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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
I'm pretty sure it's actually illegal that I haven't read naturally but I have read nnaturnally.

So how hard was it to come up with all those chapter names starting with N. ;P (I ask because I once attempted to name a bunch of chapters all starting with "re-" and then gave up.)

Is it wrong to believe that this was the only ending? Perhaps. But was there a better way? Was there a diverging branch that got overlooked, a path that led to an ideal world where everyone was happy?
Ohhhhh yea this here is my jam, this is some chibicore right here.

Anyway, I was thrilled that I rolled you for catnip and I'd been needing to read this anyway so win-win! Right off the bat, loving the imagery in this final showdown (man, why do all you N writers gotta have such freaking cool descriptions for this stuff.) There's this really powerful feeling that having it all end this way wasn't the only option and probably wasn't the ideal option, but it's stll the path that N has to follow.

(Question: was it a thematic decision to have Reshiram be called yin when it's supposed to be yang?)

I was surprised that chapter 1 was set in Relic Castle. You mentioned a canon divergence--I suspect it'll be more clear after I read the next chapter. There's a fun sort of disorientation that you get from the reversed order. This story only ever had a foregone conclusion, so what suspense would you get from not knowing what comes next? No, the real mystery is in not know how you got there, and I feel like that kind of mirrors all the characters in this. I also noticed that something definitely went different with Ghetsis, so you've got me looking forward to that.

The decision to have this chapter be a Poké-pov was one I wasn't expecting, but it makes a lot of sense. Vaselva's narration has a nice grounded quality to it, and I like how she's not concerned with hypotheticals (except for that bit where she ever-so-slightly was.) Her view had a lot of fun details--I loved her take that N would make a better Pokémon than human, as well as the mention that he was afraid of succeeding, and that’s what held him back. And of course, it's great that her viewpoint lets the reader know for certain that Pokemon genuinely can and probably do like their humans in this setting. It's not so much that they're being forced to do something they don't want, but rather, the question of did they ever really have a choice? It's messy. It's complicated. It's... wait a second...
And in this regard, it is also agreed that N was correct: pokémon do not tell lies. What they do tell is a different story altogether.
Aha, I think I understand why this story isn't told from either of the heroes' viewpoints. You sly dog--you're using the Poké-pov to show that Pokemon aren't lying when they say they want to be with humans, but that their experiences betray the truth that they'd be better off regardless.

Anyway, very good, will check out the rest of it soon enough~!
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
I'm pretty sure it's actually illegal that I haven't read naturally but I have read nnaturnally.
i'll have you know nnaturally is some of my finest work

So how hard was it to come up with all those chapter names starting with N. ;P (I ask because I once attempted to name a bunch of chapters all starting with "re-" and then gave up.)
Pretty rough in some ways and actually very helpful in others! -- I definitely got some idea inspiration from being like "oh this is a cool word that starts with N; I could probably write about it".

Ohhhhh yea this here is my jam, this is some chibicore right here.
it ain't set in johto but humans asking gods what destiny is supposed to be strikes again

Right off the bat, loving the imagery in this final showdown (man, why do all you N writers gotta have such freaking cool descriptions for this stuff.) There's this really powerful feeling that having it all end this way wasn't the only option and probably wasn't the ideal option, but it's stll the path that N has to follow.
join the dark side we have cookies and dragon imagery

(Question: was it a thematic decision to have Reshiram be called yin when it's supposed to be yang?)
lmao fuck

I was surprised that chapter 1 was set in Relic Castle. You mentioned a canon divergence--I suspect it'll be more clear after I read the next chapter. There's a fun sort of disorientation that you get from the reversed order. This story only ever had a foregone conclusion, so what suspense would you get from not knowing what comes next? No, the real mystery is in not know how you got there, and I feel like that kind of mirrors all the characters in this. I also noticed that something definitely went different with Ghetsis, so you've got me looking forward to that.
Yeah! I wish Relic Castle got more love tbh -- it's apparently the ruined citadel of one of the Hero Kings, and it's implied to be where the player's Dark/Light Stone is found in the games. Lots of implications there.
I'm glad the chronology bit is working out; it's definitely the sort of vague artsy thing that I'd pick, but also it's so relevant for the reasons you mentioned re: not really knowing how you got there -- this stuff is messy; who really understands the events that got us here?

The decision to have this chapter be a Poké-pov was one I wasn't expecting, but it makes a lot of sense. Vaselva's narration has a nice grounded quality to it, and I like how she's not concerned with hypotheticals (except for that bit where she ever-so-slightly was.) Her view had a lot of fun details--I loved her take that N would make a better Pokémon than human, as well as the mention that he was afraid of succeeding, and that’s what held him back. And of course, it's great that her viewpoint lets the reader know for certain that Pokemon genuinely can and probably do like their humans in this setting. It's not so much that they're being forced to do something they don't want, but rather, the question of did they ever really have a choice? It's messy. It's complicated. It's... wait a second...
Aha, I think I understand why this story isn't told from either of the heroes' viewpoints. You sly dog--you're using the Poké-pov to show that Pokemon aren't lying when they say they want to be with humans, but that their experiences betray the truth that they'd be better off regardless.
!! Vas is a sweetheart and she has many Thoughts on this, yes. It's a messy issue; you can be happy and still live in a world that can be improved.

I actually think it's really wholesome that you phrased it like this, too -- we had a conversation in discord back in mid-April when this fic was still nascent that I think helped finalize things for me/get me understanding how I wanted to tell this story instead of having it be an aimless jumble of N conversations:
Chibi Pika 04/13/2020
It sounds like when BW asked "Is Pokemon training ethical" you really, really wanted the answer to be no.
[...]
kintsugi 04/13/2020
no lmao I wanted BW to just give a realistic way for the answer to be "yes"
And like obviously this idea has been crystallizing over a very long time but that was sort of a eureka moment for me re: what I wanted, who I wanted to hear from, who I thought should really be telling the story. B/W is full of characters who can definitively answer "is pokemon training good for pokemon?", but you (player) never asks the pokemon what they want. And there are definitely some deeper questions to go into there -- what choice do you really have if your voice isn't heard? is it your choice if you never get to bring options of your own to the table? -- that I don't think human narrators can really answer in a way I find satisfying rip BW games

Mild spoilers but, despite my pretty staunch staN, the answer here doesn't end up as concrete as "they'd be better off regardless", alas -- N's answer in the prologue is the only one he feels he has. Like me on every single thermodynamics test, he sort of puts it down *knowing* it's not really the right one, but time is up, hopefully the TA god will figure out what he was trying to say and he'll get partial credit?

I'm really glad you enjoyed! Dis my lil' baby and it's been fun to gather a lot of my discordant thoughts into something a bit more coherent. Thank you for the thoughtful review!
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Rewrote vast swathes of this chapter to better deal with the big-picture things that got pointed out here; quick responses to some of the smaller things! Many thanks <3

I have a feeling you know the answers--they're just not fully coming through for me yet. I think it just needs a few more clarifying sentences here and there.
It was tricky! There are some things in the new version that I didn't want to tip my hand on this early, heh. But I think it works better with more info, yes.

Nice subtle nod to game mechanics! You've got a couple moments throughout previous chapters that feel like an explanation of game mechanics without being in-your-face meta.
mmmm 100% intentional

Is that full name [Hilda's name] + [her original name]? I'm noticing that V's retort here feels veery filtered through a human lens, which checks out for me.
This currently never comes up later in the text, but "Thundersinger of the Plains" is sort of the given name for Amara's herd -- while she internalized Hilda's nickname for her, she was adamant about keeping her herd surname. Kind of like the reverse of marrying and keeping your maiden name?

I'd think that "unprotected"is the default on a plain. The height would be extra unnatural to her though, and I imagine she'd feel constrained too--nowhere to run except off the edge.
this was a really excellent detail

I will say I've been loving continuously getting Vaselva in a new light. Each take on her feels distinct but part of a mossaic--the pieces make a whole rather than being in conflict.
I had a lot of fun with narrators this time around -- Vas definitely sees herself in a different light than some of the other characters see her, lol.

It was interesting to see Veselva as more of an antagonist/Ico-like figure. I like how the nuance and context builds with each chapter--I now have a sense of Amara's headspace when she rammed Carnel when they oh so politely said hi to her on the battlefield. Really looking forward to Reylin and the klinklang POVs (I hope they exist, anyway!)
eyes intensify

This monologue kind of blows the 'Amara is conflicted about Hilda' thing out of the water. If Amara can shape all of this into words, that's a hell of a lot more than the vague sense that something not fair mentioned earlier. If this is here, it's not a vague sense she can't put into words. If you want to keep the more conflicted Amara idea, I think it would be better for this to be flashback and something that gets digested more over the course of the chapter. I mean this "Her callousness sparked a fire in me that I thought had gone out a long time ago. What kind of person could do this? My pain meant so little to her" is pretty on the nose. It's Tourmaline territory.
Mmm, I agree with this assessment. Dramatically turned down the zebra sass on this one. Hope it worked out.

In general you have a vivid and almost loving way of describing architecture--I noticed it in srbs too.
it's funny because I actually am not that big of an architecture buff in real life, but a lot of my characters want to be lol

Hm, I feel like this is more kintsugi narrator telling us this than Amara. Feels weird to me that Amara has knowledge on what warrants lethal force from the police.
zebra school is very comprehensive yes lol

Because if you show hurt the liepard get you/ the human abandon you? But she doesn't care about the latter. I didn't feel fully convinced by the reasoning around strength here, though I'm open to the idea that hurt/betrayal is animating this anger.
I think what I wanted was instead -- as far as pokemon training, liepard target the weak; humans target the strong. What will protect you from one will make you vulnerable to the other.

Doesn't Hilda let out Amara sometimes for training/practice?
! an excellent point

Oof. That last line sounds like N's anxiety personified.
95% of this fic could be solved if N sat down and talked to Hilda's pokemon for more than 3 minutes tbh
 
v. narsil

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
cw: references to abuse
v. narsil

※​

She’s talking about you again.

Every now and then she’ll glance back at you like she doesn’t want you to overhear—she whispers furtively into the telephone, casting side-eye glances at you with every pause, one hand in front of her mouth.

Silly human. You weren’t cut yesterday. You were raised for strategy, not just war. Recognizing deception is the first thing you learned, when you were just a pawn. But you stand in the corner, ramrod straight, and keep your gaze trained on the wall, in case the idea of your not-knowing makes her feel better.

“Yes, hello.” Pause. “Burr.” Another pause. “B-U-R-R. First name Mina. Yes, it’s nice to talk to you too.”

Trainer usually sped through phone conversations at record speed, so it’s almost soothing to see her nodding patiently, biting her lip while the person in the phone talks back to her. She alternates between fidgeting with a ballpoint pen, running her thumb through a stack of bright blue paper squares, and twisting her hand through her golden hair.

“Yes. I’ve been trying to release my son’s pokémon.” Pause. “Reason?” Another pass of her hand through her hair. “Can I say extenuating circumstances?” She shifts her weight in the chair uncomfortably. “Yes. First name Timothy.” The phone chatters something, and she looks at a collection of numbers scrawled on the stack of paper in front of her. “Yes, that’s the license number.” More phone chattering. “Yes. I’m aware it’s been revoked.” She sighs. “Yes, he’s the one who’s been on the news recently.”

Oh. So that’s what this is all about.

“A conkeldurr, a palpitoad, and a bisharp.”

You can’t help but notice that her gaze lingers on you when she says the last word. Of course she means you. You’re the problem one again.

You’re not surprised. You always were the sticking point. Anri listened unquestioningly, though he cried; Samson listened and did not cry at all. But you had armor, and with it, pride. You only listened when you wanted to. Your blades and helm, which were the reason Trainer admired you in the first place, meant he could not harm you like he hurt the others. If he tried his fists would bounce off, or even bleed. But Trainer was smart in all the ways that didn’t matter. He hit Samson when you did not obey, and the conkeldurr was soft even though he pretended not to be.

“Yes, I’ll hold.” Mina puts the phone down, puts it on speaker, and buries her head in her hands. It begins to spout cheerful, grainy music.

And now Trainer is gone. Soon the rest of your team will be as well. For now you can only hope that what you get is better. For all of them, and maybe even for you.

It hadn’t taken much. You just needed someone who would listen. The audino at the pokécenter could recognize the bruising on Samson’s ribcage, and she could understand both of you even though you shaped the words differently. She’d asked him where it came from, and he stiffened and said nothing; she’d asked you where it came from, and you told her. And she’d signalled her nurse, and the nurse had told the police, and—

“Hello? Are you still there, ma’am?”

“Yes.”

You listen as whoever’s inside of the phone explains the situation to Mina. The last human in the phone told her the same thing. Does she think that she’ll get a new answer just because it’s a different day?

“I’ve spoken to the seismitoad sanctuary, and they do have the capacity to rehabilitate the palpitoad before reacclimating it to the wild. The wild conkeldurr crew by Nacrene is typically very accommodating to releases, but we would need to screen it and ensure that it wouldn’t cause any issues with the current crew—technical moves, over-aggression, and so forth. Simple stuff.” The man in the phone pauses, and then says in a stiffer voice, “We cannot coordinate release of a bisharp.”

At first you hadn’t told anyone because you didn’t think there was anyone to tell. Who would listen to a pawn who thought their Queen was unworthy? And then, after your evolution, all of that inability was overshadowed by a simple, selfish reason. You’d waited so long, even though acting would’ve helped Samson, would’ve helped Anri. When you’d finally been victorious over Skyla’s team and the energy coursed through your veins, twisting your body into a new shape, you felt nothing but dread. In that moment you knew there was no longer a place to return to, no escape. Promotion was a great gift, in many ways, but you were not worthy of it. A Queen with no pawns is a useless piece. A Queen who is used as a pawn is even worse. Now that you are a Queen with no file, you will only ever be a human’s pawn.

“You can’t? Why not?” Mina asks, but she hasn’t unburied her head from her hands, so her face is just a tangle of curly hair.

“Typically, wild pawniard form a pack of up to nine, and the strongest one evolves into bisharp to protect and command the others, coordinate hunts, and so forth. Introducing a bisharp into an existing pack will result in the pack killing the newcomer, or the newcomer killing first the bisharp and then any remaining pawniard who don’t accept it.” You can’t really tell through the phone, but the man sounds snide when adds, “This is actually one of the many reasons that a Class C permit is required to capture and raise a pawniard—the increased risk of evolution in captivity and subsequent impossibility of release means that a trainer must be prepared to care for their bisharp until the end of its life. Every trainer with a Class C permit is taught this information.”

You wonder if Trainer had their permission when he crept into the forest and snatched you from your file. Probably not. Trainer broke many human rules, from what you can gather. But not a single person who mattered ever asked him until it was too late, and now you’re here, staring resolutely at the wall and pretending not to notice that Mina is methodically shredding the bright blue squares of paper in front of her with a tight-lipped expression.

“Ma’am?”

“Well yes, but he’s—” Mina cuts herself off. “He certainly won’t be around to train it. Part of the—the lawyer says he’ll have a better chance if he can provide proof that he rehomed his pokémon.”

There’s a sticky silence.

“Ma’am, my job is to help pokémon reintegrate into the wild. Legally, there is nothing I can do. If you want a resource to help your son, I can direct you to some adoption or rehoming agencies.”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

You stare firmly at the wall as the phone rattles off a series of numbers and Mina scribbles them down on the largest remaining piece of paper. Perhaps your next trainer will be better. You never know.

※​

A woman arrives the next day with a kind smile and an intake form. She’s here from the Pinwheel Forest Seismitoad Sanctuary. She’ll leave a card if Mina needs to call again. She makes pleasant smalltalk while Mina fills out the form on the clipboard, but she doesn’t come in any further than the entryway. She takes Anri’s pokéball and leaves.

A courier arrives later that afternoon to take Samson to be evaluated by the wildlife reserve near Nacrene. He doesn’t know that, though—the pokéball is carefully wrapped up in a padded box and sealed away.

You don’t get to say goodbye to either of them.

You think it’s better that way. You never got to talk to them after Trainer got arrested. Will Samson hate you for what you’ve caused? Will Anri? The three of you were never close, not really—you never got to spend much time out of your pokéballs; you barely even learned to understand Anri’s strange way of speaking—but they were your only friends while you were owned by Trainer. Now your file has been torn away from you a second time, and none of you even had a chance to move.

Maybe knowing what Samson thinks about all this would’ve been better. Because then you wouldn’t have to stay restless the rest of the evening, running through a million scenarios in your head, a million that you’ll never see become reality. Samson forgives you. Samson hates you. Anri stares blankly and doesn’t understand how you could betray the one who loved him with fists. Anri joins you.

None of them will come true now. It’s the knowing and the mapping that makes a good Queen.

But you were trained for a life of battle. You didn’t always hate it. Not before Trainer made you hate it.

Now that there isn’t a fight, you aren’t even sure what good strategy will do. As pawn you had the defenses you needed to serve. Your blades could be sharpened on the stones by the river until they could cut through thick tree trunks with ease. Your helm could protect you from the sturdiest head-on impact. Queens were taller, but so much more changed—their shoulders are bigger, big enough to bear all the extra weight of having to think things through rather than receive orders.

Trainer was a bad pretender at being a Queen. You do not even consider acknowledging him as your Queen. Were he a pawn in your file, had he presumed to claim the rank for himself, he would’ve been removed from the board immediately. Such is the way. But he isn’t a pawn. He’s a human. The rules are different for them. If you remove him his kind will remove you immediately, you and anyone else they think was involved. Samson and Anri, who never wanted to be part of this. They wouldn’t have been able to defend themselves.

You don’t want to think of your file, which won’t take you back. You don’t want to think of Trainer, who you won’t take back.

Mina is staring at the television. There’s a woman in the box now, wearing a suit and holding a stick to her face, reporting about a trainer who beat his pokémon. The phrasing confuses you at first. Trainers don’t win against their pokémon, not if they’re supposed to be on the same side together.

She hisses something inaudible and tells the lightbox to show a different person, so it does—a green-haired man making an emphatic speech to a crowd, now a tall human chopping vegetables, now a group of women roaming through the woods while a liepard pads behind them. After a few switches, Mina rolls her eyes and turns the light in the television off before walking into the backyard.

You don’t fully understand the people inside of the television. They don’t seem to be real, even if they look like they are. They change sizes and costumes effortlessly, and lots of them vanish and never come back. You aren’t sure what happens to them, if they stay in the box or if they go somewhere new once their time is up, if a courier comes for them like they did for Samson. It’s more interesting to imagine that the lightbox humans live in a strange, parallel world, where time is divided into thirty minute segments and everyone has a specific purpose.

Trainer watched a lightbox for many hours once, watched a movie about a wanderer who would be king. You aren’t sure if he’d even noticed you were out of your pokéball; you’d crept up behind him in the hostel room and watched him watch them dance across the screen. The wanderer’s story unfolded before your eyes.

Many years before wanderer’s birth, the father of his father’s father had sat on the throne, and succumbed to the temptation to capture more than just his board. In his quest for power he sundered the Great Dragon into two halves; one who stood by his side and one who flew overhead and joined his enemy. At the end of their final battle, the king dared to turn his sword against the half of the Great Dragon that opposed him; rather than strike Them, the sword shattered in his hands.

Seeing this, the king threw the broken sword down, quietly walked with his shame into the sea, and when he was waist-deep he used his bare hands to tear out his throat.

Many generations later, when the earth erupted into war once more, the people cried for a new king, for the throne had remained empty across the centuries. There were many imposters, but none of them knew that the true king’s heir wandered the earth, disguised. He traveled across the land, finding pain and hurt in every corner of the map, and yet he feared that the weakness his blood would strike him still; that the lust for power that undid his father’s father’s father would consume him as well. And so he stayed his hand, and in his doubt he watched the world crumble around him.

On the eve of the final battle, when all seemed lost, the White Dragon appeared before him. They breathed a great torrent of flame onto the wanderer and the broken sword, the pieces of which the wanderer had carried with him all this time. When the fire faded, the sword was whole again, and he realized he was a king. Then the White Dragon urged the king to retake his birthright, and he did.

It was a much longer story. You don’t quite know the details. Trainer fell asleep in the first movie while you stared at the screen, enraptured; he was so bored by the second that he skipped to halfway through the third, by which point the wanderer had cast aside his cloak and taken up the sword at last.

The wanderer’s ending made you sad for reasons you couldn’t explain at the time, not that anyone had asked. He seemed unhappy as a wanderer, but he truly didn’t seem any happier as a king. He wandered across the entire earth to find himself a destiny that fit, but in the end the gift of his blood called louder.

Trainer cheered at the ending. It was a good ending, apparently.

But it didn’t seem fair. He was a wanderer but he was not lost, not until he decided he was.

※​

Mina talks to the phone over the next few days. You watch her from different corners of the room. Try to distract yourself in a way that doesn’t involve rubbing your blades together, since the one time you’d done that her eyes had widened in fear and she’d reached for your pokéball.

It’s hard, you’re learning, for a human to file a bisharp for adoption. There are a lot of red flags that make most agencies turn Mina down outright. The word “abused” gets thrown around a lot. She swears you aren’t violent; they don’t believe her. You don’t blame them. How could they believe her? How could a bisharp stop being violent?

You gather that they’re afraid that you hate humans, after what Trainer did to you. There’s a shadow that he’s cast on your entire team, one you can’t get out of. Most of them hear Mina’s full name and won’t even talk to her. The rest hear Mina’s full story and tell her politely that they have no space.

Sometimes the phone calls and she doesn’t tell it anything. She lets it scream quietly in the corner and leaves the person inside without anyone to talk to. You feel bad for the phone. It’s frustrating to shout for help and have no one listen.

But she just glares at the phone for a while, and then she goes outside and lets the door slam behind her. The phone wails.

You tune out the sound as you watch her. She keeps a careful garden in her backyard. More and more the phone has screamed and she’s answered it, paled, and hung up. More and more she’s gone to the garden. It’s small, too small for her to spend hours each day fretting over it, but she does. The stubborn ferocity with which she avoids the conflict before her reminds you of the wandering king.

She leaves you to sit idly and politely downstairs. She hasn’t tried to get you back into your pokéball after that one time, and you’re glad—you don’t want to end up like Anri and Samson, opening your eyes on a strange new part of the continent without even knowing what had happened. She’ll adopt you out, or sell you, and you know that when she puts you in your pokéball that’ll be the last time you see her.

You don’t think you’ll miss this place, it’s true. But what comes next might be worse.

You don’t rest well. Your dreams that night are fitful, fragmented.

Samson is there, wearing human clothes, a suit and tie. From a distance, he could be a human. He walks down a busy street. Another human slaps him. A crowd rushes to his side.

You fight Skyla and her pokémon over and over again. Her swanna is a thousand feet tall and it summons scythes of razor-sharp wind, so powerful that they slash through even your armor, leaving the skin beneath bare and exposed. It hurts more than Trainer’s punches ever could. A crowd cheers.

The battlefield morphs. Your file is around you. You, kneeling, tell Alapin that you do not wish to be Queen; that you will accede to her rule. You will not challenge her, if she would only let you rejoin the ranks as a pawn. She looks at you haughtily, her yellow eyes glinting at you through the slits in her helm.

{What,} the Queen asks you stonily, {am I supposed to do with a sword that no longer wants to fight?}

※​

The next day Mina leaves the garden door open. You follow, cautious.

You approach her heavily. Your boots feel heavy against the dry dirt. She’s hacking away at the ground with a hand shovel, but the ground is parched; it hardly yields. Mina stabs at the ground again and again with an intensity that you can’t help but find impressive.

{Let me help,} you say, but from the way she flinches, you can guess that your voice only sounds like a guttural, screeching sound, like trying to slide a rusted sword out of a sheath. She looks up in alarm as you get closer, but you kneel down and drag your blade across the dirt, parting a furrow that’s two inches wide and as long as you are tall.

It feels nice to cut the earth. The ground does not feel pain; it does not recoil from you; it does not cry. In your file it was a bad idea, a fast way for the blades to grow dull. Cutting softer materials would let you stay sharp.

You look up. Mina is staring at you blankly, the shovel still limply in her hand.

{For you,} you say as slowly as you can, gesturing with your blade, which is crusted with a thin film of dirt. {For your seedlings.}

That’s how this works, right? You only really know the concept. Seeds are buried and become trees. There is some wizardry there, surely. Trainer never picked up a grass-type so that’s really all you know about it.

Looking closer, she has tears in her eyes. They don’t look fresh. She’s been storing them, but now she wipes them away clumsily with the back of her hand. That’s when you notice that her hand insides are raw, bleeding. You look back at the shovel, and then you avert your eyes in shame. Wounds are not meant to be witnessed. That is what armor is for.

Something tells you that this wasn’t actually about the garden.

“Did you hate my son.”

It’s not a question.

It’s not a question she wants answered, it’s not a question you can answer, it’s not even a question at all. It’s just an opening for thought.

Trainer was cruel and petty and stupid. He wanted to collect shiny bits of metal and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there. When you disagreed, he tried to win you over through force. And now you are exiled from your file, never permitted to return, for you dared in your desperation to take upon yourself a Promotion that you had not earned, that the rest of the pawns had not decided you were worthy of. A Queen untested, one who has not stood on the board with the file, is not fit to command. Trainer was certainly never tested.

But did you hate him?

She isn’t looking at you for your response, thankfully. The words are rushing out instead, in a voice that’s ragged and hoarse. “They put his face all over the news. Everywhere. I’ve had friends and family calling for days—have you seen the news? Did you see what Timmy did? Did you know? But he went off on his own and did these horrible things to all of you, and everyone’s asking how he could do such a thing, how he could become an abuser. I don’t even answer the phone anymore; someone put my number on the internet and everyone’s been calling nonstop to tell me what a piece of shit we both are. And he’s going to be locked up for years at best; my own child; did I know.”

The shovel has slipped out of her hands. She’s staring at you, hard.

Do either of you mean anything to the other? You don’t see Trainer when you look at her. They share the same lips and nose, you think—face features are hard. Humans are foolish for not wearing helms. Their skin certainly isn’t strong enough to warrant going unprotected. But there’s a lightness in how she holds herself that Trainer never had. She doesn’t scowl at the world like it’s about to wound her. She holds herself like someone who’s already been hurt before, and has made peace with it.

You know what you look like. Queens and pawns alike were made for war. Your weapons twine into armor. Blades jut out in all the wrong places, too sharp for close contact with unprotected skin. A Queen’s color scheme is more pronounced too—red and yellow, to warn others to stay away from your file; black and silver, to defend it. There is nothing inviting for an armorless one here, and that was before you damned her son.

“And I didn’t know for sure, but when I want to feel shocked I can’t. I should be surprised about this. He was such a good kid. He’s my kid. I raised him as best as I could and he thought that fracturing a conkeldurr’s ribs was the best way to be a good trainer.” She splays her fingers across her forehead, threads the tips of her fingers in through her hair. She’s staring daggers into the ground when she asks, “When he hit the conkeldurr, the one where he got caught. Was it the first time?”

You aren’t sure how to answer that. You were the last one Trainer had captured. The fight had left Anri and Samson’s eyes long ago; Trainer had beaten it out of them.

Do you lie to her? Do you even care about her feelings?

Does it matter?

If he’d hit Samson once, if he’d only hit you and not the whole team, if he hadn’t broken bones—would it have been okay then? If he’d just let you get hit in battles, hadn’t resorted to using his own fists instead of someone else’s—would it have been okay then? There must be a line for what kind of hits were acceptable since not everyone is arrested; Trainer just crossed it.

It doesn’t seem fair. You think they all crossed the lines. They think it was only Trainer. She’ll adopt you out. Your next trainer will make you fight, make you hurt. They just won’t inflict the pain themselves. A good Queen is always on the battlefield. She is usually protected; it is usually acceptable to risk others on her behalf; she faces the same risk. She never attacks her own pawns. The battle is discipline enough.

She takes your silence as an answer in itself.

“I’m sorry, for what he did to you. I don’t know if it means anything coming from me.” She swallows heavily. “I didn’t know, but I think I knew. He wasn’t good for a journey, but he wanted it so, so badly, and he kept saying how he was ready. So I let him. That was the wrong choice. I’m sorry.”

Trainer will be locked up for years. He will probably never be allowed to fight for the rest of his life. In a file, that is the ultimate shame. From the way everyone is acting, it is a great punishment for humans as well. You caused this. You feel bad you did it. But you’re not sorry. Sorry means you wouldn’t do it again, but rewind the clock, knowing what you do now, and you’d still do it. You would hesitate, but you would do it. Every time.

“All of the adoption agencies are telling me that pokémon from abusive trainers are difficult to rehome. Especially certain species. They say abandoned bisharp are prone to become obsessively violent, or else they’ll become sullen, withdrawn. They don’t want to take you; neither of those are good traits for a new trainer.” She glances up, meets your gaze, and laughs to herself. Shakes her head as if it’ll clear her thoughts a little. “Look at me, talking to a pokémon. I must be going crazy.”

You grate out a response. {I’m listening.}

She can’t parse the words, the sound makes her head snap back over to you.

“What do you even want out of all of this? Where do you want to go now?”

You think of the wanderer, who tried for so long to run from his destiny only for the White Dragon to alight one night and reforge him. It was the sad but bitter truth that the world needed a king, not a wanderer, to save it from that war. But no one ever asked him what he wanted, not even the Great Dragon.

You run your blade deeper through the furrow in the ground, deep enough that the exposed ground is damp again.

She looks at it, frowning.

{For you,} you repeat. {For your seedlings.} A pause. She’s staring at you quizzically. You point one blade inward. {For me.}

“Do you want a trainer?”

You run your blade through the dirt again. The furrow grows.

Mina looks at you, a set of three wrinkles squiggling across her forehead to mirror the one you’ve carved into the dirt. “I guess I wouldn’t want to fight either, not if—” She swallows heavily. “Yeah.”

You lean back.

Mina looks at the trough you’ve made. “Is this for my garden?”

You tap the shovel. Point at her bloodied hand. Nod.

A smile creases her face. The first one you’ve seen from her so far.

“Could you—if you don’t mind—could you make it a little wider?”

So you do.

Something changes in her face. You aren’t sure what. She’s already soft, lacking in armor as she is, but she’s suddenly softer still.

The rest of the afternoon, she talks to you conversationally while she works. This row is for tamato, she explains. She holds up a tiny grain of dirt—one that, to your eyes, looks no different from the rest—and explains seeds, grow cycles, the proper amount of sun. There’s an oak tree in this part of the garden; it’ll shelter the seedlings when they start to sprout. Six hours of sunlight a day, give or take, is a good amount when they’re still young. Luckily by the time they get tall enough to need more, they’ll have grown out of the tree’s shadow. Last spring the air was too dry; she didn’t water enough. It looks like this season might be the same as well. That’s okay; she’ll just water more carefully this time.

The anger from before has slipped out of her voice; you imagine her burying it with each seed, piling great mounds of damp earth on it and hoping that when it next resurfaces, she’ll be able to find it beautiful instead.

She invites you to help, and you eagerly make holes in the ground where she directs you, but for the most part you’re happy to just watch her work and talk. She knows so much. Tamatos grow quickly and have big roots; they must be planted far apart. Chople should be planted in a different row, but to the north or south, as the tamatos will grow faster and will hungrily eat up their sun. But you can plant basil between them, and the smell will help repel insects once fruiting starts. And lilacs, she says, don’t really have a point or anything, but she thinks they’re pretty and they look good next to the rawst blossoms.

She moves you down to the chople row and starts picking small pebbles out of the furrow you’ve made her there. A windstorm came by last winter, she tells you in a guarded voice, and knocked the rawst bush over, nearly tore out all its roots and flung it halfway across the yard. She points it out to you now, how she’s helped it twine around a trio of sturdy wooden stakes that help keep it stable while it grows back into the earth. She left it to root in the spot where it landed, where the winds had stopped blowing it; the oak tree in the center of the garden will shield it from the next storm. It’s coming along quite nicely now. Soon, she says, you won’t even be able to tell; she’s sure that come summer, it’ll blossom just as vibrantly as it always has.

“It’s hard work,” she says suddenly, breaking off from her tangent about the best depth for planting mint. “We’ll have to visit the garden often, and pull the weeds out. Plants don’t just grow fruit overnight. Sometimes it’ll look like everything is fine; sometimes we’ll have to shoo the pidove away when they try to eat the fruit that isn’t ready. And there’s never really a day where you realize that the fruit is ready, because the plants grow so gradually.” She looks firmly at you. “But they’re growing towards a purpose, and we’ll help them get there. Even damaged leaves still need sun.”

Strands of sweaty hair hang in her face, and the aroma of damp earth is everywhere. She’s got her neck bent over the row of mint that she’s planting, but even still:

Something tells you this wasn’t actually about the garden.

※​

That evening Mina unplugs the phone. She makes a pot of boiled leaves. She offers some to you, and you accept it curiously. It has a strange aroma, prickles at your nose like a thousand tiny swords, but the bleeding doesn’t come. You don’t really understand how people can drink trees. The garden is mysterious indeed.

She turns on a lamp and curls her legs up on a couch that looks too small for just her. Her blanket, on the other hand, looks far too big. She flips through a book in relative silence, pausing every now and then to look at you.

You aren’t sure if you remember the wanderer-king’s story very well. Maybe the dragon did ask him what he wanted. But no one asked the sword. No one ever had asked the sword.

You don’t make a sound. Her cup of leaves slowly dwindles while you think about the plants you helped outside, about how they don’t need to be reforged to be rooted anew.



p | n
 
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OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
fjsdfkjsdkfj my heart. Okay, you got me.

Line reactions first, then hopefully some smart words at the end.

You weren’t cut yesterday.
I like this in-perspective saying.

when you were just a pawn.
Nice--immediately clear which pokemon this is.

“Yes. I’ve been trying to release my son’s pokémon.”
Oh! Is this--!

You’re the problem out of the three of you again.
Suggestion: You're the problem one again. (It's already clear they're a set of 3.)

But you had armor, and with it, pride. You only listened when you wanted to. Your blades and helm, which were the reason Trainer admired you in the first place, meant he could not harm you like he hurt the others
I like that they simply know Tim as Trainer. And yikes.

But Trainer was smart in all the ways that didn’t matter. He hit Samson when you did not obey, and the conkeldurr was soft even though he pretended not to be.
Ouch. :( This is also a central plot point in a YA book I just read and enjoyed! Neal Shusterman's Bruiser has a character who magically takes on the injuries and emotional pain of the people he cares about (whether he wants to or not). His abusive uncle doesn't hit him directly but instead hits the kid brother, which ammounts to the same thing because Brewster is the one hurt by it.

buries her head in her hands. It begins to spout cheerful, grainy music.
I love this juxtaposition.

non-indigenous moves
I wans't entirely sure what this meant.

I’ve spoken to the seismitoad sanctuary, and they do have the capacity to rehabilitate the palpitoad before reacclimating it to the wild.
Nice.

and coursing energy surged through your veins
Suggestion: energy coursed through your veins. Are they biological enough that they have veins and blood?

There was a simple, selfish reason you’d waited so long,
But what follows seems to be reasons it was bad to wait--we don't know why they did wait.

Legally there is nothing I can do.
Comma after legally. I also think *I* wants some emphasis.

Queen with no pawns is a useless piece. A Queen who is a pawn is even worse.
Do they think of themselves as pieces? And maybe "a Queen who is used as a pawn"? Good concepts here though.

and none of you even had a chance to move.
Oof.

Because then you wouldn’t have to stay restless the rest of the evening,
Restless rest. Maybe instead: you wouldn't be restless all evening?

Maybe knowing would’ve been better.
Knowing what, that they would be separated?

green-haired man making an emphatic speech to a crowd, now a tall human chopping vegetables, now a group of women roaming through the woods while a liepard pads behind them. After a few switches, Mina rolls her eyes and turns the light in the television off before walking into the backyard.
N! I liked the channel surfing. What the girls being stalked by mountain lion liepard another film reference? I like how liepard seems to be stalking the shadowy corners of these chapters. Seems fitting considering it sounds like baby Tourmaline is going to be a perspective character in the final chapters.

and everyone has a specific purpose.
This is a repeat theme too: pokemon seem to crave a purpose.

watched a wanderer who would be king.
Should some of this be capitalized as a title, to make it clearer it's a movie? I thought this was N first. I'm sure that's not an accident, but I took it really literally.

but he was not lost, not until he decided he was.
I wasn't quite sure when he decided not to be lost--sounds like Reshiram decided.

She lets it scream quietly in the corner and leaves the person inside without anyone to talk to. You feel bad for the phone. It’s frustrating to shout for help and have no one listen.
Oof.

But she doesn’t feel that way.
Unclear whether this means that she doesn't feel she's not being heard or that she doesn't feel sorry for the phone.

She has a careful garden in her backyard.
Maybe a more active verb than has since she's actively keeping it up--keeps?

{What,} the Queen asks you stonily, {am I supposed to do with a sword that no longer wants to fight?}
Oof.

but what she hears is a guttural, screeching sound, like trying to slide a rusted sword out of a sheath.
Are they aware this is what their voice sounds like?

he tried to win through force of might.
he tried to win through force of might.

everyone’s been calling nonstop to tell me what a piece of shit we both are. And he’s going to be locked up for years at best; my own child; did I know.”
This is a good detail--this is definitely how people behave.

She holds herself like someone who’s already been hurt before, and has made peace with it.
Oof. Big hearts.

You were the last member of your four-sided trio.
This was a little confusing.

He wasn’t good for a journey, but he wanted it so, so badly, and he kept saying how he was ready.
Oh nooo. Another good detail.

“Look at me, talking to a pokémon. I must be going crazy.”
Or: biggest brain.

who tried for so long to run from his destiny only for the White Dragon to alight one night and reforge him
I love the application of reforging + Reshiram. Running from the inevitable is also another reoccurring theme-fitting for a story told in reverse chronological order.

“Could you—if you don’t mind—could you make it a little wider?”
❤

But she’s suddenly softer, even for the armorless one that she is.
Suggestion: she's already soft, lacking armor, but she’s suddenly softer still.

The anger from before has slipped out of her voice; you imagine her burying it with each seed, piling great mounds of damp earth on it and hoping that when it next resurfaces, she’ll be able to find it beautiful instead.
K I N T S U G I

and the smell will help repel insects once fruiting starts. And lilacs, she says, don’t really have a point or anything, but she thinks they’re pretty and they look good next to the rawst blossoms.
Loved these details. Plant mom represent.

She left it to root in the spot where it landed, where the winds had stopped blowing it; the oak tree in the center of the garden will shield it from the next storm. It’s coming along quite nicely now. Soon, she says, you won’t even be able to tell; she’s sure that come summer, it’ll blossom just as vibrantly as it always has.
K I N T S U G I

This was such a surprisingly hopeful ending! I didn't expect her to soften to the bisharp so much or for the bisharp to see a path towards healing. The world-building throughout was very nice, especially the laws and licensing. At first, I was confused why Mina let the bisharp out at all, but by the end I was content to accept it as kindness. I do wish I knew what exactly our protagonist did to get their trainer arrested, but I guess that might be explained in a later chapter?
 

zion of arcadia

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
she
this is a story about things that start with n.

table of contents

o. End
I rate this prologue 0/10 for the pun alone. Or maybe 10/10. I haven’t decided yet.

Jokes aside, I’m genuinely excited about this story. I’ve always been a touch reticent when it comes to using pokemon as parallels for real-world events, but real-world events have reached such a point that ignoring these important concepts and ideas in my favorite fandom would be disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

... a lot of me wrestling with the paradox of calling someone a hero but not treating them like one. It also contains a healthy dose of my anger at the price of being silent, as well as my frustration with the price of being heard.
I’m not sure how I feel about opening your author’s note with the stated intent of the narrative. That said, it did further intrigue me, so hey. Subtlety is overrated anyway. We’re currently in dire need of bold declarations.

N has certainly always been one of the most interesting characters in the pokemon universe. A victim of abuse, there’s a consistent tendency to write him as either pure and childlike (infantilization) or creepy and socially out-of-touch (predatory). I have always wanted to write about N, but struggled because his traits almost feel antithetical to that of a ‘good’ protagonist.

Here there’s none of that. He’s clear, direct, and determined in what he wants. That seems to play into your stated purpose of examining the paradox of what it means to be a hero.

It’s worth noting that I googled the definition of hero for a frame of reference, and the first example is ‘war hero’. Heroes are inextricably tied to violence in some form or another. It’s very telling that the opening scene is a snapshot of the aftermath of extreme violence. The question with heroes should not be, ‘is this violence?’ the question instead should be, ‘who is this violence directed toward… and why?’ Even pacifist movements involved violence, both violence done against them by the state, and the juxtaposition of violence from other movements sharing the same values.

Which leads to my next thought: is the Hero of Ideals (I’m assuming you’re going with her canon name, either Hilda or White) a proponent (whether she knows it or not) of violence propagated by the state? What is the pokemon league, exactly? I think that, as the story progresses, this is the most important thing to define and understand, especially if we want a true parallel to current events. Otherwise, all we get is an empty metaphor. And I am tired of empty metaphors.

Down further, at the foot of the dais, a klinklang is scattered on the ground, their body gears in four separate pieces. It’s more reassuring to look at them in slow motion—were time going at its normal speed, the lack of spinning would be painfully obvious.
The majority of this opening prologue plays out in slow motion. But the way you framed it here is confusing because it links the slowing of time specifically with the klinklang. Contrast this with:

Behind the ancient dragon, time speeds up again.
While time speeding up is tied to the same sentence dictating reshiram’s position, it’s more obvious it’s applying to the scene overall. Would recommend clarifying the original sentence a touch more, given how prominent the slowing of time is. Personally I’d lead with time slowing down, rather than making klinklang the focal point of the paragraph.

… the yang dragon rises like a tree at the center of the heartwood.
This somewhat confused me, as I was under the impression heartwood was at the center of a tree. Also, not sure I agree with using a tree simile to describe a being of fire. They are at odds. Although I understand the logic--reshiram is ancient and wise, a source of stability in the surrounding chaos.

Blue eyes blaze with all the intensity of a dying star.
I liked this metaphor much better. The idea of reshiram about to go supernova and change the course of history irrevocably is powerful imagery. The fact that stars are also one of the most common examples of plasma is an added bonus. Enjoy the layering there, even if it’s unintentional.

Pokémon. Humans. Black. White.
I can’t decide if this is on the nose or not. I also never know what pokemon are meant to represent--oppression of fellow sapient beings, or animal cruelty in a more elaborate form of cock-fighting? It’s one of my biggest criticisms of these types of stories. Are they anthropomorphized animals or… what, exactly? This seems to fall firmly and clearly on the side of, ‘not quite human, so not a direct parallel to the black struggle, but still an examination of civil rights for oppressed groups and the civil rights leaders that fought on their behalf’. Which I think I’m okay with. We’ll see how I feel about it further down the line.

Two worlds that have spent so long trying to merge into one balance, and yet—the interplay was always distinct. Every yin had a yang; at the center of each darkness was a drop of light, but between them there was and would always be a line. Pretending it’s not there doesn’t make the line stop existing.
This was probably the most interesting part of the chapter for me. Everything else had me nodding in agreement, but this made me sit up and take notice. Is this a potential critique of dualism? Or is it just a literary technique to emphasize your opinions regarding heroes and the nature of consequence? I hope it’s the former instead of the latter, because that would give this story an angle I haven’t seen before.

The archeops twists out of the way as the serperior crashes down.
Anyone who uses an archeops deserves to lose. :P

The rest of the story plays out backwards.
I have mixed feelings about this decision. On the one hand, I enjoy creative explorations of structure in storytelling. On the other hand, I’m not convinced this particular story benefits from this specific framework.

To help articulate my feelings, I decided to look further into analysis of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. This is a movie famous for being told in reverse.

Typical story structure: ⟶⟶⟶

Memento’s story structure:

⤍ / ⤵
/
⤌ / ⤾

My fear about what this story’s structure will look like: ⟵⟵⟵

Let’s break this down. When writing a story, the story doesn’t come from structure, the structure comes from the story. Memento is about memory and distortion of reality. The movie replicates Leonard’s experience of living in the moment through its out-of-order narrative.

“Memory can change the shape of a room, it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted.” --Leonard

That is to say, Memento follows a specific designing principle. John Truby defines designing principle as follows:

“The designing principle is what organizes story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It is what makes the story original.”

A traditional story can be boiled down to the question, ‘what happens next?’ while a ‘reverse’ narrative instead asks, ‘what just happened?’

This is further complicated by the fact that the inspiration here is the main black/white story, which most of the audience already knows. A specific event is changed, yes, and I’m curious to know what was changed and why, but the implication is that most of the events are going to remain the same. They're simply told through the lens of N’s perspective and without Game Freak trying to poorly defend the central premise of their billion-dollar property.

The fundamental reason chronological storytelling is more common is that it’s easier to create drama and narrative tension. It’s why prequels are often lambasted and out-of-order narrative has been criticized in the past as being ‘gimmicky’.

One analysis video I watched for Memento broke down the questions asked within the movie into a pyramid divided into three parts:

  1. Overarching questions. This is something envy of eden has in spades. It’s why I really like the premise of the story--there’s a solid foundation. What is the price of being silent? What is the price of being heard? What is the price of being a hero? And considering this is only the prologue, these questions can certainly be expanded upon and further specified. I’m just concerned that I haven’t seen any sort of hint of this expansion within the opening chapter itself.
  2. What questions span multiple scenes? In Memento, Leonard has a polaroid camera consistently used to try and solve the problem of his short-term memory loss. It’s also a tool of manipulation both for Leonard himself and the audience. Will the slowing down of time be a similar recurring feature? If so, how does that play into themes expressed by the overarching questions? If not, well… what was the point?
  3. What questions are being asked on a scene-by-scene basis? This goes back to what I mentioned before, that the main question in reverse storytelling should be, ‘what just happened’? In Memento, a scene opens with Leonard holding a bottle of alcohol. We, the audience, ask ourselves how he got that drink. And then the next scene answers the question of how he got the drink, while simultaneously raising a new question.
Is it wrong to believe that this was the only ending? Perhaps. But was there a better way? Was there a diverging branch that got overlooked, a path that led to an ideal world where everyone was happy?

Probably. Was it worth letting thousands of people suffer while you tried to find the route that left their oppressors undisturbed? No.
This underlines my biggest criticism. I agree with everything stated here. I’m not being forced to ask questions. I don’t feel compelled to continue reading. This also leads to a fundamental ideological question--is the main purpose of this story for me?

If the goal is to try and shift the minds of people who believe otherwise, that’s admirable, but… are they going to read this? Because if they were, and this prologue was the conclusion of the story rather than the beginning, I can’t help but think it would have more emotional weight for them. I don’t have an answer one way or another. And ultimately I can only work within my own frame of reference.

I need to experience an emotional revelation by the end of the story. I’m being put into a position where one of two things are true--either N is correct and the narrative tension is nonexistent, or N is fallible in some way that undermines the strength of his position, but that doesn’t matter to me because the strength of his position supersedes his human fallibility. You’ve essentially set the ideological basis of the story and the structure of the story at odds with each other. Or, perhaps, you're hoping the individual personalities and flaws of both N and Hilda will be enough to carry the emotional tension for the audience.

If you were set on telling the story in reverse, perhaps telling it from Hilda’s perspective would’ve been wiser. We see it filtered through the perspective of someone who believes they’re in the right. An unreliable narrator is an effective way to create narrative tension in this structure. And if the concern is something like the Lolita problem (where the goal is to disdain the protagonist despite their humanity, but many miss the hill for the trees), a solution could be to juxtapose Hilda’s segment with segments from N, perhaps N as a child growing up surrounded by abused pokemon (similar to how in Memento, the conversations with Sammy Jankis break up the narrative).

Well, this review comes across rather negatively. To be clear, I really like the prologue and I plan on reading more. I enjoy the writing style. The atmosphere is one of ponderous inevitability moving backward to end on a note of melancholy. Things are broken and must be fixed. I just wonder if the story you want to tell could be told better with a different structure. The emotional catharsis is being front-loaded, and I'm not sure the characters are strong enough to carry the burden of the narrative.

Have a good day.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
This is not going to be my most articulate review because my brain is clogged with irl stuff, but overall I loved the quiet healing you showed in this chapter. Stories where unlikely people come to an understanding and are able to heal are very much my jam, and this chapter especially shines in contrast with the grimmer fates of Amara and Carnel. It's also nice to focus for a bit on characters outside the named canon ones, to give a sense of how the world functions and how ordinary humans and pokemon coexist. It's interesting that Unova appears to take abuse so seriously. It feels like one of those things where overt cases are made an example of, but people refuse to deal with the problems raised by cases that are not so obvious.

Mina was really well characterized and I like how you focused on her physicality. I also like the world-building with pawniard/bisharp culture. The one place the chapter felt a little lacking to me was in the characterization of the narrator. The ending was hugely cathartic but I felt like I didn't get answers to some questions posed in the chapter. Gardening bisharp owns my heart, though.

She’s talking about you again.
Nice opener!

She seems concerned that you’ll recognize that, too
This felt a little unnecessarily wordy.

keep your gaze trained on the wall, in case the idea of your not-knowing makes her feel better.
So considerate!

Trainer usually sped through phone conversations at record speed, so it’s almost soothing on a strange level to see her nodding patiently, biting her lip while the person in the phone talks back to her.
Oh, I bet he did. I'd cut "on a strange level" bc redundancy.

She alternates between fidgeting with a ballpoint pen, running her thumb through a stack of bright blue paper squares, and twisting her hand through her golden hair.
Like the physicality here

He hit Samson when you did not obey, and the conkeldurr was soft even though he pretended not to be.
Oh no :(

Soon everyone else will be as well.
This threw me off on initial read--it sounded like N ending the world level everyone will be gone, not just the other two pokemon will be.

And she’d told her nurse, and the nurse had told the police, and—
Bit curious how the audino and nurse are communicating, how widespread that is etc

They seem to take straightforward trainer abuse pretty seriously, which is interesting.

“I’ve spoken to the seismitoad sanctuary, and they do have the capacity to rehabilitate the palpitoad before reacclimating it to the wild. The wild conkeldurr crew by Nacrene is typically very accommodating to releases, but we would need to screen it and ensure that it wouldn’t cause any issues with the current crew—technical moves, over-aggression, and so forth. Simple stuff.” The man in the phone pauses, and then says in a stiffer voice. “We cannot coordinate release of a bisharp.”

At first you hadn’t told anyone because you didn’t think there was anyone to tell. Who would listen to a pawn that didn’t want to fight? And then, after your evolution, there was a simple, selfish reason you’d waited so long, even though acting would’ve helped Samson, would’ve helped Anri. When you’d finally been victorious over Skyla’s team and the energy coursed through your veins, twisting your body into a new shape, you felt nothing but dread. In that moment you knew there was no longer a place to return to, no escape. Promotion was a great gift, in many ways, but you were not worthy of it. A Queen with no pawns is a useless piece. A Queen who is used as a pawn is even worse. Now that you are a Queen with no file, you will only ever be a human’s pawn.

“You can’t? Why not?” Mina asks, but she hasn’t unburied her head from her hands, so her face is just a tangle of curly hair.

“Typically, wild pawniard form a pack of up to nine, and the strongest one evolves into bisharp to protect and command the others, coordinate hunts, and so forth. Introducing a bisharp into an existing pack will result in the pack killing the newcomer, or the newcomer killing first the bisharp and then any remaining pawniard who don’t accept it.” You can’t really tell through the phone, but the man sounds snide when adds, “This is actually one of the many reasons that a Class C permit is required to capture and raise a pawniard—the increased risk of evolution in captivity and subsequent impossibility of release means that a trainer must be prepared to care for their bisharp until the end of its life. Every trainer is taught this information.”
This felt very Alola dex! I really like all the focus on the logistics of pokemon release and the behaviors of pawniard and bisharp.

Maybe that should be "Every trainer with a Class C permit" is taught this? It feels a bit unrealistic that every single trainer would be taught this. How is that being ensured? Whereas if it's tied to acquiring a license that makes sense.

At first you hadn’t told anyone because you didn’t think there was anyone to tell. Who would listen to a pawn that didn’t want to fight? And then, after your evolution, there was a simple, selfish reason you’d waited so long, even though acting would’ve helped Samson, would’ve helped Anri. When you’d finally been victorious over Skyla’s team and the energy coursed through your veins, twisting your body into a new shape, you felt nothing but dread. In that moment you knew there was no longer a place to return to, no escape. Promotion was a great gift, in many ways, but you were not worthy of it. A Queen with no pawns is a useless piece. A Queen who is used as a pawn is even worse. Now that you are a Queen with no file, you will only ever be a human’s pawn.
Found this paragraph a bit confusing. I'm not sure whether the narrator wanted to evolve or not? Also " Who would listen to a pawn that didn’t want to fight?" implies the narrator wanted out for their own sake, but "there was a simple, selfish reason you’d waited so long, even though acting would’ve helped Samson, would’ve helped Anri" implies the narrator was fine with the current situation and only sought help for their sakes?

You wonder if trainer had their permission when he crept into the forest and snatched you from your file. Probably not. Trainer broke many human rules, from what you can gather. But not a single person who mattered ever asked him until it was too late,
Is the idea that Trainer didn't have the correct permit? It seems like it would be pretty standard for pokemon centers to automatically compare someone's pokemon with their permits.

He doesn’t know that, though—the pokéball is carefully wrapped up in a padded box and sealed away.

You don’t get to say goodbye to either of them.
Oh no. Pokeballs really faciliate this removal of agency from the pokemon.

Because then you wouldn’t have to stay restless the rest of the evening, running through a million scenarios in your head, a million that you’ll never see become reality. It’s the knowing and the mapping that makes a good Queen.
I sort of want to know what these scenarios are? This feels kind of vague. Would feel more convincing and frenetic if it was more concrete. Maybe the instance of the narrator's capture? The evolution?

Queens were taller, but so much more changed—your shoulders are bigger, now, big enough to bear all the extra weight of having to think things through rather than receive orders.
The narrator doesn't seem to feel up to being a queen, so maybe it would be better not to slip into second? "Queens were taller, but so much more changed—their shoulders are bigger, big enough to bear all the extra weight of having to think things through rather than receive orders. Your shoulders are bigger now, but you're not sure they're up to the task."

Trainer was a bad pretender at being a Queen. You do not even consider acknowledging him as your Queen. Were he a pawn in your file, had he presumed to claim the rank for himself, he would’ve been removed from the board immediately. Such is the way.
That makes me wonder why the narrator didn't try to remove him, if that's the way? Knowledge that there would be consequences? Personal dislike of violence?

At the end of their final battle, the king dared to turn his sword against the half of the Great Dragon that opposed him; rather than strike Them, the sword shattered in his hands.

Seeing this, the king threw the broken sword down, quietly walked with his shame into the sea, and when he was waist-deep he used his bare hands to tear out his throat.
Ooh, I like the sword shattering.

I'm not sure about tearing out one's throat with one's own hands. Hard to envision, even in a mythic context. Maybe he just walks in until he drowns?

And so he stayed his hand, and in his doubt he watched the world crumble around him.
Hi N

N as Aragorn is an interesting take. Obviously Aragorn is defined by the weight of history more than N is.

he was so bored by the second that he skipped to halfway through the third
LOL at all the people who do this in the LotR movies.

He wandered across the entire earth to find himself a destiny that fit, but in the end the gift of his blood called louder.

And that didn’t seem fair. He was a wanderer but he was not lost, not until he decided he was.
Eh, I feel like you're forcing that last line a bit. When does he decide that he's lost in this scenario? In the story he accepts the White Dragon's sword.

Try to distract yourself in a way that doesn’t involve rubbing your blades together, since the one time you’d done that her eyes had widened in fear and she’d reached for your pokéball.
Nice.

She lets it scream quietly in the corner and leaves the person inside without anyone to talk to. You feel bad for the phone. It’s frustrating to shout for help and have no one listen.
Aw, I like this a lot.

The stubborn ferocity with which she avoids the conflict before her reminds you of the wandering king.
Hm, it seems like Mina hasn't been entirely avoiding things though--she's doing lots of calls and trying--so I'm not sure about this comparison.

Also, later "Something tells you that this wasn’t actually about the garden." is treated as revelation, but this line makes it seem like the narrator already 100% understands that the gardening is a coping method.

She hasn’t tried to get you back into your pokéball after that one time, and you’re glad—you don’t want to end up like Anri and Samson, opening your eyes on a strange new part of the continent without even knowing what had happened.
I do wonder why Mina only seems to have let out the narrator and never the others? Feels a bit weird, if you're going to have any pokemon out, why have the sharp blade supposed to hate humans one?

A crowd rushes to his side.

You fight Skyla and her pokémon over and over again. Her swanna is a thousand feet tall and it summons scythes of razor-sharp wind, so powerful that they slash through even your armor, leaving the skin beneath bare and exposed. It hurts more than Trainer’s punches ever could. A crowd cheers.
I like these dreams, but maybe don't end both with a crowd doing something?

The battlefield morphs. Your file is around you. You, kneeling, tell Alapin that you do not wish to be Queen; that you will accede to her rule. You will not challenge her, if she would only let you rejoin the ranks as a pawn. She looks at you haughtily, her yellow eyes glinting at you through the slits in her helm.

{What,} the Queen asks you stonily, {am I supposed to do with a sword that no longer wants to fight?}
Oooh. I like how you show the knowledge that their file will reject them weighing so heavily on their mind.

Mina stabs at the ground again and again with an intensity that you can’t help but find impressive.

{Let me help,} you say, but from the way she flinches, you can guess that your voice only sounds like a guttural, screeching sound, like trying to slide a rusted sword out of a sheath. She looks up in alarm as you get closer, but you kneel down and drag your blade across the dirt, parting a furrow that’s two inches wide and as long as you are tall.

It feels nice to cut the earth. The ground does not feel pain; it does not recoil from you; it does not cry. In your file it was a bad idea, a fast way for the blades to grow dull. Cutting softer materials would let you stay sharp.
Love this.

Seeds are buried and become trees. There is some wizardry there, surely.
<3

You look back at the shovel, and then you avert your eyes in shame.
Didn't follow this. Why the shame?

“Did you hate my son.”

It’s not a question.

It’s not a question she wants answered, it’s not a question you can answer, it’s not even a question at all. It’s just an opening for thought.

Trainer was cruel and petty and stupid. He wanted to collect shiny bits of metal and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there. When you disagreed, he tried to win you over through force. And now you are exiled from your file, never permitted to return, for you dared in your desperation to take upon yourself a Promotion that you had not earned, that the rest of the pawns had not decided you were worthy of. A Queen untested, one who has not fielded the stood on the board with the file, is not fit to command. Trainer was certainly never tested.

But did you hate him?
I love all this, but I do feel like the one issue with this chapter for me is that we don't get this answered? I really don't have a sense of how the narrator feels about Trainer. They don't really seem to hate him, just feel a bit of contempt?

Do either of you mean anything to the other? You don’t see Trainer when you look at her. They share the same lips and nose, you think—face features are hard. Humans are foolish for not wearing helms. Their skin certainly isn’t strong enough to warrant going unprotected. But there’s a lightness in how she holds herself that Trainer never had. She doesn’t scowl at the world like it’s about to wound her. She holds herself like someone who’s already been hurt before, and has made peace with it.

You know what you look like. Queens and pawns alike were made for war. Your weapons twine into armor. Blades jut out in all the wrong places, too sharp for close contact with unprotected skin. A Queen’s color scheme is more pronounced too—red and yellow, to warn others to stay away from your file; black and silver, to defend it. There is nothing inviting for an armorless one here, and that was before you damned her son.

“And I didn’t know for sure, but when I want to feel shocked I can’t. I should be surprised about this. He was such a good kid. He’s my kid. I raised him as best as I could and he thought that fracturing a conkeldurr’s ribs was the best way to be a good trainer.” She splays her fingers across her forehead, threads the tips of her fingers in through her hair. She’s staring daggers into the ground when she asks, “When he hit the conkeldurr, the one where he got caught. Was it the first time?”
The characterization of Mina is great.

If he’d hit Samson once, if he’d only hit you and not the whole team, if he hadn’t broken bones—would it have been okay then? If he’d just let you get hit in battles, hadn’t resorted to using his own fists instead of someone else’s—would it have been okay then? There must be a line for what kind of hits were acceptable since not everyone is arrested; Trainer just crossed it.
Again, I kind of want the narrator's take on this, not just leaving it as rhetorical.

She’ll adopt you out. Your next trainer will make you fight, make you hurt. They just won’t inflict the pain themselves. A good Queen is always on the battlefield but only enters the fray only as a last resort. The battle is discipline enough.
So if queens don't enter the battle, the narrator doesn't inherently disapprove of the role a trainer plays?

All complicated by the fact this particular bisharp doesn't actually like fighting.


You run your blade deeper through the furrow in the ground, deep enough that the exposed ground is damp again.

She looks at it, frowning.

{For you,} you repeat. {For your seedlings.} A pause. She’s staring at you quizzically. You point one blade inward. {For me.}
<3

“Don’t you want a trainer?”
I was a little unsure how Mina is making this leap of logic from what the narrator does here. Would work better for me as a direct question, "Do you want a trainer," that the narrator answers by digging.

Mina looks at you, a set of three wrinkles squiggling across her forehead to mirror the one you’ve carved into the dirt. “I guess I wouldn’t want to fight either, not if—” She swallows heavily. “Yeah.”
I like the wrinkle description.

“Could you—if you don’t mind—could you make it a little wider?”

So you do.

Something changes in her face. You aren’t sure what. She’s already soft, lacking in armor as she is, but she’s suddenly softer still.
Oh, I love this. This moment when she realizes she's understood and she understands.

That evening Mina unplugs the phone. She makes a pot of boiled leaves. She offers some to you, and you accept it curiously. It has a strange aroma, prickles at your nose like a thousand tiny swords, but the bleeding doesn’t come. You don’t really understand how people can drink trees. The garden is mysterious indeed.
tea appreciation, yes

Her cup of leaves slowly dwindles while you think about the plants you helped outside, about how they don’t need to be reforged to be rooted anew.
I didn't find this closing metaphor entirely satisfying. It feels like the narrator is relating to the sword here, but when the LotR story is presented, the narrator seems to be relating to N Aragorn's internal conflict, not the sword's perspective. I don't know, I have no brain this week.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
beeg review responses! edits coming in across the next few days; been a but busy this week

fjsdfkjsdkfj my heart. Okay, you got me.
hahaha of course the plant that wants to be a sword and the sword that wants to be a plant are the OSJ-fav characters! tbh I almost felt like I was fishing when this took a gardening reaction!

Line reactions first, then hopefully some smart words at the end.
did the line edits; will do smart edits ... this weekend I think? rip zoroark

Ouch. :( This is also a central plot point in a YA book I just read and enjoyed! Neal Shusterman's Bruiser has a character who magically takes on the injuries and emotional pain of the people he cares about (whether he wants to or not). His abusive uncle doesn't hit him directly but instead hits the kid brother, which ammounts to the same thing because Brewster is the one hurt by it.
oh wow oh fuck that's DARK
I think I was getting whipping boy vibes from this? But also just, how do you punish someone who is stronger than you? How can you instill fear and/or obedience?

I wans't entirely sure what this meant.
I imagined them screening for TM's or bred moves from a different-species parent that could potentially fuck up the ecosystem (and also dramatically alter the "natural" learnsets of the wild pokemon). In this case, I could see them being leery of allowing a conkeldurr with, say, the elemental punches back into the forest since that could potentially wreak havoc on the primarily fire-less/dry area and also would be a trait that could be passed down.

^none of this is particularly relevant but I cleaned up the phrasing on that a bit! Just didn't want to make you read the whole thing again.

But what follows seems to be reasons it was bad to wait--we don't know why they did wait.
mmm yup that was phrased badly

Knowing what, that they would be separated?
yup! rephrased

N! I liked the channel surfing. What the girls being stalked by mountain lion liepard another film reference? I like how liepard seems to be stalking the shadowy corners of these chapters. Seems fitting considering it sounds like baby Tourmaline is going to be a perspective character in the final chapters.
Haha, not at all intentional or a reference! I initially wanted something with Jurassic Park since people doing dumb things is apparently the mood this year but couldn't figure out a good Unova dinosaur that bish could recognize, so I just replaced it with a liepard since there are like, 15 species in Unova lol.

This is a repeat theme too: pokemon seem to crave a purpose.
Yes, definitely! Me railing against the idea that pokemon are only useful to humans for battling, a concept that I imagine would cause pokemon some internal strife as well.

Should some of this be capitalized as a title, to make it clearer it's a movie? I thought this was N first. I'm sure that's not an accident, but I took it really literally.
i a m s u b t l e

I wasn't quite sure when he decided not to be lost--sounds like Reshiram decided.
This is one I want to rewrite over the weekend to make more clear -- I think your assessment of the wanderer-king is correct, but they aren't looking at things from the point of view of the wanderer really; they're feeling sorry for the sword. It's just hard for them to put into words so I danced around saying it explicitly, but given the general confusion around this concept I think I'll rework that section a bit.

Unclear whether this means that she doesn't feel she's not being heard or that she doesn't feel sorry for the phone.
I meant the phone, fixed!

I love the application of reforging + Reshiram. Running from the inevitable is also another reoccurring theme-fitting for a story told in reverse chronological order.
!! this warms my heart

This was such a surprisingly hopeful ending! I didn't expect her to soften to the bisharp so much or for the bisharp to see a path towards healing. The world-building throughout was very nice, especially the laws and licensing. At first, I was confused why Mina let the bisharp out at all, but by the end I was content to accept it as kindness. I do wish I knew what exactly our protagonist did to get their trainer arrested, but I guess that might be explained in a later chapter?
I was a bit concerned with all the fire and blood in this opening, yeah, and I wanted this chapter to mark a bit of an upward trend for at least some of the characters. Ironically I think the further back we go in chronology the sadder these happy bits become -- since those aren't the beats of the story that end up sticking.

Cleaned up some of the other bits! still tbd on why she'd leave the bish out haha, besides like ... I needed a viewpoint character here.

Ty based garden mom!! <3

I rate this prologue 0/10 for the pun alone. Or maybe 10/10. I haven’t decided yet.
lmao if you think this pun is bad
also, wow, thank you so much! this is a very meaty review and i love it dearly. I will try to respond as clearly/thoroughly as I can.

Jokes aside, I’m genuinely excited about this story. I’ve always been a touch reticent when it comes to using pokemon as parallels for real-world events, but real-world events have reached such a point that ignoring these important concepts and ideas in my favorite fandom would be disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.
Wanted to give a bit of a disclaimer here! I did start writing this back in April for Camp Nano and the draft was pretty much done by the end of April. I think recent events were more of a kick in the pants for "okay, fine, it really is time to post this", but at the heart of this fic is the struggle of pushing for people to change -- not exactly a specific change, and there are definitely flavors of current events that are scattered throughout, but I didn't intend for this to be a direct parallel to any specific activist movement. Honestly a lot of the most fire and blood lines in later chapters were written before they became directly relevant to current protests (but they're also things that people have been saying for a long time). I think it'd be hard for me personally to make such a strict parallel in fanfiction, specifically because historical events happened to real people and this story does not.

I’m not sure how I feel about opening your author’s note with the stated intent of the narrative. That said, it did further intrigue me, so hey. Subtlety is overrated anyway. We’re currently in dire need of bold declarations.
I am not very subtle lmao.
I guess in my experience the "N did most things right" take is a pretty spicy one. I wanted to make sure that people knew what they were in for, where it was coming from. I might cut it down since it seems to have caused you more confusion than it fixed. Rip bold declarations. One day your time will come.

It’s worth noting that I googled the definition of hero for a frame of reference, and the first example is ‘war hero’. Heroes are inextricably tied to violence in some form or another. It’s very telling that the opening scene is a snapshot of the aftermath of extreme violence. The question with heroes should not be, ‘is this violence?’ the question instead should be, ‘who is this violence directed toward… and why?’ Even pacifist movements involved violence, both violence done against them by the state, and the juxtaposition of violence from other movements sharing the same values.
Which leads to my next thought: is the Hero of Ideals (I’m assuming you’re going with her canon name, either Hilda or White) a proponent (whether she knows it or not) of violence propagated by the state? What is the pokemon league, exactly? I think that, as the story progresses, this is the most important thing to define and understand, especially if we want a true parallel to current events. Otherwise, all we get is an empty metaphor. And I am tired of empty metaphors.
An interesting assessment! Back in April when the world was slightly less on fire, "hero" was referring more to essential workers, warehouse restockers, medical professionals, etc -- the people who were being asked to put their bodies on the line without any substantial support beyond shitty ad reels or hero pay. The frustration I felt at "we're all in this together" signs was the same kind of frustration I felt when questioning if pokemon and humans were really equal partners. The frustration I felt at people staying silent for protests around the globe, the people who were mad at me for blocking their traffic, the people who were mad at people who spoke up -- because the people who were silent or mad were the same people who said they weren't. A lot of that frustration leaked into the fic, so I wanted to credit its origin. I think a similar question of "who should suffer, who should help" runs true through all of these (fictional and otherwise), but initially the parallels of physical violence were not so direct.

Granted, with two more months of 2020 under my belt, a lot of the current interpretations of the word hero, especially the violent, tragic, and unintended recipients of the title, the question of who should receive violence, etc of heroism felt more Relevant than it had when I started -- I just don't want to lead you astray in thinking that this was my intent from the very beginning. This fic may feel like an empty or incorrect metaphor for a specific kind of activism/hero/violence as a result.

While time speeding up is tied to the same sentence dictating reshiram’s position, it’s more obvious it’s applying to the scene overall. Would recommend clarifying the original sentence a touch more, given how prominent the slowing of time is. Personally I’d lead with time slowing down, rather than making klinklang the focal point of the paragraph.
mmmm, yes! I will fix this.

This somewhat confused me, as I was under the impression heartwood was at the center of a tree. Also, not sure I agree with using a tree simile to describe a being of fire. They are at odds. Although I understand the logic--reshiram is ancient and wise, a source of stability in the surrounding chaos.
I learned something new today! For some reason I've always thought that heartwood is the name for the oldest, most dense part of the forest! But I'm quite wrong there. Will rephrase.

I liked this metaphor much better. The idea of reshiram about to go supernova and change the course of history irrevocably is powerful imagery. The fact that stars are also one of the most common examples of plasma is an added bonus. Enjoy the layering there, even if it’s unintentional.
i use star metaphors everywhere figuring out which things can be described with fire and lightning metaphors was a primary driver of this fic, lol, but this one was unintentional!

I can’t decide if this is on the nose or not. I also never know what pokemon are meant to represent--oppression of fellow sapient beings, or animal cruelty in a more elaborate form of cock-fighting? It’s one of my biggest criticisms of these types of stories. Are they anthropomorphized animals or… what, exactly? This seems to fall firmly and clearly on the side of, ‘not quite human, so not a direct parallel to the black struggle, but still an examination of civil rights for oppressed groups and the civil rights leaders that fought on their behalf’. Which I think I’m okay with. We’ll see how I feel about it further down the line.
Yup! I think this interpretation is more in-line with how I wanted things to be perceived. I'm not really sure if fanfiction is an adequate place to address the struggles of specific, real-world people, since they're actually in the real world. There are also significant differences between the Pokemon world and ours that I can't really overlook, such as the dramatic biological differences between pokemon and humans, the (mostly) insurmountable language/cultural barriers, etc. But I think there are some things that unite us, in fantasy worlds and otherwise -- and imo the concept of "activism" can be one of those, especially in a story about N/Plasma.

This was probably the most interesting part of the chapter for me. Everything else had me nodding in agreement, but this made me sit up and take notice. Is this a potential critique of dualism? Or is it just a literary technique to emphasize your opinions regarding heroes and the nature of consequence? I hope it’s the former instead of the latter, because that would give this story an angle I haven’t seen before.
Not my critique, but N's, but yes, mostly the former.

Let’s break this down. When writing a story, the story doesn’t come from structure, the structure comes from the story. Memento is about memory and distortion of reality. The movie replicates Leonard’s experience of living in the moment through its out-of-order narrative.
[...]
A traditional story can be boiled down to the question, ‘what happens next?’ while a ‘reverse’ narrative instead asks, ‘what just happened?’
I think this is a fascinating perspective -- Memento as a reverse-narrative structure is a good parallel that I hadn't previously considered.

I think for me the major difference is one that you address later in your review: most of the audience knows how this story is going to end. A direct game retelling of BW will have the same major beats, the same villains, the same heroes; it may vary on the small-scale character dramas but the general shape will be the same, and familiar to the reader. I know that and I know there isn't much suspense in getting the reader to ask what will happen next (or what already happened). The big plot divergence gets revealed in the first full chapter and it's not meant to be a major secret. With no way to really surprise readers about an ending, the question I wanted this narrative to ask was "why did this happen?"

Because, frankly, BW does a shitty job of explaining that. And because I know the ending is inevitable already. To give a more meta reasoning and to tie this back to real world things -- I wanted this to be like learning history. I started out being taught about people making these big grand statements, or about a war, or a march, or a thousand people killed. I learned history in terms of big, grandiose events with no context; things were sanitized into a few paragraphs that could fit into a scantron. The motives were a mess, it was hard for me to even understand how things got to this point. The people in my history books often felt fictional to me. But as I got older, and as I learned to revisit those stories over and over again, found new stories, found more things they did, they became human. And, secondly, even as I learned more about them and they became less fictional, I still knew exactly how their story ended. Me knowing them better will not change what happened to them.

I wanted to replicate that feeling of having to trace back from whatever Big Event is supposed to be the most Important, and to make it clear that, leading up to that, there were a thousand other equally important things that came before it.

They're simply told through the lens of N’s perspective and without Game Freak trying to poorly defend the central premise of their billion-dollar property.
[...]
Overarching questions. This is something envy of eden has in spades. It’s why I really like the premise of the story--there’s a solid foundation. What is the price of being silent? What is the price of being heard? What is the price of being a hero? And considering this is only the prologue, these questions can certainly be expanded upon and further specified. I’m just concerned that I haven’t seen any sort of hint of this expansion within the opening chapter itself.
1. What questions span multiple scenes? In Memento, Leonard has a polaroid camera consistently used to try and solve the problem of his short-term memory loss. It’s also a tool of manipulation both for Leonard himself and the audience. Will the slowing down of time be a similar recurring feature? If so, how does that play into themes expressed by the overarching questions? If not, well… what was the point?
2. What questions are being asked on a scene-by-scene basis? This goes back to what I mentioned before, that the main question in reverse storytelling should be, ‘what just happened’? In Memento, a scene opens with Leonard holding a bottle of alcohol. We, the audience, ask ourselves how he got that drink. And then the next scene answers the question of how he got the drink, while simultaneously raising a new question.
I agree with your crit here as well! I do not think the plot of BW retold by N would be a sustainable premise for an entire novel, even though as a character I find him fascinating. But for me he gets to talk enough in BW that we understand at least a little of who he is, what he wants, why he's doing what he does. I was much more interested in telling a story with the characters who didn't get to speak.

For me the overarching questions are the ones you quote above, why did this happen, is pokemon training ethical/fair?, and who is responsible for making things right again? And for me, those questions -- and *especially* the ones about ethics, voice, and heroism -- the only people who can answer this are the pokemon. This ties into the narrator choice above, and why I think this retelling still adds something to the canon.

Smaller/scene-by-scene questions -- the prologue's one is probably did it have to end like this?, which doesn't really get answered until the end, but I did try to keep internal arcs within each full chapter.

If the goal is to try and shift the minds of people who believe otherwise, that’s admirable, but… are they going to read this? Because if they were, and this prologue was the conclusion of the story rather than the beginning, I can’t help but think it would have more emotional weight for them. I don’t have an answer one way or another. And ultimately I can only work within my own frame of reference.
I think this is fair! My big hangup with the achronological method was also the reason I picked it, and the reason it's tricky here -- you start out having a lot of events thrown in your face with no emotional context to get behind them. I don't know if there's really a way to get around that hangup, and that answer will vary from person to person.

If you were set on telling the story in reverse, perhaps telling it from Hilda’s perspective would’ve been wiser. We see it filtered through the perspective of someone who believes they’re in the right. An unreliable narrator is an effective way to create narrative tension in this structure. And if the concern is something like the Lolita problem (where the goal is to disdain the protagonist despite their humanity, but many miss the hill for the trees), a solution could be to juxtapose Hilda’s segment with segments from N, perhaps N as a child growing up surrounded by abused pokemon (similar to how in Memento, the conversations with Sammy Jankis break up the narrative).
Agree here! I definitely don't think N was the right narrator for the entire story, haha, and he's not. I'm not sure if Hilda would've been a good narrator either, but N's role as narrator stops here, pretty much for the reasons you mention.

Well, this review comes across rather negatively. To be clear, I really like the prologue and I plan on reading more. I enjoy the writing style. The atmosphere is one of ponderous inevitability moving backward to end on a note of melancholy. Things are broken and must be fixed. I just wonder if the story you want to tell could be told better with a different structure. The emotional catharsis is being front-loaded, and I'm not sure the characters are strong enough to carry the burden of the narrative.
No, thank you for writing out your thoughts in such a detailed fashion! These are definitely questions I wrestled with when I entertained this structure, and hopefully (?) I reached an answer/reasoning that becomes clear in the future chapters and that becomes satisfactory.

Have a good day.
you as well!!

This is not going to be my most articulate review because my brain is clogged with irl stuff, but overall I loved the quiet healing you showed in this chapter. Stories where unlikely people come to an understanding and are able to heal are very much my jam, and this chapter especially shines in contrast with the grimmer fates of Amara and Carnel. It's also nice to focus for a bit on characters outside the named canon ones, to give a sense of how the world functions and how ordinary humans and pokemon coexist. It's interesting that Unova appears to take abuse so seriously. It feels like one of those things where overt cases are made an example of, but people refuse to deal with the problems raised by cases that are not so obvious.
!! <3
hope you're doing well

Agree with your assessment of abuse here. Unova's fictional stance on intentional abuse here is very much based on my personal interactions with fandom's stance on intentional abuse -- in Unova I'd say it's probably because it's easier to vocally dismiss the obvious bad things cancel the pancake lady than deal with the more insidious, more important issues. In the meta I'd say it's when "but Team Plasma kicked that Munna once so they are all wrong" has any sort of standing in a world where you can command your pokemon to use any of these eight kick-based attacks and no one bats an eye.

Line edits made/noted!

Bit curious how the audino and nurse are communicating, how widespread that is etc
Mmm, struggled with showing this since bish doesn't get to see/realistically would never know, but in my head there's a pretty extensive anti-intentional-abuse system in Unova. Audino are normally tasked with healing wounds but are trained not to heal wounds that they think are caused by a human (they will usually ask the pokemon in question), and when the nurse comes back through for exit eval the audino would show the unhealed wound. In some cases the nurse could overrule the audino but in most cases they will assess and determine if the wounds match a pokemon battle or if they appear to be human-caused.

This felt very Alola dex! I really like all the focus on the logistics of pokemon release and the behaviors of pawniard and bisharp.
I'm learning! haha

Maybe that should be "Every trainer with a Class C permit" is taught this? It feels a bit unrealistic that every single trainer would be taught this. How is that being ensured? Whereas if it's tied to acquiring a license that makes sense.
Found this paragraph a bit confusing. I'm not sure whether the narrator wanted to evolve or not? Also " Who would listen to a pawn that didn’t want to fight?" implies the narrator wanted out for their own sake, but "there was a simple, selfish reason you’d waited so long, even though acting would’ve helped Samson, would’ve helped Anri" implies the narrator was fine with the current situation and only sought help for their sakes?
I will fix this part! I wanted to make it clear that the isolation was the initial limiting factor -- "all it had taken was someone who would listen" -- I wanted to imply that Samson had lied to previous audino about where his injuries came from, and that since bish wasn't injured there was no way for them to get into the report pipeline until they got lucky that one time. Will make this more clear.

Is the idea that Trainer didn't have the correct permit? It seems like it would be pretty standard for pokemon centers to automatically compare someone's pokemon with their permits.
it would! unless
With the new Champion came a whole new wave of reforms—more lax laws for gym licensing, relaxation of punishments on possession of Class C pokémon without proper permits, blanket defunding of conservation efforts for endangered species
In my head a few powerful people who wanted to trade/sell/breed pokemon more freely saw Alder as a distant figurehead who could easily be persuaded to ease the burden of medical professionals from having to waste time looking for and reporting things that are *totally unrelated* to their profession -- so lobbying led to this getting rolled back even though the infrastructure was already mostly in place. I can see why this is a tenuous connection at best, but it's also hard to make in-character since neither Wave nor lil' bish really have a deep understanding of politics and can't comment here. I didn't intend to address this much further in the body of the story (although I can; just need to figure out where), but does this address the logic from a meta perspective at least?

Oh no. Pokeballs really faciliate this removal of agency from the pokemon.
:heavy-green-checkmark: :upside-down-face:

I sort of want to know what these scenarios are? This feels kind of vague. Would feel more convincing and frenetic if it was more concrete. Maybe the instance of the narrator's capture? The evolution?
mmmm yes these are good changes. will make this weekend.

That makes me wonder why the narrator didn't try to remove him, if that's the way? Knowledge that there would be consequences? Personal dislike of violence?
This one is harder -- it's getting around the question that they don't *respect* Trainer as their queen but they *know* Trainer is their queen. I think I'll add in a few bits about what happens to pokemon who attack their trainers tho ...

I'm not sure about tearing out one's throat with one's own hands. Hard to envision, even in a mythic context. Maybe he just walks in until he drowns?
:eyes intensify:
... yes i should change this

N as Aragorn is an interesting take. Obviously Aragorn is defined by the weight of history more than N is.
Haha personally I do not subscribe to AragorN, although I think Viggo MorteNsoN would be probably a good cast, maybe. I think Aragorn is defined more by his history/blood, while N is burdened by the risk/cost of failure -- they just happen to intertwine here.

LOL at all the people who do this in the LotR movies.
MY FRIENDS DID THIS AND I WAS SO UPSET.
TBH LIL' BISH'S FRUSTRATION HERE IS EASILY THE BIGGEST SELF-INSERT FRUSTRATION IN THIS ENTIRE FIC

Eh, I feel like you're forcing that last line a bit. When does he decide that he's lost in this scenario? In the story he accepts the White Dragon's sword.
Something I want to iron out a bit more clearly this weekend -- bish is watching this from the point of view of the sword, they're projecting the perspective of the sword on everything. They just don't know how to put this into words since they aren't used to anyone caring about what the sword thinks or feels. I think I'll add some dialogue from Trainer to clear up bish's view of UnovaLotR vs, like, actual UnovaLotR here.

Hm, it seems like Mina hasn't been entirely avoiding things though--she's doing lots of calls and trying--so I'm not sure about this comparison.
This one I will clean up too! I wanted to give the illusion that as time wore on and the call were 50/50 adoption agencies and 50/50 she's a shitlord, she started avoiding the phone altogether.

Also, later "Something tells you that this wasn’t actually about the garden." is treated as revelation, but this line makes it seem like the narrator already 100% understands that the gardening is a coping method.
ripppp my subtlety

I do wonder why Mina only seems to have let out the narrator and never the others? Feels a bit weird, if you're going to have any pokemon out, why have the sharp blade supposed to hate humans one?
i needed a viewpoint character and in this canon pokemon can't see out of their balls will. get back to this!

I like these dreams, but maybe don't end both with a crowd doing something?
I sort of wanted that parallelism actually -- in bish's mind they're the same event. The gym battle is arguably more traumatic than the slap. But the reactions from the crowd are different because humans treat intentional abuse differently from battling even if the results are the same for pokemon, which bish can't understand.

Oooh. I like how you show the knowledge that their file will reject them weighing so heavily on their mind.
<3

Didn't follow this. Why the shame?
Will add things to clarify! Bish has seen a lot of hurt people before and in their experience looking at Samson has made Samson feel worse.

I love all this, but I do feel like the one issue with this chapter for me is that we don't get this answered? I really don't have a sense of how the narrator feels about Trainer. They don't really seem to hate him, just feel a bit of contempt?
I guess for me, yeah, it's not hate, it's just contempt. I struggled with this exact concept for future Reasons, but mostly -- do pokemon need to hate trainers for training to be bad? But I see how the line could get very messy between that and "it's ethically wrong to hate your abusers". Will mull this one over at least and see what I want to come out of this.

Again, I kind of want the narrator's take on this, not just leaving it as rhetorical.
Tricky one here. I think I'll end up parsing it out further. Bish is conflicted because their answers here (this wasn't okay, they didn't want to fight, and they were made to hurt anyway) are not the same as the publicly-acceptable answers.

So if queens don't enter the battle, the narrator doesn't inherently disapprove of the role a trainer plays?

All complicated by the fact this particular bisharp doesn't actually like fighting.
Something I want to parse out a bit more clearly as well -- Queens enter as a last resort but they are the most valuable piece still. There is strategy involved and it's okay to make other pieces hurt to protect the queen, but the queen is arguably the strongest offensive piece on the field while still facing the same risks that the pawns do. I think I'll make the risk aspect more clear since that's where things tend to fall off.

I will probably also add -- both here and in the chapter itself -- that this bisharp liked fighting at first! Important distinction I think.

I was a little unsure how Mina is making this leap of logic from what the narrator does here. Would work better for me as a direct question, "Do you want a trainer," that the narrator answers by digging.
💯

tea appreciation, yes
i like coffee tbh

I didn't find this closing metaphor entirely satisfying. It feels like the narrator is relating to the sword here, but when the LotR story is presented, the narrator seems to be relating to N Aragorn's internal conflict, not the sword's perspective. I don't know, I have no brain this week.
That makes sense! I sort of wanted to keep the transition subtle -- realizing that the reason they were sad by the refoging wasn't because of AragorN's conflict but because of Narsil's. Aragorn made his choice that night, but the sword did not. I might just have to blatantly spell that one out lol.

thank you for your thoughts here! was definitely feeling a bit more confident in the arc of this chapter and I'm glad that for the most part that was correct.
 
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vi. noted

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
vi. noted

※​

The humans tell rumors about you. They whisper that Ghetsis beats his pokemon to keep them in line, that his hydreigon hates him more than anything else in the world.

You know how they see you—a terrifying force of nature, bringer of ash and blood. You are his enforcer, his fire. Ghetsis is old, after all, even for a human. He was not blessed with the lifespan or might of a dragon, so he relies on you instead. But you’ll never understand how they think a mere human could ever make a dragon partner with a human they do not respect.

Ten thousand years ago, a dragon shaped Unova from fire and thunder and ice. Those elements run in all the peoples of this world, and where some of them forgot, the dragons never did. Pure nature is wild. It remembers its roots. Above all, it does not know fear. If you shout commands at a thunderstorm, does it listen?

Dragons are not like humans, nor are they like other pokémon. There is a reason that there are so few dragon tamers in the world. A dragon cannot be beaten into submission any more than a fire can be asked to stop burning. Tie a lillipup to a stick as a puppy and it will spend its entire life thinking it is too weak to break free, even as it grows bigger. An adult stoutland trained young will be an obsequious servant its entire life. But a dragon knows no defeat. If you tie a hatchling to a stick, he will resent you. When he grows large enough, he will feed your limbs to his children.

It’s no surprise, really. Humans took you away from all the elements of your culture except for your violence, and they were surprised when you embraced it. If they wanted to raise dragons that did not raze towns, they should have thought twice before they sacked yours.

Ghetsis is many things, but he is no fool. He understands the hearts of dragons. Sometimes he holds himself with the same reckless abandon. There is an accord between you. You give him what he wants. You protect him from his foes, let his reputation stretch before the two of you like a dark shadow. He gives you what you want. Power. Strength. Vengeance. A bit of coaching. A strange disc that holds the secrets of how to create fire. A wide berth. A warm bath.

It is partnership in the most basic sense. He will never seek you for counsel and you will never seek him for love. But that is not why anyone would ever choose to raise a dragon.

It is for these reasons that you cannot help but wonder about the child when he seeks you out time and time again, seeking your opinion, your appraisal, your approval. You’ve heard the rumors about him, too. Lord N. The freak without a human heart.

You know why the humans have to see the two of you like this. What reason would a pokémon have to fight for someone like Ghetsis? What reason would a human like N have to willingly seek to correct the imbalance that favors them so heavily? No, better to think that in his chest beats a different organ altogether, one that would never pity you, one that has no sympathy for the children of fire and thunder.

N does not understand why humans raise dragons. He seeks you for counsel. He is a fool for many reasons, but you think this is the one that makes him the biggest fool of all.

The door to N’s chambers cracks open. You occupy his room while he’s away, not for any particular reason. You could have your own chamber of the castle, furnished to your liking—but it would be empty. You are a dragon. You have no need for human comforts, least of all this one, but—

{Oh? Look who finally came back,} you growl lowly. It’s hard not to avoid sounding mocking, so you don’t try. {You haven’t been back by the castle in weeks, N. I was beginning to think you’d found better things to be doing than dealing with the violent. Surely there’s a sign you could put up somewhere? A speech you could be making?}

“It’s good to see you too.”

He’s not easy to goad. He never is. But if you stopped in the face of a challenge, well, you’d make a terrible dragon.

{Or maybe this time you could pass out some flyers? Have a slam poetry night about liberation?}

“Zahhak. Please.”

He sounds uncomfortable even as the words come out of his mouth. It’s not an order; it’s barely even a request. He’s too consumed by doubt to command a dragon. You both know that.

There’s a long silence. He breaks first.

“I was worried about you,” he says. He frowns. “Your tail. That’s new. Has …” He trails off. “Have …”

{The wound will heal. Don’t beat yourself up, N. Ghetsis treats me as well as any other human would, if that’s what you’re trying to ask,} you finish for him while he still fumbles around the question. This child. You remember when he was once your entire world. {Better, perhaps. I’m only hurt as badly as I want to be.} You chuckle at your own joke. {It isn’t like you, N, to mince your words. Does seeing me make you uncomfortable somehow?}

N looks firmly at his hands, and past them, and then to his feet. You watch as his gaze jumps from your dusk ball by the door, to the monochrome tapestry beside you, to the dusty stack of papers on his desk—he makes a tour of the entire room and he refuses to look at you. “You know the answer to that, Zahhak,” he says quietly.

You do know. Of course you do. But it makes you feel better to make him say it. {Which part makes you uncomfortable, N? That I’ve been injured despite being at the forefront of the movement that’s supposed to prevent that? That you use the weakness of your own flesh as an excuse not to put your body on the line alongside me?}

“There is no part. I don’t like seeing my friends hurt,” N replies stiffly.

{Look at me.}

N doesn’t.

{Look. At me.}

He does, reluctantly, but when he does he’s steeled himself enough that he doesn’t flinch back at your three-part gaze. Perhaps he has the heart of a dragon after all.

You wonder what he sees when he looks at sees you, tattered in front of him, a tangle of black and blue wings. Your wings are scarred and shredded like sea-weary sails. There’s barely a square foot of hide where a scale isn’t chipped off. One of your fangs on your left arm is broken off at the root; shattered where it is, it will never grow back. Scars trace down your torso like rivers. Your tail is six inches shorter than it should be, the tip ripped off. Or does he linger on the more recent wounds instead? There’s another chunk missing where your tail meets your back, where the scales are still growing back. One of your wings is splotchy and burnt on the edges.

No. There is pity in his eyes when he sees your injuries, when he mistakes your scars for weakness. He is no dragon, but he wishes he had the fire in his heart to be one. That is his struggle, you decide. That will always be his struggle. You will not make it your own.

{You’re ashamed of your body, Lord N.} You can’t help but slip the title in. Dragons don’t need titles. Everyone who hears their names knows what they’ve done. {But I’m proud of mine. I could tell you the chronology of every scar, of every filthy battle I had to fight for someone else until I became like this. I’ve picked my battles, and I know that they were fought for a just cause.} There’s a click of scales as your eyes slide open and shut. {I don’t need your pity, friend. I chose this so that those weaker than me wouldn’t have to.}

There is a long silence.

Someone with thinner scales than yours would worry about going too far, would worry that one day you'll push N to the point where he will no longer tolerate you. And then you would be alone, just you and Ghetsis, and he's not really the best for conversation. Not that you need it. All the same, you soften your voice and say, {So to what do I owe the pleasure? I admit I’m not used to the luxury of being consulted like this.}

He accepts the opening gratefully. “I would steal you from Ghetsis any time, if you only said the word, Zahhak. But I wonder—would you come with me, or would you stay? If you wanted to leave, Ghetsis couldn’t stop you. You would’ve done it by now.”

You chuckle, long and low. He is correct to say Ghetsis couldn’t instead of Ghetsis wouldn’t. But what a foolish notion he extends to you. To be liberated from your liberator. Is this how all pokémon feel about their trainers? No wonder you keep failing. {It depends. Would it mean that you’ve finally abandoned your pacifism? I would fight alongside you in a heartbeat were that true.}

“I would not make you fight until you bled. I would not permit you to do the same to others.” His chin tilts up defiantly. No fear. You’re glad he’s learned at least that much from you. He chose a steep road and lacks the scales to shield him from the hardships ahead.

{Then with Ghetsis I remain.} There’s a pause. You do not bite back your smirk; instead, it spreads across all three heads. {Is that what you wanted to hear? That some of us are willing to put up with the idiocy of humans, even knowing that the price will be our suffering? I am no stranger to fighting; I do not fear the consequences of my battling. I relish them. Ghetsis is the only human I know who will give me the chance to strike back. He lets my pain be used for something more than a pretty piece of metal for him to polish by the campfire. Maybe you think he is using me. And you might be correct. He holds me here. He commands me to fight. And when push comes to shove, I know he would never do the same for me. But he is giving me what I want, so surely—I am using him as well.}

N’s voice is soft, quiet. It almost sounds injured. “But he’s hurting you. How can you stand a man like that?”

You tilt down. The two lateral heads are vestigial now, but they share your intimidating appearance, your flinty gaze. Six pairs of eyes glitter back at him as you share the truth he already knows. {The same way as you. Surely he hurts you too? Surely you’ve heard the whispers by now, surely one of your Plasma members has murmured in your ear what he seeks to do to humans and pokémon alike should you succeed. He’s co-opting your peaceful movement, breaking rules in Plasma’s name, and you have no choice but to let him. Does that not fill you with fire? Does any of that burn for him?}

He doesn’t answer at first. You didn’t expect him to. He doesn't want to admit that Ghetsis is a necessary evil. He is the bitter root that cures a deeper poison. You do not love him, but you understand his use. You will endure the flames that lick at your scales so long as they burn away the rot.

And besides. This degradation into violence was the only way things could’ve gone. Humans razed the whole forest and were surprised when there were no roots to hold the soil down when the rains came. Your rebellion was a tragedy of their own design.

{I thought as such. We are the same in that regard. Tell me. You’ve been permitted free travel across this strange land we call home. You’ve spoken to as many pokémon as have been permitted, and how many of them have you found that hated their trainers?}

There’s a pause.

You don’t let up. This is a crack in his armor, and you will worry away at it until you tear it apart, or until he learns to craft stronger walls. You won’t go easy on him because no one else will coddle him either. This is what it means to seek a dragon for counsel. {Surely you must have found one, right? Think of the most despicable story you know, the most abused pokémon you’ve met. I know there are many. And I know you’ve spoken to them; there’s no way you wouldn’t have. There must have been at least one whose heart had turned black with rage, who would turn on their human masters with tooth and claw if they only had the chance.}

He is silent. You watch him swallow, watch the lump in his neck bob up and down, but he doesn’t have any words for you.

You press.

{It must be so easy. You must be up to your neck in pokémon that understand your ideals, that realize that if they only listened to you they’d get everything they wanted? They’d be free? That in the world we want to build, they’d be recognized as citizens, they’d get their own rights, they wouldn’t have to fight any more? Is that what you heard in resounding echoes from every corner of Unova, as a chorus of my weak-minded kind realized that they only needed the right human to come along and save them? Where is your army, N?}

“I haven’t found—”

{What?} Left head forms into an expression of mock surprise. Right head mouths your words for you; they leave your real mouth in a low hiss. {I’m shocked, N. You haven’t found a horde of angry pokémon demanding to be awoken from their dreamless, fitful slumber? How could they not come? Pokémon must know that you’ve only got their best interests at heart. Humans must realize how profoundly wrong they were, and are rushing to repent. You put so much of yourself into your words. They couldn’t just ignore you, could they?}

The way he stands there and takes it reminds you of the cubchoo from the lands to the north that were once your home. Beartic were fearsome hunters in their own right, but the cubs were small, soft—they simply had to learn to bide their time and endure as much hurt as they could, until they could dish it back.

And N is the same. He waits, quietly, for your fire subside. You see the anguish on his face; every sentence you’ve said has been another claw ripping apart his chest, but he can take a hit even when he can’t bring himself to land one. And then he speaks. “I haven’t found an army. I haven’t found a single pokémon who will say they hate their human.”

{Oh? Not a single one? So then you’re wrong, aren’t you?}

You don’t mean him any harm. You only mean to prepare him against the arguments he’s sure to face outside. But he takes your sarcasm as genuine, because there’s no other way he’d know how to understand it. “No! But—”

{Do we need to hate to be right?}

“What?”

You settle your neck down low. Right head looks far, far away. Left and center spear him with your eyes. {Do pokémon need to hate to be right?}

His forehead crumples into a frown. “No, absolutely not,” he begins. “But—”

{There is no but. You don’t see pokémon revolting against their humans in droves because pokémon want to play by the rules they were given, because they do not realize that they can play that game their entire lives and never win. But them not rising up doesn’t make them wrong about disliking training; it makes them wrong about not rising up.} You snort out of your nose. {You humans are so funny. You rage against your indoor jobs, yearn for re-enacting your wild days by touring us across our own country. But if you hated your desks so much, why don’t you leave?}

Zahhak,” N says. “I’ve tried saying things like that. And they don’t listen, they tell me it’s not the same—”

You know it’s not the same, not to humans. Of course it isn’t. Their own suffering is so great and magnificent that it could never be equated with something as trivial as your own.

He has to understand. You’ve been involved in this for much longer than he has—you were both born into it, but Ghetsis made you fight the day you hatched. N got his books and his lessons; you learned your use a different way. You tried words once, like he did. There’s no path to victory there, not with people who cannot listen.

{Could I tell you a short story, N? Perhaps phrasing it in the ways that you prefer will make it easier to understand.}

He chuckles at that, despite the tenseness of the conversation. Good. You two shouldn’t be fighting. “Of course.”

So you tell him.

{Once upon a time, a fraxure named Sagaris lived in the Valley of Dragons. Her teeth were sharp and her tusks were strong. She had fought many battles with the other fraxure and axew growing up, and she defended her clan bravely. So one day, she approached her clan leader, a wizened old haxorus, and bowed her head low. She explained that she had noticed the haxorus growing into the blessings of old age, and she knew that one day the clan would need someone young and strong to lead it. She begged to join his council of elders, and to learn from him the secrets of leadership. If nothing else, she asked that she could at least be tasked with the honor of defending their clan leader and serving as his bodyguard, so that he would be protected should any enemies see his declining health and take it upon themselves to relieve him. And if he came to know her heart and saw her as worthy, well. She would want nothing more than to follow in his footsteps and lead the clan one day.}

{And the clan leader laughed to himself, and the rest of the clan laughed alongside him. Her? A clan leader? But when he saw that she was not joking, he huffed, and he rumbled, and finally he told her that a good leader needed compassion as well as strength. If she could gather enough lum berries from the neighboring forest by sundown to feed the clan for an entire week, he would consider her offer.}

{The neighboring forest was dense. It was difficult for a fraxure to traverse too deep, for many of those in the forest were territorial, but they did not engage their enemies head-on like the fraxure did. So her sharp teeth and strong tusks would do her little good, but, emboldened by the clan leader’s promise, she went anyway.}

{The journey was quite hard, but the young fraxure was rewarded. She returned, laden with the fruits of her labor, and with her she brought so many berries that the clan ate heartily for an entire month. Overjoyed, Sagaris turned to the clan leader, and again asked him to reconsider.}

{The clan leader paused for a moment, and then replied that she was still not ready. A good leader also needed to be fearless, he said. If she could traverse to the summit of the Twisting Mountain and fight the deadly cold that lived there, then he would consider her offer.}

{This was a bold demand indeed, for the only thing that dragons fear more than each other is ice, for it chills the fire and thunder in our veins. But Sagaris was brave, and she was determined, so she went forth to the icy slopes and did battle with the beartic clan that lived there. The mountain shook with her battle cries, and by the end all pokémon above and below acknowledged that this fearless fraxure had no equal in combat. And so she descended again, marked by the icy ones as one of their own. Victorious, the fraxure turned to the clan leader, and again asked him to consider.}

{The clan leader waited again, and then replied that she was still not ready. A good leader, he said, also needed to be determined. If she could seek out a fleeting water sprite known as a keldeo and befriend it, then he would consider her offer. But a keldeo had not been seen in the mountains for generations, so she would need to search far and wide.}

{And do you know what Sagaris did, N?}

He starts, surprised at the interruption. After a moment to consider, he says, “She agreed, and sought to befriend this pokémon?”

{No. She remembered that the blood of dragons coursed thick and hot through her veins, and she seized the leader’s tusks and tore them from his face. She named herself clan leader, and the people discovered that she was already compassionate, brave, determined and strong; that what the clan leader sought to make her prove was there all along.}

There’s a long silence. N rubs his forehead with two fingers. Finally, he says, “I don’t fully—”

{The clan leader never intended to give Sagaris anything, N.} He has to get this point. He has to get this point. {He merely wanted to keep her distracted, and out of his scales. If he told her no outright, she would’ve been angry. She might’ve fought back. But if he could convince her that there was still something she could do to get what she wanted, she would pursue that. If he could convince her that there was just one more thing she needed to fix about herself before he would accept the merits of her argument, and then another, and another, he would never actually have to deal with the argument itself.}

N is silent now. Yes. You’re sure he understands what he’s trying to say, even if he doesn’t actually agree with it.

“I did not mean to move the goalposts for you,” he says with a quiet sigh. “I just—”

{No. That isn’t what I meant either.} You tilt your neck so that you can look down on him better. {Our claim is that pokémon battling is inherently abusive, that there is no consent without voice. They do not want to accept that, because it would involve destroying the norms they have come to love. But they cannot refute that we feel pain, that battling hurts us—so instead they make new rules to become clan chief. A little pain is acceptable, they say, so we must prove that pokémon hate humans, that their pain has boiled over to the point that the damage is irreparable. But I guarantee, even if you did find a hateful pokémon, they would merely tell you that you haven’t found enough, that the subset you created wasn’t a good sample. And even if you did find many, they would merely tell you that real trainers aren’t abusive, that it isn’t their fault that there are a few bad eggs, that they’ll join your side next time, at the next big offense—anything and everything in their power to make sure that you’re too busy running around on keldeo hunts trying to get their approval, too busy to force them to understand that a system that allows for these tragedies is rotten to the core.}

“What am I supposed to do?” N asks, and he pauses for so long that you realize it’s not a rhetorical question.

Rip off their tusks and declare yourself king, you want to say, but you know he won’t agree to that.

{My species is born blind. You remember this as well as I. And even after I learned to open my eyes to this world, I was still in two minds, as you are now. I thought that our problems could be solved with words, while part of me always knew the truth.} Pause. {The truth won out eventually, and what I know now is this: the world will not stray towards justice unless you force it to. When you fight against tyrants they will do everything they can to paint you black, tarnish your name, because they don’t actually need to defeat your ideas; it’s just you they need to kill. But you have to remember: they aim for you, but you aren’t dangerous to them. They fear the truth, and if you seek to become the embodiment of it, you are their worst nightmare.}

“But violence will never sway them, Zahhak. They will not listen to us if we liberate this world with force. For us to succeed I must change their minds.”

{Wrong. For us to succeed you must change their hearts. Words can be ignored, and swept aside time and time again. Actions cannot. They will write us as the villains in their history books regardless. I intend to win. Then I will care not what history says of me, for I and anyone with eyes will recognize what is right.}

“Words are all I have.” He tilts his jaw up towards you, the first and last human to look you in the eyes and defy you, a dragon. “There is nothing to be gained by burning the world to liberate the ashes from the trees.”

{I know you better than anyone else in this entire world, so believe me when I say this. History’s rules do not apply to you. You aren’t like the humans I’ve met—your will burns like an open torch for anyone to see; nothing will stop you from achieving your goal. Your words stirred a kindred flame in my heart—}

“It was different then!” The retort bursts out of him, uncontrolled. For a split second you see fire in the dead grey coals that are his eyes. “I was different then.” There’s a pause, and the glow fades. He’s sad, quiet. Human. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

You hate it when he apologizes. Some of that hatred slips back into your voice when you say, {Your drive is the same. In every fiber of your body is a spark that screams against injustice, that seeks to protect the weak. It keeps you up at night, it keeps you going when the world is against you—it means that you refuse to quit no matter what, until that goal is achieved, the rules of history be damned. I know it because this is a flame we share; our hearts burn bright with the blood of dragons. So believe me when I say this. For you, with your impossible drive—history is only what you settle for.}

“Zahhak.” He looks down. Away. Up. Sideways. Anywhere but at you. And then he finally says. “It all made sense back then. It was easy when I thought people would listen. But now … now I don’t know what to do. Forgive me.”

This time, you don’t cut him off. No clever retort comes to mind. Suddenly your thoughts are pulled in a new direction, towards all the other martyrs who asked for forgiveness.

If you knew any better, you’d have done it by now, surely. Snapping at the heels of trainers, trying to get them to change from below—that surely wasn’t the answer.

No, it’s certainly not even a good answer, either. The road you’ve chosen goes one way, and N is too idealistic to walk it.

And you know it, don’t you? You’ve known all along where your path ends. It’s not like you ever had a choice. One way or another, pokémon end up six feet under buried by humans. You’re just racing down that path so that, maybe, it can burn before others have to.

“You’re right. One of us will change the world.” N’s words come out slowly, like they weigh more than a mountain. He swallows. “What you and Ghetsis seek will not bring us what we want. I cannot allow it to come to pass. I do not believe you will go anywhere by showing humans a thing to be feared. I will show pokémon the Truth, then.” He looks up at you. You expect to see the fire rage up in his eyes, but there’s still nothing. Not even a spark. “I will go to Dragonspiral Tower and awaken Reshiram. They will chart a new path forward, one where everyone ends up happy. I’m sorry that we must be at odds here. I do not know what other choice I have.”

You shouldn’t be surprised to hear him say it out loud, of course. It’s been his destiny his entire life. You just didn’t expect him to sound so resigned to accept it.

There is a concept you taught N once, long ago: that of the nocturne lament.

It is the words that a pokémon says before facing their—(this is the best translation you can give it; the tongue of dragons has no word for it, but a human might call it)—fate.

Death, maybe, would be a similar word, but not always. There are worse ends, even for those who do not believe in destiny. No. A better way to put it would be another human phrase: an enemy you cannot defeat.

Perhaps the dragons should have a word for it, too; even though you’re loathe to name it, you aren’t blind any more. You can recognize the inevitable. Sagaris invoked the nocturne lament on her last day as clan leader, when humans swarmed into the Dragonvalley with their anger and their steel. As the torches grew closer and night began to fall, the haxorus braced herself at the mouth of the mountain’s path, her tusks freshly sharpened. Behind her, the clan fled as quickly as they could.

As the human’s fire reflected in her eyes, and as she mirrored it in her maw, Sagaris echoed the nocturne lament, the mantra of martyrs, passed down to her across history: Forgive me, dear siblings. This is all I know how to give.

You wonder if N feels the way you do now, the same way Sagaris surely must have felt in those final hours. Her actions ultimately did not spare her clan from certain destruction, but she bled out not knowing that. Today she reminds people everywhere what it means to carry the blood of dragons in your veins.

N is just a puny human standing at the mountain’s throat, holding up his hand to halt an avalanche, but he has just as much of a chance of winning here as Sagaris did.

“I hate it when we fight like this,” he says at last.

You chuckle darkly. {If you would only listen to reason, we wouldn’t have to.}

N scoffs; his laugh is almost mirthless, like yours, but not quite. “Zahhak, I value your advice more than anyone else’s in the world, and yet we both know—what you ask for is far from reason.”

{That’s odd. I would say the same about you and what you ask as well. I wonder what it would take for you to stop your doubting, N. I hope you find it soon. The world needs you to.}

And this time, the smile is truly not a real one. N looks up with his emotions frozen across his face, stares at you so guiltily it’s like if he looks too long you’ll shatter. “Surely you hate me by now, Zahhak? For all I have failed to do for you?”

The frills on the back your neck fold close to your head; unbidden, a deep rumbling sound comes from your throat.

Of all the things the little dragon had to ask you, it was this.

You lean in close, peel the scales back from your words until they’re just as soft as his. A hatchling, still blind, still trusting. {You know by now the answer to my question. You have yet to meet a pokémon that has found it within themselves to hate a human. I am no exception.}

The room suddenly feels heavy and still. You lean down and press the cool, dry scales of your snout against N’s forehead. He flinches back, and then he squeezes his eyes tight and throws his arms around your head, buries his forehead into your scales, runs his soft palms against your scarred jaw. He’s warm. So warm.

If you could both just stay here forever. If Dragonspiral Tower didn’t beckon, echoes of a lost song in the back of both your minds. If the world didn’t demand to be right again.

You close your eyes as well, and in that moment you can pretend you’re both smaller again. He’s just a snot-nosed child, chubby and doddling along on unsteady legs, pulling your unscarred tail, asking for stories. The little freak and his freakish handler, both of you too blind to see how everyone stared. If you don’t open your eyes ever again you can stay like this forever.

Perhaps he truly is the best one to call to the heart of the White Dragon after all, if he could so easily find his way into yours.

N is the one to break the silence first. “You know what I must do,” he whispers into your snout. His eyes are closed, but his breathing is wet, and it leaks onto your scales.

{I hope you do as well.} And you mean it. You truly, truly mean it, in both ways.

There is a long silence. N exhales heavily into the ridge between your nostrils. His breath is warm on your scales. You can almost pretend there’s a fire there. Almost, little hatchling.

What he gives you isn’t an answer, not really, but it feels like one all the same.

{Forgive me, dear sibling,} he says, in the dialect of dragons. It makes your heart stop to hear him invoke it, twists a tiny pang of fear that’s altogether different from how you normally feel when he adopts your tongue. He is small for a dragon, after all. Too small to share your tongue and your fate.

But the tragedy of the nocturne lament was not in the words, but in the choosing of them. In understanding the insignificance of your sacrifice and making it anyway. If he can stomach even a little of that burden, perhaps there is hope after all.

He chanted the nocturne lament like a prayer. The words rolled off his lips so quickly that he almost doesn’t notice they’re there, not until you return the other half to him, make it a promise the two of you share:

{This is all I know how to give.}



p | n
 
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Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
ZAHHAK MY HEART

This chapter really is sad boi chills with his angry dragon but it worked for me. I like the insight we get into Zahhak's partnership with Ghetsis and worldview. The story of Sagaris was excellent and really illuminated where Zahhak is coming from. N's doubt comes off really clearly as well, but you do a good job balancing that doubt and weakness with his spine and conviction. The reverse order was really working for me in this chapter. Knowing that N fails at the tower gives Zahhak's words a special weight and I was really intrigued by the hints that N has changed a lot since he and Zahhak grew up together. The sense that their paths have diverged and Zahhak's memories of a more innocent time together (literally blind to the problems of the world) was poignant and lent a sense of tragedy to it all, especially considering Zahhak's fate.

The chapter felt a little bloat-y, with the sense that the same point was made multiple time, and there were places where I felt like the dialogue was a little more aimed at the reader than something that felt natural between the two of them (see lines edits) but overall, I enjoyed and had many feels. It's fun to return to Zahhak for real after reading naturally.

You’ve heard humans whisper rumors, sometimes. When they talk about you it’s always about how Ghetsis beats his pokémon to keep them in line, how his hydreigon hates him more than anything else in this world.
Zahhak POV!!

Suggested rephrase, "The humans tell rumors about you. They whisper that Ghetsis beats his pokemon to keep them in line, that his hydreigon hates him more than anything else in the world."

But you’ll never understand how they think a mere human could ever make a dragon partner with a human they do not respect.
I mean, this applies to quite a lot of pokemon, who are all more powerful than mere humans.

Ten thousand years ago, a dragon shaped Unova from fire and thunder and ice. Those elements run in all the peoples of this world, and where some of them forgot, the dragons never did.
I really like this, and I wonder if you could play with it a bit more. Zahhak talks a lot about fire, but it could be interesting to bring in ice and thunder, particularly in the descriptions of N.

Pure nature is wild; it remembers its roots; and, above all, it does not know fear. You would have better luck shouting down a thunderstorm until it listened.
Bold double semi-colons here. I don't see why this couldn't be, "Pure nature is wild. It remembers its roots and, above all, it does not know fear."

The last sentence was a little jarring for me. Maybe make it rhetorical? "If you shout at a thunderstorm, does it listen?"

There is a reason that there are so few dragon tamers in the world. A dragon cannot be beaten into submission any more than a fire can be asked to stop burning. Tie a lillipup to a stick as a puppy and it will spend its entire life thinking it is too weak to break free, even as it grows bigger. An adult stoutland trained young will be an obsequious servant its entire life. But a dragon knows no defeat. If you tie a hatchling to a stick, he will resent you. When he grows large enough, he will feed your limbs to his children.
Ah, I see. I like how Zahhak sets dragons apart here. I think Zahhak is a somewhat unreliable narrator on this point, though.

If they wanted to raise dragons that did not raze towns, they should have thought twice before they sacked yours.
Savage. Nicely done.

Ghetsis is many things, but he is no fool. He understands the hearts of dragons. Sometimes he holds himself with the same reckless abandon.

No. Ghetsis understands the accord that lies between the two of you. You give him what he wants.
I don't get why there's a no there? The second paragraph doesn't break from the first.

Maybe, "Ghetsis is many things, but he is no fool. He understands the hearts of dragons. Sometimes he holds himself with a dragon's reckless abandon.

There is an accord between the two of you. You give him what he wants." etc

A wide berth. A warm bath.
Nice, love the parallelism and contrast here.

He will never seek you for counsel and you will never seek him for love. But that is not why anyone would ever choose to raise a dragon.
* Lance makes a sadface *

when he seeks you out time and time again, searching for your opinion, your appraisal, your approval.
"Searching for your opinion" is a bit odd. Maybe, "when he comes to you time and time again, seeking your opinion, your appraisal, your approval."

You’ve heard the rumors about him, too. Lord N. The freak without a human heart. It would be nicer to think that. For what human would willingly seek to correct the imbalance that favors them so heavily? No, better to think that in the chest of a human beats a different organ altogether, one that would never pity you, one that has no sympathy for the children of fire and thunder. You know why Ghetsis truly wants you; it’s the same reason you want him—you are useful to each other. Nothing more.
This paragraph reads confusingly to me. Zahhak temporarily takes on the voice of humans, I think? I think you need to cue that a little more. Like, you mean "it would be nicer for [them ie humans] to think that" right? But than it sort of slips back into Zahhak's voice.

You know why Ghetsis truly wants you; it’s the same reason you want him—you are useful to each other. Nothing more.
I'm not sure we need this? You've already explained their relationship is transactional.

But wonder or not, N seeks you for counsel. He is a fool for many reasons, but you think this is the one that makes him the biggest fool of all.
Not sure how to parse "But wonder or not."

You occupy his room while he’s away, not for any particular reason. You could have your own chamber of the castle, furnished to your liking—but it would be empty. You are a dragon. You have no need for human comforts, least of all this one, but—
Zahhak: I don't care about anyone, least of all that foolish human
Also Zahhak: sleeps in N's room "for no particular reason"

It’s hard not to sound mocking, so you don’t.
Maybe, "It's hard to avoid sounding mocking, so you don't try."

He’s not easy to goad. He never is. But if you stopped in the face of a challenge, well, you’d make a terrible dragon.
Hah, this is oddly cute.

{Or maybe this time you could pass out some flyers? Have a slam poetry night about liberation?}
Omg Zahhak.

He sounds uncomfortable even as the words come out of his mouth; it’s not an order; it’s barely even a request. He’s too consumed by doubt to command a dragon. You both know that.
The double semi-colons strike again. "He sounds uncomfortable even as the words come out of his mouth. It’s not an order; it’s barely even a request." reads perfectly well imo.

There’s a long silence. You let him break first.
I think I want, "There’s a long silence. He breaks first."

“I was worried about you,” he says. “Has …” He trails off. “Have …”

{Ghetsis treats me as well as any other human would, if that’s what you’re trying to ask,} you finish for him while he still fumbles around the question. This child. You remember when he was once your entire world. {Better, perhaps. I’m only hurt as badly as I want to be.} You chuckle at your own joke. {It isn’t like you, N, to mince your words. Does seeing me make you uncomfortable somehow?}
This exchange feels a little legacy of naturally? This N and Zahhak seem to interact a lot more frequently, so it seems weird that N would be needing to ask this question.

You watch as his gaze jumps from your dusk ball by the door, to the monochrome tapestry beside you, to the dusty stack of papers on his desk—he makes a tour of the entire room and he refuses to look at you.
Really like this. You've done a good job injecting N's avoidance into his physicality.

{Which part makes you uncomfortable, N? That I’ve been injured despite being at the forefront of the movement that’s supposed to prevent that? That you use the weakness of your own flesh as an excuse not to put your body on the line alongside me?}

“There is no part. I don’t like seeing my friends hurt,” N replies stiffly.

{Look at me.}

N doesn’t.

{Look. At me.}

He does, reluctantly, but when he does he’s steeled himself enough that he doesn’t flinch back at your three-part gaze. Perhaps he has the heart of a dragon after all.
I like this exchange a lot, with N's initial avoidance, but then his lack of flinch when he does choose to look. Feels a bit like a metaphor for the whole story, where N spends his time avoiding the truth, but once he sees it, he doesn't flinch away from the task.

You wonder how he sees you, tattered in front of him, a tangle of black and blue wings.
Feels like something is missing here? "You wonder how he feels when he sees you" maybe?

Your wings are scarred and shredded like sea-weary sails. There’s barely a square foot of hide where a scale isn’t chipped off. One of your fangs on your left arm is broken off at the root; shattered where it is, it will never grow back. Scars trace down your torso like rivers. Your tail is six inches shorter than it should be, the tip ripped off. Or does he linger on the more recent wounds instead? There’s another chunk missing where your tail meets your back, where the scales are still growing back. One of your wings is splotchy and burnt on the edges.

No. There is pity in his eyes when he sees your injuries, when he mistakes your scars for weakness. He is no dragon, but he wishes he had the fire in his heart to be one. That is his struggle, you decide. That will always be his struggle. You will not make it your own.
Oof, that description of Zahhak. I can feel Zahhak's pride in the injuries.

{You’re ashamed of your body, Lord N.} You can’t help but slip the title in. {But I’m proud of mine. I could tell you the chronology of every scar, of every filthy battle I had to fight for someone else until I became like this. I’ve picked my battles, and I know that they were fought for a just cause.} There’s a click of scales as your eyes slide open and shut. {I don’t need your pity, friend. I chose this so that those weaker than me wouldn’t have to.}
I kind of want more from this moment of "You can’t help but slip the title in." Is the title meant to be mocking here? Or is this a moment of Zahhak's respect for N coming through despite himself?

Someone lesser than you may have thought one day you’ll go too far, that you’ll finally push N to a point where he will no longer tolerate you. It wouldn’t be unlike you to build your walls so tall that humans grow tired of trying to climb in, after all. Your voice softens. {So to what do I owe the pleasure? I admit I’m not used to the luxury of being consulted like this.}
The thought trajectory in this paragraph doesn't quite scan. Zahhak says someone weaker would worry about pushing N too far and alienating him for good, but then Zahhak softens his tone and makes a conciliatory remark, as if he does fear just that. The walls line struck me as a little trite and not appropriate for a hydreigon. Also odd, because does he really want humans climbing in?

Maybe, "Someone with thinner scales than yours would worry about going to far, would worry that one day you'll push N to the point where he will no longer tolerate you. You don't fear this. All the same, you soften your voice and say, { etc"

He accepts the opening gratefully. A smile, at least. A sad one.
"A smile, at least. A sad one." These fragments were a bit jarring and didn't do much for me. I wasn't sure how they followed from the proceeding sentence.

“I would steal you from Ghetsis any time, if you only said the word, Zahhak. But I wonder—would you come with me, or would you stay?”

You chuckle, long and low. What a foolish notion he extends to you. To be liberated from your liberator. Is this how all pokémon feel about their trainers? No wonder you keep failing. {It depends. Would it mean that you’ve finally abandoned your pacifism? I would fight alongside you in a heartbeat were that true.}
"Steal" is interesting word choice here. Very much implies Zahhak couldn't leave on his own if he wanted to, even though Zahhak seems to have full run of the castle and could just blast a wall down and leave? I feel like N should understand that Zahhak is capable of leaving if he wanted to, and wouldn't need to ask that question.

His chin tilts up, almost defiantly. No fear. You’re glad he’s learned at least that much from you. He chose a steep road and lacks the scales to shield him from the hardships ahead.
I think this is a place to drop the weasel words and give N "His chin tilts up defiantly. No fear."

instead, it echoes from all three heads.
Hm, I get what you mean, but echoes is such a sound word. "Mirrored on all three heads", "Reflected on all three heads"?

I am no stranger to fighting; I do not fear the consequences of my battling. I relish them. Ghetsis is the only human I know who will give me the chance to strike back. He lets my pain be used for something more than a pretty piece of metal for him to polish by the campfire. Maybe you think he is using me. And you might be correct. He holds me here. He commands me to fight. And when push comes to shove, I know he would never do the same for me. But he is giving me what I want, so surely—I am using him as well.
This is definitely the best and most succinct place Zahhak states why he fights with Ghetsis.

N’s voice is soft, quiet. It almost sounds injured. “But he’s hurting you. How can you love a man like that?”

You tilt down. The two lateral heads are vestigial now, but they share your intimidating appearance, your flinty gaze. Six pairs of eyes glitter back at him as you share the truth he already knows. {The same way as you. Surely he hurts you too? Surely you’ve heard the whispers by now, surely one of your Plasma members has murmured in your ear what he seeks to do to humans and pokémon alike should you succeed. He’s co-opting your peaceful movement, breaking rules in Plasma’s name, and you have no choice but to let him. Does that not fill you with fire? Does any of that burn for him?}
This threw me a bit, because I thought Zahhak had been pretty clear that he doesn't love Ghetsis. Maybe that's just a concept that N struggles with? Still, this would read better to me if the word wasn't love. Especially with the parallel Zahhak offers it seems more a question of "how can you stand a man like that," or "how can you tolerate him"

He doesn’t answer at first. You didn’t expect him to. You know already: neither of you can bring yourselves to say it. Ghetsis brings with him a necessary evil. He is the bitter root that cures a deeper poison. You do not love him, but you understand his use. You will hold your nose and bear the flames that lick at your scales, so long as they burn away the rot.
Got a bit of a mixed metaphor in the last sentence. I'd cut "hold your nose." I think 'You know already: neither of you can bring yourselves to say it." is a little wordy. Maybe, "He doesn’t answer at first. You didn’t expect him to. He does not want to admit what that Ghetsis is a necessary evil. He is the bitter root that cures a deeper poison. You do not love him, but you understand his use. You will the flames that lick at your scales so long as they burn away the rot.

You don’t let up. This is a crack in his armor, and you will worry away at it until you tear it apart, or until he learns to craft stronger walls. You will not go easy on him because no one else will. This is what it means to seek a dragon for counsel.
This is good. The way Zahhak thinks makes sense--attack the weak points until they become strong and thickly scaled.

Where is your army, N?
I feel like this needs a gif.

Left head forms into an expression of mock surprise. Right head mouths your words for you; they leave your real mouth in a low hiss.
Nice image.

{I’m shocked, N. You haven’t found a horde of angry pokémon demanding to be awoken from their dreamless, fitful slumber? How could they not come? Pokémon must know that you’ve only got their best interests at heart. Humans must realize how profoundly wrong they were, and are rushing to repent. You put so much of yourself into your words. They couldn’t just ignore you, could they?}

The way he stands there and takes it reminds you of the cubchoo from the lands to the north that were once your home. Beartic were fearsome hunters in their own right, but the cubs were small, soft—they simply had to learn to bide their time and endure as much hurt as they could, until they could dish it back.
Love the cubchoo simile. It's more telling in regards to Zahhak's worldview than N's I think. He thinks the only justification for enduring hurt is to become strong enough for retaliation. N has a more messianic view, obviously.

And N is the same. He waits, quietly, for your fire to pass through. You see the anguish on his face; every sentence you’ve said has been a dagger to his chest, but he can take a hit even when he can’t bring himself to land one.
Maybe, "He waits, quietly, for your fire to subside." And maybe swap out dagger for something more xeno? "your every sentence has been a claw cut across his chest, but he can take a hit even when he can’t bring himself to land one." I like the structure of this sentence, though.

And then he speaks. “I haven’t found an army. I haven’t found a single pokémon who will say they hate their human.”
Ah, so the question I had last chapter comes up again. It's an interesting choice here to go with no pokemon saying that. It feels almost more unrealistic than a few saying that. And Zahhak won't say it either. It reminds me a bit of those political studies where people will say they hate government and it's all broken but then say they like their representative.

{Oh? Not a single one? So then you’re wrong, aren’t you?}

You don’t mean him any harm. You only mean to prepare him against the arguments he’s sure to face outside. But he takes your sarcasm as genuine, because there’s no other way he’d know how to understand it. “No! But—”
Zahhak needs to spend more time teaching N about sarcasm.

But them not rising up doesn’t make them wrong about disliking training; it makes them wrong about not rising up.
Ope, have I found an EoE thesis statement?

{You humans are so funny. You rage against your indoor jobs, yearn for re-enacting your wild days by touring us across our own country. But if you hated your desks so much, why don’t you leave?}

Zahhak,” N says. “I’ve tried saying things like that. And they don’t listen, they tell me it’s not the same—”
I like how N's frustration comes through here.

Their own suffering is so great and magnificent that it could never be equated with something as trivial as your own.
oof, lol.

He has to understand. You’ve been involved in this for much longer than he has—you were born in it, after all. You tried words once, like he did. There’s no path to victory there, not with people who cannot listen.
Like this moment, though I'm curious about Zahhak being involved in it longer. I got the sense from the ending that baby Zahhak and N grew up together? Maybe just that N was sheltered longer.

{Could I tell you a short story, N? Perhaps phrasing it in the ways that you prefer will make it easier to understand.}

He chuckles at that, despite the tenseness of the conversation. Good. This makes you smile. You two shouldn’t be fighting. “Of course.”
Aww, Zahhak knows N well.

I'd cut "This makes you smile" I think.

{Once upon a time, a fraxure named Sagaris lived in the Valley of Dragons. Her teeth were sharp and her tusks were strong. She had fought many battles with the other fraxure and axew growing up, and she defended her clan bravely. So one day, she approached her clan leader, a wizened old haxorus, and bowed her head low. She explained that she had noticed the haxorus growing into the blessings of old age, and she knew that one day the clan would need someone young and strong to lead it. She begged to join his council of elders, and to learn from him the secrets of leadership. If nothing else, she asked that she could at least be tasked with the honor of defending their clan leader and serving as his bodyguard, so that he would be protected should any enemies see his declining health and take it upon themselves to relieve him. And if he came to know her heart and saw her as worthy, well. She would want nothing more than to follow in his footsteps and lead the clan one day.}

{And the clan leader laughed to himself, and the rest of the clan laughed alongside him. Her? A clan leader? But when he saw that she was not joking, he huffed, and he rumbled, and finally he told her that a good leader needed compassion as well as strength. If she could gather enough lum berries from the neighboring forest by sundown to feed the clan for an entire week, he would consider her offer.}

{The neighboring forest was dense. It was difficult for a fraxure to traverse too deep, for many of those in the forest were territorial, but they did not engage their enemies head-on like the fraxure did. So her sharp teeth and strong tusks would do her little good, but, emboldened by the clan leader’s promise, she went anyway.}

{The journey was quite hard, but the young fraxure was rewarded. She returned, laden with the fruits of her labor, and with her she brought so many berries that the clan ate heartily for an entire month. Overjoyed, Sagaris turned to the clan leader, and again asked him to reconsider.}

{The clan leader paused for a moment, and then replied that she was still not ready. A good leader also needed to be fearless, he said. If she could traverse to the summit of the Twisting Mountain and fight the deadly cold that lived there, then he would consider her offer.}

{This was a bold demand indeed, for the only thing that dragons fear more than each other is ice, for it chills the fire and thunder in our veins. But Sagaris was brave, and she was determined, so she went forth to the icy slopes and did battle with the beartic clan that lived there. The mountain shook with her battle cries, and by the end all pokémon above and below acknowledged that this fearless fraxure had no equal in combat. And so she descended again, marked by the icy ones as one of their own. Victorious, the fraxure turned to the clan leader, and again asked him to consider.}

{The clan leader waited again, and then replied that she was still not ready. A good leader, he said, also needed to be determined. If she could seek out a fleeting water sprite known as a keldeo and befriend it, then he would consider her offer. But a keldeo had not been seen in the mountains for generations, so she would need to search far and wide.}

{And do you know what Sagaris did, N?}

He starts, surprised at the interruption. After a moment to consider, he says, “She agreed, and sought to befriend this pokémon?”

{No. She remembered that the blood of dragons coursed thick and hot through her veins, and she seized the leader’s tusks and tore them from his face. She named herself clan leader, and the people discovered that she was already compassionate, brave, determined and strong; that what the clan leader sought to make her prove was there all along.}

There’s a long silence. N rubs his forehead with two fingers. Finally, he says, “I don’t fully—”

{The clan leader never intended to give Sagaris anything, N.} He has to get this point. He has to get this point. {He merely wanted to keep her distracted, and out of his scales. If he told her no outright, she would’ve been angry. She might’ve fought back. But if he could convince her that there was still something she could do to get what she wanted, she would pursue that. If he could convince her that there was just one more thing she needed to fix about herself before he would accept the merits of her argument, and then another, and another, he would never actually have to deal with the argument itself.}

N is silent now. Yes. You’re sure he understands what he’s trying to say, even if he doesn’t actually agree with it.
Ah, this is all completely excellent. I love N's naive little guess about how the story goes, because that's how it should go, and that's still how he thinks about the world--he has to show he's worthy and then people will recognize it. Zahhak's "nah no one gives up power willingly you gotta tear out throats" is just anathema to him.

anything and everything in their power to make sure that you’re too busy running around on keldeo hunts trying to get their approval, too busy to force them to understand that a system that allows for these tragedies is rotten to the core.}
Another great line, central point.

“What am I supposed to do?” N asks, and he pauses for so long that you realize it’s not a rhetorical question.

Rip off their tusks and declare yourself king, you want to say, but you know he won’t agree to that.
This exchange is wonderful and really sums up the whole chapter.

I thought that our problems could be solved with words, while part of me always knew the truth.} Pause. {The truth won out eventually, and what I know now is this: the world will not err towards justice unless you force it to.
So N does come to Zahhak's truth in the end.

You may want to replace "err", I get your meaning, but I think it's going to invoke error for a lot of people.

“Words are all I have.” He tilts his jaw up towards you, the first and last human to look you in the eyes and defy you, a dragon. “There is nothing to be gained by burning the world to liberate the ashes from the trees.”
Ah, that is so N. I love it. "Liberate the shes from the trees" is lovely.

“It was different then!” The retort bursts out of him, uncontrolled. For a split second you see fire in the dead grey coals that are his eyes. “I was different then.” There’s a pause, and the glow fades. He’s sad, quiet. Human. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
Ooh, I'm really curious to see young spitfire N. I really like the sense we get in this conversation of how long they've known each other and how much they've both changed and taken diverging paths.

So believe me when I say this. For you, with your impossible drive—history is only what you settle for.}
What a line, and what a burden to bear.

It’s the line between apology and asking for forgiveness that makes you draw up short.
Didn't follow this line.

The road you’ve chosen goes one way, and N is too innocent to walk it.
I'm not sure innocent is the right word here. It's not that N is innocent or ignorant of the points Zahhak is making, he refuses to accept them. If he was simply innocent, than Zahhak could strip away his innocence. So it's a little more complicated than innocent, and for a line coming at the end of a chapter, I feel like I want that reflected.

And you know it, don’t you? You’ve known all along where your path ends. It’s not like you ever had a choice. One way or another, pokémon end up six feet under buried by humans. You’re just racing down that path so that, maybe, it can burn before others have to.
rip Zahhak.

“You’re right. One of us will change the world.” The words come out slowly, like they weigh a more than a mountain. N swallows.
I was initially confused who was speaking. I think, "N's words come out slowly, like they weigh a more than a mountain. He swallows." would remedy that.

“What you and Ghetsis seek will not bring us what we want. I cannot allow it to come to pass. I do not believe you will go anywhere by showing humans a thing to be feared. I will show pokémon the Truth, then.” He looks up at you. You expect to see the fire rage up in his eyes, but there’s still nothing. Not even a spark. “I will go to Dragonspiral Tower and awaken Reshiram. They will chart a new path forward, one where everyone ends up happy. I’m sorry that we must be at odds here. I do not know what other choice I have.”
N dialogue rings very true here. Interesting that this is the conversation he has before going to the spiral. Does "Not even a spark" count as foreshadowing if it's already happened? lol

There is a concept you taught N once, long ago: that of the nocturne lament.

It is the words that a pokémon says before facing their—(this is the best translation you can give it; the tongue of dragons has no word for it, but a human might call it)—fate.

Death, maybe, would be a similar word, but not always. There are worse ends, even for those who do not believe in destiny. No. A better way to put it would be another human phrase: an enemy you cannot defeat.
Ooh, I love this concept. Very shiver-inducing.

Humans abused pokémon for centuries and were surprised, hurt even, by the inevitable results. They will tear him to shreds.

But for humans there are different rules, apparently.
These sentences confused me. I wasn't sure what was being said here or who will tear him(N?) to shreds?

And this time, the smile is truly not a real one. N looks up with his emotions frozen across his face, stares at you so guiltily it’s like if he looks too long you’ll shatter. “Surely you hate me by now, Zahhak? For all I have failed to do for you?”

The frills on the back your neck fold close to your head; unbidden, a deep rumbling sound comes from your throat.

Of all the things the little dragon had to ask you, it was this.

You lean in close, peel the scales back from your words until they’re just as soft as his. A hatchling, still blind, still trusting. {You know by now the answer to my question. You have yet to meet a pokémon that has found it within themselves to hate a human. I am no exception.}

The room suddenly feels heavy and still. You lean down and press the cool, dry scales of your snout against N’s forehead. He flinches back, and then he squeezes his eyes tight and throws his arms around your head, buries his forehead into your scales, runs his soft palms against your scarred jaw. He’s warm. So warm.

If you could both just stay here forever. If Dragonspiral Tower didn’t beckon, echoes of a lost song in the back of both your minds. If the world didn’t demand to be right again.

You close your eyes as well, and in that moment you can pretend you’re both smaller again. He’s just a snot-nosed child, chubby and doddling along on unsteady legs, pulling your unscarred tail, asking for stories. The little freak and his freakish handler, both of you too blind to see how everyone stared. If you don’t open your eyes ever again you can stay like this forever.

Perhaps he truly is the best one to call to the heart of the White Dragon after all, if he could so easily find his way into yours.
OH NO THERE GOES MY BACKUP HEART

Are we going to get to see baby N and baby Zahhak??

Does he know what he must do? The Tower marks the point of no return. If he doubts then, if he hesitates, if he fails—it will not matter.

Does he know what you must do? Because you do. Ghetsis has no such hesitation. You both recognize the truth that N refuses to see: if the rules are unfair, you can never win by playing by them. If N fails, well. There are more than two dragons in Unova. You will remind them that you haven’t forgotten. Sagaris lives on in your veins, and when your blood cools, it will stir fresh life in the heart of another.

You hope N knows what he wants. You really do. But somehow, you know: not yet.
I actually think you could cut all this! It reads as overly expository, especially since we already knows he fails, and feels like drag in the midst of much stronger segments.

{Forgive me, dear sibling,} he says, in the dialect of dragons. It makes your heart stop to hear him invoke it, twists a tiny pang of fear that’s altogether different from how you normally feel when he adopts your tongue. He is small for a dragon, after all. Too small to share your tongue and your fate.

But the tragedy of the nocturne lament was not in the words, but in the choosing of them. In understanding the insignificance of your sacrifice and to making it anyway. If he can stomach even a little of that burden, perhaps there is hope after all.

He chanted the nocturne lament like a prayer. The words rolled off his lips so quickly that he almost doesn’t notice they’re there, not until you return the other half to him, make it a promise the two of you share:

{This is all I know how to give.}
BABIES

"But the tragedy of the nocturne lament was not in the words, but in the choosing of them." Yes yes yes.
 

Ambyssin

"No need to quiver, dear."
Pronouns
he/him
Allow me to preface this by saying I just do not have the energy for the big reviews of yesteryear 2018. And don't expect a bunch of mechanistic stuff from me. It's second-person and present tense and that's just too esoteric and above my skill level for me to comment on other than some of the moments you have to slip into past tense gave me pause b/c I don't know if they were right or not, but I really can't expound.

Personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the whole "start from the end and work backwards" scenario outside of visual mediums, but it works well enough here. The opening part reminds me of that 'Believe' trailer for Halo 3 from back in the day. It's probably the whole freeze frame idea. But wait this doesn't involve kyurem. I'd say the AU premise becomes clear enough halfway in and is then confirmed by the end of the opening; I appreciate it being spelled out even if it's meant to be glaringly obvious.

And then, like spectrum, it looks like we'll be bouncing around POVs. I read the first part/chapter/whatever, which I guess was supposed to be the lead up to this AU version of the final N fight. I like the meta inversion that Hilda already has Zekrom while N awakens Reshiram at that moment. And, for that matter, I appreciate these:
You were the ideal that pokémon and humans could one day change, to live together in harmony, and I was the truth that humans would always make pokémon suffer, that battling is barbaric and wrong.
I thought perhaps I had the equation backward, and I was the embodiment of ideals while you were truth. I, the ideal that humans should understand that they need to change in order to create a better world; and you, the bitter truth that they never will.
I know it's fairly common for fic writers to give N Reshiram. Heck, N is paired with Reshiram in most of the official artwork/media. But, personally, I always thought Zekrom fit his worldview far better. So, these two bits of justification for him having Reshiram got a smile out of me.

Not much to say over Ghetsis being dead, since it's not discussed much. The only other bit I can say is that, admittedly, a lot of the surrounding details made me question if this part was recreating the final N battle. He's alone... in Relic Castle, apparently? That, along with the discussion, made me wonder if, perhaps, this was somehow an alternate post-B2W2 scenario. Dunno why. I really thing the Relic Castle bit threw me off, so maybe if there was a bit of justification/context for why they're in Relic Castle? That's all I got, anyway.
 

OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
I think Pen already caught most of the lines that jarred me. So this time most of what I got is, uh, yeah, what she said. Here's the rest of what I've got:

“It’s good to see you too.”
Aww, N.

He is the bitter root that cures a deeper poison. You do not love him, but you understand his use. You will hold your nose and bear the flames that lick at your scales, so long as they burn away the rot.
I thought this image was really effective.

It’s no surprise, really. Humans took you away from all the elements of your culture except for your violence, and they were surprised when you embraced it. If they wanted to raise dragons that did not raze towns, they should have thought twice before they sacked yours.
Oof.

No. Ghetsis understands the accord that lies between the two of you. You give him what he wants. You protect him from his foes, let his reputation stretch before the two of you like a dark shadow. He gives you what you want. Power. Strength. Vengeance. A bit of coaching. A strange disc that holds the secrets of how to create fire. A wide berth. A warm bath.
Interesting to end on the image wanting warmth. This seems to be emphasizing the aspects of Zahak's speech that hint at the squishy interior under the hardass attitude and scales. Near the end there's also the refrain of warm, warm with N. It seems like warmth is, in fact, something dragons need from the humans, if not actual love.

N is just a puny human standing at the mountain’s throat, holding up his hand to halt an avalanche
This image is really striking since this is basically what happens to Zahak.

Where is your army, N?
Oh noooo. Without proper conviction and understanding of the truth, N is out here Danerys-ing a little.

But a keldeo had not been seen in the mountains for generations, so she would need to search far and wide.
Later your phrase it as "like a wild Keldeo chase" and that sold the idea for me a little more effectively.

Perhaps the dragons should have a word for it, too;
Hm. They do have the concept of the Nocturne's Lament though.

He merely wanted to keep her distracted, and out of his scales.
Scales isn't working for me here since they lay flat and keep things out--you can't get tangled in them as easily as you can in hair. Maybe just "out of his way"?

I mean, this applies to quite a lot of pokemon, who are all more powerful than mere humans.
I think a solution here is leaning into Zahak's pride and arrogance a little harder. We already know he's a little bit of an unreliable narrator, and I think you can let him go a little harder.

The ending was super bittersweet and got me right in the feels.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
The chapter felt a little bloat-y, with the sense that the same point was made multiple time, and there were places where I felt like the dialogue was a little more aimed at the reader than something that felt natural between the two of them (see lines edits) but overall, I enjoyed and had many feels. It's fun to return to Zahhak for real after reading naturally.
These are excellent line-edits -- took all of them pretty much verbatim, as usual. Thank you!! <3

Bold double semi-colons here.
truly i'm not sure what happened here this chapter; this was excessive even for me;;;;;

Ah, I see. I like how Zahhak sets dragons apart here. I think Zahhak is a somewhat unreliable narrator on this point, though.
Yeah, this I wanted to go for the unreliable narrator a bit -- dragon pride, a bit. I'll tweak to make it a bit more aggressive but I didn't want to turn it up to 11 right off the bat.

* Lance makes a sadface *
hmmmm but tbh both of our dragons end up solving the problems of the human characters with their good logic and sand.

Zahhak: I don't care about anyone, least of all that foolish human
Also Zahhak: sleeps in N's room "for no particular reason"
Zahhak is the dog who sneaks into your bed while you're at work because it smells like you tbh

This exchange feels a little legacy of naturally? This N and Zahhak seem to interact a lot more frequently, so it seems weird that N would be needing to ask this question.
It is slightly, I think. The other half is that N's been ... busy with some other stuff and hasn't been back to the castle for a while. Slam poetry nights about liberation and stuff, you know!

I like this exchange a lot, with N's initial avoidance, but then his lack of flinch when he does choose to look. Feels a bit like a metaphor for the whole story, where N spends his time avoiding the truth, but once he sees it, he doesn't flinch away from the task.
I make many metaphors and this was actually not one of them! haha. oops. i'll take credit.

I kind of want more from this moment of "You can’t help but slip the title in." Is the title meant to be mocking here? Or is this a moment of Zahhak's respect for N coming through despite himself?
It's more of the former -- added some words about how dragons don't need titles and their names are enough; if they've done a good job everyone will know who they are (ala Sagaris)

Hm, I get what you mean, but echoes is such a sound word. "Mirrored on all three heads", "Reflected on all three heads"?
This is actually really interesting to me! I've always imagined the smirk as the little "hmmph" exhale, but I realize now it's mostly visual. Fixed that.

Ah, so the question I had last chapter comes up again. It's an interesting choice here to go with no pokemon saying that. It feels almost more unrealistic than a few saying that. And Zahhak won't say it either. It reminds me a bit of those political studies where people will say they hate government and it's all broken but then say they like their representative.
I'm torn on this one -- from a meta perspective I think I had to go with "pokemon don't hate you enough to kill you but that doesn't mean you're right". My concern was that if I had pokemon who hated trainers, I'd be accused of not holding true to the canon (which, in the games at least, is that all pokemon will stop hating you simply by virtue of being in your presence for a few miles) -- and i mean obviously if that weren't true then Team Plasma would be so right!!

I'm not sure how well that translates, unfortunately, but I'm also not sure what else could've been done.

Ope, have I found an EoE thesis statement?
zahhak is my mark tbh

Like this moment, though I'm curious about Zahhak being involved in it longer. I got the sense from the ending that baby Zahhak and N grew up together? Maybe just that N was sheltered longer.
That was sort of the idea, yeah! Ghetsis obtains them at around the same time, but obviously the dragon has to fight from birth while N gets toy trains and shit. Added some lines to clarify.

Didn't follow this line.
I meant for N asking "Forgive me" to be the inciting thing that reminds Zahhak of the nocturne lament. Toned the obviousness way up with that one.

I'm not sure innocent is the right word here. It's not that N is innocent or ignorant of the points Zahhak is making, he refuses to accept them. If he was simply innocent, than Zahhak could strip away his innocence. So it's a little more complicated than innocent, and for a line coming at the end of a chapter, I feel like I want that reflected.
I went with "fragile"? Not sure if I like it all the way but i like it more.

I was initially confused who was speaking. I think, "N's words come out slowly, like they weigh a more than a mountain. He swallows." would remedy that.
rip! haha. I was hoping "" vs {} would save me here. Fixed.

N dialogue rings very true here. Interesting that this is the conversation he has before going to the spiral. Does "Not even a spark" count as foreshadowing if it's already happened? lol
galaxy brain foreshadowing is spoiling everything sad in advance

OH NO THERE GOES MY BACKUP HEART

Are we going to get to see baby N and baby Zahhak??
eyes intensify

I actually think you could cut all this! It reads as overly expository, especially since we already knows he fails, and feels like drag in the midst of much stronger segments.
mmmm, agree!!

---
Allow me to preface this by saying I just do not have the energy for the big reviews of yesteryear 2018. And don't expect a bunch of mechanistic stuff from me. It's second-person and present tense and that's just too esoteric and above my skill level for me to comment on other than some of the moments you have to slip into past tense gave me pause b/c I don't know if they were right or not, but I really can't expound.
Hi Amby! Thanks for stopping by! Hope the med school grind is going well for you <3 Thank you for taking your time to leave your thoughts anyway!

I know it's fairly common for fic writers to give N Reshiram. Heck, N is paired with Reshiram in most of the official artwork/media. But, personally, I always thought Zekrom fit his worldview far better. So, these two bits of justification for him having Reshiram got a smile out of me.
I think it's interesting how easily exchangeable the concepts of truths and ideals can be, haha! Definitely wanted to play with that some. I feel like N with Reshiram is there because Reshiram looks cooler tbh

Not much to say over Ghetsis being dead, since it's not discussed much.
oh rip he's actually not dead

The only other bit I can say is that, admittedly, a lot of the surrounding details made me question if this part was recreating the final N battle. He's alone... in Relic Castle, apparently? That, along with the discussion, made me wonder if, perhaps, this was somehow an alternate post-B2W2 scenario. Dunno why. I really thing the Relic Castle bit threw me off, so maybe if there was a bit of justification/context for why they're in Relic Castle? That's all I got, anyway.
Yeah, I feel that! There's definitely a reason, and that reason gets parsed out in future chapters because of the chronology here -- this was something that was on my mind as well. There are a lot of reasons that get us to this point.

Thank you for reading! hope life's been good to you.

---


N speaks the language of "don't fuck with me means hello i love you"

Interesting to end on the image wanting warmth. This seems to be emphasizing the aspects of Zahak's speech that hint at the squishy interior under the hardass attitude and scales. Near the end there's also the refrain of warm, warm with N. It seems like warmth is, in fact, something dragons need from the humans, if not actual love.
yes! definitely

Oh noooo. Without proper conviction and understanding of the truth, N is out here Danerys-ing a little.
without a bullshit army and a real dragon

Hm. They do have the concept of the Nocturne's Lament though.
eyes intensify, this is actually not a draconic concept nor is it unique to the language of dragons

Scales isn't working for me here since they lay flat and keep things out--you can't get tangled in them as easily as you can in hair. Maybe just "out of his way"?
mmmmm i don't know how snakes work and it shows

ty based mom <3
 
vii. nonconformist

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
cw: contains references to police brutality and violent responses towards peaceful protest.

vii. nonconformist

※​

You were born right on Lucky’s heels, or so your mother said. You don’t really remember that. You do remember opening your eyes to see Lucky blinking back at you already. And then later, stumbling to catch up to him as he took his first proud steps around you. Reaching deep into your chest to find a tiny howl that matched his.

He was big and he grew fast, even for a lillipup, even for a firstborn. Mother was so proud of him. She loved all six of you, of course, but she loved Lucky most. And she was right to. The whiskers on his face formed a beautiful five-pointed star. He was her good-luck charm, she said. A human concept, to believe that objects could alter fate. But he was so was so strong that Mother named the rest after him—you are Clover, and after you came Horseshoe, and Ladybug, and Jade, and Rab. If your names were lucky to humans, maybe you could be too.

None of you are lucky, not like how Lucky was. You imagine your entire family making a wish on him, on his huge paws, on his sharp senses, on his fearless bark.

Some people are born to be favorites.

※​

There’s desperation etched in the girl’s forehead, and fury in her eyes. Her fists are clenched tightly to her sides, and she’s calculating something, glancing over her shoulder. “Hold it just a bit longer, Mali,” she tells her liepard tightly.

The liepard mewls an affirmation, but you can see her legs quivering from the strain of maintaining a protective shield for this long. The glimmering blue glow lights up the entire alley, stretching across both sides of it; tendrils of white gas curl in the air but billow harmlessly off of the shield.

“Driftveil Police! Hands in the air! Tell your pokémon to back down!”

The girl hasn’t heard him, or maybe she has. You aren’t sure. At twenty feet it’s possible she’s too far to hear, but Sam’s a pretty good shouter. The girl has a scrap of fabric wrapped around the lower half of her face, but you can see the pinches in her forehead framing her darting eyes. She’s heard. You can tell.

Just when you think Sam is about to take her silence as an answer in itself and send you in, she says in a high-pitched voice, “There’s gas where we are. If I withdraw my liepard, I’ll have no protection.”

“You should’ve considered that before you blocked the road,” Sam retorts. “Withdraw your pokémon. Immediately. Or we will respond with force.”

Force. He means you. You’re force now. That’s what evolving into a herdier means.

Lucky was always the strongest, the boldest. You’d chase after him, but where he leapt, you hesitated. Where he was fearless enough to stick his nose into anything, you were always afraid of the consequences.

Sam wouldn’t know why you’re afraid, but he’s happy to help you overcome it, and he has, every single day.

The girl does another check over her shoulder. When she turns back, some of the tension is gone from her shoulders, but her eyes are sad. “Thanks, Mali.” And then, to Sam: “I’m going to withdraw her now. I’m reaching to my belt.” She inhales sharply and then holds her breath. Carefully she raises one hand in the air, keeps the other one low as a flash of red light envelops the liepard and dissolves her form. She bends down and places the miniaturized pokéball at her feet and then raises her hands by her head, palms out, elbows bent up by her shoulders.

Perfect form. She must have been practicing since last time.

“Retrieve, Ace. Take Down.”

Some people think Take Down would be excessive here. You’ve heard other humans yell at Sam, and most of the pokemon don’t bother talking to anyone on the force, but some of them aim their words at you. Traitor. Violent. Criminal.

The last one confuses you the most. You protect them from criminals. You aren’t the criminal. If anything, they are. Some people would think Take Down would be excessive. Some people haven’t had to fight the same battles you have.

You dash in. The gas stings at your eyes and at the open gash on your flank where you’d gotten hit by the sharp edge of a brick earlier. The thick fur on your body protects the rest. The girl stands perfectly still as you approach. No, a full Take Down definitely seems like too much. You don’t want to be excessively violent.

You aim for the girl’s knees as a compromise. This way she’ll fall forward and not back. If she falls forward she might have enough time to catch herself. If she falls backward she’ll smash her head against the pavement.

You bowl through her knees. She hits the ground. You drag her back to Sam and she doesn’t resist.

“Cover me, Ace,” Sam says absently to you, and you bark in confirmation as he unclips the handcuffs from his belt.

You watch from five feet back, poised to leap forward if the girl makes an aggressive move. She’s young. Her face is buried in the brick, but you don’t forget features easily. She’s got a long, pinched nose. Bright pink hair, pixie cut. Freckles. Her bandana used to cover the rest of her face, but when Sam pushed her onto her back, it slipped down, revealing light brown skin and a split lip. Nose piercing. Brown eyes, watering now from the poison gas. She’s thin and lithe, like her liepard.

You don’t forget a face. You’ve seen her before. You and Sam have picked her up a few times on patrol already. He needn’t have worried. She wasn’t going to be a threat. She never is. She even told you that once, when you took her down to the station.

You fill in the rest of the gaps from the times you’ve watched her get processed before. Five foot three. Blood type O positive. No relatives listed. A lot of her friends pick her up when she gets detained, and then she’s right back where she started. You saw her last week. You’ll probably see her again soon.

She doesn’t fight, not even when Sam twists her hands behind her back and cuffs them together. He pulls her away from the wall by her left shoulder, and you can see that her cheek is starting to bleed from where it scraped against the brick. Not a lot or anything; it’s just a scrape. Sam pulls her away off the ground and she stutter-steps awkwardly to remain standing.

“Do you have any other pokémon?” he asks, but he’s already patting her down.

“Just the one,” she says in a thin voice. “Liepard. She’s registered.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Sam finishes his search and then picks up the pokéball from the ground where she was standing. He inspects it carefully before pocketing it. “You’ll get it back after processing.”

“I know.”

His retort is immediate. “Don’t get mouthy with me, young lady.”

Her eyes flash with thunder, but she curls her lips and doesn’t say anything else.

Sam grumbles something under his breath—what is it? You can’t hear. Was he talking to you—and then pulls her by the elbow towards the police truck.

You look around. The rest of the rally is almost dispersed. It’s mostly cleanup. You’re glad that you’re still small, otherwise they’d have you patrolling on your own, and you don’t think you’d do a very good job of it. A few black bandanas litter the street outside of the alley. There’s a sign on the ground, trampled with half a dozen different treads of shoes. You tilt your head to read the text as you and Sam walk the girl past. LIBERATION ISN’T THEFT. By the base of a streetlamp is a discarded megaphone. There aren’t any people nearby, just the police; in the distance, you can see bright yellow tape cordoning the whole area off.

Sam walks her into a waiting police van. The engine’s off. He slides the back open and gestures with his chin. “In.” The girl complies. He shoves her to the back and sits her down. A flash of his fob activates the wall mags, and the one closest to her glows bright blue before—schnick—holding fast to the metal of her handcuffs.

They’ve got the vans today instead of just the squad cars. You wonder. Were they expecting to arrest more people?

The radio on Sam’s shoulder crackles to life. The sounds themselves are too garbled for you to quite make out, but Sam’s angry, “What do you mean they got away?” tells you enough. “Wait here,” he says to you, gesturing into the van. His other hand is straying to the other pokéballs on his belt. “Make sure they behave.”

Right. Bark. You’re a good boy. You’re brave. You can do this. You leap up into the semi-dark of the van, the metal cool on your paws, and Sam slides the door shut.

What follows is a very long silence.

“Oh, hell,” says the girl suddenly. Her hands are twisted into an uncomfortable knot that pins her cuffed wrists up by her shoulder. “It’s you.”

The other human in the van looks up. He’s cuffed in the same way as the girl, but instead of twisting his arms, he’s turned his whole body so that half of him is wedged into the wall of the van. He looks sullenly over his shoulder. “Do I know you?”

“You’re the guy who started attacking Br—uh, one of our palpitoad. You’re the dewott trainer, right?”

He glares back. Dark eyes. Dark hair. Slim jaw, but he’s still growing into his shoulders, you think. You haven’t seen him before. “Haven’t you talked enough today?”

“What, didn’t expect to get arrested?” An edge of mockery slips into the girl’s voice.

“It’s not illegal to battle. Driftveil has open challenge rules. Clay’s city, Clay’s rules.”

“Not during a protest,” the girl snaps back immediately, but she seems half distracted with trying to rub her right eye while her hands are stuck to the wall. “We had permits. The entire warehouse was off-limits. Pokémon battling is banned. Peaceful protest.”

“Then why was there a palpitoad?”

“We fight for pokémon rights alongside pokémon. Of course they’re out with us. They’re protesting too. Battling is legally defined as a pokémon attacking another pokémon. Water suppresses chemical gas. Brex was our ground support,” she says. Purses her lips. Even from here it’s pretty obvious that her eyes are rimmed red. “So thanks for that.”

There’s an awkward silence.

“Wanna start over?” the girl asks after a long pause. “I’m Rhea.”

“Do you ever shut up?”

“We’re on the same side now,” Rhea says, gesturing with her chin towards the walls of the police van around them. “Or at the very least, we’re in the same boat.” When he’s silent some more, she sighs. “Look. Your first time getting arrested, right? You’ll get out of this fine. Probably just a citation at best.”

“My mom is going to kill me.”

“Are you over fourteen?”

“Sixteen, thank you very much.”

“Then you’re fine. Legally they don’t have to alert your parents unless you get written up for a felony. You didn’t assault anyone on your way out, right?”

“No.”

Rhea sighs. Shakes her head. “Tough crowd.” She looks over to you. “How about you, Herdier. You happy to be here?”

You bark twice for yes.

It’s probably facetious, but something about her tone stings a little. People like her expect you to hate your job, to hate your human. Sam has done so much for you. And in return he’s letting you do so much for everyone else.

They don’t get it. There are so many long, hot, grueling days that never turn violent. You endure shouts and glares for all of it. At the end of one of those days, Sam had returned to the emptiness of the patrol car, and he’d began to speak in low, angry spurts. These people want you to be ashamed, he’d said. They want you to be scared to go out in the morning and do your job. They wanted to yell at you and hate you and at the end of the day they wanted to come back to you for help, because they needed you.

You’d listened closely, your ears perked up. Sam didn’t normally trust you with his confidence. He saved that for his buddies during coffee breaks. You’d felt so honored that day. Finally one of the team.

You fill in the rest of the blanks on your own. People like her want you to be sweet and subservient like a good little pokémon; they want you patiently waiting for a brave strong human to come and save you from a life you’ve chosen for yourself. She doesn’t want you to be happy to be here, because your happiness would make her wrong.

There’s another long silence. The fluorescent lights in the van don’t give off any heat, but the air is already starting to feel stifling.

This wasn’t really what you had in mind when you started training, but you’re glad you’re helping somehow. Pokémon don’t get to pick what they want to do in this world. You’ll do the best with the hand you were given. Eventually people like her will understand that, even if they can’t see now.

“I’m sorry you got arrested,” she says.

“I don’t have anything to say to you, thief.” Contempt drips from his voice. “You’re just a thug. You can’t get what you want the right way, so you take it.”

Rhea mutters something under her breath. You can’t make out the words, but you can hear the venom that matches his own.

“Excuse me?” the boy hisses.

You know what she’s about to say. You’ve heard her say it a dozen times before, to Sam, to counter-protestors on the street. You’re pretty sure she was the one holding the sign for it earlier.

If she were smart, she’d read the room and realize that the boy doesn’t want to hear this. But she isn’t smart, or maybe she doesn’t care.

“I said,” Rhea repeats, “liberation isn’t theft. It’s kidnapping.”

Excuse me?”

“Theft is for property. Kidnapping is for people. If I took you somewhere against your will, you wouldn’t say you’d been stolen. You would say you’ve been kidnapped.” A wry smile. She gestures with her chin to the walls of the van. “Or legally detained.”

He rolls his eyes. “Semantics.”

“Minimum sentencing for grand theft—which most pokémon of Class B and below do not qualify for, by the way—is two years, two million yen fine. Minimum sentencing for kidnapping is fifteen years, two hundred million yen fine. They are different words with different definitions because pokémon are being treated differently.”

“There are two different terms for pokémon and people,” he says lazily. “You can’t just use vocabulary as some big ‘gotcha’ to make me realize that I was the villain all along.”

You like the boy. Most people who talk to Rhea don’t put forward good points, but he says the things you want to hear.

Rhea sighs. “I don’t think you’re the villain.”

That, at least gets a response. One cocked eyebrow. It’s the closest he’s gotten to looking her in the eye. “Oh? Then what’s with the signs, the protests, the cries for liberation? I train pokémon. I saw the shitshow in Mistralton. My friend was there. If Plasma doesn’t hate trainers, you’re doing an awful job of showing it.”

Another sigh. Is she calming herself? Is she trying to show that she relates? You can’t really tell. “We don’t hate trainers. We hate training. People grow up thinking this was the only thing that’s allowed to be normal. That’s not your fault, no more than it’s your pokémon’s fault for going along with it. You got told that pokémon training is the only way you can live your life. It’s hard to question that. I get that. We all get that. But that guilt you feel? That’s not from me. That’s you.”

“This is way past guilt.” His eyes rumble dangerously. “I got arrested thanks to you.”

“Not what I wanted,” Rhea says. “Trust me. Once attacks start flying, the cops just arrest everyone they see and sort them out later. After Mistralton they’ve been on edge. My job today was to make sure as few people got detained as possible. If I’d seen you, I would’ve covered for you too.”

Neither of them have anything to say after that.

You look back and forth at the two of them. There isn’t much different about them, not really. Two humans. Teenagers. That’s the word you’ve heard Sam use. Apparently it means that awkward stage that’s too big to be a proper lillipup but too small to be a herdier. Balled up on their own sides, angry.

Well, you’d rather this than anyone trying to escape. You’re not sure what you’d do if that happened.

You sit up a little straighter and prick your ears back, just in case anyone tries to jump into the van and mount a rescue. You aren’t used to doing things like this by yourself. Normally you’d have Rab, or Jade, or even L—

“My name is Cheren.”

“Oh?” Rhea’s head perks up from where she’s let it fall against her upper arm. Long pause. You see her wrestling with herself. “Nice to meet you.”

“You’re serious that I won’t get written up for this?”

“Unless you’ve got anything else on your record, no.”

Cheren exhales. His relief fills the stale air of the cargo hold. “Good. This sucks.”

“What, being trapped in a tiny room against your will? Having to wait for someone else to let you out? Being afraid that no one will listen to you when they do?” The words tumble out of Rhea’s mouth, and the way her eyebrows crease together makes you think she hadn’t meant to say that much.

“I don’t imprison my pokémon. Words still matter.” Cheren rolls his eyes again and tosses her words back over. “And besides, you’re one to talk. You steal—or in your words, kidnap. How can you justify that?”

Rhea closes her eyes. Doesn’t open them until she’s halfway through saying, “Which one do you believe? That pokémon are capable of making their own decisions to stay with trainers, or that they aren’t?”

It’s Cheren’s turn to crumple the top of his forehead into a frown. “Obviously the first one.”

“So your pokémon like you. That’s why they stay with you.”

There’s a long silence. Cheren probably senses the trap by now. But still he replies, “Yes.”

“And if they didn’t like you. They could leave. Whenever they wanted. The pokéball wouldn’t stop them.”

“Yes.”

“The pokémon I liberate don’t return to their trainers. But they can leave whenever they want.” Another long pause. Cheren isn’t looking at her. Rhea is staring with the precision of a liepard latched on to its prey. “So which one is it? They don’t want to stay with me but they have to, because the pokéball traps them? Or they don’t want to go back to their trainers once they’re liberated, and they’ve made that choice? What would you say I am, Cheren: a thief, a kidnapper, or a trainer?”

Cheren’s scowl is now so deeply ingrained in his face that you’d think it were chiseled there. Your eyes trace over the way the skin between his eyebrows crinkles deeper and deeper, until his eyes are just tiny slits. “It’s different,” he says at last. “You didn’t give them a choice. You just took them.”

Hmmm. Cheren’s wrong there, but also right. It is different. Pokémon chose to be with humans. All of them do. You did. That’s why you’re here. You made your own decision, and for her to try to take it from you—

Rhea’s reply is exactly the kind of thing you expect from her. You’ve heard her rant like this a dozen times before. It’s starting to get on your nerves. “We give the choice to every pokémon we liberate. That is a core tenet of Plasma. I pull aside every pokémon that is in my care and explain to them their choice. The only person who doesn’t get a choice in the matter is the human.”

“And if they want to go back to their trainers, Rhea? Then what?” Cheren’s voice is starting to get high-pitched, agitated.

But Rhea’s still calm. Quieter, even. “Then I take them back.”

“Even to an abusive trainer? That seems wrong, Rhea.”

“It is. Every second of it feels wrong. But I respect their choice, even if I don’t agree. What else could I do?” There’s enough sincerity in Rhea’s voice that she doesn’t get a response for a full ten seconds. Or maybe Cheren’s just surprised that she agreed with him. “Intentional abuse of pokémon is rarely documented, but the numbers aren’t as high as you’d be led to think—between two and five percent of pokécenter intakes are suspected to be due to intentional abuse.” She rubs her chin on the top of her wrist to scratch it. “But it’s much more reassuring to think that abuse is just intentionally tying your pokémon to a stick and kicking it until it cries, so the media runs with that. Uplifting montage, before and after pics, everyone gets to condemn the dumb shit who punches his conkeldurr. That was the most recent one, right?”

Cheren shifts uncomfortably. “I saw that one, yeah.”

“But what are you really saying when you watch his face get plastered on the news while you’re prepping for your next gym match in a pokécenter? That humans aren’t allowed to hit pokémon? But when humans tell pokémon to hit other pokémon, that’s okay?”

She does this thing where she talks too much, you decide. She loses him in the argument because she has so much to say, because she’s not used to finding someone who has to hear her out this long, so all of her stray thoughts come pouring out at once. You’ve seen this happen. All the time.

So of course Cheren erupts. Part of you is grateful for it—he’s saying the words to her you can’t. “So what, you’re supposed to tell me that people should just be allowed to punch pokémon whenever they want? We can’t prosecute abusers any more? You’re seriously telling me it’s more important to go after good trainers than assholes who would sink low enough to punch a pokémon because they were angry?” There’s an edge of hysteria slipping into Cheren’s voice now, and you can feel the fire even from here.

“No. I’m just asking you to examine the paradox of condoning battling while condemning humans who instigate the abuse directly when, to a pokémon, both are the same.”

But Cheren’s not listening. Each question sends him spiraling higher and higher; he’s already starting to breathe heavily. You can see the anger and anxiety intertwined around his face. She shouldn’t be doing this to him. He’s a good trainer. You remember him and his dewott battling earlier at the protest. They had been like you and Sam—a team. “Or what, we should just punish all trainers, then? Arrest everyone? Is that what Plasma wants? I would never hurt my pokémon.”

“You must be a good trainer, then,” Rhea says softly. Her voice is calm, level.

Of all the things she could’ve said, he didn’t seem to be expecting this. He deflates, just a hair. You can see the red on his face. “What?”

“Your pokémon never get hurt. You must be an exceptional trainer.”

Cheren scowls. “That isn’t what I said.”

Rhea doesn’t take the time to push, though. She sits, quietly. Studying Cheren. Doesn’t say a word beyond, “What did you say, then?”

You can tell he doesn’t want to answer that.

There’s a really long silence.

You wonder what’s keeping Sam. He should be back by now, shouldn’t he? Your ears prick nervously. Maybe something’s gone wrong. Maybe someone’s hurt him.

You can’t help turning a glare on Rhea, not that she notices. She’s not the one in danger, not like Sam. She speaks too boldly for someone who gets to sit comfortably on the sidelines. She gets to go home to an easy sleep; she isn’t like Sam, constantly risking his life each day, struggling to find peace at night. She picks up a megaphone and declares which abuses are more important than others, which crimes count and which don’t—and she’ll keep doing that until someone stops her.

She’s a criminal, after all. With her pretty words and her stupid signs. Of course she’s good at lying. You don’t hate her for it; it’s not her fault either. She just got told a lot of things and didn’t think long enough to question them. She’ll grow up one day.

There’s another really long silence.

Quietly, Cheren asks, “If you don’t hate me for being a trainer, why do you care so much what I think?”

She sighs. Stretches one leg out in front of her and dangles it idly. “Look. You got someone you care about? A brother, maybe? Your mom?”

Another pause. And then, apparently deciding that he’s got nothing left to lose by prolonging the conversation just a little longer, Cheren says, “I have a younger sister.”

“Imagine if she got sick. Your parents aren’t around. You’re afraid she’ll die. What would you do?”

“Take her to a doctor.”

“The first doctor you go to doesn’t want to see her. Says he only sees adults.”

“I go find a pediatrician.”

“The next doctor doesn’t want to see her, either. Says he doesn’t understand this sickness and doesn’t want to be liable if your sister dies.”

Cheren sighs in frustration. You imagine this is around the time he’s regretting extending the benefit of the doubt yet again. “Then I go somewhere else. I keep going until I find someone who will listen.”

Rhea sighs. Goes in for what you think is probably her last long speech of the day. You hope, at least. Sam’s still not back and you’re losing patience. “That’s what I’m doing. Mali—my liepard—is my sister. There are people who won’t see her, who refuse to recognize that her species is capable of being in pain, of being in danger, of thinking complex thoughts. Worse, there are some who see her like that but don’t care, who somehow think that she can be their friend and force her to fight at the same time. I got poison gassed today, twice. I hate it every time; I always cry and it hurts like hell. Mali got gassed right next to me and she barely flinched, because she’s felt far worse when we have to battle. We trick ourselves into thinking that pain goes away if it doesn’t hurt us.”

Rhea sighs. Waits for some sass from Cheren. Doesn’t get it. Maybe he’s given up on fighting her, maybe he realizes they’re both two unmovable objects. “I get that you don’t want to see me and my friends protesting on the streets. I get that that’s why you lashed out today. But the truth is that I don’t want to be there either. I want to be at the mall with my classmates, or planting a garden, or doing whatever else kids my age are supposed to do on weekends. But some people don’t have that choice, so I’m right there with them.” She pauses. Slumps for the first time in this whole conversation. “I keep going until I find someone who will listen. It doesn’t have to be you. I honestly don’t expect it to be you. It’s too hard to break out from the bottom. But I care what people think because people are the only way we’re going to fix this. Maybe it’s the judge who will hear my case again. Maybe it’s the cop who will walk us to the station. Maybe it’s someone who will watch the footage on the news tonight.” She casually flicks her head in your direction. “Maybe it’s you, Herdier.” Her voice levels again. She squares her shoulders against the metal of the van. “I will keep doing this until I find someone who will listen. I believe in something, same as everyone else.”

But you’re not listening anymore, because you catch footsteps outside. Sam’s back! Your tail starts to wag madly. It’s all going to be fine now.

※​

That evening you watch Sam process the cases. Cheren gets released with a warning—something about how he’d actually been acting on Clay’s orders. Sam spends the rest of the evening combing over Rhea’s record—normally he wouldn’t spend so much time, but she’s the only one they got from Plasma. They’ve arrested her a few times now. He mutters something about how it doesn’t seem to stick.

No one needs you for anything, so you keep watch at Sam’s feet. Something Rhea said sticks in your head. She’d called the liepard her little sister.

You wish you’d had a chance to talk to the liepard. Did she see Rhea as her older sister?

When you were both lillipup, exploring away from Mother’s watchful gaze, you and Lucky had stumbled upon a strange creature on the street. It had a bloated green body, and it seemed to ooze black sludge with every lumbering footstep. Part of itself doubled back to form a strange arm, and it had wrapped around what it was trying to cram into a garbage-studded mouth. Even from across the street you could smell it, the stench of rot riding harshly on the sunny breeze. Even from where you stood you knew that you shouldn’t fight it.

But Lucky was brave when you were not. You watched him leap in and save the day. The garbodor broke his leg. Mother was so proud, so worried, when you both returned, covered in muck. You’d asked him, later, why he had done it. Why he’d taken that risk.

He’d answered so readily it must’ve been obvious. {I had to protect you.} He shoved his snout playfully against your own and added, {That’s what brothers are for.}

Bravery was simple for Lucky, the same way it was simple for Sam and all the other herdier and humans who were brave enough to be on the force. You could tell it was easy from the way they held themselves. You’d seen them sometimes in your neighborhood, patrolling proudly, their collars flashing blue and bronze.

When you’d first barked to one—{Can I join you?}— he’d ignored you. But you persisted. You followed them on their rounds, mimicking their even footfalls. You wagged your tail—respectfully—at their humans, until one of them tossed you the remains of his bagel and said, “You know, I think this little mutt wants to join the force.”

Ace is a good name. It doesn’t remind you of Clover, or of Lucky, or anyone else. It means that you’re someone Sam can rely on. All of the pokémon you’ve seen at protests, the ones who bothered talking to you—they seemed to look at you with pity. Like you were someone who hadn’t wanted to be there, like you weren’t proud of who you were. They wanted to make you ashamed of yourself. They wanted you to be the secondborn again.

No. Having this job makes you strong on your own. It doesn’t matter who listens to you or not, because when you’re strong, your actions will always speak louder than your words.

Sam nudges you with his foot. “Come on, Ace. I think she’s had enough.”

They’d left Rhea in the van. That had been hours ago. The inside of the van is dark and warm, and there hadn’t been any water left there. You hope that Rhea’s had time to think, just like you had. Maybe this time she’ll figure out that she’s wrong.

When you enter together with Sam, she cracks one eye open and then she rouses herself. Her movements are stiff. Her tongue flicks out over her lips—anticipation? No. She’s probably thirsty.

“Your liepard has bred moves,” Sam says by way of greeting. He’s back in work mode. The warmth in his voice when he speaks to you is gone, replaced by a cold briskness.

Rhea straightens her back. With Cheren she was slouched, inviting. Unconsciously mimicking what she thought he’d want to see, probably. This time she’s polite, head bowed. The quips are stripped from her dialogue. “She was like that when I got her.”

“Do you have certification from a licensed breeder?”

“No. She was a gift from a friend.”

Sam nods. “The scan showed that its previous owner was a Natural Harmonia Gropius. Do you know where he is now? If he can vouch for you then that would be sufficient.”

Hearing that name surprises you. He’s supposed to be a big deal. She knows him? Really?

Comprehension dawns on Rhea’s face, and despite herself a sense of urgency slips through into her mask. “No, we haven’t spoken in a while …”

N. He wants N. All of them want N. That’s the other name you’ve heard pop up at their evening conversations, when they’re taking off their vests and their uniforms and dressing up in their human clothes again. If they can arrest N then this whole thing is over. Driftveil will be peaceful again.

Plasma knows it too. That’s why they have people like Rhea, stalling for time while the leaders get away. You suppose Rhea is admirable for her loyalty, even if it’s misplaced.

“He was here at the riot, and at the Mistralton one as well. Surely you’ve spoken to him?”

Rhea shakes her head firmly. “I would like to speak to a lawyer.”

Sam frowns. He takes one step forward. In the cramped space of the van it’s enough to bring him right into her face. “If you bring in a lawyer, I can’t help you anymore.”

She has to take this chance. She has to. If she doesn’t, it’ll only get worse for her.

But she’s Rhea, and she’s stupid, and you know that. So you aren’t even surprised when she purses her lips and then says, “I have a right to legal counsel.”

Sam unlocks her cuffs from the mag-levs on the wall and shoves her forward. “You’re being detained for resisting arrest, disturbance of the peace, and possession of a bred pokémon without proper documentation,” he begins to recite as he walks her out of the van. “You may be detained for up to ten days depending on your cooperation.”

Rhea nods, tight-lipped. The laughter is gone from her face now and that’s not part of her act.

“Your pokémon will be held by the police pending your trial. If the original owner can claim them they will be handed over; otherwise, after a period of seventy-two hours they will be repossessed by the state.”

That seems to get through to her. “That’s three days,” she says in a quiet voice. And then, faster: “But if you’re going to detain me for—”

“Upon repossession they will be put up for adoption. At that time you will also be able to reclaim your pokémon should the previous window be insufficient.”

They’re talking over each other. Sam’s louder, but Rhea’s more urgent. “Please, you know that if I’m here I can’t—”

You’ve seen how this ends. You’ve even seen how it started. Clay got tired of having his city be a hotspot for the Plasma thugs. Too much attention. They kept coming from other cities and stirring up trouble, Sam said. They couldn’t respect how Clay ran things here so they had to come in and mess things up for everyone else.

Lucky hadn’t hesitated when he jumped at the garbodor. Sometimes cleaning up the streets meant getting dirty first. There is law, and there is order. You will help enforce both. Clay made better laws and that made better order. If Plasma was going to steal pokémon from trainers, then Driftveil PD could take them back. That was only fair. You had to be a good trainer to have pokémon. Otherwise they’d be adopted out to someone else. Adoption fees helped offset the costs of needing so many extra police anyway. There’s a lot of adoption centers in Driftveil; hopefully there’s enough space in one of them.

They put her in a cell in the station. Sam tells someone else to contact the public defense attorney, but it’s 9 PM on a Saturday so it can wait until Monday if it has to. Her face has gone pale. When you walk by on your evening patrol, she creeps over to the door.

“The liepard. Her name is Tourmaline. She likes being scratched between the ears. And yogurt. Sometimes she’ll be aloof around strangers but if they talk to her she’ll usually come around. She hates being in her pokéball.” Rhea bites her lip. “Um. She doesn’t like fighting too much but if she has to, she prefers ranged attacks.”

You blink back. Why is she telling you this? “If my friends don’t get me out in time.” She stops in the middle of her sentence and swallows. “Can you explain to her what happened to me? That I’ll find her? I’ll get funds to buy her back from her new trainer or something. I’ll find her.”

You bark. Once for no. You’re just a patrol herdier. And even if you weren’t, her liepard’s in processing now and you can’t exactly open a pokéball. If she hadn’t wanted to be upset like this, she shouldn’t have broken the law.

She had so many words for Cheren and none for you, not until she needed you. She finally talks to you when there’s no other humans who will listen. You’re just a last resort. She doesn’t actually care what you think. And frankly, you don’t care what she thinks. She spends her time playing tricks with words, trying to make good people feel bad for doing the right thing. She can yell or plead or curse as much as she wants but she’ll never make you feel bad for the choices you made.

“Thanks, Herdier.”

Of course she doesn’t understand. People like her only hear what they want to hear. As much as she preaches to have your best interests at heart, she’ll never understand you.

For a moment, you think about the liepard. Her little sister. In three days she’ll go to an adoption center. Sometime soon after that, someone new will will let her out and she’ll find her human gone. Maybe that’s for the best. She’ll be able to choose her own path now, just like you did.

Rhea is still staring at you with a smile in her eyes. Caught up in this delusion that you’ll actually pass on her words. Maybe, if you tried, you could make her understand. Whine a bit or swing your head from side to side, the way Sam does when he wants to say no without words. No. She’s not worth the effort. She’s not a good listener.

She’ll figure it out eventually.

It’ll be easier this way. For her, for you, for everyone.



p | n
 
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OldschoolJohto

Never not editing
Pronouns
She/Her
Partner
solrock
The short and sweet of this one is easy to boil down for me: 1) stolen cats feels, help 2) the conversation between R and Ch is good and so is the legalese world-building, and 3) doggo doesn’t feel integrated into the scene!

She’s biting her lip. At twenty feet it’s possible that she isn’t listening, but Sam’s a pretty good shouter. The girl has a scrap of fabric wrapped around the lower half of her face,
He’s got good eyes if he can see that through her bandana.

Just when you think Sam is about to take her silence as an answer in itself and send you in, she says in a high-pitched voice,
I didn’t know if Sam was make or female yet here, so the pronouns confused me. I thought at first that the narrator was one of hers and that her name was Sam.

where you’d gotten hit by a brick earlier.
:c

Sam’s got a below-average return rate on police equipment and you saw him go through two stoutland in a week.
Ouch. “Police equipment” feels like the right epithet for this world but not this narrator.

rally is almost dispersed. It’s mostly cleanup. You’re glad that you’re still small, otherwise they’d have you patrolling on your own, and you don’t think you’d do a very good job of it.
Aww, anxiety. This was the most in-narrator moment in this chapter. I think I’d like a bit more about what Herdier expects to happen if he fails, if he’s replaced. Something to root that anxiety and the desire for things to be “easier.” Otherwise, the opposite could be good—a moment of affection between Herdier and Sam, a reason for loyalty?

A flash of his fob activates the wall mags, and the one closest to her glows bright blue before—schnick—holding fast to the metal of her handcuffs.
Oooh, cool detail.

He’s got big guns. Sam holds the big guns. You aren’t the big guns.
First two sentences there are repetitive. Last one is :c

You’re the dewott trainer, right?”
!!!
Haha Cheren got arrested.

Not during a protest,” the girl snaps back immediately,
Nice.

But that guilt you feel, though? That anger? That’s not from me. That’s you.”
Oooooooooooo

everyone gets to condemn the dumb shit who punches his conkeldurr. That was the most recent one, right?”
Aha!

Cheren’s reciting from a textbook you saw Sam read once, you think.
Boy, this herdier is a good reader.

But Cheren’s not listening. Each question sends him spiraling higher and higher; he’s already starting to breathe heavily. You can see the anger and anxiety intertwined around his face.
This moment was very nice—felt very right for Cheren.

You wonder, absently, where Sam is.
This wants more emotional weight.

That’s what I’m doing. Mali—my liepard—is my sister.
💔💔💔💔

We trick ourselves into thinking that pain goes away if it doesn’t hurt us.”
“Us” Wants emphasis. Maybe italics, maybe even “our own bodies.”

Sam takes you to confront her.
*with him?

No. She was a gift from a friend.”
Friend. :( Means something so different coming from her instead of Cheren.

you didn’t think he’d be giving out his pokémon to just anyone.
“Giving out his pokemon” feels very human—thing-infication.

But she’s Rhea, and she’s stupid, and you know that.
He called her smart earlier! *Foolish?

like bagels.
We already talked about this, but I did raise my eyebrow. My cat likes savory treats like chicken tikka (weird, considering his tummy is sensitive and spicy sounds like it would be bad for that) and other cats’ food.

there’s no procedure for talking to contraband.
OOF.

Such a bummer that we know her speech fell of deaf ears, because we’ve seen what Cheren is like later.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Oh no, this is Tourmaline's trainer. I guess we can slot this chapter down as another place reverse order worked for me, because I had instant investment here once I realized that fact. It's a little mystery in reverse as well once Cheren pops up--how's Tourmaline going to get saddled with him. It's really oof to see Cheren get this whole lecture and realize that he's going to go on to hold Carnel against their will. I also really liked the legalese world-building here and all the info on how Clay is responding to Team Plasma.

The main issue I have with the chapter is the POV. As I read, I realized this POV feels extremely similar to the rotom's POV. The herdier is a good observer and commentates for us the battle conversation between Rhea and Cheren. But there are a few differences from the rotom here. Herdier isn't involved physically, they're just listening and kind of fades out during that scene. Like the rotom, the premise is that they're committed to his job, but unlike the rotom, the conflict for him is less clear. The rotom realizes the injustice of being put in physical danger while their trainer stays in safety and notices the way humans privilege human pain. Herdier . . . I'm less sure what the arc is. I'm down for a chapter where the arc is a pokemon who chooses to stay complicit, but I need it to feel more like an arc and less like a static, observational POV. I kept wanting more on Herdier's backstory, day-to-day life, what has shaped their world-view and values. I could see the police dogs as having a tight knit community that self-polices. Since you wrote Herdier as new to the job and uncertain, a scene where they go to an older Stoutland for advice, maybe about communicating Rhea's words to Tourmaline, and get told how the world works would help--give you a firmer pro-police voice and allow your POV to be more uncertain but ultimately swayed. For extra poignancy, Herdier does want to tell Tourmaline but is talked out of it, and then has to assuage they're guilt with "it'll be easier this way." Okay, end ramble-brainstorm.

Thought you really nailed Rhea's talking points, but did feel a little too turn-to-camera for the narrative format. More on that in the line-by-lines.

* bad 80s-style transition *

There’s desperation etched in the girl’s forehead
This feels like a very kintsugi line. You're very fascinated by faces as objects. Okay, turning Zoroark brain off. Ahem.

“Hold it just a bit longer, Mali,” she says encouragingly to her liepard.
The speech tag feels weird--it's so close to the generic trainer encourages their pokemon in battle vibe. Urgently? Apologetically? It would be nice to see a sign of how she's different.

The liepard mewls an affirmation
It's an interesting choice here to not give Tourmaline speech. Can Herdier not understand her dialect?

The girl hasn’t heard him, or maybe she has. You aren’t sure. She’s biting her lip.
Maybe condense to, "You aren't sure if the girl heard him."

At twenty feet it’s possible that she isn’t listening, but Sam’s a pretty good shouter.
Not sure "listening" is the word if Herdier is commenting on volume. Like, "At twenty feet it’s possible that she's too far away to hear, but Sam’s a pretty good shouter."

Force. He means you. You aren’t sure how you that makes you feel. You’ve only been on street duty for a few months, but you aren’t sure if you’re supposed to be this forceful. You hope she surrenders. It'll be easier this way.
I'm a big fan of ambivalence, but . . . I want a little more here. Something more personal, maybe.

She smiles sadly. “Thanks, Mali.” You can’t really tell. Are smiles ever sad?
This is all a little paradoxical. Herdier describes it as a sad smile, so . . . very kintsugi moment though!!

Perfect form. She must have been practicing since last time.
Beeg oof.

A take down? That seems so excessive—
Hm, I feel like this is borrowed/incongruous language. I want reasoning here that feels a little more in-POV. "A take down? Isn't she already on the ground?"

But Sam knows better. He’s your commanding officer, he’s smart, he’s been in the streets longer. You’ve hard them exchange stories in the evenings about kids who hide knives in oversized sweaters or who set up ambushes in back alleys. And if he commands Take Down and you disobey, they’ll probably adopt you out or sell you like the last one. Sam’s got a below-average return rate on police equipment and you saw him go through two stoutland in a week. You should listen to him. It’ll be easier this way.
I really want a bit more here. So, Herdier doesn't want to be adopted out or sold. Okay. Is this because they 1) like Sam 2) don't care about Sam but like being a police dog 3) think the alternative is worse? And whichever one it is, I want to know what shaped that worldview. Do the Herdier and Stoutland also exchange stories in the evening about ex-police dogs? Is it about pride, about the community Herdier has with the other police dogs or the human officers? I want to know their stake in this. I want a sense of Herdier as a character who exists with a life beyond being there to overhear a conversation between Rhea and Cheren, I guess.

You bowl through her knees. She hits the ground.
Had trouble picturing this.

you bark in confirmation as he runs unclips the handcuffs from his belt.
"runs unclips"? Extra word?

She’s thin and lithe, like her liepard.
This is where I realized it was Tourmaline trainer and when oh shit.

She even told you that once, when you took her down to the station.
Ah, love that Rhea is talking to the pokemon too.

“I know.”

His retort is immediate. “Don’t get mouthy with me, young lady.”

Her eyes flash with thunder, but she curls her lips and doesn’t say anything else.
Oof. This feels too real.

There aren’t any people nearby, just the police; in the distance, you can see bright yellow tape quadroning the whole area off like it’s some sort of crime scene.

You wish they’d stop making scenes like this. It’d be easier that way.
The double scene here is weird, because it almost sounds like Herdier is referring to the police. Which, like, sort of makes sense, but I don't think Herdier would be thinking that. Or if they are I need way more context.

The "It’d be easier that way." refrain is also feeling a bit like a crutch to me. Generally I find a repeating phrase needs to gain new meaning with each repetition if it's supposed to anchor an arc.

He’s got big guns. Sam holds the big guns. You aren’t the big guns.
Maybe avoid that metaphor bc the guns in pokeworld question feels like an unneeded can of worms for this fic.

“It’s not illegal to battle. Driftveil has open challenge rules. Clay’s city, Clay’s rules.”
Oooh, love it. Open challenge, huh? Nice.

“Do you ever shut up?”
Cheren's such a polite young man.

“I said,” Rhea repeats, “liberation isn’t theft. It’s kidnapping.”

Excuse me?”

“Theft is for property. Kidnapping is for people. If I took you somewhere against your will, you wouldn’t say you’d been stolen. You would say you’ve been kidnapped.” A wry smile. She gestures with her chin to the walls of the van. “Or legally detained.”

He rolls his eyes. “Semantics.”
Ahahaha here we go.

“There are two different terms for pokémon and people,” he says lazily. “You can’t just use vocabulary as some big ‘gotcha’ to make me realize that I was the villain all along.”

Rhea sighs. “I don’t think you’re the villain.”

That, at least gets a response. One cocked eyebrow. It’s the closest he’s gotten to looking her in the eye. “Oh? Then what’s with the signs, the protests, the cries for liberation? I train pokémon. Plasma hates trainers. I saw the shitshow in Mistralton. My friend was there.”

Another sigh. Is she calming herself? Is she trying to show that she relates? You can’t really tell. “We don’t hate trainers. We hate training.”

“I’m a trainer.”

Rhea nods. Patiently. Or trying to be. You think it’s the latter. “Let me guess. When you were growing up your parents told you that you got to go on this great big adventure to prove yourself. It was all you ever thought was normal. You didn’t just wake up with these ideas one day. That’s not your fault, no more than it’s your pokémon’s fault for going along with it. You got told that pokémon training is the only way you can live your life. It’s hard to question that. I get that. We all get that.”

“If you don’t hate trainers, you’re doing an awful job of showing it,” he mutters. His eyes rumble dangerously. “I got arrested thanks to you.”
Alt chapter for this title: Dog watches girl unwisely engage in the comments section.

She’s awfully good at her job. One day Sam will figure that out. Or, if he ever asked you, you could’ve told him that too. You bark confirmation.
How would Herdier tell him, tho?

“Look. I get it. You look at rallies like these. It makes you angry, because somewhere in there you interpret them as an attack on you, like we’re directly saying that you’re wrong. You’re a trainer and you’re not with us, so you’re against us, right?” Rhea sighs. Does that thing you’ve seen in movies where a woman blows her bangs out of her face. “But that’s not what I’m trying to say. If I were angry at every trainer I saw, I’d never get anything done. Plasma focuses on systems. Governments. Not the little people. But that guilt you feel, though? That anger? That’s not from me. That’s you.”
This feels very turn-to-camera and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Cheren exhales. His relief fills the stale air of the cargo hold.
Nice descriptor.

“What, being trapped in a tiny room against your will? Having to wait for someone else to let you out? Being afraid that no one will listen to you when they do?” The words tumble out of Rhea’s mouth, and the way her eyebrows crease together makes you think she hadn’t meant to say that much.
Rhea is def the person who has already typed a paragraph while the other person is mid-sentence.

“Which one do you believe? That pokémon are capable of making their own decisions to stay with trainers, or that they aren’t?”

It’s Cheren’s turn to crumple the top of his forehead into a frown. “Obviously the first one.”

“So your pokémon like you. That’s why they stay with you.”

There’s a long silence. Cheren probably senses the trap by now. But still he replies, “Yes.”

“And if they didn’t like you. They could leave. Whenever they wanted. Pokéball wouldn’t stop them.”

“Yes.”

“The pokémon I liberate don’t return to their trainers. But they can leave whenever they want.” Another long pause. Cheren isn’t looking at her. Rhea is staring with the precision of a liepard latched on to its prey. “So which one is it? They don’t want to stay with me but they have to, because the pokéball traps them? Or they don’t want to go back to their trainers once they’re liberated, and they’ve made that choice? What would you say I am, Cheren: a thief, a kidnapper, or a trainer?”
Very nicely laid out. Again, I'm conflicted, because all this is great, but it's not 100% working for me in it's narrative context. Like, in Let It Ring I chose a format that let me rant at the camera, but this is packaged inside a narrative context. Hm, I guess this is a reprise of the review I wrote for the prologue.

“Even to an abusive trainer? That seems wrong, Rhea.”
The use of her name here felt weird and sort of Bond villain.

Cheren’s reciting from a textbook you saw Sam read once, you think. Which is unfortunate for him, because Rhea’s heard every argument in the book. If he thought of something truly outlandish he might’ve been able to throw her.
I feel like we've left POV behind here and Herdier has become a vehicle to comment on this convo.

“You must be a good trainer, then,” Rhea says softly. Her voice is calm, level.

Of all the things she could’ve said, he didn’t seem to be expecting this. He deflates, just a hair. You can see the red on his face. “What?”

“Your pokémon never get hurt. You must be an exceptional trainer.”
SHOTS FIRED

She does this thing where she talks too much, you decide. She loses him in the argument because she has so much to say, because she’s not used to finding someone who has to hear her out this long, so all of her stray thoughts come pouring out at once. You’ve seen this happen. All the time. Every time, really. So you aren’t surprised when Cheren ignores her completely.
Rip.

She casually flicks her head in your direction. “Maybe it’s you, Herdier.”
It's not though, and I want there to be more tension in that.

“Your liepard has bred moves,” Sam says by way of greeting.
oh no

My brain telegraphed where this was going to go so fast here. Ugh. Poor Tourmaline.

Sam nods. “The scan showed that its previous owner was a Natural Harmonia Gropius. Do you know where he is now? If he can vouch for you then that would be sufficient.”

Hearing that name surprises you. You know he’s involved in Plasma but you didn’t think he’d be giving out his pokémon to just anyone. Maybe he’s like Sam, and he goes through a bunch.

Comprehension dawns on Rhea’s face, and despite herself a sense of urgency slips through into her mask. “No, we haven’t spoken in a while …”

N. He wants N. All of them want N. That’s the other name you’ve heard pop up at their evening conversations, when they’re taking off their vests and their uniforms and dressing up in their human clothes again. If they can arrest N then this whole thing is over. Driftveil will be peaceful again.
This makes a lot of sense. Half clever stratagem to try and get to N! Hold a pokemon hostage.

“Upon repossession they will be put up for adoption. At that time you will also be able to reclaim your pokémon should the previous window be insufficient.”

They’re talking over each other. Sam’s louder, but Rhea’s more urgent. “Please, you know that if I’m here I can’t—”
You nailed the way this bureaucracy is used to make things impossible for people who don't really have resources. Rhea is so screwed here and she knows it. Really rough to read.

But there is law, and there is order. You will help enforce both. Clay made better laws and that made better order. If Plasma was going to steal pokémon from trainers, then Driftveil PD could take them back. That was only fair. You had to be a good trainer to have pokémon. Otherwise they’d be adopted out to someone else. Adoption fees helped offset the costs of needing so many extra police anyway.
Like all the world-building. It feels a little strong-armed into the POV though.

“The liepard. Her name is Tourmaline. She likes being scratched between the ears. And yogurt. Sometimes she’ll be aloof around strangers but if they talk to her she’ll usually come around. She hates being in her pokéball.” Rhea bites her lip. “Um. She doesn’t like fighting too much but if she has to, she prefers ranged attacks.”
This is so sweet and so sad. Is Cheren there and hearing this too? I kind of lost track of him.

You bark. Negative. You’re just a patrol herdier. And even if you weren’t, there’s no procedure for talking to contraband.

“Thanks, Herdier.”

She doesn’t know that, though. She can’t understand. Should you correct her?

No.

It’ll be easier this way. For her, for everyone.
Very interesting that a single bark means negative here. I has assumed the police had trained a bark one for "yes" and two for "no" system or something.

"there’s no procedure for talking to contraband." Hm. Is it impossible bc the pokemon won't be let out of their balls? If so, I think I'd prefer that to this, which implies Herdier could if he wanted to.

I like the poignancy that Tourmaline never gets told Rhea's final words to her, and this felt like a satisfying in the heart-hurt way to her arc, but I was left wanting in terms of the arc of the POV character.
 
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Bluwiikoon

Actual Nosepass
Location
England
Pronouns
He/him
Catnipper here! :3 First of all, I gotta say that the way you've set the thread up with the banner image, the foreword, and the thematic chapter titles is incredibly interesting and intriguing. It makes me excited to read!

A crack slowly spreads down the stone, reaching out across the room to trace through all the chaos. Time seems to slow down with it as the crack reaches across the battle.
This passage feels a little repetitive to me ^^; Lots of reaching! I'd suggest rewording it in some form, perhaps "A crack slowly spreads down the stone, tracing a path through the chaos of the battlefield. The further it reaches, the more time seems to slow down."

but the tiny cracks there are immediately swallowed up into the web of fractures that’s starting to reach around the room.
More reaching!! May I suggest "starting to crawl around the room"? Sorry if this is a weird thing to fixate on LOL

Down further, at the foot of the dais, a klinklang is scattered on the ground, their body gears in four separate pieces. It’s more reassuring to look at them in slow motion—were time going at its normal speed, the lack of spinning would be painfully obvious.
;o; Babyyyy! I'm so sad about this Klinklang omg. Very brutal and effective

The crack twists around the battlefield. An archeops rises up to meet the serperior and her human, his wings halfway down, talons outstretched. Even when still, his feathers blur through brick red, leafy green, pale blue.
I love the description of the cracks twisting, and of the colours!! Fast fast bird! Despite time slowing down, this passage really has a sense of motion in it whilst you're reading it. ^^

In the corner of the room, at the foot of the dais, is the collapsed form of Zekrom. The ancient scales are charred; raw wounds leak blue blood onto the granite. The stone tiles are cratered in their own web of cracks; the dragon of legends lies unconscious. Sand slowly leaks down around their form, hazing the edges.

In front of you, Reshiram.
I really like how sudden the second paragraph feels here. Like a heartbeat! A moment! All your description really paints a vivid picture of the battlefield, too - and I enjoy the blue blood! Nice detail! I do wonder if "drifts" could be a better descriptor for the sand than "leaks"?

Is it wrong to believe that this was the only ending? Perhaps. But was there a better way? Was there a diverging branch that got overlooked, a path that led to an ideal world where everyone was happy?

Probably. Was it worth letting thousands of people suffer while you tried to find the route that left their oppressors undisturbed? No.
Good lort I find this section powerful.

Your name is Natural Harmonious Gropius, and you’ve finally, after all your struggles, saved the world.

For some reason, you don’t feel like the hero.
:( Sad face

This is so engaging that I have NO CHOICE but to keep reading into the next chapter!! Look at what you've done! xD Having the prologue be the very ending really leaves it with an air of intense uncertainty, a sort of finality that I imagine will make the backwards time progression nail-biting to read.

Her breath hitches on the second syllable of your name. Across eight badges and an entire continent, Hilda was calm. You only saw her falter once: six days ago, when you lost Amara. In the heat of the moment she was ashen; afterward, in private, she cried herself ragged. The next morning the panic was gone from her voice and you were convinced nothing would make it come back again.
Good lort this is setting up some intense stuff already. It's gonna be brutal seeing how that scenario played out...

When Hilda sends you out this time, the leaf-haired one is there. That’s why she’s panicking. You coil protectively in a three foot radius around her feet as soon as you see him, but it’s more for show than anything else. Leaf-haired N is not afraid of you. This is for Hilda. So you form an enormous barrier with your body, but you don’t peak the leaves around your neck, or pump your tail with light.
I really enjoy Vaselva's perspective here!! Her instincts to protect Hilda and try to make her feel safer is so sweet ;o; Also N being described as leaf-haired is so apt for a Grass-type Pokemon to envision him LOL. I love it!

“I can’t let you do this,” Hilda says at last. Her words are strangled.

He means it. She does not. Your poor, sweet trainer. Always fighting above her weight. Now that gods are on the table, it’s too late to let him do anything.
:( I'm really feeling the emotions in this part. Vaselva seems very wise

N isn’t looking at either of you. His eyes, like his hands, are fixated on the white stone that he holds gently in front of him, gently, as if looking too hard or squeezing too tight will crack it open like an egg. No, that’s not it. He’s not afraid to break it. You both know that no mortal force could do that. His posture is one of reverence, respect.
I really like the description here!

But N never considered failure. No. The thing that held him back, that freezes him even now, is the very opposite. He’s travelled his whole life to find enough power to right the wrongs he sees in the world, but he’s still afraid of what he’ll find when he succeeds.
God damn he is being roasted right here. Vaselva is definitely one observant snake. Powerful passage.

He’s not a very good human, you decide, to have waited all this time just to have a god call the shots. He would much rather take commands than give them. He’d make a much better pokémon.
OUCH

“N,” Hilda says, and her tone is the same cautioning one that she used when it was just you standing between her and a mother beartic. Poor Hilda. Never seeing then and now that she feared those who had no capacity to harm her.
I gotta say I'm really invested in this snake. Truthful and harsh, but also kind.

In your clutch there were seventeen. A small brood for a serperior. Perhaps the spring air wasn’t good enough. Perhaps your mother was exhausted from the end of many breeding seasons. You don’t know; you never got to ask. Your moments with your mother are limited and fuzzy and precious, and you did not waste them on asking questions you did not yet understand. Of that clutch, perhaps only three or four of you truly knew they wanted to fight. You were not one of them. You had fourteen suns with your mother before you were taken from her, and in those fourteen suns you remember her teaching you the things all good snivy should know—how to charge your tail, how to call power from the sun, how to sharpen your fronds razor-sharp. But what you remember most of all is curling up alongside her neck, her scales warm in the sun, her ruby eyes soft as she whispered the name she had given you.

You see it in N as well, the way he puffs up his leaf-hair, in the quavering of his stance: here is someone who would much rather stretch out in the sun than command a battlefield. And yet here you both are, hoping that your words will do the fighting for you.

He really wouldn’t make a bad pokémon after all. Poor N, you decide. Hilda has been marked as the Hero of Ideals, but N is the one staking all of his hopes on something that will never change.
I adore the backstory here with Vaselva's childhood, and how she relates to N because of it. I'm honestly really emotional because of her memories of her mother. :( God dang this is tragic stuff

Auuugh the haxorus story ;o; Heartbreaking stuff... unbelievably cruel

Poor Hilda, who didn’t ask to be born in this system, the same as you.
:(

She doesn’t get that. For all of her talking she never learned to listen. And for all of his listening, N never learned to talk in a way that humans would understand.
I really like the contrast between the two Heroes here, Vaselva's analysis seems remarkably apt. Sad that these truths about them both mean that they probably won't see ever see eye-to-eye :(

If he is, he certainly doesn’t show it. The second you mention his father, his face is a mask, carved like a cofagrigus, not a single expression showing through the gilding.
Oof... I really like the description here

“I wasn’t,” N says softly, “talking to you.”
I really like how this is broken up.

Cold settles on the edges of your fronds now, curls around you like the beginning of a blizzard. It’s not physical; if anything, the air around you is getting warmer—but his words spark a chill in you that you can’t shake.
Yikes. You can definitely feel the shock of N using her words against her :( It's the kind of thing where you really can't defend yourself, because it's true, isn't it?

He’s calling to you, to anyone who will listen. With more than just words. From the bottom of his heart you feel his desperation, his earnestness, his conviction, twining together into one singular thing: his truth.

He doesn’t have to say the rest of his speech; you already see it written in his heart in letters of flame, but maybe it’s for his benefit, or for hers, or for the stone that’s shuddering in his hands.
The intensity slowly increasing in these two paragraphs is really nice ^^ Love the description!

You hear first the echo, and then the roar, and you know without knowing what’s about to happen next. You can’t stop it. Trying would be like holding a leaf up to shield yourself from a hurricane.
She already knows it's too late :(

It’s shameful, perhaps, but in the last moments before Reshiram emerges and the underground chamber fills with blazing light, you aren’t thinking of the truth, or the dragon, or N, or even of Hilda.

You think of your mother, of what she whispered to you on that sunny day, the warmth reflecting off of your scales as it does even now. What was the name your mother had given you? She’d whispered it to you as you dozed off in the sunlight, but you were so small, so tired. You don’t remember.
GOD this hits me hard. I'm legit tearing up!

It’s foolish, defying a god. But you call, and the earth answers. Your leaves glow bright green, so bright you can hardly see.

You lost everything else. You lost them all. You can’t lose her too.
:( :( :( SAD SNAKE NOOOO

I shall probably have to pause here for now and read more again at some point? But this is really intense so far!! Very emotionally driven! And I really love and appreciate seeing the first chapter from the POV of Hilda's pokemon, it really emphasises that, when it comes to N, they play just as big a part as their silly little humans. Vaselva is extremely sympathetic and frames the situation here with her thoughts in just the way that it needs.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
okay! gonna start putting these in spoilers since they're easier to read that way; my galaxy brain never considered this
OSJ!
most things discussed in DM's/that time you rewrote the chapter for me, but cleaning up a few stragglers
He’s got good eyes if he can see that through her bandana.
kill me lol

Aww, anxiety. This was the most in-narrator moment in this chapter. I think I’d like a bit more about what Herdier expects to happen if he fails, if he’s replaced. Something to root that anxiety and the desire for things to be “easier.” Otherwise, the opposite could be good—a moment of affection between Herdier and Sam, a reason for loyalty?
very much an issue that I needed to fix in the original draft -- I toed the line between "I have no actual agency" and "I have no character whatsoever" a bit too hard, and I think in the new version Ace gets a bit more of an actual Say?

Oooh, cool detail.
police futurism yay

Boy, this herdier is a good reader.
... i sort of need pokemon to be able to read in this canon, but i also don't know how to help lol.

We already talked about this, but I did raise my eyebrow. My cat likes savory treats like chicken tikka (weird, considering his tummy is sensitive and spicy sounds like it would be bad for that) and other cats’ food.
thus the first bagel meme was born

Pen!
most things discussed in DM's/that time you rewrote the chapter for me, but cleaning up a few stragglers
Oh no, this is Tourmaline's trainer. I guess we can slot this chapter down as another place reverse order worked for me, because I had instant investment here once I realized that fact. It's a little mystery in reverse as well once Cheren pops up--how's Tourmaline going to get saddled with him. It's really oof to see Cheren get this whole lecture and realize that he's going to go on to hold Carnel against their will. I also really liked the legalese world-building here and all the info on how Clay is responding to Team Plasma.
noooo carnel is fiiiiine he wants to be thereeeee if he wanted to leave he'd just break out of his pokeball and slowly hobble awayyyyy

The main issue I have with the chapter is the POV. As I read, I realized this POV feels extremely similar to the rotom's POV. The herdier is a good observer and commentates for us the battle conversation between Rhea and Cheren. But there are a few differences from the rotom here. Herdier isn't involved physically, they're just listening and kind of fades out during that scene. Like the rotom, the premise is that they're committed to his job, but unlike the rotom, the conflict for him is less clear.
hi yes thank you a million for helping me fix this

This feels like a very kintsugi line. You're very fascinated by faces as objects. Okay, turning Zoroark brain off. Ahem.
I actually think my real tell is something different! I will! Share in a week lol.

It's an interesting choice here to not give Tourmaline speech. Can Herdier not understand her dialect?
mmm this is a good plot hole

I'm a big fan of ambivalence, but . . . I want a little more here. Something more personal, maybe.
singing Thor musical number when tbh

I really want a bit more here. So, Herdier doesn't want to be adopted out or sold. Okay. Is this because they 1) like Sam 2) don't care about Sam but like being a police dog 3) think the alternative is worse? And whichever one it is, I want to know what shaped that worldview. Do the Herdier and Stoutland also exchange stories in the evening about ex-police dogs? Is it about pride, about the community Herdier has with the other police dogs or the human officers? I want to know their stake in this. I want a sense of Herdier as a character who exists with a life beyond being there to overhear a conversation between Rhea and Cheren, I guess.
</3
yup! good edits happened here; most of them weren't even mine

The "It’d be easier that way." refrain is also feeling a bit like a crutch to me. Generally I find a repeating phrase needs to gain new meaning with each repetition if it's supposed to anchor an arc.
yup lmao, very much agree. This was a rushed addition and now it is a rushed removal lol.

Maybe avoid that metaphor bc the guns in pokeworld question feels like an unneeded can of worms for this fic.
b u l l e t s e e d ?
... but yes, hmm. I do not want to open that here.

Alt chapter for this title: Dog watches girl unwisely engage in the comments section.
dog wishes he could engage girl in comment section and instead exercises his god-given right to civil forfeiture

The use of her name here felt weird and sort of Bond villain.
I sort of wanted this repetition to feel wrong, actually! I notice this a lot in Unfriendly debates -- they'll latch on to personal details about you, anything at all, and keep going back to that as if it means they Know you and can reiterate your point back to you in the way that you actually mean.

I feel like we've left POV behind here and Herdier has become a vehicle to comment on this convo.
putting the TRAIN in trained since 2020

This is so sweet and so sad. Is Cheren there and hearing this too? I kind of lost track of him.
nah he gets released in a timely and respectful manner lol

Very interesting that a single bark means negative here. I has assumed the police had trained a bark one for "yes" and two for "no" system or something.
I think two [barks] yes is a better system -- it's more intentional and you're less likely to get a false positive if Herdier just decides to bark at random, so it's useful in a situation where you need to confirm intent.

Plasma/Rhea uses one bark yes, haha, and this does become important later.

!! anyway. Thank you for taking the time to put in real Thoughts on this, and then do it again lol. My N-less chapters are definitely a struggling point for me. I am not sure if there are words to describe how patient I think you are being with me and how much I appreciate that lol.

Bluwii!
omg ur review. it is so sweet. my heartttt <3
thank you!! I'm really flattered that you found the work something you could engage with so well!

Catnipper here! :3 First of all, I gotta say that the way you've set the thread up with the banner image, the foreword, and the thematic chapter titles is incredibly interesting and intriguing. It makes me excited to read!
i am nothing if not my drama

This passage feels a little repetitive to me ^^; Lots of reaching! I'd suggest rewording it in some form, perhaps "A crack slowly spreads down the stone, tracing a path through the chaos of the battlefield. The further it reaches, the more time seems to slow down."
More reaching!! May I suggest "starting to crawl around the room"? Sorry if this is a weird thing to fixate on LOL
hahaha wow. you're so right! my thesaurus took the day off here, I think. I will fix these.

I really like how sudden the second paragraph feels here. Like a heartbeat! A moment! All your description really paints a vivid picture of the battlefield, too - and I enjoy the blue blood! Nice detail! I do wonder if "drifts" could be a better descriptor for the sand than "leaks"?
Ooh! I agree.

This is so engaging that I have NO CHOICE but to keep reading into the next chapter!! Look at what you've done! xD Having the prologue be the very ending really leaves it with an air of intense uncertainty, a sort of finality that I imagine will make the backwards time progression nail-biting to read.
oh YOU


Good lort this is setting up some intense stuff already. It's gonna be brutal seeing how that scenario played out...
I'm glad that the backward format is working out!! It's ... definitely a weird one, and putting the payoff after the setup was sort of unintuitive to me but I'm hoping it works?

:( I'm really feeling the emotions in this part. Vaselva seems very wise
she is in so many ways! and not in others.

I adore the backstory here with Vaselva's childhood, and how she relates to N because of it. I'm honestly really emotional because of her memories of her mother. :( God dang this is tragic stuff
hahaha Vas was a character in my outline where the initial idea was "she's not very fun" but the more I wrote about her, the better she got, rip. Poor snek. She tries.

I really like the contrast between the two Heroes here, Vaselva's analysis seems remarkably apt. Sad that these truths about them both mean that they probably won't see ever see eye-to-eye :(
:(

I shall probably have to pause here for now and read more again at some point? But this is really intense so far!! Very emotionally driven! And I really love and appreciate seeing the first chapter from the POV of Hilda's pokemon, it really emphasises that, when it comes to N, they play just as big a part as their silly little humans. Vaselva is extremely sympathetic and frames the situation here with her thoughts in just the way that it needs.
thank you so much! you're so kind and I really love how you picked to the heart of what I was trying to say here <33333
 
viii. nondeterministic

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
viii. nondeterministic

※​

“That … was a hard fight. I expect that the ones ahead will be even harder on you. If anyone wants to leave after that, please. Let me know now or at any time, or don’t let me know at all, just—don’t feel like you have to stay. I will leave you outside of your pokéballs for as often as I possibly can, and if you do not return, I won’t ask why. It’ll be your choice.”

The outside of the cave sparkles in a way that the inside does not. Crystalline snow catches the sunlight, shoots it all around the open world, reflects it back to you. As you spin, and the world turns on its head, it scintillates.

The strangest thing is the lack of roof overhead. Today the openness of the sky is capped with clouds, so you don’t get the strange division of white-blue chasing itself around the horizon as you spin. This is reassuring. Leader likes this. Follower does as well. It reminds you of the inside of the cave, in a way. Everything has changed but some things still stay. This is the most optimal design.

Speaking of things changing, things staying.

He’s gathered all six of you here. The thunderlegs, the stonesinger, the steelseed, the fossil, him, and you; and now he’s posed this very interesting problem that he needs your help solving.

At first, no one speaks.

From his bucket of water, the fossil begins a rough torrent of words. He speaks quickly, and his language is hard. The human has tried to get all of you to practice, and you definitely understand more than before, but the fossil speaks like a rushing river: rapidly and without regard for rhythm. You catch—an apology, regret, guilt?

The fossil didn’t cause this. The female human did. With her anger and her hate and her leafsnake. She challenged your human to a fight you couldn’t win; it’s not the fossil’s fault for that.

“No, Zara!” The human is uncharacteristically worked up. He crouches down next to the bucket, where the fossil’s head sprouts out like a weird crystal growth. “That was my fault. I started the fight. I should’ve known better.”

{Fight. Let me fight.}

“No,” the human says firmly. “Not yet. You aren’t ready.”

The fossil murmurs—slowly this time, so you can hear it—{Then I’m still sorry.}

And then, quietly, a new voice: {I don’t want to do this any more. I … I want to go home. Can I do that, N?}

The thunderlegs was never the brave one in your group. You know that. He grew up as one of a swarm, a thousand brothers and sisters just like him. He was used to piping down, following orders, but above all: having the entirety of his brood to back him up. You’ve seen the brood in the cave. They have their Motherqueen to watch over them, to punish intruders with thunderous wrath. You are no Motherqueen, and nor is anyone else here. To survive, he has to become one of his own.

But the thunderlegs is young for his kind. His legs are too small and too few to call the thunder; his incisors nowhere near fully grown. In four summers, perhaps, he will become a large thunderlegs on his own. If he stayed with you and the flesh, perhaps he would do so faster. Fighting would be the most efficient when measuring time for him to become a larger thunderlegs.

His eyes are bright blue, like the sky. That is what you remember of him most of all when he looks up at the soft human, who has crouched down and compressed his gangly frame—you have to look away for a moment; it’s unsettling to watch his flesh do that—so he and the thunderlegs are on the same level. “I understand, Peal. Please, don’t feel bad about this. Thank you for your help, and your companionship.” He peers down over the bridge of his nose, brushes a stray bit of hair behind his ear.

{You … you aren’t going to ask me to stay?} the thungerlegs asks tremulously.

The human blinks. “Why would I do that?”

{My last trainer,} says the thunderlegs, picking his words carefully, {made a similar offer. I do not think she expected me to accept so readily.} His front mandibles twitch. {So when I told her I agreed, and I no longer wished to fight, she asked if I could at least stay until the flight gym, and a little after that. I … I was a key part of her strategy by then, you see. Um. So I stayed. For quite some time.}

Watching this from the outside is strange. You’ve only been with this group for a little while, so you don’t know how the human behaves when he’s nervous, or if the thunderlegs is always this twitchy. They are both fleshes, and the soft ones have always had a strange way of comporting themselves that you couldn’t quite grasp. Leader has a hunch that they are both trading secrets here, but. What would either of you know, really?

“I would be a shameful friend if I tried to guilt you after all you’ve done for me,” the human says. His voice is very quiet. It almost doesn’t make it through the gentle klink of Leader’s teeth on Follower’s. “If anything, I should accompany you for some time, and follow the route you chart for me. Would you like me to walk with you back to the joltik colony, Peal?”

{I … I would like that very much.}

The human contorts back into his standing position. Follower’s alarm transmits through your mesh; no matter how many times you watch flesh convert themselves, it’s always a little unsettling.

“Peal and I are going to Chargestone Cave,” he announces. “Does anyone else want to come?”

{I will travel with you to the cave,} says the stonesinger, in a rumble of ore. {In three moons I will need to rejoin my crag for the journey north. I find at this moment I do not want to leave. If that changes, I will make that known.}

The human nods. Looks genuinely flattered. “Thank you, Carnel.” He looks to the steelseed. “And you, Ferrule?”

The steelseed spins on her axis tightly, a blur of green glinting off of silver. You like her. You and she got along in that regard. Nonflesh always understood nonflesh in a way that the soft ones simply couldn’t. A flesh might think that the fast spin meant nervousness, or unease, but you both know—it’s resolve. Emphasis. {I will find a new trainer. I did not enjoy losing. I want to fight until I win.}

She is one of few words. She never felt the need to explain her path to anyone else. You’ve always admired that about her.

“Of course. I know a few trainers, or would you prefer to find your own?”

The steelseed thinks for a second. {I would be interested in meeting your human friends.}

The human smiles, brushes a bit of dirt off of his pants. “I’d be happy to introduce you.”

And just like that, half your team is gone.

※​

It’s a bit nostalgic, going back to the cave. The thunderlegs chirps out joyously and runs back to his brood, and they all squeal out, a yellow sea parting to welcome him home. Just before he vanishes into the fuzzy depths, he bolts back over to the two of you, his blue eyes pinned only on the flesh.

{Thank you, N,} he says. He leans forward lightly, mandibles twitching, and taps the human’s foot with a tiny spark of electricity.

“Thank you, too,” replies the human. He looks at a loss for a moment, and then presses his open palm to his lips before blowing something off of his hand and onto the thunderlegs.

Strange. He did not seem dusty. His feet, perhaps, but certainly not his hand.

And there’s a soft pattering of legs, and the brood vanishes back into the sparkling blue depths.

When they sweep out, you look around, and you realize the stonesinger is gone too. The flesh either hasn’t noticed or is pretending not to. You aren’t sure. Gearlings have no concept of deceit; that’s something you’ve had to pick up from your brief stint with the flesh. You aren’t very good at seeing it yet.

“Spur. Do you want to stay?”

It takes you a moment to realize he’s talking to you. Names are a concept for flesh; there aren’t any for the geartrain. It’s been a very new concept to you, this idea that everyone needs to mark themselves as unique. The human asked you for a name and you told him klink, for your species, as is proper, but he wanted something more specific. So you made something up. It was inoptimal design.

He’s talking to you, though. And it’s a tricky question. Leader and follower are still not in full accord here. On one gear—this is the only home you’ve ever known. But on the other, you would not mind wandering a little further. Perhaps. {Where do you intend to go?}

“I will travel to Dragonspiral Tower, find the Light Stone, summon Reshiram, and change the world.”

Like the steelseed, he doesn’t mince words when he talks to you. Perhaps he knows that the gearlings have no need for that. You like that about him. You have that much in common.

Follower thinks this through. He is a strange one. Yes. Leader agrees. You need more information.

{Why is this what you desire?} you ask.

“Which part?”

{Why would you change the world?}

“I think someone has to. It’s … not optimal right now, like you say.” The flesh isn’t looking at you; when he speaks, the words are casual, but the flesh is not. If you knew the soft mannerisms better, you’d probably be able to tell how he actually feels about that. “Hey, do you mind if I sit for a bit? I’m a little tired.”

He’s lying. You know that. He walked across the entirety of Unova, a land so big that even the bravest geartrain could not stretch across it, before you met him in the cave. For a large portion of it, he carried a large bucket of water in his arms so that the fossil could see the sights as well; it’s only more recently, now that the fossil’s shell has grown, that the human has started to use the pokéball more. The humans surely has walked a million miles and could walk a million more. There is a fire in him that no distance can extinguish. He is burning.

But. You’re quite tired. This was a fair bit more travel than you’re used to. Gears were meant to transmit motion, not to have motion transmit them. He carried the fossil when there was no water, but you would never burden him with carrying you. You gratefully accept, and fix yourself near one of the many sparking stones in the cave while the human finds one close to his size and crosses his legs on it.

He’s silent for a moment, which is good. Gives you plenty of time to rotate on your axis and think.

If you ventured deeper into the cave, you would find your fellow gearlings once more. Your life would be as it was before, with a multitude of gearlings. One day, a cog in the service of a greater machine. This is the most optimal design.

The world is a biggear problem to change. Very tricky. Not easy. If you went back and told the gearling this, they would agree. Perhaps they would laugh at this flesh, who seeks to solve it in his lifetime.

But for some reason, you do not want to venture deeper into the cave. Well, that is partially true. Follower is ambivalent. Leader wants to stay a while, and listen. And maybe, understand.

{How do you want to worldchange?} Follower squeaks in alarm. Oh, very true. That was ambiguous. Leader listens. {Not what avenue you pursue worldchange. What worldproblem do you wish solved?}

Long pause. You get the feeling he has had to make this explanation many times before, and yet he is still trying to craft it into a way you understand. “Do you know many humans?” he says at last. “I’m not sure how many of them venture all the way into the cave.”

{Not very many find us here,} you admit. {Gearling not appealing to human flesh. Hard to grow, strange to see.}

“When you had to fight for me.” Pause. “You were hurt. You hurt others. Did you like that?”

{I would not go that far.} Her leafsnake couldn’t hurt Leader, but she did hit Follower over and over again until you decided you no longer wanted to continue. It was not pleasant.

“I … I’m sorry about that,” he says. He blows a lot of his breath out through his nostrils, which seems inefficient. “She and I disagree on that. I think in many ways we are destined to fight over that, and to keep fighting, until one of us wins and changes the world.”

{She is stronger than you are,} you remark. Follower points out that this might be seen as an offensive statement.

But he flashes his teeth, which you take to mean that he isn’t upset. “Yes. She certainly is. But that doesn’t really matter to me. It is my fate to fight her, but she is not my enemy. Even if we won just now, the world wouldn’t shine the way I want it to. I wonder if it’s the same for her.”

{What does she want to accomplish?}

N chews on his lip. Horrifying. If he trying to subsume it? You look away until he finishes. “I don’t think Hilda grew up happy. Her—the people, the people she expected to protect her failed to do so. She grew up believing that strength gets you what you want, and what she wants now is to make sure no one else has to suffer like she did. If she can climb to the top of Unova, she can make sure that only pokémon who want to battle will do so, that the humans already in power will understand their wrongdoings and right their wrongs.”

You think about the girl. You hadn’t really focused on her; the leafsnake was a more pressing concern at the time. What do you remember about her? Leader didn’t quite see. Was she excited to be fighting? Angry?

Sad, Follower answers with a slower turn of their gears. She looked sad.

You don’t know why most humans fight. But usually it’s because they want to, not because they have to.

{So she believes she is correct. That what she seeks is ideal.}

“I want humans to see that battling hurts people. And I don’t want to have to battle to do so. But I can’t make anyone listen to me. They don’t want to see my side. I think that’s reasonable. I know I’m asking for a lot. But they often don’t listen, and when they don’t listen, they don’t see. They didn’t make the world bad, so they don’t think they can make it better. But someone has to fix it, so I’ve decided it will be me. I just … need to figure out how.”

{Worldchange is biggear problem to solve,} you tell him solemnly.

He studies for a moment. Flesh on his forehead creases. “I don’t think I understand the word you’re using. It sounds like biggear?”

Ah. Yes. He is a rare human flesh that was gifted with the power of understanding your speech, but not all words translate smoothly. {Two gears work as one gearling.} You spin for emphasis. {One day, many gearling will join. Together we will form one biggear.}

He nods. Perhaps he had guessed this already but wanted to be sure. You like this about him. A good design must be checked. “I don’t think I agree.”

{What do you mean by that?}

“I don’t know if anyone can easily change the world, no matter how big they are.” He’s scratching idly at the blue rock he’s sitting on, legs dangling a few inches off of the ground. “A friend of mine taught me that. He started small and helpless but learned to find his strength. And if he can shoulder that burden, so can I, right?”

Flesh are weird with their questions that don’t have real answers. It’s not even a proper query. What is he trying to say? How are you supposed to answer that?

You spin a little faster. Leader is agitated. Follower does not keep up. Careful! Sorry. Oh no. You don’t want to throw teeth again. That happened once, and it took weeks to regrow. You made a klink-klink-klink sound that echoed horribly.

{Hmmm, we did not mean that. The geartrain has a different equivalence. That equivalence is called biggear problem,} you tell the human. {Do not confuse with biggear problem.} Ah, yes. The rotations make it very clear to those in the geartrain. All feel it immediately, if they mesh. But in this translation to someone outside of the geartrain, you can see now why reusing nouns would be a bad idea.

Perhaps this is why they have so many different names for each other? Leader pauses to consider. This is a good suggestion. You will consider it, later.

“An equivalence?”

Hmm. The words do not translate well. Leader makes another full rotation while you think it over. Do you tell him? How? The soft ones have a strange word for it, you think. {We may be using different words.}

He smiles. Yes. Different. That’s it. That’s the right word. “Formulas?”

No! He was so close. {Formulas give form; not the same.} Spin, slower. Think it through. Method is greater than result. This is the most optimal design. {Equivalences say when things are equal. When two things are the same.}

“Oh. Equations.” Perhaps he agrees with you. It’s unclear. You struggle to read his voice, but he doesn’t sound angry. The soft ones don’t always see the way the world meshes. “That makes sense. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

{Questions are part of optimal design.} Half a rotation more. He is patient. So are you. {Geartrain solves problems that gearling cannot. Many gears together solve many problems. We can reach a greater solution.} Hmmm. {There are two types of problems. First: easy to solve and check. Second: solving is hard; checking, easy. To solve well you must differentiate. This is the most optimal design.}

He tilts his head to one side. Strange, how the soft ones can move their flesh so easily. If only they understood what beauty there was in the spin, then they wouldn’t need to fold in on themselves so often. Then they could understand what it means to be rigid, secure, strong. “What do you mean?”

Hmmm. {Gearling evolution requires two separate pieces. A follower must find a leader. But all gears have different pitch. Only one follower for each leader. A gearling must find its equivalence; a follower finds the correct leader. Hard to formulate a meshing follower. Easy to check their poor mesh.} For emphasis, you briefly let Follower and Leader spin in different directions. Klang-klang-klang. The act almost makes you shudder, and you immediately return to harmony.

“I see.” He puffs out air. Contorts his flesh so that his upper appendages are beneath his chin. “So this is the kind that is hard to solve, easy to check? Because you have to go through all the gears in the cave until you find the right one. But once you have the right one, it’s easy to check.”

Oh no. No, that’s not what you meant at all. Leader stops abruptly. Follower, shocked, grinds to a halt—it’s not like you had a choice in that.

He flinches back. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Grind grind grind. Follower needs to get back in line. No. Leader needs to lead correctly, not disappoint the soft ones with poor logic. No. Both need to reconsider.

Hmmm. Follower suggests considering his point of view more fully. If he has not tried to solve a gearling problem, let alone a biggear one, he would have no way of comprehending the difficulty gap between them. With luck, a gearling problem could be solved in less than the time it took to walk through this cave. A biggear problem could take a flesh’s entire lifetime, if not more.

{Not your fault; poor explanation proposed.} You must pick your words carefully now so you do not make the same mistake. {All solutions can be checked easily. Not all of them solve easily.} Hmmm. You spin a little faster. He picked up the velocity-emphasis earlier and you hope he can do it again. {Finding gearling match is a hard problem. But gearling pairing is not hard. Cycle through all gearling in the cave; one cycle will reveal your answer. Every gear only adds one guess. Gearling problems exist in a fixed ratio.}

He settles back down, molds his flesh into a nice, still shape. This is good. This is relaxing. It is unnerving when soft ones fidget without spin. “What do you mean by a problem that is hard to solve?”

Oh. Good! He is starting to understand you better—he has picked up on your velocity-empahsis. You aren’t sure if you like how he flops his tongue around when he tries to imitate it, but he’s trying, at least. This is very good. He is a nice flesh. {Hmmm, okay; biggear problems are hard problem. That is the best example here.} Follower pauses. You should give him background first. Leader agrees. {To spin, tooth type must match. Gears can be large; small; between. Our gearling are somewhat small, comparatively. But we are the same small. Leader spins once; Follower spins once.} You spin for him, slowly, in perfect synchrony, to demonstrate. {Some gearling do not match well. Their gears aren’t the same small. Leader spins once; Follower does not. Maybe more than once; maybe less. Both options are very unideal gearlings. Power and speed must be conserved. This is the most optimal design.}

Another pause. He is quiet this time, attentive.

You take this as a good sign, that he is listening. If he could spin you would know for sure. {To form biggear, join many gearlings. All of their teeth must match. Each gearling can be any size. But when merging leader and follower: the split between must be equal. Leader spins once; follower must match. This is the only good harmony. Any other distribution is not optimal.} You mime the merge for him, so that he may hear the balance between the two: klink-klang, klink-klang.

“So if there is a klink—sorry, gearling—pair that has a follower slower than the leader, it must find a pair with a leader slower than the follower?”

{Their train must be equal, yes. One spin in, one spin out. This is the most optimal design.}

“I get that that seems hard, but how is it harder?”

Ah. Spoken like someone who has not tried. {Difficulty to solve scales with size. More gearling means many more geartrains.} Hmmm. There is a word here. It does not translate. {In gearling problems, relation is direct. If there are two gears, check twice; if three gears, then check thrice. In biggear, the relation only grows. If two gears, check four times; if three gears, then nine times. Then the difficulty increases very quickly. The more gears trying to form biggear, the harder it is to form one. Sometimes biggears are even harder still. When two gears, you check four; when three gears, you check twenty-seven. Then worse: four becomes two-hundred fifty-six.}

Hmm. Flesh does not understand this very well, but the geartrain made this connection long ago, understood what it was that ruled Unova. The Vast White and The Deep Black. What you know the world is and what you wish it could be. Yin and yang. They are like you. One is Leader and one is Follower. When the mesh is good it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which.

This is the problem that the flesh wants to solve. He is deep in biggear problem. He wants to find the way to make the future be what he wants from the past he is given. So it follows that he must figure out what chain of gears he requires to give him the correct follower from his leader.

{World outside of the cave is uncomfortable. It looks like a biggear problem.} Unfortunate. He should stay in your cave forever. The gearling would like him, you think. {Very easy to check some things: if world is bad or good. Far harder to make world good.}

“Oh,” he says, and although it’s hard for you to tell, it truly does seem like he gets it. You can almost see the thoughts spinning above his head, perfectly round, perfectly in orbit.

{Biggear pairing hard; could take forever. It is much like solving world. Much-much longer to find good solution, than to verify that good solution.}

No, wait. This is when you see him truly get what you were trying to say, because he goes perfectly still, as if the gears inside of him are finally at odds with one another and the paradox reveals itself. What he wants is something he cannot get. He is a gearling that does not mesh with the rest of the world. He will search across every corner of Unova for his follower and will not find it.

Hmmm. This strikes you as unfair.

His face is hard to read, still. The flesh contorts in unsightly ways and you feel like you should be embarrassed to watch how poorly he holds himself together here. If you ever melt, you would hope he has the forethought to look away and not see you in your disgrace.

There is a question that eats away at his core and makes him deform like this. He wants to know if he is right, if what he seeks is right, if the means through which he seeks his solution are right. But how do you check an answer like that? Even if every gearling in your cave came together and tried it, you don’t think you’d know where to find a solution that he would find satisfying.

That is when you decide. He and you do not share a shape. He is flesh and you are not. You are already complete with Follower and Leader. And yet. You will follow him to the ends of the earth, until he finds a way to solve the world.

{This one will stay with you.}

Something in his face goes slack with surprise.

The answer to his question is so abstract that all of the gearling in your cave could try it and not find an answer and yet—the answer that you have given, and you alone, seems sufficient.

That solution seems inoptimal, but it also seems correct.

You get the feeling that he’s a lonely type, even for a human. Humans are lonely by nature, even if they don’t want to be. They don’t get to hold close to one another like the gearling do. Every interaction for them seems to be sparse, sacred, precious. It’s probably why they talk so much. They have to make it count. But you don’t get why they’re so lonely but still push strangers away, people who want to help.

“You don’t have to. Please, Spur. Don’t feel like you have to.”

Part of you thinks he wants you to say no. Part of you wants you to say no. It’ll be just the two of you and the fossil, striking away from your geartrains. The fossil isn’t even strong enough to fight yet; he hasn’t had to figure out how much he wants to hurt for this human’s dream. You’ll pick up some and lose some more. That’s how it goes. But if you choose to stay with him now, if you don’t run, if you follow him to the end of this path—there’s only fire ahead. A world that ends with Reshiram awakening will not end quietly.

What a strange concept. A flesh with a name. A flesh with a name who wanted to share his solution with you. And what he proposes is a stranger concept still, even if he hasn’t figured out how to put his solution into words that he can bring himself to say aloud.

There is an easy answer to the biggear pairing problem, one you never thought about until you saw this human and his flesh: if you cannot find a gear that will match you, then you will break the rules and forge your own.



p | n
 
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Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Damn kintsugi, you really knocked it out of the park with this one. It's just a feels-train all the way through. I love the klinklang POV and the central metaphor and problem of the chapter is fascinating. I also love the constant issues of translation and mindset between the two and how Spur ultimately comes to their understanding. The background fridge horror of Carnel's fate does an excellent job darkening the fluff and reminding us of the stakes.

“That … was a hard fight. I expect that the ones ahead will be even harder on you. If anyone wants to leave after that, please. Let me know now or at any time, or don’t let me know at all, just—don’t feel like you have to stay. I will leave you outside of your pokéballs for as often as I possibly can, and if you do not return, I won’t ask why. It’ll be your choice.”
It's N!! Got so excited at the first sentence. This paragraph is so classic N. It works great to open the chapter, especially on the heels of the previous one.

The outside of the cave sparkles in a way that the inside does not. Crystalline snow catches the sunlight, shoots it all around the open world, reflects it back to you. As you spin, and the world turns on its head, it scintillates.

The strangest thing is the lack of roof overhead. Today the openness of the sky is capped with clouds, so you don’t get the strange division of white-blue chasing itself around the horizon as you spin.
This was lovely and did the double-work of scene-setting and introducing the POV.

He’s gathered all six of you here.
I like that N is included in the six like he's one of the team.

From his bucket of water, the fossil begins a rough torrent of words. He speaks quickly, and his language is hard. The human has tried to get all of you to practice, and you definitely understand more than before, but the fossil speaks like a rushing river: rapidly and without regard for rhythm. You catch—an apology, regret, guilt?
Oooh, love this description of how the tirtouga speaks.

it’s not the fossil’s fault for that.

“No, Zara!” The human is uncharacteristically worked up. He crouches down next to the bucket, where the fossil’s head sprouts out like a weird crystal growth. “That was my fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. You tried your best.”

{Fight. Let me fight.}

“No,” the human says firmly. “Not yet. You aren’t ready.”

The fossil murmurs—slowly this time, so you can hear it—{Then I’m still sorry.}
Couldn't really follow this. N says "You tried your best' implying Zara the tirtouga fought? But then N says "you aren't ready [to fight]" so I'm ??

If he stayed with you and the flesh, perhaps he would do so faster. This is the most optimal design.
Wasn't sure about the use of the "most optimal design" phrase here. Does Spur really think the trainer-pokemon relationship is the most optimal design? That's not the sense I get.

His eyes are bright blue, like the sky. That is what you remember of him most of all when he looks up at the soft human, who has crouched down and compressed his gangly frame—you have to look away for a moment; it’s unsettling to watch his flesh do that—so he and the thunderlegs are on the same level. “I understand, Peal. Please, don’t feel bad about this. Thank you for your help, and your companionship.” He peers down over the bridge of his nose, brushes a stray bit of hair behind his ear.

{You … you aren’t going to ask me to stay?} the thungerlegs asks tremulously.

The human blinks. “Why would I do that?”

{My last trainer,} says the thunderlegs, picking his words carefully, {made a similar offer. I do not think she expected me to accept so readily.} His front mandibles twitch. {So when I told her I agreed, and I no longer wished to fight, she asked if I could at least stay until the flight gym, and a little after that. I … I was a key part of her strategy by then, you see. Um. So I stayed. For quite some time.}
Ohh nooo. This moment is so adorable, all the more so for being filtered through gear POV. Poor Peal, so surprised that n actually means it.

“If anything, I should accompany you for some time, and follow the route you chart for me. Would you like me to walk with you back to the joltik colony, Peal?”

{I … I would like that very much.}
D'AWW. Suffocating me slowly with fluffy cotton candy.

Follower’s alarm transmits through your mesh; no matter how many times you watch flesh convert themselves, it’s always a little unsettling.
Like this xeno POV detail.

{I will travel with you to the cave,} says the stonesinger, in a rumble of ore. {In three moons I will need to rejoin my crag for the journey north. I find at this moment I do not want to leave. If that changes, I will make that known.}

The human nods. Looks genuinely flattered. “Thank you, Carnel.”
. . . and there's the razor blade hidden in the fluffy cotton candy. Carnel, noooo! Love how the reverse format gives this moment so much poignancy 'cause we know what's coming.

The steelseed spins on her axis tightly, a blur of green glinting off of silver. You like her. You and her got along in that regard. Nonflesh always understood nonflesh in a way that the soft ones simply couldn’t. A flesh might think that the fast spin meant nervousness, or unease, but you both know—it’s resolve. Emphasis. {I will find a new trainer. I did not enjoy losing. I want to fight until I win.}

She is one of few words. She never felt the need to explain her path to anyone else. You’ve always admired that about her.

“Of course. I know a few trainers, or would you prefer to find your own?”

The steelseed thinks for a second. {I would be interested in meeting your human friends.}

The human smiles, brushes a bit of dirt off of his pants. “I’d be happy to introduce you.”
This is great too. N doesn't tell her, "you shouldn't want to fight" he's like, "yup, I know I suck at battles. Want me to set you up with someone better?" Walking the walk when it comes to respecting pokemon's choices.

then presses his open palm to his lips before blowing something imaginary to the thunderlegs.
Could play with the POV more here? "Like he's trying to blow dust off of the thunderlegs"

When they sweep out, you look around, and you realize the stonesinger is gone too. The flesh either hasn’t noticed or is pretending not to.
💔 and N thinks Carnel changed his mind and went off. Poor babies.

Leader and follower are still not in full accord here. On one gear—this is the only home you’ve ever known. But on the other, you would not mind wandering a little further. Perhaps.
Nice.

“I think someone has to. It’s … not optimal right now, like you say.” The flesh isn’t looking at you; when he speaks, the words are casual, but the flesh is not. If you knew the soft mannerisms better, you’d probably be able to tell how he actually feels about that. “Hey, do you mind if I sit for a bit? I’m a little tired.”

He’s lying. You know that. He walked across the entirety of Unova, a land so big that even the bravest geartrain could not stretch across it, before you met him in the cave. For a large portion of it, he carried a large bucket of water in his arms so that the fossil could see the sights as well; it’s only more recently, now that the fossil’s shell has grown, that the human has started to use the pokéball more. The humans surely has walked a million miles and could walk a million more. There is a fire in him that no distance can extinguish. He is burning.

But. You’re quite tired. This was a fair bit more travel than you’re used to. Gears were meant to transmit motion, not to have motion transmit them. He carried the fossil when there was no water, but you would never burden him with carrying you. You gratefully accept, and fix yourself near one of the many sparking stones in the cave while the human finds one close to his size and crosses his legs on it.
Oh wow, so much here. Love the image of N walking the length and breadth of Unova carrying a stone turtle in a bucket so baby fossil can see the sights. Double love N pretending he's tired so Spur can rest and Spur being so onto him.

Ah. That is very noble of him. Very bold. Makes sense for one who so desperately wants a name for himself.
This line didn't feel very in-POV to me. How do the gears conceptualize being noble or making a name for yourself? Those concepts feel a bit foreign to them. Honestly think you could cut this line without impacting the flow.

He studies for a moment. Flesh on his forehead creases. “I don’t think I understand the word you’re using. It sounds like biggear?”

Ah. Yes. He is a rare human flesh that was gifted with the power of understanding your speech, but not all words translate smoothly. {Two gears work as one gearling.} You spin for emphasis. {One day, many gearling will join. Together we will form one biggear.}

He nods. Perhaps he had guessed this already, but wanted to be sure. You like this about him. A good design must be checked.
Love love how hard N and Spurs work to understand each other. They're both so intentional about it.

“A friend of mine taught me that. He started small and helpless but learned to find his strength. And if he can shoulder that burden, so can I, right?”
thanks for reminding me of Zahhak's whole tragic plotline.

The rotations make it very clear to those in the geartrain. All feel it immediately, if they mesh. But in this translation to someone outside of the geartrain, you can see now why reusing nouns would be a bad idea.
Makes a lot of sense they'd inflect words in a way that is difficult to achieve without a component of spin velocity.

{Questions are part of optimal design.}
Love that. Steel types and more mechanical pokemon can be depicted as rigid and unquestioning (borg style) so I really liked this approach.

{Geartrain solves problems that gearling cannot. Many gears together solve many problems. We can reach a greater solution.} Hmmm. {There are two types of problems. First: easy to solve and check. Second: solving is hard; checking, easy. To solve well you must differentiate. This is the most optimal design.}
Hard to formulate an ideal follower. Easy to check their poor mesh.
This was stated clearly and it's a really interesting distinction!

(Maybe find a synonym for ideal, just to avoid Truth/Ideal stuff popping up where it's not relevant?)

The act almost makes you shudder, and you immediately return to harmony.
h a r m o n i a

“So this is the kind that is hard to solve, easy to check? Because you have to go through all the gears in the cave until you find the right one. But once you have the right one, it’s easy to check.”
I've reread and I'm still not sure how what N's saying here is so incorrect? He's captured the gist of it, right? Finding the right fit is the hard part, even if checking it is easy.

Leader stops abruptly. Follower, shocked, grinds to a halt—it’s not like you had a choice in that.

He flinches back. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Grind grind grind. Follower needs to get back in line. No. Leader needs to lead correctly, not disappoint the soft ones with poor logic. No. Both need to reconsider.
Love how they're both going "oh my bad." I can see why the two get along.

Oh. Good! He is starting to understand you better—he has picked up on your velocity-empahsis. You aren’t sure if you like how he flops his tongue around when he tries to imitate it, but he’s trying, at least. This is very good. He is a nice flesh
Beeg heart. "He is a nice flesh" Bless.

Then the difficulty increases very quickly. The more gears trying to form biggear, the harder it is to form one. Sometimes biggears are even harder still. When two gears, you check eight; when three gears, you check twenty-seven.}
n^3

Flesh does not understand this very well, but the geartrain made this connection long ago, understood what it was that ruled Unova. The Vast White and The Deep Black. What you know the world is and what you wish it could be. Yin and yang. They are like you. One is leader and one is follower. When the mesh is good it is sometimes difficult to tell which is which.
Oooh love how you incorporated Zem/Resh into their mythos. The idea that Zem and Resh are caught up in this game of leader and follower, shifting back and forth over time because they're so well-matched, is really compelling and makes the role of the hero feel significant--the hero is the one who can tip the balance through the strength of their beliefs. Very nice.

This is the problem that the flesh wants to solve. He is deep in biggear problem. He wants to find the way to make the future be what he wants from the past he is given. So it follows that he must figure out what chain of gears he requires to give him the correct follower from his leader.
Best take on fOrRmULaS

{World outside of the cave is uncomfortable. It looks like a biggear problem.} Unfortunate. He should stay in your cave forever. The gearling would like him, you think. {Very easy to check some things: if world is bad or good. Far harder to make world good.}
This states the heart of the problem so simply, but very compellingly, especially in the case of N. He can easily tell that the current solution is wrong, but just because that's easy to tell doesn't make it easy to fix. Good math metaphor <3

No, wait. This is when you see him truly get what you were trying to say, because he goes perfectly still, as if the gears inside of him are finally at odds with one another and the paradox reveals itself. What he wants is something he cannot get. He is a gearling that does not mesh with the rest of the world. He will search across every corner of Unova for his follower and will not find it.

Hmmm. This strikes you as unfair.

His face is hard to read, still. The flesh contorts in unsightly ways and you feel like you should be embarrassed to watch how poorly he holds himself together here. If you ever melt, you would hope he has the forethought to look away and not see you in your disgrace.
Aw, N. I like that we can see the seeds of the self-doubt that will make him fail at the tower.

There is a question that eats away at his core and makes him deform like this. He wants to know if he is right, if what he seeks is right, if the means through which he seeks his solution are right. But how do you check an answer like that?
Yes!! You can't check it until you try an answer. And N is afraid to try, in case he is wrong.

That is when you decide. He and you do not share a shape. He is flesh and you are not. You are already complete with follower and leader. And yet. You will follow him to the ends of the earth, until he finds a way to solve the world.

{This one will stay with you.}

Something in his face goes slack with surprise.

The answer to his question is so abstract that all of the gearling in your cave could try it and not find an answer and yet—the answer that you have given, and you alone, seems sufficient.

That solution seems inoptimal, but it also seems correct.
Aww, this is so moving. Feels for days. Love these two.

The fossil isn’t even strong enough to fight yet; he hasn’t had to figure out how much he wants to hurt for this human’s dream.
Oof. Fossil POV soon??

There is an easy answer to the biggear pairing problem, one you never thought about until you saw this human and his flesh: if you cannot find a gear that will match you, then you will break the rules and forge your own.
❤
 
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