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Pokémon Land of the Roses

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Artwork of Andrea and Kimberly provided by Hexikron
A story co-written by Misfit Angel and stormislandgal89


"Isn't it strange how the most trivial experiences can be so unforgettable? You must think it's silly that I find wonder in the everyday things around us... the things I've seen with you."

Welcome to the Land of the Roses! This story is set in the fictional Kingdom of Lanark, a land inspired primarily by Scottish, Irish and Welsh culture and geography. I've spent nearly two years building up the Kingdom of Lanark as a unique and varied setting with a deep national history, clashing cultures and a touch of real world hopelessness. The story blends a modern, technologically-advanced society with elements of both traditional and high fantasy, combining the two into (hopefully) a fairly unique world. Despite the advances of humanity, the world remains a beautiful and mysterious place, ripe for exploration and adventure.

The primary protagonist is an aspiring biologist who is eager to reap the results of her hard work and get her career off of the ground. The secondary protagonist is a wealthy heiress who is looking to find her purpose in life, and explore the facets of her personality that make her truly unique. As the two work together in the interests of personal discovery, they're supported by a cast of characters with their own dreams and ambitions; a clashing mix of personalities sets the stage for love, anguish, anger and most importantly, fun!

An important note about this story is that, while it's set in the Pokémon universe, the focus is on its human cast first and foremost. Friendships and romance will be a key plot point of this story, but I'm hesitant to class it as a shipping story as it'll be more than just that.

Content warnings: the following will crop up at some point:
[ strong language ] [ graphic violence ] [ drug abuse ] [ alcohol abuse ]
[ references to anorexia and other body image issues ] [ references to nudity ] [ sexually suggestive content/frequent innuendos ]

Content tags: what will you find within?
[ original characters ] [ original region ] [ "fakemon" ] [ scientific research ] [ coordination ]
[ primary focus on interpersonal drama ] [ secondary focus on shipping ] [ tertiary focus on pokemon training and coordination ]

Table of Contents
Season 1: New Beginnings in Spring
Introduction

  • Prologue - The Wilted Flower
    A young scientist is poised to turn her life around with a dream job interview, but she finds it hard to have faith in herself.
Part 1: First Impressions Are Everything
  • Chapter 1 - The Institute
    Andrea arrives at the Reiland Institute for her interview, and her first impressions begin when she meets her potential future boss.
  • Chapter 2 - The Interview
    Fourteen years of hard work has boiled down to this moment.
  • Chapter 3 - The Choice
    With her interview complete, Andrea is presented with a choice.
  • Chapter 4 - Remember, a Rose Has Thorns
    Even the most peaceful looking countryside has its hidden dangers, and Lanark is no exception.
  • Chapter 5 - The Third Wheel
    Having arrived in Nettlefield after sunset, Andrea is faced with the reality that she'll have to share a room with a couple she doesn't know.
  • Chapter 6 - A Grim Task
    Andrea, Emily and Patrick investigate the mysterious and deadly plague that is spreading through a Miltank herd. (Part 1 Finale)
Interlude
  • Interlude - wiltedlilacx
    Still making his decision about whether to hire Andrea or not, Patrick is presented with a potential treasure trove of information about her: her social media presence.
Part 2: The Majesty of Aughrim
  • Prologue II - The Troubled Heiress
    Nearly five months after responding to a humanitarian crisis in the arctic, a young heiress prepares to resume her personal life and professional career.
 
Last edited:

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Artwork of Andrea provided by Hexikron
A young scientist is poised to turn her life around with a dream job interview, but she finds it hard to have faith in herself.

May 12th
Aughrim, Kingdom of Lanark


"You can do this..." a young woman told herself as she sat idly at the vanity in her bedroom. She pushed her long blonde hair out of her eyes, took a deep breath and tried to maintain eye contact with her reflection, but it was difficult. "You have to do this..."

It was an important day for her, a day she hoped would change her life for the better. Later that day, she'd be taking part in a job interview at the Reiland Institute, a widely respected scientific research center on the other side of the country. Though she'd known about the interview for some time, she still couldn't believe it was finally happening; ever since she was a little girl, from the moment she performed her first basic science experiment in her parents' tool shed, she'd dreamed of one day working as a scientist -- pushing the bounds of current knowledge and discovering new things. Her goals and motivations had changed since then, but the dream remained the same, and after sixteen long years of intense work and endless determination, that dream was finally within her grasp.

That didn't make it any easier to have faith in herself, however.

"It's only the most prestigious research center in the kingdom, and you're only a university dropout..." Light, tingly pain radiated outward from her hands as her black fingernails dug into the hard oak surface of the vanity. Her eyes drifted upward and met those of her reflection once again. "But you can do this. Otherwise it's back to square one, and you can't afford to start there again..."

As she stared at herself in the mirror, she debated how to present herself. Her options were limited by what she had, limitations created by her limited wealth. She looked down at the basket of clothes beside her, and most of it was black; a little red here, some lavender there, a splash of grey in between, but still mostly black. Buried at the bottom of the basket was the one piece that wasn't -- the spring green off-the-shoulder skater dress that she wore to her high school prom -- hardly appropriate for a job interview at a prestigious research center, and likely didn't fit her anymore.

"Guess I'll be wearing black today..." she commented as she lifted her mascara brush and began to work on her eyelashes. "Not that I'm complaining..."

As she finished up the last of her mascara, there was a knock at the door, and a voice came from the other side. "May I come in?"

She lowered her mascara brush and smiled. "Of course!" she called out.

The door swung open and a slightly overweight young man with shaggy, shoulder length brown hair stepped in. He averted his eyes as soon as he saw how little she was wearing. "Oh! Thought you'd be more dressed than that."

"I'm still trying to decide on what I want to wear..." she answered as she carefully drew a wing shape of smoky purple eyeshadow over her left eye. "But I'm pretty sure it's gonna be my Misfit Angel Enchantress dress."

The man's face contorted with skepticism. "Uhh, Andrea? You do... realize it's a job interview you're going to, right? Not a rave down at The Lair?"

"I do. But it's the best I have. More importantly, it's who I am," she returned, starting the winged eyeshadow over her right eye. That smile returned to her face. "And who do I have to thank for that lesson, eh, ol' buddy ol' pal? 'Be true to who you are'?"

He laughed. "Okay, you've got a point. Still, you've known about this interview for a couple weeks now, you didn't think to pick up anything more... 'professional' looking?"

"You know I could only barely afford my train ticket out to the loch. And the ticket back... which I've still yet to buy, stupidly."

"If you needed a couple silver roses for--"

"Webster, please. Let's drop this," she barked with a tinge of annoyance in her voice. "You know how much being jobless for the past five months has torn me apart, and you know how much I don't like being reminded of it."

"Right, sorry."

"Ehh, forgiven. It's impossible to be mad at you." She finalized her eyeshadow and turned to look at him. "So, how do they look? Even enough? A little too heavy on the right, maybe? I always make that mistake..."

"They look pretty even to me."

"I'm surprised." She dropped her eyeshadow brush and held her hand aloft in front of her. "My hands are shaking."

"Nervous, huh?"

"Nervous..." she said with a half-hearted laugh. "That's putting it mildly. The last four years of my life have led to this -- no, the last sixteen. Those years are going to be judged, and hard. Something from my past is going to slip through the cracks and sink my interview, I just know it. If it's not the obvious fact that I dropped out of my PhD program because I couldn't handle the pressure, it's going to be something else."

He approached the bed and sat down on it. "Andi, you've gotta remember... Nobody is perfect. Everyone has a skeleton in their closet that they'd rather not talk about, even this lady that you're looking to be hired by, as well-respected as she is. You've made some... poor choices in the past, but who hasn't? I have, your father has, Toby has... You're too hard on yourself."

She sighed. "Maybe. It's hard not to be, all things considered..."

"What's really important is that you've made remarkable progress in putting yourself back together over the past couple of months. You need to keep focusing on that, or all of that progress might be lost."

Her eyes drifted to the floor. "I know, I know..."

"Think of it this way. You told me that the Reiland Institute doesn't hire people very often, right?"

"As far as I'm aware."

"Dr. Reiland invited you to come visit her research center, that alone must say something -- to me, at least. Do you really think that she's the type of person to drag you across the country to tell you that you're not good enough?"

She shook her head at the thought. "No. I'd be furious if she did."

He smiled, reached out to grab her hand and clasped it tightly between his own. "I understand that you're nervous, but you can't let that define who you are today. You're an intelligent woman with incredible potential." As he spoke, he felt her trembling diminish.

"Save it, I've heard that a dozen times from you this year! But today, I'll believe it."

"Good, because it's true."

She nodded her head slightly and slid her hand out of his grip, then turned around and grabbed her black lipstick. "Words like that make me think: I don't know if I've ever properly thanked you for everything you've done for me since the year started."

"You have, you just don't realize it."

"Oh yeah?" she asked, pausing her lipstick application.

"The best way to thank someone for helping you isn't through words, or gifts, or anything like that. No, you're doing it right now -- you're pushing yourself through that door and trying to make something of yourself, instead of getting comfortable at rock bottom. It makes all of the effort I put in to help get you back on your feet feel like it's been worth it."

She smacked her lips together as she examined herself in the mirror. Satisfied with her makeup, she pushed herself out of her chair and over to the basket of clothes. "I hadn't thought about it that way. Still... I owe you a gift for all of that. If I land this -- once I land this job, you're going to get that gift."

He laughed. "Is it odd that I dread to think what you mean by that?"

"You're always suspicious of my good will, so no, it's not odd," she said, pulling out her Enchantress dress. As she looked it over, she noticed that it was wrinkled to near ruin. "Fuck sake, how'd this wrinkle so badly?"

"Probably because you don't fold your clothes, you just throw them in the basket."

She laughed and shook her head. "Got a master's degree in biology but I'm still brainless about everyday life."

"I know. They don't teach you the basics anymore, do they? You might want to learn quick, you could be out on your own shortly."

She grumbled, digging through the rest of her wardrobe. Her flirty and revealing two piece Seductress set, with its long and flowing satin layers, were wrinkle free but clearly out of the question when it came to attempting to present herself as a professional who was worthy of consideration. Likewise, her Blood Baroness dress was in good shape, but dressing like a vampire would be far too eccentric for a job interview. She'd begun to see her roommate's point about buying a new dress for the interview, but it was too late; even worse, she didn't have the money for it because she spent most of her earnings on those designer dresses that were the current bane of her aspirations.

"What do you think..." she asked, grabbing the last of her dresses, the Spider. "If I roll up the mesh sleeves and fishnet stockings... it... looks normal enough? Hopefully?" Her voice started to squeak as she thought about it more and more.

"Umm..." He reached his finger out and poked it through the tangled mess of spiderweb-like threads below the neckline. "Don't you think you'll be showing a little too much cleavage in this thing?"

"Ehhh..."

"That aside, out of everything you've got... I think that's your best bet," he shrugged. As she slipped the dress on and made the adjustments needed, he blurted, "So, umm... Before you head out there, do you want to get breakfast together, maybe?"

"Us? Together? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Webster?" she joked. "We haven't done anything together in over a month, why the change of heart?"

"I figure it's a special day, and I get the feeling that you're not happy always being alone down at the diner."

"That's true..." She grabbed her phone off of the vanity and turned it on to check the time. "I'd love to, but... I gotta get to Camden Station soon, or I'll miss my train."

He lowered his head and spoke softly. "Morning's passing by that quickly, is it..."

She could sense his unhappiness, something he rarely displayed, and wrapped her arm around his shoulders for a hug. "Hey! If all goes according to plan, I'll be back in time for dinner, okay? I wouldn't pass up a chance to go out together."

"I was gonna play some games with the lads tonight, but... I can take a break from those assholes. It might do my blood pressure some good."

"Ha, maybe," she laughed, letting him go.

"Anyways, I'll get outta your hair. We'll talk later, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good luck, and remember: You've got this."

"Thank you."

As he left the room, she made her final adjustments to her appearance, but something was still missing... her favorite necklace. She returned to her bed and grabbed the bright silver chain off of her nightstand; it was silly, but she felt her anxiety melt away as she clasped the chain around her neck and rested the dark red tear-shaped gemstone over her heart. "Luck... you've done the trick before, and luck is what I need today."
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Andrea arrives at the Reiland Institute for her interview, and her first impressions begin when she meets her potential future boss.

As the train came to a complete stop and the doors opened, Andrea took a deep breath and stepped out onto the platform. The bitter cold instantly snatched her away from her thoughts about her upcoming interview, and she gasped in shock as her arms instinctively huddled together. No amount of rubbing her arms up and down would warm her up. "Holy shit it's cold!"

She quickly found a map that was posted on the terminal wall, but it was useless to her. Rather than detail the town of Loch Alstan, it covered every community along the lakefront and surrounding countryside, from Nettlefield in the west, to Rosewater Falls in the east and Cobble Creek in the south. Her heart dropped as she studied it further; the only landmarks on the map were parks, monuments and other tourist attractions. The Reiland Institute wasn't marked anywhere.

"Ugh... T-This is off-ff to a good s-start..." she lamented, shivering uncontrollably. "Mistake number one, idiot... you checked the weather back at home, but not here!"

She quickly retreated to the terminal building; much to her relief, the inside of the train station was welcomingly warm, so much so that she was tempted to spend the rest of the day there. As tempting as the warmth was, missing her interview was out of the question, so she pulled her phone out and brought up her map. She sighed heavily as she studied it: the Reiland Institute was situated along the shores of Loch Alstan, but the train station was in the southern foothills, and a 45 minute walk bridged the gap.

"I should have brought Webster's jacket..."

With her interview hanging over her at just an hour away, she pushed herself back out into the cold to get started on her journey. Not only was it cold, but it was foggy as well; her visibility was reduced to only perhaps 50 meters, obscuring her view of the town. The cemented cobblestones beneath her feet were slick with rain and filthy with mud, and as she made her way up towards the main road, she spotted stylized graffiti on nearly every building. In the distance, the wailing of several police sirens drowned out the sound of the wind around her.

"Oh! This town is lovely!" she sarcastically remarked to herself. "What next? People shooting up in broad daylight?"

Much to her relief, she soon heard the familiar clatter of a public tram, and before long, the tracks loomed out of the fog, followed quickly by the trolley itself. Not to her relief, however, the trolley was open air and exposed to the elements; she would still be cold and the seats were wet. All she could do was grumble as her day felt worse and worse.

- - - - -​

The Reiland Institute was a lot less glamorous than she had led herself to believe. In clear contrast with both her expectations of a modern engineering masterpiece and the rest of the town's charming Edwardian architecture, the limestone structure was rudimentary in design: monolithic, sharply defined amidst the fog and separated into six distinct floors, there were absolutely no unique features about it other than the fact that it was simply boring. It lacked artistic columns, fantastic grotesques perched upon the roof, and impressive window arches, boasting only flat, featureless walls.

"Looks like a mental asylum..." she mused as she stopped short of the main entrance. She took a moment to compose her nerves, and with a deep breath, she reassured herself that her interview would go well.

The lobby was far more warm and interesting than the exterior was. The first thing that caught her attention was the large fountain in the center of the lobby, which featured sculptures of four seahorse-like creatures -- which she subconsciously identified as Kingdra -- sending jets of misty water into the air. As she wandered up to it for a closer look, she noticed that large portions of the fountain's floor were littered with bronze and silver roses. Accompanying the entrancing flow of the water was the alluring sound of smooth jazz that played throughout the lobby. Both served to calm her nerves further as she timidly approached the desk.

"Hello!" the receptionist greeted with a bright smile on his face. "Welcome to the Reiland Institute! How may I help you today?" His manner of speaking was almost robotic, as if he had said the phrase thousands of times before.

"I'm, uhh... I'm here for a job interview with Dr. Reiland," she answered.

The receptionist's expression lit up. "Ah! I heard someone would be here today for that... Name, please?"

"Andrea Dennison."

"I'll need some form of identification, too."

She dropped her purse onto the counter and dug through it. She retrieved her old student ID card from her days at the University of Aughrim and handed it over to the receptionist.

The receptionist grabbed the card and studied it. "Hmm. This card expired over the winter holidays."

Her heart dropped; it was the only form of identification she had. "I, uhh... I dropped out of university a couple months ago. The admissions board told me they were going to give me a new one before that, but I guess that got cancelled in all of the confusion."

"Mmm," he said with a nod. He looked up from the card and studied Andrea's features closely, comparing them to the photo on the card; except for the length of her hair and her weight, every detail in the photo and on the card was a perfect match. "Well... You do look like who you say you are. A moment, please." He started to furiously hammer away at his keyboard with blazing speed. "You're quite lucky, you know. I don't remember the last time Dr. Reiland had someone come in for an interview."

She let out an awkward laugh. "As if I needed to feel any more nervous. I might throw up at this rate..."

"Oh, sorry." The receptionist continued to tap away. After a moment, he continued. "Here you are! Andrea Dennison, meeting scheduled for May 12th, 2:45 PM. Someone's early!" He picked up the phone beside him and input a few numbers. "Mr. Adelaide? Yes, Dr. Reiland's prospect is here a little early. Want to come down and meet her?" A pause. "Okay! I'll let her know." He hung the phone up, grabbed a lanyard with 'VIP' written on it in gold lettering and handed it across the desk. "Okay, one of the senior staff is going to come down to meet you. How about you have a seat until then?"

She took a seat in one of the chairs that was scattered throughout the lobby and sighed. "That's one hurdle down, I guess... didn't even think about my expired ID, what else didn't I plan for?"

A few minutes went by before a door behind the receptionist opened. A man with a strikingly bright red mop of wavy hair entered the lobby and looked around. His eyes met Andrea's and he approached her, then extended his hand forward as a sign of good will. "You're Andrea Dennison, right?"

She stood up and shook his hand. "That's me."

"Yep! I remember that voice! We spoke on the phone briefly a couple weeks ago."

"Oh, uhh... Patrick, right?"

"That's right. I'm one of Dr. Reiland's senior staff members, and I'm in charge of the biology wing of the institute."

"My potential future boss."

"Correct."

He rolled up his sleeve and checked the time on his watch. "Hmm. Your interview isn't for another half hour... Would you like to visit the staff cafeteria and warm up a bit? You look like you're pretty cold, dressed like that."

She looked away awkwardly. "Umm. I don't know about that."

"C'moooon, it'll be a good way to showcase the kind of atmosphere we have around here!"

That was what she was worried about; for most people atmosphere meant socializing with like-minded individuals. For her, atmosphere meant being in a crowded room with no one to talk to. But she didn't want to appear rude. "As long as I'm not late for my interview..."

He chuckled. "I won't let that happen! Follow me, I'll show you where it is."

He led her back through the door and into a hallway that seemed to stretch into eternity on both sides. Painted on the wall was a large, artistic map that indicated the general layout of the building: West Wing South was host to the medical and biochemistry labs, while West Wing North was dedicated to radiology, genetic research and the Pokémon hatchery. On the opposite side of the building, East Wing South focused on general biology and environmental research, and East Wing North was a hub for applied physics and chemistry.

"The cafeteria is up this way, up a couple floors," he said, leading her past the map of the facility. She followed at a distance and in complete silence as they continued down a hallway towards the stairwell. As they reached the top of the first flight of stairs, he decided to break the silence. "You don't talk much, do you?"

"Only when I'm comfortable."

"Ah!" He started up the second set of stairs. "That's fine! How about some small talk, though? Help open you up before your interview?"

She shrugged.

"I'll start by saying it: that's an interesting outfit you've got there."

She looked down at her clothing and concern began to wash over her. Her attire was simple, yet kept to a strikingly dark theme: her black minidress sported a revealing spiderweb design on her chest and was paired with black and grey striped stockings that reached partway up her thighs. Bulky black leather boots covered in buckles and straps stretched up to just below her knees, and gaudy, obviously fake jewelry -- apart from her necklace -- adorned her fingers, wrists, ears and left eyebrow. Strange by the average person's standards, but by no means outlandish. The fact that some of his first commentary was about her clothing raised red flags about her upcoming interview and put her on the defensive. "And... what do you mean by that?"

"Nothing at all. It's just that most people don't dress like it's rave night when they have a job interview."

"Look, I'm fresh out of university and broke, okay? I can't afford anything nice, so I'd--"

"Hey, relax!" he said with a friendly chuckle. "I didn't mean anything bad by it, I actually like it! It's been awhile since I've seen a goth girl, and you pull it off well."

"Oh, umm... Thank you. Sorry."

"At ease, soldier. I understand that you're nervous. That means you're not stupid -- this interview is a big deal and you obviously know that. Just... loosen up a little before you meet with Dr. Reiland, okay? First impressions are very important with her, and if you go in there with an attitude, looking like that? Well..."

"You're right. I'll try." she bleated. More silence, until she eventually broke it herself. "You're not the first person to tell me that today. Being dressed for a rave, I mean. My room mate said the same thing."

"And you came dressed like that anyway, because that's 'who you are'."

He'd earned his first smile out of her. "How'd you guess that?"

"I dated a goth girl back in high school... Your type is pretty predictable."

"I guess we are."

When they reached the third floor, Patrick pushed open another door and the two found themselves atop a balcony, out in the cold again. A damp walkway stretched between the main building of the Reiland Institute and its central annex, where the faculty offices, cafeteria and other staff accommodations were. Despite the gloomy weather, several institute staff members were loitering nearby, casually chatting about their ongoing work.

"Well! At least it's not raining!" he happily said, taking in a deep breath of the fresh, cold air. "...or snowing? I think it might actually be cold enough for that today."

She grumbled quietly to herself as her hands magnetically latched onto her arms for warmth again. "I thought he wanted to warm me up..."

"Anyways, the cafeteria is this way."

He pushed open the double doors at the other end of the walkway and the two entered one of the largest rooms in the Reiland Institute, the employee lounge. The entire room was brightly lit by a massive array of windows that flanked the northwestern and northeastern sides of the room, windows that offered a glimpse of the murky lake which the town of Loch Alstan was named after. Unfortunately, the foggy weather obscured an otherwise lovely view that day.

The massive room was split into two halves. The first half was the lounge area, itself split into two floors and separated from the cafeteria by another balcony. The area they were in was filled with comfy-looking couches and chairs that circled around tables and television sets. Bookshelves were stuffed to the breaking point with all sorts of scientific publications and reference manuals. A solitary snooker table, host to a game that was already in progress, sat in the middle of the room. An old fashioned jukebox -- which Patrick took the time to point out that he had found, restored and donated to the institute -- stood in the corner, playing some less-than-current alternative rock music.

In the cafeteria, about a dozen tables were all filled to capacity by chatting researchers, engineers and medical professionals. An impressive array of on-site restaurants lined the walls, and Andrea was already familiar with all of them: the Mountain Rain Brewing Company, a coffee company which specialized in exotic brews from the world over; Jackpot's Potato Shack, which boasted over a hundred menu options for the lifeblood of the kingdom's heartland, the russet potato; Shinikara Noodle, an establishment that brought the far east to Lanark; Gyroskope, with its focus on various specialties from around the Central Sea; lastly was the Crimson Crawdaunt, one of the continent's largest and most popular sea food chains.

"Oh boy, you have a Crimson Crawdaunt here?" Andrea asked. "I applied to be a waitress at one of them in Aughrim last month... Got turned down even though I already have waitress experience..."

"Ouch, and they hire anybody..."

"Gee, thanks, I don't feel bad enough about that... asshole." she thought.

"According to your application -- which I've spent a lot of time looking over -- working there would have been a terrible waste of your achievements, anyways," he said. "But yes, we do have one. And a lot of other options, as you can see, even international stuff! One thing Dr. Reiland does well is spoil her staff; we have a lot of choice here!" He rolled up his sleeve again to look at his watch. "Interview's in 23 minutes... You mind? I'm gonna grab some coffee." He slammed his palm up and down on the table next to them. "Sit tight! I'll be right back."

She pulled out a chair at the table beside her and sat down. The cafeteria was nice and warm, but her extensive journey through the cold left her chilled to the bone; it wouldn't do much for her, but she rolled down the mesh sleeves on her dress and huddled her arms together. As she patiently awaited Patrick's return, she took the time to study the researchers situated about the lounge. While the atmosphere was no doubt warm and genial, to her, it was intimidating. She never viewed herself as much of a social butterfly, and the boundless energy in the room was already exhausting. Still, hearing bits and pieces of conversations related to the researchers' personal lives or their latest projects reminded her of her university days, days she sorely missed even if she raved about how much she hated them. It was all moot, anyways; creeping doubt in herself told her not to get her hopes up.

Behind her, a voice emerged from the dull roar of the lounge. "Oh my! Nice outfit!"

"Hunh?" she said, perking up. She turned around and spotted a young woman with a complicated twist of braids in her strawberry blonde hair stood at the other side of the table.

"Your outfit, I like it. It's very... bold!"

"Oh, thank you." Her nerves were rattled as the woman placed a mug of hot chocolate onto the table and sat down across from her.

The woman looked down at her hot chocolate and stirred it gently with a spoon. "I can tell, just by the way you're sitting -- it's your posture that's giving it away -- you're nervous about something, aren't you?"

She paused for a moment and straightened her back, then followed with a silent nod.

"What's up? Having trouble with one of your projects?"

"No, actually... I'm here for an interview."

The woman's face lit up like a holiday tree with excitement. "Ooooh! So you're the girl I've been hearing about!"

She raised her eyebrow. "You... know about me?"

"Word spreads pretty quickly about people like you. A majority of the folks who apply here don't even get a call back, let alone land an interview, and nearly a thousand people apply every year. The fact that you're actually here? That's a good sign for you!" The woman offered her hand out. "My name is Emily, by the way. Emily Winehaus. You're... Andrea, right?"

She shook Emily's hand. "I... see I have a reputation here already, I guess."

"Well, I'm friends with one of the senior staff and he seemed excited about having you in for an interview. He may have mentioned your name..."

"Hmm."

"So, Andrea, which department are you hoping to land a job with? I assume biology, based on what I've heard."

"Yes. I've applied for both general biology and environmental research. Those are the two I have the most experience with."

"I've always been curious of what happens over on that side of the institute... I'm in medical myself, and they keep me pretty busy, so I hardly ever get to visit the east wing."

Emily's friendly nature and interest in her began to chip away at Andrea's nervousness. She felt her shoulders loosen up a bit, and her posture improved slightly as well. "Medical? Are you a doctor?"

"Not yet, but once I complete a couple more months of hands on work here at the institute with Dr. Venger, and then my final exam with the Local Alstan Medical Academy, I will be!" Emily answered, holding her head high. "Almost there..."

"I was in a PhD program myself, but, umm..." she stumbled. "Uhh, well, good luck with it is all I can say."

While the two were locked in a largely one-sided conversation, Patrick returned with two steaming cups of coffee in his hands. He nodded respectfully towards Emily as he sat down. "Hey, look who it is! And you're not drenched in blood this time!"

"Careful, it might be yours soon," Emily joked.

He pointed his finger rapidly between the two. "I take it you two have been talking."

"Sure have!"

"Teach me, Emmi. I can barely get her to speak!" He offered one of his cups of coffee to Andrea. "Here, brought something for ya."

Andrea eyed the coffee cautiously as it sat in front of her. "I, uhh, don't really do coffee."

"Aww, and I went through the trouble to get it for ya," He gently shook the cup, filling the area with the aroma of freshly brewed yet slightly burnt coffee. After she hesitated some more, he added, "C'mon, it'll warm you up after walking through the cold out there."

She looked towards Emily imploringly, as if begging for some sort of intervention.

"Sorry, new kid, looks like it's yours. I can't do coffee after 2 PM anyways, the caffeine will keep me up all night." Emily stated, shaking her head. "Besides, I need to get back to work. Busy, busy!"

"You'll be done in time, right? You and I have a long afternoon ahead of us."

"Yeah, I'll be done." Emily bowed graciously. "Good luck, Andrea!"

"Thank you."

As Emily walked away, she turned around to call out, "You treat her better than the last one, Pat! You hear me?"

Andrea turned to him with a look of confused worry on her face. "What's... that supposed to mean?"

"Don't worry about it, Emily and I go way back. She always trying to embarrass me," he explained.

"Right..." She raised the cup of coffee to her mouth, and just a single, bitter sip was enough to send a shiver radiating throughout her entire body, something that Patrick found amusing. "So, where is Dr. Reiland's office?"

"Pretty much right above us on the sixth floor."

"Would it help any if I showed up for my interview early?"

He swiveled his coffee cup around a bit as he thought about it. "Well, she does have a busy schedule today and likely wouldn't notice... But it certainly wouldn't hurt. Why, feeling a little claustrophobic with all of these strangers around?"

"A bit. And I just want to get this over with."

"That's fair. Let's get out of here then."
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Fourteen years of hard work has boiled down to this moment.

Dr. Rebecca Reiland II, Ph.D.

It was an intimidating name, and Andrea felt a sense of dread every time she would glance up to see it etched into the plaque on the door beside her. Dr. Reiland was one of the most accomplished independent researchers in the western world, with nearly a dozen research breakthroughs tied to her name, and dozens more tied to the bright minds of her institute. Andrea's own research during her time at university paled in comparison to that of the doctor, and always found its basis in the works of others. It wasn't hard for her to question whether she was truly worthy of sharing a workspace with such a legend.

Patrick was seated across from her, sipping his coffee as he read from a magazine. Every now and then, he'd glance up at her. "You okay? You look like you're about to faint."

She looked up at him and blinked her eyes rapidly. "This has been my dream ever since I was a little girl, working at a place like this... Now that I'm here, I feel a little dizzy..."

"I don't blame you, considering how hard it is to get an interview here."

"Yes..." she blurted with a nod. She placed her left hand on her belly in an attempt to soothe her churning stomach, and grabbed the stone on her necklace with her right hand and held it in front of herself. As she stared into the deep crimson stone, she continued, "Maybe I do have what it takes, but... I can't help but shake the haunting thought that if I don't get this job, next week is six months straight of unemployment."

"Damn, that long? I used to be in that position myself, but let me tell you, there's always light at the end of that tunnel."

"I hope so."

"Just relax. That's all you can do at this point."

Five minutes passed by and the door handle to Dr. Reiland's office turned slowly. Andrea was a little bit surprised by what she saw; she knew Dr. Reiland to be only 41 years old, but the woman who came out of her office appeared to be in her mid 60s. Her wavy silver hair was neatly tied back into a ponytail, revealing her freckled, warm and motherly face. She carried a cane in her right hand and her gait was heavy, even labored. Her face lit up as her eyes met with Andrea's. "Ah! Ms. Dennison, I presume?" She swapped her cane to her left hand and extended her right outward.

Andrea was shocked by what she saw and almost missed her chance to shake the woman's hand. "This can't be right... I didn't think Dr. Reiland was some old lady..." She reached out and shook the woman's hand. "Yes. Dr. Reiland, I presume."

"Correct."

She fought the urge to raise her eyebrow inquisitively. "It's a privilege to meet you, doctor."

"Oh! Ho ho! I'm just another person, like you. There's no need to treat me like royalty," Dr. Reiland replied. "I apologize for how long it took to respond to your application. It's been so busy here lately, and we've had so many to look through!"

"That's okay, ma'am. I understand."

Dr. Reiland took a moment to critically analyze Andrea's rebellious appearance, and a faint look of worry drifted across her face. "You look... different than I expected."

"I could say the same about you..." she thought. She restrained herself from responding fiercely -- something she realized she typically did when people pointed out her attire in a critical manner -- worried about Patrick's warning about displaying an attitude. "They say not to judge a book by its cover."

"That they do! That's a valuable lesson I've learned many times in the past." Dr. Reiland motioned into her office. "Please, come! You as well, Patrick."

The office was a cozy mess. Almost every available square centimeter had been filled; nearly a thousand books about dozens of subjects rested on the bookcases and shelves, even the floor. Honors, awards and newspaper articles gobbled up what little space remained on the walls. An unorganized bulletin board, covered in old papers dating back as far as ten years, hung behind the ornate oaken desk that served as the centerpiece of the room. The desk itself was covered in a wide array of loose papers, handheld equipment, framed photographs and a dozen scattered bottles of medicine.

"Please, do not mind the mess," Dr. Reiland recommended as she walked over to her desk. "It does become difficult to tidy up around here sometimes."

"I have offered to help, Rebecca," Patrick commented.

"I can take care of it myself, I just need a little free time," she said as she sat at her desk. "Ha. Free time... I wonder what that even is anymore... Ah, please! Have a seat!"

Andrea and Patrick did just that, pulling up a pair of chairs on the opposite side of the desk.

Dr. Reiland dug through the mountain of paperwork that rested on her desk, categorizing them neatly and quickly as she did so. "Now... I had your application on this desk this morning, Ms. Dennison... Let's see... Ah! Yes! Here it is!" she triumphantly said. "Now, before we begin, I would like to thank you for coming. I understand that the train ride from Aughrim is a long and exhausting one."

"Mostly just long, ma'am. Nearly seven hours," Andrea answered.

"The fact that you made that journey despite what I imagine is a shaky financial situation shows your dedication to this. I don't think many people would travel across an entire country for something they didn't have a guarantee on."

"Dedication... Try desperation," Andrea thought. "I've always believed that you should show up to an invitation, even if it feels hopeless."

"Mmm." Dr. Reiland lifted a pair of reading glasses to her eyes. "Very well, let's begin."

Butterflies lifted off and flocked in Andrea's stomach. It was finally time to reach out for that lifelong dream of hers.

"I've looked over your application many times, Ms. Dennison, and I must say that it's quite impressive for someone your age. A bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Aughrim. A thesis on the effects of pollution on marine and shore wildlife that was published in the Lanark Journal of Science. Two years of course credit in mechanical engineering. A 3.7 GPA across four years of university study. Top marks in high school. Star pitcher for the league-winning Goldwheat Girls softball team. Two years as a part time waitress at..." she paused, retreating to the application again. "The Lair? I'm unfamiliar with that establishment."

Patrick raised his eyebrow and smirked. He appeared to know what The Lair was, but he kept quiet.

"All of those accomplishments, and you're not even 21 years old yet. I don't receive many applications from people of your caliber. Or even your age, for that matter!"

"All good words so far..." Andrea thought.

"But! Personal accomplishments are not the only metric by which a man -- err, woman in your case -- should be measured. Drive, personality and the ability to work with others are all equally as important."

"She's got a degree at her age, doctor," Patrick chimed in. "And you said it yourself: she's made the journey here despite being broke and jobless. If that's not drive, I don't know what is."

Dr. Reiland smiled. "Ah! This is her interview, Patrick, I would like her to answer the questions!"

"Right, my bad. Carry on."

Dr. Reiland lifted the application again. "My first question is in regard to your university studies. It says here that you are enrolled in a PhD program at the University in Aughrim. I assume this is no longer the case, if you've decided to apply for a position here. A full time one at that."

That first question was a painful one for her, as she felt it highlighted her inability to perform under stress. She hesitated before answering. "Yes, I am no longer enrolled in that program. Or even at the university."

"And why is that?"

"I... That's..." she paused. "After I earned my bachelor's degree, a... some... medical problems came up. I couldn't keep up with my studies during my recovery."

"You don't sound so certain about that."

"I'm very certain, it's just not a nice memory to recall. I've been trying to avoid thinking about it for my own sake. It's been a rough few months because of it."

"Ah, I understand. One last question about that, then. Have these medical problems passed?"

"Yes. I'm back on my feet again."

"That's good to hear! Next question, and perhaps the most important one: now that you're back on your feet, why apply to my research center, rather than continue your studies?"

She thought about and crafted her words carefully. "I've learned a lot during my studies. I can and will always have room to learn more, but... I read about a lot of problems, but I'm interested in helping to solve them, too. Put my knowledge to practical use. Your institute would give me the opportunity to do so, and work with others towards that common goal." She paused for a moment. "And... I feel like I need a change of pace for awhile. There's too much drama with some of my fellow students. Letting them get ahead so I can return to my studies in peace a few years later seems like the best option for my sanity."

"Hmm." Dr. Reiland jotted down some notes. "Do you have any Pokémon of your own, Ms. Dennison?"

"None of my own, no."

"As a prospective biology researcher, that's a little worrying to hear. I'm curious: why avoid Pokémon ownership, something that many in the field view as a necessity?"

"Well, between my part time job and my extremely challenging studies, I wouldn't have had the time to properly care for one. That wouldn't have been fair to whatever I owned."

Dr. Reiland smiled; a good sign. "Pokémon ownership is quite the challenge, and I'm glad you see that. Now, you mentioned 'none of your own' which leads me to my next question. What is your overall experience with handling Pokémon?"

"My roommate back in Aughrim owns a Spinarak, and used to own a Joltik. I've spent a lot of time with those little bugs during my recovery."

"I suppose that explains the very obvious spider motif on your dress," Patrick commented.

She looked down and nervously covered her cleavage with her hand. "I suppose it does... Truth be told, this wasn't the dress I planned to wear today... But, I do like spiders, despite their reputation and how creepy they look."

"So, a pair of spiders. Is that your only experience?" Dr. Reiland asked.

"It's not. My umm... One of my old friends from university owns a Herdier as well, and I'd spend weekends looking after her until recently. I understand it's not the most experience, but at least I'm comfortable handling them... and now that I have more time and some experience, I'm not opposed to owning one if the job demanded it. There's also the standard fare of what my studies required from me. You know, handling Pokémon for research purposes. I could list each individual memorable experience, but that would take awhile."

Dr. Reiland nodded and took down more notes. "Next, I'd like to ask about, well, you! Your accomplishments are indeed impressive, but someone's personality often says more about a person than what they know. I'd like to get to know you a little bit better before we consider if you're the right fit for the institute." Dr. Reiland leaned over her desk and peered above her reading glasses as she studied Andrea more closely. "I know that I said that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but... your appearance worries me, admittedly. I don't know much about... 'emo' culture, was it?"

Another quiet snicker came from Patrick's direction.

'Emo', the worst insult a goth could hear; she restrained herself. "Goth subculture, ma'am."

"Ah, yes, that's the one. What I do know is that most people grow out of that phase before they graduate from high school, and those that don't... Well... I hear that they typically aren't the most respectable or respectful people."

She tried to defy expectation and offered a smile, even if it was understandably fake. "You won't get an argument out of me about that, ma'am. But... it's just a fashion style that I like, nothing more. I don't have drug problems, I don't have a criminal record, and I don't stay up until sunrise listening to bad, uninspired music. Most importantly, I have no difficulty being a bright, friendly and professional woman. In fact, that's what I always am."

Dr. Reiland turned to Patrick. "I understand that you've spoken with her before. What would you say?"

Patrick shrugged. "I'm not sure I can make that judgment accurately, yet. She's been very quiet since she arrived. I spotted her talking to one of the medical staff earlier and she seemed friendly enough, but I think getting a feel for her personality is something that'll take some time."

"True..." Dr. Reiland added. "But, I do still have some more questions related to personality. Teamwork, specifically, is a vital aspect of being a staff member at my institute. How well do you deal with the people around you, Ms. Dennison?"

"As Mr. Adelaide already mentioned, I tend to be quiet and shy in a new environment. But, I am capable of working with others. If someone needs help, I'm happy to lend a hand. If I need help, I can accept it graciously. I can follow orders as long as they're reasonable. However, for small projects, I find that I work best alone in most circumstances. It's much easier for me to focus... And I was usually working alone anyways during my 'group' projects while I was at university."

Dr. Reiland chuckled. "I see that hasn't changed since my own days at university..."

"I guess it hasn't. But, umm, if I have to work with other people, that's fine. I understand that many problems and projects that biologists tackle are too big for one person, and I'm happy to work with others to achieve something greater than myself."

Dr. Reiland wrote down some more notes. "Now... Let's say you and a fellow staff member have a dispute about the way to move forward. Persistent arguments occur that affect not only your productivity, but the productivity of those around you. How do you deal with such a circumstance?"

"I'd ask for a supervisor's assistance. If it's gotten that bad, it's out of my control."

More notes. "Field assignments are quite common in our line of work, Ms. Dennison. Do you have any travel experience?"

"Not much, but what I do probably has me ready for most forms of travel. I've been back and forth between Aughrim and where I grew up -- uhh, Goldwheat, that is -- about a dozen times? And then I spent last summer up in Glastonfell's Lower Fringe, in a tiny town called Pebbleshore."

"Oooh! Now that's true countryside!" Patrick crooned. "I hear they don't really have roads up there, mostly just old trails that connect all of the little communities, right?"

"That's right."

"Not unlike some of the roads out here in western Alstan County..."

"I won't say that I'm an expert at travel or dealing with the wilderness, but I feel confident in saying that if I had someone watching my back to keep me safe from wild Pokémon, I've learned enough in the Lower Fringe to at least lead the way. Even better, if some of the field work happens out on the west coast, they've definitely got their roads sorted over there, and I'm familiar with a lot of them."

Dr. Reiland nodded. "What do you think, Patrick? You'll be working closer to her than I will, so I'll defer to your wisdom and opinions here."

Patrick pushed himself out of his comfortable lounging position and rested his elbows on his knees. "I like her. She's smart. She's got impressive accolades. She seems down to earth too, which I think is probably one of the most important things to consider. We do have a lot of young hot heads here that like to bump into each other and compete, she could be a nice change of pace from that." He glanced in her direction. "You've got a lot of potential, Andrea, and you can reach new heights at a place like this. I think you'd be a valuable asset if we work with you, train with you and iron out any problems that arise."

Her heart felt like it stopped cold as she listened to them speak about her. Their words were tinged with praise, and very little was critical of the numerous black spots on her record, or mistakes that were no doubt present in her application.

"Agreed." Dr. Reiland stood up and offered her hand across the desk. "This was an illuminating interview, and it has given us a lot to consider."

She felt her legs wobble as she stood up as well. "Is... Does this mean..." She reached out and shook Dr. Reiland's hand.

"Thank you again for making the time to come all this way. Patrick and I will be in touch with you shortly after we've made our decision, you've given us --"

Just like that, her cold heart dropped and shattered. She was expecting a definitive answer about whether she was hired or not, and now she would have to wait even longer for it. More damned waiting! All she could do was stare blankly ahead, and nod at the words she was hearing but had stopped processing.

"-- was nice to meet you. Thank you again for coming."

"Th-thank you for the opportunity," she said. "Is that all?"

"That is all. Dismissed." Dr. Reiland turned to address Patrick. "Do you mind staying for awhile, Patrick? I'd like to briefly discuss something with you."

- - - - -​

Her hands were trembling again. It wasn't fear or disappointment that were responsible, but anger; as she sat there in the hallway outside of Dr. Reiland's office, she wondered how she'd deluded herself into thinking that she would impress them enough to be hired on the spot, especially since she'd spent all day tearing herself down and wallowing in doubt. "Great... I spent the last of my fucking savings coming out here and that's all I get? 'You'll hear from us'? How do I even know if I will... Something tells me this was a big waste of time and money... You were a fool to believe otherwise."

She slammed her hands together in an effort to cease their shaking, and when that didn't work, she ordered through gritted teeth, "Stop twitching, you bastards..."

As she sat there, the door to Dr. Reiland's office opened up and Patrick stepped out. He saw her seated on the floor and looked surprised. "Oh! Still here, huh?"

"Yeah, just trying to... calm myself down, I guess. I felt myself crumbling and had to force myself through much of that. It took a lot out of me."

He leaned up against the wall and slid down it to sit next to her. "I can imagine. Especially being out of work for six months."

She grumbled silently.

"You seem a little grumpy, what's up? Feel like you didn't do well, or something like that?"

She hesitated to answer, but eventually tried. "I dunno. I was just expecting... I dunno."

"Expecting something? Like, a quicker answer from us?"

She shrugged. "I guess..."

He tilted his head. "Where was it you worked before again? The Lair?"

"Mmm," she nodded.

"When you got your job there, did they hire you that same day?"

"...No."

"Now, it's been a few years since I've visited Aughrim, and even longer since I visited The Lair, but... The Lair doesn't strike me as a company that cares about its reputation as much as Dr. Reiland rightfully does, and even they took the time to consider if you were the right fit, despite the fact that you obviously -- err, probably looked the part. You get what I'm saying?"

"I do. It's not that I'm stupid and think that's how it works, I'm just disappointed in myself for having such lofty expectations... Add that to your considerations about me: I have a habit of expecting too much."

He patted her on the shoulder. "Nothing wrong with that! Especially being as young as you are. That's something we could easily fix, though." He picked himself up off of the floor and paced about. "So, what's the plan now? Headin' home?"

"Guess so. I've got nothing else to do here."

"Ugh! Fourteen hours on the Silverline in one day? You're mad, woman."

She looked up at him, shrugged and laughed. "And what would you suggest a girl without a rose to her name do, then?"

"Well, I was thinking... You mind hanging out for, say... half an hour? Emily and I have business out in Nettlefield tomorrow and we were going to make the trip today. Maybe you'd like to come along and see how we do things?"

She paused for a moment. "I don't know. It'll probably sound stupid, but... I did promise my roommate I'd be back in time for dinner, and he actually wants to go out for the first time in ages... That's gotta mean something." She took a deep breath and sighed. "But... I know he's likely to take that back when I get home, and then I'll just be sitting around doing nothing like usual. I'm going to have to think it over."

"Hey, that's not stupid. That sounds like a tough call, but I'd be happy to have you along if you want a change of pace from that. Maybe you'd have an opportunity to show us what you're capable of?"

"Hmm..."

"Why don't you hang out in the employee lounge while you think it over? It's nice and warm, and your VIP pass includes a free meal."

"Does it..." She looked down and grabbed her lanyard. "Great, I could have gotten something other than that wretched, burnt coffee..."

"One last question before I get back to work. You still have my phone number, right?"

"Uhh... I think so?" she asked. She reached down and into her left stocking, then pulled her phone out of it to browse through her call log -- and found him still resting at the top of the list despite being called two weeks ago. "I do. Why?"

"Shoot me a message sometime before 3:30PM if you come to a decision."

"Okay. I'll think about it."

He reached his hand out. "If I don't hear from you again today, it was nice to finally meet you face to face. You're a very nice person."

She grabbed his hand, shook it and offered that same forced smile. "Thank you. Likewise."
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
Hoo! This is an intresting one.

"It's only the most prestigious research center in the kingdom, and you're only a university dropout..."
This is a great start for our protag. And said protag is a relatably anxious mess throughout. :V

(also if you can't rock the vampire aesthetic what's the fucking point)

You definitely seem to be setting up an intresting slice of life scenario in an intresting original setting (though I'd like to see more of the latter aspect as time goes on.) I do hope that job interview works out. You said this fic would mostly be human-focused and I'm going in just kind of shrugging my shoulders and accepting that - I don't normally really like when actual Pokemon don't really show up at all and indeed not a single actual Pokemon has shown up yet, but so far what you have in the character and prose departments holds up anyway.

But yeah, overall you've got a cute scenario and I'm curious what's going to actually become of it. Drama? Fluff? Angst? All of the above? Who knows!
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine
(also if you can't rock the vampire aesthetic what's the fucking point)
i know right

You definitely seem to be setting up an intresting slice of life scenario in an intresting original setting (though I'd like to see more of the latter aspect as time goes on.)
As far as the setting, I've been told that's where I shine. So there'll be a big focus on the world and setting, probably even in places where it's not 100% beneficial to the plot.

You said this fic would mostly be human-focused and I'm going in just kind of shrugging my shoulders and accepting that - I don't normally really like when actual Pokemon don't really show up at all and indeed not a single actual Pokemon has shown up yet, but so far what you have in the character and prose departments holds up anyway.
Perhaps I can relieve you of your concerns/confirm your fears about the preveilance of pokemon within this story by saying that chapters 4, 6 and 7 focus a lot on pokemon/the subject of ecology. Additionally, the second arc will introduce the secondary protagonist who is pursuing a career much more immediately focused on pokemon ownership. So while it's primarily a story about humans, pokemon will be called in off the sideline when needed!

But yeah, overall you've got a cute scenario and I'm curious what's going to actually become of it. Drama? Fluff? Angst? All of the above? Who knows!
Thank you! Hopefully it'll feature all of the above in satisfactory amounts (especially mushy romance fluff).
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

With her interview complete, Andrea is presented with a choice.

"Mmm, my god! These potato waffles! So good!" Andrea happily commented to herself as she took another bite. "It's bullshit that we don't have a Jackpot in Aughrim... I could get used to working here..."

She'd been thinking about how to spend her afternoon. She'd already worn herself down by riding the train, battling the cold and soldiering through the intense but short interview; she was ready to return to the comfort of her home, call it a day and relax. The other possibility involved spending several more hours navigating the country roads to the neighboring village of Nettlefield. Based on her phone's map, it looked simple enough, but that several hours would be spent in the cold highland air, something she simply wasn't dressed for. Even worse, she didn't know how long she'd be spending in Nettlefield if she did agree to join the two, and the weather forecast for the next few days called for only slightly warmer weather.

Still, there could be plenty of opportunities to impress her would-be boss. She wasn't sure what she'd be doing if she joined, but surely if she was invited by the senior manager of the biology department, her biology knowledge would be put to use somehow. Or she could offer moral support. Display her personality. Step in to help when she could, even if she wasn't asked. Some other variable could pop up and allow her to prove herself; with so little information about what she would be doing, anything could happen.

She reached for her necklace, grabbed the gemstone that dangled from it and pressed it to her lips, hoping for some sort of guidance. "I should really go with them. I have to do everything I can to turn my life around... I've worked too hard -- and been too lucky -- to just let this slip by. That's what you would have wanted out of me..." As she spoke to herself, she felt a sense of reassuring warmth pass through her body.

The choice was made, and she reached for her phone to let people know. First on the list was Webster:

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 3:12 PM
'hey so the manager of the biology department here wants me to join him on a field assignment'
'thatd mean im not coming home tonight if i go'
'i know i promised id be back in time for dinner but is that cool with you?'
'itd give me a chance to bond with these people and see whats up with this place'
'even show off a bit who knows'

Several minutes went by without an answer back from him, and she eventually became frustrated by his silence. "Come on, answer!"

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 3:20 PM
'hey'
'hey'
'hey'
'hey'
'buzz buzz'
'you gonna look at your phone sometime this year?'
'i keep telling you to turn up your volume!'

Fr: 'Webster', 3:21 PM
'Sorry, was in the middle of Legends match'
'Not coming home tonight? A little disappointing but this sounds like an opportunity you can't pass up'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 3:21 PM
'yeah'
'rain check on dinner together? was really looking forward to it : /'
'and you promised so im not gonna let you get away with taking that back ; )'

Fr: 'Webster', 3:22 PM
'Ha! A promise is a promise'
'Ugh next match popped already'
'Let me know how the interview went later?'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 3:23 PM
'sure'
'spoiler: pretty well i think if he wants me to come along'
'anyway have fun'

She sighed. "Damn it, I was really looking forward to that! Figures that he finally starts showing an interest in me when it starts looking like we might never see each other again... You sure do know how to pick 'em, Andrea."

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 3:24 PM
'hi i made a decision'
'id be honored to come along'
'should be fun and enlightening!'

Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 3:26 PM
'Right on! I'll tell Emily to meet us in the lounge. Her day ends in a few minutes, so we shouldn't be waiting too long.'

- - - - -​

Andrea was quietly mumbling to herself, as if she had been afflicted by a curse of demon tongues. The chain around her neck was held lightly between her lips, and the stone that dangled from it rested against her chin. Her brows were furrowed with discontent, her attention focused on her phone; on her screen was the popular social media platform, FriendZone. She was scrolling through the timeline of a man named Tobias Kedzierski, a timeline that was filled with photos of him and a young woman with pale orange hair; at the rocky beaches of Colm Strand, in the stands at an Aughrim Defenders rugby match, participating in an environmental protection rally on the steps of Parliament, sharing dinner at a Romatti restaurant and goofing off at home over a game of Pokémon: Battle Cards. Each photo brought her closer to a boil as she continued to scroll by.

"That bitch!" she grumbled quietly. "It's not fair... Those are my happy memories!"

THUD!

She jumped in fright and nearly fell out of her chair. A large, bulky backpack branded with the Reiland Institute logo had been dropped onto the table in front of her, and behind it was Patrick.

"Oh, sorry! Did I scare you? I didn't mean to... It's just this thing is so damn heavy!" he said.

She covered her chest with her hand and breathed a sigh of relief. "It's okay. Thank you, I really shouldn't have been focusing so hard... What do you have there?"

"Supplies for Emily's project out in Nettlefield. You know: gloves, sterile containers, measuring instruments, first aid kits, all the tools of the trade."

She nodded as she readjusted her posture. "I looked into it and couldn't find a train station in Nettlefield. I take it we'll be walking there?"

"That's right. Is that going to be a problem?"

She shook her head. "No. I've been meaning to exercise more, now that winter's over... This'll be a good start."

"I like that mindset!"

"Unfortunately, I think it's more than I'm capable of at the moment... I got tired walking to Camden Station this morning..." she surmised.

Silence overtook the two as Patrick inventoried the supplies for their upcoming trip again; Andrea returned to her browsing of FriendZone, but this time focused on her own profile. She posted an update to her timeline that mentioned her job interview, her upcoming trip to Nettlefield and her hopes of proving her worth, and even included a photo of the lounge, packed with employees. The silence was broken with Emily's arrival.

"Oh good!" Emily called out. "You saved me a trip to the supply room."

Patrick bowed his head. "I expect compensation, it was so difficult!"

"Hmm! I'll have to think about how I'll properly compensate you."

Andrea cleared her throat to grab their attention. "Soooooo, umm... I probably should have asked before I agreed to join you, but what exactly are we doing out there?"

"We're going to do the heavy lifting. You're going to watch and learn," Patrick announced. "Maybe you'll get your hands a little dirty if we need a bit of help."

"I understand that, but... That doesn't answer my question."

"Are you familiar with the Briar Patch Dairy Farms over in Nettlefield, Andrea?" Emily asked.

She nodded. "I am. That's where my favorite milk comes from."

"Well, it won't be coming from there for awhile... As of yesterday, they've shut down production entirely."

"What!? What's happening over there?"

Emily reached into her folder and grabbed a sheet of paper out of it, then placed it on the table in front of Andrea. "Over the past couple of weeks, a mystery illness has swept through their Miltank pasture, and it's started killing the livestock. Their appeals for help from the Ministry of Health have gone unanswered, so they're relying on the Reiland Institute to identify the illness, identify any possible sources and if possible, deal with the problem. Whatever it is, it's burning through those Miltanks quick, and it doesn't seem to be stopping despite their attempts to quarantine the infected. There's worries that whatever is affecting the Miltank herd could possibly jump the species barrier and affect other Pokémon, possibly even humans."

"And we'll be in a lot of shit if that happens. This thing kills quick," Patrick said as he crossed his arms and nodded towards the paper in Andrea's hands. "You said you wanted to help solve problems. How's that one sound?"

"Uhh, way out of my league!" she answered. "A disease that's affecting a herd of Miltanks? This sounds more like a medical issue... Apart from doing some heavy lifting, I don't know how I'll be able to help."

"We don't know if it's a disease yet, it just looks like one."

Emily nodded. "He's right. It could be something entirely different, and thus out of my league. So, Dr. Venger is sending one of his medical staff and Dr. Reiland is sending a biologist to see what's up. But... three heads would be better than two, so if you haven't changed your mind about coming along yet... We're still here."

She studied the paper in her hand and formulated a few early theories. "Could be a problem with the cattle feed... Maybe even sabotage, the Briar Patch has been an industry leader for awhile..." She looked up from the paper to see the two staring at her. "What? I like milk, so I learned about the company that produces my favorite."

More staring.

"Look, I had a lot of time on my hands these past few months, okay?"

Patrick laughed. "Huh, hadn't thought about sabotage. We'll have to look out for that... Though who could really be that heartless?"

"Gates Dairy, on the other side of town. They're the big competitor in the area."

"Hmm. Wouldn't hurt to poke around their facilities if we can arrange that, do some recon and see if anything looks suspicious."

Emily clasped her hands together in excitement. "Sounds like a decent backup plan if we can't find anything on the medical front! We'll figure it out! You ready to go?"

She shrugged. "I guess I am."

"Didn't you bring a jacket?"

She broke eye contact and puttered about nervously. "No. It's back in Aughrim."

"But it's going to be cold!" Emily warned.

"Yup."

Patrick tilted his head curiously, but shrugged the situation off. "You're a puzzle, Andrea."

"Am not! It's pretty obvious that I'm trying to show I'm willing to step outside of my comfort zone," she thought. "I hope these two see that by the time we're done with this..."

Emily playfully smacked Patrick's shoulder with the back of her hand. "Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't we stop by my apartment before we leave, I've still got that extra jacket you got me for my birthday a couple years ago. She can borrow it."

"That's really not necessary, but thank you."

Emily placed her hands to her hips and furrowed her brow. "Not necessary? C'mon, you're not a highlands girl, the cold will tear right through you! Besides, it's on the way out of town anyways. It's no trouble!"

- - - - -​

Barely fifteen minutes had passed since they left the warmth of the research center, and the cold had already begun to get the better of Andrea; Emily was right, she certainly wasn't a highlands girl. Though she'd been promised the spare jacket, she was already considering calling off her involvement and going home, but she refused to give up; she'd been raised to give everything she had when it came to showing off her capabilities, and quitting so soon -- regardless of a lack of a jacket -- would have reflected poorly on her. However, her burning desire to prove herself was only in her head and did nothing to warm her. She shivered uncontrollably as she huddled her arms together.

"We'll be there soon, new kid," Emily commented. "That dress is amazing looking, but I'd hate to wear it in weather like this. It looks so thin! I mean, I can see your skin through those sleeves of yours. Not to mention that spider web over your chest."

"It's May!" she barked as she continued to rub her arms to combat the cold. "Is it always this cold around here?"

"It's been a cooler spring than usual, but yeah, this is pretty common," Patrick answered. "Hell, in some years we don't even get a proper summer like you're used to out on the west coast, and it's starting to look like this might be one of those years."

"Great..."

Apart from that exchange, she was more or less silent for much of the journey to Emily's apartment, and just as she did when she first met Patrick, she kept a small distance behind the pair. She felt out of place; listening to them chat back and forth gave her the sense that the two were indeed old friends, and probably even more. The giggling, the playful physical contact, the candid details in their conversations -- as if a stranger weren't even there, listening to them -- confirmed the idea in her head: Patrick and Emily were dating, a thought which made her quite uncomfortable. The worst thing was that she was stuck in the middle of them for at least a day, and likely longer.

"Can't even land a date yourself anymore... and somehow you end up as a third wheel? Your life is a mess, Andrea," she told herself.

"So, how about you, new kid?" Emily asked, turning back to look at her. "You're awfully quiet back there. Any interesting stories to tell?"

Andrea looked up from the stones of the walkway. "Oh, uhh... no, not really."

"Really? Nothing at all?"

"Nothing interesting. Most of my time was spent studying or working, and what little free time I got was -- uhh, well, that's... only interesting to a certain type of person, I guess. I'm not sure you're those type of people yet."

"We might be," Patrick answered.

"I'd rather find that out on my own, if you don't mind. That's why I'm quiet. I'm listening. Observing."

Emily leaned in towards Patrick and quietly said, "A true scientist!" She turned back and offered some encouragement, "That's okay! Just remember that you can chime in whenever you want!" She looked up at Patrick again with a devious look in her eyes. "I might like Patrick, but I don't want to spend the whole trip talking to just him. I can't imagine a worse fate!"

She sighed quietly to herself. "I should just go home... I hate couples. Especially deeply sarcastic ones."

As they strolled through the town of Loch Alstan, the weather slowly improved. The fog lifted rapidly, allowing the bright afternoon sunlight to flood in and warm the area considerably -- not enough to comfort Andrea, but enough to keep her from shivering uncontrollably. She thought about how rude and stupid she might have appeared by trying to argue her way out of borrowing Emily's jacket, and worried that it might have already painted her as a stubborn and bullheaded individualist. She didn't want to change her personality, but she realized that Patrick would be watching her closely, and vowed to be more tactful when she could. Her first opportunity presented itself when they arrived at Emily's apartment; Emily broke from the group with a promise to return soon, leaving her and Patrick behind.

"Hey, I'm sorry... if I'm being... you know, rude."

Patrick raised his eyebrow and tilted his head. "It seems we have different definitions of rude."

"It seems we do. I always knew I picked up some bad habits and ideas since I started my university studies... This must be another one of them."

"What do you mean by that?"

She crossed her arms and leaned up against the rough brick surface of the building. "A couple years ago, a childhood friend and I grew closer. That must have changed his expectations of me, because being my usual quiet self was no longer sufficient. He gave me such a hard time about it that I've been second guessing myself every time I try to talk to people..."

"Sounds like an asshole to me."

"That's putting it lightly." She kicked at the ground in frustration over her bad memories. "I guess I haven't been the same since. I love being quiet, but I feel like I shouldn't. It tears me apart sometimes."

"Some people are just closed books, there's nothing wrong with that! I'd like to pry you open and really get to know you, but... that doesn't have to be today. Or... ever, if you don't want!"

She looked up at him and offered the faintest laugh as she thought, "Jeeze, that choice of words... Pry me open..."

The door beside them opened and out came Emily. In her hands was a neatly folded tartan jacket, primarily red in color, accented with deep green stripes and dashed with silver threads. Rough wool lined the collar and the inside to keep the wearer toasty and warm even on the coldest highlands day.

"It's probably not your style, but it'll keep you warm!" Emily said as she offered the jacket over. "You're on your own for your legs though, but those stockings do look pretty cozy..."

She grabbed the jacket and rushed it on. It was indeed warm, and she couldn't thank her new acquaintance enough. "It's a little tight, but... thank you. I'm not used to people doing me favors. Most city folk over in Aughrim are assholes."

Emily nodded and smiled. "Hey, if you get the position, you can look forward to more of it from me!" She reached into her jacket and pulled out a bulky metallic device that was attached to a strap and slung over her shoulder. With a tap of the screen, it turned on and displayed the time. "Ah! Are we all ready to hit the road? We might be pushing against sunset if we don't leave soon."

"I'm ready," Andrea said.

"Me too," Patrick added.
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Even the most peaceful looking countryside has its hidden dangers, and Lanark is no exception.

"Ahhh! It's nice to get out and stretch my legs for once..." Emily said, twirling down the cobblestone road. "I hate being stuck at a desk all day at the institute. If I weren't so deeply in debt with my medical studies, I'd definitely look for different work."

"And what would you be doing if you weren't studying medicine?" Patrick asked.

"I don't know. Park ranger? Survivalism trainer? Dance instructor?"

He roared with laughter. "Please! I've seen you dance!"

"Of course I can't dance! I spent the last seven and a half years studying medicine! But if I were actually trying to become a dance instructor..." Emily turned and looked back towards Andrea. "How about you, new kid? Can you dance?"

"She worked at a place called The Lair, I'm betting she definitely can."

Andrea laughed nervously. "Let's not."

"The Lair?" Emily asked.

"Let's not," Andrea repeated with a hint of aggravation in her voice. "I liked working there, but I don't like talking about it. If I'm going to get a career in the sciences started, I want to be taken seriously. I don't think I will if you start telling everyone I worked at a place like that."

"Relax, nobody's going to judge you! You're among friends here!"

"With all respect, no, I'm not. I don't know you two."

"She's right," Emily said. "If she doesn't want to talk about her past for whatever reason, that's fine. It's her choice."

"She's so quick to defend me... I think I'm gonna like her..." she thought. "To answer your question, yes, I can... thrash about on a rave floor. Knock people out in mosh pits. That stuff counts as dancing, right?"

"See? She can dance!" Patrick answered triumphantly.

As they rounded the bend in the road ahead of them, the skyline of Loch Alstan disappeared behind the trees; they had officially entered the wilds of Lanark. Despite the advancements in technology and society, and the rapid, sprawling development of the country's urban centers since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the wilderness looked as if it had been untouched by human hands for centuries, if not longer. Aside from the winding and partially overgrown cobblestone road that snaked its way through the foothills and a section of railway visible in the cliffs, nature was at its most pristine, unhindered state. To the north were the Dornoch Mountains, still capped with last winter's snow; to the south lay the Ivory Steppe, its usual bed of flowers absent in the presence of the lingering winter weather.

"You're in for a hell of a show, Andrea. This is one of the best areas in the kingdom for countryside views: untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see."

"Umm..." Andrea said, running her finger along the ramshackle, decaying fence beside her. "You sure about that?"

He conceded to her point with a nod. "Okay, mostly untouched, at least up here in the Northcountry. The Ministry of Wildlife doesn't open much of the land around here for agricultural development, as much as it might help feed our poor... But that's a debate for another day! Most of this area hasn't been developed since the mid-20th century. Bet you don't get vistas like these over in Aughrim!" he proudly proclaimed.

"No, we don't... I could get used to this." she said as she studied the graceful shape of the mountains.

Eventually, the road before them ended at a sea of tall grass that fluttered in the chilly wind. "Now comes the part that separates the boys from the men, the true test for those who travel the roads in the Northcountry," he said as he looked up and down the long wall of grass in front of him. His search for a way around the grass was met with failure.

"Well come on then, you so-called manly man!" Emily ordered as she fearlessly stepped into the grass.

"I was just looking for the trail... It seems to have faded over the winter," he spoke softly. He turned around and called out to Andrea, who had cautiously stopped at the edge of the grass. "Hey! I hope that dress of yours isn't too delicate! The grass around here can get a little sharp sometimes."

Andrea studied the grass with a grimace on her face. The softly serrated grass reached up to her chest and was so overgrown that she couldn't see the ground underneath it. "You sure we're going the right way? The trails up in Glastonfell were never this bad."

"Really? Now that surprises me. Heh, and you think this is bad? You should see the road on the other side of Nettlefield, over near the Bramblemurk. If you can even call it a road..."

She muttered quietly to herself as she took her first steps into the grass. "I hope there aren't any of those big bugs in here... I hate bugs!"

It wasn't as bad as she first imagined; while she could feel the serrated edges of the grass snagging against the delicate fabric of her stockings, it wasn't as sharp as Patrick had warned. Even more, the grass wasn't cold to the touch as she expected, or wet, despite the gloomy weather. More importantly, there wasn't a single giant bug in sight, but that meant little considering she couldn't see through the thick blanket of tangled grass around her; they could be hiding, ready to leap out at her. Before she knew it, however, she'd emerged on the other side of the patch of grass without incident.

She breathed a sigh of relief. "What have you gotten yourself into..."

"Well! That was surprisingly uneventful!" Patrick commented.

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"What do you mean 'what is that supposed to mean'? Did they not teach you that tall grass like this is the best spot for wild Pokémon to hide in as they either await their prey, or hide from their predators?"

"Yeah, they taught me that. But it's pretty damn cold out here, and it looks like it's been raining recently. Not many Pokémon will be out in this weather. They're smarter than that."

"Fair..." he admitted. "You can never be too careful, though. In fact..."

Patrick reached into his pocket, pulled out a standard red and white Pokéball and underarm tossed it forward. The ball burst open with a shower of leaves that smoldered away into ash, revealing a cat-sized rabbit-like creature. The creature was covered primarily in short, orange fur, with accents of yellow along its underside and long stripes of red along its back. A pair of large and rigid leaf-like ears grew from a single point on its forehead, and similar, smaller leafy appendages grew from its cheeks. Its tail resembled a snipped stem, and a thin stream of smoke billowed from the tip.

Andrea gasped at the sight of the creature. "A Hopañero? It's so cute!"

"He's more than cute. This little guy's gotten me out of a fair share of bad situations."

"And into half of them..." Emily quietly commented.

"Hey, you don't need to worry! I'll keep us safe, you have my word," he assured the girls. "I may not be the most capable trainer in the world, but ol' Pepper here can usually take care of himself."

"Usually?" Andrea asked.

"Against the wild stuff, yeah. Against a dedicated and skilled trainer? Well, I've gotten lucky before..."

"Think we'll run into a trainer out here?"

He looked to the cloudy sky and took a deep breath of the chilly air. "Probably not. But if we do, I can always just tell 'em to piss off. Trainers' code is to leave people alone if they've only got one Pokémon to protect them, and most people stick to that."

"Yeah, most..." she thought. "I know one who wouldn't, especially if he saw that I'm in the group... hope we don't run into him out here."

- - - - -​

A couple of hours had passed and the terrain around them shifted. They no longer found themselves in the sparsely wooded aspen meadows that bordered the town of Loch Alstan; the road they followed had taken them up into the stoney hills until they eventually reached a grassy plateau that was flanked by moderately tall cliffs to the south and a shear drop to the north. From their vantage point, they could see the placid Alstan River glittering in the daylight and the Dornoch Mountains beyond them.

Conversation between Patrick and Emily had continued at a steady pace; as usual, Andrea was quiet and lingered behind, something that the two felt disheartened by. Patrick's attempts at prodding her for info about her social life while at university failed, so he decided to talk about his own. He wanted to break down the barriers, and thought a good way to do so would be an anecdote about his own rebel phase.

"You?" Andrea questioned. "I don't know you very well, but I can't imagine it..!"

"You better believe it! I was a wild kid when I was your age," he answered with a smile. "Long hair, leather jackets, a love of black metal and more time spent raving than studying. Lotta drugs, too."

She laughed at the thought. "I'd have never guessed. You look so... so boring! So sewn up!"

He chuckled. "Yeah... Got Emily here to thank for that. I met her just as I was straightening my life out."

"You've come a long way," Emily commented. "I'm pretty proud of that."

"Yeah, that answers that. Definitely a couple..."

"Ehh. I needed to get serious if all of my hard work was going to pay off." He turned to look at Andrea. "Not that you can look like you do and not be taken seriously, I should clarify."

"Do you still listen to any of that stuff? Go to raves?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I listen sometimes, but I'm pretty much past that phase of my life these days. I'm not 'cool enough' anymore, and I get cranky if I'm out past my bedtime."

"Aww, that's a shame... If I do get this job, it would have been nice to find someone who knows all the good spots in town. Maybe even a rave buddy."

"Heh. I could dust off the old jacket, see if I got what it takes still... But, there's a guy down in our biochemistry department, huuuuuge cyberpunk nerd. I can--"

Their conversation ended abruptly with a high pitched bellowing sound that carried across the countryside. It didn't take long for either of the three to pinpoint the source of the noise: atop a rocky outcropping sat a stubby, black and grey elephant-like creature. Most of its body was a uniform, scaly grey, but a thick set of black armored plates ran from the tip of its extensive trunk across its back, ending just short of its small tail. Deadly-looking curved tusks, one of which was broken at the tip, jutted from its mouth, and a clear look of agitation shined in its narrowed eyes.

Patrick held his arm out to slow Andrea down, accidentally brushing against her chest. "A Donphan..." he said. "Careful. Those things are nasty."

"Shh!" Andrea whispered. "Quiet! I've read about these... we have to move slowly and maintain eye contact, right?"

"Yeah... we have to let it know that we know that it's there," he added. "They're creatures of opportunity and only strike when they know they have the upper hand."

"What if that doesn't work? We're probably in its territory and we should have a plan--"

In that instance, the tried and true method of maintaining eye contact didn't work, likely due to the distance between them. The Donphan pounded its padded foot into the ground and roared loudly, a universally understood signal that it was enraged and ready to attack. The attack was swift; it hopped into the air and curled up to protect itself with its dense armor plating, then closed the distance between it and the group surprisingly quickly.

"Look out!" Patrick shouted as he pulled Andrea out of harm's way, taking care to place him in between her and the Donphan just in case.

Emily tumbled to the ground as she narrowly avoided being steamrolled; the Donphan roared past and slammed into a massive 25 meter tall oak tree at the side of the path. The trunk of the tree shattered from the force of the impact, sending wooden shrapnel raining over a wide area, and the rest of it toppling down with a rattling thud. As she picked herself off of the ground and dusted herself off, she worriedly called out, "Umm, you sure Pepper can handle something like this?"

"Find somewhere to hide, you two!" Patrick ordered. "Pepper! Park yourself in between us and the Donphan, we need to overwhelm that thing quickly before someone gets hurt!"

Pepper hesitated for a moment before rushing off towards the fallen tree. He cautiously hopped around and searched the area in an attempt to find the Donphan, but found it difficult to see through the fallen leaves and battered branches. His continued search yielded nothing; no movement, no sound, nothing out of place. It was almost as if the Donphan had simply vanished.

"Hope that thing didn't get killed by the tree..." Patrick said before he cautiously took a few steps towards the fallen oak. "Find anything, Pepper?"

Pepper let out a deep grumbling sound as he hopped around the tree.

Andrea poked her head out from behind a large boulder that rested at the opposite side of the road. "Maybe we should take this opportunity to leave?"

Before they could react, the shrill cry of the Donphan echoed out again and the tree rustled with movement. The Donphan burst out of the leaves and rolled straight towards Pepper in an attempt to catch him off guard; however, Pepper was quick on his paws and managed to avoid the attack. The smoke billowing from Pepper's tail grew thicker as he took in a deep breath; tracking the movements of the rampaging Donphan carefully, he let loose a spray of flickering flames, taking care not to catch his master, his two friends or the grass in the flaming arc. The flames simply bounced off of the Donphan's plated armor and had little effect on it as it continued to roll about.

"Keep it up, Pepper!" Patrick ordered.

Pepper continued his relentless barrage of fire breath, but it seemed pointless. All he was doing was tiring himself out while the Donphan shrugged off the fire like it was nothing. Meanwhile, the Donphan was only getting started; its attacks grew in accuracy and increased in speed with each miss. Even worse, the Donphan's movements were becoming more and more unpredictable, bouncing between aiming for Pepper and Patrick at random.

Patrick narrowly scrambled out of the way of the Donphan as it rolled straight at him, then picked himself up off of the ground. "Bloody hell..." he muttered. "Umm..."

Andrea had been analyzing Patrick's strategy from her safe spot and could plainly see that it wasn't working. "He needs to find a way through that armor... Do you know if he's actually any good at this Pokémon battling thing?"

Emily bit her lip. "He's not as good as he thinks he is... I'm a little worried about this."

"Great..." she muttered. She stood up and called out loudly, "Patrick! That armor is too tough! You and Pepper need to find a way through it!"

"And how in the bloody hell are we supposed to do that?! The bugger just keeps rolling!"

She took a moment to study the battlefield as she formulated a plan. She needed to find a way to stop the Donphan from rolling around within the protective embrace of its armored plates; a good way to do that would be to knock it off of its feet somehow. She studied the broken oak and it gave her an idea: if the Donphan were to smash into something hard enough, perhaps that could buy Pepper enough time to seize the upper hand. She slapped her hand on the fallen boulder that her and Emily were hiding behind and realized that if anything would do the trick, that would be it. She grabbed Emily by the wrist and tugged.

"Follow me," she ordered.

Patrick spotted the two emerge from their hiding spot. "What are you two doing!? Get back!"

Andrea pointed to the boulder. "Patrick, listen to me, I've got an idea. You see that boulder we were hiding behind? If that Donphan smashes into it, it'll probably stun it, knock it out of its shell and then your Hopañero can actually do something useful."

He was skeptical of the plan. "You sure about this?"

"Yes! Do it! Before Pepper runs out of energy and then we're screwed..."

"You heard the lady, Pepper!" Patrick called out. "Park yourself in front of that rock, now!"

Pepper broke his attention away from the rampaging Donphan for a brief moment, positioning himself in between it and the boulder. He kept a close eye on the Donphan, adjusting his position as needed, ready to leap out of there at a moment's notice. Exactly as planned, the Donphan began to circle around and aimed directly at him; with a swift leap into the air, Pepper had lured the Donphan right into the trap! A large crack formed down the center of the boulder as the Donphan smashed directly into it. Her plan had proven effective as the Donphan uncurled and wobbled about, dazed by the hard impact.

"Hell yeah! Light 'em up, Pepper!" Patrick excitedly ordered. "Everything you've got!"

The smoke that billowed from Pepper's stubby tail erupted into flames as a large stream of white hot fire breath blew in the Donphan's direction, and he was absolutely relentless with his attack. With the flames burning into its exposed underside, the Donphan's hostile nature shifted towards terror, and it spent every bit of energy it had on trying to make an escape. Pepper pursued the stumbling and injured Donphan into the grass, stopping every few moments to hop up above and direct a short burst of flame in its direction.

"That's enough, get him to stop!" Andrea called out. "We don't need to start a wildfire out here..."

"Pepper, head on back!" Patrick ordered. He took a moment to catch his breath and dust himself off, keeping his eye on the Donphan as it scurried up the rocky cliffs. "Hooof! That could have gone really, really badly... Those things are killing machines when they're pissed."

"Yeah..." Emily added. "I'd rather not have to deal with a medical emergency this far outside of town."

"We need to keep moving, then. All that noise probably attracted the herd," Andrea suggested.

Patrick nodded. "She's right about that. Come on, Pepper, lead the way and keep us safe. Let's keep up a light jog for about ten minutes, get us out of their territory quicker."

It was a much more cautious journey for the two after that. Chatter was kept to a minimum. Every small movement on the side of the road or in the trees and bushes was heavily scrutinized. Andrea kept close to Patrick and Emily, and they all stayed within an arm's reach of Pepper, who led the way forward quickly and cautiously. Neither of them hoped for it, but both Patrick and Andrea were ready for the Donphan to return, only this time with friends; it was behavior that both of them had learned about during their studies, behavior that most trainers were dangerously unaware of. As the landscape changed from rocky hills to open field, however, the possibility of that began to diminish, and the aura of worry dissipated as they continued on towards Nettlefield.

Emily unexpectedly patted Andrea on the shoulder and gripped her in a friendly manner. "Good work, new kid! You saved our asses back there."

"Hunh?" Andrea asked.

"She's right. That strategy of yours... I didn't even think of something like that," Patrick added.

"Oh, uhh..." she laughed nervously. "Really, Pepper did all the work."

"With your guidance and your strategy. Seriously, good work."

She couldn't help but feel the praise was unwarranted. "Was it really that good?"

Patrick and Emily looked at each other briefly; he couldn't tell if she was simply downplaying the praise as he might expect of her, or truly clueless about how good her strategy was. "Are you kidding? That was incredible! Your application said you're not a trainer, even on a hobby level, but... You ever spectate any of that top tier competitive stuff? You know, like the Rose League finals?"

She shook her head. "I'd catch a match at Jenna LeBlanc's gym every now and then when there was nothing else on TV, but I never paid much attention to it. It was just background noise for me while I studied." She paused and stumbled over her thoughts. "And I guess that asshole I told you about tried to get me into it briefly. I might have learned a thing or two from him. But no, I'm not really a professional or even a hobbyist when it comes to battling."

"Ah, a shame. You seem like you'd be good at it. Looks like you already know how to think outside of the box."

She stopped in her tracks and their eyes met when the two turned around to look at her. "If your intent is to get me to embrace the idea of becoming a Pokémon trainer, you can stop right now. I will never get into the competitive training stuff, it's cruel and barbaric!"

"Oh, no! Nothin' meant by it!" he reassured her. "Just... you could go far as like... A hired travel guide, I think. Provide security for travellers and hikers."

"Maybe..." she quietly said, following them again. "It's just that have a hard time respecting competitive training as a career. That asshole I keep talking about ruined that for me."

"Oh? Is it story time?"

She sighed. "No. Maybe some other time. It's not a nice story, and I'm not ready to get into it right now." After a moment of thinking about it, a smirk appeared on her face. "There's your first personal motivation to hire me: you'll get to hear that story some day."

"Hahaaaa... Let's worry about that later."

"Now you've done it... I don't think he liked that..." Her attention was grabbed by the loud, shrieking call that came from a large bird that circled above them like a vulture. "We should be in town soon, right? This bird is making me nervous... That a Fearow?" She squinted her eyes in hopes of getting a better look, but it didn't help. "I can't quite tell."

Patrick looked up, shielding his eyes from the setting sun. "Yep! Don't worry, though, they're carrion feeders. It won't bother us."
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Having arrived in Nettlefield after sunset, Andrea is faced with the reality that she'll have to share a room with a couple she doesn't know.

The sun had just retreated under the horizon by the time that the group had reached the outskirts of Nettlefield. As they pressed forward, darkness threatened to envelope them before they even reached the center of the village; lighting among the public roads was sparse, especially in the furthest reaches of the town. Andrea realized that they wouldn't be getting a start on their work in such conditions, which brought to mind another thing she hadn't planned for:

"So, uhh... we have a plan for staying overnight, right?" she asked.

"We do. We'll be staying at a place called The Roost, Nettlefield's only option for people like us."

"People like us? You mean, people who aren't registered as trainers in the Rose League?"

"That's right. As far as I know, there are a couple PokéCenters within walking distance around town, but since none of us are registered in the league... Don't worry, though! You won't have to worry about paying for it. One of the perks of working for the Reiland Institute is that hotels and meals are covered; standard procedure for all official institute business."

"That's generous."

"Well... That generosity only extends to employees. I know money is a little tight for you, so... You can share the room with me and Emily."

"Share the same room... I... don't know about that..." she thought. "But what other option do I have?"

Her anxiety spiked when they arrived at The Roost; the place had certainly seen better days, and it painted the picture of a seedy hotel in her mind. The large neon sign that announced its presence to the world -- featuring a caricature of a Hoothoot on its logo -- flickered weakly every few seconds. The once pristine white paint that thickly coated the sides of the building was cracked and peeling off in places. Several of the windows scattered amongst the complex were cracked or boarded up entirely, and thick weeds sprouted from the foundation of the building. Despite its apparent troubles, it appeared to have once been a charming place, and that charm was still present in the friendly pair of staff members who managed the establishment.

As they entered their room for the night, the first thing that hit them was the overpowering stench of mildew and bleach, locked in a fight for dominance. Andrea instantly covered her nose with her hand and gagged for air. "Ugh! What the hell!" she shouted.

Emily shared her disgust, but Patrick didn't seem too troubled by it. "Yeah, it's... it's not that great. But, hey! It's better than the student housing we all probably got!" he assessed as he ventured further into the room. "It's not as comfortable and well looked after as your bedrooms -- at least I assume in your case, Andrea -- but you'll get used to it pretty quick, ladies."

She studied the wall beside her and noticed the faint, powdery splotches that were present under the window. "I don't think so."

"Agreed. There's fucking mold growing on the walls, Patrick." Emily added.

All he could do was shrug. "Like I said earlier, this place is our only option, and there are no other vacant rooms. If you two want to camp outside, be my guest. But it's pretty cold out there, and it's nice and warm in here."

Emily grumbled a bit about the state of the room, but backed down and started to make herself comfortable -- as much as one could in such an environment. Andrea, however, was quietly stubborn about the conditions she'd be living in, and protested by standing near the door with a pouty look on her face.

"Look, Andrea, I know. This isn't glamorous. But this is the reality of the job sometimes. When you're out in the field doing real work, there is no sterilized lab to work in, and oftentimes out in the rarely-travelled countryside, no properly maintained room to return to at night. This is the real world, and unfortunately sometimes it's not so pretty. So, we're going to have to make due with what we have."

"I see your point, but... Surely hotel staff would take better care of their rooms?"

He nodded. "Lodge a complaint with the staff tomorrow morning, then. Hell, call the Ministry of Health! It might actually get them to come to this town, maybe even check out the Miltank herd!" He could sense that his humor wasn't working. "I know this isn't a great room, and I hate to say it, we could be here awhile. Sure, we could get lucky and figure out the problem at the Briar Patch within a few hours, but it's more likely that we'll be stuck here for a few days while we work out what's happening over there. Just try to live through this, then you can get back to your apartment and appreciate what you've got."

"Understood. I'll stop complaining."

He smiled. "At ease, soldier."

She sighed as she tried to put the sorry state of the room out of her mind. As they were talking, she'd taken in the rest of the details of the room. The smell of the mold growing on the wall wasn't the only thing that concerned her; there was only one bed and three people, a fact that brought her discomfort back to the front of her mind. At the very least, there was a couch in the corner of the room she could sleep on, but it didn't bring her any peace of mind. "Now I've gotta share a room with a couple? What happens if they... I really should have just gotten back on the train and gone home..."

She wandered over to the couch and sat down on it. Finally getting off of her feet after several hours of walking brought an immense sense of relief that sought to challenge her anxieties, and honestly felt like it could win. Despite the troubles of the room, Patrick was right, it was indeed more comfortable than camping out in the cold. She unbuckled her boots and slid them off, and let out a heavy sigh of relief as she threw her legs up onto the other end of the couch. The room lacked a TV, so she reached into her stocking and grabbed her phone, hoping to pass the time before she fell asleep.

"Alright, Andrea," Patrick started, with a slight pause. "Hop in the shower."

Her stomach knotted. It was such a bizarre request -- no, it sounded like an order, even -- to come from him. She couldn't think of a reason, unless he intended to somehow sneak a peek at her, or catch her in some sort of compromising situation. The mere thought made her dizzy. "E-excuse me?"

"You're not exactly dressed for a hike in the wilds like we are. It might be a good idea to scrub down, make sure you don't have any little bugs on you."

"Oh! Uhh, yeah," she nervously laughed, relieved to hear that it was a reasonable suggestion. "I guess that makes sense."

"You said you don't like big ones, but it's the small ones you should really worry about."

"Right..." She pushed herself off of the couch. "Wish I knew I'd be doing this today... I'd have brought a spare change of clothes."

With Andrea out of earshot and their conversation obscured by the sound of the shower, Patrick snickered. "Did you see the look on her face when I told her to hop in the shower?"

Emily's attention was in her notes. "No, I wasn't looking. Why, was it good?"

He nodded and chuckled. "I shouldn't laugh, but it's been awhile since we got to have fun with someone so tightly wound up as her."

"Yeah, it's fun, but..." She sighed as she leaned back against the headboard. "Just be careful, okay? Remember when you got in trouble over that business with Sonya a couple months ago? You were just being friendly, but she didn't see it that way. Making innuendos like 'hop in the shower' can backfire pretty badly. Remember, Dr. Reiland has her eyes on you now. You don't want another harassment accusation coming up or it will be the end of your career."

He looked to the floor and nodded in silence.

"More to the point, and I should have said this when I noticed you getting all flirty with Sonya... Andrea isn't me, Patrick. I get the feeling that she doesn't have the same sense of humor that I do. What helped me to feel welcome probably isn't going to work on her. It might even ultimately drive her away."

"Yeah, that's fair. I'll give her a break, unless she broadcasts that she's perfectly fine with it."

"Even if she is, be careful. From what little I've seen of her so far, she seems like a good fit at the institute, and we need everyone we can get."

"In medical, maybe... we're not quite as brain drained over in the biology department." He tilted his head in a challenging manner and smirked. "Now, I can't help but feel that you don't want to be called 'new kid' anymore."

She laughed off the comment. "Shut up. That's beside the point."

- - - - -​

"Hhhhnnnggh... Warmth..." Andrea groaned as a deluge of warm water splashed against her back. "How I missed you today..."

She'd been encouraged to spend her time in the shower checking for ticks and other dangerous small insects, but she'd already pushed that out of mind for something that felt more immediately troubling. She couldn't shake the feeling that there was something strange about Patrick, and by extension Emily, and the way they were treating her. Generosity towards strangers only goes so far, she thought, and those two seemed to have crossed the line. Both of them, Patrick especially, treated her like an old friend, and she'd begun to wonder why.

"I really hope I'm misjudging him and Patrick isn't flirting with me... in front of his girlfriend, of all people! Or... What if she's into that weird shit..."

While she was uncomfortable with the circumstances, she did enjoy the positive attention on a certain level. It'd been several months since someone other than her roommate had treated her in a positive manner. If she did get the job in the end, she genuinely did look forward to Patrick's friendship, but she would have to put some boundaries in place if she was going to be working under him. She thought about the things that could go wrong if she didn't; he could become overbearing and make her feel unsafe or unwelcome at work. Others could see their friendship and rush to conclusions, and she wouldn't be taken seriously as a result. She could even end up in trouble with Dr. Reiland herself if the rumor mill spun too rapidly.

"I really shouldn't have to be thinking about this shit before I even get the damn job... I'll have to tell those two to cool it and just... be a little more aloof around me."

The worst part was that she honestly couldn't tell if their behavior was actually problematic or if she was being too harsh again. The past year and a half had been particularly rough for her when it came to her social life, and she wasn't certain what to make of the situation. Maybe the way the two were trying to include her was something 'normal' people did, and she'd simply forgotten that fact during her years of isolation.

"Not that I ever really knew... I wish I'd had a social life before I got to university... Maybe it's me who should try being more friendly."

Before she knew it, she realized the water had started to run cold despite the heat being on full blast; she'd been in the shower for longer than she thought. She shut the water off and quickly reached for her towel, and in a short time, she was fully dressed again with the exception of her stockings. She cautiously approached the door and slowly pushed it open to announce her presence to the two outside. As she stepped out, she saw them both sat at the table with a floppy slice of pizza each in their hands.

"Hungry?" Emily asked, showing off her slice. "I figured it's a bit late to go out to a restaurant, so I ordered a pizza."

"We weren't sure about your personal ethics for meat on a pizza, so we got something simple just in case," Patrick added.

She approached the table and grabbed one of the slices and gave it a cursory glance. "That whole debate doesn't really matter to me, but thank you. That's very thoughtful." She grabbed a slice, scurried back to the couch and took a bite out of it.

"You can sit over here with us, we don't bite," he commented.

"I'm fine here," she answered before taking another bite of her pizza with one hand, and grabbing her phone with the other.

The two watched her for a brief moment, then spoke quietly amongst themselves.

"You definitely need to let up on the innuendo. Look how uncomfortable she is," Emily whispered.

"Yeah... I think you're right."

"I think I'm gonna go over and try to smooth things over. You know, add a woman's touch."

"If you think it's wise."

Emily placed her slice of pizza onto the lid of the box and approached Andrea timidly, then sat down on the floor next to the couch. "Andrea, I have a question, if you don't mind?"

"She didn't call me 'new kid'..." she thought as she looked up from her phone. "Yeah?" Almost as quickly as she left it, she returned to the comfort of her phone.

"You've been distant practically all day. Maybe that's just who you are -- I frankly don't know yet. But I'm still curious about something... Are Patrick and I making you uncomfortable at all?"

Her focus drifted from her phone towards a distant spot in front of her, but she didn't turn to address Emily. She paused for a moment to think it over; she wrestled with the idea of whether she should tell the truth and risk offending the two, or keep it bottled inside and hope her discomfort would go away on its own. Rather quickly, she settled on trying to be truthful, as being honest would likely be a skill she'd need to cultivate if she hoped to work with them in the long term.

It still wasn't easy; she sheepishly blurted, "Honestly? Kinda..."

Emily nodded, as if she'd expected the answer before she even asked. "May I ask how?"

She looked up again and turned her phone off. "Umm... well... I just don't want to get in between you two, I guess."

"Get in between us?"

"I dunno, I'm just... here. I don't want to get in the way if you two... uhh... you know, being in a hotel together, and, uhh..."

A sly smile appeared on Emily's face. "Oh! Do you think we're a couple?"

"You're not?"

"I guess the deep friendship we have might look a lot like a relationship to outsiders, but no. We're just friends."

"And we're happy that way," Patrick chirped from the other side of the room.

Her posture improved slightly. "Oh! Knowing that makes me feel a little bit better... I don't really like couples, reminds me of..." She paused, then sighed. "Whatever, it's not important. I spent all afternoon disappointed that I ended up as a third wheel, but I guess I really haven't."

Emily chuckled. "Glad I could make you feel a little bit more comfortable."

She eyed Patrick for a moment, then made a gesture for Emily to listen in closely as she whispered, "While we're on the subject, I've got a question about Patrick... Do you get the feeling that... maybe he's been flirting with me?"

Emily adopted a deeply thoughtful facial expression. "I... I don't know, actually! I know that he's friendly like this with most girls he meets, and sometimes I feel like I can never tell when he's being flirty or not."

"Huh... Guess I'll have to keep an eye on him, then."

"Well, he's... single, if you're curious."

Her eyes widened as she turned to look at Emily. "Hey! Let's not get ahead of ourselves here!" she shouted in a hushed tone.

Her hushed shouting was loud enough to catch Patrick's attention. "What are you two plotting about over there? Should I be worried?"

"Nothing! We were just discussing a couple early ideas about what we might be up against at the Briar Patch, that's all," Emily calmly answered.

"Ah, ok, I won't interrupt then. Just try to keep it down a bit," he said, and groaned as he stretched. "I'm going to bed. I suggest you girls do the same soon, we've got a long day ahead of us."

"Alright, I'll join ya in a minute then," Emily replied, before turning her head towards Andrea. "Unless you want the bed tonight? Looks more comfortable than that couch. Physically, at least."

She shook her head. "No, that's okay. Thanks though."

Emily gave her a knowing wink, then approached the bed herself. "Suit yourself! I understand."

- - - - -​

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:32 PM
'hey'
'kinda wishing i came home instead lol'
'this hotel were staying at is a mess!'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:33 PM
'Ha! Worse than our apartment was when you moved in?'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:33 PM
'somehow lol ; p'
'hopefully ill be home soon'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:34 PM
'Hopefully! Its kinda weird not having you around'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:35 PM
'aww miss me already huh <3'
'well i just wanted to let you know that i made it to nettlefield safely'
'seems like these guys want an early start so i should probably try to sleep'
'i know i know its six hours too early for that lol but im actually tired'
'gnight'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:37 PM
'Good night. See ya in a few days I guess!'
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine
This chapter does not have an upgraded rating, but contains the following:
[ a scene focused around giving a post-mortem of a decased pokemon ]​


Andrea, Emily and Patrick investigate the mysterious and deadly plague that is spreading through a Miltank herd.

May 13th
Nettlefield, Kingdom of Lanark


"Cuckawwwww! Cuckawwwww!"

It was the crowing of a Coocluck rooster, a sound that Andrea hadn't heard in nearly five years; for as long as she could remember, that sound was what signaled the start of a new day, and just like the old days of her countryside upbringing, it served that same purpose once more. Despite the lackluster condition of the room, the relatively uncomfortable couch that she slept on and the extreme swing in her sleep pattern, she felt reasonably well rested. She rolled off of the couch, stood up and quietly made her way across the room toward the window. The golden light of the rising sun bled in, turning her pale skin into a beacon that lit the dark room.

The change in light levels roused one of the two in the bed from their sleep. Motion under the covers preceded Emily poking her head out and glancing around in a daze. "Mmm?" she groggily mumbled as her eyes opened. "...time is it..."

"Oh, sorry if I woke you," Andrea said softly, closing the blinds. "Sunrise. A Coocluck woke me up."

"Mmm..."

"Guess that's an earlier start than you anticipated?"

"Mmm..."

She chuckled at Emily's lack of straightforward answers, then made that same quiet journey back across the room and returned to the couch. She grabbed her phone to check the time, and her groggy eyes widened upon seeing it: 5:11 AM. "Five in the morning? Are you fucking kidding me? That's usually when I go to bed..." She stretched and could feel that it was likely to be an unpleasant day; her legs were still sore from the extended walk from Loch Alstan, and now her back was acting up from sleeping on the couch. "Well... Now what? I have no idea when these two are gonna get out of bed... and I'm gonna need -- dare I say it -- some coffee before long..."

About an hour passed before there was any substantial movement in the bed. Emily was the first to get up, and she'd clearly gotten a decent night of sleep; she was cheerful, she was energetic and she was excited to get their day started. Patrick was similar when he finally got out of bed about twenty minutes after that, though much more sluggish. A short conversation about how their day would pan out happened; Emily included Andrea's opinions as if they actually mattered -- something she honestly felt was strange -- but the discussion was cut short by a horrible growling sound.

Patrick rubbed his belly. "Oh! How about we continue this discussion over breakfast, ladies?"

- - - - -​

"You look like you really enjoyed that, new kid," Emily commented. She pushed her half finished breakfast across the table until it clinked against Andrea's empty plate. "I've never seen anyone clean a plate that quickly."

"I did enjoy it. Outside of special occasions or sneaking a meal out of The Lair, I can't remember the last time I ate something that wasn't cheap, cardboard-tasting ramen," she answered with a sigh. "I've never really had any money, but I always told myself that a bad diet was the price of progress in order to make myself feel better. Always told myself that I should be happy that I even had that, and that I didn't go to class or to bed hungry."

"Yet you show up to your interview in what looks like a designer dress," Patrick commented.

"Okay, younger me wasn't the best with my money! I'd like to think I'm better about that now."

"Well, at least you're a cheap date. I like that," he quipped, earning a sharp glare from Emily.

The waiter returned to the table, dropped off their bill, and rushed off to visit another table.

She reached into her purse to gather up a few coins to pay for her part of the meal, but Patrick urged her not to. "You'd like to think, but I don't think you are. You said money's tight, and you're our guest. We'll take care of you until you're on the train back home."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "I should have enough to pay for my own meals and still get home..."

Patrick looked over towards Emily and stifled a laugh. "The fact that she said 'should' tells me she's not actually sure herself." He turned back to Andrea. "I'm paying, and that's the end of that."

It was the age old 'no, I'm paying!' game she'd heard so much about. She was thrilled she'd finally gotten to experience it herself, as it signified that she was moving into the adult world, but she knew she wasn't going to win. Even more, he was right: money was indeed tight and she didn't need to be looking for excuses to spend what little she had left -- she realized she might need it in the near future.

"Very well, suit yourself. And, thank you."

"Any time," he answered habitually, then caught himself. "Well, not any time. You know what I mean."

She giggled.

- - - - -​

With breakfast out of the way, the trio started their day with the walk across town towards the Briar Patch. Andrea wasn't quite sure what to make of the day that stood before her; she wondered whether her skills would be put to the test, or if she'd be asked to sit on the sidelines and observe. She thought about how both possibilities could hint at her immediate future; if she were asked to take an active role in Emily's project, it could mean that Patrick was on the fence about hiring her, but needed to see her work ethic. If she were told to simply sit aside and observe, it painted a less optimistic picture of her chances of being hired being low, but still potentially salvageable.

Whatever the case would turn out to be, she tried to remain calm and gave herself just three simple goals for the day: offer her input wherever it felt appropriate, listen carefully, and take things one step at a time. Nice and smooth.

Their journey took them down a muddy trail that ran along a wide and extensive pasture, dotted with several distinct groupings of Miltanks. To Andrea's untrained eye, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about them; the nearly 700-member herd grazed peacefully on the muddy grass, completely unaware of the fate that potentially awaited them. Curious about getting a closer look at them, she broke away from the two professionals and leaned up against the fence. She offered her hand out as one of the massive creatures approached her.

"Aren't you adorable?" she asked with excitement, loud enough to capture Patrick and Emily's attention. "Look how beautiful you are! Yes you are! So pretty!" Her ability to form coherent words quickly fell apart as she patted and rubbed the overjoyed Miltank's head.

A short distance away, Patrick and Emily watched her, almost as if they were the parents of an excited toddler.

"Am I seeing this right?" Patrick asked. "Look at her... That girl is the opposite of what we've been experiencing."

"It is pretty strange," Emily added.

"Dr. Reiland was right, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover..."

"Ah, ah ah!" Emily called out with a clap. "Andrea, I wouldn't touch her if I were you! There's no saying what kinda crazy pathogens that thing is carrying."

She immediately retracted her hand. "Oh. Right."

At the far end of the muddy trail was the stately and extravagant manor that served as the Briar Patch's corporate headquarters, a building that dwarfed nearly every other within the village with the possible exception of the old defunct armory. Out in the front yard of the manor was a large penned off enclosure, host to over a dozen small wildfowl. The wildfowl were fat and fluffy, sporting a uniform coat of silky white feathers that obscured nearly every anatomical feature present. A middle aged man was stood beside the enclosure, casually tossing handfuls of bird seed into it. He noticed the group approaching and tipped his hat.

"Ah! Mr. Redford! We were just coming to see you!" Patrick said.

The man's face lit up. "Patrick and Emily, I recognize you two from the conference call last week!" He turned to Andrea with a look of confusion on his face. "And you are? I wasn't aware that a third person was coming along. Fancy get-up you got there, little lady. Very striking appearance."

"That's Andrea. She's... kinda here as an unpaid intern, you might say. She had a job interview yesterday and we asked her if she'd like to tag along for this assignment and see how we operate."

"Ah! I see! Hey, good opportunity for ya!" he said with a polite nod in Andrea's direction, then extended his hand. One by one, he crushed their hands in a vice-like shake. "Well these two already know me, young lady; I'm William Redford, Chief of Operations here at the Briar Patch. Pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"He is our contact here at the Briar Patch, he'll be showing us around and getting us up to speed about what's going on here," Patrick explained. He leaned up against the fence and looked down at the feathery creatures as they plucked around for the seeds that Mr. Redford had been dropping. "Cooclucks on a dairy farm?"

"Ahh, yeah. Owners' kids' pets. Supposed to be teachin' 'em about responsibility. Cute little things, aren't they?"

Andrea dropped to her knees. "They are!"

"Any indication that they've been afflicted by whatever's killing your Miltanks?"

A pensive expression came to Mr. Redford's face. "I think you'd have to ask the kids that, I'm pretty hands off with these little guys. But they're at school today, the missus is out of town, so I'm watching them for now. To answer your question? Not that I've heard of, and not that I can see."

Emily started to write down some rudimentary notes.

"Ah, ah! Keep your fingers out!" Mr. Redford warned as he watched Andrea gingerly reach her hand out towards the wired fence. "They like to bite strangers."

She instantly retracted her hand. "It seems I can't touch anything around here."

Emily laughed. "I'm sure biology has similar principles, but one of the things I learned during my medical training is that you aren't supposed to touch everything. Speaking of medical, Mr. Redford, perhaps we could get started?"

"Sure? What do you need first?"

"Well! Our guest of honor suggested we have a look at the cattle feed. Maybe we can start there?"

"Cattle feed, you say? Suppose it's possible, but I doubt it. Problem's only come up in the past couple weeks, you see, and we've had that batch of feed since the harvest last year."

"That long?" Andrea timidly asked. "Is that normal?"

Mr. Redford shrugged. "I don't know about that, that's not exactly my area of expertise. For that, you'd have to ask Esther, our resident veterinarian. Course, she's not in yet, so that'll have to wait."

"Hmm. Well, it wouldn't hurt for us to have a look at the cattle feed, would it?" Emily suggested.

"Sure, come along! I'll show you to Silo C, that's where our boys have been pulling the feed from for the past six weeks."

- - - - -​

It was a quick journey to the grain silo that sat at the heart of the Miltank pasture. As usual, Andrea lingered a small distance behind and listened carefully as Emily and Patrick questioned Mr. Redford about the day to day happenings on the farm. Subjects that came up included employee movements, feeding schedules, maintenance and cleaning habits, any recent Miltank escapes, and even security breaches. She was disappointed by Mr. Redford happily announcing that nothing seemed out of the ordinary related to any of those subjects, as that sunk many of her early theories and robbed her of a quick chance to prove herself. Still, it narrowed the amount of work they'd have to do.

The maintenance hatch on the silo swung open, blasting them with the musky smell of damp, old wheat. "Oof! Love that smell!" Mr. Redford said. "Well. Don't know what you're lookin' for in here, but have at it."

Almost instantly, Emily climbed into the silo and stomped around on the damp cattle feed. She reached for the purse-like object that dangled from the strap around her shoulder and held it in front of her. A screen on the object lit up as she tapped on it. "Still not entirely used to these things..." she commented as a series of lights on it began to blink and flash in a very obvious pattern.

"What is that?" Andrea asked. "I thought that was your purse this whole time!"

"It's an R-Kit."

Her eyebrow raised. "R-Kit?"

"They're the future of our profession," Patrick chimed in. "Imagine your smart phone, but several times more powerful when it comes to computation."

She giggled. "That's not hard to imagine, mine's a cheap piece of crap."

Patrick returned with a laugh. "Fine, imagine the hottest new smart phone, but several times more powerful. But the R-Kit isn't just about computation power, it's also got an advanced sensor array on it and can detect all sorts of stuff depending on how you configure it."

"Oh! Like one of those scanners in those sci-fi movies! Holy shit, that's so cool -- I mean -- nerdy, but cool."

"Unfortunately this nerdy piece of kit hasn't been very helpful," Emily said with her brow furrowed. She sighed as she dragged her finger across the screen.

"Whatcha got?" Patrick asked.

She turned the device around in her hand and showed off the screen. "Mountains of junk data... You know, the usual."

"Hmm. They still do need a little tuning, don't they..."

"They do," she answered, scrolling through the data again. "I guess once we're done here, we can take this data back to the lab and go through it..." She turned the R-Kit off and closed the cover on it. "Well! When Dr. Venger asks if we did, we can't say we didn't try to use it!"

"Hands on approach, then?" he asked, approaching the maintenance hatch.

"Mhmm."

Andrea watched as Emily and Patrick slipped on pairs of latex gloves and began to sift through the cattle feed for anything out of place or visibly wrong with it. Outside of visible spoilage, she couldn't think of what else they might find in the cattle feed that may be harming the herd. Rather, she was interested in getting her hands on Emily's fancy scanning device and looking it -- and the data inside -- over.

"You mind if I had a look at that R-Kit? I'm kinda curious."

Emily looked up at Patrick as she thought about the question. "I dunno... What do you think? This thing's pretty expensive..."

He nodded. "I doubt she'll break it."

"It's coming out of your paycheck if she does, not mine."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, lady," she thought as she watched Emily gingerly pull the strap over her head and delicately hand the R-Kit over. She took Emily's caution to heart and treated the R-Kit with care, gently handling it as if it were as fragile as a newborn baby. She flipped open the cover and inspected the R-Kit; rectangular in shape, it wasn't much larger than a trendy handbag, and the adjustable leather strap could keep it securely attached to just about anyone except for a small child. An array of multicolored lights lined the bottom of the R-Kit, while a large touch screen took up the rest. A few dials and buttons could be found along the sides, while the back was covered in a rubber pad, likely meant to make handling it easy. With a single tap on the screen, the R-Kit turned on.

She was presented with, as Emily accurately described, an unfathomable mountain of data: biological composition of the various ingredients of the cattle feed, nutritional information of said ingredients, a reasonable estimate at the age of the cattle feed, spectroscopic analysis relating to color and intensity, measurements of the barometric pressure within the silo and even radiation measurements -- all of which were thankfully negligible -- were present on the screen as she scrolled through. Her first guess was that Emily failed to calibrate the R-Kit's scanners correctly, and she was about to say as much, before she stumbled on some information that might prove useful.

"What about this?" she asked.

MICROBES_PRESENT: Yes. Tap here for a list of detected microbes.
MICROBE_WARNINGS: Inconclusive. Thorough lab analysis required.
FUNGI_PRESENT: Seven potentially different species of fungi spores detected. Tap here for a list of detected fungi.
FUNGI_WARNINGS: Inconclusive. Thorough lab analysis required.
TOXINS_PRESENT: No
TOXIN_WARNINGS: N/A
CHEMICALS_PRESENT: Isopropylamine, Ethrozine, Phenatamine
CHEMICAL_WARNINGS: Excessive isopropylamine presence indicates high level of flammability. Caution is advised.


Patrick dropped his handful of feed and hopped out of the silo to have a look. "Find something?"

"Maybe? I can't tell how reliable this information might be."

"This could be useful... Emily! Bag up some of the cattle feed and we'll analyze it back at the institute!"

"Sure thing."

"Good eye, Andrea."

A smile came across her face as she absorbed the praise. It was minor, but it was praise nonetheless. As Patrick jumped back into the silo to assist Emily, she approached Mr. Redford, who had been stood off to the side looking through his list of daily tasks. "Excuse me, Mr. Redford?"

"Howdy there, little lady! Figure anything out?" he asked.

"Nothing conclusive yet, but I have a question. Do you happen to know what isoprop...propylene?" she stumbled. "No, no, isopropylamine! Ugh, chemical names! I was never good at them. Do you know what that is?"

He looked dumbfounded. "I have no idea. Sounds like quite a nasty one, I'll have to look into it."

"Hmm. Do you happen to know what ethrozine and phenatamine are?"

Mr. Redford scratched his chin in thought. "Yeah, those are pesticides, quite common ones. Weed killer and insect repellant, respectively. Must be what Willow Acres -- that's the main source of our cattle feed -- uses on their crops."

"Do you know if they're harmful to livestock at all?"

"Couldn't say. When it comes to pesticides, we in the industry kinda figure it out as we go... But even if they are harmful, I don't think they'd be responsible for what we've been seeing happening to our Miltanks."

She tilted her head in thought. "What exactly is happening to your Miltanks? I wasn't told much before I agreed to come along."

"If you like, I can show you and your associates. Another one of them passed overnight, so... at least you'll have something fresh to look at."

She hesitated to accept the offer, especially without Emily's approval. She realized that it would likely come to an examination, but she wasn't looking forward to the experience.

"Uhh... Maybe we could put it off for a bit."

"I don't blame you if you're a little squeamish about it, missy. It's not an easy thing to look at."

- - - - -​

"Here she is, the most recent one," Mr. Redford said as he knelt down beside a deceased Miltank that was slumped over a pile of hay. Despite his assurances of it having recently passed, a horde of buzzing insects were already at work, and the stench of decay hung heavily in the air. "She looked healthy last night... Whatever it is burns through them quick. Hope they don't suffer much."

Emily shook her head as she looked over the deceased Miltank. "Hope so..." She slipped on a fresh pair of latex gloves and a surgical mask. "Well! Let's dig in."

Mr. Redford tipped his hat. "If you need anything, give me a shout. I'll be back soon, I've got a couple things I need to take care of."

"Thank you, Mr. Redford," Patrick said with a polite nod. He found a sturdy support beam in the corner of the stall to lean up against and crossed his arms as he watched Emily begin her examination. Every now and then, he'd casually glance at Andrea, who looked onward in grim fascination, but kept a sizable distance. After a few more moments, he coughed. "Emily looks like she could use a hand."

Andrea's eyes widened upon hearing it, and her facial expression did little to hide how she felt. "Uhh... Sure..? Hand me a pair of gloves and a mask?"

She cautiously approached the Miltank with great trepidation. She blocked her nasal passages, took a deep breath and knelt down; all that preparation was almost useless, as the smell of decay still pushed its way through the mask and into her nose. In an effort to put off what she was about to do for just a little while longer, she took the time to slowly roll up the web-like netting of her sleeves. "So, uhh... What should I do? I've never examined a corpse before."

Emily gave her a knowing look; despite the mask blocking her mouth, it was obvious that a sly smile appeared on her face. "I don't believe that."

"I may look the part, but, honest. I haven't."

"Just help me give her a broad look, see if anything looks really wrong and out of place." Emily gestured towards the Miltank's head. "Try to lift her head up."

She thought carefully about how to proceed with the request. Worries about ruining her designer dress -- an expensive one at that -- floated in her mind, and she tried to buy herself a few more seconds by hesitating. Conscious about how she might look if she put it off any further, she bit her lower lip and dug her right arm between the Miltank's head and the hay that it was resting on. The creature's head was massive and surprisingly heavy, forcing her to lift with her left arm as well. She tried her hardest to ignore everything around her, opting to gaze into the rafters of the barn instead. Emily slid her finger into the Miltank's mouth and lifted its upper lip; a blast of noxious air escaped the creature's mouth and was nearly enough to make her sick.

Emily shrugged. "Nothing out of the ordinary here..." 32 well-worn molars, divided into sets of eight, rested within healthy looking gums. "Alright, you can put her down now."

She wheezed heavily in an attempt to catch her breath as the Miltank's head impacted the hay.

Emily let out a chuckle. "Pretty gross, eh?"

"Ugh... If I knew I would have been doing this... I'd have worn that dumb ass skater dress after all..." she said quietly.

"Afraid of ruining that designer dress of yours?"

"Yeah. At least that one would have gotten all messy instead of this one. This one wasn't cheap."

Emily looked up at Patrick for a brief moment before returning her attention to Andrea. "Look, I know Patrick is kinda pushing you to do this, but don't feel like you have to. I totally understand... Besides, it's not like we gave you the best warning that we'd be doing something like this."

"No, it's fine. I'm going to have to get used to situations that make me uncomfortable if I'm going to make it as a researcher."

A nod. "That's definitely true. Good on ya, new kid." Emily grabbed the Miltank's flap-like ear and began to study it for any potential irregularities. "This is a real trial by fire, isn't it? This, the hotel... they don't tell you about this kind of stuff in the lecture halls."

"No, they don't... If they did, I'd have probably focused on a softball career instead."

"Softball, huh? Were you any good at it?"

"When I graduated from high school, my coach pulled me aside and told me how much he was going to miss me. How much he was going to miss his team making it to the national finals."

"Oh! Wow!"

"Ehh. Save your praise. I was okay, but I wasn't some sort of super star. We made it to the finals, but were always knocked out quick."

"Still, that's pretty impressive."

"I guess. I'd earned a scholarship because of it, but I didn't make the team... I didn't have time to practice because I was focused on my degree instead."

"I think you made the right choice. The sciences are in desperate need of a woman's touch."

The small talk helped to ease her nerves. She still found the work she was doing to be utterly detestable, but she also found it easier to cut through her apprehension. "Find anything?"

She shook her head as she dropped the ear. "Nothing."

"What next?" she asked. She truthfully didn't care what was next, and hoped that they were done.

She grabbed a large tuft of the Miltank's fur and began to dig her fingers through it. "Well, I couldn't find anything wrong the easy way. Now it's time to start digging deeper."

"Let's just get this over with, then..." she mumbled as she did the same.

"That's the spirit!"

Minute after agonizing minute passed by as they dug through the Miltank's pink fur. Each tug of the fur released more and more of the horrid smell, and all for nothing; they weren't even sure of what they were looking for, but whatever it was, they weren't finding it. Emily jokingly mused at the idea of packing up the Miltank into a box and shipping it back to the medical lab at the institute, but only as a last resort if they couldn't find anything in the field.

Just as they were about ready to give up, Andrea found a particularly unsightly white blister hidden beneath the Miltank's matted fur. A thick, syrupy substance that was lavender in color oozed from it. "Eww... what is that?"

Patrick perked up and walked over. "What is what?"

She pointed out the blister. "This thing... Let me look for more of these."

Emily inspected the blister. "Huh. Haven't seen anything like that before... You might have found what we're looking for."

It didn't take long before she found similar blisters all across the Miltank's lower body, hidden from sight just below its fur. They all looked more or less identical to the first.

"Any idea, ladies?" Patrick asked.

Andrea couldn't shake the feeling that the blisters looked vaguely familiar. "I swear, I've seen something like this before..." she mumbled. "I remember... remember reading about something... first... no, second year's ecology unit..."

Emily and Patrick watched on as the gears turned in her head.

She snapped her fingers. "Your R-Kit! Does it have, like, a Pokédex feature?"

"Yeah, R-Kits come with an encyclopedia function, and it's miles ahead of the Pokédex," Patrick answered. "It's actually got factual information in it! None of that 'Arcanine can run at the speed of light' garbage that looks like it was written by a child."

"Is that why those entries are always so bad and unbelievable..." Emily added.

She held her hand out. "May I see it again, please?"

"Sure," Emily answered, handing it back to her. "What's on your mind?"

She began to flip through the apps in search of the encyclopedia. "During my second year of university, we focused a lot on the delicate balance of ecosystems across the world. I remember reading about something... I can't remember its name!" she shouted. "It was some sort of fungal infection brought on by contact with toxic spores, I remember that much."

Emily and Patrick looked at each other and shrugged, unsure of what she was talking about.

"Let's see... categorize by species subtype..." she mumbled while tapping away at the screen.

"Sounds like you're onto something!" Patrick said with a smile.

"Don't get your hopes up, I'm probably completely wrong," she said. A lengthy list of hundreds of distinct fungal Pokémon species appeared on the screen, far too many for her to sort through in an efficient manner. She filtered the list based on what she remembered: a fungal species that thrived in a forest habitat and released toxic spores. To her relief, the new list was only twenty-three entries long, many of which she knew she could easily ignore. She began to whisper to herself as she scrolled through the list. "No... no... That's not it either... Is that... no... ah! I think this is what I'm remembering! Blastcap!"

"Blastcap? Never heard of it," Emily said.

"Oh, Blastcap... Every biology and history student in Lanark has heard of that one," Patrick added. "What's the article say?"

She began to read off the information on the screen:

Blastcap is a fungal Pokémon with a colony structure to its body, composed of many distinct yet physically separate parts. Unlike other colony Pokémon such as Dugtrio or Exeggcute, which operate in hivemind-like groups, all of the thought processes and decision making happen in the largest mushroom, while the rest focus on nutrient gathering, defense and expansion. When a Blastcap reaches the end of its adult life, each mushroom in the colony erupts with a cloud of spores that spread through the area and settle on a variety of surfaces, mostly wood-based. These spores then spread their roots and new colonies form.

She broke from her reading and looked back up at the rafters, noting that they, like much of the barn, were constructed primarily of wood. "Blastcap is a textbook example of why a species shouldn't be introduced to a new environment. It's a living ecological disaster, and I really hope I'm wrong about this." She began to read more from the R-Kit:

Blastcap is a species native to the tropical jungles of the Free Republic of Mangada's Andalla Basin, though it has a worldwide range today. In most areas that it has been introduced to, it is seen as an aggressive invasive species, due to a lack of natural predators and its reproductive methods. While there is no solid consensus as to how Blastcap was introduced to other regions (including other sections of Mangada), many ecologists point towards the sharp rise in international trade that the country initiated following its liberation from being a slavery vassal in the early 1950s; this sentiment is backed by numerous historians.

"Here's a section related specifically to Blastcap's presence in Lanark," she added.

The first documented reports of Blastcaps within Lanark were made in 1957, when several colonies were discovered in the forests between Steelport and Verdant Vale. By 1963, the Blastcap infestation had reached critical levels as it made its way north into the Heartland. In the following year, tens of thousands of acres of farmland were overrun and destroyed by the Blastcap colonies, and were the main contributing factor of the Goldwheat Famine, an event that claimed the lives of about 50,000 people and Pokémon. Blastcap's presence was officially declared a national emergency, and an extensive campaign was initiated by the newly established Ministry of Wildlife to contain the Blastcap population. By January 1st of 1967, the Ministry declared its campaign a success, with the last reported sighting of a colony in the autumn of 1966.

"Okay. What does any of this have to do with our dead Miltanks here?" Emily asked.

"I'm getting to it! I just felt the need to provide some context. This thing is seriously bad news wherever it goes."

While interactions between Blastcaps and other species of Pokémon are poorly documented, ongoing research suggests that the spores it releases during its reproductive cycle are highly toxic to most species that are not found within its native range. in 2002, researchers in Kalos linked Blastcap spores to an outbreak at a Pokémon daycare facility that killed eight and left dozens crippled and chronically ill. The outbreak, termed 'White Pox' due to the appearance of numerous white pustules on the afflicted, was limited to Stantlers, Swinubs, Linoones, Zangooses, Tauri and the lone Slakoth at the facility, none of which share a natural range with Blastcaps.

However, other Pokémon at the facility that shared historic ranges with the Blastcap and certain other species of toxic fungal Pokémon, as well as the human staff and visitors, were completely unaffected. Theories about evolutionary acquired defenses to the toxic effects of the spores have been put forward by various researchers and ecologists, but there is no concrete evidence -- especially in humans -- to back these theories at this time.


"Sounds pretty bad, but that doesn't make any sense! Why would a fungal infestation that was eradicated in the 1960s be killing Miltanks now, over half a century later?" Emily asked.

She stood up and started to wander around the stall they were in, checking the rafters for any obvious signs of fungal growth. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to completely control the population of an invasive species once it spreads? Especially in a country this large?"

"Yeah... There really is no way to be certain, we have too much untouched wilderness to make such a conclusion," Patrick added. "Who knows what's festering out there in some unknown corner of the country..."

With her admittedly quick and sloppy search, she didn't find any indication that a Blastcap colony was infesting the barn, and returned to the Miltank's side. "Maybe I can prove my theory... How do I scan things with this?"

"Open up the AccuScan app. It's best to calibrate the sensors, but just hit the big scan button and see what comes up. If there's any dangers we should know about, the R-Kit will tell us."

"If she's right about this, it sounds like we have a bigger problem than a few dead cows..." Emily said with a tinge of worry to her voice.

"Guess we'll see."

Before any of the other information from the scan was visible on the screen, a warning popped up:

FUNGI_PRESENT: Trichophyton verrucosum, Stachybotrys blastaria (spores)
FUNGI_WARNINGS: High levels of Stachybotrys blastaria (Blastcap) spores detected. Quarantine affected area or creature and begin decontamination procedures immediately. Details can be found here. Moderate levels of Trichophyton verrucosum (ringworm) detected. Contact a licensed veterinarian for details and treatment.


She showed off the flashing warning. "I think we've found our problem..."

Patrick grabbed the R-Kit and had a look at the data. "Phew! Those are some high levels... Ok ladies, time to split up! Search every corner of the barn and see if you can find anything that looks out of the ordinary. And remember to keep your masks on, just in case."

The group split and began to check the rafters and walls of the barn. As Andrea moved further and further down the aisle in her search, the upper reaches of the barn grew darker and darker until she could barely see: the perfect environment for a Blastcap colony to blossom. She reached for her phone and turned the flashlight on, but unfortunately it wasn't powerful enough to reach up to the roof. She next tried to boost herself up by climbing up onto the divider between two of the stalls, but abandoned the idea after feeling the wood wobble under her weight. Frustrated, she returned to the other two.

"Find anything?"

"An active Taillow nest and some spider webs. But other than that, nothing." Emily answered.

He looked towards Andrea. "You?"

"I didn't find anything, but it was pretty dark over in my area," she answered. "Maybe we should ask the staff here to have a closer look."

"Good idea... I didn't find anything either. Let's go find Mr. Redford and inform him of our theories."

- - - - -​

"Sure you're not hungry?" Patrick asked, offering a paper tray full of chunky, greasy chips to her.

Andrea was leaned up against the wall of the restaurant, rather than seated with the other two. She took one look at the unhealthy offering and raised her hand defensively. With a shake of her head, she said, "It's tempting, but I don't have an appetite after that." A few minutes passed by in relative silence, until she broke it. "So... What do we do now? Or is that it?"

Emily stretched and adjusted her posture. "I think we've done all we can for the moment. We've told Mr. Redford about our findings, we've got samples to analyze back at the lab, and we'll have to do some research on White Pox to see what kind of treatment options and preventative measures we can take..."

She nodded. She was happy their day was over so quickly, and she was thrilled with her performance. If the trip to the Briar Patch was an opportunity to prove herself, she was confident she did.

"What do you think, Patrick?"

"Sounds like a plan, but we've still got a couple hours we can make use of if we're going to head back to Loch Alstan today. I want to see if we can find the source of this infestation. What kind of environment does Blastcap live in, again?"

Emily pulled up the article on Blastcap again. "Uhh... Tropical rainforests, temperate deciduous forests, wetlands, unfinished basements, abandoned structures such as mine shafts and old ruins where human contact is unlikely and abandoned wood is plentiful." She shook her head. "I don't know what you expect to find if we just wander into the wilderness. 'Wetlands' describes most of the Northcountry, from here to Silverstream, and up north into Glahmreàgh Valley in Glastonfell."

"That is a lot of land to cover... But whatever is affecting the Briar Patch... It's gotta be close, right? Like, Nettlemarsh close?"

Emily took a sip from her straw and casually shrugged. "I don't see why not. It stands to reason."

Andrea could see the plan forming in their heads and opted to speak her mind. "You two aren't seriously suggesting we explore the Nettlemarsh, are you?"

Patrick nodded. "It wouldn't hurt, would it?"

"But would it help?" She looked down and kicked her foot outward to highlight her designer boots and exposed thighs, then looked toward the western sky. "I'm not exactly dressed for a hike through a swamp, especially in weather that looks like it's about to turn for the worse."

"She's got a point, Pat," Emily added. "Not only is she not prepared for it, the simple fact of the matter is that the Nettlemarsh is huge. We could spend days out there, and there's no guarantee that we'd find anything. Let's hand this off to the Ministries of Health and Wildlife. They have the resources to actually deal with this problem."

"Hmm," he grumbled.

"How are your legs feeling, Andrea?" Emily asked.

She leaned down and gingerly rubbed her left thigh. "I'll be honest, they're not in great shape... That's also kinda why I don't want to go... Getting back to Loch Alstan will be hard enough on its own, I really don't think I can throw a couple more hours of walking on top of that."

Emily motioned towards Andrea and nodded. "We've got our samples, we've got our data, we've got an idea of what we're dealing with, and we've got a girl who needs to get home and rest. I think that's a good enough reason to cut this project a little short and head back to the institute."

He straightened his posture and broadened his shoulders, then looked off to the side with a pensive expression. "Okay, you're the boss! Let's rest up a bit and then head home."
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine

Still making his decision about whether to hire Andrea or not, Patrick is presented with a potential treasure trove of information about her: her social media presence.

May 14th
Loch Alstan, Kingdom of Lanark


"Let's see... Potential field assignments..." Patrick mumbled as he browsed through a list of e-mails that had been piling up over the past week. "Hopefully we've gotten some interesting ones this time..."

Expedition to Mount Gelzaya to save endangered Gogoat subspecies
fr: jriza@ral-sayaad-uni.edu


"Hard pass. Not sending my employees to an active war zone..."

Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Re: Reports of paranormal activity in the Doranshire area
fr: drebelmonte@stormleagueelite4.pkmn


"Ghost hunting? Sounds fun, but not really what we do here..."

Marine biologist needed for diving expedition to Kensacola's Thousand Mile Reef
fr: burton@kensacolanationalparks.gov


"Oh, nice! Wish I went into marine biology... I'll forward that one down to Joe..."

Patrick: need you to coordinate biology department with biochemistry department to test effectiveness of new synthetic anti venom
fr: kbauman@reilandinstitute.org


"How'd this get mixed in with my field assignments? Whatever, noted..."

Sensitive Eckhardt Steel contract. Contact me for further details.
fr: lwalsh@eckhardtsteel.com


"No information? Tempted to pass, but they do pay well... Wonder what they'd need from the biology department, though..."

His browsing was interrupted by a knocking sound coming from his open door. "Knock knock!"

He perked up and looked toward the door. "Oh! Emily! What's up?"

She wandered into the room with a look of bemusement. "You look a little stressed. Let me guess: catching up on the past couple of days?"

"Yeah. Right now I'm working on lining up some field assignments for the next six weeks."

"Oh? I can come back later, then."

"Nonsense! Sit down!" he said. He slouched in his chair a bit and clumsily pushed the chair on the opposite side of the desk outward with his foot. "I could use a bit of a distraction."

Emily smiled and laughed to herself as she sat down. "So! Guess what I found during my morning break."

"Hmm... I've got nothing sarcastic to say, so, hit me with it. What have you got?"

She handed her phone over. "Your new prospective hire. I found her Instaglam account."

"Did you?" He grabbed the phone and reached for his reading glasses. Bright glare flickered on his lenses as he scrolled down the page; row upon row of brightly lit and similarly angled selfies passed by, lightly sprinkled with nature photos in between.

Emily tilted her head as she waited for him to respond. "Uhhh, hello? Earth to Patrick?"

He smirked. "...Wow. This just goes on and on and on! She is very proud of her cleavage, isn't she?"

She giggled. "Well, if I had those? I probably would be, too."

"I'm surprised she only has a dozen followers with pictures like these."

"Having boobs -- covered up ones at that -- isn't the magic ticket to a massive social media following, you know. They could be her friends."

"True." He continued to scroll by until he reached the end, then handed the phone back. "Okay, I'll bite. How'd you find this? She didn't disclose any of her social media on her application."

"Isn't that optional, though?"

He nodded.

"Well, finding it wasn't hard. I noticed that she was taking lots of pictures while we were on the way home, and I wanted to see if she had anything interesting. It was a stab in the dark, but I searched Instaglam for the #AspenRoad tag and her account was the first result that popped up. And, like most people, she uses the same account name for everything: FriendZone, Chatter, Bloggo... she's even got a HotShot account! And they're all linked on her Instaglam."

He leaned back and laughed. "Ah, the wonders of social media! Goodbye privacy!"

"I don't know, Patrick... Can you really have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you connect everything like that?"

"Maybe not."

She scrolled through the photos herself. "I guess I don't see anything bad here, other than her choices in cosmetics. I was just curious of what you thought about it, and if you'd like to dive into her personal life a bit. I assume you're still considering her application, I mean. You might find something useful if you poke around?"

"Yeah, I'm still thinking it over. I might take a cursory glance at her social media, see if she's bad news on the surface, but I'm not going to stalk this poor girl and scour every word she's ever written online. She may be loose with her privacy, but that doesn't mean I have to take advantage of that."

"That's fair."

He grabbed his phone and found his way to Andrea's profile. "So, Instaglam tits aside, did you find anything interesting?"

She shook her head. "Mostly roadside weeds, which I found strange. Is she into botany at all? She's listed a lot of scientific names for some rather unremarkable looking plants."

He shrugged. "I couldn't say. Maybe she picked up an affinity for it during her studies, but she didn't make a note of it on her application."

"Do you know if any of that binomial nomenclature is accurate?"

He scanned through several of the photos and took note of each scientific name that Andrea had left for them, but he was unable to make any positive connections. "Uhh... Not off the top of my head. I could have someone at the greenhouse look things over." He lowered his phone and looked back up at her. "Anyways, speaking of reports and speaking of Andrea, I've asked her to write up a report and send it to me over the next few days."

She giggled. "She's not even hired yet and you're already putting her to work, huh?"

"Anything to work less myself!" he joked. "I mostly want to see her methodology before Dr. Reiland and I make a final decision about hiring her. I want to see what her reports look like and how we can improve them if needed."

"Can you forward it to Dr. Venger when you get it?"

"Sure thing. What's he think about all this?"

"He's very intrigued that we found evidence of a nearby Blastcap colony. Did you know that his grandfather was involved in the effort to contain the original outbreak in the 60s?"

"Oh wow, really?"

"Yeah. But he swears by his grandfather's work, so he's not entirely convinced yet. We're trying to run DNA analysis on some of the samples we brought back for a solid confirmation." Rapid vibration and a loud beeping sound prompted her to look down at her watch. "Oh! Speaking of, I should probably get back... That's the PCR replication process, it should be done by now. Hopefully we can get started soon on determining the facts."

"Good luck."

"Thanks. I'll see ya after work?"

"Yep."

"I hope that having Andrea's social media accounts ends up being useful to you."

"I think it will be. Thank you."

She made her way towards the door, but stopped and turned around. "Umm... If it gets awkward -- you know, considering the types of photos she has -- let me know, okay? It wouldn't be quite as weird for me, so I could look through her profiles for you."

He laughed. "I appreciate it, but that's not necessary. I'll be fine."

As the door closed behind Emily, he started to look through the other social media profiles that were linked in her Instaglam biography. His first stop was FriendZone, a priceless treasure trove of willfully surrendered personal information. It didn't tell him much that he didn't already know from the previous day and a half he spent with her: she was obsessively interested in gothic fashion; had nerdy hobbies that ranged from board and card games to low budget classic sci-fi movies; kept her hot button opinions to herself for the most part; she also previously worked as a waitress at a vampire-themed restaurant and rave club, with an immense level of enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Other details weren't explicitly stated, but he was able to piece them together through some of her status updates. She'd apparently gone through a bad breakup at the start of the year and had been single ever since, and she clearly was not happy about it. She was fired from her job shortly before that, but her rants and stories about it didn't offer any insight into why. Even further back, she appeared to have a public feud with a man named Larson; he quickly found himself siding with her based on the awful and despicable things he was saying, but couldn't help but worry that it was easy to get under her skin, and she was downright venomous when she was angry. Those details painted the picture of a bitter and angry young woman, but also hinted that her general negativity and quiet nature was heavily influenced by her depressing surroundings, bleak circumstances and apparent terrible luck.

"Okay... If I do bring her onboard, I guess I'll have to make it clear that she'd need to be patient as she settles in..." He went back to her Instaglam account to seek out her next profile, only to find himself captivated by her selfies again. "...Maybe dress a little more modestly, too. Those pillows would distract a lot of people."

Her account on Chatter -- a platform that challenged its users to share quick thoughts and updates with a limited amount of characters -- was anything but chatty. Across two years, she'd only sent out five messages, all of which were directed at a former Rose League Championship contender and fashion designer by the name of Nicole Spencer -- and seemingly ignored. Hoping to find something more valuable, he browsed the list of accounts she was following; various faculty members at the University of Aughrim, indie musicians, fashion experts, lewd artists, a few Aughrim-centered politicians and an arachnid facts bot all popped up -- hardly useful for getting a quick gauge on if she had any problematic beliefs or associations.

"She seems pretty normal so far..."

His next visit was to her Bloggo account, but he was met with disappointment; only those who were logged in could view her blog. Rather than spend company time setting up an account, he set it aside to investigate later when he got home. His investigation of her HotShot account -- a service for streaming video games to viewers from around the world -- also brought up very little of interest. Within five minutes, all he could tell was that she was an infrequent player of Defense of the Legends, and a bad one at that. Like her Instaglam photos, she seemed to emphasize her physical assets rather than her gameplay.

"Yeah... Nothing out of the ordinary here..." he mumbled before going back to her Instaglam account for one last cheeky peek; he smirked as he shook his head. "Guess this wasn't a total waste of time, though..."
 
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Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
(Prologue ~ Chapter 3)

You know, I kinda wish I paid more attention to the sort of writing you talk about in discord, because if I knew this was the sort of writing you did for fanfiction, I think I would’ve hit it up sooner. Compared to the high fantasy tales other works love to do—to no fault of their own, since that’s what Pokémon lends itself to the most fittingly—you have a story that, bar basic references to Pokémon here and there, comes off as almost completely rooted in reality. And that’s refreshing, on a meta sense. It sort of feels like a more literally-human take on The Curious and the Shiny in particular, though I imagine the theme and subject matter will be completely different.

The prologue and first chapter or two dragged for a little, I’ll admit. We started off with some talking in her place, and then some talking in the facility mixed in with exploring the building. Some of the frontloaded descriptions of the east wings and the west wings and all that, I feel, could have just been scattered around through future chapters with passing mentions while building up to their relevance. The frontloading definitely bogged things down for an already slow start.

I also noticed that the two male characters in Andrea’s life—Webster and Patrick—seemed to both be kinda asses to her, in different ways, huh? I mean, maybe it’s just me, but Patrick in particular had some pretty backhanded things to say about Andrea, from calling her predictable to… I dunno. That being said, I guess wearing goth to a research institute for an interview and then kinda being a little combative about it doesn’t quite help Andrea’s case for landing the job…

I think things actually started to pick up once we got to the interview itself, and boy, aside from how quick it was compared to actual interviews for something this high-profile, I think you really captured the essence of what it’s like to be in one. Personal experience~?

But in all seriousness, I did like the tense yet friendly atmosphere that was set up in the interview, because it was sort of the theme I got any time I had an interview with others for, well, trying to get a job after being unemployed for six months. Okay, so maybe that situation is uncomfortably familiar to my own life prior to getting employment and that’s why it resonated so easily with me.

Things got particularly interesting—genuinely interesting—once we got to the field work and mystery “pre-hiring” mission of investigating the farm. It’s such a mundane thing—for now, at least—but it also is the first genuine sense of intrigue and plot that we have going so far. And I know you said at the start that this was going to be more a focus on relationships and friendships, but I think something like this to get things rolling forward is another good way to go about it. I’m hoping that things can at least continue from here with little episodes (or perhaps something longer?) interspersed with the slice of life feel I think you’re going for.

Anyway, that's all I have for now, but I'll definitely be revisiting this one in the future! Thanks for the read~
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Truly, I am the worst with keeping up with things. Let's jump in where we left off at... chapter 2? Whoops.

She restrained herself from responding fiercely -- something she realized she typically did when people pointed out her attire in a critical manner -- worried about Patrick's warning about displaying an attitude. "They say not to judge a book by its cover."
c h a r a c t e r g r o w t h

The office was a cozy mess.
I particularly liked this description here -- it says a lot in very few words.

"The fact that you made that journey despite what I imagine is a shaky financial situation shows your dedication to this. I don't think many people would travel across an entire country for something they didn't have a guarantee on."
yah lmao there's this great thing called video interviews for people who are far away to get through the early stages; mebbe y'all should look into that instead of making this poor girl cross an entire country

"I've looked over your application many times, Ms. Dennison, and I must say that it's quite impressive for someone your age. A bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Aughrim. A thesis on the effects of pollution on marine and shore wildlife that was published in the Lanark Journal of Science. Two years of course credit in mechanical engineering. A 3.7 GPA across four years of university study. Top marks in high school. Star pitcher for the league-winning Goldwheat Girls softball team. Two years as a part time waitress at..." she paused, retreating to the application again. "The Lair? I'm unfamiliar with that establishment."
This is an interesting assessment imo -- I think to most hiring people, the top half is wildly more impressive than the first. The two years of course credit doesn't mean much, given that most of the higher-level/rigorous courses don't start until the third year anyway. Most people outside of college admissions officers understand that high school is kind of a crapshoot and don't take the grades there seriously (it's possible your school was meh and it's easy to coast through on rote memorization to get good grades; it's possible that you really turned yourself around after high school and your bad grades there don't matter much either). Pitching for softball is a fun achievement but not particularly relevant to this field of study I imagine. And part time jobs are great but assuming that modern day Lanark is similar to modern day now, having a part time food service job while in college really just means that she's not in trust fund baby status and needs to eat to live. And later, Dr. Reiland even points out that Andrea's listed herself as being enrolled in a PhD program that she currently isn't -- which might be a mistake on Andrea's part to present it as such, but saying that you're enrolled somewhere that you aren't is actually fraud lol.

Which might be what you're going for here -- that Dr. Reiland isn't impressed with what normal people care about on resumes, and that she appreciates that Andrea is well-rounded and driven despite being relatively young. From what I remember this is a really prestigious opening and Dr. Reiland is only going for the best, in which case high school achievements and waitressing tend not to have as high of a ranking compared to what publications you've done, your professor rec letters, blah blah blah boring stuff.

And I feel like you were sort of going for an angle here -- Dr. Reiland has really high standards, but what she's really looking for is an individual who's going to give a shit, not someone who's got the piece of paper from the good college saying they did the good things. I think in that case you could almost frame it a little differently -- Andrea's coming in ready to tout her undergrad degree and her coursework and her publications, and Dr. Reiland is like "oh but tell me more about this cool softball thing you did".

"Ah, I understand. One last question about that, then. Have these medical problems passed?"
I don't think this is actually a legal question? Under most western employment laws at least -- obviously, Lanark can be different, but I figured I'd point this out.

"Ah, yes, that's the one. What I do know is that most people grow out of that phase before they graduate from high school, and those that don't... Well... I hear that they typically aren't the most respectable or respectful people."
And this feels like really tactless phrasing pot to the kettle when I say it, I know -- I get the feeling that Dr. Reiland is supposed to be super accomplished in her field, and if she's in any sort of academia relating to biology and that biology academia in Lanark is similar to Earth that means she's seen all. sorts. And even if they unsettle her, if she's been in this field long enough, she should absolutely know how to pitch things in a more tactful way than "lol I've heard this stereotype that you guys suck", because she's probably had to work for/with tons of strange types in her rise to the top, and she wouldn't have made it this far without at least a little charisma.

And I was usually working alone anyways during my 'group' projects while I was at university."

Dr. Reiland chuckled. "I see that hasn't changed since my own days at university..."
And this as well -- this would probably be a red flag. Not that university groups aren't almost always complete shitshows (that's almost the point? I guess?), but that Andrea isn't able to make any conclusive takeaways on that besides that people suck and she's best to hoof it on her own. There's a fine line between independence/being able to self-direct on tasks, and not being able to work with others whatsoever, and while I think it's okay for Andrea to say things that make her look like she's on the wrong side of that line, it's weird that Dr. Reiland is nodding along with it. Research is a lot of solo work, yeah, but it's also got a hefty amount of collaboration and you can't really avoid that.

"I like her. She's smart. She's got impressive accolades. She seems down to earth too, which I think is probably one of the most important things to consider. We do have a lot of young hot heads here that like to bump into each other and compete, she could be a nice change of pace from that." He glanced in her direction. "You've got a lot of potential, Andrea, and you can reach new heights at a place like this. I think you'd be a valuable asset if we work with you, train with you and iron out any problems that arise."
Likewise, it's sort of weird for the interviewing panel to say things directly to you, I feel? Usually they play their hands close to their chests so they can undercut your salary in your offer letter by not revealing how good of a candidate they think you are to maintain professionalism. And, ironically, to reduce the crushing sensation that Andrea gets directly after they tell her they think she's interesting and then send her back home.

"Now... Let's say you and a fellow staff member have a dispute about the way to move forward. Persistent arguments occur that affect not only your productivity, but the productivity of those around you. How do you deal with such a circumstance?"
"That is all. Dismissed."
oh yup kek this is definitely an on-brand interview Mood.

I think you do a really good job of portraying the stakes here. The questions are tense, they fly around like hotcakes, Andrea's really uncomfortable, etc. You nail the feeling of being on the receiving end of an interview pretty well, I think.

There's a few snags that I think are a little strange/out of place, most of which I noted above. And I feel like there are a few angles that are missing -- all of this commentary is based purely on my experience interviewing for post-college jobs, so things are going to vary, but I figured I'd point out. Usually interviewers will ask the interviewee if they have any questions about the position as well -- these questions tend to show what Andrea thinks she's getting into, what areas of the job she's most interested in, if she's even googled the name of the company, etc. Usually for in-person interviews there's a tour of the facilities and other stuff where they point out the coffee machine and talk about workplace culture. And I think it's a little strange that we've gone this far and we don't actually know the full details of what Andrea's position entails, what they'll be having her doing, etc. The interview is kind of the least exciting part of the job, but also it's pretty wild that they're going to make her train all the way out here for a handful of questions that she could've answered over the phone.

One other angle I think that would help a lot would be to replace some of the hypothetical "what would you do if _____" questions with "describe a time that you've done ____"
"Now... Let's say you and a fellow staff member have a dispute about the way to move forward. Persistent arguments occur that affect not only your productivity, but the productivity of those around you. How do you deal with such a circumstance?"
The answer Andrea gives is the answer that almost any sane candidate would give, lol -- no one's going to be like "oh yeah I'd be a toxic POS and spread rumors and bitterly think about how much I snipe with this staff member", but in the heat of the moment a lot of people would probably do things like that. It's a bad question that lets the interviewee present their idealized version of themselves forward, when the interviewer is looking for the actual version of that person.

And! Two birds one stone, you get to weave more backstory in here. I think I already mentioned how this interview setup is a really clever way to introduce Andrea, since you can literally have her tell people important aspects of herself without it seeming forced (but if I haven't already mentioned that, it's a really clever way to introduce Andrea!). If you have a few more questions in there that are "Describe a time that you and a coworker or college have disagreed about something in a way that started to affect not just your productivity, but the productivity of those around you", not only is this a more holistic type of interview question, but it also lets the readers get a bit more insight into what Andrea was doing before all of this started. And maybe she didn't deal with it well, maybe it was 70% bad shit and 30% lessons learned that she'll apply to the next time she has to deal with someone like this; you could take this answer in a lot of ways, set up foreshadowing for character growth, etc -- all while putting it in terms of an interview question that's more likely to be asked than the hypothetical version.

Overall though, I think you really nailed the feeling of an interview. Dr. Reiland is friendly and (for the most part; flagged the weird things to me above) professional, but she's certainly not Andrea's friend. It's tense but polite, and you have a lot of information flowing back and forth. I sort of forgot Patrick's in the room, but in a good way -- it helps nail down that tunnel-vision feeling that happens when people start grilling you for information and poking at all the holes in your shitty resume and your tired and the coffee was kind of garbage and this is sort of the most Important thing you'll be doing all week and your entire life is hinging on this thirty minute conversation that they really could've done over the phone... I think you paint a really solid mix of stressful emotions down to a 'T' here, which absolutely isn't easy. And on top of that we get to finally see a little more about what's under the hood at this institute, and the mysterious and prestigious Dr. Reiland gets a face that's a lot less mysterious and prestigious than we were led to believe -- again, all of this stuff feels like an accurate reading of expectations vs reality; I really enjoyed it.

Sorry for the long ramble about interviews higher up, lol! Us searching for jobs is a bit of a subject that hits really close to home I feel -- thank you for tackling this in a really complicated way that made me have lots of Thoughts on it. Fingers crossed for Andrea here; although on some level I know that if she doesn't get this job the fic will sort of end, I'm still nervous and cheering for her!
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
hello, me again. chapters 3 and 4 here!

she was ready to return to the comfort of her home, call it a day and relax
okay i'm not saying you should do the oxford comma, but you should do the oxford comma

She was scrolling through the timeline of a man named Tobias Kedzierski, a timeline that was filled with photos of him and a young woman with pale orange hair; at the rocky beaches of Colm Strand, in the stands at an Aughrim Defenders rugby match, participating in an environmental protection rally on the steps of Parliament, sharing dinner at a Romatti restaurant and goofing off at home over a game of Pokémon: Battle Cards.
I love semicolons as much as the next but this is not their grammatical application here.
Although, hmmm, interesting threads of a backstory here!

Why don't we stop by my apartment before we leave, I've still got that extra jacket you got me for my birthday a couple years ago.
And ironically this comma is actually where you'd like to have a semicolon. I feel like these two were typos/you know the rules, but if you do want the full lecture on when to semicolon, let me know.

"Hmm! I'll have to think about how I'll properly compensate you."
oh no is this what i think it is

"You're on your own for your legs though, but those stockings do look pretty cozy..."
If they're going on a biology field trip, surely the concern about her not wearing pants isn't going to be the cold, but the potential exposure to ticks/insects/sharp plants/thorns/etc? I can excuse Andrea not knowing this, but Emily and Patrick absolutely know where they're going.

She didn't want to change her personality, but she realized that Patrick would be watching her closely, and vowed to be more tactful when she could.
"She worked at a place called The Lair, I'm betting she definitely can."
oh yeah this is definitely a fair arrangement

I'm not sure if this is intentional on your part, but Patrick's giving off some enormous toxic workplace red flags throughout this entire two-chapter bit. Kudos if it's intentional; if not, I can dissect further in detail why I think he's not really exhibiting good professionalism.

If I weren't so deeply in debt with my medical studies, I'd definitely look for different work.
It feels a little weird for Emily to be saying this? If Andrea's correct and Emily and Patrick are dating, then she doesn't need to repeat it again for his benefit. Aaaaand it feels a little much to dump on a potential new hire during secretly-the-interview-part-two?

"No, we don't... I could get used to this." she said
Period where you want a comma instead here.

"Hey! I hope that dress of yours isn't too delicate! The grass around here can get a little sharp sometimes."
*points vaguely up at previous note about pants*
Also, if they were planning on having her do a field test like this, they'd probably have warned her about attire -- sure, they didn't expect her to wear what she did, but most "standard" interview clothing/shoes wouldn't be proper for an expedition like this, and they'd want the candidate to know to dress appropriately.

"A Hopañero? It's so cute!"
Oh lit I forgot there were fakemon in this! Love the name and concept here; fire/grass needs to be a thing.

The Donphan pounded its padded foot into the ground, a universally understood signal that it was enraged and ready to attack.
I'm not sure if "padded" is the word you want here; also, in a lovely instance of show don't tell, if it's universally understood (which I'd agree, it is) I don't think you need to re-clarify that here.

Even worse, the Donphan's movements were becoming more and more unpredictable, bouncing between aiming for Pepper and Patrick at random.
It's your call for how drawn-out you want to make these things, but lines like this tend to abridge tension a lot -- it makes the battle feel a lot less like it's happening in real time and more like it's being retold.

He was skeptical of the plan. "You sure about this?"
I feel like you don't need to reiterate that he's skeptical here when he's literally questioning the plan in the next sentence.

So things are truly getting into gear now, aren't they? I remember the miltank investigation arc from the previous iteration of the story, so I'm curious to see what changes there are this time. As a concept this is a lot of fun -- vaguely slice-of-lifey with some older adults doing episodic biological detective work, with some neat fakemon thrown in.

It really sucks that Patrick has *any* say in hiring her; he's being ridiculously unprofessional with all the prying questions into her personal life. I'm not sure if you're writing him in that angle on purpose or if this is just a more cynical view of how jobs are supposed to work, but he's definitely setting up as a low-ish antagonist in my eyes lol. I'm still not sure if Dr. Reiland is working to hire only the weirdos or if Patrick is just supposed to be a shitty loose cannon here.

If they're biologists and they frequently do field work, surely they'd have more support pokemon on hand? Maybe a blissey/audino/healing pokemon for emergency field treatment, or a teleporter/psychic for communication (since they really don't seem to believe in phones/phone interviews), or something with Roar/just generally a high level. Emily's absolutely right; if Andrea hadn't done anything they would've been totally boned here, so it seems strange that a professional research institute would be so vastly underprepared for what seems like a normal-ish encounter with a wild pokemon.

Oh, speaking of normal-ish encounters -- aren't donphan/elephants primarily desert dwellers? iirc their dex entries are about how their ears cool them down in hot weather; seems strange that they'd be somewhere that was just noted for maybe not even having summer.

I think structure-wise, some of these chapters could stand to be combined a little -- chapter 3 is pretty sparse for events happening, whereas chapter 4 is pretty telegraphed, and chapter 5 is pretty straightfotward too (will do full commentary on that/ch 6 later I think; it's getting late) -- I think you could maybe recut these three chapters into two chapters and not really lose much from a structural perspective.

I think your premise here is really creative though, and it definitely seems like this is the direction that you've been wanting to take the story in for a while -- people wandering the countryside trying to solve mini-mysteries. Your prose definitely feels a lot more excited in these sections, probably also because Andrea isn't just angsting about getting hired or not, but overall things flow together really well and have an excited air to them. Will catch up with the rest soon!
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
(4~6)

I’ll echo Kint’s thoughts on a few of these chapters—this feels like one elaborate test for Andrea and part of an extended interview. I mean, that’s more or less what I thought the moment they asked her to come along with them as some kind of unpaid intern, but it was still curious that they’re being way too open with her. Chapter 4 in particular had me wondering about a few things, particularly what humans were thinking by going through tall grass when they barely had a pokemon to their name except for what I want to guess is a not-fully-evolved fakemon.

Like, surely someone who is doing field work would have some stronger Pokémon to go with them, right? I guess this is where having a smaller amount of Pokémon presence is coming to rear its ugly head in a Pokémon fic, since it really would have made more sense to have some better, uh, security, if they’re going all the way out into farmland.

The fight itself against the Donphan was interesting, and I sort of liked the way you paced it out. Seen in a vacuum, I thought you abridged the portions that needed abridging well, and I could fill in the blanks of the battle pretty easily, particularly when Donphan started targeting randomly—perhaps because I could already envision the guy’s battle animations from the Orre games.

That being said, I’m not actually sure what you were trying to get at with that scene. I’ve read ahead at this point, so I’m giving this more as a post-catchup commentary, but will this be relevant later on? Will we see that Donphan again? It’s too early to tell, but I hope this wasn’t total filler just for the sake of having some action.

Chapter 5, meanwhile, was very short, but I think I liked the tone you were going for with it! It was a little direct and sudden, kind of, with them coming to this realization. I also noticed that this is the first time the perspective fully switched over to Emily rather than Andrea, and that kind of caught me off guard at first. For a while this felt more like a third person limited story that would circle entirely around Andrea (aside from when we swap perspectives in the next act.) But no, it seems like we’re just… switching around here.

The odd part about it, though, is I don’t really know if it added anything. Wouldn’t it have been a little stronger from a narrative standpoint if we knew as much as Andrea did, and then we’d be able to relate a little more to her caution when they’re suddenly asking if she’s uncomfortable, and so on? Just a thought, because I’m not completely sure why that switch to Emily was needed here, after all this time being third person limited and cozy with the goth girl.

Aside from those gripes, though, I really enjoyed myself! I’m going to need some extra time to gather my thoughts for the last few chapters—in other words, the finale of this act and then the prelude of the next—but until then, I’ll say that while the change of pace for these two chapters were unexpected, I also enjoyed it. Even if the Donphan scene was relatively unnecessary (for now?) I thought its use as a bridge between two slow scenes was a good call anyway.
 

Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine
Hi. Sorry for the late responses. Gonna get to them in chronological order, rather than respond to each of your individual your posts at the same time. I apologize if I come off combative at all, I've not been having a great few weeks and it's been so long since I've had feedback to respond to that I kinda don't know how to anymore without it becoming messy word vomit.

Some of the frontloaded descriptions of the east wings and the west wings and all that, I feel, could have just been scattered around through future chapters with passing mentions while building up to their relevance. The frontloading definitely bogged things down for an already slow start.
I actually disagree here. If this is front loading that slows things down, I shudder to think what my first version would have been called, where I was randomly listing off room numbers and their functions. I listed off the wings as they are since I wanted to portray the Institute as this large and expansive building. The nitty gritty specifics will indeed come at a later date, when she's actually working in the office.

I also noticed that the two male characters in Andrea’s life—Webster and Patrick—seemed to both be kinda asses to her, in different ways, huh?
Think of it -- in Webster's case at least -- as less being an asshole and more tough love with friendly adversarial banter. These two are best friends. He believes in her and wants her to succeed, but she's not always the best ar allowing herself to succeed. He's harsh on her clothing choice for the interview because she should know better. Patrick, on the other hand... his heart is in the right place, but he's not all that great at actually saying the right thing. It's sorta like being on someone's side, without really understanding what the big picture is. Someone like that says dumb things sometimes, but it's hard to hate them for it.

I think things actually started to pick up once we got to the interview itself, and boy, aside from how quick it was compared to actual interviews for something this high-profile, I think you really captured the essence of what it’s like to be in one. Personal experience~?
lawl nope, and kintsugi's rending analysis proves it. :P I've only been in two employment interviews in my entire life (one that was "can you cook? ok, you're hired", so I'm mostly operating on assumption and media portrayals here.

Things got particularly interesting—genuinely interesting—once we got to the field work and mystery “pre-hiring” mission of investigating the farm. It’s such a mundane thing—for now, at least—but it also is the first genuine sense of intrigue and plot that we have going so far.
Unfortunately, and as you've probably seen with finishing chapter 6, this is where the story falls flat in that regard. It is entirely mundane, because it's kind of a big nothing at the end of the day. My thoughts on Bulbagarden (everything before I @'d Ryoma Maser) regarding the end of that arc explain why this was built up and then... nothing. It was a mistake to go this route without realizing I didn't need to before I sat down to rewrite it, but I was in too deep to rework it again.

There aren't really any plans for deep mysterious intrigue. I've tried writing that several times and I can't seem to get it to work. The only intrigue you'll really find here is character drama: What is character X hiding? Is this why character Y is acting suspicious? I guess some of the leftover backbone mystery from before the rewrite began still still be lingering in the background, but it won't be the main focus of any of the characters or their motivations. Hopefully that doesn't put you off from the story, but I do want you to be fairly warned before you get too invested.

Truly, I am the worst with keeping up with things.
Hey, at least you do unlike me :P

yah lmao there's this great thing called video interviews for people who are far away to get through the early stages; mebbe y'all should look into that instead of making this poor girl cross an entire country
Good point. Combined with other points you brought up, I'll change some wording around to make the visit more obviously mandatory, to do things like tour the facilities and test her skills.

Pitching for softball is a fun achievement but not particularly relevant to this field of study I imagine.
I mostly wanted to highlight this to show that she's skilled at throwing pokeballs, which would actually be kinda useful as a secondary skill for a biology researcher. Maybe it's not the right place to highlight it, but I'll probably keep it there as I go over this chapter to fix everything about it.

And later, Dr. Reiland even points out that Andrea's listed herself as being enrolled in a PhD program that she currently isn't -- which might be a mistake on Andrea's part to present it as such, but saying that you're enrolled somewhere that you aren't is actually fraud lol.
Well, I'm an idiot and didn't realize this, so I'll go ahead and say Andrea is also an idiot and didn't realize this. If there's anything I'll fix about this, it'll be Dr. Reiland pointing out the fraud bit.

And I feel like you were sort of going for an angle here -- Dr. Reiland has really high standards, but what she's really looking for is an individual who's going to give a shit, not someone who's got the piece of paper from the good college saying they did the good things. I think in that case you could almost frame it a little differently -- Andrea's coming in ready to tout her undergrad degree and her coursework and her publications, and Dr. Reiland is like "oh but tell me more about this cool softball thing you did".
This is actually an interesting way to look at things! I'll probably take this angle. It's especially giving me the idea that she has this whole rehearsed shtick that goes right out the window when Dr. Reiland is like "yeah it's impressive but tell me about all the other stuff that isn't on your resume"

I don't think this is actually a legal question? Under most western employment laws at least -- obviously, Lanark can be different, but I figured I'd point this out.
Hmm, good point. I've got an idea for how I can legally loophole this in while still kinda encouraging Andrea to answer this question.

she should absolutely know how to pitch things in a more tactful way than "lol I've heard this stereotype that you guys suck", because she's probably had to work for/with tons of strange types in her rise to the top, and she wouldn't have made it this far without at least a little charisma.
I get your point, but I think this is a little reductive of what she actually says. I think this is a totally reasonable way for someone who is older and doesn't understand the intricacies and differences between goth, punk and emo cultures (and instead just puts them all under the same umbrella) to try to be diplomatic while letting Andrea know she typically hasn't had good experiences with people like her.

And this as well -- this would probably be a red flag. Not that university groups aren't almost always complete shitshows (that's almost the point? I guess?), but that Andrea isn't able to make any conclusive takeaways on that besides that people suck and she's best to hoof it on her own. There's a fine line between independence/being able to self-direct on tasks, and not being able to work with others whatsoever, and while I think it's okay for Andrea to say things that make her look like she's on the wrong side of that line, it's weird that Dr. Reiland is nodding along with it. Research is a lot of solo work, yeah, but it's also got a hefty amount of collaboration and you can't really avoid that.
Likewise, it's sort of weird for the interviewing panel to say things directly to you, I feel? Usually they play their hands close to their chests so they can undercut your salary in your offer letter by not revealing how good of a candidate they think you are to maintain professionalism. And, ironically, to reduce the crushing sensation that Andrea gets directly after they tell her they think she's interesting and then send her back home.
Good points! These are actually a hold over from pre-rewrite, where I wanted Dr. Reiland to be that friendly recruiter. I want her to be more distant and kinda... intimidating here, so this'll go under review as well as I rewrite this chapter.

And I think it's a little strange that we've gone this far and we don't actually know the full details of what Andrea's position entails, what they'll be having her doing, etc.
I'm actually still undecided on this, believe it or not, after nearly four years of writing this setting/plot. I want to keep it open ended so I can have her do lots of stuff, rather than saying "you'll mostly be a lab brat, enjoy mostly sitting in rooms for the duration of your career here"

all that stuff about missed angles/these angles would be better
Hoo boy, I've got my work cut out for me. I don't want it to seem like I'm just blindly agreeing to every bit of feedback I get and tailoring my story around what the fans want, but so much of this is just flatly better than what I have.

okay i'm not saying you should do the oxford comma, but you should do the oxford comma
This is actually a very bad habit I have that I've been trying to work on. I've always liked the oxford comma but never actually used it. It's gonna be a tough habit to break :/

I love semicolons as much as the next but this is not their grammatical application here.
Uh oh, are we gonna have to have words with dp876 over this? That's where I picked this habit up from :V

And ironically this comma is actually where you'd like to have a semicolon. I feel like these two were typos/you know the rules, but if you do want the full lecture on when to semicolon, let me know.
You know, I actually don't know the rules for semicolons. Or, practically any rules it seems. So few people corrected my bad grammar, spelling or syntax when I first started publishing fanfic that I thought I was write about a lot of it, only to realize over the years that I was wrong about all of it. While a chat about semicolons would be useful, I wouldn't direct it at just me. Seems like something that'd best work as a broad article for everyone to see.

oh no is this what i think it is
Rejoice, it isn't. :P

If they're going on a biology field trip, surely the concern about her not wearing pants isn't going to be the cold, but the potential exposure to ticks/insects/sharp plants/thorns/etc? I can excuse Andrea not knowing this, but Emily and Patrick absolutely know where they're going.
This is actually brought up later on. As for Em/Pat knowing, I'm thinking of basically saying "Okay so you were planning on bringing me somewhere, which didn't you encourage me to dress for a hike when I came for my interview?" when I do the revisions. As far as Emily not being able to help, I probably could have brought it up but I was operating under the assumption that Emily is a skinny bitch and Andrea is not, so there are no spare pants that would fit.

I'm not sure if this is intentional on your part, but Patrick's giving off some enormous toxic workplace red flags throughout this entire two-chapter bit. Kudos if it's intentional; if not, I can dissect further in detail why I think he's not really exhibiting good professionalism.
Partially intentional. I want Patrick to be overly friendly and with his heart in the right place, but not really understanding the barriers he needs to understand. He's not genuinely trying to upset or make Andrea uncomfortable, but he's absolutely going to.

And, while this isn't directed specifically at what you said here, I'm starting to realize that one problem with my writing is that I write from the lens of a 90s kid with a deeply conservative upbringing. I've learned a lot since then, and am fairly clued in with the basics of each major food group of political correctness, but... I've tried quite a few times, and I can not write something that is compliant with the currently accepted ideals of political correctness, workplace toxicity, micro-aggressions, institutional sexism and more, while also enjoying my work and writing the story I want to tell. These ideas feel like they have more layers than an onion when it comes to what's acceptable or not, and I kinda don't feel like dealing with that, if I'm honest. I'm here to relax, rather than write a thesis that stands up to scrutiny.

One angle of my story is realism, so I guess I should expect people to bring this up a lot, but... what we have in real life, on earth, is just one cultural interpretation that doesn't and shouldn't necessarily translate to the settings present in stories. There isn't a lot of racial and gender-related tension, pot stirring, etc because tons of the bad shit that happened in our universe that brought us to where we are didn't happen in my setting. Very little mass slavery, very little discrimination based on things people can't control (but you bet your ass people are going to give you a hard time for choosing to identify as a goth), and people are just generally better to each other.

I dunno. Rant. Sorry.

It feels a little weird for Emily to be saying this? If Andrea's correct and Emily and Patrick are dating, then she doesn't need to repeat it again for his benefit. Aaaaand it feels a little much to dump on a potential new hire during secretly-the-interview-part-two?
Ah, but what if Andrea's assumption is wrong? Patrick likely wouldn't be privvy to such knowledge if the two weren't a thing, especially if it's something that Emily would consider small talk. As for whether it's a little much, I don't particularly think so.

Oh lit I forgot there were fakemon in this! Love the name and concept here; fire/grass needs to be a thing.
Absolutely! There are so many type combos which really should have happened or become more commonplace by now, if only to shake up the competitive metagame.

I'm not sure if "padded" is the word you want here; also, in a lovely instance of show don't tell, if it's universally understood (which I'd agree, it is) I don't think you need to re-clarify that here.
Oh, speaking of normal-ish encounters -- aren't donphan/elephants primarily desert dwellers? iirc their dex entries are about how their ears cool them down in hot weather; seems strange that they'd be somewhere that was just noted for maybe not even having summer.
I admit, I didn't really look into it this way. I was mostly drawing on ancient memories of Donphans (or Phanpy?) being present in the rocky highlands between Blackthorn and Newbark and went from there. So, colder environments seem like fair game here based on those memories. But, since this story is about a biologist, maybe I should be kinda careful about where I put certain animals...

As far as padded feet, I don't envision them being padded in the sense that you'd see in a cat or bear, but padded to protect the nerves/sensitive inside-y bits of the foot from the sharp and treacherous rocky terrain it lives in. Ultimately I could leave it as ambiguous by just taking the word out, but I feel I should stick to my guns here.

It's your call for how drawn-out you want to make these things, but lines like this tend to abridge tension a lot -- it makes the battle feel a lot less like it's happening in real time and more like it's being retold.
well the story is told in past tense Personally, I don't like it when 1v1 battles stretch on for long, long amounts of time. I'm not sure what it would really serve to explain in detail about how it's just bouncing back and forth with nothing particularly interesting happening or the situation not changing.

Hopefully not all of the battles I write will feel abridged, but one rule that I have that may be useful to keep in mind is that my battles are high stakes. In nature, fights between individuals can be over in a single attack. I don't really have back and forth tanky monsters taking multiple high damage hits before they fall over (unless it's a small mon facing off against something like a Steelix, which is naturally hardy), so things might end more quickly in my battles than readers are used to.

I'm still not sure if Dr. Reiland is working to hire only the weirdos or if Patrick is just supposed to be a shitty loose cannon here.
Loose cannon, mostly. He works some absolute miracles in his position, which has afforded him a lot of independence in how he operates -- until someone complains. That's not the right way to do things, but that's how things unfold sometimes when it comes to light that someone in the staff has been serially preying on subordinates.

That's not to say that's the angle I'm going for though.

If they're biologists and they frequently do field work, surely they'd have more support pokemon on hand? Maybe a blissey/audino/healing pokemon for emergency field treatment, or a teleporter/psychic for communication (since they really don't seem to believe in phones/phone interviews), or something with Roar/just generally a high level. Emily's absolutely right; if Andrea hadn't done anything they would've been totally boned here, so it seems strange that a professional research institute would be so vastly underprepared for what seems like a normal-ish encounter with a wild pokemon.
Like, surely someone who is doing field work would have some stronger Pokémon to go with them, right? I guess this is where having a smaller amount of Pokémon presence is coming to rear its ugly head in a Pokémon fic, since it really would have made more sense to have some better, uh, security, if they’re going all the way out into farmland.
Gonna combine these two together. I'll tackle kint's points first.

A lot of these assumptions rely on adhering to game mechanics. There aren't really capable healers in my setting (outside of Wierd Magic stuff), so they wouldn't really be useful as a support pokemon. Teleportation is also a whole can of worms I really don't want to open, so I'm not even going to touch upon that in my setting. :P

Some of my rules and interpretations aren't very clear (or maybe even well thought out) but I've always felt that it's better to keep things like power levels ambiguous to give myself room to bend the rules to service the plot. I think it'd be pretty limiting if I could simply Roar every threat off, or curbstomp a legendary because "ha my blastoise is level 100, nerd". It's also kind of a headache for me to try to assign a power level to something, only to figure out details associated to the power level of the opponent they're facing. What moves should they have access to? Could they survive a STAB crit? I'm not really a spreadsheet (or even booksmart) person, so, I try to keep things vague for my sake.

Onto namo's point: This isn't something I've gotten to yet to in the story, and is partially answered in later responses to namo's review, but: Patrick only has one mon with him because that's his personal pokemon. Pepper is kinda like his trusty service pistol that goes with him everywhere. He doesn't have anything else because encounters with wild pokemon are quite infrequent, and Pepper has shown himself to be an extremely reliable defender in most situations.

This is the part I haven't gotten to in the story yet, but there are systems in place at the Institute to equip field researchers with better defenses if they're going into dangerous environments. The Institute maintains a shared pool of reliable fighters that are given out for those dangerous assignments. Disobedience associated with not having their master trainer around is a game mechanic I'm not keeping, so there's not really any danger of this competent defender dangerously ignoring orders. Most staff at the institute don't actually have their own pokemon (outside of like, cute pets that can't fight), which is where this pool comes in useful.

Moving through a typically peaceful country road to investigate a possible disease outbreak registers at about a 2 out of 10 on the danger scale, which is why they didn't bring anything extra with them.

On a similar note, Patrick does have two other Pokemon under his care. They just aren't ready yet for combat, and would only be ineffective cannon fodder if he actually brought them along.

I think structure-wise, some of these chapters could stand to be combined a little -- chapter 3 is pretty sparse for events happening, whereas chapter 4 is pretty telegraphed, and chapter 5 is pretty straightfotward too (will do full commentary on that/ch 6 later I think; it's getting late) -- I think you could maybe recut these three chapters into two chapters and not really lose much from a structural perspective.
Perhaps, but I mostly want to separate some of the plot threads from each other into their own distinct chapters. I could likely combine 3 and 4, but it felt a little weird to have "hey, angry girl who's fretting about her ex, come join us and learn what it means to not be a rude asshole" directly combined with "hey, let's walk across an entire countryside route across six hours, and probably be attacked on the way" when I was working on the writing.

That being said, I’m not actually sure what you were trying to get at with that scene. I’ve read ahead at this point, so I’m giving this more as a post-catchup commentary, but will this be relevant later on? Will we see that Donphan again? It’s too early to tell, but I hope this wasn’t total filler just for the sake of having some action.
No, we won't see the Donphan again. The point of the chapter was to set two precedents:
  1. Wilderness travel is often perceived as extremely dangerous in this setting (hello mass media fake news!), but honestly really isn't if you have at least one capable fighter around. The only real dangers you'll run into -- as far as wild pokemon are concerned -- are apex predators and territorial defenders. I may have missed a trick here with the rewrite; I remember in the previous incarnation, I had Andrea and Patrick talking about how she learned to fear the wild because one of her childhood friends was paralyzed and nearly killed when they strayed too far from town. I can't remember if that particular conversation happened this early in the story or not, though.
  2. The point I was trying to establish with this scene is that Andrea has great potential for strategic thinking. She kept her cool and thought of a solution pretty quickly, while Patrick found himself frazzled and tunnel visioned towards just overwhelming with pure force. This'll come in useful later when she has her own pokemon and is faced with danger.
Chapter 5, meanwhile, was very short, but I think I liked the tone you were going for with it! It was a little direct and sudden, kind of, with them coming to this realization. I also noticed that this is the first time the perspective fully switched over to Emily rather than Andrea, and that kind of caught me off guard at first. For a while this felt more like a third person limited story that would circle entirely around Andrea (aside from when we swap perspectives in the next act.) But no, it seems like we’re just… switching around here.

The odd part about it, though, is I don’t really know if it added anything. Wouldn’t it have been a little stronger from a narrative standpoint if we knew as much as Andrea did, and then we’d be able to relate a little more to her caution when they’re suddenly asking if she’s uncomfortable, and so on? Just a thought, because I’m not completely sure why that switch to Emily was needed here, after all this time being third person limited and cozy with the goth girl.
You know, you may be right about this. Patrick's motivations are meant to be a mystery both to Andrea and to the reader, but at the same time I feel almost compelled to spell them out because I've caught a lot of flack for leaving things ambiguous in the past. I guess that's the curse of serial writing/serial reviewing, where people are confused because the puzzle isn't complete yet... I'm in the process of reworking a lot of the chapters, so I'll look this one over too, and see if I feel safe with removing it.

Kint's points about him being a toxic piece of shit have merit, and this (hopefully) helps soften that blow, so I'm not sure what to do yet. I want readers to feel on edge about him, and knowing that he's been in trouble with HR for creeping on another employee was my answer, but... maybe just the way he acts in general is enough to put people on edge.

Thank you two for these reviews, even if I was slow in responding to them. Anxiety was a big part in preventing me from even looking at them for awhile, and low energy had me prioritizing other things.

Now, it's been brought to my attention that I completely missed posting the interlude. I have no idea how this happened, but I'll be editing an old post to slot it in correctly, and reposting Prologue II.
 
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Misfit Angel

Member
Pronouns
feminine
@Namohysip you mentioned the interlude being missing on this forum. Welp, it's finally posted, and can be found where Prologue II originally was. Here's Prologue II. Don't know how I didn't catch the fact that I completely skipped an entire chapter while putting it on the table of contents... Whata mistakea to makea!

Author's note: So with progress on this story grinding to a halt due to personal issues, sickness, etc, I'm just going to force this small chapter out. Who knows, maybe it'll get me in the mood to write again. Anyways, are you a reader of the previous incarnation of Land of the Roses and wondering if this chapter is worth the read? Well, rejoice! This one's entirely new!


Nearly five months after responding to a humanitarian crisis in the arctic, a young heiress prepares to resume her personal life and professional career.

May 13th
Cold Harbor, Kingdom of Glastonfell


"Come... now! Don't be... difficult!" a young woman grunted as she attempted to latch up an overburdened suitcase -- one that was at risk of exploding violently. "I don't have time to rearrange you, so just... close already!" she shouted as she jumped on top and wrestled with the clasps some more. With the suitcase finally closed, she glanced at her watch and let out a deep breath; in about 45 minutes, the train that would take her back home to the Kingdom of Lanark was scheduled to depart. After such a long time being away, she was happy that she was finally going home.

As she looked around, she realized that she was going to miss her home away from home, the regal and restored medieval Glenwoode Castle. She was surrounded on all sides by charming and rustic stone walls, a setting she'd fallen in love with. Lavish tapestries that featured the various heraldic sigils of Glastonfell's northern lowlands captivated her imagination almost every night she returned to the room. Most importantly, she would miss the warmth and the comfort, a stark contrast to the rest of Cold Harbor, a town oft-characterized by its rugged lifestyle and cold, long winters.

She pushed herself off of the bed and approached the luxurious black curtain that hung from the wall, and pushed it aside to see the town one last time. Her shoulders slumped downward; heavy snowfall obscured her vision and blanketed the balcony just outside of the window, dashing her hopes.

"I wish it would have stopped snowing by now..." she said with a heavy sigh. "I certainly needed some time away from everything, and the snow was beautiful at first, but this is just depressing..."

She wandered over to the mirror and began to braid her long, chestnut brown hair as she thought about the past six months of her life. Since the year began, she had been dedicating most of her time and energy to volunteering in the far-flung town of Cold Harbor, which had been brought to ruin by a devestating earthquake, and then demolished further by the following tsunami. Woefully unprepared to participate herself, she oversaw and directed the clearing of rubble and shattered ice in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Eventually, she found herself helping to feed the needy and the poor in a charitable soup kitchen, and most recently, tutoring children who had no school to return to after the declaration of emergency had been lifted. Though much more work needed to be done to rebuild Cold Harbor, she felt she'd made a meaningful impact on the lives of those she helped, and that's what truly mattered to her.

Her recollections of her past deeds were interrupted as a heavy, hollow knock came from the ancient oaken door.

"Yes? Enter!" she called out.

The door opened and a stately older woman walked in. Her slender figure was framed in an ivy green pantsuit and accented with a crisp, frosty white blouse. She too had lengthy chestnut brown hair, but hers was tied into a tight bun, and a streak of grey ran from her forehead and into the bun along her left side. Though she appeared to be relaxed, a distant and dour gaze rested on her face.

"Oh! Mother! I didn't expect you. You usually don't knock."

Her mother's usually-dismal visage softened as their eyes met. "Look at you, my beautiful thing! You look so regal!"

"I do, don't I?" she said, twirling in front of the mirror. Her warm and cozy burgundy maxi dress fluttered about freely as she spun around carelessly. "This is what I wore when we visited with Queen Eithna of Dornoch in January, remember? She seemed to like it!"

"Ah, yes! That's right! I was so proud of you that day, in the way you handled yourself in her presence. You've come such a long way in these past few years. You used to be so timid and shy."

She returned to the mirror, grabbed the left side of her hair and started to twist it together into a complex Kalosian braid. "I think I have Nicole to thank for that."

"It pains me to, but I agree. That wretched scamp brought your best qualities forward."

"That 'wretched scamp' has been my best friend since we were little girls. I would appreciate it if you didn't casually insult her."

"Yes, yes, I shouldn't be so cruel... On the subject of admirable performances, the Valenzi Foundation has so much more work to do, and as such, you have a very busy schedule to look forward to when you return to Lanark. I have faith that your continued service to the foundation will be of the highest standard."

She paused for a moment and let go of her hair; the half-done braid untwisted as she stood like a statue, thinking about what she'd just heard. "...Continued service?"

Her mother handed over a leatherbound notebook. Emblazoned with 'Valenzi Foundation' in gaudy gold lettering and combined with her mother's wording, the book felt very heavy, and not in a physical sense.

She casually flipped through the pages. "... press event with Crown News Network about the relief effort ... gathering at Greenbriar Hall to secure additional funding for the foundation ... meeting with Lord Blackwell to discuss an extension on the foundation's tax waiver ..." Her expression hardened as she turned the page. "8 AM, May 22nd? How am I meant to manage all of this?"

"Does this schedule not work for you, dear?"

"No, it does not, and I very much do not appreciate you booking up my time with..." She flipped the page and read some more. "...sycophantic meetings. Narcissistic public appearances. Self-congratulatory conferences. Elitist social gatherings! All without my consent! Without consulting me first, and without taking into account what I already have scheduled."

"Oh... You seemed to be enjoying your work here. You pushed hard to be included as part of the relief mission, and you were diligent with the work you've done here. You went above and beyond what I expected of even our most dedicated assistants, so I assumed that you had finally made a decision on what you would be focusing on with your life."

She slammed the book shut and sighed angrily. "You assumed incorrectly. I did genuinely enjoy being a part of your foundation's mission here, but do you know why I really came here? Why I enjoyed this work so much, despite how heart-crushingly depressing it is out there? How utterly helpless the situation seems out there, despite our best efforts?"

Her mother tilted her head in a contentious manner, silent.

She held the book aloft and wiggled it gently. "I came here to... escape from all of this. It is quiet here. Peaceful. I don't have people staring at me, judging me, or holding me to excessive expectations. I don't have people assuming I'm just another member of the selfish wealthy elite, scheming about how I'll burn down an orphanage and make a profit off of it. There is no constant pressure to put 200% effort into every move I make. If I return to Visalia and act as if nothing has changed, that torment will return." She turned over the schedule book in her hands and offered it back. "I am sorry, mother, but this won't do. You'll have to find someone else for this. I have my own life to live, and I can't do that if you are making the decisions for me."

Her mother grabbed the schedule book and ran her finger down the leather cover; her head hung heavy with dejection and her eyebrows slanted upward. "I had no idea you were unhappy at home... What was troubling you that encouraged you to come all this way?"

"You... You really don't pay attention to me, do you..."

"Of course I pay attention to you! We have been working hard together for the past five months, have we not? Has there ever been a day where I did not address your needs?"

"No, you don't pay attention to me. Who I am, not the physical presence that stands in front of you... Your daughter, Kimberly Fairbrooke."

Her mother placed the schedule book on a nearby table and approached. She grabbed her daughter's hand and clasped it between hers. "I'm paying attention now. What is troubling you back at home?"

Kimberly wrestled her hand from her mother's grip and turned around to continue braiding her hair. "Unfortunately I don't have the time to explain the specifics right now, as my train is leaving shortly. All I can say is that... I'd recently gotten the feeling that people don't respect me as much as I'd assumed. Not the people around me, not my friends, not even my own family..." She turned around to address her mother again. "I know you'll be busy for the next few days, but if you're really interested... When you get back home, find my journal in my private study, it'll tell you all about these feelings. Speak to Petyr, as well." She paused. "I stress: my private study only. My journal in my bedroom is off limits."

"I am so sorry if I've made you feel disrespected, Kimberly..."

"Apology accepted. And I likewise apologize if I were a little fiery just now. It's just... I should be the one that's making the decisions that affect my life."

"I understand. I had a similar conversation with your grandmother, when I was your age..." her mother said with a nod. She grabbed the leatherbound schedule book and handed it over again. "Well! I dropped by to see you off and to give you this schedule. If you do change your mind and wish to participate in the organization's meetings and events, you are still welcome to."

Kimberly accepted the schedule book and let out a half-hearted laugh, then embraced her mother in a tight and loving hug.

"I'll see you in Visalia in a couple weeks then, love?"

"We'll see, mother."

"Good luck with your appearances in Aughrim!"

"Thank you."

As her mother took her leave, Kimberly looked at the schedule book, shook her head and returned it to the table her mother had grabbed it from. "I'm not sure if she listened to a single word I said..." A sigh followed; she returned to the bed and lifted not just one, but two bulky suitcases. "Whatever. I have a train to catch..."
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
(6, prologue II)

Wow, chapter 6. What a dense chapter—I think more happened in this chapter than all the others, aside from the interview itself. Not only do we get to the farm, talk with the farmer, get info, and then investigate the cattle feed, but we even get an introduction to the R-Kit, which is probably one of the most phenomenal pieces of tech I’ve seen in this fic so far. Highly advanced indeed!

Small nitpick about it, though: there’s a lot of talk about it being “more powerful” than your average smartphone, but that’s not really a good metric to go by for someone in the tech field. Having better processing power isn’t really the highlight I’d go for; I’d more put emphasis on all the extensions and scanners it has. You don’t necessarily need a gigantic processor for that so much as you’d just need a lot of bonus hardware, so emphasizing that it’s a “super strong computer” so to speak came off as very shallow.

Andrea getting all of these little hints on what’s going wrong, finding the problem with the Miltank, figuring out what was going on with the fungi… It seems too contrived, but at the same time, I feel like you did that on purpose. I’m still of the opinion that this is a long, extended interview—a practical exam, so to speak—and Emily and Patrick knew what was wrong the second they saw the wheat farm. There’s NO way Emily looked at that R-Kit, saw the data, and then said “welp, guess we’re done here” if she was an actual professional.

I mean, granted, this is all pure speculation on my part, but it’s simply too unbelievable that Andrea would see all of these things before trained pros would do it. They found softballs for Andrea to handle, gave her the means to find it if she was up to snuff, and then watched as Andrea actually managed to hit it out of the park. Granted, that’s just the undertone of it all—it seems like they really did uncover something substantial here. So the intrigue that follows from that is definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on…

…until we suddenly find ourselves in the second prologue. Now, granted, I did read the new interlude when you slipped that back in, but even with that, I find myself a little surprised that we're going to this new person right off. I know that there are stories that like to hop between characters, and I'm actually a big fan of that! I'm just surprised it happened after an entire arc was over, rather than, say, interweaving it. Then again, if these are entirely separate narratives that won't be meeting for a while, I can see the reason for the call.

I knew the premise was talking about two women, but I honestly thought Emily was that second woman—and she was secretly royalty or something. But nope, we’re now seeing that other character. Didn’t really know what to make of that prologue beyond that, though. A mother who means well but knows nothing, a daughter who wants to break out and do her own thing… Classic royalty tale is kind of how it feels, so I’m curious what you’ll be doing with it going forward.

Until then, though, thanks for the read~
 
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