself, it really highlights Isobel's experience as a fighter and your description was quick and impactful, plus you used actual martial arts as a basis, considering her stand and philosophy. I wouldn't mind reading a proper long fic of yours that features battles more prominently.

Yeah, doing that was fun. Battle scenes aren't my forte, so I'm glad that it came across as punchy to you. While TCATS has some battles in it, all of them from Pokemon POVs, there isn't much of a focus on them, so this one was more action packed since the stakes revolved more around the battle. But I plan to expand on this in the follow up as well, if I can get it into a more presentable state.
 
Act 2: Out on a Limb, Chapter 4 - Who Am I, Again?

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Well, it’s been a while. I wasn’t expecting to come back to this story, but here we are. Writing Out of Hand was a bit of a messy process, and looking back, there were quite a few things I could’ve improved about the story, but at the same time, I loved the setting and the characters so much that I wanted to write more about them. That, and I wanted to address some critiques people had about Out of Hand, though that wasn't the primary reason. There was just a lot of potential in the rest of Isobel’s journey that I wanted to expand on.

So, since this is a follow-up to the previous fic, I thought it would be fitting to put it in the same thread. For this reason, I’ve changed the title of the thread from its original name, Out of Hand, to I, Isobel. And Out of Hand is also retroactively labelled as Act 1 of the story.

Special thanks to @canisaries for beta-reading this, so kudos to you!

commes des garcons limb alt.jpg

Act 2: Out on a Limb

Chapter 4 - Who Am I, Again?

Isobel fumbled into the shop, sipping from a can of Oran kombucha in one hand and nursing her bruised forehead with another, while her two other hands pushed the glass door open. The two staff members there at that moment — Edie, one of the clerks she saw on pretty much every shift, and Reynolds, the manager of the Pokeball store — both turned to her.

“You’re lat—” Reynolds immediately raised and lowered his finger, looking at Isobel’s battered form.

“Um,” Edie said with a nervous titter. “Looks like you’ve had one heck of a battle, huh?”

Er, no,” Isobel grumbled, not wanting to humour that joke at the moment. “I’ve just been in an accident.”

“You what?” Edie walked to the far side of the store, along with Reynolds, who crossed his suited arms.

Yeah, exactly what I said.” Isobel sighed, about to faint from embarrassment.

“Damn,” Reynolds said, drawn to the egg on Isobel’s head. “What happened?”

Er, it’s a long story, okay? Besides, I don’t wanna be later than I already am to start the sign thing.”

“Nonsense.” Reynolds pulled up a spare stool from behind the counter and slid it across the smooth boutique floor to Isobel’s side. “I can’t put you to work if you’re all bumped up like that.”

Thanks, but—” she slumped onto the seat—”it’s fine, honestly. And I’ve got more things to worry about than just a few bruises. Thank the stars I’m not human, else that would’ve sent me straight to the hospital.”

“Oof,” Edie said, leaning on the counter to face Isobel, along with Reynolds who stood beside her. “I’ve had a few accidents like that before. Tell me about it.”

Isobel glanced at the both of them. She had only been working at the premium Pokeball store for less than a month, and yet, they were interested to know what her deal was. At the very least, she needed someone to vent to about this. So, she shifted in her seat and recalled her story.

***​

Isobel and Bronze stared out of the parking lot view to the rest of Circhester, and both of them had a lot on their mind. Isobel was thinking about work and battling, though she already had her fill of fights throughout the past week. Bronze, on the other hand, had to go and figure out what his plans were with his case worker, now he had officially left Trevor.

“So, what time do you think you’ll be back?” Bronze asked.

“Ah, probably no time at all.” Isobel said as she stretched her arms. “Door’s unlocked if you need to get in anyway.”

“Oh.” His ears drooped.

“Oh what?”

“What if they think I’m some wild Pokemon?” He looked back at the block of flats. “I don’t want to cause any trouble.”

“You won’t,” she said. “And trust me, I’m not the only Pokemon living there. They’d just think you’re one of us.”

“Right.” He sighed. “Sorry, I’m a bit nervous today. Truth be told, I’m not sure if I want to go back with another trainer. Not after what happened before.”

Oh, of course. Trevor’s ghost was going to follow them around no matter where they went. Isobel took her eye off of the hillside for the moment and knelt down to Bronze, patting him on the head. “I know. But I’m sure those guys’ll understand, right?”

“Yeah… And that Inteleon is nice, if a bit cold.”

“Oh yeah, her.” She didn’t know who she was, other than the fact that she tried to help Bronze readjust to life without a trainer. “Well, good luck today.”

“Thanks.” His tail brushed past her ankle. “And good luck with your thing, too. I hope you find some Pokemon to coach soon.”

Oh yeah, that. Isobel gritted her teeth. Ever since that episode a week ago, she resolved to apply herself and create a posting on the PokeJobs board where she could coach other Pokemon. One day, she was just about to advertise herself on there… only to stop at the last minute. At that time, a lot of thoughts rushed through her head, some influenced by her inner Morgrem, some of her own. What if she wasn’t good enough to be a paid coach? What if nobody took her seriously on account of being a Machamp instead of a trainer? How would it get in the way of her fallback job at the previous store? What if she had nothing to show off her skills? What if…

Isobel got so bogged down in the ‘what if’ that she cramped up. And she had no good excuse to tell Bronze — it sounded ridiculous enough in her head anyway — so she lied instead. She hadn’t called Gloria since that day either. Why not just tell Bronze the truth now?

She looked down, only to see no sign of that fox anywhere. He must’ve already left. Before she went, Isobel checked her phone — she was 5 minutes late.

Crap. Isobel immediately unlocked her bike and started pedalling down the familiar roads. As usual, they were packed with cars, though those with Pokemon simply rode on their backs. This was nothing new for Isobel, and she got used to the different road laws and hand signals by now. Though—

One car beeped behind her, and Isobel pedalled faster, grunting in annoyance. She was falling behind. Wait, she was late, she needed to rush! No, she was distracted. She was still thinking about that talk with Bronze. That opportunity she missed. Those opportunities she missed. Even though Isobel pressed onward, another set of cars blocked her way, sandwiching her in the middle with no way of stopping. She tried to find an opening so she could rush through it. Right there, between the blue car and the guard rail.

Isobel didn’t waste any time taking the chance. She shifted gears and sped up, trying to scoot into the space, but slowed down at the last second. This was looking risky. This was—

The car suddenly slowed down. With a scream, Isobel veered to the left, only to bump into the guard rail. The bike wobbled. Then, she fell, and—

CLUNK!

Tired skidded. Horns beeped. Traffic went on all around her, while her face was stuck to the concrete. Even with four arms, the shock of that didn’t break her fall. Oh great, someone was tugging at her shoulder as well.

Her head hurt. It was like someone just swung a metal sign at her face. Though she was tougher than humans, so this was nothing for her. She took a deep breath and pushed herself up. Time to face the music.

***​

So, as it turns out,” Isobel continued, pressing the chilled can onto her sore head, “I made a dent shaped like my face in some guy’s car.” Even as she described her own misfortune, she couldn’t help but laugh. “And he may or may not get me to cover the costs.”

“Really?” Edie’s tone rose, her fists clenched around a roll of barcode tape. “But you’re a—”

That’s got nothin’ to do with that. Sure, I didn’t know that I’d autograph the car with this thing—” Isobel waved at her own face—”but I’m still the one responsible. I mean, I’m payin’ my own bills, so…” She shrugged, taking another sip. Did people really enjoy this kombucha? It tasted like toilet water. And yet, she couldn’t stop drinking it. “At least the bike’s fine,” she said with a humourless chuckle.

Edie’s fiery expression dropped, and Reynolds patted her on the back. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but it made Isobel feel a little better about it.

“Look,” Reynolds said, “you can take the day off if you want.”

Thanks, but I still wanna get paid.” She sighed. “And if I do get charged up the wazoo for it, I wanna have something in the bank for it.”

“Though you don’t know how much it’ll be.” Edie scrolled through her phone, looking something up from what Isobel gathered. “You might not even be at fault, if that dumbass suddenly slowed down. And hey, they might chalk it up to an unavoidable accident, like if a wild Wooloo just—” she made a rolling motion with a hand—”Wooloo’d right into the car.”

It seemed a little insulting to compare Isobel to a sheep, but that was on them, not Edie, and if it worked in Isobel’s favour, then it didn’t matter. Still, Isobel got out from her seat and started heading towards the backroom. They eyed her with concern, but didn’t stop her as she headed for the front door with her trusty sign in tow.

“Good luck, anyway.” Edie gave a slight smile that didn’t entirely reach her eyes.

“And thanks,” Reynolds said with a less melancholy smile. “You do make things better for us, you know.”

Even if she didn’t see any of the trainers flocking to their store while she was around, it was nice to hear nonetheless. And so, Isobel waved them back before she headed for work.

***
The shift began and ended without much fanfare. Sure, it must’ve been a novelty for the crowd to see a Machamp twirling a hunk of steel around, but to her, it was just a paycheck like anything else. She was essentially a performing clown. Oh well, even if she potentially had to save every penny she had, Isobel still needed to treat herself to some lunch. Self-care was important, after all.

Isobel heard through the grapevine that a new cafe opened up in the middle of Circhester, so her feet gravitated towards that place of their own free will. The PokeJobs system was taking off, so the next step was to test out Pokemon in the workforce more extensively, so much so, this cafe was almost entirely made up of Pokemon staff, including the management. It wasn’t too far away from the Hero’s Bath, so the furnished-sandstone exteriors and the fossil displays in the cafe window certainly fit the historical locale.

Isobel didn’t know what she expected once she entered the cafe, but she didn’t expect a Golurk to greet her, of all things.

Welcome,” they said through a voice box. “Glad you could come visit us, Misterchamp.”

Misschamp, thank you very much,” Isobel said, crossing her arms. “The pun works better that way.”

Ah, sincerest apologies.” The Golurk bowed.

“Nah, it’s fine. Easy mistake to make.”

No, it’s just that my studies of the art of paronomasia have been insufficient lately. But I have been trying. Customers can form attachments to staff based on humour, excellent service, and lots of cuddles, after all.”

“Oh.” She wasn’t expecting that, but she dropped it. “Yeah, it looks like they’re enjoying it.” Isobel glanced at a family of three that lounged around with an aproned Minccino who kept them company. That seemed nice, though she didn’t know if receiving headpats counted as actual work.

The Golurk extended their arms. “You seem a little frazzled. Care for a complimentary cuddle?”

Even though they towered over Isobel, to the point their head nearly touched the ceiling, well…

“You know what, yeah, I would.”

The Golurk brought their metal arms around her. Their cold embrace made Isobel jump at first, but it was still a nice feeling to be held. It made her think of her old folks back home, years ago. Finally, the Golurk brought them back, and bowed.

“Well, thanks,” Isobel said with a chuckle. “So, what’s on the menu today?”

“I’ve got baked goods and baked goods only!” one staff member shouted from behind the counter. It was a mop-headed Morgrem, who jumped up and squinted at Isobel. “I’ve got iced buns and that’s it! If you wanna get a pizza, bug off over to the sewer Chewtle!”

Isobel couldn’t help but stare at the Morgrem. He was covered from head to toe in flour, which didn’t seem very hygienic. That, and his personality reminded her of...

Hey, don’t look at me.

“A picture lasts longer, y’know,” he said, flipping his long hair.

Ah, forgive him,” the Golurk said, “he’s still learning the art of etiquette and customer service.”

“I’m servicin’ these guys just fine!” He pointed at the owner. “My own sweat an’ blood goes into these cakes!”

Not literally,” the Golurk reassured Isobel. “That would be a violation of our health and safety—”

“Who cares about that?! And hey, my buns ain’t good enough for ya?”

They are,” the Golurk said. “It’s a very popular item for a good reason.”

“Well, then!” Isobel finally cut in, trying to suppress her laughter. “In that case, I’ll have a couple of those! You’re lucky I have a sweet tooth!”

“Exactly what I wanna hear, lady.”

Despite being bullied into buying cakes, this was already looking to be a great place. She bought a Mocha-Mincinno – the misspelling was intentional to differentiate it from actual Minccino – along with it and went to sit at the table when something skittered past her, almost making her drop her tray.

“Oops! Sorry!” Isobel said.

One Thwackey growled as she slowly shuffled across the floor, balancing a tea tray atop her head. Well, this place was bustling. Isobel settled into a table at the end, surrounded by lots of fossils and pictures of famous landmarks around the world. She didn’t take much notice of those things, however, as she immediately got stuck into her bun. Wow, this was heavenly. The icing was sweet, but not too sickly, and the crust was all flaky as well. That Morgrem really did pour his heart and soul into this. She washed it all down with her coffee which had somewhat haphazardly made latte art of a Minccino.

Isobel always wondered what the point of that was, as it was gone as soon as someone took the first sip. She felt no need to take pictures of it and share it online either — was that supposed to make someone jealous?

She was about to take a sip of her Mocha-Mincinno, bringing the cup to her lips. That cream at the top was always her favourite part of—

“Hello,” Admirari said.

Bloody hell!” Isobel spilled coffee all over her lap. She ignored the scalding spillage and stared at the Hatterene, who had just appeared out of thin air. Right, she teleported. Did all psychics have to scare the living daylights out of other people like that? But… what… oh crap, what was she doing here? And sitting on the table next to her, no less?

“Glad to see your use of the human language is as colourful as your looks,” she said with a smile. “How are you, anyway? I haven’t seen you since you pounded my face into putty.”

“L-look, I don’t want any trouble, okay?” Isobel got up, scrambling to pack her stuff. “I’m really sorry that happened, I was… I was just…”

“It’s fine, really.” Admirari put on an even wider smile. “I knew you had some inner turmoil, let’s put it that way.” She patted the chair with her tentacle. “You can sit down, you know. I won’t bite.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. One sec.” She clutched her chest. “Jeez, you gave me a mini heart attack there.”

Admirari chuckled. “It’s always amusing to see how people react to my powers. Your shorts are wet, by the way.”

Isobel tried to save face by furiously scrubbing at her pants with lots of napkins. Fortunately, she didn’t even need to ask for a refill as the Golurk perceptively saw the incident and gave her a fresh cup of coffee. As soon as she had that, she reluctantly sat back at the table, tilting her head towards Admirari.

Admirari. If Isobel hadn’t won against her, she wouldn’t have been able to stay in Circhester. At the same time, rearranging her face in the process wasn’t a part of the plan, even if it was in the heat of an intense battle. She opened her mouth to apologise when Admirari shushed her.

“You already said sorry.”

“Can you not cut me off like that?” Isobel said with a huff, recharging her phone. “And what’re you doing here, anyway?”

“I’ve been frequenting this cafe ever since it opened. It suits my tastes, after all.”

“Oh.” That much made sense. “So you live around here, then?”

“I come and go as I please.” Admirari retrieved the bag wrapped around the pointy end of her hat. “And what’s your story?”

Isobel sighed, pinching her coffee-stained shorts. “I just got off work.”

“Battling Pokemon, masquerading as another trainer’s Pokemon?”

Isobel laughed, tracing a hand over her forehead. What was her beef? “No, spinning signs.”

“Oh!” Admirari’s eyes gleamed. “How interesting! It’s a wonder I haven’t seen you anywhere, though I don’t wander the streets much here. That looks difficult.”

“It kinda is, but a hell of a lot of fun once you get used to it.”

“And dangerous, evidently.” She pointed her tentacle tip at Isobel’s bruise.

“That’s because of something else, though I don’t wanna talk about it, okay?”

“Alright, fair enough.” Admirari snapped her tentacle, and the Golurk went behind the counter to prepare a cup of tea. “And by the way, that stunt T-Vul pulled didn’t go unnoticed by my trainer. Take a look at Nil’s profile.”

Since Isobel hadn’t checked it since that incident, she was surprised by how many notifications were on there. She looked at Nil’s account on the Snap!App and found a long post detailing T-Vul’s antics, along with a picture of Isobel wagging her finger at Trevor outside the arena. It was weird seeing herself on someone else’s profile, and even weirder to be mentioned in the tags. Someone even called her ‘Swolechamp’, whatever that meant. But it was nice to see the supportive comments of strangers expressing sympathy for her. She noticed she got a few more followers from that shoutout, though she didn’t know how to feel about that since Isobel only used the app to browse her feed.

“So… he knew.”

“Yes, the instant he set eyes upon you, no less.”

“Oh, how thoughtful of him—” Isobel crossed one set of arms—”he could’ve saved me a helluva lot of trouble by calling the match off earlier. Why give Trevor the money anyway?”

“Nil, well, Adam is his actual name. He only calls himself Nil in public because of my name.”

Isobel only stared at her. She didn’t get the significance there.

“Anyway, Adam is impulsive, let’s put it that way.” Admirari chuckled. “He has more money than he knows what to do with, but he doesn’t flaunt it. So sometimes, he gambles it away.”

“I still don’t get why, y’know.” Isobel growled. “He could put it to good use.”

“Ah, well, it’s not my problem. We’re just two ships that pass in the night.” Admirari winked. “And besides, I got to fight with you.”

Isobel sighed. “I beat you up. I thought you woulda hated my guts, to be honest.”

“I’ve been through worse fights. I hope you managed to pay your rent.”

“Yeah, I did, no thanks to Trevor, of course.” Isobel rubbed her head. Right now, that didn’t really look that clear, but she tried to shove that to the back of her mind. “God, I never wanna go through that crap again. I’m sure you know what that’s like, tryin’ to keep a roof over your head.”

Admirari’s tea arrived. From the looks of the green top and the familiar-looking latte-art, it was a Matchamp. Isobel had considered getting that, but it seemed a bit too on the nose for her to try. She waited for Admirari to take the first sip of her tea.

“Ah, that’s good,” Admirari said at last, “but no, I just live in a cave.”

“A cave…” Isobel sipped her coffee in turn, trying to process what she just said. “Huh. I thought you lived here.”

“Well, I do and I don’t, but I can’t stand living in the city, not for long anyway.” Admirari sighed. “I’m alright around crowds, but it does get exhausting.”

“I thought you said you could handle people’s emotions.”

“Yes, in moderation. It’s like eating chocolate. I could have it all day, but it wouldn’t be very good for me, just like being in tune with everyone’s thoughts and emotions wouldn’t be. Imagine if you had everyone’s thoughts all gathering in one place, screaming for attention all at once.”

“I mean, I know Lucario can literally tell what the other person’s thinking. If you can only tell what they’re feelin’, though...”

“Yes, exactly. You feel like you want to help, and yet you don’t know what’s bothering the other person.” Admirari took another sip. “So, being in a cave is right for me. No one tells you what to do, and you don’t have to deal with all the noise.”

“Yeah, I can relate to that, a bit.” Isobel took a big bite out of her bun, remembering to swallow before she continued. “I dunno, I think people see us Machamp as being really outgoing and ‘roided up, but really, after being out for so long, there’s nothin’ better than just spendin’ time on your own. You can be alone, but not be lonely, y’know?”

“Absolutely!” Admirari smiled. “That’s actually not a bad observation. If I may be honest, when I first saw you, I thought you would’ve been just a big meathead.”

“Looks like you just proved my point there. And if I’m bein’ frank too, when you popped up, I thought you woulda had everyone’s kidneys for dinner just for crackin’ a smile.”

“Ah, well, I walked right into that one.” Admirari exhaled. “I know humans are wary of Hatterene anyway, but rumours spread through Pokemon just as quickly as well. There are so many of us out there, and we’re so different. And yet, if you see someone from a certain group and only have a general overview to base your opinions off of, then your first thought is to see all members of that species as being similar. People tend to latch onto certain patterns of thinking.”

“It’s messed up, I know.” Isobel frowned. “And I’m sorry I got so antsy around you. I bet that gets really tirin’.”

“It does. And it works the same way with you, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. I guess that doesn’t make us so different after all, huh? So—” Isobel extended a hand—”is that all behind us now?”

She hoped Admirari would return the favour. She was opening herself up, and she wasn’t sure if Admirari’s touch would’ve triggered some sort of psychic reaction. When Admirari returned the handshake with her tentacle, there was a little shock as Admirari’s mind brushed past hers, but the feeling quickly subsided. All that was left was the warmth from a genuine connection between two former rivals, no matter what type they happened to be.

That conversation went much better than expected, and even then, it continued after that initial peak. Isobel exchanged certain details about her life up until this point, and Admirari did the same, though she didn’t embellish as much about herself as Isobel did. Still, it was nice hearing about how much Adam cared for her even though they split apart, and it was also interesting to hear of his escapades — one of which involved fasting for a week in the wild — even if it seemed like he lived in his own world. People would kill for that kind of lifestyle.

However, Admirari carved out her own path and lived comfortably without indulging in the excesses or extremes of her trainer. Right then, at the moment, Admirari felt like a friend, someone Isobel could open up to without feeling tethered to them. Yet, as she and Admirari kept talking, losing track of the time, a certain warmth spread through Isobel. She had no idea what it was, but it pulled her closer to Admirari. Though, no, that was silly. She had an urge to hold Admirari, which she satiated when some of the staff members came along for more headpats.

Before Isobel knew it, the cafe was closing. The sun was still out, but the Pokemon crew started cleaning and packing up the tables. Isobel didn’t remember the last time she had a long conversation like that with someone, not since…

Admirari started packing her things. Was she about to teleport out?

“W-wait!” Isobel said, standing up. She was about to ask if she had any contacts. But how did this work? She had never done it before. What if she said no? What if that was too forward? She tried her best to hide her reluctance, but Admirari only chuckled again. Crap. Did Admirari see right through her?

“Yes?”

“Well, I, uh…” Isobel was at a loss for words. Why? Where was that cocky attitude she once channelled at the stadium? “I… Well, I guess I’ll see ya around.”

“Yes, perhaps we shall. But, a word of advice.” Admirari’s eyes flashed pink. “Learn to trust yourself a bit more.”

And with that, Admirari disappeared, leaving Isobel on her own. While she came away from the chat feeling much better than before, once the other party left, a hollow feeling remained.

***​

Isobel wasn’t sure what to feel. She really enjoyed Admirari’s company, and regretted not asking her for any sort of contact afterwards. But that wasn’t the part that got her on the bike ride home — when she biked past the same spot she had fallen over before, her heart quickened. The events of that morning played back in her mind: of tires skidding, of metal twisting, of asphalt scraping skin. But Isobel wouldn’t fall behind this time. She learnt that from experience. So Isobel kept biking uphill, even with the pressure of the cars behind her.

In that sense, the ride back home went without a hitch. But once she locked her bike up and trod back to the confines of her apartment, Isobel was totally deflated. She sank into bed, head first, burying her face in the duvet. It still had some of Bronze’s hairs on it despite her best efforts, but oh well. Isobel just needed to unwind at this point.

Yet, she couldn’t. She kept tossing and turning, messing up the sheets she had folded up before she left this morning. How much would that car thing cost her? She got her phone out and surfed through a sea of search results. Damn. It could’ve been anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 Pokedollars, and 5,000 smackaroons was already a luxury to her as it was, even with the 8,000 Pokedollar prize pool from last week. Being perpetually poor on her own was one thing, but the possibility of being in debt was another thing entirely. Would she have to find a second job somehow? Would she even find a second job? She supposed the removal service place could take her back, but aside from that, what other skills did she actually have? What good was she—

Okay, no, I’m putting the kibosh on this. Do something else for a bit.

For once, the Morgrem was right. To distract her from those thoughts, Isobel raided her fridge for a beer. Good ol’ Pekkochu. Good ol’ Smith on the floor below who she made her barley monkey. One can wasn’t even enough to make her feel tipsy since she had built up a resistance to it, so she had another one after that. That did the trick.

Halfway through, she sat down and turned on Scyther High, unwinding with her drink in one hand and another hand digging into a bag of Lucari-O’s. Yes, cereal counted as a snack on a budget. Most of what happened in it slipped her mind, something about a Scyther slicing pizza with their claws at a Machoke frat party or something like that. She was about to crack open a third cold one when Bronze shuffled in and sniffed at the air.

“Is that… alcohol?”

“Yeah, but it’s fine, it’s fine,” she said, putting it aside. “Think of it as happy juice.”

Bronze took a few steps and glared at her. “I’m not an idiot. Trevor drank the same stuff.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not Trevor, am I? At least I hope not.”

“No.” Bronze sat on his haunches. “You’ve been great to me. I’m just… worried.”

Isobel slowly put the beer back in the fridge. “About what?”

“About the drinking. I may come from the wild, but I know enough to know that it’s not very good, especially not for you.” Bronze looked to the side. “Trevor… well, he cried whenever he drank. And he’d shout as well, saying he wanted to be left alone. Then he’d cough and throw up and...” He looked up at Isobel, ears drooping. “You’re nice, Isobel. I don’t want you to be like him.”

Isobel sighed and jumped back into bed, putting her arms behind her back. Bronze had her there. She knew it was bad, especially when it was toxic to most Pokemon except her kind, and Machamp still weren’t meant to process alcohol. But it helped her not to think so much, which ended up being often. And now Bronze was making her feel bad about it.

“It’s…” Isobel buried her head under a pillow. “It’s none of your business, Bronze. Lighten up.”

“While I’m living here, it is my business.” He pounced onto the bed and his tail brushed past her feet. “Something’s on your mind, isn’t it?”

Isobel let out a huge sigh. Yes, it was bothering her, a lot. But she was trying not to let it get to her. Even so, Bronze was there, willing to lend an ear. So, Isobel peeled the pillow off of her face and threw it to the far end of the room.

“I dunno,” she said with a hollow laugh, “it feels like life just wants to kick my ass lately.”

“So… what happened?”

Isobel sat up and pointed to the bump on her head. It was slightly less swollen than it was before, but it was still noticeable to Bronze, who stared slack-jawed at it. She just repeated the same story she told to her colleagues. When she was done, Bronze slunk within head-pat distance, and so, heads were pat.

“Sorry to hear that,” he said.

“It’s okay. I think. I’m not sure.” Isobel brought her hand away and rubbed her temple with it. She was about to say something else, but she couldn’t think of the right words for it. Then that gut feeling returned, like food poisoning. She sat on the edge of the bed, facing the wall. “You know what, at times like these, I kinda wonder why I bother staying here.”

“Oh.” He skittered to her side. “I don’t know much about debt, but I’m sure you’ll figure something out, right?”

“I probably will. It’s just, this shit keeps happening to me. I can’t find a job I can enjoy yet, I’m too broke to afford the things other humans seem to buy. Sure, it’s a nice feeling being able to live on my own terms, but it feels like I’m livin’ off of table scraps.”

Bronze hummed, then went silent. He probably didn’t have an answer for that, as another trainer provided for him all this time. That was alright — she didn’t expect him to offer up a solution. Though, something suddenly dawned on Isobel.

“I guess that’s all I have to look forward to, livin’ like a human.”

“Then—” Bronze brushed his face into her side—”why not go back?”

Isobel turned to him, wide-eyed.

“I know you’ve talked about meeting your parents before.”

“Yeah, but, I dunno.” Isobel got up and started pacing around the room. “I mean, it’d be too sudden for me to move there. I don’t think they’ll even accept me, the way I am now. Who knows?”

“How do you know that?” he said, his tone a lot more serious. He rushed up to her and glared at her, hackles raised. “You won’t know unless you do it for real, Isobel! At least you know where they are, right?”

This was sudden. Isobel wasn’t sure why Bronze was acting like this, though it crossed her mind that he saw the case worker today. She was about to ask Bronze how that went when he stood on his hindlegs, pawing at her shorts.

“Even if you do end up coming back here, just try it. What’s stopping you?”

Well, work for one. If she went on a spur of the moment decision, that wouldn’t sit well with Reynolds, though he’d probably understand. Besides, Isobel decided what shifts she wanted to take anyway, so she could just move those to the end of the week. But then, she also didn’t know where exactly they were, just that they lived atop a cliff of some sort along with other fighting types. But then, she could ask Gloria, since she always logged down each location where a new member joined her team. Probably tomorrow, since it was getting late. Still, those plans were set into motion already.

Finally, Isobel took Bronze’s paws in her hands and knelt down to face him at his level. She took a deep breath and gave him a quick hug, which he returned.

“Thanks,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think I wanna leave. There’s some things I enjoy, like the sightseeing, the cafes, all the food here, some of the people I can meet, some of the Pokemon I can choose to battle, the Hero’s Bath, all the shows I can watch, and I can do that all on my own schedule.” Isobel hummed. “Actually, that’s a lot, now I think about it.”

He nodded. “I don’t understand half of the things you do, but you seem to thrive here. And other Pokemon like you are happy here, like that Alcremie and Slurpuff we keep seeing.”

Isobel laughed, stroking his head. “Well, if I could, I’d trade my extra set of hands for their cooking skills. Their pies go straight to my thighs, y’know.”

“And mine,” he said.

There was a moment of silence after that, but a pleasant silence this time. Bronze went to sit in her lap, and Isobel stroked him as she tried to think of what to say next. But both of their rumbling stomachs filled the gap in the conversation.

“I should probably whip something up for the both of us,” Isobel said, looking to the kitchen.

Bronze nodded, and with that, Isobel started fishing through the fridge for something they could both cook. Unlike last time, the shelves were filled with more nutritious stuff. There was actually salad in there, along with more meat that wasn’t canned, now she could support herself better. If she was going to change her life for the better, then she needed to take better care of her body as well… which was easier said than done with all the beer cans on the side. Though if that bill from the driver came, what was the bare minimum she could eat in order to keep herself afloat?

She tried not to think about that as she got some beef out, as well as some rice from the cupboard. She was going to do some fried rice for herself, and some cooked meat for Bronze, since he seemed to enjoy that a lot more. Before she started, though, she turned to Bronze.

“If I took a trip up there, would you come with me?” Isobel asked.

“Where, sorry?”

“My parents’ dwelling. I don’t wanna heap anything on you, but—”

“Ah, right, right. Well, I’d be happy to come,” Bronze said with a purring trill. “I’d be in my element out there.”

“Yeah, exactly. And, well, I’d feel awkward just going up there myself. I don’t remember half the customs over there, so you might be just as clueless as I’ll be.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

Isobel smiled, and started boiling the rice. There were still things she was unsure about. That coaching thing was still on her mind, though whether or not she’d be able to make a career out of that was still up in the air. And when she eventually met her parents, what would they say after all this time? On that note, where the heck would she be able to find them?

If and when she eventually found them, what would she talk about? Well, she had a lot to say. She didn’t know what she was getting into when she wanted to go with a trainer, all because she wanted to prove some false belief of strength to herself. Now she realised she didn’t have to prove herself as a human or a Pokemon to feel strong inside. But that still didn’t explain why she felt out of place.

She wanted a break. She wanted connections. She wanted to know what it was like to stroll in the park alongside an equal, not a trainer or a boss. She wanted to be with someone who was still a mess just like her, but also had it together in some ways. But just like today, Isobel cramped up when there was that possibility of making a new friendship. It just wasn’t something she practised that much when she was still with Gloria.

Her parents, even though they cared for her back then, didn’t prepare her for that. This confusion. This alien feeling in her mess of a body. Her heartache. How dare they?

There were so many questions on her mind. But even though Isobel was going out on a limb, she was just glad she didn’t have to go it alone.
 
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Bluwiikoon

Actual Nosepass
Location
England
Pronouns
He/him
I'd like to leave a more detailed comment later if I can summon the brain juice for it, but I'm really, really enjoying Isobel's story and I'm extremely excited to see what happens next. ^^ I'm super happy as well that Admirari and Bronze are given more screentime and depth! I hope Isobel gets to hang out with Admirari again soon, I'm interested in seeing where their friendship goes. :D They seem like good friends!

gud fic pls update :quag:
 

HelloYellow17

Artsy Whimsical Nerd
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. suicune
Here we go, Catnip review!! :D I’ve been intrigued by this fic for a while, just going off of some things you’ve mentioned on the server, and let me tell you, the first chapter did not disappoint!

Isobel held the letter marked 'Urgent' in one of her four hands. The second hand scratched her head. The third one held a bowl of Lucari-O's cereal. The fourth hastily shovelled spoonfuls of oats and chocolate chips into her mouth.

Oh my goodness, first chapter and I’m already loving this. And wow, the multitasking! Makes me both jealous and glad that I don’t have four hands. On one hand, no pun intended lololol it would be amazing to have two extra hands to get things done, but on the other, I already suck at multitasking and my brain would probably erupt. Best to leave it to the champs. Heh.

(yeah, this review is gonna be fulllll of puns, sorry not sorry)

But as little as she knew about reality TV, this place wouldn't end up as a feature on Escape to Galar anytime soon.

Oh?? Galar? This is in the human world, then?

...oh, just took a closer look at your summary. How interesting! A pokécentric fic that isn’t PMD?! Very unique, don’t mind if I do!

You're wasting both your time and your money.

There it was, that voice in the back of her head.

Ah, negative self-talk, very relatable. I enjoy that you characterize these thoughts as a voice separate from herself, as they really can be jarring from one’s regular thoughts. I do the same for Wes in OSAS.

No, she wanted to prove she could strike it out on her own. Where else did she have good enough wifi to stream the latest Scyther High episodes? She could've spent the rest of her days finding out if Night Terror and Scythe ever hooked up, since they were her favourite ship.

Oh yeah, and having a roof over her head that wasn't just a bunch of rocks or a canvas tarp also felt nice. Not to mention central heating. She wanted this, and she could keep it. She just had to work for it.

LOL I love the amount of characterization that’s jam-packed into these paragraphs. Also the fact that her TV shows took priority in her mind over having a roof over her head! XD

I’m also a huge sucker for clever Poke-universe names and adaptations of things that would be seen in our world, so the mention of the TV show and it’s name was great. You do a lot of that in this chapter and I absolutely LOVE IT.


"Huh," she thought out loud. She didn't want to get back into fighting on a league level, but when the thought of a paid fight struck her mind, it filled her with a certain urge. Not that she enjoyed it or anything; just that she knew she was good at it. She didn't move away from the training lifestyle for nothing, though.

Ooooh SUCH an effective paragraph! We get some hints at her past, some more clues about Isobel herself, etc all in a few sentences. Love it when relevant info is written in a concise yet subtle way like this, and it’s something I’m still learning how to do because it’s hard. But you do it masterfully.

Dig through the city's trash and you can find anything as long as you put the elbow grease in to fix it, and Isobel had plenty to spare.

LOL get it because she has four elbows

Human-speaking tour guides took bystanders through the various historical sites, educating them on who built what and other trivia.

Oh?? There are humans in this world too? For some reason I was of the impression that it was only Pokémon, but looks like I was wrong!

One was a human ice cream vendor named Vanilluxuries. The other was an Appletun and Alcremie duo named Slurpuff All You Want, serving up cream-topped slices of apple pie with the assistance of a Cinderace.

omg I LOVE this dynamic of Pokémon running businesses that compete with humans. We really don’t see this kind of stuff in fic very often, so it’s really fun amd refreshing to read!

Also, those VENDOR NAMES. I’m slain. They’re fabulous.

But Isobel didn't consider herself the best cook either, as she mostly subsisted off of pre-cooked pasta and Magikarp.

On that note, this is a world in which Pokémon are just as sentient as humans...but it’s still a thing to eat Pokémon?? Feels kinda morbid, but I could just be reading too much into this.

She won, but the victory wasn't hers, it was her trainer's. It was always her trainer's from the start.

Oh THANK YOU for addressing this. It always bugged me when all the credit for battling goes to the trainer, like...the Pokémon did all the battling?? Sure, trainers contribute and teach and guide, but come on, give credit where it’s due!

Did it count as being naked if they had pants on, even if it was made of their own skin?

LOL ASKING THE REAL QUESTIONS THOUGH. Like how does “clothing” work when it’s part of their design??

Nope, her phone vibrated just as she positioned her arms on the weights. From the ringtone of the Pokemon anime's first opening, she knew who it was. Crap. She didn't think to call her at all for the past

month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.

Added an extra space here!

She hung up before Isobel said the same. Her fists shook, which she took deep breaths for. That calmed her down, but after that, she suddenly didn't have as much energy to exercise. The comment she made stuck with her for a bit. During this downtime, she looked at the app once more to see what the offer was, giving it a complete look instead of a skim-read. What she saw on there made her eyes pop.

I like the small cliffhanger here, it definitely worked and left me wanting to read on. However, it does feel a little abrupt as an ending to the chapter. One thing you could do to make it feel a little less sudden is to make the last sentence it’s own paragraph. Another thing you could do is add some of her thoughts on what she’s just read, like, “Great. Just great. She should have known signing up for this gig was a bad idea.”

This kind of a nitpick though, so no stress if you don’t want to change it!


All in all, I REALLY enjoyed this! This has such a specific setting that I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen in a fic before, so I’m really curious to see where the story goes! This is “hands down” one of the most unique stories I’ve come across!
Hehehe hands down, get it? ...I’ll see myself out. xD
 
Chapter 5 - The Turns Have Tabled

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Chapter 5 - The Turns Have Tabled

Isobel cleared out her shift slots for the next couple of days. She needed a break after that embarrassing slip-up, and she needed all the time she could get to find her parents. It was surprising to see that Bronze was so adamant to start this journey, and she wondered if he had anything on his schedule, but she let it slide for the moment. So by the crack of dawn, the two were all set. The next step was to call Gloria.

Hey,” Isobel said once she was on the line, “I got your message.”

“Oh, hi!” Gloria said. “Sorry I can’t be of much help. The details are kind of fuzzy to me. Oh! I think I wrote down where you joined my team.”

Isobel snickered. “I always wondered what you were doing with that notebook.”

“Well, something they never tell you about training is all the boring paperwork you have to do. Like, oh, filling out forms each time I want to have a gym battle? Puh-lease!” There was a faint sound of pages flipping on the other end. “A-ha! Found it!”

What is it?”

“Near Turffield. Route 4, right next to the mines.”

Isobel took a deep breath. It sounded close, yet so far. “Don’t suppose you could be any more specific?”

“That’s all I wrote down, I’m afraid.” Gloria sighed. “Again, sorry about that.”

Nah, it’s fine.” Isobel grinned. “I’ve got time to kill, so I might as well go on a bit of a hunt. And I have someone with me that can sniff it out.”

“A boyfriend, maybe?”

N-no.” She didn’t even know how she’d make that work with a Thievul, but that wasn’t the point.

“O-oh, oops.” She laughed nervously. “Well then, glad I could help a little.”

Yeah, and thanks.” Before she hung up, Isobel had something else to say. “One more thing. When you met my parents, er, do you remember what they were like?”

“Oh! Um, yeah, I don’t actually know much about them, but they seemed nice. I think they were just happy to have you tag along with me, and they must’ve seen some sort of potential in me.” She mimicked a chopping sound. “They liked my high kicks.”

I can’t even kick that high.” Isobel chuckled, remembering what it was like to spar with Gloria. She liked that she actually fought alongside her and trained her own body as well, but of course, it wasn’t the same as doing it with a Machamp. Humans were just built differently, after all. “Maybe I shouldn’t skip leg day.”

“Who needs legs when you’ve got arms like those?”

That sent Isobel into a laughing fit, and Bronze couldn’t help but smile either by the looks of it. It was nice to chew the fat with Gloria sometimes. Isobel thought about mentioning the accident to her, but she wanted to end it on a high note.

Well, talk to ya later, Glory. Tell Eddy and the rest I said hi.”

“I will! Ooh, and let me know how it goes!”

With that, they said goodbye, and hung up.

To Turffield, it was. Taking a flying-taxi was too expensive, so the two took the train. Thankfully, Isobel didn’t need to pay since Pokemon went on there free during the off-peak hours. So once they got on board, the two took their seats in the carriage. Bronze sat in Isobel’s lap throughout the journey, often gesturing for her to stroke his head. Ever since he started living with her for the time being, he’d often come over for headpats or belly rubs. The poor guy must’ve needed it after everything he’d gone through.

There wasn’t much to do in the couple of hours that passed. Isobel played a few games of that Cafe Mix thing until she had to wait for the in-game energy to replenish — ugh, why didn’t they just let her solve the puzzles at her own pace? She wasn't going to let that company leech any money off of her. Bored, she glanced at some of the passengers, both a mix of human and Pokemon, and there wasn’t much there either. Mercifully, the food trolley came, and from it, she bought a sandwich —splitting it between her and Bronze— and some coffee. And as she had lunch, Isobel checked the news on her phone. Not that she was much of a fan of it, but in that moment, she was just curious, and it was a way to occupy herself while the journey continued.

Of course, the PokeJobs program was still the hot topic since it launched a month ago. Headlines whirred past her: ‘Productivity Proliferation Thanks to Pokemon!’, ‘Meet the Top Earning Pokemon!’, ‘Conkeldurr and Smeargle Team to Design New Stadium!’, and so on. It was all uplifting news, sure, but Isobel wondered where she fit into all of that while she was making peanuts. Was she worth less just because she didn’t make as much as them? What about all of the ordinary Pokemon like her that just struggled to get by on her own? Or was it her own fault for deciding too late what she wanted to do with her own independence? Maybe if she earned more, this whole debt thing wouldn’t be hanging over her head like a Honedge.

The choice was still there for Isobel to advertise herself. And yet—

Ugh, you’re so boring, worrying about this all the time. Besides, you haven’t battled in three days.

Not now. She was trying to think about important stuff.

Okay, be my guest, if you wanna keep spinning your wheels, staring at the screen all the time.

It was hard not to. Isobel got stuck for ages last time, still thinking of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’ way ahead in the future. It was this silence she couldn’t stand, all this time waiting, being alone with her own thoughts since Bronze was asleep. That’s why her phone gave her such an escape — she didn’t have to think so much with so much stimulation at her fingertips. But it was a tool, not her life. Besides, she didn’t take this journey so she could still worry about career stuff.

So, Isobel turned her phone off and stared out the window, watching the pastures whir by. Green. Blue. Pink. Cottages with thatched roofs. Farms with all sorts of colourful Pokemon picking from all sorts of berries. Power lines that towered above. This view didn’t cost anything, unlike the stuff on her phone. As she kept window-watching, it soothed her nerves a bit, and it took her mind off of her other worries for now. That was, until Isobel finally arrived in Turffield.

She nudged Bronze awake, and the two got off of the train to walk to the bus station. There was a lot to appreciate about Turffield with its green, grassy hills and its quaint, ancient atmosphere, but as much as Isobel wanted to bask in the moment, she didn’t have time to dilly-dally. So her and Bronze transferred over to a bus that led to the mines — Bronze also took a nap in the seat beside Isobel.

The further the trip went, even if she didn’t know where the dwelling was, the faster her heart raced. This was one of those times where she wished she had one of those cigarettes. It would be the first time she saw her parents ever since she was a Machop. How would they react to her after all these years?

The rocking bus jostled Bronze awake.

“Ugh,” he moaned, grooming his moustache, “can’t those humans watch what they’re doing?”

“Yeah, it’s annoying, alright,” she said. “They must’ve hit a pothole.”

As the journey went on, all sorts of different people got on and off the bus. There were some trainers on their own, some trainers travelling alongside Pokemon, some workers in fluorescent clothing, and, well, Pokemon in fluorescent protective gear too. Since they had destinations of their own, the number of passengers dwindled, and eventually, Isobel and Bronze were the only ones left. Then the bus stopped in the middle of a forest as one of the drivers got off to take a smoke break. Isobel followed him outside.

Hey,” she asked, “why’d you stop?”

“A-ah, ‘scuse me.” The driver stopped trying to light his cigarette as he turned to her. “Din’t get you lot were travellin’ alone. Route’s stopped, y’see.”

His voice was a lot more gruff than she was used to, and it took her a few seconds to parse his accent. Right. West-region.

“Route’s stopped,” Isobel whispered to herself. Then she looked from left to right, fearing the worst. “Crap. Please tell me we’re near the mines.”

“Ah, not ta worry, mines is up there, got it?” He pointed to the straight path in front of her.

Okay then,” she said with a smile. “Thanks a bunch.”

The driver tipped his hat to her and Isobel waved back as she continued the path to the site along with Bronze. She heard coughing and wheezing behind her. Perhaps it was best for her to kick the smoking before it became a habit.

“Didn’t understand a word he said,” Bronze said.

Isobel only hummed in reply. A part of her wondered if she sounded too posh. But she put that aside as she and Bronze walked to the path where the concrete road turned to mud, then gravel as they entered the mining site.

On one side, there were all of those chimneyed buildings that secreted smoke, which got swallowed up by the Galarian Weezing floating in the air. This was noticeable to Isobel, as the air smelled surprisingly fresh, given how thick the fumes looked. On the ground, there were quite a few Pokemon, like the Geodude and Magneton, that worked alongside humans as they loaded wheelbarrows full of ores back to their base. This was separated by a fence, and on Isobel’s side, trainers walked in and out of the tunnels.

“Don’t suppose you can sniff out other Pokemon like me here?” Isobel asked.

Bronze shook his head. “It’s too faint to make out at the moment.”

So much for that. Isobel didn’t want to rush in there without a plan, but she didn’t know how long it would take her to find them. She then noticed a small cabin that read ‘The No Miner Feat Gift Shop’, and peeked into the window out of curiosity.

When she first came here with Gloria, she didn’t know what purpose half of the things in the shop served. But now Isobel was older and gained more worldly knowledge, she recognised that the shelves were full of merchandise: Pokeball charms, Pokemon plushies, trainer guides, maps, postcards of all the different areas of the mines, boxes of Turffield fudge, and even DVDs of the Pokemon anime. They really milked the trainer economy here for all it was worth. With all the foot traffic here along the routes, who could blame them?

“Oh, I caught a whiff of something!” Bronze said, sniffing the ground. Right, Isobel was getting distracted. So without further ado, the two entered the caves.

Likewise, when Gloria first led her along the caverns, it was such an exciting, new place, with the crystals and the glowing lights and all that. It made each encounter stand out more, and Isobel felt like she was plunged into a different world. Now, it was crazy to see how railroaded the whole experience was. Off the main path, there were lots of dead ends, and anything that wasn’t a dead-end was cordoned off with warning barriers. It had to be that way since the routes were under supervision of the rangers, specifically to keep trainers from interacting with the really dangerous wild Pokemon, some that were even feral.

All these Pokemon had to come from somewhere, though. She found a Zubat roosting upside-down from a cluster of stalactites at one point.

“Do you know if there’s a family of Machamp around here?”

They only stared at her with their non-eyes, then screeched, burying themselves in their wings. Isobel didn’t know what she expected. She even started to suspect that she got the wrong place.

Just beside her, Bronze raised his head and started running.

“Hey!” Isobel called.

“I’m going to search for something on my own,” he said. “I’ll come back to you soon, alright?”

Isobel shrugged, giving him the go ahead to rush off. She did a little more searching of her own, looking for any place that led to a passage of some sort. And yet, she found nothing. So Isobel stepped to the side of the path and backed up against the stony walls, watching the trainers go by as she swigged from her water bottle. Some eyed her as they walked past, but otherwise, they didn’t pay too much attention to her. Likely, due to her clothes, they knew she wasn’t a wild Machamp, and even if she was, they wouldn’t have messed with her unless they had the right Pokemon for it.

Come to think of it, that was kind of a messed-up thought process, that she had to wear clothes in order to appear more civilised to them. Sure, she found it comfier than just going around au naturel, but was that because it genuinely felt fashionable to her, or because she wanted to blend in?

And another thing, Bronze wasn’t wearing anything that made him look like a trainer’s Pokemon, right? Then—

Yelps bounced off the cave walls. It sounded suspiciously foxlike. Isobel ran for it, weaving past the line of trainers to scope out the source of the noise. She cursed under her breath, hoping she didn’t just let her companion get scooped up like that.

When she eventually found them, Bronze was tensed up in a battle position, hackles raised. He faced a Sylveon, who raised her ribbons at the command of her young-looking trainer. What on earth was going on-- no, it didn’t matter, Isobel had to step in.

Stop right there!” Isobel yelled, running in between the two opposing parties. “No one’s battlin’ anyone here!”

The trainer looked puzzled for a moment, probably at Isobel’s presence. Then he realised something.

“Um, wait, hold on, so this Thievul isn’t a wild Pokemon here?”

No! He’s—”

“Your Pokemon!” His face lit up. “Oh, I’ve heard about Pokemon trainers before! I mean, not trainers who train Pokemon, that goes without saying, y’know.”

The Sylveon just thumped her paws on the ground. “Oh, I don’t care, just lemme at ‘im already!”

This was unbelievable. A part of Isobel just wanted to vamoose, but another part of her wanted to play along. She’d be crushing the kid’s dreams if she burst his bubble.

Okay, let’s say I am his trainer. So, what now? You don’t just battle every schmuck you see, right?”

Bronze pointedly stared at Isobel.

“Well, that’s the idea! I mean, I know Pokemon love battling, and I love making my Pokemon happy, and other trainers like battling other Pokemon, so…”

It was tempting— wait, no, what was she saying? She needed to check on Bronze.

“Psst,” Isobel whispered to his side, “we don’t hafta do this if you don’t wanna. We can always back out and tell him the truth.”

He looked at the trainer, then back to Isobel, grunting. “I’d feel like a coward if I didn’t, and I want to prove something to Trevor, wherever he is.” He gave a begrudging grin. “Besides, I also want to see how you’d fare in a trainer battle. It might be good for your coaching venture.”

This was probably good for Bronze. If he went through such a huge streak of losses before, maybe another win under his belt would give him another ego boost, especially if the fight wasn’t under such a bad trainer. Isobel swore she’d never get back into training ever again… as a Pokemon. But as a trainer, well…

Was she seriously about to do this?

Alright,” Isobel said, standing back, “I’ll bite.”

Trainer… er, well, Machamp Isobel wants to fight? Is that how they say it?

Yeah, whatever. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, being the trainer for once felt kind of cool.

Okay then. Machamp Isobel wants to fight! Isobel sent out Bronze! If he already wasn’t out to begin with!

A moment of silence passed. The two trainers (well, one pseudo-trainer) stared at each other, and then their Pokemon. The Sylveon started polishing her claws.

“Uh, so, what’s your name?” Isobel asked in her own tongue, kneeling down to the Sylveon.

“Never mind, just start the fight already!” She arched her back, ribbons swirling all around her. “This shouldn’t be boring with you around!”

“Right.” Isobel stepped back, pointing to the trainer far away. “So, do you wanna start, kid?”

“Y-yeah, sure! Felurian, go, go! Just do some quick attacks or whatever!”

Bronze, I trust ya. Counter if you hafta!”

For the moment, she trusted Bronze’s instincts in favour of giving exact instructions. Felurian tried to pounce towards him, ready to swipe him with her claws. He gave her a warning scratch, warding her off for the moment. Another swipe at the air. Another step forward and backward. Then, just for a brief flicker, Felurian’s eyes widened. Right.

Now, Bronze!”

He swiped straight at her side. Felurian yelped, jumping back.

Good, now keep attacking!”

Isobel wouldn’t let up, not as long as Bronze had an opening. He kept swiping and clawing, and Felurian kept dodging, but she got sloppier with each hop backwards. She eventually whiffed another dodge, giving Bronze the chance to bean her across the face with his big paw.

Felurian fell to the ground.

Okay, now wait.”

It wasn’t in good taste to kick a mon while they were down, especially not when Isobel was up against such a young trainer. She used the opportunity to get a good look at the boy while Bronze caught his breath. His posture was hunched over, the tips of his shoes touched each other, and his hands wrung around his elbows. Isobel waited for him to make the next move, but he just stared at Felurian, jaw slack open. Didn’t he know what to do next? Felurian turned to him, grunting as she awaited his next command. Even she was getting sick of it.

Then, his face brightened.

“Oh, right! Disarming Voice!”

Before Isobel could warn Bronze, Felurian screeched. That was… oh, god, Isobel’s ears rang like crazy — like a speaker in her brain just popped. She fell to her knees, wincing as she tried to get her bearings.

Well, talk about a bad case of deja vu. Except that buzzing Frosmoth didn’t affect her at all. Then, why now? Crap, right, because she was a fighting type. In the midst of her haze, she saw that Bronze tried to stand up, only to fall to the floor where Isobel was. She waited for the pain to subside, but the white noise still wouldn’t go away. Crap, crap, crap. There was no way she could command a trainer battle like this. The trainer wanted to fight, though. Felurian was still raring for one. Isobel needed to be a good opponent, or else, what would she be as a coach? If she was even any good at all?

Hold up, just calm down.

Right. Isobel could do this. She breathed in and out, in and out, looking within her inner Morgrem.

So, you got hurt as a knock-on effect, so what? Are you just gonna sit there with your thumb up your ass and give up this gig?

Isobel didn’t know the right answer for now, but that was a starting point. She took a few more deep breaths, she rubbed her ear-holes with one set of hands, and stroked Bronze’s ears with the other set. Something clicked, both in her mind and in her hearing. The pain was still there, manifesting as a headache, but it was manageable. By the time she came to, though, Felurian had retreated back to her trainer with a worried look on her face, and a group of strangers had joined in, standing by the cave walls.

Um…” Isobel rubbed her head, chuckling sheepishly. “Well, that just happened.”

“Uh, oh no...” The trainer stepped forward, picking up Felurian in his arms. “Oh, I’m really, really sorry about that, I didn’t know it would do that! I mean, I didn’t know it would hurt you too!”

Don’t sweat it, kid, alright?” Isobel probably looked quite imposing to him, so she relaxed her shoulders, shrugging both sets of arms. “I honestly didn’t think of that myself.”

“Yeah, I know, but, well, that voice thing is kind of her trump card, isn’t it, Felly?”

“Well,” the Sylveon said under her breath. “It wouldn’t hurt for you to teach me a few more tricks...”

Isobel tried to think of what to say next. If the battle continued as normal, considering the type matchup, he probably would’ve abused that move. If that was the case, and if Isobel was going to take on Pokemon of all types under her wing, then she had to adapt along with them. This would be a great learning opportunity for the both of them. She checked up on Bronze, who was fine, and patted him on the rump. Then, she looked to the duo next.

Hey.” Isobel approached the trainer and gently patted his shoulder. “I’ll be fine. If I’m gonna be—” No. Think big. “If I am a trainer, then I need to see things like this coming as well. Like, maybe I’ll bring some earmuffs next time. So if this sort of thing happens again, I won’t have to stop the fight.”

“Right,” he said with a smile.

But, well, can I give you some advice?”

He slowly nodded.

In the future, I wouldn’t rely on one move as a trump card, as you say. Were you gonna keep using it to attack my friend there?”

“Hello,” Bronze chimed in, running to Isobel’s side.

“Yeah.” The trainer stroked Felurian’s head. “I didn’t know what else to do against a dark type.”

Well, then, you can always trust your Pokemon,” she said with a wink aimed at the Sylveon. “I mean, we’re smart, aren’t we?”

Felurian let out an affirmative trill.

“But, will Pokemon— I mean, will she get what I mean if I just let her fight on their own?”

Well, that’s what she did at the beginning, didn’t she? Don’t let her wait on you unless you tell her to.”

He looked down to Felurian, scratching her side.

“Sorry. I guess I got nervous there and forgot to let you take the lead.”

Felurian tilted her head away from him.

“Aw, man. I’m just not good at thinking on the fly.”

Eh, it comes with practice.” Isobel stepped back and pointed at herself. “I don’t suppose you wanna try again?”

“Nah, it’s fine.” He gently let Felurian down and adjusted his red cap. “But, you know, thanks for the tips and all that.”

Anytime.” She tried to tilt her own cap before she realised she didn’t have one. Dammit, that trainer energy was contagious! “Well, see ya and Felly around, I guess.”

“And you!”

“And you, weird Machamp lady,” Felurian said, tail swishing behind her.

The trainer nodded once more with a smile before walking off. At last, Isobel sighed and knelt down to pet Bronze.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” she said, stroking his ears, “I shoulda thought of something before — I think that gift shop back there did clothes.”

Bronze shook his head. “It’s fine. I don’t know if running off was the best idea.” His tail swept the hard ground. “To be honest, there was a reason I did that.”

“Not to get away from me, I hope.”

“No, not that. I just thought I tracked my own kind’s scent. It’s…” he sniffed at the air. “It’s earthy, somewhat sharp, and a little, er, unpleasant. It’s from…”

At that moment, his tail stuck up, and he ran off. Isobel had to sprint to catch up with him.

“Wait!” She yelled, her voice echoing through the caves. “Did you find something?”

“Yes!” He shouted back. “Just trust me!”

She did exactly that. She ran through the mines, not caring who was watching, and followed Bronze through a forking network of caves until she entered a passage surrounded by darkness. The only sign of light was behind her, and Bronze was walking through as if the whole place was illuminated. She trusted his eyes, though, and followed him through the shadows. All she had to go on were his footsteps, claws clicking onto the hard, stony floor.

The darkness stretched on endlessly. Isobel had to trace her hands over the walls in order to keep herself grounded. At one point, she remembered she had her phone and reached out to turn on the torch function, only to remember she’d switched it off on the train. Again, she needed to unplug. And back there, what did Bronze say about looking for his kind? Was that part of why he came with her?

As she pondered it, gradually, the passages grew lighter, until a huge opening of sunlight streamed in at the end of the tunnel. That path went on forever, but all that walking eventually paid off. Before they exited the caves, Isobel whistled at Bronze.

“Thank god for that schnozz of yours,” she said. “You’re a lifesaver.”

“Wait until—“

“HYAAAA!”

A Machamp charged in, aiming a double karate-chop at Bronze. He dodged out of the way just in time. Isobel immediately rushed up to her opponent with her fists at the ready. He had a protective look in his eyes, and she anticipated his first strike at any moment, which he took, striking her shoulder with a fist.

He held back then. This wasn’t a fight. So her kind really didn’t change after all. She lightly punched the Machamp’s shoulder on the opposite side, then drew it back like the other one did.

“Um…” Bronze piped in, “is he… dangerous?”

“No, not at all, furred one,” the other Machamp said. “This is how we greet each other.”

“Yeah,” Isobel said, “there are lotsa things you can say just through punches and kicks alone in our dwelling. Some even prefer to talk that way. But that chop was different back there, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.” The Machamp looked behind the two at the path they came from. “If any stranger tries to come here, especially another human, well…”

“So, that was a warning.” Bronze sighed. “If you aimed to scare people off, then you almost got me there.”

“Right, sorry about that. I held back in order to not hurt you, but I had to get the message across somehow.” He glanced at Isobel’s clothes. “Unfortunately, I also mistook you for a human at first.”

“What?” Isobel said, shrugging her back set of arms. “This wasn’t a dead giveaway?”

He laughed and patted her on the shoulder. Even if he didn’t say anything outright, it was clear to Isobel through his gaze that he recognised her. He looked sort of familiar as a Machop, since there was still that chipped growth on the right-most part of his mohawk, but it was still just a hunch.

The Machamp stepped aside, no longer blocking the exit as Isobel stepped through. When Bronze tried to follow, however, the Machamp planted his foot in the ground, blocking his way.

“Hey!” Isobel yelled, sharply turning to the guard, “that’s my friend there!”

“I’m aware,” he said with a stony look, “some really don’t take kindly to strangers, however.”

“Can’t you make an exception?” Isobel pleaded, putting on her best puppy-dog eyed impression. It didn’t work as the Machamp maintained his poker face.

“It’s not for me to decide. I’m sorry.”

Isobel tried to find a point so she could argue further, but Bronze did the talking for her, looking up to the Machamp guard.

“She’s the one who took me here,” Bronze said, “so I can’t leave without her.”

“You don’t have to leave, that is, if she plans on coming back.”

“Yeah,” Isobel said, “I won’t be staying here for long, I don’t think.”

“Alright then. You can’t go past this cave, but I can keep you company for now until she comes back, furred one. How does that sound?”

Bronze bowed and looked back to the Machamp. “Alright. I’ll stay here with you.”

The Machamp nodded affirmatively and pulled out a deck of cards from his pants. “I don’t know if you know how to play. I spend a lot of time alone at my post, so it’s always handy to keep this with me during the quiet moments.”

Isobel grunted at what she just witnessed. “D’you also keep your lunch in there?” she asked.

“I’m not an animal,” he shot back, glancing at Bronze. “No offense.”

“None taken. I don’t think I’ve ever played cards, but I can learn, I suppose.”

“Alright.” The guard smiled and sat down with Bronze, laying out the deck. Isobel continued to stare at them, not sure of when to start her journey, when Bronze winked at her.

“I’ll be fine. Just focus on finding your parents.”

Isobel nodded and turned around, facing the path beyond the tunnels. Finally, she got a proper look at the dwelling.

There were all sorts of different structures that served as homes. Some of them were simple, as they were just circular stone huts for some of the Pokemon to live in, but quite a few of them were more complex, with wooden shacks, stone sculptures, and makeshift exercise equipment made of logs, rocks and vines, which formed a playground of some sorts. From the sight of the Gurdurr and such working on one of these constructions, this was their doing.

And of course, there were fighting types everywhere. Timburr. Machoke. Makuhita. Tyrogue. All the like. The dwelling overlooked a cliff where a waterfall far away spouted into a massive lake at the bottom with all sorts of stones surrounding it. Isobel was above a quarry. Right, Keystone Quarry! She remembered the view now. The humans that appeared as specks at the bottom. The water reflecting the beaming sun. The trees, roads and buildings in the distance. And all the smells as well. The waft of damp stone. The salty-sweet stench of sweat. The scent of cooked berries and herbs.

Isobel was home.
 
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SparklingEspeon

Insquisitabilitating
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
~Review of I, Isobel~

Hi yes it is me, the one who is always spectacularly late with catnip, being… spectacularly late with catnip. :P

I wrote you a big review, though! So… tradeoffs?

This story is separated into two parts, so I’ll review it in two chunks. First, off, what was originally Out of Hand.

So. Out of Hand. The first thing that strikes me about this fic is how good the prose is. It’s streamlined to an almost insane level, and carried the story perfectly. So you’ve definitely got my seal of approval for that.

Tbh, I don’t think there’s very much to criticize for this part. I think it just… worked. All of it. It’s clear that it’s well-thought out, well written, well executed, and well revised. The prose surprised me with how clear and streamlined it was, and I literally do not think I have seen prose carry a story as well as it did here anywhere else.

I think you really showed what it was like to live as a pokemon in a society where pokemon are essentially second class, and the ways that manifested from pokemon living under trainers to the pokejobs system and the questionable jobs there to T-vul and his bigrotry (or is it idiocy?), and Isobel’s struggles just to pay for her apartment along with her underlying questions of what she’s even working so hard for in the first place. It felt directionless in a good way, in that Isobel is constantly asking what she’s even doing here, but also very guided, because her current objective I to get the rent for her flat, which represents everything she’s worked towards. She can sleep outside if she loses the flat, yes, but if she can’t hold down the pay to live there, she’s failed in her quest to become independent. It’s about far more than living in the streets, and that’s what made this simple conflict really powerful to me IMO.

But now we need to talk about T-Vul. Oh my god this blithering idiot. Words cannot describe the level of blood boiling I went through reading his sections. He’s nothing original or deep, and tbh that’s the cornerstone of his character, but he is extremely effective in the position you’ve placed him – being an asshat and representing everything Isobel doesn’t want to be or work under: strict, skin-deep, a loser all around, a bigot, and a bad mentor. He did a horrible thing to avoid Isobel’s wrath and basically got away scot free in the end, but that made it more realistic for me, honestly. Not every criminal gets apprehended, and it’s the people like T-Vul – especially those in privileged positions – who tend to get away the most.

I think half of what made him so effective was his behavior, and half that it was told from Isobel’s POV, who can see all the suffering his pokemon are going through. It's like a 'both sides of the smae coin' situation. Not entirely sure what happened to the raboot, though. I’m guessing the implication was that they were happy with T-Vul?? But like, I just can’t see that. Bronze didn’t have any special needs, and he wasn’t happy at all under T-Vul, so I can’t see how this Raboot would be when T-Vul treats all his pokemon like crap and doesn’t tutor or care for them past the bare minimum. I feel more like they’re just holding out on pure hope or don’t know what else to do without him, rather than genuinely being happy. Although I guess they’re sort of a lost cause if they can’t be brought to realize what kind of situation they’re in…

The third chapter was what made the story for me tbh. I wasn’t expecting it all to go to such dark/deep places after the battle, and I also enjoyed the unreliable narrator bits where it’s slowly revealed that maybe Isobel’s life and trainer weren’t so bad after all, and she has to ask herself what she’s really doing this for. Her realizing that coaching pokemon is what she really wants to do and finally finding a path forward that isn’t just surviving on her own rang really true, especially given her grievances in the first chapter and how she taught the boy to twirl the sign. I also appreciated that Bronze came back and finally got a happy ending too, even if his happy ending is more an escape from a bad one than anything. 10/10, loved the end :quag:

I only have two criticisms for Out of Hand as a whole:

1 I thought the grimmsnarl section was a little corny/on the nose. I get the idea, and I think it was still powerful, but fighting a literal personification of all her fears felt a bit on the nose for me. Especially since she’s not a psychic-type and can’t literally conjure thoughts like that – she’d basically have to purposefully generating a scenario like that in her head, which kind of broke the immersion for me (Maybe Admirari’s meddling did something… ?). I take stuff super seriously though, so that may factor into it.

2 The battle between Isobel and Admirari felt kind of loose cannon-ish to me. It never was completely clear if Admirari was the one manipulating Isobel’s thoughts or if Isobel just unleashed her pent up rage on her without help (I think it was a mix of the two – Admirari tried/amplified them but then got crushed), but having her leave the battlefield confused and angry didn’t really feel like a graceful sendoff to me. And, maybe it wasn’t supposed to be. But it still left me kind of empty after all that buildup. I would have wanted to see Admirari come back somehow within the span of Out of Hand, or maybe have a more graceful sendoff, although I can see how that might be a bit hard with the current structure. And I love everything tied up in a neat little bow, which may not be the right thing for this fic.

Now for Out On a Limb. There’s only two chapters, so I won’t get to judge this one as a whole, but I’ll do my best off the two I’ve read.

I’ll preface this one by saying that I have notorious issues with Number 2 stories. Sequels, second seasons of TV shows, second acts, etc. It can be really well-written, have the best plot, be a complete improvement/continuation of the original, etc. But it’s never the exact same.

It threw me here too. I think the reason is that Out of Hand ended so well that when the second part came in, it tore down the mirage of the first ending and I had to readjust for that. Although, that ending was an ending built on not knowing where to go next and enjoying the moment, so I got over it quickly.

The car accident (and resulting bills) is an interesting initial conflict, but I think the moment that sold me on this part was when you brought back Admirari. I definitely appreciated that they were able to get some closure on the battle incident, and also that I felt like she played an initial part in Isobel making the decision to finally go back and see her parents, so the meeting wasn’t purposeless for this story.

(Also appreciated that you kept Bronze around!! Although he’s taking a back seat here, being left behind while Isobel goes into Turnstone Quarry… Hope he gets some more page time soon)

I have to stop for a moment to point out the worldbuilding, which feels stronger in this part than it does in the last. Admittedly in the last there was a lot of stuff like the pokejobs system and that lucario, but here it feels… bolder, I guess? I liked reading snippets like the case worker for trainerless pokemon and filling out forms for gym battles and new pokemon and stuff. The part about pokemon riding free also kind of got me thinking for a bit – pokemon ride free, presumably because they’re considered lesser beings in this society somewhat, but then how does that work when the pokemon are just as smart as the humans. I feel like you’d have the one who opposed it loudly because it was demeaning and the ones who just gamed the system because, well, free bus rides. 🤷 I thought it was an interesting dynamic. I like snippets like these! Makes it feel like there’s a world beyond the constraints of the story.

I like that you seem to be building on that clash too with this second part, with Isobel being forced to wear clothes and her being a “pokemon trainer” being treated as a novelty encounter. Hoping to see this probed too!

Also enjoyed that you’re progressing the Isobel/mentor plot with the pokemon battle she’s forced into. It feels like by the end she may just legitimately become a trainer and care for Bronze on her own. I feel like this plot is just taking its first steps, but am happy to see you’re not letting it fall by the wayside.

I think my biggest positive for Out On a Limb so far is that you aren’t trying to create a new story in the place of one that should have ended – you’re continuing a story that logically wasn’t done yet, and you’re weaving it seamlessly with the old one. It legitimately feels like a fitting continuation, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. I can’t imagine it’ll just be three chapters like Out of Hand, especially with the scope you’re setting up here, though. Maybe four or six?

Also just a quick comment: so when you have ‘mons speaking human language, you put it in italics. And I don’t know why, but whenever the ‘mons speak pokemon but swear in human, it always reads to me like they’re enunciating the swear gleefully like a little kid and I’ve never been able to unread that lol

Overall, I feel like this fic is something built from familiar parts, but manages to be unique as a whole – obviously female machamp is a rare pokemon to use, especially as an MC, but Isobel feels layered, real, and more human than some of the actual humans in this fic. I can tell that it’s really well put together; everything from prose to thematic relevance to character arcs shine and I’m struggling to find places to criticize. I don’t know how many chapters/parts this fic is meant to be, but I feel like you’ve created something really deep and memorable here, and with this second part it’s capitalizing on the first part’s strengths and really coming into its own. Not sure when the next part is coming out, especially since you’ve said it feels like a chore to write latley, but I’m definitely planning to keep up with this one as it comes out. And I do genuinely mean that.

~SparklingEspeon

Listening to: 99.9 – MOB Choir
 

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Right off the bat, holy cow, thanks a lot for your response. It might've been a late submission, but it was well worth the wait for such a comprehensive review of everything I've put out of this fic thus far.

I only have two criticisms for Out of Hand as a whole:

1 I thought the grimmsnarl section was a little corny/on the nose. I get the idea, and I think it was still powerful, but fighting a literal personification of all her fears felt a bit on the nose for me. Especially since she’s not a psychic-type and can’t literally conjure thoughts like that – she’d basically have to purposefully generating a scenario like that in her head, which kind of broke the immersion for me (Maybe Admirari’s meddling did something… ?). I take stuff super seriously though, so that may factor into it.

2 The battle between Isobel and Admirari felt kind of loose cannon-ish to me. It never was completely clear if Admirari was the one manipulating Isobel’s thoughts or if Isobel just unleashed her pent up rage on her without help (I think it was a mix of the two – Admirari tried/amplified them but then got crushed), but having her leave the battlefield confused and angry didn’t really feel like a graceful sendoff to me. And, maybe it wasn’t supposed to be. But it still left me kind of empty after all that buildup. I would have wanted to see Admirari come back somehow within the span of Out of Hand, or maybe have a more graceful sendoff, although I can see how that might be a bit hard with the current structure. And I love everything tied up in a neat little bow, which may not be the right thing for this fic.

So, I completely agree with your criticisms for Out of Hand. At the time, certain scenes were influenced by aspects of Beastars (Legoshi and Bill's fight) and Celeste (the arc of Madeline accepting Badeline), and while I can point to a bunch of influences that've led to positive outcomes, it can also lead to me trying to replicate something without naturally working it into the story, and I think that’s part of what happened here, though it's not the main culprit.

The main thing with the Grimmsnarl was that it came in as a result of trying to fix two issues with the previous draft, when the fic was called Selling Out and was only two chapters. Admirari initially dredged up Isobel’s thoughts with her psychic powers, and people pointed out that her aggression towards Isobel seemed out of place with her character. Another criticism was that certain readers had a hard time understanding Isobel’s thoughts on why she wanted to stay in the city/didn't want to return to the wild.

So in the next edit, I introduced the Grimmsnarl as a manifestation of her suppressed battle urges and her negative self-talk to try and thread the needle of those criticisms. So that way, Admirari accidentally magnifies those negative emotions with her psychic powers clashing with Isobel’s weakness, and it gives the story more of an excuse to get to the root of Isobel's problem.

While I’m okay with how I changed Admirari’s character, the Grimmsnarl bit was quite corny as you said (Flaze echoed this thought with their review), and admittedly, whenever I reread this bit, I cringe at how much exposition I dumped in this section in regards to Isobel’s feelings. It just feels like I tried to resolve so many loose ends that it went too far into over-explaining stuff and it got across the message as subtly as a baseball bat across the face. It's especially out of place now since I also did it before I even considered doing a follow-up. I haven’t come up with any solutions on how to resolve this yet, especially since that side of her is still present in the follow-up story, but if/when I reach a breakthrough, I’m compelled to go back and revise those drafts.

With that said, I’m relieved that it doesn’t seem to be a dealbreaker for the story, even if I don’t look back at that Grimmsnarl scene very fondly.

I’ll preface this one by saying that I have notorious issues with Number 2 stories. Sequels, second seasons of TV shows, second acts, etc. It can be really well-written, have the best plot, be a complete improvement/continuation of the original, etc. But it’s never the exact same.

Yeah, I understand that apprehension with sequels, and initially, Out of Hand was just meant to stand on its own. I wouldn’t have written more if I didn’t see the potential in continuing Isobel’s story. There was a bit of a happy ending override involved, but at the same time, there was enough there to justify writing more, mainly with Isobel’s parents, that push and pull between her home life vs. her city life, and coming back to that question of how happy she really is with her situation and how much of that is as a result of her own attitudes. So it was motivated more by furthering her character development rather than just repeating the same structure as the previous story.

I have to stop for a moment to point out the worldbuilding, which feels stronger in this part than it does in the last. Admittedly in the last there was a lot of stuff like the pokejobs system and that lucario, but here it feels… bolder, I guess? I liked reading snippets like the case worker for trainerless pokemon and filling out forms for gym battles and new pokemon and stuff. The part about pokemon riding free also kind of got me thinking for a bit – pokemon ride free, presumably because they’re considered lesser beings in this society somewhat, but then how does that work when the pokemon are just as smart as the humans. I feel like you’d have the one who opposed it loudly because it was demeaning and the ones who just gamed the system because, well, free bus rides. 🤷 I thought it was an interesting dynamic. I like snippets like these! Makes it feel like there’s a world beyond the constraints of the story.

Glad to hear the worldbuilding is stronger here. Because I slowed down the pacing, I felt as if I could expand on the world a lot more, whereas Out of Hand was a lot about immediate conflict with not much time to smell the roses.

The thing about train prices for Pokemon, is that when it gets crowded during a time like rush hour, they usually have to be in a Pokeball or have their trainer pay to let them on board, if they're under a reasonable size and weight limit. Though in theory, there's nothing stopping a Pokemon from just walking in (and a lot of Pokemon are assumed to not use money), so with Pokemon like Isobel that are just as smart as humans, they haven't enforced many rules to charge them. Something else that I just thought about now is that it also makes it more accessible for Pokemon to transit to Pokejobs in different areas, and in most cases, it seems unfair to charge them anyway, though I also have to wonder how humans would react to this.

Also just a quick comment: so when you have ‘mons speaking human language, you put it in italics. And I don’t know why, but whenever the ‘mons speak pokemon but swear in human, it always reads to me like they’re enunciating the swear gleefully like a little kid and I’ve never been able to unread that lol

That's not too far from the truth, lol. Isobel mainly uses it for emphasis or when she's emotional, but I've written other Pokemon before that just like using human swears just because it sounds cool or edgy to them.

All in all, I'm really glad you're enjoying this so far, and that it sticks out in a good way. I'm also glad this doesn't seem to fall into the dreaded sequel syndrome so far. In the end, Out on a Limb will probably run for 4-5 more chapters after the initial two. I have ideas for an even longer follow-up that will give a definitive conclusion to Isobel’s arc, but time will tell if/when I get to it. For now, I hope that when I return to this story with a fresh pair of eyes, I'll be able to work through my backlog. I have most of the story done already (I wrote all of the initial draft together just so it feels more cohesive), but I just need to take care of edits and rewrites.
 
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DeliriousAbsol

*Crazy Absol Noises*
Staff
Location
Behind a laptop, most likely with tea
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She/Her
Partners
  1. mawile
Here for Catnip!

I've seen you talk about this story a few times in the Discord, so I was pretty excited when I got assigned it! As always, your writing does NOT disappoint. I really like your style, and straight away we get a feel for Isobel's character. It's interesting to read of a world where pokemon can rent apartments, and you've helped this to make sense with the Pokejobs tool from Sword and Shield! I really like this, and having it as a mobile app was just great.

I did enjoy Isobel's opening a lot, especially her having a ship in her favourite TV show XD she's a very relatable character. I also really like the names you've chosen for things - Scyther High, Vanilluxuries - bits like this just add personality to the world you're creating.

Isobel's interaction with the kid was endearing. She comes across as a very friendly character, and I will say machamp don't look like the most approachable pokemon. You've made her really likable. I did enjoy her nonchalance, getting on with her job while perusing her phone. Having four arms seems pretty useful!

The third one held a bowl of Lucari-O's cereal.

That brings me to this. Not only can she hold several things, 10/10 would I buy that cereal. Again, great name XD

You don't miss much with the details, either. The world comes to life around Isobel as you read. The birds fluttering about, and wingull being the typical British thug of chip-stealing really add life to the narrative. Isobel's inner monologue about the appletun was comical, and she made a good point too. Is it cannibalism? I mean, do reptiles eat their own shed skin...?

With the cracked phone her old trainer had given her, Isobel looked at the PokeJobs app for new roles to fill.

This little detail was great!

With a tank top, shorts (because they were comfy and easy to wear)

You went there... XD I actually let out a laugh. Little nods to the franchise and memes like this are always well received by me!

I did enjoy the battle with the grimmsnarl, given it's one of my least favourite pokemon. You animated it really well! I like to explore how a pokemon might fight away from the set animations of the game. I've not used a grimmsnarl myself so I don't know if its hair is used like that in fights, but it was an interesting touch to me!

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of is Isobel's reluctance to fight. It seems like there's something there that is only dusted over at the start. Perhaps this will be more apparent in later chapters and I need to read more? Either way, it's only a small nitpick. I'm keen to see how she'll perform in her job, which by the end of the chapter seems she's not really read into in full detail!

I wasn't sure what to make of her interaction with her former trainer. There must be something there between them still if she's moved away yet willing to remain in touch. But things seem strained.

The cliffhanger at the end makes me want to read more. I'll try to come back to this, as I'm curious to see how this all plays out.

She didn't think to call her at all for the past

month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.

I spotted this random break in the line and wanted to point it out in case you missed it!
 
Chapter 6 - Barefoot on Uneven Ground New

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Chapter 6 - Barefoot On Uneven Ground

Isobel stuck out like a sore paw amidst the crowd of fighting types like herself. Wearing clothes while the others didn’t made her feel more naked than if she was without them. And yet, a part of it felt liberating. She took off her shoes and felt the earth beneath her: hard, but cool and comforting after a long walk.

As soon as the sparring Machop noticed Isobel, they ran up to her, eyeing her from head to toe.

“These are weird,” one said, pointing at the sandals in her hand. “Why do you need them?”

“Well, I just travel a lot,” she said with a shrug. “Ya never know what you might step on in the city.”

“You live out there?” another said, pointing to the horizon. “What’s it like?”

“It’s okay, I guess.”

“Ooh! Ooh! Just remembered!” Machop 2 came up to her, smiling. “You must’ve been with a trainer, right? Ma and Pa talk about them all the time! So you must be really strong!”

Isobel flashed a big, dumb grin, kneeling down to pat the Machop on the back. She wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome, but despite their confusion, they made her feel at home already. And nothing said feeling at home quite like getting back into one of her creature comforts: fighting. Unlike before, she didn’t have to lie to herself that she enjoyed it, now she was with her own kind. So she flexed her back arms, putting on a show for them.

“Whaddya say we spar over there?” She pointed to a shallow crater where other Pokemon gathered to fight. “Yanno, you can learn from the best — us Machamp pounded out that arena, after all.”

They followed Isobel to the sparring spot where they exchanged punches, kicks, and all sorts of other hits. She held back for their sake, but despite the power imbalance, they had fun with it, and she had fun giving them advice on where they fell behind in their techniques. Isobel had so much fun with it that she almost forgot that she came here to see her own parents.

Speaking of which, one Machamp walked up to their impromptu lesson. She initially waved at him, only to get shot down when he started cracking his knuckles — the other Machop fled at the other Machamp’s presence. He gave Machop 1 the stink eye in particular.

“What’re you doin’ to my boy, huh?” he growled.

Isobel tilted her head. “Er, nothing, sir?”

His face scrunched up and he pointed at Isobel’s sweat-stained shirt. “Take off that stupid thing.”

“W-what, excuse me?!” Isobel snapped back. “You can’t just ask me to take my top off!”

“No one else wears clothes around here.”

“You wear pants, even though that’s just your skin.”

“So they’re not clothes.” He furrowed a set of imaginary brows at her. “You think ya’ can just come here, wavin’ yer outfit around like you’re so special? Who asked ya to school my boy, huh?”

In any other situation, Isobel would’ve punched this guy’s face in. But she was still a stranger here after being away for so long. Of course, if she was an outsider, they would’ve seen her as some sort of anomaly. And besides, taking one’s top off meant something different in the city than it did here.

“I just find it more comfortable, okay? I know I don’t need to.” She crossed her arms, partly to brace herself. “I’d never shove it in your face and tell you to wear anything, or do anything you didn’t want to, sorry if it came across that way. It’s been a while since I’ve last been here.”

“Oh, really?” He crossed his arms too, mirroring her movements. Then he extended a free hand, holding it out. “Prove you’re one of us, then.”

Isobel recognised the gesture as an invitation to arm wrestle. It was a quick way of testing one’s strength here, and from the looks of it, this was the only way to please him.

“I didn’t come here to fight.” As much as she disliked pissing contests like this, she wanted to stay here. So Isobel smirked and held out an arm. “But I can’t say no to a challenge.”

“Good.”

The Machamp huffed and crouched down, resting his elbow on the stony floor. Isobel joined him, locked hands, and the two intensely gazed at each other until one of them made the first move. The Machamp’s muscles pulsed, and as soon as that happened, Isobel’s arm shot down, just shy of touching the ground. She grit her teeth as he pushed with every ounce of his will — he probably could’ve snapped a human’s arm off if he really wanted to. But Isobel pressed on, bulking up as well to match his strength.

She breathed in and out, then her body spasmed as her muscles expanded. It was painful, but it was a good kind of pain, like post-workout cramps. Soon enough, both their arms balanced each other out in the middle. She pushed against him — his hand was all clammy and his forehead glistened in the sunshine. She was working up quite the sweat too! Isobel inched his hand closer to her side -- finally, some progress! It was all going her way, when—

“Is that… hey!”

The familiar voice distracted Isobel long enough for the Machamp to gain the upper hand, pinning her arm to the floor.

“Ha, I win!” he said, flashing a wide grin. “Now you hafta leave!”

“Wha-- wait a sec!” Isobel said in between huge puffs of air. “I— that guy— he threw me off!”

“Don’t matter. Those’re the rules. I beat you fair and square, so--”

“What’s this about playing fair and square?” the voice said. Isobel looked up to see that blue face, those robes, that long nose. It was a Sawk, but not just any Sawk: it was Lob!

“Oh, none of yer business, bub,” the Machamp said. “This chick’s not from around here, so I jus’ taught her a lil’ lesson.”

“Me and Shy used to train her,” he said, loosening his sash. “So if you want to fight a student of mine, you’ll have to go through me first.”

“Ah, er, no thanks.” The Machamp quietly slunk to another part of the dwelling, leaving the three on their own in the middle of the crater.

Being saved at the last minute kind of wounded her pride a little. Still, Lob was here! Despite her exhaustion, Isobel got up to link arms with one of her former teachers, a gesture that meant respect between fighting types.

“That’s a new look on you,” Lob said.

“What, this?” She pointed to her outfit. “Well, it got me into trouble just now.”

“Ah, ignore him. He’s known for being a little protective of this place. I’m surprised he didn’t recognise you.”

“Maybe we never met while I was just a Machop. Anyway, wow, it’s nice to see ya! Is Shy still here?”

Speak of the red Pokemon, the Throh walked in and stood by Lob’s side. He smiled and grunted to Isobel. Lob still wasn’t a mon of many words, preferring to whisper into Lob’s side. Lob nodded and spoke back in the same hushed tones, leaving Isobel out of the loop. She didn’t remember those two doing that, but she took it as a sign that they became closer since her departure.

“So, what brings you here anyway?” Lob asked.

“Well, that’s a personal thing, but it’s been so long since I left that I thought I’d come back to visit.” Isobel looked back to the cave entrance which that other Machamp guarded. “It’s kind of embarrassing, I know, but I couldn’t even remember where this place was.”

Lob laughed, smacking Isobel’s back with an audible slap.

“What, you’ve been out for this long? It only feels like a few sunsets since we last saw you!”

“Um, several years actually.”

“Bah, I don’t get this time thing. Well, I’m glad you came all the way out here, and I’m happy to say your parents are still here.”

Isobel took a deep breath, clutching her chest. So her journey was worth it after all. She could’ve hugged Lob at that moment, but perhaps Shy would’ve suspected she was trying to steal Lob away from him.

“Where are they?”

“Oh, well, your mother’s probably off foraging somewhere, but your father’s hanging out in the group space. I think something’s being shown.”

It was that wooden shack she saw from earlier, which also had a corrugated metal-sheet roof. Admittedly, it was an eyesore amidst the more natural-looking homes, but the building served a different purpose from the rest.

Shy whispered into Lob’s ear again.

“Well, we’d better get back to the training grounds. We have more to teach.”

“Alright then,” Isobel said, linking arms with the two of them. “Nice to see both of ya’.”

“And you,” Lob said. Shy grunted to the same effect, and the duo left together, holding hands. Not just that, they gripped themselves tightly around one another, as if it was a matter of life or death. So they truly were a lot closer than before. That gesture meant similar things both in her world and the human world.

Huh, good for them. It didn’t even occur to her that they had a thing together, back when she was a Machop, but the signs were there. The two would often spar with each other a lot. They’d also look at each other for long periods of time when Isobel was training under their supervision. She couldn’t tell if they were hiding, or if their feelings for one another were still growing back then.

Isobel looked on, yesterday’s warmth spreading through her body. She thought about Admirari at first, and how that long chat brought out something in her that was hard to place. Then her mind drifted. What was it, exactly? What about other Pokemon she saw? Well, there was that one fashion magazine Isobel bought sometimes, and she often admired how the Gothitelle looked in there even if dresses weren’t exactly her thing. But was that the same thing? And of course, there was the Medicham in her old team: Emi.

Not right now — she was getting distracted. No point in dealing with that hot mess at the moment.

And so, Isobel walked to the communal space, passing by the stone statues along the way. Some of them were abstract, like pebbles stacked atop each other or big rocks carved into different shapes, but others stopped Isobel in her tracks. There were a few amidst the weird formations that could’ve passed as art pieces, as they featured etchings of all different sorts of Pokemon here. She even saw one of herself, or rather, another Machamp. This was probably the doing of one of the Gurdurr or Conkeldurr here, since it was a way for them to practise and strengthen themselves.

Isobel continued her path to the building until she was within arm's length of the shack — echoes of punches and kicks resounded through the walls. It sounded like they were fighting, but if that was the case, then the whole building would’ve been levelled to the ground by now. As she walked, her heartbeat thumped faster and faster, like the pounding percussive score in the background.

Her hand reached for the wooden gate, then pulled back.

Deep breaths, Isobel. Deep breaths.

Right. Isobel gently pushed the door open and entered.

Many fighting types, like her kind, amongst many others, congregated around a TV at the end of the room. A Machoke huffed and puffed as he rode on a training bike fixed to the floor, which was connected to a generator, and therefore powered all the other devices in the room. Never mind where they got that equipment from, though it wasn’t entirely out of the question for them to borrow from humans. It looked nice regardless, and quite homely. Fairy lights ran along the ceiling. A stack of videotapes sat atop a CRT TV in the middle of the room. A martial arts film played, which was—

Hey, that was Game of Life! That was the film that featured that human, the one who fought against other fighting Pokemon! He was fittingly nicknamed Hitmon Lee, who was a visionary of his kind. His films typically featured Machoke and Machamp and all the like in various setpieces, and had a lot of inspirational quotes to his name. He once said that fighting was like speed chess, though Isobel didn’t really get that one. Not that she got chess to begin with.

Isobel sat alongside the other fighting types, attention divided between the screen and the audience. This film featured Lee infiltrating a rival dojo in an effort to uncover a conspiracy by the Machamp to shut down his martial arts school, though the story was more of an excuse for the fights. The human did all of his own stunts, and it showed. The way he weaved, dodged and countered his opponents was impressive, despite the severe power imbalance. She read that the Machamp were instructed to hold back, but their power was still unparallelled even under a handicap. He reminded Isobel of Gloria in some ways. Everyone in the shack watched with reverence, talking among themselves and expressing their surprise at the human’s agile nature.

Isobel thought about filming a quick video on her phone for the PokeJobs thing. If people had the same reaction to her fighting demonstration as the Machamp did to the TV screen—oh boy, this was a great scene. Lee was pitted against three bulked-up Machamp, flanking him from all sides. How was he gonna get out of this— oh, he crouched just as they pounced towards him, and they ended up drop-kicking each other and flying everywhere and—

Right, Isobel was there to find Dad. It was easy to lose herself in the excitement. But how could she find him when the backs of their heads all looked the same? She didn’t exactly have a family photo to use for reference. And yet Lob recognised her just fine, so what was wrong with her?

Her gaze drifted to a family of three huddled next to each other against the right wall: a Tyrogue, a Hitmonlee, and a Hitmonchan. So Lob and Shy weren’t outliers here, it seemed. That brought a wave of comfort, but a cloud also hovered over Isobel as the Hitmonchan leaned down to whisper in the Tyrogue’s ear. He laughed, and hugged one of his two fathers.

Isobel clutched herself with all four sets of arms. She never thought about raising a family of her own, and probably wouldn’t anytime soon, but she imagined herself in that Tyrogue’s non-shoes. Was he raring to go on a journey, just like she was back then? Did she remember hugging her parents like that? At times like this, Isobel wished she was a Machop again.

When the soundtrack boomed, however, Isobel stopped looking at them and glanced back at the screen. This scene was just about to reach a key part: Lee against one Hariyama, the head honcho of the antagonising dojo. He actually spoke, though the voice was human and dubbed over, not matching the lip flaps. Isobel tried to stifle her laughter as she got an odd look from a neighbouring Makuhita viewer — that and the rest of the Pokemon here didn’t seem to care about this editing goof.

The Hariyama spoke of honour and personal strength, commending the human on his abilities to face his forces, while challenging him to a final fight to personally prove his worth to him. So the stage was set. Lee ran towards the Hariyama. The Hariyama ran towards Lee. They were about to exchange the first blow, throwing a—

The TV went off and everything went dark, to the widespread commotion of the audience. In the half-light from the window, the Machoke had stopped powering the bicycle and was slumped over on the floor, panting and sweating.

“Hey!” one Makuhita yelled, standing up, “it was just gettin’ good! What’s wrong with you?”

“S-sorry…” the Machoke said in between breaths. “So… weak… can’t…”

“I’ll say!” one Timburr pointed a branch at him. “C’mon, I’ll poke ya belly if you don’t get a move on!”

“But… wait…”

The younger part of the audience booed him, while the older Pokemon stepped aside and either tried to calm them down or just eyed the scene with ire. One Machamp, however, stepped in front of the crowd and smiled.

“No worries, guys!” he boomed, then turned to the perspiring Machoke. “I’ll take it from here, okay?”

“You… you sure, Gawain?” the Machoke said, deflated.

“Yeah, positive. Take a break for now.” Gawain tapped his cheek twice, then pointed to the corner of the room. “Though you’ll have to do a lot of push-ups later to make up for it, got it? Can’t have you slacking off then.”

The Machoke groaned, then slowly nodded as he slunk to the quiet part of the room. The others looked at him with ire, but once Gawain pedalled the bike again, the crowd settled down and the TV powered back up, going back to the moment where the human and the Hariyama were about to trade blows. The Hariyama hit first and the human fell down, but the Hariyama stepped aside, allowing the human to get back up to fight. Even he had a code of honour, it seemed.

Everything went by so quickly for Isobel, it only gradually sunk in that Gawain was her father. In all the excitement, on screen and in the flesh, Isobel forgot who she was for that moment and just felt in tune with the rest of her dwelling — the way she used to feel when she lived here before. She gave Dad a knowing look, as he didn’t struggle at all while on the bike, and he gave one back to her with a wide smile. So, he knew too.

Perhaps he didn’t want to interrupt the fun for the rest of the group. Isobel was fine with that — she could wait. She wondered where Mum was. For now, Isobel enjoyed the rest of the film, where the human got to keep his dojo, the Hariyama formed a partnership with him, and everything ended on a happy note.

Finally, Dad got off the bike and gestured Isobel to follow him outside the shack, which she did. Before she came here, she had hesitated, but now her heartbeat steadied, she was ready to face him. They stared at each other, not saying anything at first. Isobel didn’t know what to expect — not exactly the dramatic reunion she envisioned. But Dad approached her and pulled her in for a gentle hug, and she did the same.

“Welcome back, Kit,” he said.

Kit? That wasn’t her— oh, wait. It was her birth name.

“Thanks, Dad,” Isobel said. The top of his mohawk-growth touched her forehead. “Looks like I’ve outgrown ya.”

“Yeah, far from the scrawny little champ you were before.” He chuckled without a shred of embarrassment in his voice. “But can you lift me up like this?”

Out of the blue, he grabbed Isobel’s waist and lifted her up to his shoulders. She certainly wasn’t prepared for that, but wow, when was the last time she felt like this? Even though there were lots of things she wanted to say to him, she just laughed for now as she tried to keep her balance.

“Ah, I’ve missed doing this with you,” he said, walking with Isobel in tow. “You might be taller, but you’re still the same Machop I know.”

“Aw, c’mon, Dad, don’t embarrass me as soon as I get here!”

“I’m just kidding. But I’m just really glad that you’re back — I’ve been dying to hear from you.”

“Good thing I’ll have a lot to talk about then, eh?”

“Exactly. Oof, actually, you’re heavier than I thought.”

Dad lowered Isobel and she climbed down. Something about that comment struck her as off. She wasn’t gaining weight, was she? Isobel dropped the subject as the two entered the stone settlement.

It seemed quite small for the both of them from the outside, but on the inside, there was enough space for more than two Machamp. It was a lot more basic than the shack since there was only a hearth in the middle of the hut and beds made out of clay, mud, and moss. But there were also stacks of items from the outside world, including a pile of blankets next to the beds, magazines centred around the league, souvenirs of several Galarian landmarks, and a photo of…

“That’s me.”

A magazine cut-out was pasted on one of the stone walls. It looked rather lumpy since there was a lot of dried glue underneath, and damp since it was exposed to the elements, but indeed, Isobel was on it as her old Machoke self, posing with Gloria from one of their winning league matches in Stow-On-Side. It was a proud moment since they were amongst the top competitors for that tournament.

“You... you’ve been following me? All this time?”

“Well, yes, of course!” Dad said, sitting at the edge of the bed, “how could I forget about you?”

It was more the other way around. Her stomach churned at the thought of that, and of every excuse she made to avoid coming back to her parents all this time. Or, one parent in this case. He didn’t mention Mum for whatever reason, but she had a hunch about why that was.

But now you’re here. And now you need to suck it up and tell ‘im what’s on your mind, okay?

Isobel took a deep breath and sat on the floor next to the firewood. She didn’t want to bring up the fact that she left that lifestyle behind, not just yet, but she didn’t know where to start.

“Sorry,” she said, snickering. “There’s so much to talk about, I… Well, I dunno, if you’ve been watching me through those magazines, then you must’ve known what it was like for me. Not that I know what they even talk about.”

“I recognise some of the words and numbers,” Dad said, thumbing through the pages. “My time with my trainer taught me a little. So, she called you Isobel, huh?”

She nodded.

“Well, you’ll always be Kit to me.”

Isobel couldn’t help but be a little annoyed, but it was just a minor quibble. If anything, Dad was the one that was a bit disappointed, from the way he glanced at the floor. This didn’t last long as he closed the magazine.

“Not many trainers make it past a certain amount of gyms, and yet the amount of wins you pulled off is impressive.” He tossed the papers aside and gave a wistful smile. “I wish I could’ve seen it myself.”

“That’s easily done,” Isobel said, digging into her pockets to retrieve her phone, which she turned on.

“Oh, that’s what those phone-things look like nowadays?” Dad leaned in, tracing his finger along the grooves of the cracks. “Is it supposed to have that feature?”

No, it wasn’t — she couldn’t afford a screen repair, but that wasn’t the point. She looked through her archived videos for a match she could show him, and eventually came across one where she took on a Tyranitar as a Machoke. Despite the type matchups already being in Isobel’s favour, facing something almost double her size was still a feat.

The fight started as soon as the video played, where the Tyranitar threw a rock at Isobel.

“Mighty big rock,” Dad chimed in.

She punched it to pieces in the video and shrugged it off as if it was nothing. Yet her current self nursed her hand. “Yeah, and it hurt.”

Her video-self rushed in, dodging the other rock that came her way, and she punched the soft spot on the Tyranitar’s exposed belly, knocking them backwards. They retaliated by stomping the ground, shaking it where Isobel stood and giving them enough time to try and punish her. Even after one hit from their big, carapaced fist, she got up with a smirk and continued fighting.

Isobel and her opponent went back and forth as her Dad commented on the match, as if it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. He showered her with praise, at least, the recorded version of her, and it was nice to hear that for a second. That feeling of elation didn’t last long. The Isobel in that video and the Isobel now were two completely different Pokemon, not just because of the extra pair of arms.

It didn’t matter as either way, Isobel came out on top, and Dad clapped, handing the phone back to her.

“That was fantastic!” He patted Isobel’s back. “Oh, you’ve gotta tell me more! Or show me more! I could watch your fights for ages!”

Isobel glanced at her phone’s battery: still a good chunk of time left before it ran out. She wanted to keep some juice in it in case of emergencies. But in any case, she cycled through more of the clips, including a match against a Lucario, whose spikes always gave her a problem, an Incineroar touring from another region with their trainer, and even a Sirfetch’d, which was more of a fencing match than a fist fight. As her and Dad gave a running commentary on those battles, gradually, the two leaned into one another, until Dad had his arms wrapped around her, and Isobel’s arms around him as well.

Finally, she felt like she was at home again. It wasn’t just nice to take a trip down memory lane, Isobel was a part of a bigger whole. Would it be so bad if she moved here? She’d probably have food sorted. She didn’t have to worry about where to get her fighting fix, since that would’ve been all around her. She’d be with other Pokemon she knew, and had known even since the day she was born. And she’d still be able to train other Pokemon if she did the same thing Lob and Shy were doing. And if the debtors came, they wouldn’t find her here, right?

“You’re a good fighter now, Kit,” Dad said, squeezing her arm. “To be honest, I kind of had my doubts, but I think going with a trainer has done you well.”

He had his doubts? “O-oh, so you weren’t sure about me, huh?”

“Oh, no, it’s not that.” He smiled. “Of course, you would’ve gotten better as you got older anyway, and you did. That’s why I looked at most of your results.” He shrugged. “Really, that’s the only reason I bother going outside the dwelling anymore, to get those mags.”

“Well, glad to hear that, I guess.”

“Though—” he frowned—”I haven’t heard much since that battle in Circhester against that Rime guy.”

He really didn’t know. Their presence in the papers was really more of a statistic than an announcement, as only the top, top trainers got close to becoming stars in the league. They were never really interviewed on the matter. While that battle was mostly the point where the league became pointless for her, Isobel didn’t just suddenly leave after that — she waited until the timing was right before her and Gloria discussed it. But why was that? When was that? It was on the tip of her tongue, but—

No. Isobel shifted away from Dad’s embrace and gave him a look, who in turn, looked at her with hesitant confusion. She didn’t have to tell him she left her trainer — not after he buttered her up for so long.

You’ll regret it if you don’t tell him the truth.

She sighed and took a deep breath. Time to tear off the band-aid.

“I stopped participating in the league some time after that fight,” Isobel said at last.

“Oh.” Dad cocked his head. “You… did?” He rubbed his chin in puzzlement. “You seemed so eager to get out when you were a Machop.”

“I know that...” Isobel rubbed her arms. “And then I grew up.”

Dad snickered, though it was devoid of humour. “Grew up? Come on, training isn’t something you grow out of — it’s in our lifeblood!”

“I know that too…” The air felt colder, either due to the wind blowing from outside or the change in atmosphere in this room. “I mean, I like fighting. In fact, I love it.”

“So why’d you quit?”

“I didn’t quit fighting itself.” Isobel huffed, trying as hard as she could to not raise her voice. “I enjoyed the fighting, but not the league experience. I thought you’d get it, of all Pokemon. You and Mum went through the same sorta thing as me, right? So didn’t you get tired of it at some point too?”

“You’re talking to someone who bumped shoulders with the Elite Four!” Dad said, raising his biceps. “No, I never got tired of it. I loved the spotlight, the feeling of fighting for my trainer, the sweat in the heat of the match, the glory of it all.”

She pinched her leg. She wished she had lied instead. “Then, what led you here? Didn’t you quit as well?”

Dad dropped his cheerful facade for a moment and crossed his arms. “No, I was with him until the day he retired, then I settled back here. I never abandoned him.”

Now Isobel’s blood turned to ice. “So you’re saying I abandoned mine.”

“N-no, that’s not it—” Dad stopped, rubbing his head with all four hands—”I’m, well, I’m just confused. Was she bad or somethin’? She always seemed nice, and she had a mean high kick.”

“It wasn’t because of her, Dad.” She sighed, tracing a hand over her chest. “She was, um, great. More than a trainer, actually, a true friend.”

“Now I’m even more confused here!” He shrugged both sets of arms. “She was a good fighter and a decent gal… so, why leave?”

Isobel dragged another deep breath, trying to figure out what to say next. If he didn’t ever have to question his own place in the world or what staying with a trainer really accomplished, then would he even understand her at all?

“Y’know, there’s more to life than bein’ with a trainer. I wanted to eat and drink whatever I wanted, travel wherever I wanted, do what I wanted, like Gloria did.” She tightened the grip on her shorts. “Yet I was stuck with her.”

“Stuck with her? Now come on, you make it sound like she was just some pest.” Dad scoffed. “You knew it would be like this, goin’ with a trainer. They cook for you and help you train in return for helpin’ them, of course, you can’t just do whatever you want while you’re with ‘em.”

“Why not?” Isobel slightly raised her voice, which she caught before her volume got even louder. “Did I hafta be her lapdog the whole time I was with her, then?”

He grimaced. “H-hey, that’s not what I meant.”

“Alright, Gawain.” Isobel tapped her foot on the stony floor. “Because you make it sound an awful lot like I wasn’t loyal to her. Sorry I wanted a life outside of followin’ her dreams, like, I dunno, her becoming a gym leader!”

She stood up, realising what she just said. That was why Isobel left. Or at least, that was the catalyst for it.

Dad also stood up, raising his hands. Excitement was written all over his face, which was quickly erased when Isobel’s words fully sunk in. “But that sounds awesome! I would’ve killed to have been a gym leader’s Pokemon! Why would you give that up to do, er, whatever on earth you’re doing now?”

Isobel threw her sandals to the floor. “Because that woulda been the death of me, you fuckhead!”

She covered her mouth as soon as she shouted it out. That disarmed Dad, completely stunning him into silence.

Shit. She had to go all in, didn’t she? But not like this. Not so soon. Not so suddenly. Still, Isobel couldn’t stop the storm brewing inside of her, as those words opened up a whole can of Wurmple for her. She tightened her hands into fists, and the urge to level this whole stone building to ruins rose like billowing smoke.

Yeah, beat the shit outta him!

Isobel relaxed her grip. That was a sign her emotions were getting out of whack, and she could control this — she didn’t need to listen to that hairy moptop in her head all the time. Instead, she listened to herself.

What was she doing here? Dad clearly didn’t accept her, and it seemed like he was set in his own ways. This was exactly what she was afraid of, being misunderstood by her own old folks. But some part of her hoped they would listen, that they would hold her, that they would tell her how to fix all of her problems and give her a place to crash. Above all, she just wanted a place that truly felt like home.

Stupid. She was stupid. Stupid for thinking they’d just welcome her with open arms after all these years, and stupid for trying to dodge her responsibilities back home. She would just return to her flat with her tail between her legs, waiting for the call that would set back an entire month’s worth of a paycheck. She would get through it, sure, but she’d just take on another job she hated to cover all of it, the only sort of job she was good enough for. She—

“Kit?” Dad asked, tilting his head. He wasn’t angry at her, but even so, she couldn’t stand being in the same room as him anymore.

“It’s not Kit anymore.” She walked towards the stone door. “It’s Isobel, now.”

She looked back long enough to see him reach out to her. He kept his arms in the air for a moment, then he brought them back to his lap, and he looked down at his feet.

As soon as Isobel turned around, her face scrunched up, away from Dad’s sight. “I-I’m sorry.”

And with that, Isobel slunk out of the hut.

Isobel aimlessly walked through the dwelling, ignoring the passersby as she retraced her steps back to the cave path. This was a mistake. All of it. She thought she would’ve gotten over it by now, but she didn’t know what she didn’t want until she regretted it. She didn’t even care about seeing Mum — she wouldn’t have understood either.

Eventually, Isobel found the entrance, where Bronze and that guard sat, mulling over a pile of cards on the ground. Bronze stood up as soon as he caught sight of her.

“Oh hey, did you find your…” He cocked his head. “Isobel?”

Isobel hugged herself with both sets of arms, approaching the dwelling’s exit. “Let’s just go, Bronze.”

“W-wait!” He glared at Isobel, hackles raised. “What’s wrong?”

She dug her fingertips into her skin. ”Look, I really can’t deal with this right now. I’d rather not talk about it.”

The other Machamp hurriedly gathered the cards up in a pile and stood, facing Isobel. “If something bad has happened, I’d rather know. Was it Kuro again?”

“Kur—” Isobel shook her head. “No, nothing like that.” As pent up as she was, as hot as her head felt, and as fast as her heart beat, that question disarmed her long enough to calm down a little. “I met my dad, okay? He didn’t do anything, I’m the one who’s got beef with him.”

Bronze whined, looking to the ground. “Sorry to hear that. And your mother?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Her voice cracked as she said that. “I don’t even know why I came here.”

“W-wait!” he pleaded to Isobel, his hackles raised. “What happened between you and your father?”

“Bronze, just—” She would’ve told him to stop, but that wouldn’t have solved anything. She didn’t need to have another shouting match with someone she cared about.

“You can talk to me, you know.” Bronze traipsed over to Isobel’s side, brushing her leg with his tail. “I might not know everything about you two, but I’d understand. I can sense it’s about your trainer.”

Isobel took a deep breath and knelt down to his side. Bronze looked back at her with those big, amber eyes of his. It was hard to say no to that face. Sure, there was a chance that Isobel would go through the ordeal all over again if she tried to explain her side to Mum, but then again…

You can’t keep running. You’ll regret it if you do.

Right.

“Sorry.” She stroked his ears. “It feels like you’ve done a lot to help already.”

“Well, you helped me.” Bronze sat up on his haunches, back straightened. That, coupled with the moustache, really made him look like a gentleman. “Even if friends aren’t much of a concept where I’m from, I consider you a good friend at this point.”

Isobel wasn’t going to cry again, even if her heart still felt heavy. However, she pulled Bronze in for a hug, squeezing him tightly with the force expected of a Machamp, but with great restraint at the same time.

“I just wanna know why I’m still not happy, the way I am, y’know? I just feel so childish…”

“Isobel…” He said softly. “We… we have lots of reasons to be unhappy, okay? All around, humans just have it so much easier than us. The fact that we’ve gotten this far is amazing.”

“Yeah, I guess so…”

She held him for as long as she needed to, until the storm within her subsided. Finally, she stood up, fixing her gaze on the Machamp. “What’s your name, sorry?”

“Wymond.”

“Right, Wymond, where’s Mum, or, er, Terra?”

“Terr—” His eyes widened. “Oh, right! Her! I don’t see her around that much anymore, though I did see her today.”

“Ah, cool. Y’anno, I don’t think Dad— I mean, Gawain, really mentioned her.”

“Oh.” Wymond placed a hand under his chin. “They don’t talk that much anymore either.”

So, her hunch was right. Those two had split apart. Even though she didn’t know those two well enough anymore, that was still another blow to her gut. But knowing that, she definitely couldn’t chicken out now. Isobel had to at least ask her what happened between them.

“Alright. Where is she?”

“I don’t know in particular, but this would be my first guess.”

Wymond pointed to the forest near the dwelling. The trees rose above the cliff, further up the mountainous area where the ground sloped up a hill. She recognised that place, as that was where the wild Pokemon not of this dwelling roamed. Right, of course, if Mum was a gatherer, that’s where she would most likely be.

“I hear she tends to a pack of Thievul, actually.”

Bronze squeaked at that, and immediately ran back to Wymond, tail wagging like a propeller.

“Oh, please, let me through! I’ve been picking up their scent all this time, and you know I’ve been struggling as well, without family and all that!”

“Yes, but…” Wymond sighed. “I sympathise, furred one, but the others might think you’re there to steal their food, or harm them otherwise.”

“But you know me by now, don’t you?” His ears twitched. “They’ll know if I have your blessing. And I keep trying to tell you, I’ll be with her anyway.” He tilted his head to Isobel. “You’ll back me up, right?”

He… what? Come to think of it, Bronze never told her why he wanted to come with her, but she just respected his privacy as long as he kept her company. Even so, it made sense that Bronze wanted to see his own kind, so of course, she was willing to cover for him.

“Y-yeah.” Isobel stepped forward, leaning down to pat Bronze’s back. “This means a lot to him too, y’know. So, pretty please?”

He deliberated on it for a moment. Wymond shuffled his cards again, and his other set of arms scratched the back of his head. Finally, he nodded.

“Alright. But a fair warning for both of you. There’s a Pangoro out there, and he isn’t to be messed with. And, well, he’s not a part of this place, so he won’t listen to reason, okay?”

So that must’ve been Kuro. It was weird to think of another fighting type that had nothing to do with the dwelling, but sometimes, random encounters like these were part and parcel of travelling through the routes. But this wasn’t a route, it was a part of the wild that wasn’t barricaded by rangers or trainers. Anything could happen out there.

“Are you ready?” Bronze asked.

Isobel sighed. She didn’t realise her sandals were missing until now, and getting them back meant going to Dad’s place again, which she didn’t want. Yet, after a while of not wearing them, she had gotten used to the tactile feeling of the cool ground beneath her and its many grooves and curves. She thought back to what that Machop said. Despite her reasoning, she truly didn’t need to wear them. Only the humans in the city bothered, but there was a stigma surrounding those without them. They were considered poor, or unclean. Perhaps by association, she thought they’d project the same baggage onto her.

But she was about to go in the forest without them. Though, if her kind didn’t go in there wearing anything, why did she need to? After a few seconds of deliberation, she looked to Bronze.

“Yeah, lead the way.”
 
Chapter 7 - In The Green Wild New

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Chapter 7 - In The Green Wild

The ground in the forest felt different to the quarry. At first, it was tough on Isobel’s feet as usual, and then it softened the further she advanced up the hill. It was nice to feel the mud squelching beneath her. The only place Isobel could do that back in Circhester was at the park, since nobody would’ve noticed or cared.

Come to think of it, Gloria once offered her a pair of shoes when she evolved into a Machoke, though she refused it at the time. There wasn’t much of a point wearing them if all she did was battle and accompany her trainer through the routes. Then her perception of them slowly shifted over time.

Right, Gloria. Isobel was tempted to shoot her a message, but there was no signal up here, as predicted. Instead, she turned to Bronze, who gracefully weaved between the rocks, branches and trees they occasionally bumped into. He occasionally stopped to sniff at the ground or the air.

“Can I ask you something?” Isobel said.

He only muttered in reply, staring at a pawprint.

“Did you… like that battle back there, as short as it was? I knew you weren’t too keen on gettin’ back with a trainer. I just got lost in the heat of the moment since he was itchin’ for a scrap.”

“It’s okay,” Bronze replied. “I have some of the same urges as you do, Isobel.”

“All Pokemon do. I just meant dealing with Trevor and all that.”

“Of course, I hated it with him. But with you, I actually enjoyed it while it lasted. And I have to admit, Trainer Isobel has a nice ring to it.”

“You think so?” She snickered. Were there any trainers that happened to be Pokemon out there? She’d heard of a Ralts who became one in another region, but if it hadn’t gone viral at that point, that was either a rumour or completely fictional. “Huh.”

“I mean, you’re a great fighter. You enjoy training Pokemon like me. But, well, you haven’t really talked about your past with your trainer before, even though I know you talk to her.”

“Nah, I guess not.” Isobel kicked up a clump of dirt. “Don’t worry, it wasn’t bad or anythin’, just...” She sighed. Even now, she couldn’t decide what to say or how to express herself. “Okay, let’s say I did become a trainer, somehow. I got my badges and gear and Pokeballs and crap, and I start capturing other Pokemon, or I convince them to tag along with me.”

“Sounds like every kid’s dream come true.”

“Well, not every kid.” Isobel scratched her head. “But, even if my Pokemon do agree to it, I wouldn’t want them to feel tied to me, like I did with her. It wouldn’t feel right. What do you say to that?”

Bronze pondered on it, slowing his walk to a stroll. Isobel adjusted her speed to his, waiting for a response – he took his time, but Isobel put that aside as she soaked in the moment. The forest was still. It was not only darker because of how the canopy filtered the light, but it was also approaching sunset, as the sky was cast in a darker shade of blue. The air was strong with the sickly scent of flowers, and the earthy notes of the mud. The ground massaged her feet as she ambled, grass brushing past her toes. Birds sang as far as she could hear, and the wind rustled the leaves of the trees. She felt like she was floating here, like—

Thump. Footsteps pounded the ground far away, shaking the branches. Isobel and Bronze stopped dead in their tracks — she braced all of her arms while Bronze arched his back, hackles raised and ears perked up. Thump. Bump. Boom. Thump thump thump--

“P-P-P—” Bronze stuttered—“PANGORO!”

The grey blur shot past the trees, raising a claw at them both. Isobel threw herself to the ground in an effort to avoid the attack. It missed, but she had to get up. Quickly, now. She regained her footing and raised her hands in protest.

“Stop!” she yelled. Hopefully, he would listen to reason.

He did not listen to reason — his paw struck her chest instead.

“Oof!”

Isobel tumbled backwards, hitting the tree behind her. Wow, that was a dumb way of getting hurt, but that wasn’t going to stop her!

Isobel sprang to her feet, getting back into her stance before the Pangoro struck again. She dodged this time, then struck his side-belly. That hit was a way of saying ‘stop’, but he didn’t recognise the gesture and kept attacking. Fists flew in a flurry. Isobel matched his speed with her own bullet punches. As strong as she was, each punch it delivered battered her hands, especially against those claws.

How much longer was she gonna take this? Her arms felt like lead. Her legs wobbled. Her feet were sore. This wild Pokemon wasn’t gonna outclass her, right? Right?

The Pangoro yelped as Bronze sunk his teeth into his leg. Perfect timing. Isobel wound her arms back and bulked up, then punched that panda straight in the gut. Dad always said to aim for that area, which she later learned was the solar plexus.

It knocked the Pangoro flat on his ass. Bronze joined Isobel’s side again. They had an opening. But Isobel kept still, even as Bronze pawed at her legs. Was she going to run away? Or...

C’mon, put ‘em up, put ‘em up! Don’t chicken out of a fight just when it’s about to get good!

Those seconds of indecision were enough for the Pangoro to stagger back to his feet. They grunted, then bolted straight for Isobel with a body slam. Seconds became milliseconds. At best, Isobel was going to lose. At worst, what happened once she fainted? What would the Pangoro do? What would become of Bronze? Isobel braced herself, preparing for the worst.

Something stepped in between the two. Muscles rippled before her. Quadruple arms shielded Isobel. Even as the Pangoro towered over her, this new figure held him back.

“Kuro, c’mon, now.” That voice sounded familiar. That soft, yet gruff tone. Isobel only heard that way back when, like the time she got scolded for... ah, it didn’t matter. She knew who that was.

Mum pushed forward, overpowering the Pangoro enough to hold him back, but with enough restraint that he kept standing.

“Kuro, c’mon, now,” Mum repeated, keeping a vice-like grip on his bear claws. Kuro grunted and grumbled. Isobel stood there, not sure of whether or not to step in. But to her surprise, Kuro relaxed his shoulders, gently leaning into Mum as she stroked his head.

“Yes, Kuro,” she said as she scratched his round, fuzzy ears. He huffed contendly, seemingly forgetting about Isobel and Bronze. Those two were speechless.

Eventually, Kuro stepped away from Mum and started slinking back to the depths of the woods.

“We’ll fight later, alright?” Mum called.

Kuro only stared, his face covered in shadow. He made no response, and turned around to leave, disappearing under the shade of the forest’s canopy.

That just happened. Isobel had a lump in her chest after that blow, which she nursed with a hand. Mum turned around, and Isobel saw her for the first time in many years. She had gained new scars since then, though they all manifested as tiny nicks across her face. Yet, past the battle marks, there was a gentleness to her look. Her pants looked more like bloomers than briefs. She had a bag with her as well, which was strapped across her torso. All in all, Isobel was spellbound.

“Well,” Mum said, “that’s one way to deal with a Pangoro.”

Isobel slid to the ground, resting against a tree. “Jeez, my life flashed before my eyes, then. Thanks for saving my skin.”

“And mine,” Bronze said, sticking his tongue out. “His fur tasted awful.”

“Don’t mention it. Now, who are you?”

Isobel was taken aback by that. She stared, dumbstruck, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Maybe both.

“It’s Kit, Ma…” She sighed, scratching her head. “Well, I go by Isobel now.”

“Oh,” Mum said flatly. She stared Isobel down, in a much more stoic manner compared to Dad’s gaze. “Right. It has been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” She knew so.

“Isobel, hmm…” Mum lingered on that name for a moment, shaping it with her mouth, then smiled. “That’s a good name. Did your trainer give you that?”

“Gloria? O-oh, yeah, she did.”

Isobel rose up, crossing her arms as she leaned back on the bark. She liked that Mum complimented her name rather than ignored it, but still… Isobel shot a quick glance at Bronze. There was some hope that he’d back her up, but he just stepped aside, though perhaps it was none of his business anyway. The wind rustled the leaves some more, and a Joltik above chittered and buzzed, as if on cue.

“Sorry, this is, um, awkward.”

“Yes, it is.” Mum’s nervous laughter cut through the stiff air, as did Isobel’s, which quickly turned into a sigh.

“I dunno how to feel. I just met Dad and he was nice, but, well…”

“Oh, him.” Mum smirked. “He is intense, after all.”

“Tell me about it.” Hearing that from Mum partly soothed the uneasy feeling in her stomach. “And, well, I heard you left him.”

“Yes. We both agreed on it.”

“Ah, I see.” She wondered if they did that once she left or if it was more of a slow burn. It was still a shock when she first heard it, but now, she wasn’t sure how to feel. “Sorry. It’s been so long, that neither of you feel like my parents anymore, I guess.”

That feeling was back again, this time, settling in her throat. Oh great, another thing she shouldn’t have said. Isobel looked down the hill, wondering if it was better to just leave, when Mum slipped a hand to hers.

“Well, I’m the one who didn’t recognise you at first.” Her soft voice dropped to a whisper. “I feel like I should be happier than I am, seeing you, but we don’t really know each other that much anymore, do we?”

“Exactly.” Isobel traced another hand over hers. “So, what do you really say to that?”

“We don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.” Mum stepped back and looked up the incline. “But I appreciate that you came here to see me, as well as your honesty.”

“Yeah. Same.”

“I don’t want you to waste your journey, so you can come with me to the den if you wish, as I’m on my way there anyway.”

Bronze stamped his feet in place, tail wagging. “You mean—”

“Yes, though they’re less talkative than you.” She sensed that Bronze’s tail drooped, since she wagged a finger. “Not that that’s bad. They’re just more like Kuro, if you know what I mean.”

For the first time in a while, Bronze’s face brightened, and he happily yipped, jumping in place. Mum kept fittingly mum and started trekking up the hill, though Bronze whizzed past her, adamant to get to the other Thievul as soon as possible. So he led, while Mum and Isobel walked together.

Isobel had trouble matching Mum’s pace as they continued up the steep incline — for such a fit Machamp, if she was tooting her own horn, stuff like sheer hills and stairs weren’t Isobel’s forte. From the way Mum’s legs were caked with flaky, dry mud, she was very much used to hiking in a way Isobel wasn’t. But she pressed on, concentrating on her breathing as well as the leaves, sticks and brambles that crunched underfoot. That feeling from before Kuro’s encounter returned. Being far away from society. Forgetting she had a phone in her pocket. Forgetting she didn’t even have shoes on. Well, until she stubbed her toes on a tree stump. But she kept her swears muffled through gritted teeth — she could take it like a champ.

A Mach—

No, no time for puns either. She didn’t want to ruin the moment. Yet, her wandering thoughts tried to anyway. Mum pushed for Isobel to go on the journey as much as Dad did, though it was more of a gentle nudge. Isobel wasn’t in such a bad headspace right now — hopefully, it would stay that way if she got along better with Mum.

Eventually, Bronze reached the top, excitedly pacing back and forth until Isobel and Mum caught up with him.

“C’mon!” he yelled, “you’re too slow!”

“You don’t need to wait for us!” Isobel yelled back.

“I know! I wanted to wait for you, though!”

Isobel didn’t know what to say to that, so she just pressed on. The homestretch was always the toughest part, as she had to dig her hands into tree roots and clumps of dirt to climb up to the hill’s peak. Mum just went on all sixes and ran up to the top without breaking a sweat.

“Showoff,” Isobel said, trying to grab the edge. Her feet were slipping though, unable to grip themselves in the slick mud. Crap, this wasn’t good. As a last ditch effort, Isobel jumped forward and reached her hands out — Mum caught her.

“This showoff just saved your skin again.” She gave a scarred-streaked smirk as she pulled her up. “Now, let’s not keep this Thievul waiting, shall we?”

Isobel nodded as Bronze disappeared behind the bushes. Where was all this hyper-activeness coming from? As soon as Mum led Isobel to the clearing where Bronze was, she found her answer.

A whole pack of Nickit and Thievul chased after Bronze as he zipped from one spot to another, happily squealing. He rolled in the ground — the others were quick to pounce on him, still chattering and squeeing in equal measure. Of course, not long after that, they started playfighting, throwing harmless swipes at one another and light nibbles on the neck. Bronze wasn’t lying when he said he had the same urges as Isobel. But it was the first time Isobel truly saw Bronze in his element here.

The time they spent together in the past week had its moments: the strolls in the park, in surveilled parts of the wild, the treats from the food stalls, the chance encounters with other friendly and furry Pokemon. Underneath that all, he still seemed unsure of himself. This, however, was the happiest Isobel had ever seen him. That energy was infectious as Isobel had a big, dumb grin on her mug from it all.

Bronze got out of his fox-huddle long enough to rush over to Isobel, running circles around her as his fur brushed past her feet. She chuckled at first, but then she let out a full-on belly laugh when the whole pack made donuts around her. She fell to the ground, chortling as Bronze pounced on her, licking her face.

“Ohoho! Stahp, that tickles!”

Bronze pulled back, only for the other foxes to bury Isobel in their coats. She was positively overwhelmed by the sea of orange — there were only so many headpats she could give every single Thievul here before she got tuckered out. But one of them made a gekkering noise, signalling the others to back away. Bronze was in the middle of it all, bowing before Isobel.

“Thank you.”

“Well, it was nothing, really. I just brought you here.”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t have been able to find it without you, not safely, anyway.” One other Thievul accidentally beaned him in the face with their tail as they passed by, but he shrugged it off as he turned to Mum as well. “And thank you, too. It’s nice to meet Isobel’s mother at last.”

“Well, you’re a polite fella, aren’t you?” Mum knelt down and scritched his neck, making him purr like a motorcycle. “You’ll have to teach some of these other guys some manners!”

“I’m sure I will.”

“Good, because I brought you all food, and I want them all to have their fill.” Mum stepped back and drew a trio of dead Bunnelby out from her pouch, hanging them by her ears. Isobel recoiled.

“That’s—”

“It is harsh,” Mum said, ”but these are from the wild, just like these Thievul here. They would do the same even without me pitching in.”

“Yeah, I know that.” She felt a bit silly there, but tried to ignore it for now.

Mum threw the catches to the ground. The pack descended on it instantly, though they left a spare one for Bronze. He sniffed at it for a little bit, staring back at Isobel. The others stopped to stare at him. That was a long enough pause that the pack just decided to take it instead, leaving him with nothing. None of the foxes stopped to reassure him or give him notice while they went about their ravenous business.

Isobel didn’t know what to say there. Neither did Mum. Nor Bronze, especially Bronze. He slunk over to Isobel’s side, staring at the feeding frenzy that ensued without him. Then before she knew it, it was over, as three skeletons were left behind. One of the Thievul glanced at Bronze before they returned to their den, burrowing in a hole near the edge of the clearing.

Bronze whined. Isobel knelt down to try and pat him down again, but before she could, Bronze took off, disappearing behind the trees.

“Bronze?” she called. “Bronze!”

No answer. Just bushes rustling ahead. Isobel turned to Mum, who looked just as perplexed as she was. Dammit, she felt like such an idiot for not asking Bronze what was going on sooner. Right now, though, there was no time for regret. Isobel bolted after him. Footsteps followed behind her.

Isobel charged uphill again. The incline was even harsher than before, which was hell on Isobel’s feet. At least there were far less trees this time, which allowed her to see Bronze as he sprinted upward. She was never going to catch up with him at this rate. Mum, however, picked up the pace. On all sixes again. That wasn’t even natural for Machamp to do, and yet somehow, Mum blended in with the rest of the wildlife around her, using all four of her arms to propel herself forward. So Isobel did the same. It was hell on her hands too — that always was a sensitive part of her body. But it did the trick. The further she got, the lighter Isobel felt, which was a new feeling. She eventually caught up to Mum, running with her, neck and neck, mother and daughter, together.

Finally, they reached the edge of the hill, slowing their pace so that they didn’t slam into Bronze or tumble downwards. He sat there, overlooking the view from up high, where the forest stretched on endlessly into the mauve sunset.

“Are…” Isobel said in-between breaths, “are you… okay?”

Bronze shook his head, though he didn’t turn around to see the two.

“Isobel…” he whispered. “I… you know I met the Inteleon yesterday, right?”

She hummed in confirmation.

“Well… I talked to her about coming back to the wild if I didn’t want to be with a trainer, and she said they didn’t know if they could do that with me. If I would survive out there. Or…” His tone had some hesitation. “Or, er, here, I mean.”

Isobel was taken aback. She went to reach a sympathetic hand to him, but she kept it to herself, respecting his space. Right. There was that sinking feeling that something bothered Bronze ever since yesterday. It was stupid of her not to ask him sooner, but it was too late for regrets.

“I… I hate staying in the city. All that noise, all those human things that don’t make sense to me. I know you tried your best to make it worth my while, and, well, you did.”

“Of course, Bronze, I wasn’t gonna just leave you on your own.”

“Right. But, well, the true reason I came with you… I wanted to prove her wrong. I wanted to show her I could stay here. But I… I—” His voice faltered, and he turned towards the two.

Bronze was crying. His eyes were all red and misty, though he tried to hide it by pawing at his face.

“She was right about me — I don’t stand a chance here!”

“Woah, hey there…” Isobel knelt down, unsure of whether or not to give him a reassuring headpat. “I’m sure it’ll take some getting used to, hunting and eating wild Pokemon and such.”

“It’s not just that!” he yelled, hackles raised. “The way the pack looked at me. They weren’t gonna see me as one of them, even if they were nice to me before.” His face scrunched up. “So I-I’m just gonna be dead weight!”

“No, you’re not.” Isobel scowled. “Don’t talk about yourself like that.”

“I know I’m not, and I’m sorry, okay?” Bronze glanced past the duo and back down the hill. “But if it was life or death, they’d leave me in a heartbeat.” He sunk to the grassy floor, lying down with his tail cradling him. “I don’t belong here either. I don’t belong anywhere I go.”

Isobel pawed her face, trying to hold it together. Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy for him to be accepted into any pack. Her heart broke in two hearing that, but it wasn’t just from seeing Bronze so defeated. This wasn’t about her, though. And yet, she couldn’t hold it in. So she sat down, wrapping her arms around him.

“That makes two of us, I guess. I feel ya.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I really do feel ya.”

“Wait, hold on, Isobel.” Mum dropped her cool demeanour and knelt down alongside them. “What makes you say that?”

Isobel laughed out of frustration. Not this again. “It’s a long story, okay? And it’s dumb, anyway. I don’t have to hunt in the wild like you do, so it shouldn’t matter.”

“Well, I want to know what’s bothering you. And just because I do hunt, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t understand your struggles.”

“Dad didn’t seem to, though.” Another humourless chuckle. She tightened her grip on Bronze, who rubbed his head on her shirt. “I kept tryin’ to tell him why I left my trainer and he wasn’t havin’ it. Like I’m a failure for not wanting to be a part of that anymore.”

“He did?” Mum ground her teeth. “That clod. After everything I told him…”

“B-but, what if he was right? What if I failed my trainer?” Isobel’s eyes stung. Dammit, not here, not in front of her. “She should’ve been enough for me, what I did with her should’ve been enough, what I’m doing right now should be enough, but it just isn’t!” She let go of Bronze since she sensed him squirming, and tugged at her head. “There’s gotta be somethin’ wrong with me if I’m always fucking up like this! I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore, no place will accept me for who I am, and I should have it all figured out by now when I just went through this shit a week ago, so why am I so busted—”

Mum grabbed her by the arms and pulled her in for a hug. It’s been so long since she felt that. The way she squeezed her by the back of her shoulders when she embraced her. Isobel took a deep breath, trying to keep it down, but she couldn’t. The waterworks rolled out. This was so stupid — why was she crying like this? She knew she could be open with how she felt, but she didn’t know how to. Not like this. But Mum was there, patting her on the back while she sobbed into her chest. Bronze joined in the huddle as she felt his fur brush against her skin.

Isobel missed this. Even with Gloria, it just wasn’t the same. She missed this a lot. Tears kept coming out until the well dried up, as long as she needed to. Mum loosened up a bit while still keeping a grip on her, and traced a free hand over Isobel’s wet cheeks.

“Sorry, B-Bronze,” Isobel said, tilting her head down. “I… god, I didn’t mean to make this a me thing.”

“No, you haven’t.” He leaned into her side. “I feel less alone now you told me.”

“D-do you?” She exhaled. “All…alright then.”

“Isobel,” Mum said, “shall we stay here for a bit? Just so you can tell me what’s on your mind, what you’ve been going through.” She sighed. “I can’t pretend I know you, and I can’t talk as a parent, but I can still listen to you, Machamp to Machamp.”

Isobel nodded, and reluctantly smiled.

“And you, Bronze.” Mum also leaned in for a hug, nuzzling his face. “I take it you also came from a similar background.”

“Sort of,” he muttered. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“Well, I don’t want you to come away from that pack feeling like you’re not a part of it either.” She pulled away and lay down on the grass, facing the sky as she wrapped her arms around her head. “So, how about it?”

Isobel took a deep breath. It was getting late. She didn’t know if she could get back in time to catch the last bus, since she only planned to pop into the dwelling for the afternoon. Yet, when she looked up, she realised just how much of a beautiful night it was. All those purples, oranges and blues. It was slightly cloudy, and there was no sign any more would block out the sky. Dots of light faintly twinkled against its darker hues, and the pale full moon loomed above like a crystal ball. Slowly, she laid her back against the soft ground and shifted her body to get into a comfortable position. The thick grass became a bed for her. It breathed with the wind. After all the discord in her heart, after all the tears shed, Isobel finally relaxed, and was ready to open up to Mum.

But that would have to wait. Bronze laid down beside her, his belly all exposed, and he faced the sky along with her. The three remained like that for a while, soaking in the scene until one of them was ready to speak. And it wasn’t going to be Isobel — someone else deserved the next turn. And there, Bronze had the first word.
 
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