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Pokémon The Days of Miracle and Wonder (two-shot)

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
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  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2

The Days of Miracle and Wonder

“The way we look to a distant constellation that’s dying in the corner of the sky.
These are the days of miracle and wonder, and don’t cry, baby, don’t cry.”

-Paul Simon, The Boy in the Bubble

~*~

Part One

~*~​

Thing is, Goldenrod’s a cosmopolitan city. With all the new train lines coming in thanks to the Modernization Act and the constant stream of ships through the harbor, you run into all sorts. This is just to say in my defense, I didn’t find it staggeringly odd that day when I took the subway home from work and couldn’t understand a single word anyone was saying. The conversations washed over me like a load of babble. Foreigners—what can you do? Plenty of people here would call me a foreigner, coming from the mining town of Pewter. Two nations made into one big family since the unification, but it was amazing how landlords could spot a Kantonese drawl a mile away.

I leaned more heavily against the metal pole as the train jerked abruptly into the station, occupying myself with what flavor of bubble tea I was going to purchase on the way home. It’s the little treats that keep you going from day to day, when work means 8:00-8:00 shut down in the smallest basement office of the department store, and life outside of work is, as I scrolled on so many item intake forms—N/A.

As I veered off down the side-street, some murkrow were gossiping loudly on the wires.

“Another miltank-faced bint,” cackled one, and I don’t know what came over me—usually I let this kind of stuff roll off of me like water off a golduck—but I wheeled around and snapped back, “You aren’t exactly lovable-looking yourself, Sweetheart.”

They really weren’t. I’d hardly seen two more disreputable looking samples of the species in my life. Feathers askew, dusted with gray asphalt from some construction site, with beady, mean little eyes that narrowed as they examined me.

Did I normally exchange barbs with passing murkrow? No, I did not, but a difficult day at work will do that to you. I stomped onwards, ignoring the taunts at my rear.

My bubble tea place is easy to miss. It’s tucked between two large buildings and the entrance looks like it was made for the maintenance man. The bell performed its half-hearted jingle as I stepped in, and Aiko looked up from the dating sim she was playing on her phone. Aiko was about my age, somewhere in that swamp of the twenties where the path of ambition narrows from ‘change the world’ to ‘meet monthly rent payments for an overpriced and crumbling flat.’

She was small—small hands, small pointed face, and had a kind of natural drabness that dying her hair a violent red hadn’t been able to mitigate. If anything, the color emphasized her thin, pink-gray lips, and bloodless face. Her heart clearly wasn’t in customer service—she was never rude, but she often seemed lost, humming bars of verse like a sentret at work on a nut. She didn’t look surprised to see me, though. I was predictable enough.

Aiko mumbled something as she stood, and I smiled at her, more broadly than I do at work, maybe out of relief. End of the day, bubble tea, bed. You look forward to things if they’re even a little better than other things, the same way a marble rolls down a slightly tilted floor. It’s not like the marble’s in some kind of hurry to get to the other end, but gravity’s irresistible.

“Hey, I’ll have a matcha freeze with red bean and pudding,” I said.

Aiko’s forehead creased as she stared at me. Shit. Had the menu changed since yesterday? I glanced hurriedly up at the badly laminated wall hanging, but I didn’t see any new corrections scrawled in sharpie.

“हत दिद योउ सय्?” Aiko said. My turn to squint at her in confusion. Not a single syllable had been comprehensible, but something in her intonation told me a question had been asked. “अरे योउ ओकय्?”

“Sorry, what was that?” I said quickly, and this time I listened to myself as I spoke. Sorry what was that. It was exactly what I’d meant to say, but at the same time, it didn’t sound right at all.

I backed out of the boba place and came out into the side-street, my breath heaving.

“You think this is funny?” I demanded of the two murkrow who had been tailing me since our little altercation.

The one to the left, which was slightly bigger and sported a jaunty red string around its stunted tail, tilted its head to the side and croaked, “Yes?”

That’s when it finally sank in that I was actually talking to a pokemon. I stumbled backward, fell hard on my bum, and sat there, as what was hopefully oil run-off stained my pants and the murkrow entered into a fresh fit of hilarity, thinking to myself, “Well, shit.”

~*~​

Eventually I pulled myself together enough to take off towards home, convinced everything would revert to normal once I got in off the streets. I unlatched the front gate, vaulted up the seven floors to my flat, and shut the door behind me, breathing hard. The first thing I did was look into the musty mirror that overhung my small bathroom sink.

I looked . . . normal. Not good, but when did I ever look good? The daring haircut I’d gotten cheap at the hairdresser’s academy was still a bad mistake, with the right side annoyingly long and the left beginning to grow out in irregular tufts, since I hadn’t had the money, will, or time to maintain the close crop there. Acne had once again begun to spring into bloom on my chin and forehead, a field of red, putrescent lumps coming into flower. My nose was too broad, my chin too square, and my eyes were baggy enough to get stopped by the metro police. I don’t think I’d ever describe my face as a relief, but all the same I was glad I hadn’t metamorphosed into some kind of pokemorph like you saw in cheap light novels.

“My name is Po,” I said experimentally to the mirror. (Po being short for Poppo, which meant ‘little bird’ in my parent’s dialect and also meant, in my opinion, that they seriously needed their heads examined.) It was the same as in the boba shop. I knew what I was saying, but the sounds weren’t the right sounds.

There was a scuffling noise outside the window and then a light tap. Reflexively, I removed the grill so Cabbage could poke her head in. The hoothoot had turned up last winter, a small, pathetic mop of feathers huddled in the light well outside my bathroom. I’d let her inside on the days the temperature dipped well below freezing. Other than that, we didn’t have much to do with each other.

Her head swiveled from side to side, harvest moon eyes questing around the room. At last her eyes fell on me.

“I am called Picella,” she said in a tremulous hoot. “My pleasure to formally introduce.”

When my mouth fell open, she clicked her talons together anxiously.

“You-your address was aimed at me? If I offend, I will depart.”

She hopped back onto the sill.

“No, wait,” I blurted out. “Hold on, you thought I was talking to you?”

The hoothoot inflated and deflated with each breath. “I heard Speech . . . It is my mistake. Remiss to interrupt, with gratitude I depart.”

“Hold on.” I squinted hard at the hoothoot, Picella, or whatever she’d said her name was. I’d heard a lot of noises from her in the months since she’d taken up residency in my light well. Normal bird sounds, hoots and screeches. Not a hint of fully formed words. “You can understand me?”

Picella coughed delicately. “Dialect is rough, however meaning is clear. This I do not say to offend.”

“No offense taken,” I said to reassure her, since she seemed one harsh word away from collapsing into a pile of fluff. It hit me that I was probably the closest thing she had to a landlord.

I tried to gentle my tone as I said, “Look, I’m pretty confused. Have you always been able to talk? Or am I just now able to hear you? And how do you know what I’m saying?”

“These answers are above me. Until now, I heard from you no Speech. I have always spoken. Many times, my gratitude I have sung.”

“You’d better come in,” I said. It was one thing to be carrying on a conversation with a pokemon, it seemed another thing altogether to carry on a conversation with a pokemon perched awkwardly on my windowsill. I held out my arm and conveyed her into my cramped little galley kitchen. When I sat down on my stool, we were at least eye-level. Though not really eye-equal. It was amazing to me that such large, bulging eyes could end up on such a small body.

“Is this, uh, usual?” I said, after drawing in a calming breath. “Having a little chat with a human? Is this something that happens all the time?”

Picella tilted her head quizzically. “Not all at. You are very strange. It is known, the Rainbow Guardian took the Speech from your kind. Long ago, very sad. Perhaps upon you the Rainbow Guardian has showered great blessing?”

It wasn’t too hard to guess just what she meant by Rainbow Guardian. Even with its progressive reputation, Goldenrod had its fill of prayer rooms and Ho-oh murals on alley walls. I seriously doubted, though, that Johto’s resident deity had randomly picked me out for some kind of special favor.

“Perhaps,” I said, to humor her. “Any other ideas, though?”

Picella considered this for some time. I kept quiet, half so as not to disturb her, and half because I was just too baffled by the whole situation to say much more. Here I was, waiting on tenterhooks for advice from the hoothoot that up until ten minutes ago I’d called Cabbage on account of the unpleasant odor that wafted in off her wings when the weather turned wet.

“You must seek the Guidance Counselor,” Picella said suddenly, with a note of finality to her voice that hadn’t been there before.

I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. Guidance Counselor. Like those bastards who parachuted into my high school a few years from Saffron or Celadon to nudge us minutely away from the looming dumpster fire of our futures, only to vanish back into the same ether they’d emerged from.

When I’d recovered from my laughing fit, I found Picella eyeing me with clear disapproval.

“Sorry,” I said, “Uh, I get allergies sometimes. Okay, I’ll bite. Who is this guidance counselor and how can they help me?”

Picella sniffed. She was beginning to remind me of my fifth grade teacher, who never came to school without a clean handkerchief, melon sucking candy, and a sun parasol, even at the peak of mudslide season. “The Guidance Counselor is very learned, very wise. All go to him, questions in their heart. He waits by the big water, under the bridge, where the red stick stands. He cures many ills.”

As I considered this, Picella shifted from foot to foot and said suddenly, “Imposition upon your hospitality extreme. Allow me, please, to depart.”

There was an urgency in her squawking tone, so I didn’t argue, just carried her back and set her on the windowsill. I understood what was going on a little better when white goop began to dribble out her behind. I averted my eyes, mumbled “Thanks,” and closed the window hastily.

Curling up in bed, I made a few more tests—calls to the ramen place where I got takeout, to the power company, to the customer service line at work. Each call I heard only gibberish, and clearly I sounded the same to them, because the hang-ups came quickly.

My ability to write, at least, seemed intact. I jabbed out a quick email to my boss:

I will not be able to come in tomorrow on account of my being very sick. I am so sick I have lost my voice. I do not know if I am contagious. Tomorrow I will be seeking consultation on my sickness. I hope to recover soon and return to work.

I congratulated myself for getting all the way through without any real lies. Well, except for the last sentence, but lies like that were the hinge-grease of the world.

After that, I fell asleep. I didn’t have work tomorrow and I had the vague outlines of a plan. Believe me, I’ve fallen asleep to worse.

~*~​

It was a little past nine in the morning when I bolted up in bed, my heart pounding. Rain was falling lightly outside—Goldenrod was entering its rainy season. When I unlocked my phone, it opened onto the message I’d sent off last night.

I stared at it for a moment, then dialed my home number. Everyone would be out at work at this hour, so there wasn’t any risk of them picking up. The phone clicked and I waited expectantly for the familiar answering message.

“भििय, थयगुखभ चभबअजभम तजभ ाभलन जयगकभजयिम। उिभबकभ िभबखभ ब कजयचत फभककबनभ बातभच तजभ तयलभ बलम। . . .”

That was my mother’s voice for sure, but it was distorted into something strange and alien. I knew what she must be saying, but the sounds were completely wrong.

So maybe it hadn’t all been a bad dream, I thought, sinking my head into my pillow. I dressed quickly and set out towards the hospital, wondering if my health insurance plan covered exotic pokemon-speech maladies. It was the tail-end of rush hour and with the rain falling increasingly heavily, no one seemed to be about, not even the murkrow.

When I ducked into the intake room, I was at once surrounded by babble. One of the receptionists caught my eye and said something incomprehensible. I managed a weak smile in return, wondering how the hell I was supposed to even communicate my problem.

Nicking a sheet of paper and a pen from the counter, I scrawled, “I’ve lost my voice. Also, I can’t understand what you’re saying. Can you help?”

I held the paper up to the receptionist, whose eyes went wide. She took the paper from me and wrote, “What language do you speak? We will get a translator.”

As I was pondering just how to answer that, someone bumped into me.

“Holding up the line, for shame,” the big pink thing muttered darkly as it pushed past.

I was so relieved to hear something intelligible that I spoke without thinking. “Hey, wait!”

The chansey wheeled around, frowning. Its small eyes narrowed as it scanned the room.

“I was wondering if you—”

Before I could even finish, the chansey had grabbed me by the hand and led me through the revolving doors out into the hallway. It marched us past rows of offices, pushed into the stairwell, and finally turned to face me.

“What are you playing at?” it snapped. “A ditto, are you? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to play at being human? Don’t go thinking they won’t find you out. They will, and the instant they do, it’s prison for life, my friend.”

I blinked, thoroughly dazed. For some reason all I could think was that chanseys had always sounded quite pleasant to me. People played their lullabies for small babies and things. But this chansey had a voice like nails on a chalkboard.

“No,” I managed to say. “You don’t understand. I’m a human. I’m just—”

I trailed off as the chansey crossed its stubby arms, its gaze skeptical. “A human, huh? How come you couldn’t understand the other humans, then? How come you’re talking to me right now?”

“That’s just what I’m trying to figure out!” I was shouting now, my voice echoing through the stairwell. “I don’t know how I got like this. I need help.”

Help! my tinny echo chimed in.

The chansey stared. Then it began to poke and prod at me, squeezing my arms, heaving itself closer to give my pulse a listen. The egg on its belly lit up with a glow that spread through its body, down its arms to the point where the two of us were in contact. When it reached my skin, the light fizzled and died.

“Huh,” the chansey said. “You’re a human.”

My breath came out a relieved whistle through my nose. “Exactly. That’s exactly what I was trying to tell you. So what’s the diagnosis? Is there a way you can tell the nurse . . .”

I faltered again in the face of the chansey’s gimlet-eyed stare.

“You should leave. Immediately.”

“What?” My voice leaped an octave in indignation. “Hey, what gives, you’re a chansey! You’re supposed to help me.”

“I am helping you,” the chansey said seriously. “My advice is get away before you’re noticed. Nothing good happens to hybrids here.”

Something in her tone made me shiver. I didn’t think I wanted to find out what ‘nothing good’ meant. Still, I held my ground, reluctant to leave without getting any answers. “If a hospital can’t help me, who can?”

“There’s one who solves problems and heals ails,” said the chansey reluctantly. “But you’re not his responsibility.”

“Are you talking about the Guidance Counselor?”

It was a complete stab in the dark, but the chansey’s face went slack and then furious. “How do you know about the Guidance Counselor?” it demanded, pressing uncomfortably close. “He’s not for your sort to know.”

I backed away, unsure of how to handle the suddenly enraged chansey. “A f-friend mentioned him. In passing.” Was Picella the hoothoot a friend? It was the sort of existential question I didn’t have any brain-space free to tackle. “Thanks for the advice,” I told the chansey and lit it down the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time.

I was panting as I pushed back into the wet, open air. Had I really just dashed out of the hospital like that chansey was a horde of beedrill? I glanced dubiously back at the building. Nothing good happens to hybrids, huh . . .

No, I didn’t think I wanted to give the hospital a second go.

That seemed to leave only one option—Picella’s mysterious Guidance Counselor. Whoever that was and whatever that meant.

When the street split, I headed left, in the direction of the wharf. I’d thought my morning couldn’t get much worse, but at that moment I noticed the damn murkrow were back, watching me from a nearby phone line.

“It’s the freak!” one chortled. “Where are you going, Freak?”

“Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?” I muttered, keeping my head ducked low, so that I didn’t look like I was having an argument with a couple of birds. After what that chansey had said, I didn’t want to attract any attention.

“No!” they answered in unison.

Figured.

~*~​

The wharf was crowded as always. The morning ships were still being unloaded and tourists were flocking to the chowder stores that lined the strip. I cut through the mob towards what I suspected to be Picella’s “red stick.” It was an old flagpole, the paint chipped but still recognizably red, rising up from the rocks that led down into the water.

At the pole, I hesitated. A dock stretched out to my left. Could that be Picella’s “bridge”? I picked my way slowly down the rocks, watching the waves wash in and out.

“Hey,” I said to the murkrow, who had quieted down as we approached the red pole. “Is this the right way?”

I didn’t expect a helpful answer, just more taunting, so I was surprised when I heard, croaked out behind me, “Yes.”

So down it was. The rocks became larger and harder to scramble between. I was half-expecting someone to stop my descent, but that was the one thing you could count on in Goldenrod—other people’s apathy.

The dock was over my head now and the water was worryingly close. But as I craned my head left, I saw that the rocks smoothed out into a kind of shore, which rose inwards towards a cavernous opening. Cautiously, I made my way inside.

The cave was spacious and surprisingly dry, despite the intensely salty smell of the ocean. The floor sloped steeply upwards, narrowing into a thin corridor. At the end of it, long strips of seaweed hung from the ceiling, like a crudely made curtain.

“Um,” I said, the rocky sand crunching under my feet as I stepped closer. “Hello?”

A pang of doubt hit me, as I remembered the chansey’s extreme reaction. This place had a secretive, secluded feel. If I wasn’t supposed to be here . . .

“You may enter.”

The voice came from behind the seaweed curtain. It was low and deep, with a slow, ponderous intonation. Drawing in a breath, I pushed aside the dried-out seaweed and stepped through.

The gigantic slowking standing inside the room blinked at me. “Oh,” he said. “Very interesting.”

I’d seen pictures of slowking before, obviously, but the pictures hadn’t fully conveyed how big the thing was. It towered over me, at least seven feet tall. (Though to be fair, a few feet of height were coming from the giant shell that adorned its head like a turban.) Its skin was a rosy pink and had a moist, hydrated look that wouldn’t be out of place in a skin lotion commercial. A jingle formed irresistibly in my mind, “Slowking lotion! Treat your skin like royalty.” I pressed my hand over my mouth before I could let out a completely inappropriate giggle.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, when I thought I had my hysteria under control. The slowking hadn’t said anything since its initial exclamation, watching me calmly with pupils that swum in the enormous whites of its eyes. I wondered if something more formal was required from me, like a bow. It hit me that I could have brought Picella along. She might have served as a kind of character reference—like hey, this human’s not entirely an asshole!

“Well met,” rumbled the slowking finally. “Your kind is not, as a rule, welcome here. However, you appear to be the walking definition of an exception.”

His speech had a slow, rhythmic quality that reminded me of waves. The effect was soothing and I felt my breathing slow in response.

“Right,” I said. A lot of questions had bubbled up in my head as he spoke. Namely, who are you and what exactly do you do? But I decided to stick to the matter at hand. “Well, to state the obvious, I am a human. But I’m also, uh, talking to you. I guess my problem’s pretty clear.”

I felt like an idiot after making that little speech, but the slowking nodded.

“The manifestation is clear. The cause not immediately so. Have you interacted recently with any powerful psychic?” When I shook my head, a visible frown emerged on his face. “Strange. The power needed to re-scramble the language centers of the brain is great. The knowledge needed is also great.” He fell silent for a moment and then asked, “Have you interacted recently with an object of great power or of holy origin?”

And that’s when it hit me, like the roof of a collapsing mine-shaft.

~*~​

Maybe now’s a good time to explain what exactly I spend my time doing. My official title is Curio Evaluation Associate. See, people sell all sorts of things to the Goldenrod department store. There’s a dark little corner on the first sub-level floor where they’ll take almost anything at a bulk price. What’s sold there eventually makes its way further down to my office. We’re the first, low-level pass, sorting between the obvious junk and the stuff that might have a hint of value. Everything gets logged, filed, and recorded.

As I stood in that cave, trying to close my nose against the increasing pervasive smell of seaweed, the memory of the silver wing came back to me. It had been heavier than the usual plastic trinkets, and sharper. I’d cut myself against its edge, in fact. Filling out the intake form, I’d hesitated over what to mark down for the material. The weight, sharpness, and coolness suggested metal, but the smell hadn’t been metallic at all. At the time, I couldn't put my finger on what it smelled like, but standing here it was suddenly clear.

That feather had smelled like the bottom of the sea.

Look, maybe I sound really dense relating this. Of course it was the mysterious silver feather! How could you not put the dots together sooner? Well, when you spend all your time shifting through junk, the idea there’s value in it stops occurring to you after a while. It’s as simple as that.

A cool draft snaked in off the sea, and I shivered. “Um,” I said slowly, “would a silver wing that may or may not have been the genuine article count as ‘something holy’?”

The slowking’s eyes widened, his tiny pupils shrinking to pinpricks. “A feather from the Silver Guardian herself?” he whispered. “Present it to me, at once!”

His voice was loud now, shouting. I felt it on the inside of my head as well as the outside.

“S-sorry, I can't. I don't have it. It's just something I handled briefly at work.”

The slowking closed his eyes. Maybe he was counting to ten or something, though that's never worked well for me. I’d gotten to fourteen seconds in my own head, when he said, “You must obtain the feather. Present it to me, and I will be able to divine the origin of your malady, and its cure.”

I blinked. Simple enough, except—“I told you, it's at my work. And like this—I can't understand other people and they can't understand me. There's no way I could get it in this state.”

My heart sank as I spoke, thinking back to my complete helplessness in the intake room. I was trying to game it out in my mind, but there was no way to get to the wing without talking to somebody.

“That is a difficulty,” said the slowking. “But difficulties can be surmounted. Return to me at the close of the day.”

Then he shut his mouth like, that’s it. The oracle has spoken. I scrambled back up the rocks, relieved to escape the smell of seaweed.

I wasted the rest of the day doing lame, touristy things around the wharf and eavesdropping on the pokemon. A wingull was taunting a flaaffy in an accent so thick I couldn’t make out the words. The flaaffy clearly could, though, because she was swearing up a storm in response. That pink fluff-ball had the foulest mouth I’d ever encountered, human or pokemon. Her trainer was a preppy looking girl, who chattered with her friends, completely oblivious to the filth the flaaffy at her feet was spewing.

The pokemon didn’t devote much conversational time to what I thought of as the three pillars of conversation in Goldenrod: fashion, celebrities, and tournaments. But they flirted, boasted, and teased each other, and in the later afternoon, I came across a forretress and an electrode locked in an oddly intense discussion of what came after death.

A few times, I caught sight of the murkrow from earlier perched on the roof of the chowder shack or some ship’s rigging. They were clearly watching me, but they kept their distance. When the light began to weaken and the harbor began to clear, I set back off towards the rocks.

“You have arrived.” The slowking’s voice boomed out before I’d even pulled back the seaweed curtain. “Good. We have been waiting.”

The Guidance Counselor wasn’t alone this time. A small kadabra stood at his side. Its tail was almost entirely covered in strange markings.

“This is Zahnan,” the Guidance Counselor said. “He will aid you in retrieving the silver wing.”

I may not know much about pokemon, but even I could figure out that having a psychic pokemon on my side would be a significant advantage.

“Awesome!” I said. My voice was a little hoarse from disuse after a day of listening. “My name’s Po. Nice to meet you.”

I was just trying to be polite, but the glare the kadabra gave me communicated with extreme clarity that he did not find it nice to meet me. Without answering, he waddled past me and out into the cave. I followed, keeping my pace slow enough not to overtake him. From this angle, I could get a better look at the markings on his tail. They were small pictographs, dyed into the tail fur like tattoos. The only one I could immediately identify looked like a spoon bent beneath a feather.

“Enjoying yourself?” the kadabra asked icily. I’d come almost to a stop craning my head to examine his tail. His voice was thin and nasally and seemed to come from somewhere inside my head.

“Sorry.” The apology was reflexive, though I didn’t know what I was apologizing for. “I didn’t know pokemon got tattoos.”

“Of course you didn’t. As a human, your basic state is ignorance.”

The nastiness in his tone seemed entirely uncalled for, but I decided to let it go, since he was the one helping me. When we reached the rocks, Zahnan lifted himself to the top of the incline in one movement, leaving me to scramble up the rocks. His glare seemed a little less icy when I finally reached the top, panting heavily.

Egoistic ass, I thought to myself. I was pretty sure it was my struggling that had improved his mood.

“Where to?” the kadabra asked. And when I blinked in confusion, he added impatiently, “Where is the silver wing held? Lead on, human.”

“You want to go right now?”

I shouldn’t have been caught so off-guard by the idea. It was only a little past 6:00 and the department store wouldn’t fully shut down until midnight. My boss always ducked out promptly at 5:00, so there wasn’t much risk that I’d run into him if we went now.

“Of course. There’s no point prolonging this.”

So we set off into the streets. Somewhat from spite, I upped my pace, forcing the kadabra into an ungainly waddle as he tried to keep up. It was only when we stopped at a street light and I caught the heaviness of his breath that I realized I was being as much a jerk as he had been at the rocks.

“So,” I said, as we crossed the intersection, “I get the sense you don’t like humans very much. Is there a reason you’re helping me?”

“Two,” spat out Zahnan. “Though the premise of your question is incorrect. I am not helping you. First, I am helping the Guidance Counselor, who has asked this favor of me. Second, I am helping the Silver Guardian, who must be shamed to have her relic fallen into human hands.”

It wasn’t an answer that invited further questions, so I kept my mouth zipped shut as we rode the subway and covered the three blocks from the station to the department store.

“To get the wing, I’m going to have to requisition it from Inventory. Which would mean talking. I’m guessing you can help with that?”

What do you think?” the kadabra shot back, in a snide voice that sounded . . . an awful lot like mine. It was jarring, like hearing yourself recorded on the answering machine.

“Cool talent,” I managed after a moment. And then I told him what exactly he needed to say.

~*~​

The woman at Inventory didn’t notice Zahnan, crouched moodily on the floor. She hardly noticed me—her eyes were fixed firmly on the clock, counting down the minutes until the workday ended. Luckily, I had been able to remember the right requisition number on my first try. All that time I’d spent puzzling over the wing’s material components hadn’t been entirely wasted. Zahnan communicated the corporatese excuse I’d thought up about quality control auditing, while I tried to make my mouth look like it was moving. I scrawled my signature on the form, and after eight tense minutes a generic-looking white box was thrust into my hands. I lifted the top, just to make sure there hadn’t been a mix-up. And there it was—gleaming silver in the cheap fluorescent lighting. Brine and kelp entered my nostrils when I inhaled.

In the elevator, I touched the wing, expecting something to happen. It was just as cool as I remembered. Other than that, I didn’t notice anything strange. The wing didn’t light up or move around in my hands.

“Can you still understand me?” I asked Zahnan experimentally.

Zahnan rolled his eyes, not moving his gaze from the wing where it rested on my palms, “Of course I can. You didn’t really think it would be that easy?”

I could tell my holding the wing bothered Zahnan, but I wasn’t going to let the only hope of regaining my speech out of my grip just to allay his hurt feelings. I kept the box clutched close to my chest as we made our way back to the Guidance Counselor’s cave.

By now it was past sunset. The harbor had fewer street-lights than the downtown did and I found myself standing uncertainly over the rocky incline, which seemed steeper and more threatening in the moonlight. The surfaces of the rocks gleamed and ran into each other in the silvery light, like they were an extension of the water waiting below. Zahnan vaulted himself down at once, and when I didn’t immediately follow, I felt a force edge me forward.

“Stop that!” I snapped. “I’m coming.”

The white box containing the wing made the descent even trickier, since I only had one good hand to maneuver with. Still, you couldn’t have paid me to ask Zahnan for help getting down. I wondered, as I climbed, whether my requisition would have any consequences. But if they’d had any idea that item 55708 was the genuine article, there was no way it would have been released so easily. As long as there wasn’t some surprise audit, I doubted anyone would even notice the item was missing.

“Finally,” huffed Zahnan, when I eased myself gingerly down from the last rock.

I held my breath as I offered the white box to the Guidance Counselor. He didn’t lift his arms, but the box floated out of my grip. The silver wing rose into the air as the box fell to the sandy cave floor. The slowking made a complicated gesture, not a bow, really—he extended his arms in a scooping motion and his head followed his arms to curl inwards and then out, like an offering.

Next to me, I heard Zahnan let out a small sigh. The slowking’s eyes were closed now, in what seemed like deep concentration, so I kept myself quiet, trying to prevent my breath from whistling out nervously. The cave was cold from the night breeze coming in off the sea and I found myself beginning to shiver in my light jacket.

“This is indeed a feather from She Who Watches the Waters, the Silver Guardian Lugia,” the slowking said at last, in a solemn voice. That had seemed a foregone conclusion by this point, but all the same I couldn’t stop my shiver—not from the cold this time—at the words. I’d never thought much about Johto’s twin birds. If we’d prayed to anyone back home in Pewter, it had been the CEOs in Saffron city, those technology gods who sent us ever-safer excavators, roof bolters, and scoops. But I couldn’t ignore the way Zahnan was looking at the feather. The hand that held his spoon was lightly trembling.

“What now,” I said after a minute. I didn’t want to break the mood, but the cave wasn’t getting any warmer and answers didn’t seem to be forthcoming on their own.

The Guidance Counselor blinked slowly at me, like he was just now remembering I existed. “In the same way that a conch shell carries the cry of the sea, each silver wing of Lugia calls out to be returned to her. This message must have entered your unheeding ears. But so great is the power of Lugia that your mind was made to understand.”

All that time I’d turned the feather over in my hands, the thing had been trying to talk to me? It sure wasn’t saying anything now.

“So what do I need to do to get back to normal?”

“The compulsion should cease once you have returned it to its source,” said the Guidance Counselor.

“Hang on, “ I said, “Once I have returned it to its source? What do you mean by that?”

Both pokemon looked at me like I was extremely slow.

“Once you’ve returned to the Silver Guardian what your kind took from the Silver Guardian,” Zahnan said impatiently.

“You’re saying I need to bring this feather to Lugia myself?” Neither of them laughed and said, ‘Of course not, silly human’, so I continued, “because that plan has some serious flaws. The main one being that Lugia is a mythic pokemon that lives somewhere in the bottom of the ocean? Can’t exactly stop by and slip the wing through the mailbox, you know?”

I could hear my voice starting to edge into hysteria.

“The wing will guide you,” the slowking said, seeming unruffled by my outburst. “And you will not need to go alone.”

There were a number of things I wanted to say in response. You’re crazy topped the charts. Also, it’s not fair. You realize I represent the very lowest rung of the corporate hierarchy, don’t you? It’s a complete coincidence I ended up handling this wing. I don’t know where it came from and I’m certainly not responsible for it being here, rather than wherever it’s supposed to be.

Also, I hate boats.

But I didn’t say any of that. The smell of kelp was clogging my nostrils, I was cold all the way through, and both the Guidance Counselor and Zahnan were looking at me expectantly. In a strange way, the silver wing seemed to be looking too.

“Okay,” I said into the widening silence. “What, exactly, do I need to do?”

~*~​
 
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Adamhuarts

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The premise for this fic is pretty interesting and I found myself having a good time reading through the whole thing. The idea that it was the greater legendary pokemon that took away the power to understand pokemon is amusing, though it begs the question as to why they did so. I'm not gonna get into the possible issues with the implication here that pokemon are as smart as humans yet play a subservient role to them.

It was funny seeing the protagonist (whose name I quickly forgot. Happens every time I read a first pov fic) realizing he can talk to pokemon out of nowhere. Poor guy was just doing his job and ended up with this odd curse to play errand boy and return the wing. Makes me wonder why the curse didn't afflict whoever had brought the wing to his workplace to begin with.

I hope all the answers will be revealed in the next chapter since this is a two shot. Until then, have fun writing.
 
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WildBoots

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That narrator and tone in this are spot-on. Very compelling! Really enjoyed the interactions between Po and all of the pokemon, his flustered reaction at the end. Ought to be interesting to see how this reverse-fetch quest plays out! So many developments in a relatively tight space here, in a good way.

hanks to the Modernization Act
👀 Does this mesh with your big Tohjo unification arc?

life outside of work is, as I scrolled on so many item intake forms—N/A.
Strong Kafka's Metamorphosis vibes.

I heard the bell perform its half-hearted jingle
Would cut to "the bell's half-hearted jingle."

Aiko was about my age, somewhere in that swamp of the twenties where the path of ambition narrows from ‘change the world’ to ‘meet monthly rent payments for an overpriced and crumbling flat.’
I'm tagged in this picture and I don't like it. Loved the description of Aiko in the following paragraph -- really suits the tone -- but I wondered if the story wants to spend that much time focusing on her. Is she coming up again later?

“हत दिद योउ सय्?” Aiko said.
What a fun way to handle it! But, yeah, another reason to post here instead of FFN. I don't know what formatting options you'll have to choose from there.

convinced everything would revert to normal once I got in off the streets.
This is potentially a moment that could be expanded a little, that mental dance of insisting to yourself a thing you need to believe even as it becomes increasingly hard to sustain that belief.

my eyes were baggy enough to get stopped by the metro police
This one tripped me up.

“I am called Picella,” she said in a tremulous hoot.
Love this name. And also the dichotomy between the goofy name he gave her and the name she uses for herself. 👌 And her oddly formal but sweet speech pattern!

even with its progressive reputation, Goldenrod had its fill of prayer rooms and Ho-oh murals on alley walls.
Nice bit of world-building.

“What are you playing at?” it snapped. “A ditto, are you? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to play at being human? Don’t go thinking they won’t find you out. They will, and the instant they do, it’s prison for life, my friend.”
This is a fun encounter.

the sort of existential question I didn’t have the brain-cells free to tackle
Suggestion: I didn't have enough brain-cells to tackle.

had I really just beelined out of a hospital like that chansey was a horde of beedrill?
I'm not into the doubling up on bees here.

When the street split, I head left, in the direction of the wharf.
*headed

tourists were flocking to the chowder stories that lined the strip.
*stores?

that was the one thing you could count on in Goldenrod—other people’s apathy.
Sensing a theme. Again, very Kafka. And we can already see Po's "malady" forcing him to be less apathetic to, if no one else, Pincella.

*turban).

watching me calmly with the enormous whites of its eyes.
This feels misplaced. No vision sensors in the sclera!

She might have served as a kind of character reference—like hey, this human’s not entirely an asshole!
Except, oops, still mostly thinking of her for his own utility.

And that’s when it hit me, like a collapsing mine-shaft.
I like the violent change evoked by that image, but collapse seems to be at odds with it hit me.

where they’ll take almost anything at a bulk price.
Oh is this how you can sell almost anything in the games? Hahaha.

Of course it was the mysterious silver feather! How could you not put the dots together sooner? Well, when you spend all your time shifting through junk, the idea there’s value in it stops occurring to you after a while. It’s as simple as that.
Something about the language here reminds me very strongly of Murakami's short fiction!

But they flirted, boasted, and teased each other, and in the later afternoon, I came across a forretress and an electrode locked in an oddly intense discussion of what came after death.
This is great.

What do you think?” the kadabra shot back, in a snide voice that sounded . . . an awful lot like mine. It was jarring, like hearing yourself recorded on the answering machine.
Woah!

while I tried to make my mouth look like it was moving.
(Watermelon, watermelon.) I bet that looks real unsettling. Good thing people seem to pay so little real attention to each other in this setting.

If we’d prayed to anyone back home in Pewter, it had been the CEOs in Saffron city, those technology gods who sent us ever-safer excavators, roof bolters, and scoops.
Nice!
 
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Virgil134

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Ohai, here to review chapter 1 as part of Catnip Circle.

It’s the little treats that keep you going from day to day, when work means 8:00-8:00 shut down in the smallest basement office of the department store, and life outside of work is, as I scrolled on so many item intake forms—N/A.

Yikes. Seems like our protagonist has a rough daily life.

That’s when it finally sank in that I was actually talking to a pokemon. I stumbled backward, fell hard on my bum, and sat there, as what was hopefully oil run-off stained my pants and the murkrow entered into a fresh fit of hilarity, thinking to myself, “Well, shit.”

10 Signs You’re Heading For A Burnout

but all the same I was glad I hadn’t metamorphosed into some kind of pokemorph like you saw in cheap light novels.



Po being short for Poppo, which meant ‘little bird’ in my parent’s dialect and also meant, in my opinion, that they seriously needed their heads examined.

Just be glad they didn’t name you after the Teletubby.

“I am called Picella,” she said in a tremulous hoot. “My pleasure to formally introduce.”

When my mouth fell open, she clicked her talons together anxiously.

“You-your address was aimed at me? If I offend, I will depart.”

Heh, I like the way Picella speaks. She seems like a fun character.

Picella tilted her head quizzically. “Not all at. You are very strange. It is known, the Rainbow Guardian took the Speech from your kind. Long ago, very sad.

Interesting bit of worldbuilding here, though I wonder if it’s something that’s actually true or just something Picella and some other Pokémon believe.

“The Guidance Counselor is very learned, very wise. All go to him, questions in the heart . He waits by the big water, under the bridge, where the red stick stands. He cures many ills.”

Gee, thanks for the very specific instructions Picella. Should be a breeze for Po to track him down now.

“I am helping you,” the chansey said seriously. “My advice is get away before you’re noticed. Nothing good happens to hybrids here.”

Chansey: “You’re a Ditto.”
Po: “I’m actually a human.”
Chansey: “You’re not.”
Po: “I am.”
Chansey: “Okay, I believe you.”
Po: “Wait, really?”
Chansey: “No, you’re a hybrid.”
Po:


I didn’t expect a helpful answer, just more taunting, so I was surprised when I heard, croaked out behind me, “Yes.”

Given how these Murkrow have been so far I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be some sort of prank.

A cool draft snaked in off the sea, and I shivered. “Um,” I said slowly, “would a silver wing that may or may not have been the genuine article count as ‘something holy’?”

No prank it seems! Though I’m not sure how handling one of Lugia’s feathers would cause this to happen, but I guess I’ll wait and see.

Egoistic ass, I thought to myself.

My thoughts exactly!

“I get the sense you don’t like humans very much. Is there a reason you’re helping me?”

“Two,” spat out Zahnan. “Though the premise of your question is incorrect. I am not helping you. First, I am helping the Guidance Counselor, who has asked this favor of me. Second, I am helping the Silver Guardian, who must be shamed to have her relic fallen into human hands.”

> Dislikes humans
> Lives in a large human city
Zahnan: “I see nothing wrong with this.”

Alright, looks like getting the feather back went easier than expected. Next part will be about returning the feather to Lugia, huh? I think that could potentially be fun, especially with a partner like Zahnan (someone should take him down a peg lol).

Though I will remark on how outside of Picella every Pokémon in the fic seems to be a complete asshole. Even the Slowking seemed neutral at best. Not sure if Po has just been having luck or if there’s something else at play here. Also I am still not sure how or even why handling a Lugia feather would cause all of this. I’d imagine Lugia has lost plenty of feathers over the ages like most birds and I doubt this happened to every human who picked up one. This whole “return what your kind took from the Silver Guardian” seems a bit strange and almost a bit too unfair, so I hope there’s more to it.

Anyway, I still thought this first chapter was entertaining! Even if it’s a bit different from what I usually read.
 

Pen

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Part Two

“Uh, Picella? You there?”

I tapped the windowpane lightly. It was a dreary, overcast morning; water dripped despondently in the light-well.

“Morning salutations!” came the answering hoot.

Picella hopped onto the windowsill and watched curiously as I set to work combing my hair. Her own feathers were slicked down from the damp. I fought the impulse to offer her my blow dryer

“So,” I began, when my brain failed to produce some adroit phrase that would ease me gently into the subject, “so I went to see the Guidance Counselor like you said. Turns out, I accidentally touched a silver wing. You know, one of Lugia’s feathers? So now I have to go bring it back. To Lugia. Uh. I was wondering if you wanted to come.”

Picella froze. Since she was in the process of shifting her weight from one talon to the other, this almost sent her toppling into the light-well. I caught her just as she slipped backwards and set her down on the edge of the sink. Her body was surprisingly light.

“You go to see the Silver Guardian beneath the waves?” she inquired tremulously.

“That seems to be the long and short of it,” I said. “Yeah. Do you want to come?”

The Guidance Counselor had instructed me to find a ship heading to the Whirl Islands. From there I would be led by a guide. He wished he could come himself and witness the glory of Lugia a second time, but his duties here could not be abandoned. I was welcome, of course, to bring along other companions.

At that, Zahnan had stared at me meaningfully. I made a show of obliviousness as we left the cave, but eventually I gave in. Bad attitude or not, I’d rather be up one psychic pokemon than not.

“Fine. You can come.”

“I shall meet you at the harbor, no later than the third hour after sunrise,” said the kadabra. The instant he’d finished speaking he vaulted himself up the rocks, as if he couldn’t bear to spend another second in my presence. That was when I’d gotten the idea to invite Picella, who at least seemed to find me inoffensive.

“Me, see the Silver Guardian?” piped Picella. “Oh, but that would not accord. That would not at all accord.” Catching my frown, she fluttered her wings nervously and made an attempt at an explanation. “My kind are bound to the Rainbow Guardian, may he live forever. Long ago, he touched the first of us with holy fire, gave to us clear sight and perfect counting.”

“You can’t go meet Lugia, because you’re bound to Ho-oh?” I said, trying to assemble her words into something sensible. But my rephrasing offended her.

“Not can’t. It does not accord.”

With a flutter-hop she retreated into the light-well, where she began to preen aggressively. I knew a dismissal when I saw one, so I pulled the creaking window shut and let out a sigh. Another person alienated. Good going, Po.

It was almost nine already. I wasn’t sure when exactly sunrise had been, so I decided I’d better get a move on. If there was any room for Zahnan’s opinion of me to sink lower, arriving late would definitely do the trick. Maybe the opinion of a cranky kadabra shouldn’t have meant much to me, but at the moment it was all I had.

Before leaving, I checked my backpack one last time just to make sure the silver wing hadn’t vanished mysteriously in the night. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it had. But the wing was right where I’d left it, glinting faintly in the morning haze. When I stepped outside I had a moment of deja-vu. There the murkrow were, waiting for me. Actually, no. Just a single murkrow stood there, the smaller of the two, the one without the flashy red band around its tail.

It flapped after me as I set off down the street. “Do you really have a silver wing?”

Every fact I knew about murkrow and shiny objects bubbled up in my mind. I narrowed my eyes and said, “None of your business.”

The murkrow persisted. “Are you really going to see the Silver Guardian?”

“Again,” I said, “what business is it of yours?”

Silence from behind me. I walked on, congratulating myself for dispatching the troublemaker, when its voice unexpectedly rasped, “Because I want to come.”

I stopped. “Definitely not.”

The murkrow hopped forward. It must have found some water to bathe in, because the dusty asphalt was finally gone from its feathers. Its beady eyes were fixed intently on my face.

Feeling more emphasis was needed, I said, “No, you cannot come. First, because I don’t like you. Second because I don’t trust you. And why do you want to come, anyway? If you’re thinking about swiping the silver wing, you can think again, Mister.”

I hadn’t realized a murkrow could look hurt. But its whole face seemed to crumple and its misshapen tail drooped. “Wrong to steal from the Silver Guardian,” the murkrow said in a hushed voice, almost angrily. “Anyone does that, I peck out their eyes.”

My gaze fell on its beak, which I couldn’t help but notice was disproportionately large and sharp and gleaming. It looked capable of doing some serious damage to innocent and squishy eye-sockets. “Well, I haven’t stolen anything,” I said loudly. “And if you have any respect for the Silver Guardian at all, you should let me get on with my business without badgering me.”

“I would like to meet the Silver Guardian.” The murkrow hopped closer. “Please, I would like to meet the Silver Guardian.”

I don’t know which caught me more by surprise—the ‘please’, which I hadn’t thought existed in a murkrow’s vocabulary, or the way its droopy tail and bright eyes reminded me suddenly of the kids back home, who would pick a pocket as easy as breathing but would never touch the coin purses of folks widowed by the mines.

“I guess you can come,” I said slowly. “If you really want to.”

The murkrow didn’t say thank you. If it had, I probably would have expired on the spot. But it trailed me in silence all the way to the harbor, where Zahnan was waiting by the red flagpole, his foot tapping impatiently against the ground.

“Really?” he said, when he’d taken a glance at my new companion. “The choice to bring anyone, and you go with scum like that?”

The murkrow hissed, an ugly look in its red eyes. I held up my hands hastily. “Look, we don’t want to fight. We’ve got a mission to focus on.”

“Correct,” said Zahnan, giving the murkrow a last disgusted glance before appearing to write it out of his mental universe. “I have located the ship.”

The ‘ship’ was further up the harbor, a beat-up contraption headlined by a sign advertising “Trip to The Whirl Islands! Witness the Mysterious Unplumbed Depths of Johto! Rumored Home of Lugia, Queen of the Sea!”

“In a tin can like that, sure we’re not going to be witnessing those mysterious depths up close?” I muttered to Zahnan. His expression didn’t change, but behind us the murkrow let out a quick cackle.

“It’s not ideal, but this is the only correct ship,” Zahnan muttered back. “Prepare the payment. It departs in fifteen minutes.”

We joined a lackluster queue and I reluctantly paid for a ticket, including the fee to bring aboard Zahnan and the murkrow. Everyone headed straight below deck to escape the chilly wind rising off the water. I wasn’t loving the weather either, but at least up here I could talk to Zahnan without attracting any weird looks. And I had some questions for him.

“Do you know who this guide is?” I asked Zahnan, when the crowd had thinned out. “How will they know to meet us? I’m assuming we’re talking about a water-type?”

“I don’t know the details,” he answered with an irritated flick of his whiskers. “Trust the Guidance Counselor. He will have thought this through.” And when I looked skeptical, he added, “This is bigger than your little speech problem, you know. It’s a divine matter. The Guidance Counselor will have thought it through.”

He must have really believed that, to say the same words twice.

Before I could voice any further doubts, he lowered his head and intoned, “Silver Guardian, You Who Dwell Beneath the Waves. We seek passage over your waters. Calm the sea of your heart and grant upon us safe travel.”

Perched on the railing, the murkrow muttered the same words. Both pokemon turned expectantly to me.

“You want me to say that too?” It had sounded like a prayer, and I didn’t think much of prayers. In my opinion, there were better ways to waste your breath. “Look, really? You know, if Lugia could hear what we’re saying right here, we wouldn’t have to go all this way to see her, now would we? Could just say, ‘Hey, Lugia, we’ve got your feather. Pop on over and claim it!’”

Zahnan’s expression was unamused. Not a whisker twitched on his cold, stony face. The murkrow also seemed uncharacteristically serious as it regarded me.

I lifted my arms in surrender, recognizing that I was outvoted. “Okay, okay . . . Oh, uh, Silver Guardian Beneath the Waves, grant us safe passage over your waters. Calm the sea of your heart. Happy?”

But weirdly enough, I did feel better for saying it. The creak of the wood seemed a little less worrisome and the choppy whites of the waves a little less threatening.

Still, the bobbing boat was bringing me back to my first journey, from Vermillion to Goldenrod. I hadn’t gone below deck once, keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon in anticipation of the golden future waiting for me. It was viscerally unpleasant to remember how excited I’d been. Sourness welled up in my mouth, and not from sea-sickness.

“So why do you hate humans?” I said to Zahnan, wrenching my eyes away from the water. I was looking for a quarrel—anything to postpone my unwilling trip down memory lane.

“I do not hate,” Zahnan answered in his controlled, nasally voice. “I attribute to humans the respect they attribute to others, which is zero.”

When he fell silent, I thought that was all I was going to get, but he spoke up again a moment later, like he was attempting to brush away an insistent bug. “Picture, if you will, a young abra, very naive. This abra grows up in the outskirts of Goldenrod City and nurtures all kinds of dreams. Now one day a human comes by the alleyway this abra calls home, advertising a fighting hall. The abra hears how in this hall great fighters meet in honorable battle and even the weakest pokemon may become powerful and renowned through hard work.” Zahnan fell silent for a moment. “Doubtless you are laughing at this naive abra, who believed everything he was told.”

I wasn’t watching the waves anymore, just Zahnan’s unnaturally still face.

“I’m not laughing,” I said quietly.

Zahnan studied me suspiciously, as if to confirm that I wasn’t secretly fighting back hilarity. My silence must have satisfied him, since he spoke up again after a moment.

“The abra was so impressed by all this nonsense that he walked right through the front doors and asked to join. The humans there were all smiles and the abra felt very pleased indeed, at least until he found himself locked suddenly in a pokeball. When he emerged, it was onto the field of battle, facing an enraged tauros. The abra regained his wits in time to teleport out of the tauros’ path, but he had little endurance, and after the fifth time he realized that his mind and body were simply too exhausted to move him out of the way. He was struck head-on by the tauros . . .” Zahnan hesitated. “This was unpleasant.”

The way he said it made me suspect that ‘unpleasant’ was an understatement fraudulent enough to be criminally liable.

“The humans patched him back up. They were reliable in this way. He attempted to communicate that he would require training to face an opponent like the tauros, but they ignored his pleas and stuck him back into the capture device before he could say another word. This cycle repeated itself. He emerged onto one battlefield after another. And he did improve, slowly and painfully. He even evolved. Perhaps some would say that the improvement was worth the pain, but I would not.” I noticed that Zahnan’s slim fingers were gripping his spoon tightly. “No, I would not. You might also be wondering why he did not simply teleport away. Ah, but the humans had thought of that. It would be very annoying for them, if a pokemon were to teleport away mid-battle. So the building was surrounded by a psychic field. It was possible to move within the stadium, but never outside it.”

“How’d you escape?”

The murkrow had asked the question. It hopped closer, red eyes inscrutable.

Zahnan shut his eyes briefly. “One day, when I was particularly badly injured, they sent in a chansey to mend me. When I told her my story, she spoke to me of the Guidance Counselor and promised to pass on word of my situation to him. I do not know how he did it, but a week later, I was released into peaceful daylight. I cannot explain to you how warm the sun felt on my back, how restful were the untroubled sounds of the city to my ears. I slept for twenty-four hours . . .” He swayed gently, as if remembering that long stretch of sleep.

“No wonder you trust the Guidance Counselor,” I said after a moment, when it had become clear Zahnan wasn't going to say anymore. “He really came through for you. Must be nice,” I continued, talking to myself, “A guidance counselor that actually has your interests at heart.”

“What do you mean by that?” Zahnan asked sharply.

When I glanced up, his eyes were back open and both he and the murkrow were regarding me oddly. I looked at them, then at the bobbing waves.

I laughed, though the sound was bereft of humor. “Hey Zahnan, do you want to hear the story of a very naive little girl? She grew up on the outskirts of Pewter, an old steel-mining town. There’s not much to do in Pewter except rocks and mines, and this girl had bigger dreams than that. She did well in school without trying too hard, so they called her a smart-cookie, but didn’t tease her much in the schoolyard, especially since she was willing to fight back. In her last year of mandatory schooling, she took the national exam, and a few weeks later, this glossy brochure came in the mail. So glossy, and all the way from Johto. It offered her enrollment at some fancy business school in Goldenrod, promised to pay her travel and give her a big scholarship. A grand opportunity, the school counselor told her.”

I kept my eyes bent to the hardwood deck as I spoke.

“This girl’s family didn’t know much about business school, but they knew that business meant money and they were very proud of her. So they pooled together their extra cash, her big brother too, who had just started work in the mines. And they sent her off on a boat only a little less rickety than this one, all the way to Goldenrod . . .”

“I suspect this school was not everything it claimed,” Zahnan interjected.

“Well how about that? You’re a smart-cookie too, Zahnan. They didn’t throw me into a gladiatorial pit the instant I stepped through the doors, though, so I could have had it worse. At first, it didn’t seem so bad. Yeah, the teachers seemed exhausted and the students a bit grim, but it was only in my second semester, when the scholarship disappeared and more and more of my family’s money was replaced by loans, that I did some asking around, and learned that there’s a name for schools like mine. Predatory. They recruit kids who don’t know any better, people who are desperate to lift themselves up a rung. Suck them dry and in return—a degree that means less than nothing, because employers know where it’s from. That’s if you make it that far, though. I didn’t. Dropped out in the middle of my second year, when I finally worked through the math and saw how many years it was going to take me to wade through the debt I’d already heaped on. The funny thing about debt is how it increases about as fast as I pay it off. So there’s no real escape from my fighting pit. And I don’t have a guidance counselor,” I finished, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice.

Zahnan’s whiskers twitched uncomfortably. “I didn’t think—”

“Are you really so shocked? I wouldn’t think, after what you’ve been through, that something like this would surprise you.”

“It is no surprise to me that humans are cruel and mendacious liars,” Zahnan said slowly. “But . . . I did not know they did such things to their own kind.”

What could I say to that? It struck me that Zahnan, for all of his determined cynicism, had a rosier view of the world than I did. He still believed there were things that wouldn’t let him down.

~*~​

It really was freezing, so we retreated down below deck. I thought about the part of my story I hadn’t told Zahnan—that as far as my family knew, I’d completed my degree in triumph and was working right now in the higher echelons of the department store’s business team.

At first it hadn’t felt like lying, just omission. Omitting the fact we’d been scammed. Omitting the state of my bank account. Omitting the fact I’d dropped out. I hadn’t wanted to let them down, and worse, I hadn’t wanted them to think they’d let me down with their complete ignorance of what reputable higher education should look like.

I hardly called home at all these days. Spinning new lies about my successful job and fast-paced lifestyle was just too exhausting. They probably thought I was simply too busy to bother keeping up with them.

At noon, lunch was served, water and juice and mounds of lukewarm onigiri. Definitely a budget cruise. I ate my portion quickly and sat in my seat as incomprehensible conversation buzzed around me. I found myself craving my evening boba tea—craving the familiar sensation of walking into my boba place and catching a few bars of whatever Aiko was humming. If something went wrong, if this boat capsized, no one would know that I’d been here. It could be months before my family learned what had happened to me. It wasn’t like there was anyone in the city who would miss me.

The intercom flared to life with some unintelligible garble from the captain. Zahnan translated that the ship would reach the Whirl Islands sometime in the late evening. In the morning, the ship would circle the islands (leaving a wide berth to avoid the eponymous whirlpools) and then begin the journey back to Goldenrod. I nodded morosely and went to claim space in the sleeping quarters for an afternoon nap.

When I woke, it was completely dark. The only light I could make out was reflected in the murkrow’s gleaming red eyes. Muffled snores rose from the cots around me.

“Rouse yourself,” Zahnan hissed near my ear. “We’ve arrived. The Guide is waiting outside.”

I pulled on my coat, double-checked that the white box was still safe at the bottom of my pack, and crept upward into the still, cold night.

~*~​

The only lapras I had ever seen was the exoskeleton on display in the Pewter Fossil Museum. Lapras weren’t technically extinct, but the older variant was. Today’s lapras, the ones you’d see in tournaments or wind-surfing competitions, were almost half the size they used to be.

The lapras waiting for us on the water was . . . not half-size. Most of its features were shrouded in the dark, but the sheer bulk was impossible to mistake. Zahnan lowered me brusquely over the edge of the ship onto the creature’s rocky shell, and I clutched tightly onto the ridges that rose from its back.

The instant Zahnan levitated himself down, the lapras set off in the direction of the distant, shadowy islands. I hugged my coat close and listened to the shifting sounds of the water, ominously loud and close. The clouds moved overhead, letting through some moonlight and allowing me to notice the way that water swirled in circular patterns around us. The lapras was cutting straight through a minefield of whirlpools.

Maybe it was my imagination, but as I listened I thought I could catch the greedy gurgle of the vortices around us. If the lapras swam too close or if my grip slipped, I would be sucked down to the bottom of the sea. Shuddering, I wondered if there could be anything more lonely than a person trapped in a whirlpool. The water would rush in my mouth so quickly I wouldn’t be able to scream.

“Dialkallah knows this route well,” Zahnan said suddenly. He was staring at my pale hands, which were locked in a death-grip around the lapras’ ridges. Probably that was close as he got to being comforting. I swallowed and tried to relax. If I was doomed, I was doomed already. There wasn’t much I could do about it now. One thing was clear—this lapras wouldn’t be turning back on my say-so.

Ahead, the island was growing noticeably larger. Though it wasn’t really accurate to call it an island, more a series of rock formations that from a distance seemed to form a coherent whole, like one of those trick pictures where you blink and suddenly see a face.

“Is it much farther?” I said finally. My voice sounded impossibly small compared to the washing of the waves.

A low, melodic sound rose from the lapras’ mouth. It was sad and keening, like a minor chord.

“She speaks the Old Speech,” said Zahnan. “It’s lost to all except those who have made long study.”

“Like you,” I guessed.

The kadabra hesitated. “I still have much to learn. But I believe she said we are close. I should prepare us for the descent.”

“For the descent—”

My words were cut off when Zahnan made a wide, circular gesture with his spoon. A pink bubble formed around us. When I pressed my finger against it experimentally, I found the surface impenetrable, like plexi-glass. It vibrated slightly under my finger, but didn’t give way.

“The quickest way is through the sea,” Zahan muttered. “Please do not disturb me. I will require all my concentration to preserve our ability to breathe.”

Before I could fully process his words, the lapras dove. The momentum rocked me hard into her shell. My grip, which had loosened slightly during the uneventful journey, tightened around the ridges. I pressed my face into the tough blue skin of the lapras’ neck, breathing hard.

When I at last gathered the courage to look up, the world had transformed completely.

We were in a dark, blue-green place. Above, light rippled and danced frenetically. It wasn’t like looking out onto the waves from the top of a boat. At least there, you had a sense of scale and distance. Here, I couldn’t make out anything outside of our bubble. The world seemed to slide into impenetrable darkness after a few feet.

I flinched when something warm pressed into me. It was the murkrow, its body trembling violently. Holding on tightly with my left hand, I used my right to nudge the murkrow closer against my chest. Zahnan’s eyes were pressed shut and his spoon was vibrating furiously. The pressure would mount as we descended, I recalled vaguely. That meant the strain on Zahnan was increasing with every meter.

It wasn’t precisely fright that I felt during that interminable underwater journey. I was in a place too fatalistic for fright. A thin, pink-purple bubble was the only thing between me and instant suffocation. My life was completely in the hands of an irritable kadabra and an older-than-time lapras.

But I trusted them.

That was the truly strange part. Not the way the deep greens and blacks of the water shifted from moment to moment, creating a spectrum of color that could only exist this deep beneath the waves. Not the complete, unearthly silence of the deep sea. Not the way the faint silver of the light above seemed like the sun of an alien world.

I trusted that these pokemon wouldn’t let me come to harm. My breath slowly eased and the speed of my heartbeat lessened. It was probably some advanced state of shock, where the body simply gives up on distress. But I noticed the murkrow had lifted its head as well and was peering around with wonder in its red eyes.

I wasn’t prepared when we finally broke the surface. One moment we were in the murky, indifferentiable greens of the sea, the next we were in an enormous cavern, dimly lit by the phosphorescent algae that lined the walls. The lapras bayed gently, and Zahnan lowered his spoon. At once, I was overpowered by the smell of kelp and brine. I sucked in breaths of salty air that left my throat feeling strangely dry.

“This is as far as she can take us,” murmured Zahnan. “From here, we must find the way ourselves.”

They were all looking at me.

Right, the feather. I let my pack fall to the moist floor of the cave and brought out the silver wing. It caught and magnified the faint greenish light of the cave so that it shone more strongly than it had even in the daylight of Goldenrod. The feather felt warm to me now, as if it had woken up.

I closed my eyes, clasping it between my palms. When I opened them again, the cave looked different. The tunnel veering off to the farthest left held an undefinable air of invitation.

“It’s that way,” I said, pointing. Nobody questioned me. Zahnan waddled forward, the murkrow fluttered onto my shoulder, and behind us, I saw the massive lapras sinking back into the water. What would happen when we needed to return? The worry skittered over my chest like a pond skater. But the warmth of the feather reassured me. It was an odd, nostalgic feeling, like being a kid in the play-yard, sure that someone was watching to keep me from harm.

The tunnel was lit by the same algae as the cavern, and the walls themselves were oddly reflective, catching the light from the algae and amplifying it. At each fork, the feather nudged me onwards.

I knew we were getting close when I noticed the wing beginning to emit its own light. I caught a rushing sound in the distance, an overlayed murmur like a stadium of people whispering. As we rounded the final bend, the whispers enlarged into a roar. Cool spray hit my face and I blinked against the sudden deluge of silver light.

We were standing at the base of a giant, crashing waterfall. Far, far above, there might have been sky. But the light washing the cave in silver could not be explained by the moonlight miles above. Its source was perched at the peak of the waterfall. Squinting against the glow, I made out the silhouette of two enormous wings.

Lugia.

A sudden force tugged me to my knees. I looked to my side to find Zahnan almost eye-level, his spoon angled my way.

‘What now?’ I mouthed to him. This was Zahnan’s territory and all I wanted was to follow his lead.

But he didn’t say anything. His body trembled and his mouth opened and closed rapidly, without making a sound. I looked down at the brilliant silver feather in my hands and swallowed.

Then it was up to me.

“Silver Guardian,” I said haltingly. My voice came out a thin quaver, echoed and magnified by the cave walls, until I sounded like my own ghostly chorus. Silver, Silver guardian. “We’ve come to return what’s yours.”

Yours, yours, yours.

I could hear my blood pounding in my ears, louder even than the waterfall crashing just feet away.

You are welcome here.

The voice . . . it wasn’t words. It broke over us like a wave. The silver wing twitched, and I hastily let my hands fall away as it rose spiraling into the air.

Yet another one lost . . .

The voice was low and mournful as a funeral dirge.

“I’m sorry,” I said without thinking. “I don’t know how it—I’m very sorry, I didn’t take your feather, but for whoever did, I’m very, very sorry.”

I clenched my eyes shut, caught in the thin place between mortification and terror. There was a sound like wind in the wings of a bird, only louder, impossibly loud. Besides me, Zahnan let out a strangled gasp. The air around me thrummed and tightened.

The fault is not yours, I heard the voice say kindly. Open your eyes, little human.

My eyes opened to the rocky floor. Slowly, I brought up my head.

She was bent over us, taller than a house, shining like an alpine peak. My eyes traveled slowly along the gleaming contours of her body, the dark blue crests and ridges, the sleek curve of her neck and the face above it, eyes that had the unplumbable depth and patience of an ocean.

But something wasn’t right. Gradually I noticed jarring gray patches spread across her silver-white wings.

“Guardian,” Zahnan said beside me, his voice thin and breathless, “Are you well?”

My molting has come, said the great bird musically. That is the way of things. Each day I lose another feather. Not all are kind enough to bring them back to me.

“So it’s normal,” I found myself saying, caught in a kind of panic. There was something completely unbearable about those gray patches. I knew with every fiber of my being that the silver feather I’d carried so far belonged slotted tightly into her wing. “Molting—that’s a normal thing. They’ll all grow out again?”

Like a tidal wave, Lugia’s shrug crested and fell. Who can say? My molting has come. Maybe I shall be made new again. Or maybe my time ends.

Ends, ends, ends. The word echoed glumly through the cavern.

“It can’t!” The shriek came from the murkrow. Its eyes danced madly in the silvery light as it hopped forward. “We still need you, Guardian! I am scum, a scavenger. But still I stand proud, because I know I was made a shadow of your greatness. Your time can never end!”

Little bird—The pity in Lugia’s voice was bottomless. When she spoke, I shivered, hearing my own name—Little bird, do not weep for me. All things have their end.

“Not you,” said Zahnan. His fist was clenched tightly around his spoon. “Guardian, there is so much injustice still. So much to be set right.”

The great bird regarded Zahnan with her silver eyes. When I was young, I blew apart the seas. My heart burned hot with a rage that did not cool until every last thing that swam or flew had floundered in my twin’s avenging fire. Now I am old and sing more peaceful songs. This wisdom I have passed on to my little guardians. They will carry on after me, if my time has come.

My time has come, murmured the cave walls.

A roar built in my head. Thoughts rippled past in rapid eddies. The Guidance Counselor. Was he one of Lugia’s little guardians? Had he knelt in this very same place as she shared her stories? And I thought of the people in Goldenrod who came bowing to their prayer houses, calling Ho-oh ‘Lord’ and Lugia ‘Queen,' those titles that were inseparable from hierarchy and domination. But Zahnan had not bowed out of fear. He’d bent his head in gratitude.

The air was cold and bright, and the brine stung at my eyes. Don’t weep, little bird.

Go now in peace.

The words thudded into my skull. I was lifted upwards, a sensation I recognized from Zahnan’s levitations, but there was an ease to this, a terrifying lightness. We soared up through the cavern until Lugia was only a silver pinprick below, like a sunken constellation. The embrace of her psychic energy held us fast over the rocky outcroppings, over the open sea, and at last landed us gently on the deck of the boat, which bobbed complacently.

The ensuing silence was absolute. What did you say after that? I began to cry softly into the sleeve of my coat. It was the only way I had to express what I’d seen: a being that was powerful, and chose to be kind.

A loud caw came from behind me. Wiping at my eyes, I turned with a frown.

The murkrow was speaking, faster and more frantically, and Zahnan was listening, his forehead creased and his eyes pained. But I couldn’t understand.

Lugia did it. The shock of the moment had wiped every thought of my speech problem from my mind. Lugia had fixed it without my asking.

~*~​

The next morning passed in a slow daze. I was flooded with words, sloshing all around me. Trite, meaningless words, as the people on the ship praised the beauty of the water and tried to find meaning in the shapes of the distant rocks.

I kept hoping that Zahnan would say something to me. I knew he could speak to humans if he really wanted to. But he and the murkrow kept their distance for the rest of the voyage back. That hurt, for some reason. We’d shared something together I couldn’t express to anyone else. Their silence damped out the onrush of new conversation.

“What now?” I asked Zahnan, as we neared Goldenrod’s harbor. He was standing by the railings, his eyes fixed on the distant city.

I’d given up expecting an answer, so I flinched when he spoke into my head, I have decided. I will devote myself to the Guidance Counselor. I have so much still to learn, if I am to set right the wrongs of this terrible age.

“I know you can make a real difference, Zahnan,” I said. His name rolled so clumsily off my tongue now. I wasn’t sure I was saying it right at all.

Maybe it was my imagination, but he looked pleased, if only for a moment. And you . . . ?

But we were docking now. People crowded in around us, pushing and jostling in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of the city they’d left only a day ago, as if the short journey had given them new eyes to see it with. We streamed down the gangplank onto the firm wood of the harbor. When I next looked, Zahnan and the murkrow were gone.

~*~​

So what happened next, after you saw the god Lugia in person?

I got bubble tea . . .

The store bell jingled its familiar dance and Aiko looked up from her phone. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of me. My hair must have been a mess, and I doubted the rest of me looked much better.

“Hey!” she said, her voice marvelously comprehensible. “Good to see you. Are you okay?”

Was I okay? The question made my head spin. I stood there for a moment, gulping for words, and finally landed on, “It’s been a crazy couple of days . . .”

Aiko actually came out to lean in front of the counter. “Well, what do you want? On the house.”

The offer startled a smile out of me. “You don’t have to⁠—”

“No, it’s fine, really.”

“A matcha freeze, then. With red bean and custard.”

As Aiko went back to prep the drink, she began to hum again.

“Do you play?” I hadn’t intended to ask, but the words tumbled out. “An instrument, I mean? You’re always humming something.”

It was a weird thing to ask, too personal, and I wished I could take the question back. But Aiko smiled.

“I do, yeah! The violin. I’m in a chamber group.” She shook some red bean into the plastic cup and slid it across the counter. “We’ve got a performance coming up next Friday, actually, if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in.”

“I don’t know if that’s my thing, but I guess I could find out,” I said, with a smile that persisted even after I’d left the shop. It felt strange on my face, like I’d wandered into a patch of unexpected sunshine.

The dark staircase up to my flat hadn’t changed, nor had the reluctant lock. When I’d finally wrestled my way inside, I set my drink down on the table, sucked in a breath, and tapped on Picella’s window. When I lifted the pane, the hoothoot was watching me expectantly.

“So, uh, it’s probably clear I was successful.” She let out a soft hoot. “I met the Silver Guardian. She was”⁠—How could I describe it?⁠—“she was really amazing. Uh . . .” It was all slipping away as the hoothoot stared up at me with her bulging eyes. “I think what she most wants is for us not to wait on her, you know. Since life is short, and . . .”

No reaction from Picella. Could she even understand me anymore? I had no way of knowing.

She let out another hoot, longer this time.

“I’m sorry—” I said helplessly, “I don’t—”

Her red eyes blinked at me. In the silence, I heard the steady drip of water in the light-well. It must be a nasty place to live, I thought for the first time. No wonder she always smelled like boiled cabbage.

With a final, half-hearted hoot, Picella fluttered back from the window onto the inner ledge. Politeness, I decided. Getting out of the way so I could close it. I felt sad for a moment, then irrationally angry, and then both feelings collapsed into the awareness that I was terribly, terribly tired.

Leaving the window open, I wandered into the kitchen and lifted up the phone. My family’s number came to me by rote. I stared blankly at a peeling line of paint on the wall, listening to the repeated, tinny ring. It was still afternoon. They were probably all at work.

Still, I didn’t hang up. The answering machine came on. My mom’s voice rose from the phone, fuzzy and crackling, but intelligible. I brushed my bangs back from my face and came back with a hand that was wet.

“I know it’s been a while since I called.” My voice sounded thin, precarious. I closed my eyes. “Sorry. I’ve just been dealing with a lot and there’s some stuff I have to tell you. It’s not urgent, but⁠—there’s just some stuff you need to know.”

Next, I checked my email. A message from my job sat at the top of my inbox. In stiff, standardized phrases, the email reminded me that since I had only one remaining day of sick leave, my three-day absence was grounds for termination. Probably I should have sworn or broken a glass or let my earlier eye-trickle expand into a proper crying jag, but instead I went back into the bathroom.

Picella hadn’t moved from her position in the light-well. I flapped my hand awkwardly in her direction.

“Come in. If you want. I don’t mind.” When she didn’t react, I opened my laundry hamper and placed a fluffy towel inside. “It’s going to be cold tonight. Sleep inside.”

She blinked back at me without a trace of understanding, but the next morning, I found her bunched into the towel, only the brown tuft of her tail visible. When I poked the bundle, a muffled, sleepy hoot warbled up to greet me.

“Breakfast in ten minutes,” I said, and went off to make it.

~*~​

It took me a week, but at last I found the battling hall Zahnan had described. A few protestors were huddled outside, shivering in the wet gloom. When they noticed me staring, one of them came over and offered me a hand-printed pamphlet. A bloodied pikachu peered from the page with beseeching eyes. Poke Battles Are Poke Crimes, read the header. Let the Pokemon Speak!

It was the kind of pamphlet I would have immediately chucked into the trash if I’d been handed it last week. Maybe had a laugh over the ridiculous picture of the pikachu. Remembering Zahan’s still face, though, nothing about it struck me as funny.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked quietly. “Uh, that doesn’t involve giving money.”

The protestor blinked at me. That probably wasn’t a response she was used to getting. “What ward do you live in?”

“The ninth.”

“There’s a ward meeting next Wednesday. 7pm. Permit for a new battling hall. It would be good to have someone from the neighborhood there. Carries more weight.”

“What would I have to do?”

“Just say a few words. We can give you a script—”

Say a few words. I wondered, as I stood there, whether I had ever used my voice for anything useful before in my life.

“A few words. I can do that.”

That evening, I went to the cave under the dock. I don’t know what I was hoping to find there. The seaweed curtain still hung in place, but the Guidance Counselor was gone.

Rain fell steadily that night. When I woke in the early hours of the morning, the water had blurred the city outside into an impenetrable gray. My room felt stiflingly dry and stuffy, so I cracked the window. Wet air tinged with car exhaust wafted in. Then the wind shifted.

The room grew bright with brine and kelp. And, for a moment, I was back under the sea.
 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Yay, you finally finished it up!

This is such a lovely, hopeful tale about personal responsibility and human capacity for change. What starts as an inconvenience for Po ends as something like a holy task: she asking for more responsibilities because she finally understands the importance of connection. She's met a higher power. It's a humbling, inspirational experience, but it also shows her that she can't wait for orders from on-high to tell her how to make the world suck less. She has to go do the work. In the aftermath of meeting a Beeg Bird, little bird is left to face her ordinary life. The types of changes available to her are small in the face of the power Lugia had once, but they're still meaningful changes for little Picella who gets a dry place to sleep. To the naive abras of the world. (Also, OMG, zoning regulations. I see you there.)

Po's funny zingers and then her barefaced sincerity carry this story so nicely from start to finish.

“Morning salutations!” came the answering hoot.
Me every time Picella exists:


He wished he could come himself and witness the glory of Lugia a second time, but his duties here could not be abandoned
I love how even without Po's commentary here, we can feel her incredulity and irritation.

gave to us clear sight and perfect counting.”
Omg, bless. the best gifts.

With a flutter-hop she retreated into the light-well, where she began to preen aggressively.
Aw no she's stressed out.

Another person alienated.
! Oho, so we've figured out that they're people now?

congratulating myself for dispatching the troublemaker, when its voice unexpectedly rasped, “Because I want to come.”
Haha, I love how the social lines that have been drawn around Po are so strong. She's vulnerable and scared and changing ... and still isn't ready to open her heart to a murkrow.

the way its droopy tail and bright eyes reminded me suddenly of the kids back home, who would pick a pocket as easy as breathing but would never touch the coin purses of folks widowed by the mines.
👀 Oh shit, Po's hometown has seen some shit.

“In a tin can like that, sure we’re not going to be witnessing those mysterious depths up close?”
Ha! Nice line.

this is the only correct ship,” Zahnan muttered back.
I wonder if it's the color that makes it correct or something else. I also appreciate the continuation of value going beyond surface appearances.

I reluctantly paid for a ticket, including the fee to bring aboard Zahnan and the murkrow.
Again, we are changing and growing ... but not quite enough that she doesn't also resent them for not paying their own way.

He must have really believed that, to say the same words twice.
👀 She's getting to know him.

“You want me to say that too?” It had sounded like a prayer, and I didn’t think much of prayers. In my opinion, there were better ways to waste your breath. “Look, really? You know, if Lugia could hear what we’re saying right here, we wouldn’t have to go all this way to see her, now would we? Could just say, ‘Hey, Lugia, we’ve got your feather. Pop on over and claim it!’”
This is such a Pen-core foil moment.

Happy?”

But weirdly enough, I did feel better for saying it. The creak of the wood seemed a little less worrisome and the choppy whites of the waves a little less threatening.
What did we learn?

It was viscerally unpleasant to remember how excited I’d been. Sourness welled up in my mouth, and not from sea-sickness.
Oof, what a mood.

“I do not hate,” Zahnan answered in his controlled, nasally voice. “I attribute to humans the respect they attribute to others, which is zero.”
🙃

“I’m not laughing,” I said quietly.
Aww.

The abra regained his wits in time to teleport out of the tauros’ path, but he had little endurance, and after the fifth time he realized that his mind and body were simply too exhausted to move him out of the way.
I liked this way of showing how he couldn't simply run away, the limits of power for even a pokemon.

They were reliable in this way.
And not reliable in so many other ways, clearly.

I slept for twenty-four hours
Oof.

“Hey Zahnan, do you want to hear the story of a very naive little girl?
👀

They didn’t throw me into a gladiatorial pit the instant I stepped through the doors, though, so I could have had it worse.
Hahaha, perspective, good. Learning is happening.

I thought about the part of my story I hadn’t told Zahnan—that as far as my family knew, I’d completed my degree in triumph and was working right now in the higher echelons of the department store’s business team.
Oh no. Strong themes of isolation throughout.

I hadn’t wanted to let them down, and worse, I hadn’t wanted them to think they’d let me down with their complete ignorance of what reputable higher education should look like.
</3

If something went wrong, if this boat capsized, no one would know that I’d been here. It could be months before my family learned what had happened to me. It wasn’t like there was anyone in the city who would miss me.
Oh, yikes. That humbling moment where you realize that, oops, isolating yourself makes you vulnerable in all kinds of ways.

The only lapras I had ever seen was
A GOOD BABY.

Probably that was close as he got to being comforting.
She's learning to be a little more generous with him.

“She speaks the Old Speech,” said Zahnan. “It’s lost to all except those who have made long study.”
Ha! Even being able to speak to pokemon isn't a blank check. Some things still require labor.

“Please do not disturb me. I will require all my concentration to preserve our ability to breathe.”
The understatement here is so 🙃

I trusted that these pokemon wouldn’t let me come to harm.
She's able to trust in the pokemon in ways the pokemon cannot and should not trust humans.

The worry skittered over my chest like a pond skater.
Nice one.

Far, far above, there might have been sky. But the light washing the cave in silver could not be explained by the moonlight miles above. Its source was perched at the peak of the waterfall. Squinting against the glow, I made out the silhouette of two enormous wings.
This is lovely. Great entrance.

‘What now?’ I mouthed to him. This was Zahnan’s territory and all I wanted was to follow his lead.
Learning!!

caught in the thin place between mortification and terror.
Nice, yes.

Gradually I noticed gray patches spread like jarring notes across her silver-white wings.
I like the sentiment, but something about jarring note/wings isn't quite working.

Who can say? My molting has come. Maybe I shall be made new again. Or maybe my time ends.
Again, very Pen-core: magic leaving the world.

“Guardian, there is so much injustice still. So much to be set right.”
Oh, baby. It's up to you now.

‘Lord’ and Lugia ‘Queen,' those titles that were inseparable from hierarchy and domination. But Zahnan had not bowed out of fear. He’d bent his head in gratitude.
👀

I began to cry softly into the sleeve of my coat. It was the only way I had to express what I’d seen: a being that was powerful, and chose to be kind.
I love the physical details of crying into her sleeve here. And, oof, what a takeaway. Powerful lesson.

Trite, meaningless words, as the people on the ship praised the beauty of the water and tried to find meaning in the shapes of the distant rocks.
I love how she was amazed and amused by discovering the conversations that pokemon were having, and she's bored and almost disgusted by this return to human words.

And you . . . ?
👀 Yeah, kid. Time to put your money where your mouth is.

So what happened next, after you saw the god Lugia in person?

I got bubble tea . . .
Mood. One thing at a time, Po.

“A matcha freeze, then. With red bean and custard.”
This sounds so good, stop.

“I don’t know if that’s my thing, but I guess I could find out,” I said, with a smile that persisted even after I’d left the shop.
Gay
It's so nice to see her building community! She figured out she wants someone to notice and miss her if something bad happens to her.

No wonder she always smelled like boiled cabbage.

With a final, half-hearted hoot, Picella fluttered back from the window onto the inner ledge. Politeness, I decided. Getting out of the way so I could close it. I felt sad for a moment, then irrationally angry, and then both feelings collapsed into the awareness that I was terribly, terribly tired.
She can empathize much better now! ... But it's still hard and not perfect. Unpacking your privilege and crossing a language barrier takes work.

It took me a week, but at last I found the battling hall Zahnan had described. A few protestors were huddled outside, shivering in the wet gloom.
👀 Oh hello there. Very good.

A bloodied pikachu peered from the page with beseeching eyes. Poke Battles Are Poke Crimes, read the header. Let the Pokemon Speak!
Lol, oof. Yes but. You guys. No.

“What would I have to do?”

“Just say a few words. We can give you a script—”

Say a few words. I wondered, as I stood there, whether I had ever used my voice for anything useful before in my life.
Ugh, this is so good.

I liked that you ended not with the resolution to fight the battle arenas but with a reminder of the ocean: a reminder of what she's fighting for. Something larger than herself. Something holy. Something that makes her feel a little better.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
“It is no surprise to me that humans are cruel and mendacious liars,” Zahnan said slowly. “But . . . I did not know they did such things to their own kind.”
It was the only way I had to express what I’d seen: a being that was powerful, and chose to be kind.
Ultimately I like what this inspires in her, and I like how this doesn't fix things right away. Her job is probably gone, she hasn't patched things up with her parents, the world seems dull and quiet now, Lugia is maybe dying--and those things won't go away. But helping and caring is a constant choice, and often a difficult one. We focus on the things that remind us to make the right choice. The bad things don't change, and a lot of them get worse, but this isn't a story about returning things back to normal--Po gets her voice back, but she doesn't get her old life back, because she's changed. Lugia permits her to cross the seas, but she's different on the return trip or something poetic. Also Picella gets a warm bed and that's arguably the most momentous thing to happen ever because she deserves nothing but goodness.

I like the running theme of expecting cruelty to be personal as well, and responding with it in kind. Po yells at the Murkrow when they catcall her (are they? british?); she assumes that the one who approaches her later is here to steal. Po's early characterization and floundering through things is nice. Picella as a character reference! Because I would totally need one. It's a little insight into someone who's grown up in a shitty environment their whole life--did I plan ahead for this thing that would trip me up? How about this one? Drat--but it contrasts nicely with the pokemon who choose to help her regardless. I like how you turn the tension between them into a moment for learning and growth. This is a story where all of the (character, not world/global) conflicts are solved by walking up to people and asking them nicely. But without asking, they're lost. Zahnan assumes that humans are cruel only to pokemon; Po would've laughed at the protest pamphlet--ultimately some of the cruelest choices and assumptions we make are the ones that we don't even know we're making.

Lugia's appearance here is beautiful and I can see why it sparks a change in everyone. Is she dying? Dunno. The molts are normal and bringing the feather back doesn't actually mean anything to her but hi thanks that's very polite of you guys, gold star. She relinquished her job a long time ago, and her wisdom lives in you now. That's the way of things. I like the parallels to Crystal Prince, where there's an old guardian of wisdom who's here to set the record straight that this doesn't necessarily have to be a story about vengeance and violence, if you choose otherwise.

OSJ said the good shit about the ending. I see why you wrestled with it but I think it lands. Remember what inspired you, what you're fighting for, not what you're fighting.

(Po being short for Poppo, which meant ‘little bird’ in my parent’s dialect and also meant, in my opinion, that they seriously needed their heads examined.)
I like the early hints of her separation from her family--not something I expected from you, and truth be told my eyes glazed over it the first time!
It is known, the Rainbow Guardian took the Speech from your kind. Long ago, very sad. Perhaps upon you the Rainbow Guardian has showered great blessing?
👀
All go to him, questions in the heart .
hey there's a typo here. this is the most consequential piece of critical feedback I have today.
Here I was, waiting on tenterhooks for advice from the hoothoot that up until ten minutes ago I’d called Cabbage on account of the unpleasant odor that wafted in off her wings when the weather turned wet.
:( The arc on this is nice, what she begins to see.
The flaaffy clearly could, though, because she was swearing up a storm in response. That pink fluff-ball had the foulest mouth I’d ever encountered, human or pokemon.
is this Nate but flaaffy i am in LOVE
If we’d prayed to anyone back home in Pewter, it had been the CEOs in Saffron city, those technology gods who sent us ever-safer excavators, roof bolters, and scoops.
ah yes, we pray to our corporate overlords, may they bless us with their invisible hand
“My kind are bound to the Rainbow Guardian, may he live forever. Long ago, he touched the first of us with holy fire, gave to us clear sight and perfect counting.”
perfect counting is very important, yes. these are good gifts.
“Not can’t. It does not accord.”
I like how it still doesn't translate, but she gets it.
I don’t know which caught me more by surprise—the ‘please’, which I hadn’t thought existed in a murkrow’s vocabulary, or the way its droopy tail and bright eyes reminded me suddenly of the kids back home, who would pick a pocket as easy as breathing but would never touch the coin purses of folks widowed by the mines.
It's crazy how much you can empathize with someone once you start to look. There's a running theme of choosing to be kind, often at the cost of your own success, and I like how Po starts to put that together.
“Really?” he said, when he’d taken a glance at my new companion. “The choice to bring anyone, and you go with scum like that?”
sad murkrow sounds
I was looking for a quarrel—anything to postpone my unwilling trip down memory lane.
Likewise I like how she looks for something here and doesn't get it--but what she finds is far more important.
“The abra was so impressed by all this nonsense that he walked right through the front doors and asked to join. The humans there were all smiles and the abra felt very pleased indeed, at least until he found himself locked suddenly in a pokeball. When he emerged, it was onto the field of battle, facing an enraged tauros. The abra regained his wits in time to teleport out of the tauros’ path, but he had little endurance, and after the fifth time he realized that his mind and body were simply too exhausted to move him out of the way. He was struck head-on by the tauros . . .” Zahnan hesitated. “This was unpleasant.”
pen i'm confused couldn't have have just asked them politely to let him leave? why doesn't he like it? he accepted the capture and he learned a lot and they heal him so like
Suck them dry and in return—a degree that means less than nothing, because employers know where it’s from. That’s if you make it that far, though. I didn’t. Dropped out in the middle of my second year, when I finally worked through the math and saw how many years it was going to take me to wade through the debt I’d already heaped on. The funny thing about debt is how it increases about as fast as I pay it off. So there’s no real escape from my fighting pit. And I don’t have a guidance counselor,” I finished, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
hahaha fuck of course there's predatory colleges in the pokemon world
pen i'm confused couldn't she have just asked them politely to let her leave? why doesn't she like it? she signed up for it and and she learned a lot and they gave her a repayment plan so like
“She speaks the Old Speech,” said Zahnan. “It’s lost to all except those who have made long study.”
* excited fossil screeches *
“Like you,” I guessed.

The kadabra hesitated. “I still have much to learn.
I like that she begins to read him here, and that he answers humbly (which I feel like he wouldn't have, at the beginning). It's a start!
My words were cut off when Zahnan made a wide, circular gesture with his spoon. A pink bubble formed around us. When I pressed my finger against it experimentally, I found the surface impenetrable, like plexi-glass. It vibrated slightly under my finger, but didn’t give way.
Guidance Counselor fren acted like it was optional for Zahnan to come along or not, and like presumably that's not entirely true, but if she'd said no would she have just drowned here? Not that she would've even made it this far. But it's strange that they even acted like saying no was a choice she had.
The pity in Lugia’s voice was bottomless. When she spoke, I shivered, hearing my own name
<3 a very nice callback
When I was young, I blew apart the seas. My heart burned hot with a rage that did not cool until every last thing that swam or flew had floundered in my twin’s avenging fire. Now I am old and sing more peaceful songs. This wisdom I have passed on to my little guardians. They will carry on after me, if my time has come.
</3
And I thought of the people in Goldenrod who came bowing to their prayer houses, calling Ho-oh ‘Lord’ and Lugia ‘Queen,' those titles that were inseparable from hierarchy and domination. But Zahnan had not bowed out of fear. He’d bent his head in gratitude.
<3
That hurt, for some reason. We’d shared something together I couldn’t express to anyone else. Their silence damped out the onrush of new conversation.
I like that it isn't all bridged here at the end--with the world returned to how it was, even though she's learned lessons, there are some barriers that can't be overcome all at once.
 

HelloYellow17

Artsy Whimsical Nerd
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. suicune
  2. umbreon
Okay, why haven’t I heard more about this lovely two-shot?? I had WAY too much fun reading this. Po’s dry and sarcastic narration just really did it for me, and I absolutely loved it!

Most of my line quotes are just pointing out specific things I liked, so I’ll include my very minimal criticism here. This only covers the first chapter, but I’ll be back for the second one!

First off, the girl that was introduced in the boba shop—will she be playing a role later? If not, then some of the descriptions could be trimmed down, I think. But this is honestly a very minor nitpick—it didn’t detract from the story at all, and it painted a vivid picture, so no harm in keeping it as is, either.

Second, the overall tone of the story wasn’t made fully clear to me until the scene Po talks with Picella. Until that point, the narration and gloomy scene-setting made me thing this would be more of a grim story with a jaded protagonist, so the humor caught me off guard at first. I adjusted quickly, and it was very enjoyable, so it wasn’t anything that ruined the experience for me, but I wonder if the satirical nature of the story could be introduced a little sooner.

And now: line-by-lines!
As I veered off down the side-street, some murkrow were gossiping loudly on the wires.

“Another miltank-faced bint,” cackled one, and I don’t know what came over me—usually I let this kind of stuff roll off of me like water off a golduck—but I wheeled around and snapped back, “You aren’t exactly lovable-looking yourself, Sweetheart.”

At first I did a double-take. “Wait! People can understand Pokémon in this story??” And then it made sense a little while later, lol.

My bubble tea place is easy to miss. It’s tucked between two large buildings and the entrance looks like it was made for the maintenance man.

I love subtle little descriptions like this that both paint an image and give you an idea of the narrator’s personality. And this story is RICH with them! Amazing. Fabulous.

Aiko was about my age, somewhere in that swamp of the twenties where the path of ambition narrows from ‘change the world’ to ‘meet monthly rent payments for an overpriced and crumbling flat.’
This HURTS with how accurate it is, uh, ouch. Definitely relate to both Aiko and Po in this story more than I care to admit, haha...
End of the day, bubble tea, bed. You look forward to things if they’re even a little better than other things, the same way a marble rolls down a slightly tilted floor. It’s not like the marble’s in some kind of hurry to get to the other end, but gravity’s irresistible.

This story sure is leaning into the “everything sucks and everyone is dead inside” angle, and my currently struggling SAD/chronically depressed self is honestly vibing with it. Everything sucks, indeed.
Picella considered this for some time. I kept quiet, half so as not to disturb her, and half because I was just too baffled by the whole situation to say much more. Here I was, waiting on tenterhooks for advice from the hoothoot that up until ten minutes ago I’d called Cabbage on account of the unpleasant odor that wafted in off her wings when the weather turned wet.

Haha loved the comparison here between how he viewed her and how she views herself. I adore the way Picella speaks, too!

Liked those bastards who parachuted into my high school a few years from Saffron or Celadon to nudge us minutely away from the looming dumpster fire of our futures, only to vanish back into the same ether they’d emerged from.

First of all, I love this sentence way more than I should. Second, I think the first word is supposed to be “Like.”

As I considered this, Picella shifted from foot to foot and said suddenly, “Imposition upon your hospitality extreme. Allow me, please, to depart.”

There was an urgency in her squawking tone, so I didn’t argue, just carried her back and set her on the windowsill. I understood what was going on a little better when white goop began to dribble out her behind. I averted my eyes, mumbled “Thanks,” and closed the window hastily.

Hahaha this was gold! I did not see that coming.

I congratulated myself for getting all the way through without any real lies. Well, except for the last sentence, but lies like that were the hinge-grease of the world.
More sad “I can absolutely relate” sounds.

“Holding up the line, for shame,” the big pink thing muttered darkly as it pushed past.

LOL I LOVE for grumpy Chansey. Amazing.

A wingull was taunting a flaaffy in an accent so thick I couldn’t make out the words. The flaaffy clearly could, though, because she was swearing up a storm in response. That pink fluff-ball had the foulest mouth I’d ever encountered, human or pokemon.

Did your main motivation for writing this fic happen to be taking common tropes about specific Pokémon and then subverting them? Because I LOVE IT

“This is Zahnan,” the Guidance Counselor said. “He will aid you in retrieving the silver wing.”

Oh! For some reason, when he said to come back at the end of the day, I’d thought he meant to come back at the end of the day WITH the silver wing, leading me to be confused as to why Po was just wandering around.

There were a number of things I wanted to say in response. You’re crazy topped the charts. Also, it’s not fair. You realize I represent the very lowest rung of the corporate hierarchy, don’t you? It’s a complete coincidence I ended up handling this wing. I don’t know where it came from and I’m certainly not responsible for it being here, rather than wherever it’s supposed to be.
So...was Po the only one affected by the Silver Wing? If he’s at the bottom of the ladder, then wouldn’t other people have handled it before him and also been affected? Or did this only apply to him because he was the only one who might listen? Hmmm.

Also, I hate boats.

Hahaha the REAL reason he doesn’t want to go.
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Because of reasons, I read through this story rather quickly, but I still had some things to say about it.

1 single sentence-level nitpick

Other than that, I didn’t notice anything strange.The wing didn’t light up or move around in my hands.

Is missing a space.

Seems to me like the story wants to get across how much we miss going about our day-to-day lives---the injustices done to others (pokemon battles), opportunities for connection (Aiko, Picella), divinity hiding just a short boat ride away, beneath everyone's noses. Even when Po is handling a divine artifact, she regards it initially as though it were a cheap trinket. Nothing in the world is inherently special; divinity, like gratitude, is a matter of perspective. The numinous and the banal coexist. But we can perceive the former within the latter if we try to. The closing of the story encapsulates this idea.

When Po finally encountered Lugia, I was perhaps not as sold on her admiration as I was meant to be. She feels moved by the fact that Lugia is a powerful being who chooses to be kind. As far as I can tell, her acts of kindness amount to sparing humanity from her own wrath and fixing Po's speech issue. These are nice things, I suppose, but I was not so convinced about the emotional reaction they inspired in Po. I suspect most of us would also do those kind things if we had Lugia's power. Certainly, I can see the encounter being a lot to take in, and perhaps surprising, but ultimately I never really felt sold on Po's apparent reverence for Lugia ever being more than a response to awe and fear. Especially given her irreverence on the boat just moments before.

To me, the real turning point for Po was when she swapped stories with Zahnan. He directly inspired her to attend the ward meeting and speak out against pokemon battling (or at least compulsory pokemon battling---not sure if there's any other kind in this story's world, but that's beside the point). And I suspect her interactions with him really helped her to see pokemon as human.

Say that Po never sees Lugia. Instead, she just drops the feather in the water, her speech problem is corrected, and she goes on her way. Perhaps it would be anticlimatic, but I don't think that such a revision would change her character arc. I am not *suggesting* that revision, to be clear, but I bring it up to illustrate a sort of weirdness I felt about the climactic scene. It feels like it was supposed to be more important than it was to me.

But, ultimately, Po's arc does make sense, and that counts for a lot. That's a difficult thing to handle in a short story. The fact that it ends with her choosing to use her voice for something good bookends things nicely. And there is a deliberate contrast between the beauty of the sea and its guardian, and everything else in the city and in Po's life (or at least, all of these things filtered through her jaded perspective). So this was a nice story, even though I said more about the negatives than the positives. It could be that my own perspective needs changing.
 

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Ahem. Went to crosspost my review and realized the second chapter has not been crossposted lol.
 

HelloYellow17

Artsy Whimsical Nerd
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. suicune
  2. umbreon
I said I would come back and that was...months ago?? Ahaha. 😅 Welp, better late than never, hey?

...I’m also incredibly embarrassed to admit that I literally thought Po was make the entire time until she told her own backstory as “a young girl.” Hahaha...ha...don’t mind me while I go bang my head into the wall 😂 I’m not sure if there really weren’t many references in the first chapter for me to go off of, or if it was painfully obvious and I just missed it somehow! LOL.

I’ll be honest, most of this review is just gonna be me pointing out what I like and voicing my thoughts at the end. I’m rarely able to come up with any serious crit when reading your work—or kint’s, or Boots, or many others, for that matter. 😂 Y’all are just so solid already, how can I ask for more??

“Morning salutations!” came the answering hoot.
It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten how much I love Picella’s speech haha.
I fought the impulse to offer her my blow dryer
Dropped a period here!
“I would like to meet the Silver Guardian.” The murkrow hopped closer. “Please, I would like to meet the Silver Guardian.”
I love the repetition here, really nails that “chattering, obnoxious bird” vibe.
I don’t know which caught me more by surprise—the ‘please’, which I hadn’t thought existed in a murkrow’s vocabulary, or the way its droopy tail and bright eyes reminded me suddenly of the kids back home, who would pick a pocket as easy as breathing but would never touch the coin purses of folks widowed by the mines.
OH-KAYYY you have done it again! In one simple but eloquent sentence, you’ve thrown HEAPS of info at the reader—details about the Murkrow, about Po, about the world they live in and the world Po came from. I will never cease to be amazed at how you do this so well and so powerfully.
“Really?” he said, when he’d taken a glance at my new companion. “The choice to bring anyone, and you go with scum like that?”
I—okay. Are we gonna get some answers about Zahnan here? I mean, who spat in his Cheerios?
Also, yes, I kept reading his name as Zahnak and had to remind myself that he is not, in fact, a Hydreigon and this is not eoe. 😂
giving the murkrow a last disgusted glance before appearing to write it out of his mental universe.
I’m just quoting this to tell you I love this sentence, that is all
Still, the bobbing boat was bringing me back to my first journey, from Vermillion to Goldenrod. I hadn’t gone below deck once, keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon in anticipation of the golden future waiting for me. It was viscerally unpleasant to remember how excited I’d been. Sourness welled up in my mouth, and not from sea-sickness.
...oh, my heart. This hit hard. The weight of looking back on a more hopeful, much more naive younger self is...well. It’s a heavy one. Also, ouch, this makes my heart ache for those who have experienced this irl. Hits real close to home.
“Well how about that? You’re a smart-cookie too, Zahnan. They didn’t throw me into a gladiatorial pit the instant I stepped through the doors, though, so I could have had it worse. At first, it didn’t seem so bad. Yeah, the teachers seemed exhausted and the students a bit grim, but it was only in my second semester, when the scholarship disappeared and more and more of my family’s money was replaced by loans, that I did some asking around, and learned that there’s a name for schools like mine. Predatory. They recruit kids who don’t know any better, people who are desperate to lift themselves up a rung. Suck them dry and in return—a degree that means less than nothing, because employers know where it’s from. That’s if you make it that far, though. I didn’t. Dropped out in the middle of my second year, when I finally worked through the math and saw how many years it was going to take me to wade through the debt I’d already heaped on. The funny thing about debt is how it increases about as fast as I pay it off. So there’s no real escape from my fighting pit. And I don’t have a guidance counselor,” I finished, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
This hit waaaayyyyy close to home, uh, ouch. I don’t have much to say except that you captured Po’s feelings really well here, and wow do I feel for her, just...ugh. I hate the world we live in for reasons like this.
“Picture, if you will, a young abra, very naive. This abra grows up in the outskirts of Goldenrod City and nurtures all kinds of dreams. Now one day a human comes by the alleyway this abra calls home, advertising a fighting hall. The abra hears how in this hall great fighters meet in honorable battle and even the weakest pokemon may become powerful and renowned through hard work.” Zahnan fell silent for a moment. “Doubtless you are laughing at this naive abra, who believed everything he was told.”
Even before I got to Po’s segment, I knew that Zahnan’s story would mirror hers. The regret and hints of a more optimistic worldview that has now rusted out...these two have quite a lot in common. It’s little wonder why Zahnan hates humans.

Also, I forgot to quote it, but Zahnan’s surprise that humans mistreat each other was just so bitterly perfect.
The only lapras I had ever seen was the exoskeleton on display in the Pewter Fossil Museum. Lapras weren’t technically extinct, but the older variant was. Today’s lapras, the ones you’d see in tournaments or wind-surfing competitions, were almost half the size they used to be.
Ooh, I love this little bit of lore!
That was the truly strange part. Not the way the deep greens and blacks of the water shifted from moment to moment, creating a spectrum of color that could only exist this deep beneath the waves. Not the complete, unearthly silence of the deep sea. Not the way the faint silver of the light above seemed like the sun of an alien world.
Hello I am in love with this paragraph and the way it paints the underwater world, it really did make the scenery feel like a painting.
She blinked back at me without a trace of understanding, but the next morning, I found her bunched into the towel, only the brown tuft of her tail visible. When I poked the bundle, a muffled, sleepy hoot warbled up to greet me.
This image brings me great joy 💛

I’ll admit, this story was not at all what I expected! From the dry narration and humor to the moments when things got too real and relatable, to this bittersweet yet hopeful message at the end.

I’ll admit that I was sad that Po didn’t remain friends with Zahnak and the Murkrow. I kinda feel like that would have really signaled the beginnings of positive change if they had? But that’s probably my own idealistic mindset talking, and my desperate need for happy endings neatly tied up with a bow. The truth is, reality is not nearly packaged like this, and it’s often just as full of bitter truths as it is full of sweet joys.

This two-shot portrays that in a beautiful, painful way. At the end, things are not automatically Okay—Po has lost her job, she’s still in crippling debt, there’s still so so so many issues that nearly everyone around her is oblivious to—but she’s taken some positive steps. She’s stepped up and started taking responsibility. She’s offered more hospitality to Picella, has actually made a new friend (love interest??) with Aiko, has finally opened up to her family. She’s opened her eyes and has started to see the world outside of herself (such as getting involved with the battle ring, noticing Picella’s less than ideal living situation, etc.) And really, that’s the first step for just about everything: awareness.

This was really enjoyable, and Po’s humor and sincerity was the icing on the whole cake. Well done, friend! 💛
 
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